Last night’s stream was of The Spatials: Galactology which is a sequel to The Spatials. At this point, I’ve heard, said, or said in my head “The Spatials” so many times it’s crossed over from “words applied to a concept” and into the realm of “no, spiders are not printing circuit boards made of sheep saliva, so stop asking!“. I’m just going to call it TSG, which isn’t too far off from another relevant abbreviation you might be familiar with, TNG.
Not my base…yet
TSG is a two part game. In the first part, you are tasked with creating a space base on a distant asteroid in the far-flung future intended to house your crew of explorers-slash-hoteliers. You begin with several room styles unlocked which allow you to design your single-story station room by room and corridor by corridor. Being the future, your weebles can’t live without amenities, so you also have access to the machinery of life, such as food processors, beds, and research tables that can be deployed to allow your team to survive and thrive.
As nothing comes from nothing, the second half of the game involves sending exploration vessels out into the galaxy to find resources to harvest. Your crew of two or more set down, find deposits of fruit, slime, and bacteria, and deploy machines to continuously collect the materials for transport back to your growing interstellar utopia. Along the way, however, you may run into hostile fauna or even other civilizations who might not be amenable to your presence, so be sure to arm your away team…strictly for defense, of course.
According to the literature, the later game has you opening your station for business. You’ll get visitors arriving who want to see the sights of your solar system, so you need to provide entertainment, food services, and even tourist brochures to ensure their happiness. If the videos on Steam are accurate, this doesn’t always go so well and your weebles may be called upon to defend their base against angry mobs.
Galactology is a sequel, and I picked up both in a bundle during the Steam sale, although I jumped straight into the Early Access sequel because there were comments regarding opinions on the depth of the first game that I’d hope would wash out in the second, although I’m not far enough into it to tell one way or another. As far as builders go, it’s as good as any. You start with a single room, six (?) explorers inside, and some water, fruit, and aluminum. From there, expansion is as easy as selecting a corridor or room style and dragging it out across the ground where you want the crew to build. There doesn’t seem to be any restrictions inherent in this: no need to power anything or provide running water or O2; in the future, everything Just Works.
Speaking of work, TSG takes a page out of RimWorld’s book and couples workstations with your colonist’s work schedule. You’ll need a kitchen device to convert organic resources into food, and a food distribution kiosk to avoid leaving the food lying on the floor. In order to use these devices, at least one of your weebles needs to be assigned to cooking duty through the work schedule panel. Unlike RimWorld, though, your people all start out as “redshirts” — generalists who earn XP by doing tasks which can then be applied to promoting them into a more specialized role which, I assume, removes their ability to be assigned certain work functions in exchange for success rate and efficiency increases.
“Captain’s log…literally…there’s so many trees here…”
On the planet, your explorers basically just teleport around (literally, or you can make them walk) to resource nodes in order to build harvesters. They then only need to hang around until the cargo hold is full, at which point they can take off and return home to deliver the groceries. I was able to secure a good number of resources without any incident, which made the harvesting portion kind of boring considering the fact that exploration maps were Of Good Size, and populated with friendly colonist NPCs who had little to no bearing on my activities. I hope there’s more planned for exploration, because right now it’s a 30-40% deadweight around the neck of a pretty decent building game.
The complaints levied against the first game in the series centered on the realization that there’s not a lot to do overall, and that there’s no real strategy to building out your base aside from space management. Looking at videos for either game show massive bases with dozens upon dozens of rooms serving many functions, all of which need to be unlocked through continuous research. For a game like TSG I look towards other builders such as RimWorld and Prison Architect and even Dungeon Keeper, Dungeons, or War for the Overworld where positioning of rooms matters because of transit limitations or internal resource availability. I’d like to see those kinds of potentially limiting factors come into play when building the station because I think that would put the management aspect into play. There does seem to be a RW-style NPC simulation system in its infancy, where your explorers care about their aesthetics and interpersonal relationships, so I hope that expands to include more options as well. As much as I hate it when a pyro burns down my generator in RW, I appreciate the freedom that the devs allowed for him or her to do so.
What I really like is the visual approach that the devs have taken here. I’ve been using the term “weebles”, which might be over the head of some readers, but surely strikes a chord with others; I didn’t choose that term arbitrarily because on some level the characters remind me of those egg-shaped toys and make me giggle when these cute little critters are shown trying to look bad-ass. Some of the animations are sometimes a little silly, but I’m ok with the status quo: these folks are representative of time-sinks and resources so I don’t expect mo-cap realism here. The one thing that I felt could use some real polish in the interem is the UI. It’s pretty massive, and while I don’t think it’s actually intrusive in any way, when there are popups (like the work-in-progress tutorial), it’s very difficult to manage anything but that popup. Mind you, I don’t hold any of these aspects against the devs because this is in Early Access, and I want to close this paragraph by saying that during my play time I didn’t run into any technical issues, which is always a big plus when trying EA games.
