Developer Interviews #11: Team17’s “The Survivalists”

Team17 are expanding on the Escapists universe next week with the release of The Survivalists, an adventure-survival game set on a desert island. Of course, this is no ordinary adventure. On this island, you’ll find lots of monkey friends to help you survive. The game was recently announced to launch on October 9th 2020. Let’s jump in and find out more about The Survivalists!

Can you give my readers an overview of The Survivalists gameplay? What will they be doing in this game?

​”Sure, The Survivalists is a procedurally generated survival game with a large focus on crafting, building, and adventure! Players will be able to go out and explore this large world, fight animals and creatures, and sail the wild shores, all while harvesting resources to craft and build things to expand out several crafting trees. Unlike a lot of other survival games, The Survivalists puts more emphasis on letting players do what they want – it’s very much an open world adventure game with survival aspects added in. 

The other obvious elephant in the room, or should that be monkey in the room, is the Monkey Mimic system! In The Survivalists, the cheeky critters add a totally new layer of gameplay and choices to the game as they allow players to create some very complex automation like machines. If you picture it as “Monkey See, Monkey Do” – the monkeys can do any action or interaction in the game that the player can, but they can only perform a single task individually at a time. Players can then chain several monkey tasks together to create monkey machines that can automate some or all elements of day to day survival. “

The game is set in the same universe as The Escapists. What brought you to this decision? Will we see links between the two games? Any ex-prisoners escaping to the island?

​”I think the thing with The Escapists 2 especially is how open and free the game is for players; you can escape the prisons if you want but from our experience we discovered that what players really liked about those games was the freedom they had to just mess around in that world, players just enjoyed doing their own thing and making up their own stories in the prisons. From that idea of freedom, we quickly hit on the idea of, well what happens to the inmates when they escape? In The Escapists the escapes always end in disaster, you might for example end up trapped in a strange new world to explore! It just felt like a natural direction to take the core sandbox nature in, open up the game and the possibilities to the player, they are no longer restricted to a prison but instead have an entire world to explore and play in as they want. 

The obvious links between the games are the similarity in art style, I think you can look at The Survivalists and see The Escapists in it, although I will say, when you play the game and see it in motion you’ll see just how many improvements the art team managed. Other than that, there are some very strong gameplay links, such as crafting and foraging for things, keeping track of time and generally the game has the same feel and humour. As for ex-prisoners! Well, maybe you’re playing as one, or maybe you’ll discover an easter egg here and there…”

What makes this game unique from other survival games out there?

​”Monkeys! Well, to be honest its a few things but the monkeys are major part in what gives The Survivalists its own flavour. Most survival games have a gameplay loop of needing to go forage and hunt for resources to survive. You get hungry and need to eat, repeat this loops, being hungry or needing a shelter in most survival games are the things you spend most of your time doing and a side effect of that is the you go out and explore. Whilst The Survivalists begins very much like your typical survival game – having, finding, and freeing friendly monkeys that are willing to help allows players the chance to create these amazing automated systems. Players can set up monkey chains where the monkeys will gather the resources, craft the items, build the structures, cook the food, and more.

The Monkey Mimic System is not only something makes The Survivalists unique, but it also frees up the players time, leaving them free to explore, so in the game exploration becomes the main pursuit rather than the hunt for survival. When players go out and explore, they’ll discover the game has a lot of secrets, Vaults to explore, and new lands to discover. The Survivalists starts out feeling like a survival game but at a certain point the scales tip and it becomes more of an adventure game, with quests to complete, stories to discover, and dungeons to battle through. I’d sum it up as a survival action adventure game (with monkeys!).”

Can you point out one feature about The Survivalists that you love the most?

​”Obviously the monkeys are cool feature and the way in which they work is really unique, gather a bunch of your monkey friends and have them observe what you do then do it themselves, it’s fun and once you learn how it all works it’s an incredibly flexible and open system for players. However, on a personal note I have a really strong soft spot for the Labyrinths, I think when you decide to make an entirely procedurally generated world, and it is a world… Its large! You don’t generally also then decide to create large randomly generated, explorable dungeons with traps, puzzles, and combat, the Labyrinths feel like they could be a roguelike dungeon crawling game in themselves and its crazy to think they’re only one feature.”

