Genre: City Builder/Simulation
Release Date: October 15, 2003
Pre-order 'SPACE COLONY': PC
The original Stronghold was a breath of fresh air for computer gaming. Developed by Firefly Studios, Stronghold was billed as a castle building simulation, but took that premise in several different directions, allowing the player to approach the task of building a castle and defending it in many different ways. Instead of giving us a set direction to go in like many of today’s games do, Stronghold gave you a lot of options. The game was a pleasant surprise for a lot of people. The follow up game, Stronghold: Crusader, was essentially more of the same, but did expand the initial premise even more, offering more buildings and alternatives than the first game. Both games were fun (not to mention hard), and an enjoyable experience.
So when Firefly announced that their next game was going to be a city builder set in outer space, interest arose almost immediately. That game is Space Colony, and its premise, at least initially, is to task the player with developing, maintaining, and even defending a space base built on a sometimes hostile planet. The initial concept alone is worth a glance, but as we could have guessed, Firefly has a whole lot more planned for this scenario than what meets the eye.
On paper, Space Colony would strike most gamers as a city builder. But after doing some research and playing a beta build of the game, the best way I can describe it is a city builder set in space with heavy doses of The Sims styled character traits, interaction of conflicting personalities al la Dungeon Keeper, and individual nurturing not unlike building up a character in an RPG. All of this is done with an approach similar to the average tycoon game. Get this, the final game will feature over one hundred buildings you can build, several different species of alien, and even various types of space based fauna, some of which can help you and some that can hurt you. At the heart of Space Colony is a cast of over twenty characters, or operatives, each with their own drastically different personalities, traits, abilities, and characteristics. It is through the management of these operatives and their individual strengths and weaknesses that you achieve objectives within the game.
A typical Space Colony scenario starts you off on a desolate planet, usually with a few initial pieces of equipment, and the games initial operative, Venus. Venus is essentially the head honcho throughout the entire game. Venus knows what each of the other operatives can and can’t do, and will give you little hints from time to time on how best to employ them. There are several basic issues that must be tended to, usually on a continuous basis, in order to keep your colony functioning. There are power and oxygen supplies to build up, nutrients that must be harvested for food, plant life that must be weeded out, and a host of additional tasks. As with any game of this type, certain operatives are better suited to certain jobs than others. One operative, who goes by the name Stig, is a burly bouncer type who likes to eat. Stig is best suited to gathering nutrients from the host planet and turning it into food for everyone to eat. While Stig can perform other tasks acceptably, nutrient harvesting is the best way to utilize him. Conversely, Tami is a rather lackadaisical individual who doesn’t like to do anything standing up for any length of time. Thus, situating her within the colonies bridge monitoring oxygen levels is the best way to go, as she gets to sit down while doing this. While playing the beta, I noticed that you could both select an operative and assign then to a task manually, or you could make use of a built in task scheduler, specifically assigning each operative to a certain task during certain times. The smooth, routine completion of these tasks is a big part of Space Colony. One of the many cool things about this game that I noticed was that, aside from assigning an operative their main task, you can also assign them collateral type duties as well, such as cleaning an area or fixing things, and the operative will automatically make that task part of their schedule. It might not sound like much, but it’s used to great effect in the game, and really makes you feel like your dealing with actual people.
An equally major area of Space Colony however, is that each operative has several needs and desires that must be met on an routine basis if they are going to continue to work at maximum efficiency. Everything from personal hygiene, relationships, hunger, and entertainment are modeled within the game by the use of meters found on each operatives display window. These various meters are not unlike the meters used in Maxis mega selling masterpiece, The Sims, and have a very similar effect as well. As an operative performs a given task, their ability to perform that task improves, while their personal needs decline. When a need declines to a certain point, the operative quits working and goes about fulfilling that particular need. Once each personal need is met, the operative then goes back to their given task. This is a major part of Space Colony, and appeared to be implemented very well in the beta build I played.
To deal with the various tasks and personal needs, there are a many different structures and facilities that the player can build. Everything from solar collectors, oxygen tanks, nutrient harvesters, biodomes (personal living areas), beds, mess halls, discos, work out equipment, and even showers and cleaning facilities. This is going to be a really fun part of the game, as not only does each item have a different effect on the colony, but many of them require operatives to interact with it, which usually produces an expected, often time humorous animation. The structures and facilities either assist your operatives in gathering and maintaining vital resources, or improve on their personal needs. Again there will be over one hundred items the player can build within the game, and based on the handful I saw in the beta, many of them are going to be quite interesting to say the least.
