Surviving the Ark Sandbox

I have found a new obsession. It’s a video game called Ark: Survival Evolved, and it’s basically Minecraft for grown-ups.

Ummm…..why are you giving me that blank stare? You don’t know what Minecraft is either?

Ok. Let me elaborate….

Ark: Survival Evolved is the most awesome online, multiplayer, sandbox game ever! It’s one of the first games Jeff and I played together, and that’s not even why it’s so awesome!

But before I start gushing about all the reasons Ark is so much fun, I should probably give you some idea of what this game is all about.

See, video games are categorized into several different genres such as action, adventure, sports, and role-playing games (just to name a few) with each genre being further divided into sub-genres. Ark (and by extension, the afore mentioned, Minecraft) is a role-playing, sandbox game.

A role-playing game (RPG) is basically what it sounds like. You play the role of a character in the game, battling monsters and exploring the game world. Most of these types of video games draw their gameplay style from traditional role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons with the character you play often having similar attributes and abilities as characters in D&D.

Sandbox games are a sub-genre of role-playing games, so they often have the same mechanics or feel as more structured RPGs. You play a character inside the game world, but they differ in that there is no set story-line, or the story-line is very relaxed. Basically, in a sandbox game, you get to do whatever you want, build things, fight things, collect things, and in the case of an online game, interact with other players.

When you enter the world of Ark: Survival Evlolved for the first time, your character wakes up on a tropical looking beach. You have no clothes (ok, you do have underwear…you’re not completely nude), no food, and no tools. So your immediate task is to remedy this before you freeze or starve to death because this beach may look tropical, but the weather is anything but.

At first you scrounge around picking up rocks, gathering berries, and punching trees. Yes…I said punching trees! Punching is the only way you can get thatch and wood to make your first tool, a pickax.

Once you have the pickax, things get a little better because you can collect resources faster and make a fire, but by this point, you have probably noticed one other unusual thing about this beach. There are dinosaurs everywhere!


Hopefully your initial encounter with dinosaurs consists of just watching a few herbivores mill peacefully around, but more often than not, your first lesson in dinosaur/human co-habitation involves a gruesome death in the jaws of a ravenous carnivore when it kills you and sends you back to the stone ages. Ok…..a terrible cliche….but it was just begging to be said….especially because after you die in this game, your character respawns in a random location back at square one….no clothes, no tools, no food. The only advantage you have when you respawn is that you keep your experience level and engrams (or abilities) you have learned, and if you’re really lucky, you can even find your corpse and retrieve all your stuff.

So now you’re probably thinking, “Wow! That sounds frustrating and awful,” and you’d be right. There is a learning curve to this game, and that’s probably why it took me until this second go round (Jeff and I recently restarted playing this game a few months ago) to really fall in love with it. The first few sessions are spent literally just trying to survive, but it does get better. Once you master a few skills like hunting, building, crafting, and farming, the game improves drastically, and from there, the sky is the limit! Yes….I used another cliche….but I had too!….because (and here is the best part)… this game you can tame, ride, and fly on dinosaurs!

Ok…once is not enough…I have to say it again……You can tame dinosaurs!!!!!

In the world of Ark, dinosaurs are your ultimate helper and guardian. Not only can you ride them, but they help you hunt, gather, and carry things, as well as protect you, your friends, and your stuff. Dinosaurs are awesome!

And did I mention, they are kind of cute, too.


Ok, I think dinosaur fun is the best place to stop, and I’m pretty sure I have covered the basics of what Ark is like. There are still a few mechanics of the game I need to explain, but I think I can hide those in the stories I am going tell in my next few blogs.

I hope you come back and live the Ark life with me.


Dungeons, Dragons, and First Encounters: Part 2

My last post got a little sidetracked. I somehow got caught up in explaining the “why” I decided to try out this role playing game called Dungeons and Dragons rather than just describing the experience of it. Sometimes I do that. I get lost in my own mind, and there is a whole “why” backstory to that too, but I will spare you further ramblings on that subject. Let me just get this freight train back on the rails and see if I can salvage what’s left of my audience and/or dearest friendships.

