Thanks in large part to perhaps my favorite Lets Player of them all, Scott Manley (best known for his work playing Kerbal Space Program and being, y'know, a real astrophysicist), I discovered a new game called Rimworld. It is produced by Ludeon Studios, in particular by a gentleman named Tynan Sylvester. It's an extremely early-stage game, having just completed a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for its development. They've released a pre-alpha build to donors, and it feels more complete than many might suspect.
|Lots of fire? That's about right for a first colony. Via RockPaperShotgun.com.|
The Basics Of Rimworld
You, as the player, start off with three folks who crash-land on an alien planet. You get to click a "randomize" button until you get three colonists you're happy with, and this is important because those first three guys will determine if you live or die real fast. If you somehow get three people who cannot build, you're done. If you get three who cannot serve as a warden for captured enemies, you will never be able to recruit new allies. Over time, you eventually can recruit new allies and expand your colony.
As for the threats you'll face, they are generated by a "storyteller," similar to the AI Director in Left 4 Dead. This is probably an early-in-the-cycle AI setup, and the number of situations you can expect are slightly diverse, but begging for more variety. Your main enemy will be the raiders who invade on a regular basis. Fine! When they start off way too strong for you, that's not so fun. And, the fact that they're usually the only actual threat to your colony is a bit disappointing: Solar flares prevent all electronics from working (with no defense against it), eclipses cut the power production of your solar panels, and random short circuits keep you patching things up...But that's not a threat, really. Then again, the fact is, this game is very early in development.
Bearing in mind that in a recent Reddit AMA the designers of Kerbal Space Program, Squad, said one of their top pet peeves was when fans say, "just do this one thing, it'll be so easy!," here's my five suggestions for the long-term development of this game as it moves from a pre-alpha to a finished product. After all, I put my money into their project, I get to have my say even if I know I might later be overruled! Plus, the game can use the buzz. ;)
#1: Technological Development
Research exists in the game, of course, but it is largely ornamental. The basic elements of your colonists are already developed - they can mine into solid rock as soon as they land, apparently Minecraft style. You can research advanced picks that speed up the mining process, but you never have to produce or equip them. Your characters might be bad shots, but they can quickly acquire firearms either from dead raiders or trade ships.
I picture a game where technological development is a little more essential. Imagine if you were stranded on an alien planet with nothing but some raw materials from your crash-landed ship. Even if you have the talent to build a hut and start developing technology, it might be tough for you to get all that done, all at once.
My suggestion here is simple: Start folks off at rock bottom. I'm not saying we need to stay at the bottom long - especially if we have a scientist in the group! I'm just saying we need to have a little balance. Instead of having wildly available firearms (Except perhaps in an "easy mode" setting), have characters start with bows and arrows or swords. Colonists should have to produce their gear. Speaking of...
#2: Equipment Management
Again, this is a very early build. Right now the only equip-able items are firearms. That's fine! But, as the game develops, the following slots should open up...
- Armor (Possibly even powered armor at some point).
- Melee weapon (including mining pick, because a mining pick to the head fucking hurts!).
- Ranged weapon, perhaps even including stun guns. NOT including grenades, though.
- Miscellaneous item, such as ground-penetrating radar for finding mineral deposits, or fragmentation grenades.
The idea here is not to over-complicate matters, but rather to include additional immersion and options into the game. Instead of having equipment presumed to be on a character, like how the "pneumatic picks" technology simply adds 20% to mining effectiveness, they should be items that are physically equipped. Again, if it'll split a rock, it'll serve as a melee weapon!
Also on that note, a colony should be able to produce many of its own goods and needs, equipment wise. As the tech tree advances, it may be hard to advance the research cause too quickly. Just getting up to automatic firearms may be tough, and a player might wish to invest in food growth and processing instead. So, they can produce basic arms but if they want to really upgrade their armies, they should have to trade for it.
#3: Expanded Storyteller Elements
So, we know that there is an AI storyteller that governs matters, but there's plenty of ways that the game can be expanded and improved. Right now, the main threat to your colonists is raiders. They come in waves, and usually the first two are single-sucker affairs that end quickly. The third wave, inexplicably, can be six raiders strong - six raiders who are all very skilled and very well armed!
Instead, assuming we're working from a lower technological level to begin with, the storyteller AI could decide that there is a nearby group of natives who might be exiled from their main group. These one to three people could be approached and either recruited to join the colony, or - if they are hostile, or if you lack a socially talented colonist - could need to be eliminated before conflict emerges. Later on, that native group might come by to inquire what happened. If they're dead, that may be a problem - or, they may thank you, as those three may have been crooks! If they're alive, well, they might demand you release them, even if they choose to be with you.
Other possibilities include adding predatory animals that can provide an early-on threat, meteor showers that damage equipment and reveal new sources of minerals, or waves of sickness which incapacitate your colonists and throw off the flow of work. Also, instead of always getting raiders, you might watch as another group of colonists arrive to build their own base, and you might have to decide if you can live together - or, if you have to become the raider, yourself!
Much of this leads to...
#4: Improved Use Of Colonists
Right now, I feel like my colonists are only under my control when they are drafted. Sometimes this is simply because they follow what is honestly pretty impressive (if under-optimized) automated scripts. Others, however, I feel like it's because some of my colonists don't really, uhh, do much. I have a noblewoman, for example, who does nothing but sit on her rear and eat our food. She doesn't build things, she doesn't haul them, and all she does is play warden to any prisoners we get and maybe call up a visiting star-ship. She used to do research, but we're done with the tech tree, so she's pretty useless day-in and day-out. Fun, huh?
Well, we also just recruited a former raider whose ability to work is even less. Literally, he exists to shoot things. That's fine! It would be nice, however, if I could assign my soldier guy a place to patrol. Maybe his job is to stand guard at the gates of our town and make sure we're safe? That'd make sense, right? Instead, he wanders aimlessly around unless I draft him, at which point I forget to un-draft him and he starves himself and fails to sleep.
By adding in other factions, like natives or other colonists (and possibly even raiders!), having a nobleman-type character would be essential because they could negotiate from a point of advantage. Obviously the other faction may be biased against me, but at least they'd have something useful to do.
#5: More, more, more!
Yep, that's about the best I can come up with. The important thing with a game like Rimworld, now that it's made over 250,000 Canadian Dollars on Kickstarter, is that it needs to put out content. It has a ModDB page, but no mods yet - and unlike Kerbal Space Program (we'll get to you!), it doesn't seem very mod-friendly, so far. But, I could be very wrong. I'm not much of a coder.
When a good, well-reviewed mod is produced, it could be incorporated into the game's official build. Maybe some of that kickstarter money could be used in a "bounty" system. No, not like the New Orleans Saints! Instead, if someone makes a very good mod, it could be brought into the game and the mod's developer could be given either some sort of promotional award, or a small payment for services rendered. That would really set the community going!
Well, that's it for me. Try Rimworld, it's a great time sink with incredible promise!
Jesse Pohlman is a writer living in Freeport, New York. He's self-published a number of novels available in Paperback and/or Kindle. You space fans might enjoy Protostar: Memoirs of the Messenger, a Kindle exclusive! Or, if you'd rather something a bit present-tense, try the super-hero stylings of Physics Incarnate!
Thank you for reading!