Stellaris is a 4x Game of Unusual Size (4GoUS — F’go-us?) and like a lot of 4x games, no scenario is ever over quickly. I firmly believe that short of treating utter defeat as the first item on your to-do list, a single game will last for several hours whether you like it or not. Considering the point and the attraction of 4x games is the strategy of expansion and neighborly relations, you’d better like it.
Willfulness aside, it is possible to back yourself into a corner where the game becomes painfully difficult to the point where you might wonder if you’re looking down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat. For me, 4x games tend to devolve into an arms race where my neighbors know all the right levers to pull to get ahead, while I’m hanging out in my backyard tossing the football around without a care in the universe. That leads to people showing up on my doorstep with armaments that I can’t hope to defend against, and I inevitably end up losing.
Playing Stellaris last night I found myself behind the 8-ball in terms of resources. My energy budget was at 0 or occasionally in the red. Suddenly, my food supply tanked and we were living off rations. I had more than enough minerals, and while I wasn’t gaining influence, I wasn’t using it either. What all this means is that I had the minerals necessary to expand — to build ships and outposts and such — but I didn’t have the maintenance currency — energy — to keep it all running. That meant I was holding off on doing much of anything. Occasionally I’d get brave and would send construction crews out to other solar systems to construct outposts and mining platforms where I could score some additional energy income, but it was a balancing act: everything I built required upkeep, so I had to do ugh-math to ensure my projects would net more e-credit than they would cost.
About 15 minutes before I knew I had to shut down, lest I find myself unable to wake in the morning (I am immune to the dreaded “one more round” disease), I was looking into my food shortage. In Stellaris, planets are divided into tiles. Each tile is either empty, a natural producer of food, energy, minerals, or other resources, or is blocked. Your people (called “pops”) will be “born” or will migrate into open tiles. You can drag pops around to put them into tiles that you want them to work. My focus was on ensuring that all my food tiles were populated and that the farms in those tiles were sufficiently upgraded to the best produce-enhancer I could build.
Something wasn’t right. I was upgrading hydroponics labs in food tiles, but…there were tiles producing natural food which didn’t have hydroponics labs in them. Placing a machine in a tile with a matching resource type increases the output of that resource type. Here I was, starving and every-deficient because I hadn’t been placing even the most basic producer buildings on my natural resource tiles. I had been spending pretty much the entire game operating a growing empire with no more resource production than what I found laying around on the ground. That’s like operating a government funded only by the loose change found under seat cushions or in the street gutters.
Now, however, I have two other colonies which I need to start upgrading, but I have reached the food storage ceiling despite cranking out more crops. My neighbors have become belligerent and the diplomacy screen shows them as being technologically superior to me. I fear that my remembrance on how to play this game has come too late to save my ass, which wouldn’t be a bad thing necessarily as a looming defeat would allow me to start up a new game where I could do things correctly from the start.
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Last night we had our usual Monday night gaming session with the locals, playing The Division because it’s the kind of game everyone can agree on. My PC character is still at level 27, with the storyline missions complete, but there’s still the HQ to build and all of the collectables to…collect. We ran the UN mission last night on Hard just because, but I ended the night with a pounding headache. I’m going to blame the shifting weather patterns that jump from hot to cold to hot to meh to WTF and back to hot again for the weird atmospheric conditions that squeeze my sinuses.
Of course, for a self-actualized “I’m getting tired of games” shitposter, I’ve found that I’ve recently gotten back into gaming in a pretty hardcore way. I’m focusing on doing an Uncharted 4 zone per sitting (or per two sittings depending on the situation). It took me two sessions to get through Scotland, and now we’re on to Madagascar. I’ve decided to pick up the Uncharted Collection once I’m done with this one just for completion, to complete the games I’d not completed. I’m also working on my Ultima Online video series, although I’m already looking down the road to see how far I can take this one. I’m used to not having to pay a subscription for my games (a situation once considered to be the downfall of online gaming…how quaint!) so that’s kind of a weird feeling right now, having to pay, and brings back memories of “you’re paying, but not playing!” that bugs me more now than it ever did in the past. But I’ll keep on keeping on for as long as I’m able.
Stellaris is really the one on my radar, though. It’s not a game you can have a “session” with, unless by “session” you mean spending several hours in deep thought, trying to figure out how to stretch your budget while expanding your empire but not in a way that’s going to piss off your neighbors until you’re ready to piss them off. This is a game that fits my play style: sitting back with the feet up on the desk, keyboard in lap, relaxing.
I’ve come to determine that my M.O. is that once I get enthusiastic about A Thing, I want to stop becoming a consumer of A Thing and become a producer or, in this case, and extender of A Thing. That’s why I’m super interested in the idea of modding Stellaris. I’m not entirely sure how or why quite yet. Most of the mods on the Steam Workshop are adding in new graphics, like emblems from Halo, or are from people or groups racing to be the first to get slapped with a lawsuit from Games Workshop by creating a total conversion (TC), turning the game into a Warhammer 40k setting. I’ve subscribed to a few mods from the Workshop, but so far there’s not a whole lot that’s interested me. It’s still early, though, and I’m sure the Old Guard who have modded the heck out of other Paradox games like Europa Universalis IV or Crusader Kings II are already hacking away at Stellaris, and those larger, more worthwhile mods will take time to complete and test.
Of course, there’s only so many hours in the day. Last night I wasn’t feeling well; the sudden shift in atmospheric conditions are playing havoc with my breathing, and that usually leaves me really drained. I almost didn’t make Division Monday, but rallied at the last minute. Now, of course, I’m at work during the day, and when I get home I’ll need to do home things, and adult in adultish ways. Adulting sucks. But I would like to spend some time delving into the how and why of modding Paradox games, because I’m not entirely sure what’s really possible. For example, can we hack in other victory conditions beyond the solar-system-owner percent and military domination? That would be nice. I’d like to play a game where military force is only the absolute last resort (or is limited to NPC eradication), because I think that could lead to a better, more solid sense of victory than “build as much as possible and zerg the hell out of the NPCs”.
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