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Kayd Hendricks, Senior Technical and Gameplay Designer at Studio Wildcard, spoke with us about ARK: Survival Evolved. The Jurassic Park-esque title has already managed to sell 1 million copies on Steam Early Access. In this interview, Kayd tells us about the development process, the use of Unreal Engine 4, and how important the players are to the team behind the spectacular title in development.
We had seen a lot of survival games out there and a lot of dinosaur games. We have even seen actual combinations of games like this with The Stomping Land and stuff like that, but we didn’t feel that any of them were really ambitious enough. We felt that they didn’t really scratch that itch for living in a big and crazy dinosaur world, so we sat down and pitched what we thought would be cool ideas for what you could do in those kinds of worlds. As ideas coalesced we started drawing up design documents, fleshing out a story and an overarching narrative for the world.
After that it was “axe to the grindstone”, every time an idea would come through we’d discuss it for a bit and implement it to see how it’d play in the game. Most of the time that ended up turning out quite well, but there were occasions where we had things that didn’t turn out quite so well and those went into the back burner in case we could use them later on.
Now we’re just plugging away at it. We have a huge list of items and dinosaurs that we want to get into the game and other stuff planned for the future. We’re kind of juggling around ideas for expansions after we’ve released this officially. There’s a lot still going on.
We’re currently using Unreal Engine 4. A lot of us on the team actually has experience with Unreal Engine 3 (the dev kit there), so it was a natural transition over. The blueprinting system is something that I know is praised a lot by other people, but I’m going to praise it as well because it’s actually really that good.
I’m a technical designer, so I don’t have quite as much a problem going down and coding when it’s needed. However, other designers and other people who aren’t as technical are also able to iterate elements of the game extremely quickly and effectively without having downtime or having to bother any programmers.
It allows not just content implementation to be done very quickly, but also creation of new content, hooking up of static meshes/destruction meshes to things, putting up artwork icons, all that kind of stuff can be handled relatively easily – and blueprints because when it’s abstracted out to the C++ it runs just fine.
We were inspired a lot by Jurassic Park and a bit by The Stomping Land. That was kind of a blow to the heart for us when development for The Stomping Land stopped. You can see some elements of Pokémon in there because you can catch and tame dinosaurs, raise their stats, and ride them around. Eventually, we even want to see if we can put breeding and things like that into the game so that you can raise your own baby dinosaurs.
I think at the heart of it, we were really inspired by our inner child. I know that’s kind of a cliché kind of thing to say, but it’s a big game about dinosaurs and aliens and you’re stomping around a fantastic island fighting big monsters. I mean, what more could a kid possibly ask for?
We are privately funded. We’re totally funded all the way through the end of development. As I mentioned before, we didn’t make the Early Access for the money. It’s cool that we suddenly blew up and we have a ton of money that we can use to expand our pool of resources so we can get more stuff done, but we’re already privately funded so we aren’t worried about that.
We don’t have any publishers, no big corporate guys who are going to be pushing us around or telling us what they want or don’t want to see in the game. We’re totally free to make whatever game we want, and that’s what we’re going to do.
I think something that I’d like to at least mention is that one of the biggest things to us, is the feedback we’re getting from our players. We’re out on Steam Early Access right now and we’re going to be in development for an entire year before we call this a finished product.
We really want people to come out and communicate with us about how they’re enjoying the game, the things they don’t like, the things they do like, because we’re in Early Access specifically to craft this game alongside the people who are going to play it. That’s what’s really important to us. Without the players, there is no game. It’s a multiplayer game, by and large and without them, we don’t have anything. So we really want to have the opportunity to really work with the people who are playing the game, and hear what their woes and what their excitements are so we can reinforce the gameplay that they are happy and excited about.
And so that maybe we can rethink the things we’re doing wrong and help those to become more enjoyable gameplay experiences, that’s really the heart of what we’re trying to do. If you’re out there and you’re playing the game or you haven’t played it yet and you want to be involved in the development, that’s what the Early Access is really for.
We’re going to guide the larger gameplay. We’re going to give a lot of tools and a lot of things to play with. We’re going to put dinosaurs in the game, crafting recipes, and that sort of stuff. When you buy the game we give you full access to our development kit. It’s the same development kit we use, which is the Unreal Engine 4. You’re free to use it. Everything is there and we are not holding back.
The dedicated server application is available for anybody to pick up and use, it’s totally free. We really want players to feel that they can create the outrageous experiences and cool stuff that we’re not going to be able to because we have limited development time. We’re really invested in the community because they’ve given us so much. We want them to be able to direct the way that they are going to enjoy the game.