Subnautica Earliest Access – The State of the Game

Posted by acedude 9 years ago
(Written by Charlie)

A year ago, we decided to commit our company’s future to Subnautica.

We made quite a few prototypes (which are included with the Special Edition), and felt that there was something special there. We thought seriously about canceling the project, as it seemed so unknown and risky, but when I threatened that, the team pushed back. This game we must make.


But I proclaimed internally that I didn’t want this to be tiring and long project like Natural Selection 2. I didn’t want to wait even a year before releasing something to our community. Not this time.

But then we had a year of some of the most challenging game development I have ever encountered. We didn’t struggle trying to find talent or money (NS2), but we did struggle with the massive technical and production challenges of creating a massive open world in Unity and trying to design a game that wasn’t really comparable to anything we’ve seen. We talk about Minecraft, Terraria, Don’t Starve, Journey and Skyrim a lot, but none of those are really what we’re building.


We’re not making a sandbox game, nor a building game, nor a survival game, although at times we thought we were. We’re building a game where you feel like a scientist who has crash-landed on an aquatic alien world and is learning how it (and its strange inhabitants) work. It’s a game of exploration, discovery and theme. A game currently without a specified goal. A game without extrinsic rewards. A game without combat and weapons (more on this later). I guess we shall call it an Adventure Game, for lack of a better term.

So we forced ourselves to release Subnautica as “Earliest Access” today, even though our hearts are screaming. There are bugs, warts and problems galore that we know about and know how to fix. There isn’t the substance and depth we yearn for. But, as with the first NS2 alpha, we knew that the best chances for success lie with making the best game we can make and that requires the most feedback, as early as we can get it. We want to add much more then we have, and we want to tell you all about our plans.


Yet with all the recent Early Access problems, we have to be careful about how we talk about what we still want to do, lest anything interpreted as a promise. The only promise we can make is to build the best game we know how to and are able to. Any particular features or changes are constantly shifting due to funding, trends, technical constraints, practical limits and results of experiments.

So with these disclaimers firmly in mind, I wanted to briefly discuss some possible futures for Subnautica:

  • We could open up the possibility space hugely through terraforming. Maybe you use the Exosuit’s drill arm to make your own cave network or mine for rare resources.
  • Creating more varied biomes like lava, arctic, crystals, etc. The world is 2km deep currently and we want you to be able to go down, down, down.
  • We want everything in the world to be potentially useful as an ingredient for making other things. Use your knife to break that lovely jeweled disk into pieces, then pick up the pieces to get sapphires which you can use as an ingredient for making computer chips.
  • We aim to have your actions affect the world. If you destroy a coral reef, maybe all the Rabbit Rays die. Or you could pick off those glowy seeds from the Creepvine and grow your own forest, which in turn gives you oxygen or serves as a home for other creatures.
  • Extracting DNA sample from creatures, making serums and injecting those into other creatures to change their attributes and behaviour. You could also inject these into yourself.
  • We want to add an overall goal and structure to the game, possibly based around making the planet habitable before your people’s colony ships arrive. Securing a power source, food, cleaning up irradiated or polluted areas, planting food and making scientific discoveries about the creatures on the planet. Your PDA would be evaluating your progress in all these areas but you would be deciding on your strategy and managing short and long term goals.
  • Using what we learned in our ship-building prototypes to allow you to build underwater bases.
  • Adding more story elements to flesh out the world of Subnautica and what happened before you arrived.

I should stop before I get ourselves into real trouble and people think that we’re promising these things. We’re not promising anything.

But this is what we dream of when we think about the future of this game and I wanted to share that with you.



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