Thursday, 25 June 2020

Surviv.io

I've become slightly addicted to a browser game that's essentially something that "kids these days" play, the mighty surviv.io. Although I'm probably 1-2 years late to it.

It's a clever 2D take on the popular battle royale online multiplayer genre, but better still it really reminds me of old games like Rambo, Cannon Fodder and Airborne Ranger a bit.

Squad mode.
My first experiences were just die, die, and die some more.

Then I watched a few videos, read a bit about weapon and item qualities, spectated the other players and went back to the game. And died some more. But at least I kind of knew why.


Some notes

Many players rush for the underground bunkers and other major buildings, as these have guaranteed weapon caches. Better players are often there and without experience you'll get killed instantly and it may be a bit difficult to enjoy.

When you are inserted to the map, the clock may show something between 30 seconds to about 1:15. This gives an indication how long some players may already have been on the map. In the worst case others may have had a minute of looting time before you!

If you have a lot of time, you can check the map ('g' key) for the nearest interesting building (clubhouse, bunkers etc) as you might reach there first.

Even knowing this, to get the feel of the game it may be better to lurk around a bit at first, find out what the items (health, pills, weapons, grenades) do, what can be found from the crates and furniture and so on.

A typical 50v50 map. The battle often focuses on the central bridge. A bunch is looting the greenhouse southwest to the center, with two squadmates. The circle marks the approaching red zone.
It's important to understand soon that using pills/cola adds to your adrenaline. If it's more than 50% you get a speed boost. This explains why some enemies run circles around you, they have the aggro and you don't. Adrenaline is also a slow-healer.

It's possible to survive in the red area in the beginning, and if you have some adrenaline the healing effect is stronger than the damage! Later the effect gets more intense and the pills can't compensate for the burn.

So if I find enough adrenaline at the beginning, I can lurk at the red area and collect all the junk that's been abandoned. This is also a way to learn a bit more about the environment without someone pestering you all the time. It's not totally empty, though.

Lurking's fine for learning the ropes, but it seems it's not possible to win without becoming a hardened battle master! There's no reason to shy away from battles and difficult locations. Fights are often about a complex exchange of timing lateral motion and shooting, weapon switches and special items.


Armor and items

You can get some kind of armor and weapons very quickly, but if you only have crap armor, crap helmet, crap weapon, crap visibility then you won't have a place at the end game.

Only much later I learned the helmet has a different logic to the armor, which simply tends to sink damage. There are apparently such things as 'critical hits' and the helmet sort of protects from those.

It's a good idea to learn to quickly identify enemy armor. White-ish border is the t-shirt, grey is level-2 vest and black is the top-notch (nearly) bullet-proof vest. Some cloth colors make these difficult to see.

Visibility 1=beginning, then 2, 4 and 8. 15 does exist. The higher, the more rare obviously. You can manipulate the situation a bit by hanging inside or underground, as the visibility tends to be low there.

8x view, 50v50 mode. The bridge is often the centerpiece of the battle.
Visibility range in itself is again not that useful, if your weapon has no stopping power from distance. You may just end up revealing your position from further away!

A "sniper" weapon coupled with 8-range can be a deadly combination, whereas those guns are rather difficult to handle at close quarters. Some sight problems may arise from the 8-view, maybe someone jumps out of the nearest bush and you can't see the threat!

It's safe to say that skilled players will have top tier everything at the end game, and if you don't, then there's little chance. They do the math and rush you with superior weapons, confident that you can't damage them enough in the altercation. With luck you can get to #2 through having avoided everything, but it won't help you win.

Note that there are also cheaters, hackers, aimbots and whatnot. (As of today something may have been done to this) It's unclear to me if mobile players and mouse-players are mixed in the same game. I guess touch screen versions must involve some kind of aim assist. Don't be too sad if you get killed by someone playing by different rules.


Weapons

One novelty of surviv.io is that although the game is very simplified and even abstract, the weapons are (comparatively) realistic. There's a bunch of weapons with different characteristics for damage, spread, range, magazine size, loading speed, post-firing slowdown etc.

I'm not going into detail about which gun does which damage, there are wikis and websites for that. In the beginning I tried to figure out which was the "best" weapon, but as I've learned a bit more, most of them seem to have their place in some situation. This also adds some nuance to the game.

AK-47 sounds good but isn't really that amazing. I would prefer M416 over it. The shotguns are OK-ish too. I've begun to like a combination of M416 and the M220 shotgun that delivers 2 shots in quick succession. These are also quite often available.

As I already said, the end-game is not very forgiving. There you need better weapons, even if the M220 serves well as a 2nd weapon. What others have left lying around is often a good guide as to what's crap.

A MAC-10 or a double-wielded G81C can be useful at the very start. Although not powerful, these spraying weapons are attractive for the beginner as the aiming is not so difficult. Slow shotguns and sniper rifles are more potent but are also a bit hard to use.

