Difficulty spawns creativity

In order to show the devs how low they set the highest difficulty in Subnautica, I play it without the most broken things: bioreactor and plant growing. I eat what I catch and get energy (=water) from the Sun, heat vents or Nuclear reactors. Since the latter is too easy to build and fuel is too easy to come by, I only build a few and once built, don’t unbuild them to get the materials back.

This is one of my solutions to the fact that Sun doesn’t shine at the deep waters and heat vents are not everywhere:

It’s a 150m tall tower, to put the solar cells close to the surface. The game is marketed as a “survival sandbox” with lot of abilities to create things. Except you aren’t needed to be any creative – besides for vanity and art – because you can get infinite water, energy and food from a simple room with a bioreactor in the middle with a water filter and a growbed on the side which spawns stupid amount of potatoes to eat and to fuel the bioreactor. So why bother with any of these things the devs put endless hours into, just follow the story which is so sparse that a writer could make it in a few hours. There are no great dialogs, there are no great cutscenes like in story-games, you just get a radio message and a beacon to the next location. Or not even that.

This is visible in the Steam Charts, where the game hovers around 2-3K players (PUBG has 1400K). While the toy is extremely well written and the graphics is AAA (if your computer is fast enough to handle the load), the game you play with the toy is shallow and non-repeatable. You put a couple dozen hours into the toy, then get bored and quit. Not rage-quit, just “well, this was fun, let’s move on” quit. Also, a toy can’t get a good word-of-mouth advertising, since those who enjoy it are aware of the fact that their fun comes from their own creativity. They can’t go around: “this is an awesome game where you can pwn n00bs” or “this is some hard nut to crack but I manage, let’s see how do you fare”. “I built this vanity base with funny items and a huge bed underwater” isn’t a good marketing line.

My hopes are high that the changes I’ll propose get implemented, because I make the testing myself, providing very low workload to the devs, and the game is single-player, allowing multiple difficulties, so there is no “yes, but we’d lose a bunch of casuals who can’t catch fish” argument, as the existing modes would be unaffected.

Author: Gevlon

My blog: https://greedygoblinblog.wordpress.com/

15 thoughts on “Difficulty spawns creativity”

  1. Ok, so the fact that you can build a 16 foot long titanium tube with life support and everything, underwater… on top of a 150 meter tower using a handheld device powered by a battery you made from two acidic mushrooms you found and a bunch of titanium fragments you have in your pocket doesn’t bother you…

    But a potato farm that provides unlimited energy does? What part about Arthur C. Clark’s third law is unclear?

    This is a game! What, you think it should make sense physics wise?


  2. Why on earth would you use concurrent players to judge the “health” of a single-player game? And it’s really hard to call an Early Access game a failure when it’s already sold ~1.8 million copies.

    I got 30 hours in Subnautica last year, and once it’s fully released, I plan on restarting. It will not be played as a Survival Sandbox, especially considering the devs call it “an open world, underwater exploration and adventure game.” But… it’s a single-player game, and you can play it however you want.


  3. I was watching Dragon Quest Builders and I realized I want the game world to acknowledge what I’ve built to some degree. There should be some gameplay difference, however minor, between building a two-room base and a giant megabase. If I want to play make-believe I can find some six-year-olds and do it outside in the fresh air. If both real world and virtual world are going to ignore my imagination, I may as well get real exercise rather than virtual exercise.


  4. @Smokeman: it does bother me, I do believe that buildings should need more materials.

    “in my pocket” doesn’t bother me, since it’s an underwater game, so even the heaviest thing can have zero weight if it’s lifted by air. That’s how multi-thousand tons of submarines float like feather.

    The battery does bother me, I think batteries should be built with 0% charge and have to be charged first.

    However all these are different quality than the potatoes. Being “too cheap” is fundamentally different from “being free”. A tower like that costs 3 full inventory of materials. It’s still cheap, but something. The potato energy is infinite and free.

    @Azuriel: because – without spending millions of dollars on marketing – the only way to get new players is the word of mouth advertising of the existing players.

