Electron Dance
24Feb/1912

Cold Metal

This is the third part of the Subnautica Season. This follows The Glory of the Infinite Sea, on Subnautica enabling accidental discovery, and Beautiful, on the real beauty of Subnautica's design.

Subnautica is fantastic. More or less. The resource gathering and blueprint hunting can get a little tedious, but Subnautica is not alone in committing that crime. Around the waterworld in 80 days, just to find that a blob of blood oil. But this was not the only flaw in the ointment.

Something that, perhaps, should have had more resonance and impact: building a home away from home.

I opened this series with a brief declaration of love for the escape pod: "It was so good, I wanted to live inside the pod forever." This escape pod has some food, a fabricator to make widgets and Rick Stein's finest seafood dishes, a magic box that conjures up first aid kits and a small chest for storage. It has a friendly screen with words on it and sounds like it cares about you. The acoustics are warm. Frankly, it has a cosy air about it.

But this small pod is not enough. As I made short excursions into the alien waters outside, I returned to the pod repeatedly and while the fabricator is just great, that small storage chest fills up in no time at all. I resorted to using “mobile storage lockers” that floated on the surface and, God alive, made me feel like a hoarder whose belongings had spilled out onto the pavement. It looked ridiculous to scatter my cool stuff across the ocean's surface, bobbing up and down with the waves.

Subnautica eventually handed me the habitat builder tool and I was overjoyed. This was what I'd been waiting for. That cramped escape pod would be no more. I've got the keys to my own place! I started to build. A metal corridor or two, a hatch. Perhaps... a glass corridor? I threw all my resources into the project. I opened the door and…

There was no fanfare. Especially as I hadn't attached a solar panel yet. It’s like when you enter your new home for the first time and there’s no furniture. The acoustics are cold, your voice echoes back at you. Immediately, I longed for the warmth of the escape pod. That's what I called a home.

Once the base was powered, it greeted me with a flat “Welcome aboard, captain.” Nice, but not as nice as the escape pod. The pod had a UHD display that said STATUS OK and explained the current situation. It also probably had Netflix if I could have found the button. Still, even after adding a fabricator and a healthy selection of storage lockers, I felt like I was treading around a mansion with no furniture, feet padding hard on cold metal.

I made the base smaller and took out the glass corridor that made me feel terrifyingly alone and unsafe. It didn’t make any difference to the acoustics. Echo, echo. Every now and then I went back to the escape pod to pick up a first aid kit but, really, I just wanted to bask in its warmth.

Base building in Subnautica never felt like home building. We’ve all been spoilt by Minecraft, of course, yet even No Man’s Sky has the edge on how personal you can make a base with different materials and colours. If Minecraft is a virtual world of Lego blocks, Subnautica is a world emulating those rubbish single-purpose Lego sets. It's all prefab components. You want a corridor, here's a corridor. You want a "multipurpose room", here's a multipurpose room. In our very best shiny white.

Don't get me wrong, once you’ve picked up the right blueprints, you can add furniture... but this only served to highlight how superfluous all this was. In Minecraft, when you mock up your own little chair, it is your creation and you know it's shit/pointless. When you build a chair in Subnautica, it's like ordering it from IKEA. It's about as creative and personal as a rabbit hutch.

In an effort to pretend I wasn't in a metal box, I converted a multipurpose room into a bedroom. I put in a bed I never slept in, put plants on the walls, added a vending machine with snacks. A table. A cabinet with trinkets collected from the wreck of the Aurora. An aquarium. Apparently, I decided, that’s what I want to see after swimming in the ocean all day. I even hung a picture of bloodvine over my bed. I know, right? The deepest and creepiest parts of Subnautica, that's precisely what I want to wake up to. I'm not the best at interior design, I guess.  And YES I carefully positioned a water filtration device BESIDE MY PILLOW which is so fucking loud it makes me jump whenever it fires off.

(It's also bigger than a fabricator which, if you recall, can make ANYTHING.)

While it became the most welcoming room of my primary base, there was little need to enter the bedroom. The base was never more than a functional pit stop, and it claimed as much emotional attachment. I had a much greater affinity for my Seamoth.

If only, with all this fancy technology, I could have made some carpet.

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  1. Ah, good to see another Subnautica post! I’ve been getting the itch to play their early access expansion, but so far I’ve managed to ignore it.

    The base really is quite functional and dull, isn’t it? I had a little fun trying to to make it aesthetically pleasing from the outside just because, but beyond that the only real demands were balancing power input (that chunky great water filtration unit is *thirsty*), adding essential functional upgrades, and arranging your myriad storage lockers such that it’s easy to access and manage your extended inventory.

    All the same, I did make a nice observation dome and stick a bed in it. You can actually ‘sleep’ in the beds, and you lie down looking upwards, which works nicely with the dome. I guess there may be some utility in that it may move on the day/night cycle, but I honestly only tried it once so I don’t know if I’m just making that up because Minecraft does it.

  2. Yeah, my base was pretty cold; it was certainly no home! I had a corner in the main fabrication and storage room where I dumped stuff that was broken in the off-chance I was going to be able to fix it in the future. There was something oddly homely about a pile of crap next to the bin. My grow beds were in glass domes because I thought they needed sunlight still (perhaps they actually do?) so that felt natural and somewhat homely too. Everything else was just for raw functionality and convenience.

    Early on I flirted with prettying up the place but that urge melts away as you get on with the game and friction smooths all those sub-optimal rough edges out. “I can’t keep running to this back room, I should put a doorway in here.” “I should put this locker right next to the fabricator.” “The battery charger can go next to the Seamoth.”

