Long-term starvation (specific mechanic)


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When I first started playing The Long Dark, I tried desperately to keep my calories above zero. When I inevitably failed, I didn't take particular care to observe the effects of being at 0 calories - I just assumed that it was a Very Bad Idea to leave it that way for long. The game became tense for me - a bit too tense, if I'm being honest - and only later when I read the wiki did I realise that the only penalty for being at 0 calories was 1% condition loss per hour. (Yes, there is the sleep thing as well, but that has never actually had an impact on my game in all the time I've been playing.)

When I first realised that I could survive on 300 calories per day (not being skilled, I play on Stalker) in exchange for only a small decrease in effective max condition, it was a great boon to my gameplay. Suddenly I could stop worrying about food and focus on exploration, finding more clothing and tools, and maybe nabbing the odd rabbit every so often so as not to have to deplete my rations. I assumed that this strategy would prove unsustainable eventually - after all, in real life one needs at least 1200 calories a day, at a bare minimum, to survive over an extended period - but that mattered far less to me than being free to improve my situation in the short-term. I figured that once I started to see consequences for this extreme rationing then I'd bring my focus back to finding better food sources.

However, after weeks (in-game) of playing this way I didn't see any such consequences. When I brought down my first deer I briefly considered eating all the meat at once - after all, my character had been on starvation rations for some time - but wouldn't it be more rational to just eat 300 cals and save the rest for later? Not wanting to transport the meat, I waited until I was leaving the area and then ate enough to get me through to the following morning. Finally when I got to Jackrabbit Island I started fishing and filled up my hunger bar, and considered going for the Well Fed buff. But how long could I sustain it? I'd become used to only needing 300 calories per day and the thought of needing so much more, and losing the buff if my calories ever hit zero even once, just wasn't worth the 5kg carry weight and +5% max condition in my mind.

Ultimately, the hunger mechanics in the game now feel less like a struggle for survival and more like a background routine to be forgotten about, until just before sleep when I need to find some small amount of food (e.g., 2 cattails). Of course on Interloper things would be harder, but even then, wouldn't Interloper throw up other problems (like extreme cold) that would be more concerning? In any case, the hunger mechanic is definitely the biggest crack in the otherwise flawless immersion The Long Dark has provided me thus far.

After some thinking I came up with the proposal described at the end of this post. The tl;dr version is: Let the player survive on few calories in the short-term. And if they're meeting at least half of their nominal calorie requirements, just let them be. But if they're eating the minimum possible, then after a week or so (the timing will depend on various factors), let them know that they are now risking starvation. If they start to eat well at that point, they'll see the risk decrease to zero relatively quickly. If not, after another week or so, tell them they are starving and give them a moderate debuff - but supress its effects anytime their calorie store is above zero. Now the player has a reason to eat during the day - and will notice an immediate improvement from doing so, as we can all imagine upon eating when desperately hungry. The debuff becomes more severe over time, until after about 5 weeks it becomes so severe that finding an adequate food source is just about the only thing that matters.

Once the player has stabilised their food situation, they'll know they have reached an important milestone. Further, from this point the player only needs roughly twice as much food to maintain the Well Fed buff! And in any case a freshly killed deer, or a well-stocked fishing hut, will provide the player with a long-term benefit that doesn't disappear as soon as their calorie store hits zero for any reason.

 

 

Proposal Specifics:

Add a "Starvation Risk" meter ("SR meter" for short) which ranges from 0 to 50000. The SR meter start the game at zero and it is initially hidden from the player.

While the player is at 0 calories, any calories expended (whether from normal burn over time, time-accelerated activities, or some other source) increase the SR meter by the number of calories expended.
Thus, if the player is awake at 0 calories for 14 hours and then asleep at 0 calories for 5 hours, but doesn't do anything that takes more calories than normal during that time, then their SR meter will increase by 14 * 100 + 5 * 60 = 1400 + 300 = 1700.

Anytime the player consumes calories, the SR meter is reduced by the number of calories consumed. In the above example, if the player consumed 300 calories and then slept for 5 hours to restore condition back to full, their SR meter would immediately decrease to 1400 and would remain at 1400 throught the 5 hours (after which it would start to increase again, unless the player consumed more calories). Thus, on 300 calories per day the player's SR meter would increase by 1400 per day in this example. On the other hand, you can easily work out that 1000 calories per day would be enough to keep the SR meter at or near zero (in this example).

The SR meter is converted to a percentage which we will call "Starvation Risk". Once Starvation Risk rises above 20%, it is shown to the player unless and until it reaches zero again. In our example, Starvation Risk would first be shown to the player after about 7 days. Note that filling the hunger bar from 0 to 2500 calories reduces Starvation Risk by 5%, and consuming 7500 calories from a deer carcass would reduce Starvation Risk by 15% - a very noticeable amount, making bringing down a deer and finishing all of the meat well worth it, even if one doesn't have any other reason to stick around and cannot safely transport the meat.