There have been tricks switching weapons to diminish the delays, slowdowns and loading speeds, but I'm not yet that intensely involved. Also sometimes the developers discourage these tricks by altering the rules a bit. In any case it makes sense to be able to switch quickly between weapons in the heat of the battle.

Grenades can be a game-changer, but they are often easy to avoid too. Throw them at the last moment before they explode and you have yourselves a bazooka, but it's difficult to do in a chaotic situation (i.e. every real fight)

One of the underground bunkers.
More often grenades are used to create a suppression zone between you and the enemy so you can escape or get time to heal. In squad games this can be quite important. Smoke grenades have more subtle uses. You might follow up a smoke grenade with an explosive, but it's often a bit too obvious.

Mines were recently added, and initially I felt the game doesn't need another semi-random way to die! But they do appear to add dynamics to situations.

As I said, fists might even deal more damage than some of the weaker guns. The melee fights are a bit random but sometimes a desperate fist assault can be better than fleeing under gunfire. Note that claws, knuckles and knives are simply cosmetic skins, even though the latter show as items.


Other game modes

After I found Squad games more enjoyable than the Solo mode, I rarely play anything else. This is partly because victory doesn't become so important.

50v50 games are sometimes available, and these can be a good learning experience as you don't meet the enemy too soon. It's more easy to get into the logic of looting and finding weapons and items. Also, the chaotic battle situations are amusing in themselves.

The Russian police never sleeps!
There's also the squad variant on a cobalt grey "spiky" landscape, with "character classes". This can also be useful for learning. Here the Cast Ironskin class generates its own ammunition, so you don't have to figure out which ammo fits which gun (something that caused trouble in the very beginning). Otherwise I'm not a big fan of that mode.

Random squads are not often very effective. Bickering members steal whatever items they can see. For some, snatching the item from a crate you looted is a game into itself. Most care little if some squad members still miss weapons, but more experienced players tend to be more helpful.

...and some wander off without much thought about team coherence. There are also those who find enjoyment in playing "solo" in the squad mode, or try to establish teams in the actual Solo game, or somehow disturb the 50v50. Well, whatever.

Chaos at the bridge in 50v50. The red zone is approaching...

Communication

I played a solid amount of games before even looking at how to produce emojis and to communicate with teammates. The emoji wheel is activated by holding and releasing the right mousebutton, whereas the latter comes up by holding key 'c' and doing the same. The set of emojis can be adjusted in the loadout.

At start I thought that a game with no chat or verbal communication would have no insults or much negativity in it. How naive I was! A barrage of 'poop' and 'crying with laughter' emojis after you've been brutally overcome, DOES have a kind of effect.

The little text there is, is in the player names. There are the occasional squadmates with a "hilarious" name in the vein of "nazis are ok" or "jewkiller", which I feel the need to discourage somehow. As squadmates can't damage each other it can only suffice not to help them. These may have been censored lately.

I've felt that shooting at squadmates can be used to indicate disapproval, even if no damage can be done. After shooting at one "nazi" he got confused and began emoting he's French or Russian or whatever. Yes, there are nationality emojis, which are sometimes brought up in 50v50 as a some kind of hopeful appeal to "true allegiance" when death is nearing.

I also felt the "?" emoji would be useful for play situations, but turns out many just interpret it to mean "what is your nationality?"

The nickname "girl killer" and variants, is a grey area, is that someone who kills girls or a girl who does the killing?

Choosing emoji set in the loadout.
I felt surprised that a lot of the crowd were progressive and conscious enough to declare the "rainbow" emoji. Soon it dawned on me that when correctly timed, the rainbow emoji simply equals the on-line gaming classic "you are gay".

Add to this that it can be invoked in an implied and plausibly deniable way. Should this be worrying? Did the devs think this through?

Or, did I, after reading too little into it, read too much into it? Someone gets killed: that's a rainbow moment. You die: one final rainbow towards your assailants. Some are seen to actually collaborate: a rainbow. Some are found in healing activities in the bushes: rainbow again. Oh look, there are some flowers, that's definitely rainbow time.

It's a bit weird if players are assumed to be of particular gender (the visuals aren't particularly gendered) to make this effective as some kind of insult. So there might be a layer of irony here, too.


Ironies of Surviv.io
  • Try a weapon and find yourself at the losing end of every fight. Then take note how anyone else is able to pulverize you easily with the same weapon, no matter how "crap" it seemed.
  • Conversely, see how economically the enemies wipe you out with a "difficult" weapon like the SPAS-12, try it yourself and you never either hit anyone or deal enough damage.
  • The more seemingly amazing weapon or equipment you find in the first 30 seconds, the more likely it's all going to go to hell in the first minute. Find the most sad weapons and equipment and you'll be bound to survive to  the endgame, just to get killed (because of the crappy equipment).
  • Good players always retreat at the right moment, they sneak out of range and view to heal themselves. You try it and get shot in the back.