Radical Suggestion: Mutation and Playstyles

So, one of the eternal questions over mutation is ‘balance vs bionics’ and then all the details of the types of mutation/etc.

But playing with the mutations as they stand in the latest experimental, after having avoided mutations for a long while… well, I notice a few things. And I think they tie in, and effect, even non-mutant characters, as it relates to the game as a whole. I’m starting off talking about mutation; but what I’m really talking about are playstyles, which are not restricted to mutations, par se. Part of this was inspired by looking at the ‘Harvest Moon’ style farming additions proposed on Github.

  1. Mutations (and this is kinda obvious) as they stand are mostly a powerup pre-threshold, if you purchase Robust Genetics, and if you plan to mutate, you will.
  2. Post-threshold mutations, even with Robust Genetics, are more of a mixed bag. After trying with ~10 or so starts, I can definately say that ‘cheating a full post-threshold arachnid in a lab start’ is only moderately easier then an absolutely normal survivor with nothing but a little bit of chemistry and computers. I know, from prior playings of the game, that they -are- huge power boosts to established Survivors, yes. But to a starting character; eh.
  3. The process whereby you turn into a mutant is heavily constrained by the current in-game Lore, which specifies (for some reason) that none of the mutants exceeded threshold in the labs. This artificially restricts the gameplay, and I would argue, the ‘realism’ by taking away from the ‘alien terraforming by lovecraftian horrors’ nature of the world, and turning this aspect of it more into something like Mario Brothers, where you leap for the power up.

So here’s the thing. I think there are two ways around this, and they are not mutually exclusive, necessarily.

  1. Change it so you can start as a post-threshold mutant, and alter the balance appropriately. Mostly, this would just be a continued emphasis on the fact that their biologies ‘feel’ more alien, and are not necessarily advantageous from the mundane human point of view. Like, spiders should be webbing live prey up and actually sucking the life out of them as they struggle. Raptors should be eating fresh corpses. To a large extent; this is /already done/. Excellent, excellent work has been done in making the mutations super different. Ursines can freaking hibernate! Slimes uncontrollably reproduce when they eat too much! But I think there would be subtle changes in how they were balanced, over time. I don’t think much specific would need to be done code-wise other then keep aware.

  2. Have more passive environmental effects which can change you into a mutant, or more automated processes one can get stuck into in the labs to turn one into a mutant.

I just feel that the system is hampered by the
expectation that you are going to go into a lab, and endlessly grind slime mutagen until your body melts away. I think that, as a ‘balancing factor’ - is not an optimal choice, either from a realism/simulation perspective, or a gameplay one.

Additionally, with the new proposed changes to farming I see on the github, I think there’s a recognition that the game needs more to do in terms of ‘lifestyle’ for survivors. The game implements ‘surviving and scavenging’ rather well. Best on the internet, as far as I can tell. But it needs work on how people ‘live’.

One of the main ways to do that is to flesh out, broaden, and make more significant the choices that are in-game as is. I.E. mutation, categories, farming, etc. The other thing I’d consider in the long run is, without making ‘raising skills’ more grindy (its grindy enough as is) - make it slower to raise them in general.

Like, your default survivor doesn’t know how to drive, has never spoken to another person, doesn’t know how to swim, and has never turned on a computer. (Or might be moderately skilled at these things, depending on profession). But a Drone Operator or a Lab Technician, even a year after the cataclysm, should feel different then a hobo, a mechanic, or a police officer.

After one has been around in-game for a year, the choices all head together and converge. What I’m suggesting is that, on a meta level - it should be the opposite. Choices (of you as a player) should lead to radically different in-game experiences in how survivor-characters ‘live their daily in game lives’. Bird-mutants should be atop skyscrapers. Rats should be breeding in sewers. Humans should be mad-maxing it out in bunkers or cars. Insects should be working on making more insects. Sure, there will be variation - I’m not suggesting forcing anything, only facilitating and encouraging from a gameplay perspective - but the game isn’t missing survival simulation. Its already the best at that.

I don’t think the game will ever need a ‘dwarf fortress’ mode; but it can certainly learn from that game in the emphasis on ‘living’ as a means of game-play. We have a framework for survivor forts, basically. I’ve not managed to get it to work, but its there. Its already easy to take survivors with you as a nomadic human.

But the real long-term goal of this game, I think, has to be to explore not just the ‘act’ of surviving, but the various ways survivors live their lives. Right now, those choices are restricted to: 1. Nomad or Sedentary, and 2. Mutant, Bionic or Normal.