Once Starvation Risk reaches 40% the player acquires a new affliction, "Starvation". In our example this would occur after just over 14 days.
 - The affliction lasts 24 hours. After the 24 hours have passed, the affliction is re-applied if the player is still above the 40% threshold (same as how Cabin Fever currently works). 
 - If the player consumes calories then all effects of "Starvation" listed below are suppressed for as long as the player remains above 0 calories. However, the affliction itself remains and its effects will immediately return if the player hits 0 calories again.
 - Similar to being encumbered, the severity of this affliction depends on how high the SR meter is, as detailed below:

SR meter below 35000: "Mild Starvation"; effects:
 - Sprinting speed boost reduced to 75% of normal
 - Fatigue drain from all activities increased by 25%
 - Damage from being at 0 calories increased to 1.5% per hour 
(thus 6 hours of restorative sleep per day, or 9 hours on Interloper, are needed to restore lost condition)

SR meter between 35000 and 49000 (after approx. 25 days in our example): "Moderate Starvation"; effects:
 - Sprinting speed boost reduced to 50% of normal
 - Fatigue drain from all activities increased by 50%
 - Damage from being at 0 calories increased to 2% per hour
(thus 7 hours of restorative sleep per day, or 10 hours on Interloper, are needed to restore lost condition)

SR meter above 49000 (after approx. 35 days in our example): "Severe Starvation"; effects:
 - Sprinting speed boost reduced to 25% of normal
 - Fatigue drain from all activities increased by 100%
 - Damage from being at 0 calories increased to 3% per hour
(thus 9 hours of restorative sleep per day are needed to restore lost condition, and on Interloper even 10 hours restorative sleep per day will result in 10% condition loss per day)
 

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Very well written! I would also like to see scurvy in the game. 

From wiki: It takes at least a month of little to no vitamin C in the diet before symptoms occur.

Early symptoms of deficiency include weakness, feeling tired and sore arms and legs.[1][2] Without treatment, decreased red blood cells, gum disease, changes to hair, and bleeding from the skin may occur.[1][3] As scurvy worsens there can be poor wound healing, personality changes, and finally death from infection or bleeding.

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I recommend the search function, as there has been a lot of really good discussion surrounding this topic in many many threads in the past.
I do appreciate how thoroughly you've thought out the idea.

However, I'm not sure how complex these mechanics really need to be.  I've spoken about this a lot in many other threads so I will just echo one of those previous posts here:

On 7/21/2020 at 1:20 AM, ManicManiac said:

Personally I think the mechanics are fine as they are.  I trust Hinterland to keep true to their vision for their game.  If Hinterland wants to change it, then fine... but I don't see any real need to change how the mechanics work.

We already have an affliction for starving... and it's the fatigue/rest cap that grows the longer we don't eat.  Also the condition loss from starvation is also a present factor.  Just because it doesn't have it's own discrete affliction status icon doesn't mean the negative effects aren't there. 

:coffee::fire:
I do appreciate how well thought out the idea is... but honestly, I just don't really see a need for it considering that there are important consequences for that style of play already.  Besides, I'm fairly certain that if it wasn't working the way Hinterland intended... then they would have changed it. 

 

Edited by ManicManiac
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I did look at some of the past discussions before posting, and took them into account while writing. I genuinely feel the hunger mechanics are the weakest part of the game's immersion at least over the time I've played.

Also as a concrete point, as far as I'm concerned the fatigue/rest cap might as well not exist. It scared me the first time I saw it - right up until the point where I went to sleep and it disappeared straight away. Since then I've ignored it with no consequences.

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It probably balances out to be far more calories than you need IRL, once you factor in the fact that deer have an incredibly small amount of meat on them compared to real life and that the meat itself is less than half the calories of reality.

So you probably would have 700 calories/day with the proper calorie count/kg, then about 33kg of meat on an actual deer so 700*3.6 = 2545 calories/day. That assumes you don't eat the heart and liver or use the bones or anything, which you would.

So the truth is you're probably really consuming 3000+ calories per day. If you look at it that way it seems much better.

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To be honest, I'm far less concerned with "realism" then I am with immersion. If the amount of meat on a deer or its caloric value differ substantially from reality, well, I'm not stopping to calculate any of this and so it doesn't break immersion for me. Perhaps it would for someone intimately familiar with hunting, in which case they could post about it.

