Startopia, released in 2001, is now somewhat of an obscurity. I found it very appealing at first because I quite like games where you macro manage and your troops just go about their business. To the right, some Startopia doodles I made.

Startopia is a bit of a Peeping Tom game, as you can observe your units going about their business. I'd like to take this opportunity to namedrop a few other games which I like because of their Peeping Tom qualities : Dwarf Fortress, Sim Ant (and many of the Sim* games), Dungeon Keeper (same devs as Startopia), Settlers and maybe even Progress Quest ;)

Also, I loved how the entire game campaign was just one large map with all factions brawling about in the WarLords games. Usually I'd never actually play those games, instead I'd just sit and watch all the AIs duke out. Basically, the type of games I mentioned are like a balloon, they have a beginning point but no end point. Well, they might have ending conditions, but the basic idea is that you're very free in your movement inside the balloon space. By contrast, games like HalfLife 2 are like strings of sausages. Your freedom of movement is limited to a tunnel, and every now and then there's a choke point which leads to the next sausage segment.

Something which has puzzled me lately is how developers often market their game as the balloon, but sell a string of sausages instead. Is it that hard to actually make an actual balloon game? 20 years ago it certainly was a lot harder because of slow hardware, but the largest obstacle now is probably wetware and the high priorities given to graphical presentation and story elements. I'd say it's generally harder to make balloon games look good (and have a good emergent story, like Dwarf Fortress does), and that's why we end up with so many sausage games instead.

Anyways, back to Startopia. As it turned out, I ended up not playing it much, because the replay value was hurt by something, and it took me a while to figure out what. I'll get to that soon.

Some years ago I made a simple natural selection simulation thing. I gave my creatures weapons and a belly which both could mutate and vary in size. Eating the belly full would result in kids, and if it was empty the creature died. Movement cost the creature's mass (weapons+belly), and creatures could eat other creatures if their weapons were superior and the meal would fit in the belly. I also had low nutrition grass which anyone could eat. This, I thought would result in a lot of different creatures. I'd get whales with huge bellies (too big to be eaten by anyone), maybe grass eaters and predators, and small bugs which multiply fast, etc.

However, all I got was a creature with a lot of weapons and a relatively small belly. This was initially confusing, since with only one type of creature evolving, what were they using the weapons for? No none had a belly big enough to eat anyone, and carrying the weight of those weapons did cost them a lot of energy. Then it strook me. They were turtles, and the weapons were defensive. They'd keep their shells thick or nasty enough to assure they didn't get eaten, and their belly small enough to make babies fast. Still, why only one type of creature, where was all the diversity?

And back to Startopia a last time. I think the reason I didn't want to replay it was because the environment was the same every time, and this was also the problem of my little life program. A varied landscape sponsors diversity much more than a sterile one, and neither Startopia or my life program had one.

Well, that about concludes this little multi directional rant. Don't expect it to get much better in the future either.