    I think Thief has forever tuned us into the feel of places based on their acoustics and specifically how your feet sound in them!

  3. Shaun

    It’s easy for me to give the expansion a wide berth as I feel like I only just finished it Subnautica – last month if I recall. But, yeah, I’m going to try to hold back until the expansion is done. That’s what I did with Subnautica! And that approach has totally paid off in terms of Electron Dance traffic, hardly anyone reads these Subnautica dispatches from the front line :)

    It sounds like you got a lot more out of the base construction than I did, I’m a little jealous, now. I got a bit fed up of all resource gathering I had to do to make anything. I’d have loved a big huge base – but then you need all those extra panels/bulkheads to reinforce it. AND it’s not very functional… The sleeping does work as you think – I’ve used it to skip night sometimes because it can be a little too dark at night time and sunlight is a lot easier to navigate by than electric spotlights. Some of the game’s lighting is a little weird; it felt like the deepest ocean at times was easier to see in sunlight even when it shouldn’t have much any difference.

    Gregg

    I only reconstructed my base once and I had such an urge to make it a little cooler. I wanted to make multiple bases in different locales but it was all so expensive. I didn’t find the other Degassi base (under the floating island?) until I used a wiki. Partly this was down to the fact that I often played via streaming and the detail was lost at times – I just didn’t realise I had spotted another base.

    Eventually, I also resorted to making everything Super Functional. Getting the nuclear reactor, though, took all the power problems away. I was getting fed up of cutting up trees and sticking them in the bioreactor every time I came home.

    The sound in Subnautica is pretty excellent but the base acoustics, man. Those acoustics needed a little more work.

    AND CARPETS

  4. For what it’s worth, I think this is a feature, not a bug. Subnautica is a game where your ultimate goal is escape from the planet; you (which is to say, your character) doesn’t WANT to make a home on this world. So it makes sense for bases to lean towards the functional. There are some nice touches in terms of potted plans, fern wall hangings, coffee machine, etc, but it is not a place you settle down, because that’s not the game’s focus. Likewise, the developers have more or less said that they limited the depth of base building for resource reasons; it’s not the core of the game, and it was not a good use of development resources to make a full-fledge Sims housebuilder inside Subnautica.

  5. Hi Dylan! I completely understand the developer resources thing. Frankly there are some incredible design decisions in this thing (the detail of the Neptune for example which you see for all of ten seconds before Game Over).

    I am not a base builder kind of guy. When a game has mechanics and a goal, I don’t really care about prettying things up. In NMS I find it all a bit of a chore but in Minecraft it’s different.

    What happened in Subnautica is (a) the escape pod felt much more friendly and (b) the presence of blueprints with purely decorative value suggested to me that I was meant to personalise and make a home. Thinking now of the colouring options on the vehicles and how much that makes the game “yours”.

    There is a the counterargument to “you’re supposed to be just surviving and trying to get home”: making a home away from home is good for mental health of a castaway (wilsonnnnnn).

  6. Yeah, I did manage to build a couple of (much!) smaller ‘bases’ but the cost and fuss just wasn’t worth it so I focused on getting the Cyclops up and running as soon as possible.

    I stored my cut plants before heading off so they were nice and rotten for the bioreactor when I got back. I’m convinced that way the fuel was more potent and lasted longer but I didn’t test this theory! There’s no mention of it online so I could be wrong. I’ll test it if the DLC uses the same tech…

    The acoustics of the base literally turned me into a killer because if a Stalker, uh, stalked me into the waters around my base (which happened often), the noises they made would be piercing inside the base while I was sorting my stuff out. Eventually I’d just snap, grab my knife and silence the things. I felt like the Degassi merc.

  7. oops just added comment to the wrong thread and because I am god I can delete it

    You know, the fact that I could colour the Cyclops made it feel somewhat more personal than a base.

    And yeah, sometimes the sound of the “outside world” was magnified way too much inside the base. There’s absolutely no benefit in killing a stalker but, after they harass you so much in the early game – you feel justified in getting your own back later on.

  8. I agree that the base building options are somewhat cold and sterile, although I think plants and windows make a big difference to that. (You can put windows almost everywhere and still have plenty of strength if you just make a few basement rooms covered with bulkheads.) And mine felt pretty homey after I’d renovated a few times and optimized the layout (and moved the water-filtration machines off to a geothermal site).

    But the Cyclops felt much more cozy like that initial escape pod. Without feeling cramped I was able to fit in mine a bed, 7 edible plants, a vending machine, radio, battery charger, and like 10 extra storage lockers.

    I named mine Odysseus, which you might think is objectively the best possible name for a Cyclops submarine, but then you could also name it Noman’s Sub.

  9. Hi Urthman. I was never quite a fan of windows, the reason being I regarded the “outdoors” as hostile and windows seems to antagonise my in-game agoraphobia. So if you’re like me and wanted to feel warm, safe and secure, I felt more like living in a tin can. The Cyclops had the benefit of feeling more safe but then we’d take it into genuine hostile environment where this security would become challenged!

    I wonder, whether given my time again (Sub Zero is coming!!) I would find a way to make things more homely.

  10. I haven’t played No Man’s Sky, but is it true that when you reach the center of the galaxy at the end of the game the aliens come down and say, “Well done, the sky is yours now, Noman.”

  11. Urthman, I’m… afraid not. Actually I’ve never got to the centre. I just get bored with all the busywork before I get anywhere.


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