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.
Because Star Citizen is moving along slowly, I’ve gone back to Elite Dangerous to get my space simulation quota filled.
So far, I’ve only been taking missions for item transfer. The mission board offers all kinds of wonderful work, but my focus has been on the “here’s some items we want delivered to another station in another system” kind of jobs for a few reasons. First and foremost, they’re easy. I just have to accept the mission. Second, there’s no additional work on my part because the items that need to be moved are placed in my cargo hold. With a Lakon Type-6, I have 100 “units” I can take, which means I can usually take more than one mission — assuming they’re all in the same area. Third, there is a penalty for not completing the mission, but it’s relatively small: usually a few thousand credits. The only risk to not completing the mission (since the time is usually exorbitant, like 24 hours real time) is getting blown up.
My current most profitable routes start in Kamocan, at Littrow Gateway, which is my de facto home base because it’s where my ships are parked. I’m eagerly awaiting the next update where we can get our ships delivered to other stations, because as much as Littrow Gateway is nice, I’m kind of in the armpit of the galaxy and might like to move somewhere closer to the action. The latest round of missions have me transporting items to Shou Gu Wu (my bad, not the actual system name, but it’s something like that), which is two jumps away with a full cargo hold, one jump if I’ve only got limited goods to move. The thing I’ve noticed, though, is that I’m almost guaranteed to have one mission change objectives on me mid-stream. This means that the destination of at least one set of items is going to require me to either bring them somewhere new, move them to their location faster, or in a bizarre twist, explode a named NPC. That last one usually means said NPC is going to come after me, which is a problem considering I don’t have any weapons on my ship in order to conserve mass and power. That means I have to submit to interdiction in order to get my frame-shift drive recharged faster, continuously hammer the afterburners, and bob and weave using my thrusters until I can activate the FSD. So far I’ve gotten blown up once, but since then I’ve upgraded my thrusters to make me faster, and fixed my controls so I can actually use afterburners.
I’m thinking of moving closer to the Pleiades, because that seems to be where the bulk of alien encounters are happening. Right now (as of this writing), there’s a community goal in Maia that I wouldn’t be able to reach in time, but considering that this region seems to be the epicenter of whatever is going to go down once the aliens make an actual appearance, it might be worthwhile to get out there and get a front row seat for the carnage. But Maia and other systems are quite a ways away from where I am now, which means I’d need to dedicate a lot of time to getting out there, and it would only be worth it if I could get my other ship out there as well.
When Ultima Online first launched, there were no quests; it was a pure sandbox which required players to “make their own fun”. Technically, this was a roleplayer’s dream, and many people took advantage of the free-form environment with game-like mechanics to create a world of their own.
As MMOs became more achievement-centric, it seems that UO had to roll with the punches by adding in quests. Good thing, too, because the initial quests we take in this video help to guide a new player towards some activities that will help him get better before he heads out into the untamed wilds of the main continent.
Ultima Online was my first “modern MMO”, and as such hold a very special place in my heart. Now, almost 20 years after its release, the game is still in operation, but I’m under no illusions that there can ever truly be a “homecoming”. Both the game and myself have moved on from the circumstances that surrounded our initial introductions. Still, we’ve got a history, UO and I, and that’s certainly worth a little bit of nostalgia.
In this video series, we’ll be starting over: fresh character, new environment, and an ongoing narration the mixes the memories of the original UO and the realities of the modern day game. In this first video, we’ll be looking at character creation, setting up shop in New Haven, the “new player experience”, and talking a little bit about UO in general.
Balrum is an isometric, single player “survivalbox” RPG with a narrative component. I originally heard about this game from Jeremy Stratton of Zero Friction fame, and while I had held off on purchasing it, I decided to jump on it this weekend.
The game reminds me a lot of Spiderweb Software’s games such as Avernum and Avadon series, as well as the venerable Geneforge games. If you’re familiar with Spiderweb’s output, then you’ll find a lot to like in Balrum, and if you’re not as familiar, then this game might make you a fan.
I decided to start a “Let’s Play” series with Balrum to see if A) I could set it up well enough, and B) could stick with it. The game seems like a pretty natural fit because there’s a lot to do as a survivalbox game, and can be broken out into discrete “episodes” of activities.
This intro video is rather long (about 50 minutes), and hopefully future episodes will be limited down to 30 minutes. I’ll also try and drink some caffeine before I record the next video.