Bottom line: The Spatials: Galactology is off to a good start, which is a way of saying that hopefully the devs have more features up their sleeves so that there’s more strategy, risk, and reward in building the bases, and that there are additional purposes in exploring other planets aside from just setting up harvesters and coming back on occasion to pick up the spoils. Granted, I’ve only played for the “learning hour” and these points may be addressed later on, but I’d like to see TSG grow to RimWorld level proportions in feature set and acclaim.
Normally when I don’t post anything it’s because of a general blogging malaise (bloglaise?) but this week it’s because I’ve been both forgetful and super busy.
Battletech Backer Beta
I haven’t played Battletech proper in maybe 20 years or so but it’s a franchise that’s always been at the top of my lists of Franchises I Love. I owned the original box set, read the Technical Manual until it literally fell apart (I rebound it with string), read all the Stackpole books, and even drew a game board on my parent’s concrete basement floor so my brother and I could play with our Transformers. As Time does, I found myself with less time to play, and fewer people to play with during the Dark Ages between when I was in high school and when the Internet became a viable way to meet up with folks. I played the Mechwarrior games on PC, and tried Mechwarrior Online a few times but the random nature of other people’s play styles didn’t do it for me. I wanted the old-school Battletech lance-vs-lance tactical gameplay again, so while I bought the Anniversary Edition box set a few years ago (never played), I was all over the new Battletech game from Harebrained Schemes, helmed by the originator of the BT franchise, Jordan Weiss.
The KS backer beta arrived last weekend (when I was stricken with the plague), but I’ve only played two rounds so far of the single player game. If you have been waiting for an honest BT implementation, this is your candidate. Even though there’s obviously work to be done in several places, the game is playable. I have yet to win a game, having lost my second round to an armless enemy who headbutted my center torso to death. Still, it instantly brought back long-ago memories of all of the variations of Battletech that I had played, which means that it’s the real deal as far as I am concerned.
Motion Graphics Update
I have no fewer than two consecutive posts about my motion graphics learning, prior to this post. Since that last update, I’ve done almost nothing with it. Looking back on the initial attempts I realize that I have a long way to go in being able to create something to be proud of, but even attempting to use the things that I have made, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not sure I have an actual need for this.
I might keep it around for a while, but I haven’t continued with the video lectures since last week. I might need some of the other software that comes with my Adobe CC subscription, but $50 a month is a real headache just for eventualities.
Wombatical! The Wombats Get Serious About Streaming
The Big News, then, is that since Imzy closed down and a few of us moved over to the Combat Wombat Discord server, we’ve been a lot more active as a community. The real-time nature of Discord is great for communication, but not so great for other productivity, and is part of what’s kept me from updating this site.
See, in the wake of the migration, several folks have decided that they would really like to get into streaming. We had evaluated Mixer (formerly known as Beam) for its low-latency and co-streaming functionality, but several folks weren’t convinced that Mixer was set up to accomplish all of the same things that Twitch could in terms of features and moderation. While it might be easier for smaller streamers to get noticed on Mixer due to the lower population there, it might also suffer from a lower population because people are so mentally invested in the idea that Twitch is where people need to be if they want to take the hobby of streaming seriously (at least as seriously as far as getting viewers goes). Several people outside our circle have even been heard remarking that they would refuse to watch a live stream unless it was on Twitch.
Needless to say, several of the Wombats have now been testing the streaming waters on Twitch. So far Stargrace has been attempting to stick to a schedule when the real-world isn’t making demands, and Girl_vs_MMO has been working around her own real-life schedule to get some streaming time in, and Arislyn has popped in from time to time as reality allows.
I have yet to get online, myself. Instead, I’ve been preparing. Lots of preparing. Like…a shitload of preparing. I considered whether my preparations were really just delaying tactics or whether they were actual steps that would help me make a smooth yet entry-level attempt…whenever I got around to pushing the button. I upgraded by webcam to the c922, which has the background removal (sans green-screen) built in. The verdict: works OK, but it all depends on — wait for it — lighting. Not sure if I’ll use that feature or not. I also have the Stream Deck, whose Twitch integration isn’t really all that great when you get down to it. The weapons of choice for enhancing the streams have been narrowed down to two: Ankhbot, which is a desktop app which allows for all kinds of stream management options, and Streamlabs, which handles certain remote notifications (followers, subs, hosts, etc) and handles donations for Extra Life, which we do. In addition, I’ve found a “theme” for my channel that I think I’m happy with, reflecting my love of space, sims, and space-sims.
Now, to find the time to actually get out and stream…
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.