Finishing most Subnautica without building anything

I’m less ill in the mornings, so I can write. And there is something to write about. As I’m way to ill to play PUBG (no way in hell I can stay at the computer for half an hour uninterrupted by cough attack or simply being too tired and having to go to sleep right now), I played Subnautica, because I can pause that instantly.

What did I do? Since my commenter Smokeman is hell bent on believing that Subnautica is a base building game, I completed most of the game without building a damn thing. Not a piece of base. Not a single ship. And here I am, inside the containment facility:


But… but… exploration? Nope, the only technologies I purposefully learned was Seaglide. Everything else just came automatically as I progressed (if you make battery, you learn making power cell).

Everything I manufactured on the lifepod fabricator is visible on the picture (plus food, water, medkids and tablets consumed on the way):


I didn’t use any glich and played on hardcore and it took me less than two hours and most of that time was spent looking for silver and the damn lost river entrance. If I memorize their locations, I can get here in 40-50 minutes. As you can see, I used 3 air tanks (the final air tank needs modification station that needs a habitat). You can have as many air tanks as you want, just don’t forget to fill them by equipping them in the air.

The first dive was close, I reached the power plant with 30 seconds air left and both extra tanks empty. The swim to the containment unit left me with a full tank. The Sea Dragon and the other nasties did lot of damage, but as they don’t oneshot, I could just keep going popping medkits.

What’s left of the game? Only safe grind, now that the containment facility portals are active. I need to build a Cyclops, because only a Cyclops can fabricate Cyclops shield for the rocket. A Prawn suit to drill Kyanite in the ILZ, because there aren’t small Kyanite deposits and they are needed for the rocket and the second blue tablet. Collecting some crystalline sulfur and nickel in the lost river, few meters from the portal (one scanner room built). Going to the Aurora for the rocket blueprint. Running errands for the Emperor. All quickly done with the portals, without ever going near nasties. Sure, it came with extra risks during the dive, but I only risked less than an hour progress.

There is less than 3 hours gameplay in Subnautica. Sure, you can spend lots of hours exploring every little flavor item and hatch the eggs and decorate bases, but those are unstructured play with the toy and not playing the game (similarly, if you build a house of cards with a poker deck, that’s not playing poker). Not the devs or other players challenge you, hell, nobody challenges you, you just fool around.

I wish the devs spent just as much time designing gameplay as they did with the birds and tunnel effect of the rocket flight. Subnautica is one of the best made toy I’ve ever seen, used to power one of the sloppiest, lamest gameplay ever made.

Author: Gevlon

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15 thoughts on “Finishing most Subnautica without building anything”

  1. Lol, so you’ve discovered your inner speedrunner.
    By that token, there is like 15 minute of gameplay in the latest Zelda and something similar in The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind. Being able to beeline to the game’s end after you’ve sunk the time into learning it is not the same as the game having no gameplay. That’s just one of the features in the “open world” feature set.
    The games that strike a good balance between being content-rich and gameplay-rich are games in “Metroidvania” genre. These, however, rarely feature crafting as being able to really break the map in any meaningful way (instead of finding interesting shortcuts and time-saving bugs within it) kinda destroys the Metroidvania experience.
    A crafting game with Metroidvania influences seems to be Terraria. I haven’t really enjoyed it myself though – something to do with what you call “offensive” graphics.


  2. No, I don’t enjoy “speedrunning” and find it the dumbest form of competition (though it’s a competition at least).

    Zelda doesn’t have 15 mins of gameplay. It has 15 mins of unique content. If you fail on level one and play it again and again for hours, than that one level had hours of gameplay. The problem with Subnautica that I can write a detailed guide that enables a totally new player to complete it in 3 hours. Ergo, *you* don’t have to sink time to learn it, just *someone* has to. On the other hand a platformer needs WASD skill to complete that *you* need to develop.

    Saying that “subnautica is a good game” is like “my home has a strong defense because I hid the keys under the cat bowl. It’s possible that someone will never find the key. But once anyone figures out where I hold it, everyone can come in.

    The good *games* are: Stracraft, Counterstrike, PUBG. People playing the same content again and again for improvement.


  3. I was wrong in numbers. Apparently current Any% speedrun of Zelda stands at just under 1 hour. The 15 min bit was just a net rumour.

    Either way, clarify one bit for me.

    Suppose you have a game that has “15 mins of unique content”, but the same game also has a completely optional content that you don’t have to even touch to see end credits but it just so happens that this optional part is the part that truly tests your skills (and would provide you with “hours of content”, should you choose to do that part).

    Would that fit your definition of “15 minutes of gameplay”?


  4. @Gevlon

    I assume you actually paid for Subnautica? If so, how do you gauge your entertainment value by playing it the way you describe in this post?


  5. @Maxim: it is possible that if that optional content is really good, its own community will emerge (like for the DotA custom map for W3). But most likely not and than it’s like not there.

    @NoGuff: I loved it because I love exploration and problem solving. Also, it has the best game art I’ve seen, period. However I wouldn’t call it a game any more than a literal word puzzle or math problem. It’s a great “thing”. But it’s not a game any more than a thriller movie about a conspriacy.


  6. Yeah, don’t start with a spare, but empty tank like I did! That sucked. Why the hell would a tank start empty??? You can’t fabricate it under water, and it auto fills when exposed to air! But NOT between taking it out of the fabricator and putting it in your inventory… LOL.

    Yup, I as well discovered you can’t finish the story without the Prawn Suit or the Cyclops.

