The Big ARK: Survival Evolved Interview – Launching and Beyond

Kai Powell

ARK: Survival Evolved has been the surprise hit of 2015 on Steam Early Access. Launching just in time to catch the hype train of the new Jurassic World movie, Seattle-based Studio Wildcard delivered an open world survival game where players get stranded on an island filled with dinosaurs and plenty of other dangers - chiefly, human players.

According to SteamSpy, there are roughly five million owners on Steam alone with other millions playing the game on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. ARK: Survival Evolved is also about to launch on the Windows 10 Store, where it will have cross-buy and cross-play functionality with the Xbox One version.

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Most importantly, the game managed to reach those results without actually having launched yet. At E3 2017, Studio Wildcard announced that ARK: Survival Evolved will come out of its Early Access programs on August 8th. At E3 2017, we talked with Co-Founder and Co-Creative Director Jesse Rapczak about the upcoming launch and what lies beyond.

WCCF: As far as the ARK: Survival Evolved Collector’s Edition goes, have you narrowed it down to which retailer will be stocking that?

ARK: In the US it’ll be GameStop, Best Buy, and Walmart. It’s not going to go on store shelves, it’s a pre-order only thing. People will go to our website and it’ll direct you the various retailers. People are already putting through orders today. It’s in limited quantity so people have got to get on it, if we sell out we’ll do another run.

One thing that is cool too is that retailers like to give pre-order incentives. We’ve collaborated with them on skins and stuff but some retailers are just straight up doing their own incentives. One retailer is doing a steel book case for the game. For me, I was like “wow, we don’t make that, they just make that and they give it to people?” They were like, “yeah, man”. I was like, “okay, cool”, and now I kind of want to go buy it from them now. I was like, “so how does that work?”, and they were like “well, you buy the game and then they hand you the case.” I’m like, “sounds good!”.

WCCF: As far as the expansion stuff goes with the season pass, have you already narrowed down which two modding communities you are going to work with for the other two expansions?

ARK: Oh, that’s not a mod, that’s internal development, just like Scorched Earth was. That’s separate from our official mods. All the official mods are free content, we had The Centre, Primitive Plus and now Ragnarok, those are free updates on all platforms. The expansion packs are the ARK internal dev team creating new, large expansions to the game. The price point is twenty dollars each on those, so the actual season pass is a pretty good deal, it amounts to buy one get one free on the season pass.

WCCF: For people that got into ARK: Survival Evolved with the Early Access, say PlayStation 4 where they got the early access game as well as Scorched Earth, is there any sort of promotion or incentive to get the other two expansions at a reduced price?

ARK: Not currently, although, if they do buy them at full price they are still getting the cheapest version of them, it’s not really possible to get it that cheap. We recognize that a lot of people have already bought the game so one thing we are going to try to do is with the Collector’s Edition and stuff like that is to maybe figure out other ways to get that to people where they don’t have to buy the game again and stuff like that. Also, I think people really liked Scorched Earth, it has even higher reviews than the base game, but I think it speaks to the different things we put into that versus the base game. People play the base game a certain way, it has the most players, but then you install Scorched Earth and you’ve got a different experience altogether and that’s the same type of thing we are going to do for the next expansion. Add a lot of new gameplay mechanics, new creatures and all sort of stuff. We’ll play that one by ear in terms of having any specials down the road, but typically like any other game, we’ll do sales and stuff like that after its initially launched.

WCCF: And this is going to be really tough to narrow a time, especially when we you are working so much to get the base game all ready for the August release, but do you have a rough timetable for when those two expansions drop?

ARK: The first one is likely to be before the end of the year, so pretty soon after launch. The next one will be coming sometime next year, so our roadmap for the expansion takes us through the end of 2018. I’m excited to talk about the next expansion but you’ll have to wait until after we actually launch ARK: Survival Evolved!

WCCF: So probably like no sooner than Gamescom?

Yeah, that’s good, probably time we’ll start talking about stuff. Probably three weeks after launch we’ll start talking about what’s next, give it some time to sink it.

WCCF: Do you guys have any plans to bring ARK: Survival Evolved to the Nintendo Switch?

No concrete plans as of yet. We all have one around our offices and we are excited about mobile gaming in general, but nothing to announce at this time.

WCCF: How do you feel about the Xbox One X's $499 price?

I know it’s an expensive price, it’s probably above average price for consoles historically, but I think it’s a lot like the Elite controller. There’s a market for people who want to have the best, I mean, who would have thought a one hundred and fifty-dollar controller would be successful for Microsoft? I think it’s right to discount the S, and make it half the price of the X. I think it’s a reasonable price if you are someone who wants to have that extra horsepower. It’s good foresight for both Sony and Microsoft that they don’t allow you to have any games specific to either console, so it makes it inherently opt-in. A lot of people are saying “it’s too expensive, it’s too expensive!”, but you have to remember they aren’t releasing a new console that can’t play any games that is now five hundred dollars. It’s the same market, it’s like players upgrading their graphics cards on PC, they can play the same games, they are just opting in to a better rig with higher power. I think it’s okay at that price point, those things considered. If it were a new console and it didn’t have any games, I would say that is suicide.

WCCF: Consumers are already kind of used to that. We’ve already had that kind of integration with the cell phone market.

ARK: It’s true. And if you think about the price point, it’s kind of equivalent to a 1070 graphics card, maybe. And that’s like a $300 graphics card, maybe more actually. And the X actually has 12GBs of RAM, so it’s actually like having a pretty high-end PC and you might as well lop off 4GB of RAM because you aren’t dealing with a bloated operating system running a bunch of other stuff. I would say that’s a pretty good deal for something that powerful.

