Last Oasis First Look and Interview – Attempting to Reinvent the Survival MMO
Not too long ago, survival multiplayer games were the hottest trend in the games industry, at least before Battle Royale came and stole that thunder. Of course, some are still going strong to this day, but it is clear an evolution is needed if this particular subgenre is to undergo a Renaissance of sorts.
That is exactly what indie studio Donkey Crew is attempting to do with Last Oasis, a survival sandbox MMO due to launch on Steam Early Access (after some delays) on Thursday, March 26th for the price of $29.99, discounted down to $24.89 during the debut week.
We recently participated in a 'virtual tour' presentation and came away intrigued. The premise of Last Oasis is simple, yet ingeniously enticing and effective. Earth has been affected by a cataclysmic event at some point in the past, which essentially stopped the planet's regular rotation for a while. This split Earth into two halves featuring extreme, uninhabitable environments, one deadly cold, the other scorching hot. The human survivors have no choice but to live in a nomadic state, as there's only a narrow region between the aforementioned two that is capable of supporting life and it constantly moves as the Earth orbits along the Sun.
In practice, this means you cannot stay in the same oasis forever. On the contrary, everyone is forced to move at least once in a week, and to do that you'll need to spend water (the most prized resource in the game, as you might have already guessed) to travel through the Wasteland desert with the curious wind-powered, wood-made Walkers (inspired by Theo Jansen's Strandbeests). These are akin to portable bases, which is meant to be the key distinguishing feature when compared to the endgame of other survival multiplayer games. Clan warfare won't suffer from offline raiding, for example.
Each oasis equals to an in-game server. There are potentially thousands of them active at once, depending on the player base, and they are all interconnected in a hex grid, forming a vast MMO-like game world that in the hope of the developers will be continuously interesting to explore.
Last Oasis also aims to deliver a compelling combat experience through directional and skill-based melee. The development team (based in Wrocław, Poland) has its roots in the Mount & Blade: Warband modding scene, after all, where they became popular with the cRPG multiplayer mod. There's more, such as a grappling hook used to move quickly and get back on your Walker once you've been knocked off it, and all sorts of giant monsters including Sandworms.
After the Last Oasis presentation ended, we had the chance to do a group Q&A with Project Lead Florian “Chadz” Hofreither, Producer & Designer Chris Thompson and Producer Lucas Stannis.
Do you have friendly fire enabled in Last Oasis? What would happen to your Walker if it's damaged? Is it still possible to enjoy the game when playing solo?
Okay, so regarding friendly fire, absolutely. It's a core part of Last Oasis and it wouldn't work without it. It's important for immediate combat because otherwise, you could just spam your attacks into the enemy. But with friendly fire, it's important to move as a team, so positioning becomes important.
If you destroy the legs of a Walker, you can absolutely rebuild them after the fight is over. It's actually very difficult to destroy a Walker anyway, you need specific weapons for that.
We have a lot of people who play as solo players. But you have to play smart. We have multiple systems there aiding players in protecting themselves. One big thing we have is the claiming system. How that works is a clan claims an entire oasis, not just a small area of an oasis, it's the entire region. And whenever a player is inside of this claim, they provide a bonus for this clan, but only if the clan manages to protect them. Our goal is to achieve an equilibrium where the larger clans actually protect the smaller players and give them a safe haven to play and to progress. To be honest, we'll have to wait for the launch to see how it works out. But we have some high hopes that it works pretty well in terms of keeping players safe.
We also have other mechanics that are particular to the Walkers themselves such as every Walker having its own cargo space and to break into this cargo space, you have to actually spend a lot of resources. It's similar to how breaking into bases works in other games, you have to actually ask yourself 'Is it worth the amount of resources that I would spend to break into this based upon what I think the rewards are that I'm going to get?'
We've actually seen in the Last Oasis beta so far that most pirates don't destroy your walker, they will attack you and they will break your chests and other things, but they will not break your Walker. So while you do suffer some losses, it's not a complete wipe.
I will absolutely recommend playing with a clan, however, it's just the most fun. I myself try and play mostly in clans. It's just so much fun to play with other people when you hear the call from your teammates that they're getting attacked on another server, so you equip a walker and you rush to the other oasis to reinforce them. It's an amazing feeling.
How many people need to be in a group to create a clan?
I think 2-3 is perfectly fine. You can have a good experience with two or three people. With 10 to 20 people, you will become a sizable force. And yes, there will be some clans that are larger than that. But depending on your playstyle, you can still have some impact.
What is the maximum population of players that can be on one hex server at the same time in Last Oasis?
