I set down on the planet with complete awareness of the dangers that I would face, and a steady sense that I would do better than those who had come before me. As I established my new outpost, eagerly digging into the cliff face nearby to harvest the easily accessed metal and provide my fellow accidental colonists with shelter, I was certain that I was in the right place, doing the right thing. I planned out my dwelling carefully, designed it with defense in mind, and laughed at the idea that I might have missed any of the silly issues which had so beset the Let’s Plays that I had watched before I picked up the game.
I forgot, of course, to plant any food. Welcome to Rimworld.
It’s highly appropriate that the standard difficulty setting is named after a woman who was cursed to see and foretell the dooms of all those around her, while never being believed.
It got pretty rough; all the potatoes were gone, and I’d become so desperate that I installed a sunlamp at my potato field in the hope of growing my plants faster. I considered whether it would be feasible to kill any passersby and eat them. While I stared at the plants that weren’t growing fast enough, I sent out the only colonist who had a rifle to go hunt for meat. In short order, I realized that there were no muffalo to be had, discovered why boomrats are called boomrats, and watched my erstwhile hunter collapse from starvation after being reduced to punching a squirrel to death. It turned out that each time that Salt (my young rifle-toting colonist with a burning passion for mining) shot a squirrel, old and crotchety Caligari collected the meat, turned it into a meal, and then ate the food himself. Poor Salt hadn’t been getting any of the food that he’d shot. Instead, I had to send someone out to fetch him while Caligari ate another squirrel.
By the way, remember that sunlamp gimmick? It works well, and will let you ignore those pesky problems of night-time and not-enough-sun. Unfortunately, sunlamps sometimes short circuit, catch fire, and explode when they’re exposed to rain. Putting sunlamps next to your potatoes is very risky, since you have to put out the resultant fires before they can raze your crops. The only upside is that, since rain causes the fires in the first place, rain also helps put out the fires. Sadly, it turns out that batteries have similar issues: these issues are especially problematic when you’ve skimped on wiring and used your battery bank to connect your solar panels to your electrical network instead. It was a mess.
Worse, it was a mess with no obvious solutions. I had plenty of metal to hand, but not enough space inside the caves I’d excavated to relocate my batteries. My best miner was starving to death, unconscious where I’d left him on his cot, and I had to keep my other people busy putting out fires and trying to salvage my potato crop. I muddled through, watching Salt slowly starve his way into oblivion in his lonely little cave room while my batteries and sunlamp repeatedly exploded in the occasional rain showers. Just before Salt died, my potatoes came through and I had the chance to repeat the process all over again. At some point during my experiments with starvation I’d also fought off a raider assault and bludgeoned my attacker into unconsciousness; Austen the space marine, now my captive, also nearly died of starvation, but I had just enough food from that first crop to keep him alive until I could “encourage” him to join my lonely outpost. This was lucky for him, since I’d already missed the chance to eat a different stranger and was starting to wonder how many meals I could make from him. I was playing on the “first timer” difficulty setting, the more forgiving version of Cassandra.
Once I recovered from my terrible food mistake, I quickly regained my balance. Doomed, the colony which had seemed so appropriately named, now looks like it’ll be a wild success. I’m ready to move on to a bigger challenge, and next time I’ll remember to plant food long before I start thinking of the Donner Party as good role models.
In case you couldn’t tell, I’ve been having a grand old time with this game. It doesn’t yet have the depth of some of its competitors (literally, since everything is bound to a single height at the moment), but it has a built-in tutorial that actually seems to work decently well (I’m looking at you, Towns and Dwarf Fortress). Better yet, its interface is comprehensible and doesn’t require memorizing a complex map of menu options. The graphics are simplistic, but they also convey more than enough information and have hit on that element of stylization that almost conveys more than a similar level of realism. The sound design already pulls you in (courtesy of Alistair Lindsay, audio designer for DEFCON, Darwinia & Prison Architect), and the weather effects (auditory, visual, and mechanical) all lend themselves to a deeper sense of reality that helps to create a more coherent whole.
Some games never manage to convince you that they are anything but a collection of little pixels following some arbitrary set of rules as they dance about on the screen. Ludeon Studios‘ Rimworld seems to have already moved past that stage, skipping instead to offering a window onto the tragicomic ordeals faced by three survivors of an unexplained space disaster. The game’s marketing material claims to offer an AI storyteller, something that will cue appropriately exciting events for you to face, with the hope that more complex and subtle variants of the storyteller will emerge as development progresses. And I think it succeeds thus far: I still need to test other difficulty levels, but I’ve been impressed with how well it manages to offer ramping difficulty through events aimed at your current weaknesses, and yet balance them with little moments of reprieve. As you could see above, I’m already caught up in the stories that grew from my repeated mistakes and occasional successes.
My conclusion? Rimworld is well made, and while I’m not sure that what has come out thus far is worth the $30 asking price, if things continue to develop as they have it will be. If you like base building, Crusoe-esque fiction, or the idea of overseeing a desperate hardscrabble fight for survival on a dangerous frontier planet, check out the game. Even if you don’t love it yet, keep an eye on it. I expect more good things will come from this.
(I now have a second article about this game, right here!)