Last Oasis burst onto the gaming scene during March, taking the idea of a sandbox survival quite literally, developers Donkey Crew unleashed a dystopian world where the last remnants of humanity raced around a thin slice of temperate life. Powered by gargantuan woodwork walking machines, the clans and citizens of this barren world wrecked their way through the initial launch, toppling the login servers and causing a little bit of a stir at the time.
It’s now more than a month on from launch and Last Oasis has leapt past those initial setbacks. Donkey Crew is busy celebrating the release of the game’s haunting soundtrack and we took that as a cue to escape the lockdown and have a socially distanced chat with Thomas Fossgard, Art Director for Last Oasis.
For anybody that hasn’t seen Last Oasis, the huge aforementioned wooden walkers are the star of the show. A feat of technical brilliance they sit somewhere between Mortal Engines and a Steampunk scenario. Used to navigate the last few habitable areas of the planet, these contraptions can hod anything from a single nomad right up to an entire crew with storage and weapons bristling out over the arid dunes that await.
The Woodpunk walkers in this title are ingenious. There are so many different moving components. What inspired the designs?
Thomas: We looked at Theo Jansen’s Strandebeest, and were fascinated by the seemingly hypnotic movement of his mechanisms. They have an almost magical and transparent, honest, quality to them. We extrapolated that philosophy into many of our designs. Where other games would have an opaque box with an input and an output, we want to create the illusion (or the real mechanics) of a functional machine, wherever possible.
Since good games also are a function of technological progress, this is something one can afford nowadays, computationally, and we took advantage of this, implementing it in our visual design.
How difficult are these walkers to build in game?
Thomas: It ranges from very simple, to very difficult and time consuming. Since our game is built around walkers (not walking!), we allow the player to build his first walker, the Firefly Walker, after just a few minutes of gameplay. After that, the possibilities expand gradually, until you reach a point where Teamplay becomes more practical if you want to progress. Teamplay, joining other players in building and controlling a Walker, driving around the world together, is at the heart of our game.
Of course, a survival game isn’t any good without some sort of threat. Donkey Crew have done a great job of stripping back much of the extraneous resource management needed to stay alive. The streamlined system concentrates on producing water and keeping your health high. Player’s don’t need to worry about cold, cramp, money, age, or ailments when getting by in the world making Last Oasis really inviting to just pick up and play. The well paced tutorial and narrative elements of the game also ease players in, but once you’re out on your own it’s more than just wood that nomads need to look out for.
Wood isn’t the only thing worth fighting over in the last area of habitable land. What other resources will players have to look out for?
Thomas: There are many exotic and mundane resources in our world. Some are necessary for life, like water, others are tied to things you can build. Walkers, machines, better armor and weapons. The spread of resources ties in closely with enticing players to travel around, look at the world, and discover things. This is when good gameplay happens! An accident, a great field of good resources, enemy players or creatures, an opportunity for theft or piracy!
More concretely, here are some of the crazy things you will find and produce: Bone Glue, Aloe, Mushroom Flesh, Blood Turnip, Beeswax and Rupu Gel.
With water being such a precious resource, how do you prevent it from being monopolised?
Thomas: If you know where to look, water is everywhere. However, for large travels, some recipes, or many respawns, you need large amounts. There are small lakes, and in these strategic locations are a bit like the water holes on the Savannah, it is a risky place to hang out for too long.
You have gone the extra mile to learn from other survival game mistakes but as a big clan, what do you have to look forward to and what is the “end game” goal of Last Oasis for all players?
Thomas: The final “End Game” of Last Oasis is more of a vision than some linear content. Imagine a large, vibrant world, where larger factions have incentives to protect the smaller players. (And punish them if they turn to piracy!). We are very inspired with what EVE Online has accomplished, where new players are welcomed as a resource, rather than trampled on.
I think the goal for any one player should be to find out how to survive in this world, and decide for himself how he wants to play it. (However, we cannot promise that what the player chooses to do is wise or successful! ) Everyone needs to learn and find their own paths.