Instead of targeting 30FPS like on the other consoles, we’re targeting 60FPS for the Xbox One X. I would say most of the time for PS4 Pro you would be seeing 30FPS on PS4 Pro at 1080P, whereas with the Xbox One X you’re going to see double the frame rate at 1080P, 60FPS. We might even allow the frame rate to go higher than 60 FPS, but we’re still looking into that. Right now it’s actually uncapped but on a TV it’s not that useful [because they’re locked to 60Hz].

Previously on PS4 Pro, we had the option to choose between frame rate (720P@60FPS) and resolution (1080P@30). We removed it because it’s a better experience for the users now.

Because ARK: Survival Evolved is a multiplayer game, the complexity on the screen can be very unpredictable. Variable resolution is something we introduced this year to try and stabilize the frame rate on lower PCs and consoles so that when people go into a huge base and someone’s got a hundred dinosaurs, the resolution scales down but the frame rate stays smooth.

[On Xbox One X] We’re not targeting 4K resolution or anything like that, instead we’re targeting higher quality pixels.

WCCF: Do you have plans to implement HDR support?

ARK: We’re definitely going to implement HDR support. It’s one of those things we really like in games. I feel like HDR has a much important place in games than 3D TVs or even 4K. It does make a big difference as long as you’re using it in the right circumstances.

ARK at its core is an HDR game, we just tone map it for SDR (Standard Dynamic Range) for non-HDR displays. We will enable HDR on PS4, PS4 Pro, Xbox One S and Xbox One X. We might do it on Windows 10 too – the game is coming on the Windows 10 Store too and it will have cross-buy and cross-play with the Xbox One version.

Because it’s the same code base, taking advantage of HDR in that environment. Not sure if we’ll do that on Steam or not, we’ll see. It’s a little harder on Steam where people’s system configurations vary wildly.

[Switching topic to the official mod Ragnarok, available now on PC and coming to consoles as well]

ARK: Ragnarok is available today as an official mod now. Dave here is part of the mod team that created it, they’ve been part of our sponsored mod program since we launched it at GDC. They’ve also created a bunch of fan favorite mod content like Valhalla and stuff like that, so this is a second generation map for them and it quickly stood out as one of the best. We decided we would really love to get it on consoles for the console players and that’s the start of that. By July 4th weekend we’ll have it for console players as well, and we collaborated with them to add a new creature. They added some mod versions of creatures like ice wyverns and the fire golem. We created the gryphon in-house and put that on the map as an extra piece of content as well. It’s going to be one of the biggest official mods, I think. There’s so much new content like that, new creatures that are transferable to other servers and also the map itself. It’s about 50% done right now. Their plan is to finish it up over the next several months and be ready around launch time with another full map. We are supporting it with official servers of our own and people can host it themselves. It’s pretty exciting and obviously a new twist of what you can do in ARK: Survival Evolved. It’s not part of the core lore, but neither was The Centre or Primitive Plus, but people just love that stuff and I would say the lore in ARK: Survival Evolved is sort of like, “by the way, it’s more than a survival game.”

This is our plan for the future too, to continue to find new content that the community is creating and trying to bring the best stuff to the console gamers as well.

WCCF: How can gamers access Ragnarok once it goes live on July 4th?

ARK: If you are on console it will automatically download as an update. It’s something where you can just join the server and it’ll load that map. On PC you can download the DLC from our Steam page, it’s available as of today. Or if you join a server it will automatically prompt you to download the DLC.

WCCF: Are you guys planning on adding more building things and styles?

ARK: Not before launch. We have a couple… I think we have a couple structures in our upcoming patch, but we are not planning to do any more building tiers or styles prior to launch. We do have a couple surprises for the end game content, some new Engrams that you can get but nothing major.

WCCF: As a quick follow-up, what about bridges?

ARK: Bridges will probably be post-launch. Honestly, there’s a really cool bridge mod out there, it’s a dynamic bridge mod, so much so that I know Jeremy looked at it and he was totally impressed with what the guy did. I would say for now go check out that mod but maybe after launch, we’ll try to incorporate something similar, but that mod is really cool so I’m going to try and publicize that mod as much as possible. If you search ‘Dynamic Bridge Mod’ in the Steam Workshop you’ll find it. I think it is the number one most popular mod download right now.

WCCF: Any changes to PVE before ARK: Survival Evolved's release?

ARK: No major changes that we are planning before release.

WCCF: Will you be reducing the breeding time on dinos to make them more doable for the general player-base?

ARK: I haven’t heard any plans to do that. We view breeding as more of a hardcore feature and, you know, there’s a lot of stuff that breeding brings like mutation to tailor the type of stats your dino has to make it powerful. And so, we’ve always felt that that’s something that is appropriate that you put a lot of time in it to get those type of results, but players have found their own kind of way where people have jobs as breeders, and they kind of do that for the people that don’t have the time via trading and stuff like that. We are happy with how that’s working right now and we don’t really want to upset that balance too much. You can’t get one hundred percent ??? (25:3) on a dino which is the perfect dino, and if that’s too easy then it really throws off the balance of the server, PVP and everything like that. I feel like it’s in a good spot, even if it is an investment. You can trade for a perfect dino and that can be your role.

WCCF: Why are existing hairstyles that were previously available now hidden behind achievements?

ARK: Well, we wanted to give people a reward for hitting achievements on all platforms. We always intended hairstyles and emotes to be a reward for that, and just to be transparent, we never hooked them up originally, we only put them up to make sure people liked them and that the system was working. Once we proved that out, we wanted to make sure there were some rewards for people doing the achievements in ARK: Survival Evolved.

WCCF: Thank you for your time.

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