The group coordinator, who I will call D, told everyone to meet at the comic book store at 1pm. I tentatively committed to being there and spent the time leading up to that Saturday in a constant flux between excited anticipation and morbid dread. The night before, I was so nervous, you’d have thought I was having major surgery in the morning or something. But with a little bit of moral support from my equally socially aversive online friends and having already made arrangements for my boys, I boldly made my way to the store.

I purposely left a little late because I did not want to be the first one there. I am always awkward when I am out in public alone. It was only about ten after when I arrived, but I think D was already irritated by the poor turn out. The store was fairly crowded with several groups playing various other games. I scanned the room with the nervous realization that I had no idea who I was looking for. Finally, I spotted a couple likely D&Ders close to the back of the store and headed that way. Luckily, they were the ones I was looking for, and as I approached D recognized me from my Facebook profile picture.

He greeted me in his gruff booming voice with, “You must be that girl from Facebook whose name starts with a ‘T’?”

I smiled, “Yes. I’m Tela.”

D laughed. “Oh! Like He-Man! But I bet you’ve gotten that your whole life.”

I sat down at the table between D and another guy who I will call The Engineer. Both of these guys are very experienced D&D players, and both of them immediately started explaining the game and how this particular set up works.

I’m not going to lie, this was kind of an intense experience. D&D is a complicated game. It is basically story telling with active participation. D is a very blunt individual, and he was not shy about explaining his own expectations of the group itself along with the rules of the game.

Like I mentioned before, D was a little irritated that nobody else was there yet, so after the opening pleasantries and basic rule explanations, he asked The Engineer to continue teaching me about the game while he went off to post inquiries on Facebook and get the “equipment” for the game. The Engineer started explaining the characters and classes, how spell casting works, and showing me how all this translates on the character sheets.

Basically, D&D is story telling with active participation. Each player creates a character based on categories called “classes.” Classes are the basic description of a character’s ability and play style. The very basic ones are Wizard, Cleric, Bard, Barbarian, and Rogue. Classes are the most important defining element of character creation, but once that is established, players are free to personalize their characters in countless ways. Each player decides the gender, race, name, and even backstory of his or her character, and the more involved this process is, the more interesting the game becomes.

Like any story, D&D requires a narrator. A voice outside of the action that moves the story along. In D&D that voice is called the Dungeon Master (DM). The DM’s job is to describe each scene, keep track of where all the monsters, dangers, and characters are, clarify situations and rules, help determine if actions by players are possible or successful, play all of the monsters, and basically hold everything together. The DM is the most important player in the game.

I sat there for an hour as these two guys bombarded me with all of this information, but not just the broad strokes. The Engineer is a detail oriented guy, and he got lost in telling how D&D is played on a national level and the nuances of spell casting versus rituals. While D just continually railed about how we weren’t there to “be friends” and everybody is going to have to step up and DM if this Saturday group was going to work. To be honest, the shear amount of information being thrown at me coupled with D’s anti-socializing but pull-your-weight attitude was overwhelming me before we even got started. I mean, part of the reason I was there was to hopefully make a few friends and how am I supposed to DM when I don’t even know the difference between a “constitution check” and a “death save roll”?!

Sheesh! Calm down, fellas!

Thankfully, two other guys showed up. J, a very “Big Bang Theory” kind of guy, and R who looked like Al from “Tool Time” and sounded like the Jolly Green Giant. Once everyone picked their character and got their score sheets, we actually started a game.

Our party consisted of:

The Engineer-Wizard
Engineer’s daughter-Bard/Cat-person
J-Barbarian/Half Orc
R-Fighter-like a Barbarian
D-Dungeon Master

The game itself was tons of fun. D is a good DM, if not a little impatient, and The Engineer was very helpful in explaining what was going on, which die to roll, and how to apply all the modifiers. I still don’t know how or when to do all of those things, but I think I was starting to get the hang of the flow by the end. I mean, I managed to kill an ogre by jumping on it’s back and stabbing it through the eye, and as Jeff so graciously pointed out after I got home later that evening, I was still alive at the end of the session, so it was a good day!

Hey, even a blind squirrel finds a nut every once in a while!

All in all, I had a really good time playing D&D, and despite still feeling a little apprehensive about it, I am going to keep going back. I don’t know if this will be my next new all-consuming hobby or just a phase that’s grown out of loneliness, but either way, I intend to enjoy the adventure.