    Since it’s a single-player game with multiple modes, I really hope that the devs aren’t pants on head retarded to refuse to add a mode that can be implemented in a few hours and can get tens of thousands of players.

    @Alrenous: exactly. This is why the crazy potato plant is immersion breaking but the 150m tower is not. You have to build it and its size matters.


  5. @Azuriel addenum: please note that on the page you linked, the most popular tag is “early access”, the second most popular is “survival”, so the community plays it as a survival game, so any survival improvement would be popular.


  6. There is a game on Steam and on PS4 called Long Dark. It’s not Early Access anymore and it is a pure survival game. You can craft “basic” things, like a simple knife or hatchet, but you can’t build houses or spaceships.
    It’s a sandbox survival, but there is also a short story mode, which is more like a tutorial for new players.
    It’s clear now you can live underwater, but can you survive Canada?


  7. Ok! So, I finally got to the point in Subnautica that I have the bioreactor, a room it can be in, grow beds, and potatoes.

    It is SO not the “cheap shot” you put it out as. That reactor dominates a multi purpose room, the biggest room you have. A room that uses a lot of habitat integrity. To be fair… you can also but grow beds in that room with it… if potatoes will actually grow there? That’s a bit cheap. You SHOULD have to put the grow beds in glass corridors, at least.

    But that’s not my point. Sure, it’s stupid? But if games had to actually follow the freakin’ laws of physics, they would be impossible. And even THAT isn’t my point.

    Here’s my point! You’re playing the game wrong. And, to be fair, I don’t get to make that call. You can play the game any way you want. No, what I mean is, and this relates to the reply I posted to your most recent post… is you’re not using optimal business strategy in your game play.

    You’re working IN your business, not ON your business. (And by business in this context, I mean optimal game progression.) You want optimal game progression, right? Sure, you don’t want to cheeses it… so you play “Hardcore”, unlike slackers like me who roll “Freedom.” But that distinction doesn’t matter.

    The difference is your focus is on the minutia, “Working IN your business.” You’re doing it, doing it, doing it…. getting the water, getting the food, driving the sub, always doing it, doing it ,doing it. I offload some of that to the AI so I can work ON my business, step back and look at the big picture… not stress over the piddly shit so I CAN respond to the meta.


  8. I read this and you other treaties on being a bad ass by your own choosing. So you purposefully stack the deck against yourself. You create an iron man mode along with the other fun stuff. here are a couple of “things” I noticed: 1: you create the level of difficulty you want (some call that cheating) 2: you think you are doing something useful in a single player game by showing the dev’s how it should be done. So contrast that with the other game: you know the one that you complain is unfair because the devs cheat. Why wouldn’t that better test? 1: multiplayer 2: the difficulty for you is already set to near impossible 3: the devs have proven they can be shown the light/door. Something to think about no?


  9. Stawek:
    “Subnautica has VR mode, too, it could be fueling some sales.”

    I’m not holding my breath on the VR mode. Until someone gins up a way to properly control your VR game without controls you have to hold or see to use, it’s a gimmick. And even then, that control schema would be so different from the “non-VR” control schema as to make it a whole new game. Gloves that you can see as your “hands” on the display would be cool. But that would only work in a vehicle, how would you move outside of it?

    What I think is fueling sales is the fan marketing. LOTS of videos out there showing some really amazing shit. For the life of me, I could NOT figure out how to get into the Aurora to stop the reactor from spewing radiation, and had to look at vids for help. One guy, “IGN” has a series of video walkthroughs out. While he says “Dude!” about 50,000% too often for me, his enthusiasm in infectious and he even has a video where he built a super base that reaches all the way down to the deepest part of the ocean. He has to dodge a Ghost Leviathon while completing the base. It’s cool as all hell. I know I nearly peed my little pants when I first encountered a Ghost Leviathon. I was trying to get to the floating island, and had no idea what I was doing… got too far over the crater. This unholy monstrosity came out of the depths, tossed my Seamoth into the air, where it got a few seconds of hang time before crashing back into the sea at least 50 yards away with 10% hull integrity left. Fortunately, it left me alone for some reason after that… and I went straight back to base.


