I play a lot of survival games, mostly of the zombie apocalypse variety (State of Decay, Dying Light). Like most survival video games, there is a satisfying game loop: scavenge, craft, and stay alive. I’m not going to say the genre is getting stale, but I do think there is some exciting potential to be had in the future. And in no particular order:
1. Mobile Bases. Instead of being tied to several predetermined bases on a map (State of Decay), you can now drive your “war rig” to any location on the map and set up your home base. In addition to the mobile vehicle, external structures and fencing can be built. This provides a lot of strategy and flexibility for players. Where is the safest place to set up the base? Is the location optimal for resources? Plus you would have to accrue fuel/electricity to be able to move the base within the map (or onto the next map).
2. Procedurally Generated Maps. Once you are familiar with a map in a survival game, some complacency sets in because you know where everything is (plus that feeling of exploration is pretty much gone). But if a new map can be generated for every playthrough, a player will always have to survey and explore. There is just a greater feeling of peril if you don’t know the location you are playing in.
Imagine combing those first two ideas. You park your mobile base in Map 1, consume all the resources, and move onto Map 2, then Map 3, and so on. Imagine playing thousands of locations and never being in the same place twice. That to me is a compelling experience, and certainly makes for a long-term game.
3. Player Generated Maps. I don’t know why this isn’t a thing, but a city-builder tool that plays like Sim City or Cities Skylines, which can be used to create new maps for survival games (or any other genre). Some city sims allowed players to explore their creations at street level, or to drive around the city, so this isn’t a new thing exactly. But building a world that can serve as the backdrop to a story-driven game, that is rather unprecedented. This method of creating maps would likely be easier than a procedural approach, seeing as fans would be creating and sharing the content (similar to Mario Maker). Just an aside, imagine making your own city for a Grand Theft Auto-like game?
4. More Realistic Survival Conditions. Gasoline wouldn’t be plentiful in an apocalypse, because it expires after several months, so electric vehicles would need to source power from solar panels. Players couldn’t venture into underground structures like subways without an oxygen tank, because there is no proper air circulation. Serious injuries should sideline characters for weeks (no instant healing), which would penalize careless or reckless play.
5. Refuge Spots. Besides bases, there are no “safe zones” in most survival games. However if character A is injured or is in grave danger, I would like to park them in a safe spot (on top of a building or in a bank vault for example), and then I would switch to character B to mount a rescue. This system could also be used to rest characters away from home base.
6. More Car-Unfriendly Exploration. My one gripe with the State of Decay games, is that the vehicles are overpowered and have become a safety net (even in the harder difficulty settings). More areas should be explored on foot only, forcing players to park the car. It would be risk vs reward: the 8th floor of a tall building or a store deep inside a shopping mall would have better loot than a tool shed or fast food restaurant.
7. More Dynamic NPC’s. Most NPC’s are confined to their bases or safe zones. Imagine running into a hostile NPC while looting a location, or having to avoid an NPC who is driving like a maniac on the road? I just feel like NPC’s could be making the game more interesting than they currently are.
8. Paranoia About Infection. In most zombie films, some tension can be drawn from not knowing who is infected. I think this could be incorporated into Zombie games somewhat, but that would mean withholding some health stats from the player. Does a wounded character look infected? Should they be exiled? Do you waste precious medicine on someone who is clearly doomed? I don’t know if this can be properly implemented into a video game, because players are so accustomed to completely curing their characters.
These are all I can think of for now, but if there’s anything you would like to see integrated into a survival game, please feel free to share in the comments below!