Sub Log: Tools

💻 Technical Difficulties: My sweetheart fiddled with the Netflix box to see if she could stream. She could and when I came back to my desktop I had internet again. Yay! The new adapter isn’t working but the old one is. Soooo…yay? Yay!

This is an ongoing log of a play-through of Subnautica, which distracts me from the real world and its recent dystopian turn for the worse. This is a continuation from last time. Or you can start at the beginning.

Last time I discussed the philosophy of Subnautica’s game design, or more specifically the anti-gun position of its director. To recap, Subnautica’s design fails to keep projectile weapons out of the game (I can shoot a thing if I ever feel the want), but it succeeds in making a game that is not about guns, by making it about all sorts of things other than guns. Given the number of games that are strictly about shooting people in the face, games that do otherwise, including Subnautica are welcome steps in expanding the repertoire of what can be expressed in the first-person experience.

I also talked about Thief which, unlike the conventional first-person shooters of its time (and since!) provided tools to attack other points of the environment than living adversaries. Dousing lights and silencing surfaces was still done with the same bow that could propel pointy arrows. Where Thief focused on using a weapon mechanic for non-violent uses, in Subnautica it is the reverse, where a tool-using mechanic can be used to operate weapons (or operate tools in a violent manner). Also, where the hazards of Thief were primarily adversarial (guards and other enemies) the primary hazard in Subnautica is a limited air supply, and the ease with which one can get disoriented or otherwise separated from places to replenish that supply.

Tools To Survive

Thanks to Alterra’s mutiny problem, the standard survival library issues only one weapon — the trusty knife — which even then is used to collect crafting resources or seeds for agriculture more than it is for stabbing things. (Though the knife is plenty good for the stabbing.)

So what other tools do we get in Subnautica? A few come standard.

Lighting: as with Terraria, lighting is a big deal in Subnautica, considering night diving, caves and going really deep. There’s plenty of bioluminescence, but it’s still easy to get lost in the dark (or just lost!) The basic flashlight comes with the survival library. There are also flares. While a wand and a couple of base-related lamps appear later, nothing beats permanent lighting like creepvine, making the exterior planter the best device for stationary lighting.

Scanner: For those who like the thrill of the hunt without the bloodshed (IRL as well as in game) there’s hunting with a camera. The hand scanner is the Subnautica accessory to this pastime. The scanner serves to analyze and catalog life forms and geological formations (useful for informing what is edible). It is also crucial for piecing together blueprints by scanning fragments of technology. Enough samples of a device will allow the device to be crafted itself. Obsessive and sporting scanmasters will find satisfaction in getting close enough to large dangerous fauna long enough to get a complete scan.

Air Bladder: When I’m ninety meters down with thirty seconds of air left, this is the Thing I Need. In real-life diving, we have equipment and protocol for emergency ascent. This thing, inflates by a reaction of chemicals extracted from the Bladderfish will get me to the surface fast. Though if I am below 150 meters, I am engaging in a common SCUBA practice called tempting fate.

Wielder: Called the Repair Tool, I crafted it early to clean up the lifepod and fix the radio. It’s also useful for fixing seabases and vehicles.

Laser Cutter: So far the most dissatisfying device in the game, the laser cutter is only used to cut through some doors (and not others) in wreckage. It is useless against aggressive fauna, rocks, cargo boxes and large resource deposits, all of which one would think would be susceptible to a laser cutter. They’re not (…yet. This is an early access game).

Habitat Builder: A portable replicator with proprietary settings to only build permanent fixtures. This is the device to build seabases, which usually start out as a place for my stuff (and with power, a place for a quick breather). With new tech, the habitat quickly expands to include a place to charging batteries, parking my vehicle and gazin in awe at undersea vistas. The Habitat Builder facilitates all this.

Dive Reel: This is a real thing. (heh!) Penetration diving (typically cave diving and wreck diving) is one of the most dangerous activities of human endeavor, and is a common necessity in Subnautica. Disorientation or entrapment leading to suffocation is the most common cause of death in penetration diving, and is also commonplace in Subnautica. A dive reel is supposed to compensate for some of that risk by providing a proverbial trail of bread crumbs* back to the open water, and air sources. Sadly, the collision detection on the Subnautica dive reel isn’t perfected (or wasn’t when I used it last), so the line would only lead me to a point where it was coming out of rockface. (Early access!) So I’ve just learned to light my way through penetration paths as much as possible, or depend on pipe chains which are more tedious but also bring air supply in with me.

That said, these tools are plenty to fill my diver utility belt, and that’s before we get into fun extras like the Seaglide, the Propulsion Cannon or the Stasis Rifle. Most of them are actually useful!

* Trail of stones, actually. In Hansel and Gretel, the breadcrumbs got eaten by birds. While a more recognized part of the story, a trail of breadcrumbs should be a metaphor for a backtracking system that fails.


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