The Difference Between Imitation and Inspiration
Look through most of the indie games out on Steam or Early Access or what have you. How many of them are survival titles? Quite a few, no? It's no secret that the rise of these games is due to the explosive success of Minecraft back in 2011. It's no surprise either - success tends to breed imitators.
Minecraft was no original idea either. Creator, Notch, has been very open about his inspiration from games Infiminer, Dungeon Keeper, and Dwarf Fortress. It is important to note that those titles inspired his game, he didn’t just clone them.
Take a look through Steam and Kickstarter again, but this time look for survival games that strand you on a piece of wood in the middle of the ocean. There are none. None except Raft, and that’s part of what makes it such a great idea.
A Shining Example of Inspiration Leading to Innovation
The other part is that the three members of Redbeet Interactive simply took a good look at the survival genre and came up with an idea that hadn’t been done yet. Raft is still in its early stages, but the foundation already set has me excited for the game’s future.
I start the game with a hook. I look around and there are tons of materials floating by the raft that I can bring in with the hook. Constantly trying to land the hook in the right spot is a fun mini-game that kept me aware of my surroundings. Gathering materials is nothing new to experienced players of survival games, and here there is a lot of it.
Turning those materials into items is very straightforward. The crafting menu states what is needed, and clicking the item creates it instantly. Hovering over the item in the inventory provides a quick description - no wiki scouring necessary.
Where Raft really stands out is in what it doesn’t have. Most survival games have me running around searching for materials. Raft forces me to stay in one place and wait for them. It’s a bit agonizing being one plank away from the next staircase and having to wait for it to come rather than go searching for it - but the feeling of finally getting to craft the item is truly worth the wait.
Lack of Familiarity Is Raft’s Biggest Strength, But Can Also Be A Weakness
Though Raft does try to do a lot of things differently, I can’t say that I agree with all of the choices made. A recurring problem of mine comes from the one enemy in the game - a shark that constantly swims circles around the platform. It's an intimidating and straightforward enemy. When it does attack, it goes for the foundation and eats away at the wood until it breaks.
I can craft a spear to hold the shark off, and then kill it for meat. I'm a fan of that, but what I find annoying is how often this shark attacks. There were times where I had just finished repairing a piece only to turn around to find it back at my base again. This is likely an issue that will be balanced out in the future, but it happens often enough that I felt it should be brought up.
It is different to have an enemy that I'm never truly safe from, and again I like that idea. Either the frequency of those attacks needs to change, or maybe some stationary defenses should be included to hold it off. Not even walls work from my testing.
I also found it a bit weird that cooking food or boiling water requires no materials needed to make fire. Keeping my hunger and thirst meters full was never much of a concern. I could just keep throwing my food or water into their respective stations. Since I can craft a fishing pole, I can gather food with a few seconds of effort, I can scoop up water at any time. Having a type of coal or using wood to create fire would create a bit of stress around keeping myself full. Elements like that also keep the game true to a survival experience. Maybe I am used to other survival games needing cooking materials, but the lack of them here broke the immersion.
Raft Represents Originality In A Genre That’s Lacking It
Raft was a breath of fresh air for me. A solid foundation with original ideas brought me into the game. The execution of these ideas made me want to stay. No game is perfect, and the complaints I have are minor compared to what can be accomplished here. This is the sort of game that the survival genre needs in order to thrive again. I wish Redbeet Interactive the best of luck in creating the rest of their game.
Note: Three college students made Raft, and they have limited time to work on it. Be sure to support them if at all possible so that they can make the best game possible.
In a recent interview with Itch, Redbeet Interactive, the developers of raft gave some insight to their inspiration for creating the game and possible support for the future. You can find the full interview here.
Raft is a free download with option for donation, and here is the page.
By Max Moeller