Brainstorm: Survival Stuff

Background: I’m writing a survival/farming sim, and want to make sure I have as many bases covered as possible. The PC gets to choose equipment before setting off, and I’m sure I’m missing some things, both items and general strategies.

If you were going to be stranded for a long period of time on an island (or an abandoned planet, or whatever your preferred setting is), what would you want to take with you? In one scenario, you can only have what you can personally carry. In another, you’ve got whatever you want, within a reasonable budget (ie no helicoptors).

What general strategies might you base your equipment choices around?

Things you know about your environment ahead of time: it’s temperate, with plenty of trees; it gets cold in the winter and hot in the summer, and it’s currently early to mid spring.

Many thanks.

My answers are directly inspired by too much Dwarf Fortress.

Am I aiming to return to civilization any time soon? (Is there civilization to return to?) As in, should I be concerned with things like radios or flares or other means of getting people’s attention?

I’m assuming that we’re talking about some competent person instead of actual me. Actual me needs good stuff to read while he starves to death, and a Sub-Etha Sens-o-matic Electronic Thumb just on the offchance.

Early spring in that kind of climate seems like it means I could still freeze to death at night, so warm clothes and a sleeping bag. Am I confident that early on I’ll be able to find enough fruit to keep me going? Probably not, so some freeze-driedish rations. Firestarting stuff, flint and steel and like that (not sure how much I can count on gathering, though I’m assuming tinder is OK). An axe and/or saw. If potability of water seems like a problem a, well, pot. Something to help me carry things – a frame backpack with a belt (which also helps me get more stuff if I’ve only got what I can carry) and some kind of wagon or cart. If it’s only what I can carry, I think I still want a collapsible barrow, like an umbrella stroller but with bigger wheels; it folds into easily portable size, but actual umbrella strollers are impossible to maneuver over uneven terrain. Bungee cords. If I can take more than what I carry, I guess some kind of pedicab for fast movement/heavy hauling. And since I’ll probably need to do some hunting at first, definitely a sling, which is the only thing I can think of that won’t run into ammo problems real fast. I’ll still probably starve.

There are a few great books for this kind of stuff; one is Driftwood Valley, which would be for your take-as-much-as-you can scenario.

If you had to travel light, I would still take a rifle; plus sleeping bag, oilcloth/tarp, knife, axe, canteen, pot, rope, and a sewing needle/awl.

You’re essentially SOL, but what can be done in that regard has already been done (ie your ship has sent up a distress beacon, etc.)

I’m hoping that eventually civilization will come to you, but considering I’m still trying to figure out the complexities of fire, I don’t think you should hold your breath.

Heh. Well, not necessarily. You can, if you like, choose a more skilled character, and easy mode gives you some basic skills. There’s some stuff to be worked out there, so that’s all I feel comfortable saying at this point, since the skill breakdowns and their effects are kind of murky, and I’m not sure how much customization will be possible ahead of time.

Thanks; I’ll check that one out.

How much would people appreciate a prepacked survival kit for a game like this?

Ha, well, I’ve been pretty impressed with what I’ve seen of your process so far.

Anyway, that pretty much renders moot my first thoughts, which were more or less along the lines of “how do I get out of here?!”

Hm, that would be one way to play, but I bet that just being put in a setting where you get to wander around and collect which supplies you think you’ll want (a general store of some kind, perhaps) would be enough to jog people’s thoughts in the right direction. It’s a bit harder to pull ideas out of thin air (“I can bring whatever I want? Out of anything in the universe?”) than to choose from a concrete list (“Rope! Oh yes, that’ll be good. Eh, don’t know if I’ll need a 5-pound bag of thyme…”).

I think the first thing I’d want would be some means of collecting/purifying water. Even a bucket, cup, and saran wrap might be better than nothing. Of course, the usual knives and needle/thread would be there, too (but I carry those in real life, so I barely even thought about needing to acquire them in-game).

A bunch. One of the things I almost listed was “A nice stack of printed-out FAQs on wilderness survival.” Also, the player doesn’t know exactly what you’ve implemented, so it’s harder to tell what to take – does not taking the pot mean -2 to your cooking skill or “You have died of dysentery”?

[UPDATE: I see that my thoughts are almost the exact opposites of tove’s. But I’ve been impressed by what I’ve seen of your process, too. Like, your blog makes me think that this is going to be the awesomest thing ever.]

Thanks! (I edit out a lot of the embarrassing stuff, like “Day 435: Worked on implementing sleep. Basic functionality still escapes me. Left out a semi-colon at the end of a line four times today.”

Oh, there will be lists. Yes, indeed. But what I want to avoid is the player going “But I want to try hunting!” and, despite this being a totally reasonable strategy, have no implementation or explanation for its absence. And speaking of that, look into my eyes. You don’t want a rope . . . you don’t need a rope . . . there is no reason for a rope . . .

