Monday, April 4, 2016

Star Ruler - 20/20 hours

My last few hours with the game were mostly spent experimenting. I did manage to win a total victory in a 100-star map, but I found that mode of play to be highly uneven. Expanding your borders and creating new ship designs was fun, but cleaning up the various enemy empires when they inevitably declared war on you was fairly tedious. It's one of those situations where you win long before the game is formally over, but the AI can't acknowledge that, so you're stuck fighting a completely one-sided war over territory that doesn't really matter.

Normally, I enjoy that, but the slowdown that comes from trying to move hundreds of ships in a dozen different directions at once is kind of a bummer.

Luckily, Star Ruler gives you a lot of leeway setting up your game options. So I created an ultra-small galaxy with four stars and four factions. That was a bust because the different species quickly reached a stalemate where their defenses were basically impregnable (I once launched an assault on a planet with 180 defensive satellites, which is kind of a ridiculous number to face with the sort of force that can be assembled from a single star system).

The next thing I tried was a huge universe of 500 stars, but only 1 AI opponent. That looked to be shaping up pretty well, with each of us controlling roughly half the galaxy. Unfortunately, just as we were gearing up for our epic clash of civilizations, the game crashed.

My final experiment was to tinker with the research cost settings. You can actually adjust the cost of technology so that it scales slower than your increase in research power from advanced laboratory buildings. I tried this on a solo map with one star system, because I was curious if you could build a ringworld without a galaxy spanning economic base, provided your tech was high enough. It turns out you can, but it's trickier than it appears.

My first attempt I set the, I crashed the game, presumably due to some kind of overflow error.

My next time through, I adjusted the tech speed down quite a bit, but then I ran into another problem - my economy crashed because the cost of high-tech buildings was far too high to actually build without slight less high tech buildings, but my tech was increasing faster than the buildings could be built.

So I fiddled with the numbers again, setting the tech rate as low as it could go while still allowing for runaway geometric growth. Then I carefully micromanaged my production and research so that I could keep up with the costs. It was pretty cool. I built a ringworld in less than a second and then used the ringworld to create some things that were even more ridiculous - like a size 10 million ship which dwarfed my entire star system.

I think, if I played the game again, I would have to set the tech growth rate to either be equal to the lab growth rate or just a little bit less, so that the soft cap on tech would be in the 100+ range (as opposed to the about 30-40 levels you get on a moderately sized galaxy) because creating bizarre, game-breaking ships was definitely the best part of the experience.

I'd say that Star Ruler has two big flaws that keep it from being a truly great game. First, diplomacy is a joke. Not once was I ever able to get a decent deal from the AI. Either they'd hold out against peace even in the face of their inevitable extinction or they'd ask for rare resources far too early in the game for me to possibly have them or they'd offer redundant deals long after their available quantities of resources had ceased to be anything other than a rounding error for my empire.

The other big flaw of Star Ruler is that it's unstable as hell. Even when I wasn't trying to break the game by flaunting its sense of scale it would frequently crash or freeze for no apparent reason. I really enjoyed the game's incredible scope, but not so much that I can overlook having to restart or alt-tab out every hour or so.

I'm actually really looking forward to playing this game's sequel. From what I could gather based on the tutorials, they're actually quite different games, but if Star Ruler's spirit of bold embrace of excess carries over into a game that doesn't fall apart every time I breathe on it hard, then I will be a very happy man.

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