  10. @Smokeman: getting into the Aurora was straightforward. I just circled it until I’ve found a place where I can enter.

    The “edge” Ghost Leviathans have no other purpose than keeping you in the play area. When you return to it, they leave you alone.

    But to the point: if we agree that sales are fueled by fan marketing, then we agree that a new mode that would make some fans happy and wouldn’t do anything to those who don’t play that mode would add sales.


  11. @Smokeman: getting into the Aurora was straightforward. I just circled it until I’ve found a place where I can enter.

    Well! Then you’re clearly a crap load smarter than I am. I kept looking for an airlock or hole or whatever that was underwater… Oh! You can walk around in the air! Doh. I also managed to flood my nice cozy habitat by adding too many parts without sufficient reinforcements. Fortunately, my coffee maker and inspirational poster of a kitten in a space helmet were undamaged! So I didn’t rage quit over that.


  12. So, Gevlon… I found something else for you to lose your shit over. Apparently, the Cyclops is powered by Power Cells, and you can install a Power Cell charger inside the sub. Which charges Power Cells… which you can use to power the sub… which charges more cells… Some power is used to charge the Power Cells, but less than the cells contain after they are charged. This is the battery technology Elon Musk is looking for! And then… think about this, the Cyclops, in all it’s hugeness, is powered by 6 Power Cells. Each Power Cell is made with 2 Batteries that also fit into any hand held device. Basically a “D” cell. So they’re powering a ginormous sub off what is essentially… 2 big flashlights worth of batteries.

    It’s like putting an Alternator on your electric car to charge the batteries. I wanna throw in a bio reactor and potato beds too! It’ll be better than Conjured Mage Water.

    About these potatoes… are they from Monsanto? I don’t think I would eat these even if I got hungry. There has to be something seriously wrong with them. Like that milk in WoW… it stays Ice Cold forever.


  13. @Smokeman: nope, the cell charger charges exactly the same energy that the sub loses, just checked it (should be losing more, as charging is not 100% effective, but whatever)

    Yes, I think the power cell costs are stupid, they should need like 10 batteries, but game-wise that’s just more farming copper and mushrooms which most people don’t want to do.

    I also noticed that when you build the cyclops, you don’t need power cells as materials. If you are low on copper but have lots of trit, you can cheat by building an extra cyclops and leaving the hull there after pocketing the power cells. There are stupid stuff in the game. But again, fixing these would just mean “farm more”. I’d support that, but many people wouldn’t. However potatoes aren’t “farm less than you should”, but “farm nothing and get food, energy and via water filter: water.


  14. Gevlon:
    “Yes, I think the power cell costs are stupid, they should need like 10 batteries”

    In all fairness, it’s not the Power Cell that’s dumb, it really IS just 2 batteries and some rubber. Instead of 100 energy, it stores 200 energy. The problem is the things that use them are absurdly efficient.

    My potato factory / solar cell powered undersea home, with 3 multi-purpose rooms, a scanner room, a moon pool, an observatory, and 7 connecting segments only has 800 power worth of storage, and easily keeps that topped off. That’s the equivalent of 8 batteries running a large home. And not just any large home, one that’s underwater and has to deal with life support.

    As such, any degree of “realism” is already right out the door, something that was obvious from second one, when you had a gizmo in your life pod that could poop out a first aid kid every half hour, with no raw materials used, but couldn’t do something as simple as filter water. With this tech? Filtering even the WORST water would be nothing, and with a tiny little device.

    Which is why I don’t consider this a survival game, it’s utterly unrealistic. It’s a square peg, round hole add on that shouldn’t have wasted any precious dev time.

    None of this bothered me, as I could just ignore it. UNTIL NOW! I have found a bug SO HEINOUS, so IMMERSION BREAKING, I can’t stand it. I might even have to submit a respectful bug report.

    That’s right, it’s about the Coffee Maker. I have a nice office in my base, it’s a second floor over my living quarters, and tastefully decorated. And of course, there’s a Coffee Maker. I made a cup of coffee this morning… it comes in a “Subnautica” mug and everything… AND I COULDN’T DRINK IT!!! I can’t drink or eat anything!



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