For now, we've decided to put it to a hundred people per server and this is mostly because our focus number one is performance. In our tests, we've seen that when you have a hundred people on the server, it feels exactly the same as with one person on the server. And for us, it's just important to have a gameplay experience here that's just really performant. The beta testers were surprised by how well the game runs and we are kind of proud of that. We want to make sure that player fights are never decided by lag or other things that are just frustrating. So for now, it's a hundred and as we develop, we'll see how far we can take it further. Our goal is 150 at some point, but for now, we're just gonna keep it as is.
Regarding the game performance, we've done a lot of modifications to the Unreal Engine 4. In the beginning, we were struggling even with just one Walker. Now we can have dozens of them on the screen without any noticeable performance loss. Of course, we are bound by limitations at some point, but we are doing our absolute best. We have some very talented great coders.
And this gets to one of the later questions about melee combat and will be directional input potentially being affected by for connections or netcode issues. Again, it's the same sort of answer there. For us, the most important thing is that the game is performance and so the melee combat is also a factor in the decision to have that 100 player cap. It's largely that we have really great coders and it's a priority for us to make sure that all of these things run well for our players.
Are there any plans to release on next-gen or current-gen consoles after the launch?
First, we just focus on making the Steam version great and then everything is possible.
The Walkers are clearly inspired by insects and the Strandbeests. I can imagine it was a lot of fun to design them. Can you talk about that?
Yes. I mean, when we first had the idea here, it actually came from gameplay necessity. We knew we wanted moving bases, so we did some research on that. And we came across some ancient Chinese land sailing boats and all kinds of crazy things. And yeah, eventually we found the Strandbeests, which are amazing because they actually work in real life. So we figured, what happens if you blow that up? What happens if you think this through as something this post-apocalyptic uses to traverse the world? So yes, it was a lot of fun. There was also frustration at first because we accidentally stumbled into a lot of technical limitations that we needed to figure out. But we've solved all of them so far.
We've seen largely desert locations. Are there going to be more biomes in Last Oasis?
Right now we have multiple biomes, indeed. It's hard to explain it in number, how many biomes we have, but we have quite a few biomes and maps at release. One of the things that we want to add quite extensively after release is event maps. We think this is an interesting concept because our server structure allows for that. Those event maps are servers that only up for like 30 minutes to one hour and they are basically a kind of scenario, players go there together with other players or solo and try to fulfill the scenario. It could be some kind of Ruku city, it could be some kind of cave that you explore, it could be an asteroid map, it could be a Sandworm, all kinds of things. We want to keep adding those more and more because they are great fun, players enjoy them a lot and that's something we want to focus on. But yes, more biomes and all those things will be released during the early access phase.
You've obviously sped up progress for this demo, but how long do you think it would take for a new player to be building these bigger Walkers?
In general, we tried to make Last Oasis not grindy. Actually, in previous versions of the game, it took much longer to create them. But then we saw it actually wasn't that great for many various reasons. We hoped it would feel more valuable, but it just felt, you know, tedious. So we did a big change during the beta where we just cut down the prices of a lot of items and we exchanged some mechanics for more interesting ones. Now you can build many of the Walkers as a solo player in quite a few hours. It can range from a few hours to a day depending on what you focus on.
Big bosses plus grappling hook, any chances you could implement a Shadow of the Colossus-like mechanics? Perhaps you could climb up and damage it and make it weaker to Walker attacks? Something like that.
So yes, that actually works already to some extent. We didn't focus on exactly a shadow of Colossus like mechanics because it's not our primary direction. But yes, you can absolutely grapple to monsters. Some of them even encourage you to do so, like there's a big elephant-like mob that has resources on top, so you're supposed to grapple on top of it and harvest them from its back while it's not noticing you. So yes, we have a lot of ideas regarding that. And as I said, it's all physical, you can walk on them. You can stand on their legs while they walk and it's actually pretty cool.
Any chance for controller support in Last Oasis?
Yes, of course, we want to add it. It's just we're developing pretty rapidly for this early access release. So we decided to not support controllers for now, because it would slow development a little bit. After the game is launched we'll try and add that as soon as possible because yes, many people want that and we understand why.
What will the general nature of Last Oasis be? is there a campaign with missions and objectives and a story?
Well, Last Oasis is a sandbox game. We do provide the player some pointers, but at the end of the day, most players in our beta make up their own game and that works great so far. We do encourage people to do certain things. But the most fun that people had so far is the end game content in terms of territorial warfare. This is what we've seen so far the most, clans just battling it out over the oases and trying to expand their reach. We are very much a territorial warfare control game in the end game.