Well, as long as it’s helpful for someone. I’ll add it to the list. And thanks for the kind words.

Oh, and water in general is not a concern for the player. Horrendously inaccurate, of course, but it didn’t seem fun.

Man, I’ve got to find a way to communicate all this to the player at the very beginning of the game without an infodump, don’t I?

Okay, what if I appended the help output if the player looks at something during this time? Theoretically, this would be the text that comes up if you type “help on [something]”:

It’s a lot of text; on the other hand, I’m a little hesitant to write two competing in-game reference guides. I could probably manage a list of categories that the player should try to cover, ie:

I am actually a huge fraud – I’ve neither played Oregon Trail nor seen Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Anyway, if I don’t need ropes I guess I don’t need bungee cords either. Snif.

[EDITED to use the serial mother-f’ing comma.]


Most important tools would be a knife, axe, and lighter.

An axe(hatchet) can cut down wood for the fire (which I’d only personally be able to start with a lighter). The knife can carve wood into spears (for fishing or hunting) or cut open tough food (like cocunuts, pineapple). A knife could also cut fabric to help make a tent or shelter (if fabric is available). A knife can also help prepare fish or meat caught.

Sunscreen wouldn’t be bad either- or soap!

tggdan - excellent point. The knife is so important that the player is not allowed to leave without it. I’d overlooked spears, though.

I also enjoy reading your blog posts–it’s gratifying to watch you progressing on such an ambitious project!

While I realize that there is probably a school/genre/slice of games for which this is normal and expected, I’d probably be put off by a game that forced me to make a bunch of decisions before I even started playing. Might it be easier to rope in players by minimizing the number of decisions that need to be made at the outset, while at the same time allowing those decisions to be meaningful and informed? I’m thinking, for example, of offering a single base package of items that all explorers would take with them, and then allowing players to choose from pre-made packages intended for certain gameplay approaches, e.g., “Hunter’s Toolkit”, “Horticulturalist’s Toolkit”, “Stoneworker’s Toolkit,” etc.

This would mean that the player has a single choice to make, and as long as the toolkit labels are descriptive enough, gives her a good sense of how that choice will affect gameplay (Ah, I’m going to be a hunter!). The existence of these different kits might also give you more purchase in creating balanced gameplay, since you could have basic expectations as an author about different approaches to the sim.

You could also offered an advanced mode alongside this, of course, where the player is allowed to directly pick all the starting items from a list.


What about the ability to craft a simple flatbow with the knife, from a stout hardwood branch, assuming something can be found for a bowstring? I’ve made two such bows (in real life), and I’ve shot plain natural sticks from them. Of course, I could never have hit anything that way if I’d tried, but it was fun. Such a bow is weak, inaccurate, and cracks easily, but for the sake of a game it might work.

By the way, I just glanced at your blog for the first time, and I have to say, this is one of the coolest IF projects I’ve heard about in a while. The closest thing I’ve ever played would be a roleplay-intensive MUD, which has very detailed simulation and never reveals the numbers behind the skills and stats, etc.

Aw, thank you. That’s such a gratifying thing to hear; it can be hard to know if the game that sounds awesome in your head also sounds interesting to anyone else.

Such a thing makes things even better for a game like this.

I have bows in my “implement eventually” column because I haven’t done the research on them that I would need to regarding accuracy, damage, and manufacture, and because I can imagine them getting kind of fiddly, because they have lots of bits - arrows, quivers, bow body, bow string, targets for practice, feathers for fletching, arrowheads for arrows, the potential for broken parts, etc. Not that all those necessarily would be included, but there’s a lot of judgment calls in there, and a lot of potentially fiddly knowledge to acquire or make up.

And, it sounds like, a quick start option for those who want to jump straight in, in addition to those who want to make one general choice or micromanage. Hmm. I’ll play with that a bit.

As far as communicating this information to a player, I would say that examining stuff while in the store also prints the “help on” text is probably a good way to do it. After all, while you’re in the store you’ve got all the random documentation and handbooks and stuff that everyone always throws away when they open the box.

I would also want to start with a prepacked survival kit, which is the absolute minimum necessary stuff needed to get through the game (but not necessarily with the best ending, maybe?), and then the opportunity to buy extra stuff that “might come in handy”. Choosing certain things to add to your survival kit will make some puzzles/challenges easier, or allow access to better results/endings.

This sounds like an awesome project, though, wherever you go with it!

Though it’s rediculous to expect to bring with you, an alembic (or some other way to distil water) would be helpful for changing that salt water into fresh water, or for purifying water. Can be a life saver.

Of course, a PDA or book full of important medical advances (how to make penicillin from mold, or how to disinfect a wound - whiskey perhaps) could be useful as well.

You could have this shirt, or something similar (since I’m guessing you won’t be able to build that airplane no matter how much know-how you have).