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The hardest part of Scum was learning how to pee

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Layers of bizarrely complex systems create characters who are more fallible than ever before

SCUM — A player avatar running wildly through the forest. Gamepires and Croteam/Devolver Digital

I spent 45 minutes huddled in an Eastern European toilet trying to figure out how to take a leak last night.

No, I wasn’t traveling on assignment again. I was playing Scum, the latest in a long line of PC-based survival games. It’s a new genre with a lineage that dates back all the way to 2012 with the DayZ mod for Arma 2, and from what I’ve experienced so far this title is a noble successor. Some are even trolling, calling it “the DayZ killer.”

Back on topic, though.

Scum isn’t even out yet and it’s already climbing the charts on Twitch, coming in third yesterday behind the monster reveal of Cyberpunk 2077 gameplay and holding its own in the top five today — behind Fortnite but just ahead of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Though, most of the Twitch streams that I’ve watched have seen the best players around spend a lot of their time simply trying to make sense of the game’s interface.

Last night, I came up against my own roadblock when I couldn’t find the button that would allow me to urinate. After a while, it began to prove a bit aggravating as my character was literally stopping to dance around, bouncing uncomfortably from foot to foot and emoting a prayer to relieve his discomfort.

Had another player wandered by me at that moment, I would have been helpless to defend myself. Something similar happened just yesterday to Twitch streamer Sacriel42. His issues, however, were much more... explosive.

Tossing turds around is nothing new in the survival genre. Ark: Survival Evolved launched with poo for you and your dinosaur mounts to boot, but their flavor of feces didn’t really serve much of a purpose. In Scum, however, everything matters. By simulating human frailty, they’re trying to bring competition and fairness back to one of gaming’s most competitive multiplayer genres.

And they’re doing it with an absurd amount of complexity.

Scum is leaps and bounds more complicated than any other survival game that has come before. What do I mean by complicated? Check out the screenshot below.

SCUM - The biological dashboard for player avatars. Gamepires and Croteam/Devolver Digital via Polygon

This is a complete, real-time diagnostic read-out of my character’s life signs. I’m only a few hours into the game, but the life signs are generated from the RPG-style character creation process that started out by asking me my age and my ability to run fast, run far and lift heavy objects. That, in turn, changed the size and shape of my player avatar right before my eyes. The end result is a combination of attributes which, the developers say, is now wholly unique to my avatar.

To communicate that, the in-game menu system includes readings along the left-hand side that tell me my avatar’s heartbeat, respiration and metabolic rate. It’s complemented by another, equally as complex panel on the right-hand side that tells me the contents of my stomach and my intestines in real time as they are digested. There’s even a listing of the level of vitamins and minerals floating around in my system.

The developers say that they’ve created the most realistic simulation of the human metabolic system ever made, the end result of which is a fairly regular requirement that my avatar urinate and empty his bowels.

But why?

Imagine sticking with the same character for weeks or even months of in-game time. Over that span, if you don’t get enough protein in your avatar’s diet their strength will go down. If they don’t eat enough carbs they won’t be able to run as fast or as far as they could the day before. I imagine that, at some point, if they don’t get enough vitamin C they’ll get scurvy as well.

That level of detail brings all manner of new and interesting motivations to mind. In short, it turns the well-worn survival game loop into more than just hunting and killing other players. That was reinforced when the first person I met didn’t pull out his shovel to take a swing at me, but instead asked me for directions.

Of course, there’s a lot of gunplay in the game as well. I emphasized my real-life familiarity with handguns by boosting my character’s skill with that class of weapon when I created him. That left me with fewer points to put into his skill with melee weapons and rifles. What exactly that means in terms of gameplay I have no idea. But the developers have shown off a remarkably clever system that has to do with two other key RPG-style stats: Awareness and Tactics.

Check out the team’s educational video on YouTube.

Fortnite and Battlegrounds, and even DayZ and H1Z1 which came before them, have a serious problem with the third-person perspective. As the video above demonstrates, it allows players in an elevated position or behind cover to have an unfair advantage. It’s one of the key reasons that PUBG Corp. added first-person only servers to their games, and why professionals compete in either third-person or first-person only modes.

But the team behind Scum is embracing the suck, as it were, that is third-person and using two other RPG-style attributes to mitigate its impact.

If your character has a higher Awareness stat, they’ll be able to see enemies more quickly and easily, even if those enemies are wearing camouflage and set against a matching backdrop. Similarly, if they have higher stats in Tactics, they can predict the movement of other players behind full cover, as shown by a red outline that can be seen through obstacles.

If you don’t eat your vegetables though, you might not notice the other players at all. Your personal avatar’s unique level of Awareness and Tactics, which will no doubt be influenced by their health and nutrition, will provide players with an advantage if they put in the time to keep themselves in top shape. That levels the playing field to some degree between the haves — those who can spend 40 hours a week playing a survival video game — and the have-nots in the world of survival gaming.

Simply put, the more time you spend in-game, the more time you have to spend caring and feeding your avatar. But, even if they’re in peak physical condition, that avatar will eventually need to relieve themselves. That makes stalking other players, even those who are more heavily armed and armored than you are, a viable tactic in Scum. Every player has a weakness, because every player is modeled to behave — biologically at least — like a human should.

It’s the tab key, by the way. Hold down the tab key and you’ll get a radial menu. Move your mouse to the upper right for the option to urinate.

Scum will be available tomorrow, Aug. 29, on Steam for $19.99.