There are bound to be comparisons with Sea of Thieves. How do you plan to avoid the launch issues that game has had with players disappointed by the lack of content, griefing and the like?
We think we have some systems in place that I don't really want to talk about because they're more efficient if we don't talk about them. As controversial as it sounds, I guess. But we have some systems in place that help players not get griefed as extremely as in other survival games, and regarding content, our goal is absolutely to just keep adding content. We already have a lot of monsters, we have a lot of things to research, a lot of things to harvest. The world of Last Oasis is very alive already. And we'll just add content to our early access and our community respects us quite a lot for our fast development speed. I think that once we launch players will appreciate that.
There are lots of different and interesting influences here in Last Oasis. A lot of Conan, Rust, DayZ, Sea of Thieves, EVE Online, Worlds Adrift. Which would you say have been your biggest influences?
Oh, that's an interesting one. It also largely depends on who you ask from the development team because we all have different preferences. What I like about Rust is its simplicity and its actual balance. It took me a while to realize how greatly balanced Rust is. Sea of Thieves I have to admit that I didn't play it myself, EVE Online is absolutely something that we find amazing how they managed to make an in-game economy work like that and we would absolutely love to try and go in that direction, but it's obviously pretty high standard. Worlds Adrift I also haven't played myself but a lot of our community comes from that game after they shut down the service and they obviously enjoy the grappling hook quite a lot. Other influences? In terms of the melee combat, obviously one of the main influences for us was Mount & Blade: Warband. And a lot of us have a modding background in that game as well. But there were also other games that we played that influenced us. The Dark Souls series, to some extent, was an influence and For Honor as well.
And a lot of the inspiration actually came from our previous cRPG on Warband because a lot of those systems we tested there on a smaller scale, and we just wanted to put them into a more coherent way.
Are you considering a bounty hunting system against PKs?
We actually have that in a way. So the way it works is if you murder someone on someone's claim, this person stops producing a bonus. Then there's two ways to get the bonus back, either wait a few hours or defeat the person who killed it. Life as a pirate is actually pretty difficult in Last Oasis, because if you go into an enemy clan's territory and start hunting solo players there, then the clan will respond because you're physically damaging their passive income and they will not react kindly to that. We hope that this helps in protecting new players.
With the seven day limit before you have to move to the next zone, do you worry people won't invest much in the base building because of this?
Well, with our base packing system, we basically eliminated this problem, you can just pack up your base and move it to another server, no problem. We have to do two different types of bases. The other one is stone bases and yes, those cannot be packed. But those are mostly used by clans for strategic positions.
That system seems to work pretty well so far. Not just that, but to be honest, it also isn't a big issue if players are not building bases, because the walkers also can serve as a base depending upon the situation and what exactly you were trying to do with that base. There are some cases where players really will want to have a base, but I think it's less for the solo player and more for clans.
And we actually tried to make sure that we always have two ways of playing the game. For every feature we add in a base, we also give an alternative that is purely nomadic. So for example we have the windmills which produce torque. It's kind of like energy for machines and for this you need a base. However, you can also produce the torque on your Walker without the need for an actual base. So we try and keep it open for the players.
The general idea and overall concept of Last Oasis, this nomadic world and society, where did that come from? And what came first, the setting or the gameplay mechanics?
This is a great question because it was absolutely gameplay. We looked at other survival games, and we saw flaws from our point of view. For example, we saw the offline raiding, we saw the stalemate between the clans, and we figured we don't like any of that. So we thought 'Okay, first of all, what if you will always take your base with you, and you can take it offline?' Well, then we don't have offline raiding anymore. But why would anyone take the base with you? And then we thought, 'Well, what if you have to move all the time anyway?' and then we came up with the nomadic concept. You just have to keep moving and this is actually great for clan warfare as well because you cannot just bunker yourself down for weeks or a month anymore, you have to move eventually. And then a new server pops up and potential allies meet up there and both will try to claim the new oasis. What will happen, will they stay allies? Will they become enemies suddenly? So yes, it was absolutely the gameplay stuff that we came up with first. And then we tried to come up with tools that solved the gameplay problems we had.
Are we going to learn more about the lore and background story while playing?
Yes, we actually have extremely rich lore for Last Oasis but we decided not to give it out all in one go. We want to deliver the lore through in-game objects, through in-game structures, through all kinds of in-game mechanics and things that allow people to experience the lore rather than just read it somewhere. So yes, expect much more of the lore to be revealed in an immersive way.