Friday, November 11, 2016

Banished - 20/20 hours

In my last ten hours with Banished, I managed to get by with only one untimely death. My secret? I played the rest of the game on 1x speed. I do not recommend it.

I can't even say why I did it. I just got an idea in my head. And then I tried it for awhile. And then I was like, "this experiment is a miserable slog, but I'm halfway through, so maybe I should just tough it out." The longer it went, the more it tested my patience, but the more it became a sunk cost. But since apparently "stubbornly clinging to sunk costs" is my thing now, I stuck with it all night.

There are certain advantages to playing at 1x speed. You have a lot of down time between making decisions. Once the basics of my town were set up, I could get away with glancing at the village once every few minutes. In the meantime, I could watch a movie or read a book. I think, if you're okay with playing the same game for weeks at a time, it might be worth it to keep Banished running in the background while you're doing other things. It really emphasizes the "self-contained digital garden" aspect of these sorts of games. I definitely got a feeling of peace and joy from looking at my patchwork of fields and neatly arranged cottages, with their tiny people moving about between them.

Another advantage to 1x speed is that it gave me plenty of time to plan. I wasn't reacting to things nearly as much as in my other villages. Normally, when a real-time game gives me the option to speed up time (and this is true of Banished, Crusader Kings II, Stellaris, Cities: Skylines, and probably a half-dozen more games that slip my mind at the moment) I just crank it to the highest possible speed and then pause it whenever events get ahead of me. Pausing allows me to peruse various informational menus to my heart's content, and running at maximum speed insures I'm always either making a decision or researching a decision.

I used to consider this the ideal way to play a game. After all, why should I wait around for things to happen? Is not reacting to a simulated scenario the very essence of what makes a video game? Perhaps, and perhaps not, but I did notice playing Banished at 1x speed that my decisions appeared to be better than playing it mostly at 10x speed. I was able to see the trends that preceded a collapse, and head them off before they became too severe. I was able to shuffle my construction priorities to better serve my community's needs (technically, I could still do this before, but since the wait to get anything built wasn't very long, it had always been easier to just let the construction finish).

My greater thought and consideration was starting to show results. As of quitting time, my slow village had only one death - of a mysterious sickness - compared to my fast villages' dozens from starvation and exposure (though, ironically, none from illness). Now, it could be that I only got to year 8 and 35 adult residents with slow-town, as compared to year 41 and 110 adult residents with  fast-town. It could also be that, since slow-town was my most recent village, it benefited from all the accumulated knowledge that I'd gained in the previous 10 hours. Even so, not rushing around like an impatient idiot probably helped at least a little.

I wonder what the "correct" way to play Banished is. The slowest speed being labelled "1x" seems to imply that it's somehow the default, but then the length of time where nothing at all happens on that speed suggests the others were meant to be used quite frequently. Playing with 10x on all the time is almost certainly "wrong," though.

Which isn't to say I'm going to stop doing the equivalent in future real-time games . . . so long as they don't hit me with a deeply personal and gruesome tragedy as punishment.

My takeaway from Banished is that it's a fun game on several levels, and the basic structure of resource and time management is among my favorites, but it's bare-bones presentation and unflinching look at the grimness of medieval life has made me realize something - I want games to coddle me, at least a little. I can pretend that the neglected citizens of SimCity are just moving away, or that the residents of unproductive houses in Anno 2070 are just grumpy. Nowhere do I have to confront the terrible consequences of my political ineptitude. But in Banished you can't look away. My cities were always so close to the edge of survival that even a single loss was keenly felt (when it didn't set off a chain reaction that wiped out the whole town, that is). That's too much responsibility. I wouldn't say that I play games to escape, exactly, but I always get a little worked up when they get too intense.

Banished is a fine game, but I definitely prefer its low-pressure relatives.

No comments:

Post a Comment