Finally, I’d like to add that Last Oasis is not yet in its final form, and that we are watching how the community plays it very carefully. We are designing features and balancing the game continuously in order to get closer to the vision described above.
That’s the thing that struck me about Last Oasis when I entered both in Discord during the server outages. This game is about community. While resources are scarce and battles inevitably ensue, there are clans grouping together to take down huge obstacles. The game’s moving maps mean that nobody feels entirly on the fringes of the game, and even when the servers were offline, the honesty and clarity of the developers meant that Discord felt more like a support mechanism than somewhere to complain. With that in mind, we asked Thomas about giving those communities somewhere to easily gather.
Servers for Last Oasis are combined including NA & EU, will there be ways for folks to find other players who speak the same language as them?
Thomas: Our official realm combines servers from North America and Europe, as well as South America, Asia, and Oceania. The way it works is all the servers from those regions are located on the same World Map, where players are free to travel between the servers and across regions as they please, as long as they have enough water in their walkers. Usually, you would want to stick to your own region, since your experience is better on servers closer to you, but there are some situations where having the freedom of moving around is beneficial and adds to the gameplay. Those would include playing with friends across the world, fighting international wars against other clans, or exploring new lands with their own dynamics and economy.
Since the game is heavily centered around large clans owning lands, some areas become notorious for being controlled by specific clans, often accepting players from their part of the world. For example, if you’re a French player and hear that Golden Reach oasis is owned by a French clan, it might be a good idea to travel there to meet them. You can always see what clan controls which territory, so it’s very easy to figure out where to go to find new friends and talk to them using text or voice chat. Our external channels like discord or forums are also filled with people recruiting into their groups, so check them out if you’re looking for someone to play with!
You called for PvP centric guilds to help balance the game not very long ago. What was the result?
Thomas: Clan based PvP Survival players are in general pretty hardcore group of players, who wants to win by any remotely imaginable means. If some features are not solid, they will be abused and very creatively so.
It is extremely important to weed out such bugs and possibilities early on, because to the average player it looks at best unfair, and at worst like cheating. Examples of this are: using various clipping techniques to hide inside rocks, unpacking a base in order to trap enemy walkers, instantly plopping automatic rupu turrets, finding ways to sneak inside closed buildings and open their inventories from outside.
It is very important (and also interesting!) to observe how players play the game instead of mimicking how it’s meant to be played. These are two different things and we need to be constantly reminded of this reality.
Of course, we also consider very heavily the single-player experience. It’s just that it will be extremely bad, if such bugs, abuses and techniques are not weeded out quickly. Our game can be merciless, but it should be so in a fair way, so a player retains some idea over the risks he chooses to take.
While Last oasis continues to grow during Early Access, I’ve been busily scrounging around the fringes of society, gathering water, knocking out the odd attacker, and learning to swing between ledges with a grappling hook. The world is easy to enter and the gorgeous looking landscapes are utterly inviting, but this is not an exploration adventure. The aforementioned resource management, the weaponised walkers, and the survival mechanics mean that getting into game and getting to grips with the walkers is easy but there are tons of obstacles to overcome. So what exactly is the biggest threat players can expect on this new earth? Dehydration, enemy players, or just the massive sandworms?
Thomas: Right now, definitely enemy players. Unless you manage to negotiate, make them your friends, perhaps join them, or simply see them in time and run away!
There are plenty of tools at the player’s disposal to manage threats. They can make sure they have a quick walker, choose an Oasis with less violence, join, create or seek the protection of a larger clan, hide in the large world and store their valuables off-map.
In the future, however, we want the players to more easily identify and manage threats, and this is something we are focused on. PVE risks and dehydration can easily be managed at this point, but this is something we also want to be a little bit more interesting and exciting.
Last Oasis is in Early Access right now and available on PC via Steam. If you haven’t tried out this inventive survival sandbox then why not check out the trailer above, have a look at some of our other coverage, or head over to the official Steam Store page where you will find the recently released soundtrack and a hefty discount on the base price of a dystopian future that I’m quite comfortable being part of.