Jul 18, 2016

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An Intro To RimWorld

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I really like building games. I mean, games that have you building things, like — buildings — or societies, colonies, or contraptions. Like a lot of folks my age and younger, LEGO building sets were a household staple, and I believe that once you get bitten by that kind of creative bug it never really goes away…it just changes format in the 21st century.

Consider RimWorld. I believe I was vaguely familiar with this game before it went into Early Access on Steam on Friday, but only gave it a critical look that morning and thought I’d enjoy what I saw. The literature on the page compared it to the mechanics of Prison Architect but with the depth of Dwarf Fortress, both excellent games that focused on the building of a “society” through management of conceptsRimWorld, like these others, is a bit hard to describe if you aren’t familiar with either Prison Architect or Dwarf Fortress, so the best way to explain it is to call it “an indirect The Sims concept, with some RTS and some…” Actually, nevermind.

The Backstory

In RimWorld, you direct the actions of anywhere between one and who knows how many unfortunate souls whose starship has broken apart in orbit around a backwater world on the galactic rim. Their cryopods crash on the planet, along with debris and some thoughtfully jettisoned supplies, and as the Guiding Hand you need to guide this misfit band in order to ensure their survival.

Setting Up

There are four main setup steps for a game of RimWorld: Scenario, Storyteller, NPC composition, and Map.

Scenario

[{For some reason, I didn’t get a picture of this!]

Scenario is an addendum to the backstory which explains why you have the number of survivors that you have, and why you have the types and counts of initial materials that you have. There’s three pre-packages scenarios when you start: three survivors from a starliner explosion, one survivalist who has chosen to go it alone on this new world, and a tribe of five indigenous natives. The number of people and materials you start with matters: more people means more hands to delegate tasks to, and more materials (especially food, medicine, and building materials) means a quicker start.

If you don’t like any of those options, you can build your own scenario using the Scenario Builder. Here, you can add conditions, change the initial NPC count, add or remove starting materials and their quantities, and even include or forbid potential problems that the campers might encounter down the road.

Storyteller

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Aside from the laundry list of other games that RimWorld can be related to, another main selling point is its AI Storyteller. This feature supposedly ties into the NPCs behaviors, the behaviors of native NPCs, and the events on the planet itself to generate the kind of recap-worth situations that The Sims is known for.

There’s three stock storytellers: the traditional option, the safer option, and a random option. Within each, there’s five different levels ranging from less outside intervention (leading to a calmer building experience) to the “all hell breaks loose” option. There’s even an “ironman” permadeath option for the high-stakes player.

NPC Composition

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NPCs are the heart of the game, and where the comparison to Dwarf Fortress becomes apparent. Each colonist has a set of skills, a set of likes and dislikes, and tracks a plethora of conditions over time ranging from medical issues to psychological states. The number of NPCs you start with is determined by the scenario parameters, and all of the NPCs are randomly generated, including name (which you can customize) and icon (which you cannot).

NPCs will interact with one another. They can be related, can enter into relationships with one another, and can even get married. They can also argue and fight, and even kill one another. In one game, I had an NPC with a “pyromaniac” trait, and he kept setting fires around the colony. Take a good look at the traits your NPCs are generated with, because when they say “Cannibal”, they mean “sleep with one eye open”.

Selecting Your Map

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Maps in RimWorld can be tiny, or can be brain-meltingly massive. You start out in a small section of the world, in a square of your choosing. You can set up camp in arctic, temperate, boreal, tropical, or desert biomes, and each has a bearing on the types of weather you’ll experience, and the types and amount of resources you’ll discover.

Honestly, I’m not sure how or even if the larger map plays a part in the overall game, because the starting square ends up being large enough that you’d probably be playing for weeks before you start to outgrow it. I assume that you can move outside of your initial section of the map and into other sections, but that remains to be proven.

What Next?

I’m going to reserve the starting steps for another post of its own, but I wanted to speak to the nature of the game before we close up here.

RimWorld is kind of difficult to categorize if you’re not familiar with the examples listed above. You don’t ever get to control your colonists directly. You set out orders for them, like “build a wall of wood here” or “use this bench to butcher livestock” or “hunt this specific turkey”. When the NPCs get a free moment, those who have an aptitude and have been assigned the opportunity to perform the task will go about doing what you ask. As such, you’re that omnipotent Guiding Hand that tells the colonists what they need to do to survive, and hope that they’re not slackers who decide it’s better to spend their days watching the sunset than building the new food paste generator that their colony sorely needs.

Because its in Early Access, the game is severely lacking in tutorials. Personally I find this to be fantastic; my favorite part of any game is the learning phase, and playing RimWorld has been an exercise in discovery. But there’s a definitive path to follow to get up and running quickly to the point where the colony can start to be somewhat self-sufficient beyond the elements necessary for survival, and can start expanding and growing. That’s where the game gets hard for me, because then it becomes mostly a “how not to get the colonists killed” game, and less of a “what new and weird things can we do that we don’t yet know about”. Of course, ramping up the difficulty or changing the AI Storyteller is an option to keep things fresh, which is the point of the Storyteller mechanic, but once you set that value during world creation, you can’t change it; you’ll need to start a new game from scratch.

RimWorld covers a lot of bases for me. It’s got that management sim mechanic, the interpersonal story-generation mechanic, and the building mechanic, all of which compile into a game featuring a lot to do, but always an uncertainty regarding how it’ll turn out in the long run. There’s always something to expand, maintain, or improve, which makes the game less like something you set up to run on its own, and more something you start in motion, tweak over time, and worry about in between.

 

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