Electron Dance
1Feb/2110

Discussion: Janken Zen

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I’ve tried the occasional RTS or 4X but nothing has ever quite sucked me in like Darwinia. Nothing unputdownable. I once played half of AI War's tutorial and, believe me, that's a long-ass tutorial.

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  1. Lightweight RTS games?

    – There’s Bad North. Small maps and unit counts, progression via a campaign.
    – The Kingdom series. I played New Lands. Side-scrolly, UI-light, simple if somewhat obscuritan design.
    – I guess FTL counts?
    – Darwinia was of course based on Cannon Fodder. The great KG himself yes really spoke warmly of its anti-war credentials; from my memory of the games that struck me as cake-and-eatism but maybe it went over my head. War had really never been so much fun though.
    – For something a bit more involved, Company of Heroes remains the premium middleweight RTS experience for my money. A little more streamlined than Starcraft, doing genuinely interesting things with area control (capture points get you out on the map in ways resource piles never can), and just bursting with character and spectacle – Relic’s voice and sound work is the best in the business, and it still looks great even 15(!) years on.

  2. As for the deadgames/alivegames article, I’m afraid all I could detect in it was the same toxic narcissism that perpetuates Auteur Theory, i.e. a refusal to acknowledge the good in many extant large-scale collaborative works, or, where that good is impossible to deny, a refusal to acknowledge the contributions of the many who helped to produce it in favour of the anointed few.

  3. Bad North is a fun game with FTL-like progression, although I’d say its unit design fits snugly into the RPS archetype Joel expresses disinterest in early on. I guess it’s a roguelike micro-RTS, if we’re wanting to go taxonomically crazy?

    The Kingdom games are a lot of fun. I’ve never progressed that far in them, but I like the mechanics, the atmosphere, the contrast between the tension and the zen of the experience.

    I think both are good reference points for Death Crown, going by Joel’s description. What sounds most interesting about Death Crown is that territory is the focal point, rather than units? So you’re focused more on the flow, movement and positioning of troops, rather than thinking in terms of counters. In that sense the (older) Relic RTS template is a good reference too. I was actually reminded of Eufloria and the many similar games whilst reading Joel’s descriptions… now those I know Joel is familiar with. :)

    I don’t have any more recommendations off the top of my head. I’ve played some RTS games recently, but they’ve all been either classic RTS (C&C and AOE2 remasters) or contemporary turn-based strategy/real-time tactics hybrids (Battlefleet Gothic: Armada 2, Total Warhammer 2), neither of which is a good match for the category. :g:

  4. So I have picked up Bad North – it was one of the free Epic games, so I don’t have to spend money to look at it (just time, ha ha). I don’t think I’ve ever heard of The Kingdom games? Complete blind spot. FTL keeps coming up and I have two copies of that (Epic and Steam) so the excuses are wearing thin.

    I think Gregg is the local Cannon Fodder expert as he wrote about it some years back for Tap. I have played Company of Heroes! I got through a few levels before just… not playing it any more? It wasn’t like I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t quite know why I stopped because (I’d heard it was good). Ooh, I just found my article where I confessed I couldn’t get into World in Conflict.

    CA, on deadgames/alivegames piece, I’m not sure I have any particular feels myself yet. Still digesting. Wasn’t a fan of the key nomenclature, I can admit that.

    Shaun – you mentioned Relic and I want to say I did try the famous Homeworld but that never clicked at the time either! Death Crown is ostensibly about control of hexes, particularly bonus/upgrade hexes, but its simpler nature means it often feels about being fast (the clicker instinct) and responding to change quickly, rushing the opponent. You can’t turtle this game – certain death if you’re too slow or play defensively.

  5. Ah, sorry Joel, the article just rubbed me the wrong way and I went off on one! I certainly didn’t mean to give you blow-back for sharing it.

  6. Oh CA, no worries! I shared that article deliberately to invite opinion. I am sympathetic with the rage against the machine but I am unsure what anyone is supposed to do with that rage. But the essay has some resonances with the upcoming film… and I’d prefer to avoid its tone.

  7. The Kingdom series should to be the one of Kingdom: Classic and Kingdom: New Lands. I think K:NL was one of Epic’s giveaways in June 2019 ;)

  8. These days I’ve picked up *so* many games from bundles, super discounts and free giveaways that I just don’t know if I have a game or not unless I checkout Playnite.

    I have Kingdom: New Lands – indeed picked up from EGS, Fede!

  9. I have not played Darwinia (properly) yet, despite owning it for YEARS. And it’s something I still want to play! I dabbled with Cannon Fodder fairly recently and its aged surprisingly well. Ho boy, I haven’t looked at that article in a looong time! I still love the Boot Hill music and sequence. https://youtu.be/x34JrmhKxuQ

    I used to love C&C, Age of Mythology, Dungeon Keeper and did a bit of Total Annihilation and Empire Earth over LAN back in the day. But I think it was around the time of Homeworld and later with Company of Heroes where the ‘real-time nanny’ feeling started to creep in; basically I felt like I was having to nanny all my units to do shit they were literally trained/built for. Engineers, fix those burning tanks you’re stood behind. Repair frigate, seriously, you’re going to make me dock each ship in this fleet individually? That kind of thing drove me mad. I tried playing the original Starcraft recently and even the C&C remaster and it was a big nope.

