Trouble Thinking

May 24, 2012

Endless Space Alpha Impressions

So I caved, obviously.

Endless Space is an upcoming game by newcomer Amplitude Studios. It’s currently available for purchase both on their website and on Steam, for a 20% discount. It’s still in Alpha at the moment, so you’re not getting the complete version quite yet.

I would recommend that if you’re into 4X games, particularly space-based ones like Master of Orion or Sword of the Stars, that you give this one a purchase. It’s surprisingly solid for such an early stage in development. I’ve spent hours on it already testing out the races that are currently available and it maintains entertainment into the end-game. I do want to stress that it’s still an Alpha, though. There isn’t really “balance” or “a functioning late-game AI”, so you will usually either get rolled or roll over your AI competitors quite easily.

What Amplitude have brought to the table here is a very traditional world (or galaxy) conquering empire-building game and stripped off a lot of the useless bits that have built up over the years. They focus on allowing you to easily exploit your current resources, expand to new areas, explore the galaxy, and exterminate your enemies. The user interface that got me interested in the game via screenshots is completely as wonderful as I had hoped. It’s clean, it’s simple, the tooltips are useful, and you’re never at a loss for what to do. Your traditional turn is spent choosing a research, building basic “exploits” on your currently colonized planets, building ships or projects on your older more established worlds, and looking for new worlds to conquer. You spend resources to build, and use new planets to get access to more precious resources which are divided into FIDS: Food, Industry, Dust, and Science. Food keeps your population growing which adds a multiplier to all of your resources, Industry makes things you’re building pop out quicker, Dust is a catch-all “gold” resource letting you buy things fast, and Science adds a certain amount to whatever you’re currently researching.

When you inevitably meet other players who would maybe prefer you didn’t conquer their worlds, it’s handled elegantly if a bit simply at the moment. Your default state on meeting a new race is “cold war”, in that you can attack and kill their fleets so long as you’re not in their borders, but they won’t necessarily declare war on you because of it. In a nice twist, your early colonies are considered “outposts” rather than proper parts of your empire, so in the cold war phase of diplomacy they can be attacked and even conquered without consequence. Well, without going to war. It makes for a nice way of preventing the Civilization thing where people would just drop shit in the middle of your territories if your borders didn’t quite cover every square inch of land and now you suddenly need to go to war to take that city. The combat is also great fun, if a bit simple at the moment. It’s designed to be quick, taking a maximum of a minute or so each time, and gloriously space-operatic with big glowy ships firing cannons at each other from around the orbit of a binary star or whatsit. The combat is at base mostly a Civilization style clash of armies, and whoever has the most stuff wins. But if you choose to take command yourself, you can play “cards” at each of the three battle phases that can really turn the tides. For example if you notice your enemy is using mostly kinetics, which are deadly at close range, you can play “deflectors” in the last phase of combat, to give you a plus 40% chance to deflect their shots. It’s a neat system that seems easily extensible. It also didn’t wear on me even after hours of play. Something about seeing a big fleet of spaceships fire at another big fleet of spaceships is always entertaining.

If looking at a map of a galaxy and wondering whether you can take that star system by … force if necessary is something that really appeals to you, this isn’t likely to disappoint. If you’re really conservative, it’s still only going to be $25 at release. God I love budget games these days.

May 2, 2012

Endless Space: What’s this now? What? HMMM

Filed under: Game News — Tags: , , , , , , — Durandal @ 11:19 pm

Hello there! Are you excited by space? Are you super into spaceships and vast galatic empires? Are you mildly aroused by the concept of controlling a vast fleet of warships that travel the universe subjugating civilizations?

Yeah me too.

So 4X games, set in space, are my bread and butter. Except they aren’t! Because many are super shit. In fact, of the ones I’ve played I don’t have a ton of favorites. AI War is amazing and everyone should get it, but I had the misfortune of cutting my teeth on the legendarily not very good Master of Orion 3, which cooled me on things. Alpha Centauri was fun but you know a distinct lack of warships. Galactic Civilizations felt like playing a German boardgame with a pride of mildly demented grandfathers. Sword of the Stars 2 was a goddamn atrocity. I got my money back, a first. It wasn’t even completed! Just sort of shipped hoping no one would open the box. I guess Star Ruler is actually getting super neat I should take a look at that… Star Chamber, a weird trading-card/strategy hybrid was probably the most fun I’ve had with the genre in a long bit.

So the point is a new thing popped up on Steam today, Endless Space.

Now, with all the starts being kicked recently I am getting slightly mildly suspicious when someone promises me a cool game in exchange for investment/preorder whatever. And seriously, I preordered SotS2 and it was so bad. But Endless Space intrigues me. It’s reasonably cheap, $27 for the most expensive version. It also has a neat sort of alpha/beta participation system, where when you buy the game you get  Games2Gether Points. Which sound really silly! But it’s not a bad idea, it’s a distinct developer-mediated methodology for getting fan input. Sometimes you want a wild font of ideas on a forum, it can be great. But sometimes a half-dozen people saying you should “allow people to enter the game like the matrix so that we can play like if it was the matrix” and you just want to take a reading on something more concrete. The examples up at the moment are competing logos for a faction design, and competing designs for a certain type of pirate ship. And I mean, why not? You’re guaranteed to nail down a few little features that don’t actually matter, and it creates an atmosphere of participation for fans who let’s face it are not always the most brilliant design mavens.

And that’s not all! It actually looks kind of really neat. I wish they had a real demo out, because it looks like it hits an amazing note of simplicity married to complexity that these sorts of games really need. It has a beautiful, clean interface (from the screens and videos I’ve seen) that just looks like a joy to observe while pretending it is a display on the deck of your command carrier. It’s unfortunately vague on a lot of gameplay specifics, because you know it’s a 4X so you… 4X things. It’s really hard to pin these sorts of games down without actually spend an hour or twenty with them, so that does make me pause. But fucking look at this:

It’s so CLEAN

And it’s all like that, just this slick as hell UI letting you do what you actually want to do: colonize, build, diplomacize, and murder. Also interesting is that the battle system seems a bit unique. Basically you make important decisions, but leave the actual to-do to mostly automated processes. On the one hand, I like telling everything what to do. On the other hand, part of the allure of being a Space Ruler is that you get to order people to do shit and make them figure it out. If the system allows for actually interesting tactical decision-making in the battles, it’ll definitely be fun. Particularly if new techs open up the field a bit more.

And I mean what a goddamn tech tree, right? Again: Clean, beautiful, functional. I love it when games like this realize that accessible UI is what you need to feel like an in-control ruler. If I’m governing by Excel I am not going to feel cool.

I am almost certain the top middle is some sort of sweater tech.

Anyway! There’s a very neat look at the Alpha build with some nice things to say at Space Sector, and in the meantime here’s a movie! I really think I might drop money on this. I mean, SPACE.

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