Neophyte

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.

10 comments:

Owen said...

unless the environments are changed drastically from the previous ones (and if they are, one wouldn't be able to offer more than a few different environments, lest they be too close together) RTS strategy will always eventually evolve into a mold, a perfect strategy. Then after that its really just hit them before they hit you. Of course that's just multiplayer RTS, in single player you are more free to experiment with whatever strategy you find interesting, seeing as the computer doesn't learn.. but then the same game would get more and more tired, not matter how many different ways you play it. It's simply human nature.

Derek said...

The result of that life simulation is very interesting! Have you tried running it again to see if you get different outcomes?

Arne said...

Yeah, I ran it with different parameter settings a few times. The result was still a single local optimum for all the creatures. I simply didn't have an eco-system which was complex enough to offer variance. My world size was probably a bit too small too. Also, my creatures only had a few traits and couldn't be all that varied anyways. Still, I think des Pudels Kern is the environment.

hObbE said...

Another important feature of evolution to avoid local optimas is the combination of two individuals dna.

garsh said...

I want you to know I'm going to start using the term "sausage game" in a derogatory sense.

Steel Fox said...

Hey there,
I was just googling myself and some of the old Games I worked on and spotted your Startopia Re-works... as the character artist on the Game I designed and built all the original aliens for the game and I just wanted to say that I thought your interpretations were awesome... Mmmm sirens :) I like the Gors Feet too... I was never happy with them and thats a nice solution :)I've been re-working some of the characters myself recently as something to do in my spare time... all the old guys from muckyfoot would love to make Startopia 2 but the chances of it happening are pretty slim tbh... but it's nice to see people still talking about the thing six years later, even if its the flaws :D

Arne said...

I recall writing a long rant about Startopia, but I don't think I've published it. Looking back at the art I did a year ago... well, I don't really like it. I think the little rodents are a fun design though. It would've been great to see some different outfits for the inhabitants so you could recognize people on the street. More things to decorate the city with would've been nice too. I also would've preferred a single ring layer with terrain that you had spend resources on to terraform. Maybe that would have forced the player to be more adaptive, and it would've provided a better overview of the city.

3ihard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
3ihard said...

nice designs , totally loev them btw im new to Blog system how do i post my art in anyway.

Anonymous said...

If you have your own blog, you can use Blogger's image upload system (iirc. when you make a new post there'll be an image icon in the toolbar) and the image will appear in your post. You can also just link images with a regular IMG (HTML) tag if you have the images on your own server.

I don't think you can post images in comments, but links may work.