By contrast, I think most of us have an intuitive understanding that starvation is a gradual process which occurs over a period of weeks or months, not days. There's no need to stop and calculate anything to understand this. So when all consequences of caloric deprivation happen on a time scale of days at most, that does badly break immersion for me.

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Maybe that's why it's a bigger deal for me. I just know that stuff without having to look anything up.

Edit--

Actually you're totally right because the tool weights and carry capacity didn't bother me either until I tried taking a known amount of weight up a mountain and saw how hard it was and looked up weights of tools.

Edited by odizzido
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I think similarly to when cold reaches 0 you get a hypothermia risk, when hunger reaches 0 calories you should get a malnutrition risk. Which goes up the longer you starve, but even if you feed yourself it doesn't go away. You need to get constantly fed. Something like that.

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If you read and understand the proposed mechanic I described, you'll see that it does indeed have some similarities with Hypothermia. Incidentally if you have specific comments on what I proposed, or suggested improvements, please don't hestitate to post them. :)

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My solution currently is not using starvation as a strategy.

I think a harsher penalty for starvation is a good idea. To me, a simpler system would be a 6-day moving average (like Cabin Fever) of time over and under an arbitrary calorie level (like 500). This forces the player to keep the hunger bar filled and uses information more readily available to the player.

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I may at some point start keeping an eye on the "Calories Expended" stat and having a personal goal to bring it above some threshold (like 1000 per day or so) for my current run. But being in an established run with lots of gear, etc., of course that's the less important half of the problem. The more important half is, ought I to have starved to death earlier in the run when I was in more difficulty?

I can understand the impulse to use a rolling average, but that has its own issues (which stand out starkly when dealing with Cabin Fever) and it would have to be a *lot* longer than 6 days. The whole point of this suggestion is that starvation should become an issue over weeks or months, not days! It's certainly not to "force" the player to satisfy yet another constraint during the first week (which is already the hardest part of the game, IMO).

Also, the proposal I've described is actually very simple. There's a lot of text simply because I fleshed out all the details and illustrated with a running example, but at the heart of it is just one counter and two conditions under which it is modified.

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The rolling average could be longer and a grace period added, but the main purpose of a rolling average is to stop use of starvation except for  short periods, as you are forced to keep a positive calorie count for the majority of the time. While malnutrition over a longer period makes sense in reality, in-game it would be too easy to exploit, with long periods of starvation interrupted with short food binges to lower starvation risk.

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For clarity I've made a brief and simplified description of the proposal (also added a difficulty mod, N.B. for obvious reasons this suggestion is not intended for Pilgrim) :

Quote

Add a "Starvation Risk" meter ("SR meter" for short) which ranges from 0 to 50000. The SR meter start the game at zero and it is initially hidden from the player.

While the player is at 0 calories, any calories expended increase the SR meter by the number of calories expended.
Anytime the player consumes calories, the SR meter is reduced by 2 * n (Voyageur), 1 * n (Stalker) or 0.5 * n (Interloper), where n is the number of calories consumed.

When the SR meter rises above 10000 it is converted to a percentage and displayed as "Starvation Risk" (so the player will see it at 20% when it is first shown).
If the player hits 0 calories while the SR meter is above 20000 they receive an affliction (more severe above 35000 and most severe above 49000).
The affliction is cured by consuming calories.

I will also clarify: the purpose of this suggestion is not to "stop" the player doing anything or to prevent "exploits". Rather, the purpose is to introduce a meaningful consequence in order to improve immersion - in other words, to help the player's willing suspension of disbelief. Eating food when it is available and rationing when it is scarce is exactly what I would imagine doing in a survival situation - I would therefore consider it *highly* immersive.

Edited by Ragwort
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I just don't see a need to make it as complicated as folks seems to want to make it in this thread.
I'm not keen on the idea of this becoming a dietary/nutrition simulator either. :D

Also: 

On 11/10/2019 at 11:46 PM, ManicManiac said:

I feel there comes a point where there is only so much micromanaging that can be done before it stops being fun and starts just feeling like a slog...


:coffee::fire:
I can understand the opinions held by others on this subject... however, I must respectfully disagree.

Edited by ManicManiac
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17 minutes ago, ManicManiac said:

I just don't see a need to make it as complicated as folks seems to want to make it in this thread.
I'm not keen on the idea of this becoming a dietary/nutrition simulator either. :D

That is why I've made this mechanic about as simple as it can possibly be. All of the nutritional stuff that I've seen discussed in other threads on this topic - body fat, muscle mass, protein, fat, carbohydrates, sugars, too many rabbits - all of this is abstracted into a single value. And all the player needs to see is "Hey, you haven't eaten enough for weeks and your body is going to suffer/actually suffering for it. Eat food to make this go away". And everything from that point on - how to find food, or how to just deal with the consequences - is up to the player.

