For most people, building a house or base in Studio Wildcard’s dinosaur-filled Ark: Survival Evolved is simply a case of putting down four walls, a roof, and a foundation. However, there are a bunch of players who have decided that this is nowhere near enough.
Ark has fostered a dedicated building community, even in spite of the game’s many restrictions in that area. These individuals aren’t focused on protecting themselves against griefers or the occasional toothy predator. Instead, they’re attempting to create imaginative designs, showcasing their dexterity and skill with the surprising versatility of the game’s limited building mechanics.
British YouTuber Aaron Longstaff runs a channel where he creates extravagant builds, running the viewer through every step of the process as he constructs realistic buildings, including town halls, Mediterranean villas, and stables across Ark’s prehistoric landscapes. He has been playing the game since it was first released on Steam Early Access back in 2015 and believes it’s this lengthy and tumultuous development that has contributed to the more pliable nature of the building mechanics.
“What I really enjoy about [the mechanics] is that they’re very finicky, unfinished, and rough around the edges. Because of that most people give up and build very basic structures,” Longstaff explains. “I love the fact that a lot of the builds I have created are only possible because of the glitchy building mechanics. A great example is lowering and raising foundations using pillars and ceilings.”
Travis Creveling, known online as TLC 138, is another YouTuber who specializes in videos about building spectacular designs in Ark. Like Longstaff, he stresses the importance of workarounds not intended by the development team when it comes to making the larger builds possible, pointing specifically to the circle build trick as a particular breakthrough in the community.
In Ark, you can’t place a perfectly round foundation naturally, but it is possible to do so when mashing together a number of foundations using pillars. Notable builders Gingie, Leerlink, and Captain Fatdog pioneered the technique, and it’s since been put to great use across a number of ambitious builds.
One of Creveling’s most impressive constructions, a highly-detailed oil platform, uses the round foundation technique. It took him weeks to perfect and includes a decorative crane, a helipad, and a bunch of multi-coloured struts, all of which had to be carefully nudged together.
“I have a few building partners like Missy Prime and Mega Dre and we sometimes brainstorm ideas,” Creveling says. “A lot of the stuff I build comes from things I have seen in real life. When the circle build trick came out it finally made [the oil platform] possible.”
Similar to Creveling, Longstaff looks at real structures for his building inspiration. In every new project he undertakes he tries to make every part of it as authentic as possible, using reference material as a blueprint to ensure he stays on track.
“I have always tried to make my builds look like they would in a real-life environment with structural support and doors where they should be,” Longstaff says. “I also use Google Images quite a lot, so as an example, if I was building a beach house I would search for real-world beach houses and select three or four that jump out at me then use them for the blueprint.
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“But, sometimes, I get an idea in my head, sketch it on paper, and then jump on the game and mess about with five or six variations of that idea. Most of the time it’s a mix of the best part of each variation that I pull together to create the final build.”
His medieval church build is a great example of this process. It’s arguably his most complex project, as it uses a number of different techniques that the community has discovered over the years. Not only did Longstaff have to glitch the pillars to appear at different heights, he also needed to place three separate layers of wall using fence posts to achieve the church’s denser outline.
What is most remarkable about these builds isn’t necessarily the level of detail or the time taken to get everything perfect. It’s how completely out of place many of these builds are within the game’s stone age aesthetic. Studio Wildcard never expected players to build structures and buildings to this size and scale, yet the community are collaborating and sharing knowledge to push the mechanics and attempt ever more outlandish concepts.
“I don’t believe Wildcard [anticipated] just how big the building community would get and how creative people would be,” Longstaff says. “They provided us with a very limited toolset and have openly said in numerous tweets and forums that they have pushed back mods like structures plus, because it would be exploited in PvP. And that’s what I have found predominantly: most of their updates and DLC are not focused on building. The building community went crazy when they introduced a tug to the game. That’s how neglected we’ve felt.”
Ark may be known for its bad neighbours, but like most online games there are a number of positive communities blossoming around its features. The online building community is one such group. It demonstrates the power of collaboration and the desire to play beyond the developer’s intended experience.
In closing, I ask both builders what tips and advice they’d give to someone hoping to join the community and attempt larger, more ambitious builds.
“My tip [for anyone wanting to build] would be to look online for real life designs of your idea,” Longstaff says. “Then put the idea down on paper to get a feel for the build before you start laying down a rough design with foundations. Also, get some of your friends to pop on the server and take a look at the build for ideas or just to critique. I have changed so many designs going off feedback from my friends.”
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“I’d say patience is the best thing,” Creveling adds. “Just take your time and don’t compromise. Rip it down and rebuild if you aren’t 100% happy with it. Also, know what you’re working with. That means practicing techniques before you take on a large build. It’ll help with the stress levels. But be aware that mistakes do happen.”