Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Spacebase DF-9 - 20/20 hours

I read a theory online that the "DF" in "Spacebase DF-9" is an homage to Dwarf Fortress. I can't say for sure, because I've never played Dwarf Fortress, but I've heard things, and I expect that if the theory is correct, it is more aspirational than a reflection of anything the game actually accomplished. Certainly it felt, at times, unfair, but that's more because some basic system wouldn't work properly than because it's a meticulously detailed simulation of a cold and pitiless world.

For example, I built a base that could withstand "the big one" with only minimal casualties. I'd researched all the different technologies and had a strong and stable economy. And then a randomly-generated ship docked with my colony and my people started wandering into it one by one. Since there were three raiders on that ship, I wound up losing half my colonists this way until I wised up and got my builders to tear a hole in its side. Although, by that time, all my technicians were gone, my various machines were in poor repair, and when meteors struck my main power generator, half my perimeter turrets went into shutdown. That allowed another group of raiders to get in and slaughter all my remaining colonists.

Once I got into the death spiral, it was near impossible to pull myself out. My population growth was purely drawn from passing space ships, and thus subject to the RNG. And my colony was physically so large it could not be sustained by a reduced population. Maybe if I were better at the game, I could have pulled it out, but since I couldn't directly order my colonists around (and they followed my indirect orders only casually and at their own pace), I have hard time seeing what I could have done differently.

I get what this game was going for -  you build something and then have the world test it, time and again until it either breaks or you're satisfied it can withstand anything. It's a methodology that encourages you to build something functional and strong. And it's an approach I've enjoyed in the past - Kerbal Space Program is basically the same idea. However, I think the difference between KSP and Spacebase DF-9 is that failure in KSP stemmed primarily from a failure to apprehend the proper design, whereas in this game, you could do everything right and still run into a streak of bad luck. Maybe it's possible to build something large and impregnable, but when your people will wait around a crowded pub for dinner and starve themselves rather than walk across the hall to the automatic food dispenser; when your technicians will fly into an occupied pirate ship in order to repair its damaged systems; when your security forces will continue to attack an unconscious body rather than take it to the brig; these things feel like they are entirely out of your control. If success and failure are not purely a consequence of design, that kind of takes some of the steam out of a game whose primary strategic challenge is, in fact, design.

Really though, my objections to Spacebase DF-9 are not quite so lofty. I didn't like seeing my stuff get wrecked. The fact that the main force wrecking my stuff was an NPC faction I could never defeat or even directly confront just exacerbated matters. It kind of felt like an injustice. Raiders could just show up and (especially in the early game) do damage to my base, and even if I stopped them quickly, I'd still have to clean up their mess. It's not really the biggest problem I've ever had with a game, but the existence of this permanent imbalance definitely had me thinking, on at least a couple of occasions, that the game hated me, personally.

Oh, and there are no graphs. I've said it before and I'll say it again, a building-type strategy game without generous data visualization aids is only half complete.

I probably won't ever play this game again. I liked it well enough, aside from the parts that where I died through no fault of my own, but everything I like about this game was done better in Startopia.

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