I’m not new to roguelikes and I love a lot of the genre. I’m not a Dwarf Fortress player but I could be. My roguelikes? Rogue, played on a PDP-11 – no colors or easy to recognize characters, thank you. Also hack and NetHack and larn. (Even used to play a custom branch of hack that included lemmings.) Fast forward to FTL or pretty much any contemporary roguelike that I can lose badly. I have a special affection for Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space.
Having enjoyed Prison Architect, but not as fully as I wanted to (mechanics/philosophy stuff I won’t go into here), I was thrilled to hear about RimWorld’s more Firefly-esque approach to building and cultivating the colony and kickstarter-pledged immediately at a level that’d get me access to the Alpha.
Since the successful funding of the Kickstarter, I’ve had access to two Alpha builds so far and they really are quite impressive. Though the developer repeatedly talks about how the game is unfinished (art, gameplay, bugs), it’s playable and quite stable right now. Build 0.0.254 is a solid amusement that is, as other folks have rightly said, a great storytelling generator and game.
Each character comes with a (skeletal for now) backstory, traits that are just decoration right now but there are promises that they’ll become more, work they will and will not do, skills they are better or worse at, a general profession, the abilities to be happy or be hungry or be on fire or be a soldier. And at you, the world throws, well, everything.
The other part of the equation that you pick as you create your game is your AI storyteller. The AI storyteller picks the pace of and difficulty of challenges, and you and your colony respond to them. You can get attacked by a herd of wild Muffalo. Or a rabid squirrel. Or lightning can blow up your solar panels or your thermogenerator or your battery store. Or the ensuing fires can light your colonists on fire. Or your colonists can just get tired of it and leave. Or pirates can come and destroy your colony completely.
None of this, I think, prepares you for things like this, unless you play a game out to a conclusion like this:
In this screenshot you see the aftermath of a successful pirate raid. The last colonist (Bismarck) lies incapacitated (can’t move, can’t do anything) and bleeding out. The other lone person in the colony is a prisoner (Patrick) who’s locked in. His last surviving warden (Bismarck) lies bleeding near a fire. All other people in the compound, including pirates, are dead. There’s no one to save poor Bismarck. And Patrick has few choices: he could starve to death or wait for another lightning strike to cause a fire a burn part of the prison’s wall down so he can escape.
As the player/architect, I watched this play out for a while. I even waited out Bismarck’s final death throes, hoping against hope for something to save him. Eventually I got tired of waiting for the fire to burn the prison or a new one to come along and burn it, so I, ex machina, sold a part of the prison wall to make a hole so Patrick could get away and then closed the game out.
There’s this sort of slow, interesting but hopeless vibe that builds up in these sorts of games. I find it fascinating, which is why I’ll keep coming back to a game like this. I think even this sad story of Bismarck dying alone and a prisoner escaping soon after really captures the sort of pioneering, space opera kind of vibe well and is emblematic of one of the many procedurally generated, dynamically emergent losses you can suffer while playing this game, each its own tidy little story that you eventually zoom out of and exit, never to see it again.
Bye bye, Bismarck. I’ll see you in another story.