Death Stranding as a Strategy Game.

I just hit my 27-hour mark today and the game is starting to hook me.

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“The Elders House” Trope.

This game makes it very hard for me to talk about it. The more I try to sum it up and break it down the more it challenges me to play it more, mostly because I think I managed to tap into the actual core game-play loop and it resonates so much with me in a way that games haven’t resonated with me since the last time I took “Grand Strategy Games” seriously.

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Do not get me wrong! Everything I said in the previous blog remains intact. There is no question.

Death Stranding, with its focus on resource gathering, distribution and route optimization gives me some strategy survival game vibes. Maybe something in the veins of Don’t Starve. You try to tame the environment by tapping into its resource pool and using its quirks to your advantage.

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I would go as far as to say that it almost taps into that building game mentality of City Builders like Anno 1800.

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I decided to draw a flow chart of the decision chain that goes through my head when I play this game:

When deciding what to do in DS, you go through all these logic parameters. They are all associated with game systems and problems that you must deal with when choosing a course of action.

This makes for an interesting “thinking mans” game.

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My first attempt at understanding Imperator Rome

It is all these interlinked systems that drives decision making. MGS 5 did this to some extent, but it somehow still felt like a traditional open world game.

The base building and economy management in MGS5 tried to justify the use of resources by allowing you to just steal everything in the environment for your own benefit.

Death Stranding does the same, however the base is the world and you are not only helping yourself, you are helping everyone else (other players as well).

To break it down:

Mission Selection

You choose a cargo mission:

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You check the destination → Previous DS blog talks about paths and terrain.

  • You plot your route from the map screen

Getting There

  • You can either go on foot or using a vehicle
  • But whatever you choose to do, you will need to make sure you get across the terrain, and you can do that by building routes.
  • Routes can be built over 3 types of obstacles: Cliffs, Rivers, Terrain and come in many shapes: Ropes, Ladders, Bridges and Roads.
  • Based on what you choose to do your vehicle is going to suffer from various degrees of Degradation, be it either physical (rain, terrain) or battery depletion, opening up the possibility of you getting stranded with a large cargo in the middle or nowhere if you are not careful.
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Battery Recharge Pylon

Resources

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  • Resources can be acquired from 4 different places: Open World, Mule Camps, BT Areas or Online requests.
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  • But getting to these places can be as daunting as getting to the delivery destination themselves, so you need to also plan on building infrastructure for getting to and back from those places with as little degradation as possible. Packages also have durability and getting them to the destination intact requires careful planning.

You must build additional pylons

  • Also, another thing to factor in is if these places are under the Chiral Network influence, because much this will dictate if you can build there or not, much like building Pylons in StarCraft 2
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  • This often dictates where you can go, how to get there and what you need to optimize this route for the best possible resource gathering run.
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Much of the challenge in DS is psychological. It is the thought of going into rough terrain that is the mind killer. Reaching these places is not that hard and planning and doing the busy work to make sure these things work really helps in simplifying the issue to the point where you do not have an issue with it.

So far this is what DS is, it is a game about building infrastructure to make deliveries easier, for you, other players and perhaps the delivery drones as well. (Yes, the game has delivery drones)

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Delivery Drone.

The most interesting thing however is that you can take all the systems and play the game the way you want to play it and the game will reward you for it:

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For example I didn’t focus so much on delivering so far, I did it because I had to, instead I got drawn into doing miscellaneous stuff like: Building stuff, Collecting resources, Building connections between people, Clearing large mule camps repeatedly.

This boosted my Bridge Link and Miscellaneous bracket unlocking perks that facilitate me into doing those things more and more efficiently.

But this is just me, other peoples do other things, in much different ways.

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I talk a lot about 360 approach and how this can be applied in the context of open world games, and so far, DS does all that, in a very distinctive way that elevates Game Design.

But to get back to what I was saying earlier it also allows you to find the fun, by looking for ways of understanding how all these systems work together, and how you can better use them to resolve your tasks.

Social Strands

The game is built with some robust social media things integrated into it. I do not fully understand how it works yet but I am getting there.

By getting your Bridge Link up you can connect with more people in what the game calls Strand Contracts.

Once a Strand Contract is established, your world gets merged with theirs and you can start seeing their stuff placed around the world. (roads, bridges, other structures).

You can use them and like them and that player gets leveled up by your actions, just like you get leveled up when other people use your stuff.

So… here is how to make a cohesive open world map if you ever imagine yourself doing that in the long run:

  • Start with a topological map like this one:
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This has been arbitrarily chosen. In some cases, this might have to be curated to some extent.

Drop down a bunch of cities.

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Cities, Distribution centers, Prep camps density and count should be based on the size of the map. You want to have enough spaces between each spot to facilitate travel.

In Death Stranding I think Camps are no less than 2 km apart from each other.

Plot a large road connecting all the sites

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The road should not loop back onto itself. Sites should not be directly next to the road; you can place them around 300–400 away from them and it should be fine.

Break the map into smaller sectors

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Each sector should contain at least one site and one piece of road that the player will work towards building.

Add some challenge/resource areas that can be referenced inside missions and quests from the sites.

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Try to alternate the types of danger zones, you generally do not want mule camps right next to each other unless you have a very good explanation for that.

Road segments

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Each road segment will be built individually and access to the build pilon is only allowed once you bring the site into the Chiral Network, so separating them into chunks will contribute to sector difficulty.

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In the absence of roads, the player will travel using the environment, guided by natural formations and will unknowingly stumble into Mule Camps and BT Spots, so his path through the world will not be done linearly.

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Make sure the M/BT zones are wide enough so the player cannot miss them. This is important, because after the initial shock of stumbling upon them the player is going to start exploiting these areas for resources.

Rivers

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Rivers are probably the hardest things to deal with in this game and usually the Mule Camps and BT areas are surrounded by them. The player has to prioritize building bridges and created paths over these areas after the areas have been established, especially when trying to farm these areas, so a good river setup that fractures the landscape is key for developing a challenging sector.

Bring it all together:

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Iteration

At this point it’s a good moment to actually iterate a bit on how things are positioned

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Remember:

Entry points into M/BT areas are supposed to be a bit deal, make sure to signal these kinds of areas

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Having some preset places where bridges might be built is super important. Especially when you want to bridge the “Mule Camp” you are farming to two deliver sites.

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Inserting Bridge opportunities in your Mule Camp Setups.

You can signal this by leaving areas that are empty of rocks and debris. The player will spot it as a good place to place a bridge.

I guess that is it for this one.

See you next time.

Written by

As a level designer I am not a creator, I am a facilitator. Lead LD @MachineGames. #Leveldesign. All my opinions are my own. @notimetoulose.

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