    Seriously? The engineers on earth designed a rocket that requires an unknown alien mineral and Ion cell technology from an unknown alien civilization? Come on! Who wrote this shit? Hell! I can do that! I just designed a functional Fusion Reactor! It uses magic as the plasma containment. Where’s my Nobel Prize? Obviously, this is just to force you to make a Prawn suit and a Cyclops.

    Well, while I like the story concept, badly constructed and laid out as it is, and if they were trying to make a “survival” game, they probably shouldn’t have given you a perfectly safe lifepod and fabricator in second 1… What’s left? Well, it’s a base building game. With a world to explore.

    Hell, it kept you busy for over 200 hours.

    So. What really happened here? Well, the fancy graphics and immersive environment bitch slapped our brains into believing a really poorly crafted story, shallow base building game, and even shallower survival game was playable for 100 hours plus. And this is the problem! AAA game companies know this, and know that they have to devote crap-tons of money and effort into the stupid shit we think we need to have, sometimes this hides (Intentionally or not.) A really bad game designer. Even if they have great design, they know players are going to reject an “ugly” game before they can ever see the great design.

    I get the whole “game vs. toy” argument, but I don’t really accept it as it’s a form of elitism. It’s like poo pooing the Transformers movie franchise because they’re not “Gone with the Wind.”


  7. I know your point here was to demonstrate how far you can go without a single building – but if you build a single moon-pool room for the vehicle upgrade station and modification station and build the prawn suit w/ basic mk1 depth module, jump jet upgrade, drilling arm, and grappling hook arm – you can eliminate all of the risk (and probably much of the time) getting down to the lava zone bases.

    You never have to build the 2nd depth module, as the path from the inactive lava zone to the final base is short enough the “crush depth” damage won’t destroy your prawn suit before you get there (and there is no pressure inside the base – even in the water).

    You only need to mine 2 kyanite – and if you don’t want to build a second building (or rebuild the first) in the lava zone to craft the 2nd blue tablet you can portal back from the power station and barely lose any time (15 minutes maybe?).

    All of which to say…yeah the “story” itself is pretty pathetic/irrelevant – and it only gets worse when you use the tech available.

    Much like minecraft – you are left to come up with your own personal goals and play with it as a toy.

    I still love it though…somehow…


  8. Ok, so… I want to go over the “Game vs. Toy” argument again. I’ll use the example you used: “…similarly, if you build a house of cards with a poker deck, that’s not playing poker.” Well, a deck of playing cards isn’t a game, it’s a game piece. It’s what you DO with the cards that’s a game. Poker, which uses a deck of playing cards and betting tokens of some kind, is a game. It has all three elements of a game: game pieces, rules, and defined completion. Well, building a house of cards is a game too, there is a group of playing cards, (Doesn’t even have to be a full deck for this game.) rules, (They have to be stacked in a vertical manner.) and a defined completion, (Use all the cards, build to X height, etc.) Sure, it’s not a really great game, but by setting arbitrary rules as to what a game is, you enter the slippery slope of the “No True Scottsman” argument. Now, if you take those playing cards and attach them to your bike so the spokes hit them, that’s not a game. It has game pieces, (Cards and clothesline clips.) and rules, (You stick them in the spokes!) but no defined goal other than to ride around and have fun. It’s the lack of a definable goal that makes this a toy.

    There’s another aspect to this as well, “Sandbox.” I dislike it when the devs label their own game a “sandbox.” They’re basically (In my mind, at least.) confessing that they suck at making games and are actually relying on calling it a “sandbox” so the player can design the game FOR them. As in, use the tools given to create an emergent game from them.

    An example of this is to take Subnautica, and play on Hardcore mode, but without the parts you consider ‘broken.’ Or, think “Hey! Can I build a base 1 kilometer long?” These are both “games.” Subnautica also has an integrated game, “Follow the story to the end.” But it just isn’t all that compelling. The difficulty of these games isn’t what makes them “games”, it’s that they have the three minimum components: Game pieces, rules, and a defined completion that ends the game.


  9. @Gevlon
    “A community will emerge” is a strange metric.
    If just two people love this content and find a lot of meaning in playing it together, has the “community” “emerged”? How many people does it actually take? Maybe it is not about the headcount, but about something else?


  10. @Smokeman:
    I don’t think that “game pieces, rules, and defined completion” are enough for a game, because practically everything can be a game by it, including licking the window (it needs a window, you can set the rules that your forehead can’t reach the window and it’s completed when the whole window is covered in drool)

    A game needs:

    * a goal (remove all dots from PacMan’s map)

    * an adversary or obstacle to stop you from reaching the goal (Ghosts trying to eat you)

    * either a near 50% chance of not reaching the goal at all or some score that defines how good you were

    About the True Scottsman, see below

    @Maxim: it’s strange, but it’s objective. Player count is a measurable number. In order for the game to pass the “True Scottsman” test, it must have lot of players, because that would guarantee that the obstacle is real.

    For example consider the game:
    * there is a 10cm radius circle target
    * you must hit it with a rifle
    * you get 1 point for the edge, 2 points for the 9 cm ring … 10 pt for the bullseye
    * you have 10 shots

    This is clearly a game. It has a task, an obstacle and well defined scoring. Hell, it’s an Olympic sport. Except, I forgot to mention the distance.

    The above game is *very* different if the target is 1000m from the shooter and if it’s 1 cm from it. However such scalars can be argued all day and devolve to “True Scottsman”

    The solution is that we have to make the game with one set of rules and get players. Something tells me that there are more players for the 1000m shooting than for the 1cm shooting, because they inherently recognize that 1cm is “not true Scottsman”.


  11. @Gevlon
    … So? You haven’t really anawered the question. How many players exactly would you say is the metric for the true game? Ballpark it?


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