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Ark: Survival Evolved's co-creator on its development, success and undiscovered secrets

Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Jesse Rapczak, co-founder and co-creative director at Studio Wildcard — developers of the early access game Ark: Survival Evolved — dropped hints about mysteries yet to be discovered in the game world, and revealed some of the backstory behind the formation of his team. You can watch the entire 45-minute interview on the Unreal Engine Twitch channel below.

Ark is an online survival game set in a prehistoric world with mysterious science fiction elements. Players wake up on a beach to find a strange metallic jewel embedded in their arm. The prehistoric world around them is filled with dinosaurs and other extinct creatures on land, in the air and below the sea. As they build up resources and craft tools, players can eventually tame and ride dinosaurs.

The game is being developed on the Unreal Engine 4 and currently has Oculus Rift support.

Rapczak is a veteran game developer, but most recently was part of the team at Microsoft making the Hololens augmented reality device. In November of last year he says he made the decision to return to game development full time. That's when work Ark began. His team, now 40 people strong, has made rapid progress in order to reach their planned June early access release.

Why June? The theatrical release of Jurassic World of course. With all the rising interest in dinosaurs on the way, it made sense to make that window their goal.

Released on June 2, the game is already ranked at number 11 on Rapczak said that right now there are over 3,000 player-run servers, in addition to dozens of official servers being run by the team at Wildcard.

One of the complaints from the game's growing community is how low the framerate is. During our time with the game we've rarely experienced more than 30 fps, with the average being closer to 10 or 15. That's with a GTX 970 card and a modern quad-core processor and 8 gigs of RAM — well within the min spec listed on Steam.

Secrecy is familiar to Rapczak, who worked for three years to make the Hololens a reality.

Rapczak said that these kinds of performance issues are not unexpected, but that his team had to make hard choices to make the game playable by June.

"We didn’t spend a lot of time optimizing for lower-end graphics cards," he said, "because that would have taken development time away from our team."

Much of the fascination with Ark has surrounded its innate mystery. The game world is filled with floating obelisks, and much of their function has yet to be discovered by the bulk of players. Rapczak did spoil one feature during the interview, saying that eventually players will be able to upload their characters at an obelisk and move them — and their accumulated in-game skillset — to a whole other server if they want to.

Secrecy is familiar to Rapczak, who worked for three years to make the Hololens a reality.

"My wife didn’t even know what I was working on the entire time I was at Microsoft until we announced it," Rapczak said.

The Ark game world is 48 square kilometers, but Rapczak said players have yet to explore the entire landmass. Additionally, he hinted at vast spaces below the oceans and inside cave systems that players have yet to even gain entrance to.

"Our development team just watches people play the game on Twitch sometimes," Rapczak said. "It’s like non-stop focus testing, where we learn about bugs and assumptions people make about our game. We watched the first T-Rex tamed just yesterday. Took them about five hours."

His technical team is focused on forward-thinking, structural improvements to the game, all in advance of an expected 2016 launch on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Additionally, Rapczak wants to see the game running on Micrsoft's upcoming DirectX 12 as soon as possible.

The entire interview is embedded above, and is archived on the Unreal Engine Twitch channel.

Update: The Ark team reached out to correct the size of the game world, which we've adjusted in the article above.

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