Monday, June 09, 2014

A tragedy in pixels

My game of choice lately has been one called Banished.

It's one of those games that combines simplicity in how it's played with an insane amount of depth in what it does in the background. And what's made it very compelling for a lot of people is how brutally hard it can be.

What is it ?

It's a city builder game, with you being the one who decides how a medieval town is built. There's a few things to think about :

Food - from gathering the natural veggies, to farming, to hunters, to fisherman, orchards (apple cider!) and pasture. Pretty much all the agriculture you would expect.
Building materials - everything goes together from logs, stone and iron. And they're hard to come by. Well, maybe not the logs but definitely the stone and iron.
Efficiency - educated workers are better but take kids out of the labour pool for longer. Everyone needs a tool to work better.
Keeping warm - from coats when they're outside to firewood (from the logs) to keep the houses warm.

And more too. Pretty much everything you would expect to be in a game of this type, is here. And ... the big achievement - it's accessible. Whereas in Settlers, you can kill your game quickly if you forget to build the sawmill early (needs wood to build, makes logs into wood), here things like the tool does everything. Same if you run out of hammers before building the toolmaker, there's no hammer for the toolmaker. Although there are multiple grades for the tools and coats. It's kept simple and accessible, there's enough challenge in this game already.

About that ...
(click for bigger !)

That's the centre of my town, as I left it. It's the central nucleus in the middle, with the first food gathering on the right going to the housing on the left. There's also a few blacksmiths and tailors there and the first storage barn. Up top is a market, where everything is gathered for sending on to the houses and toolmakers. On the left is the first of my fishing huts.

As in proper life, a balanced diet keeps you healthy and that's in here too. Just fish and people will go unhealthy. There's also a herbalist to get medicine.

I left a few windows open in that pic, on the bottom left is the town hall window which tells you amongst other things, how the population is growing. Or ... declining.

My town was doing ever so well, it had been steadily increasing and all needs were being taken care of. People were happy, they were healthy, they had clothes and tools, they had food.

Up until the population hit about 150. And then the Food Needed overtook the Food Produced. At this point, the population was still rising and they were leaning on the stored food. Proposed solution ? Build a few more clusters of food production places. So more gatherers, more hunters, more fisherpeople.

Just one problem - the game also models the distance between homes and places of work. If they're walking a long way between house and job, they don't do much job. And so the town ran out of food at 180 people. The town hall graph will show you a sudden population collapse, I left it at 90 adults + 30 kids and people were still starving.

Definitely a tragedy in pixels.

It's weird. I didn't really pay too much attention to what my individuals were doing but it definitely had a certain mental impact when the famine hit. I felt really bad for my people. It's like all that hope from the steady growth turning to despair as all The Pixel People's hard work led to collapse.

I did start another town off, thinking to learn from the mistakes made in this one* but I didn't have the heart to continue it after the first few seasons. I'll go back to it at some point, when the ghosts of the Pixel People are resting once more.

*(I built loads of houses near my mines and not many got built around the food areas)

What next ? With my condition at the moment, I'm steering clear of action games. What drew me to Banished is you can let it run, close your eyes for a bit and your people will have built stuff. It's brutally hard but it's also really chilled out. And that's what I'm looking for in games at the moment.

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