Although I have already touched on the concept of operatives having special needs that must be fulfilled, one very specific issue arises with the operatives in Space Colony, and that is of relationships. Space Colony models the personal relationships amongst the operatives in much the same way as real life. Over time, relationships stagnate, and friends turn into enemies. Different operatives seem to have varying degrees of tolerance for this, but rest assured, failure to allow your operatives to reacquaint themselves from time to time is a recipe for disaster. Once two operatives come to regard each other as enemies, they can get into fights and physically hurt each other. But instead of leaving the player to deal with keeping the two rivals away from each other, a special sofa can be built that, when the two opposing operatives are sent to it, allows them to air out their differences. Eventually, the two operatives will become friends again, but the point is, all of the time spent rekindling the two takes away from their work time. Although the beta I played didn’t have a lot of the voice acting in place yet, this aspect of the game was pretty fleshed out, and was often hilarious to listen to. The two operatives would sit back, commiserating to each other about the various conditions of the colony, as well as life itself. Relationships can be maintained by ensuring operatives simply acknowledge each other from time to time, but when playing the game, it was often worth allowing two operatives to become enemies just so I could put them together and watch them iron out their differences. It’s pretty funny, yet effective at the same time.
The graphics in Space Colony also look really good, and are extremely reminiscent of the old Crusader games of the early nineties (No Regret and No Remorse). Everything has that metallic, highly detailed look to it, and is usually animated with blinking lights, moving parts, and over the top functionality. The operatives in the final version will have over sixty different animations each, and from what I have seen so far, they are all extremely well done and accent the individual operative’s character nicely. Space Colony also makes use of tons of graphical nuance. For example, when an operative is assigned their bed, that specific bed takes on an appearance reflective of that particular operatives personality. Stig’s bed, for example, is adorned with a jet black bedspread featuring a white human skull on it. There are tons of these little nuances throughout the game, and although they may not sound like much, they really add to the games environment. They are also indicative of the level of detail and care Firefly is focusing on this title, which is usually the sign of a very good game.
Again there wasn’t much sound implemented within the beta, but what I did hear was very good. There was some ambient background music that sounded cool, as well as simple yet effective sound effects accompanying just about every task and move the game offered. Each of the twenty operatives will have over one thousand lines of speech in the final version, and if it’s all implemented like the beta, it’s going to sound really, really good.
As it appears now, Space Colony will offer several modes of play, including a story based mode that seems poised to introduce the game to players while telling the story of Venus, the aforementioned main protagonist. There is also galaxy mode, which opens up the game’s entire universe to the player and allows them to choose their own course. A full sandbox mode, where you’re apparently allowed to shape the universe your playing in prior to starting the game. Finally, the game will include an editor that will allow players to create their own scenarios. Although I’m not sure what level of content this editor will allow, I can say that it is well implemented within the rest of the game. It is likely that the final version will include all of the tools necessary to create any scenario or campaign a player could dream up. While I will admit I didn’t get too deep into this aspect of the game, I believe that while story mode will be fairly linear, galaxy and sandbox modes will allow the player a lot of flexibility, most likely in determining such details as how much fighting is to be done with hostile aliens, the level of technology available, and the like.
I do have to report here that, despite the fact that Space Colony is a little different than the average computer game, I was not only playing it in no time, but was actually getting into it quite heavily. I found myself looking forward to getting new items to check out, and exploring different parts of the planet I was on. It is really cool to watch the living areas you create for your operatives evolve as the scenario progresses. No doubt base building, and where to put everything, is going to be one of the more strategic aspects of the game. Just watching everyone mope around, doing their jobs, and tending to their personal needs is even cool. Space Colony is truly a fun game to play. I really enjoyed playing the beta.
Overall, based on this current version, I feel quite confident in saying that Space Colony will be one of the standout, premier games of 2003. All of the elements are in place for not only a good game, but possibly even a great one. There is a lot to Space Colony, and it’s in the details that the game really shines through. If you’re into city building games of any type, enjoyed games like Dungeon Keeper, Startopia, or even The Sims, then Space Colony will probably have something for you. This is going to be a big one people. Space Colony is due out in October, and it’s going to be huge. I can’t wait to play the full version of this game.
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