What experience did the team have before The Survivalists that they were able to apply to this game?

​”Well the core of this team came from Overcooked! 2 which is a very different game and a very different way of working and then a large majority of the rest of the team were fairly new to Team17 so generally speaking we all came at this project with very little experience in making anything like it. It’s been a baptism by fire with everyone working incredibly hard to research things like procedural generation or a game with so many interlocking high-level systems. Honestly though I think the fact that we didn’t really know what we were getting ourselves into beforehand was a blessing. No one was held back by past experiences, nothing was ever “off the table” as an idea and I think if we’d all known more in advance, we might have played it safer. It’s a testament to everyone on the team that we ended with the game we did, everyone did everything they could to deliver what we all felt was the game we wanted to release.”

Were you able to learn anything by playing other games in the genre that you’ve applied to this game?

​”I’d be lying if I said that other games don’t influence what you make, and I’ve already seen some comments in the community about games people might think we learned from but I never came into the project wondering what other games in this genre do, rather what could my take on the genre be. I think it’s impossible to make a survival inspired game and not take elements from existing games (some of the best games ever fall in this genre) but everything in this game has come from what either me, the team, or usability felt would make this game have its place in the genre.”

How’s the response been to the game reveal so far?

“So far I don’t think it could have been any better, I think everyone on the team are really excited by how people have taken to the idea of the game, and everyone really enjoys seeing people discover some of the cool things we’ve added. It’s been great to watch YouTube videos of people play and really engage with everything in there; It seems like a lot of people have also been surprised at just how big the game is and how much there is to do, which for us is simply amazing to hear as people have only seen a small amount of the games content. We are already building a healthy community and the feedback we’ve been getting is great as well as helpful. When people sit and play it, it seems they are often surprised by the game and then once they learn how to utilise the monkeys, well… We’ve seen some super cool things! So far, it’s just been really good to see that all the hard work everyone on the team has put into the game is being noticed by those that have tried the game.”

As the team moves towards launch, what genres are you excited to explore next? Any ideas brewing about the next project?

“There are always new things to make and genres to explore but right now the focus of the team is on this game and what can be added post launch. I don’t see the games release as the end of the project but hopefully the start of a new journey. As for future projects it’s too early to say, we always have a bunch of exciting things in the works, we like to make sure people are on a project that makes the most sense for them.”

What have you learnt whilst developing The Survivalists that you would apply to your next project, whether that were a survival game or not?

“This is probably a really boring answer, but we actually spent a lot of time throughout development using The Survivalists as a proving ground for a lot of new processes around project management and how we actually work as a team. Something that was really important to us was finding ways to improve communication between all levels and from all disciplines and over the duration of the project we’ve added more ceremonies that really promote this idea.

We moved away from strict schedules and expecting to know everything in advance, and we worked in a much more agile way. The result of this was a really engaged team and a real sense among everyone that everyone’s individual contribution really mattered and was important to the bigger picture. It’s made The Survivalists an absolute joy to work on, and we want that to be the case with every game that Team17 makes.”

What plans do you have for post-launch? Will there be updates or expansion packs?

​”I think I might of hinted at this in another question but it’s fair to say that we do have plans for post-launch support – as for any details on specifics,  I can’t really talk about that too much.”

That’s everything you need to know about the wacky world of The Survivalists! You can purchase the game on Steam, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PS4 for £21.99. You can see the trailer below!

Did you enjoy this interview? Want more like it? Click here to see my other interviews, with the developers of Haven, Hello Neighbor 2 and more! Subscribe to the mailing list to get them straight to your inbox! For all the latest gaming news stay right here at The Games Freak! Share your thoughts in the comment section or over on my social medias, which are linked below!

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