    Enter AI War which had all kinds of clever automation to reduce micro-management. I was so excited about it but then I played the tutorial and, aside from it taking some 15 hours or so to do (WOW), the rock-paper-scissors system was more like rock-paper-scissors-shotgun-egg-glove-foil-hammer-grease-pebble-shoebox and on and on and on. You know, trip to the hardware store. The result was your fleet often became a massive blob of mixed ships that you pointed at the enemy like a giant katamari to roll them. Zooming in and seeing all the beams was fun and at least units were smart enough to prioritise enemies they were good against and even retreat to keep optimal ranges (clever automation)… but yeah, no. It was overwhelming. Automation: yes. Clever escalating AI aggression: yes. Rock Paper Scissors 2: no.

    I think, knowing you, Joel, we’re in a similar headspace with RTS. I generally prefer more streamlined (read: accessible), bite-sized or alternative RTS these days, which is why Death Crown piqued my interest.

    So Bad North was in my obnoxiously long games of 2017-2019 list. That’s such a brilliant micro-RTS. Depending on the difficulty you choose it can be a very tough game, but it’s also very easy to appreciate and enjoy, even if you fail. It’s a quick game to dip into, deliberate over, do an island and duck out of too. Definitely one of the best games I discovered at Rezzed!

    Bizarrely, I dabbled with Kingdom: New Lands over the weekend. Been keen to play it for a long time! It was looking so promising but my villagers had a tendency of wandering or staying outside the safety of my settlement walls at night and dying, losing me coin I couldn’t get back. Worse than real-time nannying: there was no way to nanny them inside! That really frustrated me so I put it aside. YMMV! :-)

    One of my favourites is Infested Planet. It’s a very smartly designed micro-RTS with a fantastic economy that allows experimentation and failure without having to fall back on restarts. It’s also got that AI War escalating AI thing where each hive you take down adds a mutation to successive hives so you’re constantly adapting to an evolving foe–all within one skirmish. It’s also spectacular to behold thousands of bugs flooding and flowing around terrain towards your embattled soldiers. I would highly recommend the Planetary Campaign DLC too that adds a nice and compact proc. gen. dynamic campaign mode to nibble on.

    Another thing with both Bad North and Infested Planet: they allow you to slow down time or pause (respectively) to issue orders. A real-time purist might take issue with this but sometimes I need a breather to look at my options and understand the interface! :-)

    If I was in a band, I’d name it The Pop Puppets. Our triumphant first album would be called Boss Music and ‘Weak Meat’ would be the difficult second album.

    The Melos Han-Tani article was very interesting to me. Some tweet in the past got me thinking about a spectrum with product (something tailored and targeted to sell) on one end and ‘art’ on the other that’s indifferent to audience and a pure expression of the author (like Outsider art). The alive/dead thing maps to that quite well. I wasn’t thinking in terms of scale/team size but certainly authorial intent.

    I also love that he said ‘traditionally’ beautiful and pulled up ‘See that mountain? You can go to it’. I recently went further when talking about Tenderfoot Tactics and open worlds, grumbling about this idea that there should be ‘something interesting over every hill’ (another phrase I’ve seen bandied about). As a graphic designer, it’s rare a client allows negative space and I get that same energy with ‘something interesting over every hill’. Fill all the gaps! Strangle it with content! Tenderfoot Tactics’ open world doesn’t pander to that; it has space and you can hear it breathe.

    In another article Melos spoke about Hades, gacha games and ‘treatmills’. I loved Hades, but was definitely wary of its immaculately designed vortex of doo–I mean, gameplay loop. ‘Treatmills’ is perfect.

  10. I can’t believe you’re the only one to call out my weak meat comment. I’m still torn about whether it was good words :) So, Gregg, from this monster of a comment I’ll just take away that I should try our Bad North. Cool, sounds good.

    I do remember you playing a lot of Infested Planet when I stayed with you some years ago. “Good night, Joel!” I put my head down and all I can hear is guns mowing down bugs. Maybe it’s my kind of thing and I just didn’t take the hint after all these years.

    I have this fantasy about really getting into AI War 2 but considering how much I have spent on a “simple” game like Death Crown I’m not sure this fantasy has any bearing on reality. I’ve realised the big hook with Death Crown is that a single match only takes a few minutes. You get adventure and excitement and euphoria all very quickly. It’s perfect for my lifestyle.

    ‘Something interesting over every hill’ my fear from Into the Black returning to haunt me, to inject all space with reward and treasure. I’d prefer the treasures were not so deliberately authorial, if you get what I mean. Sometimes it’s what you bring to the journey, that what the journey brings to you.


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