Thursday, April 7, 2016

Startopia - 3/20 hours

I've been playing the campaign missions for Startopia for the last couple of hours and they still feel like an extended tutorial. There's a lot of different buildings that have not yet been unlocked and many of the nuances of base building have not yet been introduced. Like, in the formal tutorial, it explained the controls behind fighting, but I haven't actually faced an enemy.

Not that I'm eager to. So far, Startopia feels less like I'm building an independent space colony and more like I'm managing the concourse at a bustling spaceport. You've got various aliens coming and going on their simulated business, using the facilities and leaving their garbage behind. It's a more interesting game than I originally thought it was, and I'm not looking forward to the inevitable introduction of territorial conflict.

The other notable thing about this game is that one of your entertainment facilities is a space brothel. They don't call it that, but I'm not sure the term "lovenest" is all that euphemistic. The game is moderately progressive in that the Sirens, the only alien species capable of becoming space-hookers, are both male and female, though it immediately loses those points because only the Sirens have identifiable female models. I suppose it's possible the other aliens are of either sex, but if so the sexual dimorphism is not apparent in their design. So, you know, consider Startopia officially finger-wagged for only including women as space-prostitutes.

Startopia reminds me a lot of Tropico, in both its gameplay and approach to humor. What is it with the small-scale village-building genre and unrelenting cynicism? Maybe designers feel like they have to walk back the cutesy, glossy look of the graphics with a hearty dose of nihilism. Or maybe it's that they intentionally create a sugary sweet exterior so that the game's true heart of bitter sarcasm will really pop by contrast. Now that I think about it, Dungeon Keeper is the same way.

Is this just a historical oddity? Is it even a real trend? I mean it's probably just a coincidence. The old Texas sharpshooter fallacy. If I wanted to know for sure, I'd have to create a taxonomy of games, group them by similarity, and then see if cartoony-looking base-building games that let you examine individual people had an uncommon occurrence of irreverent and cynical black humor.

It feels to me like the answer has to be "sort of," but I'm not really willing to do the work to research a definitive answer and my sample size of three is not really big enough to make a strong statement one way or the other. But it's certainly something to keep in mind if I ever play another game of this sort.

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