If you ask “SCUM’s” Creative Director Tomislav Pongrac, he’ll say the survival game genre is basically dead.
Where once for him playing a survival game opened his eyes to an new world with a million possibilities, now the number of those types of games is shrinking rapidly.
“Nothing’s happening in that genre,” Pongrac said speaking of the latest trend that has swept Early Access games over the past year. “Eventually, it’s all getting reduced to Battle Royale.”
It’s with that mentality that Pongrac brought his game to E3. Developed by Gamepires, produced by Crotean, and published by Devolver, “SCUM” is a “super max survival sim” set in a reality TV show about prisoners trying to escape from an island. In a brutal landscape, the online multiplayer game challenges players to survive, gain renown from the show’s viewers, and perhaps escape. But it’s so, *so* much more than that.
The extremely detailed game has systems upon systems. It defines character attributes like metabolism and dexterity, which will dynamically change as the game continues. It has a health monitoring system that actually keeps track of all of the vitamins and minerals your character consumes and what effects they are having. It has awareness systems and weight management. In short, it has a mind-boggling level of optional complexity that Pongrac hopes will make it stand out as the most realistic survival game ever.
In a closed, hands-off demo, Pongrac showed off “SCUM” and I got to see just how those in-depth systems would affect the world, the character, and the options that are available. Seeing “SCUM” underlined the fact that when Pongrac says realistic, he means realistic.
“People are calling a ‘survival game’ anything where you eat or drink in it,” he said as the on screen character crafted a stone knife in order to cut a bit of scavenged fabric into strips. “We’re trying to simulate as much as possible as well as making the game to be fun to play.”
SCUM is set in the second season of a reality TV show where players are rewarded by the show’s production company with “Fame points” for completing tasks or for being genuinely entertaining, whatever that entails. But my demo only showcased the multitude of ways a character can survive by rummaging, foraging, and avoiding bears. It was easy to wonder where the game was in all of the basic, however detailed, aspects of surviving. And Pongrac will be the first to admit that all of this information is a lot to take in.
“It’s not easy to explain was SCUM is all about,” he said. “Devolver told us, ‘We don’t know how to advertise your game,’ and I thought, ‘Oh fuck.’ They asked for a video showing gameplay like ‘Serious Sam’ and I said ‘no.'”
To him, the game is about the minuscule decisions and skills it takes in order to survive in a hostile environment. If you eat a lot of unhealthy food and don’t exercise, your body type will reflect that, affecting your stamina and constitution. If you are trying to stealthily avoid another player, you have to be sure your gear isn’t creating more noise. If you see a bear, you’re probably going to die.
For players wanting more action, “SCUM’s” realistic ballistic system will be waiting for you in the TV events. However, those are optional. The style of play is extremely personal.
“We wanted to created a game that’s easy to enter, something for survival players, and something with a higher meaning,” Pongrac said. “We have U.S. Marines helping us. We have a Ranger Medic helping us with the health system. We’re trying to make it as realistic as possible, but fun comes first.”
The “higher meaning” in “SCUM” is for players to eventually escape from the island. But that won’t be easy. Every convict has a chip implanted by the TV company. To escape you will have to remove it, which will make them untraceable, but also takes away access to their nutrition and health info. On top of that, the company will contract other prisoners to target you for Fame Points. Pongrac said escape would require multiple players with multiple skill sets working together.
Fame Points have their benefit. The corporate overlords behind the TV show won’t want you to die if you’re helping to make good entertainment and clones of your character can respawn you in case of a bad decision.
I was not able to see any player interaction in the demo to get a sense of how combat or encounters could unfold. I did, however, watch a character defecate.
Interestingly, the different branching paths (survival, TV show scenarios, and missions to escape) of “SCUM” won’t happen divorced from one another in separate modes. Pongrac confidently said that they would all happen on the same island, on the same server, in the same mode.
“SCUM” has gained a lot from its community interaction, and it reaps what it sows. The development of the game has been very front facing, with regular dev diaries, Twitch streams, and videos explaining even the most nuanced systems.
Having developed the community, Pongrac cannot wait for the Early Access feedback, knowing it will only continue to improve the game.
“We are preparing the scenery for the players,” he said. “We’re so looking forward for this game to be played by a huge number of players.”
“SCUM” was originally announced in late 2016 and now Devolver says it will come to Steam Early Access in August. Pongrac says they aim to have 64 players on every server.
Until then, he plans to focus on how to refine every aspect of what looks like an extremely refined, if unwieldy product. Though he said it would be a challenge to combine all of these plans into one package, he felt confident his small team of 15 developers to achieve it.
If he’s right, “SCUM” could be one hell of an interesting game.