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36 minutes ago, ManicManiac said:

I just don't see a need to make it as complicated as folks seems to want to make it in this thread.
I'm not keen on the idea of this becoming a dietary/nutrition simulator either.

A lot of proposals in the past have focused on things like vitamin deficiency, 'rabbit starvation' (protein poisoning), fat reserves, etc. Focusing solely on caloric intake is the simple solution. The game shouldn't require a balanced diet, but a diet where you simply eat enough to survive.

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30 minutes ago, Ragwort said:

All of the nutritional stuff that I've seen discussed in other threads on this topic - body fat, muscle mass, protein, fat, carbohydrates, sugars, too many rabbits - all of this is abstracted into a single value.

Fair enough. :)

However I still think the character becoming weaker and worn-out is already encapsulated rather well with the fatigue cap, increase in fatigue drain, as well as condition loss.  Even if this was highlighted in a discrete "labeled affliction," your cure is still the same as what's in the game now:

30 minutes ago, Ragwort said:

Eat food to make this go away


:coffee::fire::coffee:
I think I see what your getting at... it sounds like you'd just like the negative effects of starvation to be more enduring in terms of "healing" them.
I just don't think it would need to feel so contrived in order to achieve that.

Edited by ManicManiac
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5 minutes ago, Salty Crackers said:

A lot of proposals in the past have focused on things

Yes I know, I was referring to those other threads when I said:

44 minutes ago, ManicManiac said:

I'm not keen on the idea of this becoming a dietary/nutrition simulator either.


:coffee::fire::coffee:
I included consideration of those past threads to give context to my thoughts on this one as well.  I didn't mean for it to confuse the issue.

Edited by ManicManiac
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3 minutes ago, ManicManiac said:

However I still think the character becoming weaker and worn-out is already encapsulated rather well with the fatigue cap, increase in fatigue drain, as well as condition loss.

As I said earlier, the fatigue cap goes away every single time I eat 300 cals and then sleep 5 hours. Condition loss is healed in precisely the same way. There is no long-term effect, at least not on Stalker.

I'm not aware of any increase in fatigue drain due to starvation being currently in the game. If there is information on this somewhere then please enlighten me.

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9 minutes ago, ManicManiac said:

I think I see what your getting at... it sounds like you'd just like the negative effects of starvation to be more enduring in terms of "healing" them.
I just don't think it would need to be so contrived in order to achieve that.

You see my point then. :) And if you can think of a simpler way to achieve it, then please do say!

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6 minutes ago, ManicManiac said:

Yes I know, I was referring to those other threads when I said:

48 minutes ago, ManicManiac said:

I'm not keen on the idea of this becoming a dietary/nutrition simulator either.


:coffee::fire::coffee:
I included consideration of those past threads to give context to my thoughts on this one as well.  I didn't mean for it to confuse the issue.

Fair enough.

1 minute ago, Ragwort said:

As I said earlier, the fatigue cap goes away every single time I eat 300 cals and then sleep 5 hours. Condition loss is healed in precisely the same way. There is no long-term effect, at least not on Stalker.

Another way I avoid using starvation as a strategy is setting at-rest condition recovery to none. The only way to gain condition (besides stims and tea) is passive condition recovery, which requires you to not be starving.

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8 minutes ago, Ragwort said:

I'm not aware of any increase in fatigue drain due to starvation

I just double checked, you're right... I misspoke.  I erroneously included it, but that is one of the effects of food poisoning, not starvation.
I appreciate the good catch, my mistake.  :)


:coffee::fire::coffee:
[Addendum]
I did go back and correct it (that is to say, I struck that out of my previous post).

Edited by ManicManiac
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6 minutes ago, Salty Crackers said:

Another way I avoid using starvation as a strategy is setting at-rest condition recovery to none. The only way to gain condition (besides stims and tea) is passive condition recovery, which requires you to not be starving.

This is a great application of player choice.  I really like the custom solution you've come up with.

:coffee::fire::coffee:
Well done.

Edited by ManicManiac
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@Ragwort

Well, if I was to offer a thought on it... I would offer the idea of simply slowing down the rate of "healing" to the fatigue cap.

After all even though we can sleep as much as we want when we have a fatigue cap active... that sleep is effectively wasted (in that it's non-restful).
If instead of it recovering at a rate that would mean the player could shake it off in one night's sleep, perhaps it might serve your purposes to have it take twice as long (keeping food in our character's stomach) in order for that effect to go away.


:coffee::fire::coffee:
Honestly the fatigue cap alone could be much more punishing for starvation, if it where to require keeping food in our stomach longer before it "heals" and goes away.

Edited by ManicManiac
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