ARK – So Good Yet So Bad

1,537 words.

If anyone looks at my YouTube channel*, you can tell I’m still playing a fair amount of ARK. I’m in a very “I want to be by myself” gaming mood right now and toodling around by myself on a giant island of dinosaurs is a good fix.

Thanks to a suggestion from Aywren I’ve customized my server settings to make the game a little more palatable. I haven’t altered it much, just a few tweaks to GameUserSettings.ini to minimize the annoyances:




I find night time fairly annoying, so I shortened it a bit. (Night time is seriously dark.) I originally started with a 2.5 player damage but over time it started to feel overpowered, so I turned it back down. The taming speed multiplier is absolutely mandatory. I’m thinking of turning it up again to something like 100.0. I despise the needlessly time-consuming taming mechanic in ARK.

And because it drives me crazy how rare metal is, even with a metal pick, I added this to Game.ini:


At the default setting, I was barely mining enough metal to keep the metal pick repaired. (I might tone it down again because I discovered there are metal deposits in the game-rocks which provide tons of metal.)

Overall I’m a little surprised that I’m still playing ARK, but I think I know why. For one thing, like I said, it fits my current mood perfectly. For another thing, the game is designed to be very addictive. It quite literally punishes you for logging off. All of your “stuff” is on a ticking timer that winds down the longer you leave it alone. Things on the ground decompose and disappear (including your corpse if you die-you can’t logoff if you die). All of the things you build decompose and require constant repair, requiring you to constantly keep gathering materials and resources. All of your food spoils, requiring you to constantly keep finding or growing or killing more. If you have dinosaur pets, you also need to keep them fed, and sometimes predators come along and kill them, requiring you to run out and tame more (cough Alpha Raptor cough). All of your gardens use up fertilizer, requiring you to constantly keep picking up dinosaur poop to put in your composting bin. And all of that stuff keeps happening when you’re offline. When you log on a day later, all of your food is gone, and your fertilizer is gone, and you have to run around doing errands before you can even start to do anything new.

Granted, as you gain levels, it becomes easier and easier to maintain that status quo because you have better technology available to you. You get a preserving bin to store food in, for example. You get a feeding trough to store berries in. But preserved food still spoils eventually-it just takes longer.

It’s a brilliantly evil, addictive design, and I think it’s a big part of why the game is popular. You have to keep logging in to keep up.

The other brilliant thing about ARK is that you can run private servers. Until ARK, I never considered how much of a great thing private servers might be. I can’t even tell you how awesome it is to play an MMORPG-like game without having to worry about running into another player. :) I know that sounds counter-intuitive, but sometimes I really don’t want to deal with wondering whether that other player I meet is going to try to talk to me, or role-play with me, or try to kill me, or steal my kills, or take my resources, or ask to join me, or invite me to join them, or something like that. (I know this is a weird social anxiety thing, but my biggest fear when I run into another player** out in the wilderness is that they are going to invite me to join a group. I feel so bad declining those invites, but on a bad day I feel trapped and cornered and claustrophobic and like I want to shut off my computer and run and hide in the corner of my room if I accept a group invite-needless to say, it’s not fun to play a game when you’re feeling like that.) ARK reminds me a lot of Mortal Online, a game that I like, but I eventually stopped playing because other players were too stressful-even the friendly ones.

I really like the gathering and crafting systems in ARK, too. There’s a perfect balance between simplicity and depth. And I absolutely love the base-building aspect of the game. Starting with a campfire and turning it into a thatch hut and then expanding it into a wooden lodge and then building it up into a multi-level fort with walls is awesome. It really gives you a sense of ownership in the spot you’ve picked out to settle.

So the good parts of ARK are really good, but then there are the bad parts. The bad parts are really, really bad.

Of course there are the graphics that everyone knows about. The graphics optimization is the worst I’ve ever seen. Unless you’re running a $10,000 gaming rig, you’re going to have to turn the settings down to low to get anything better than a slide show. My PC is not quite two years old and runs almost every other game fine at the highest settings. But not ARK.

The combat system in ARK is so very bad. Ranged combat with a bow is moderately okay, but if you end up trying to stab a dinosaur with a spear, it’s god awful. It almost doesn’t matter which direction you point your spear. What you see on the screen seems irrelevant to the calculations. As best I can tell, everything is random. It seems to figure out whether you can hit the dinosaur based solely on your proximity to it. And sometimes you don’t even have to be next to it. The spear sometimes hits even if the dinosaur is nowhere near the spear tip. And the amount of damage seems completely random, too. Sometimes it takes five hits to kill a dinosaur, but next time, the same type of dinosaur at the same level is killed in one hit. It makes no sense at all. And of course even on the lowest graphics settings your frame rate drops to a slide show every time you’re in combat, making it that much worse.

The imprecision in targeting extends to picking up stones, too. You don’t have to be pointing at stones to pick them up. In fact the stone can be behind you and it will still pick it up. There’s a similar issue with chopping trees and mining. It doesn’t figure out what you’re mining by where you’re pointing, only by what is closest to your character.

I just discovered rafts. Rafts are fantastic for quickly moving up and down the coast, but the controls for rafting are the worst I’ve ever seen in a game. As best I can tell, the raft moves toward the direction your view is pointing. Which is fine until you want to look at any of the scenery you’re passing. There is no moving backward. Rafts routinely get stuck on terrain geometry. It’s almost impossible to get onto a raft from the water-you usually end up swimming underneath. It’s horrible.

The taming mechanic is inexplicable to me. I don’t understand why it needs to take so long. The only thing I can figure is that they wanted it to use up a lot of food resources to tame something, but if that’s the case why not make the taming subject eat faster? Why have it wait to eat one item every minute? Why not one every second? Why? Why??

The bad things wouldn’t bother me if I had any sense that the developers planned to fix them or even recognized that they were problems. But when you look at their release history and their plans for new releases, they give every indication that they intend to ignore all of the major problems and concentrate on throwing more and more crap into the game. Rafts have been in the game since 207.0 (September), and they appear to be just as buggy today as they were at the start. ARK looks to me like a textbook example of an undisciplined development team-when you put in a new feature and then immediately move on to other things without spending any time fixing the bugs in that new feature, that’s a bad sign. That probably means the developers are working on the things that are fun to work on, and not the things that are work.

But hey, I only spent $20 on it, so I guess I shouldn’t complain that much.

* Blog readers typically don’t watch videos (including me), so I don’t mention it much. Also I suck at making videos so I don’t want anybody to know about it. :)

** This phenomenon typically only occurs when I encounter one or two other people in the wild. I’m usually fine with bigger groups of people because I can just blend in and not be noticed.

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