Growing Up Otaku Game of the Year 2016 : RimWorld

It was over. The colony was doomed.

We had survived the shipwreck that stranded us in this frozen forest at the edge of known space. We had survived the constant raids by passing star pirates and local tribal communities. We had (barely) survived that first hellish winter when we were forced to eat the chewed up remnants of our own after a hungry bear broke down the door to our ramshackle fort to devour the starving colonists within. We even survived the great fire that burned our humble abode to the ground and left many of us a missing few frostbitten fingers and toes. We had survived disease, killer robots, and toxic fog. Well... Some of us had survived all that. A lot of us didn't. But the colony, our fledgling civilization build on the bones and blood of our own (and the skins of many a local Muffalo) had survived. Until now.

Mae was one of our best. Well, maybe not our best. She was old and frail with a bad back. She refused to ever haul the crops in from the fields or clean the blood from the medical ward after our warriors were patched up following a skirmish with the locals. Still, Mae was a doctor. Not a great doctor, but a doctor none-the-less. She also had a special gift for negotiations, both with man and beast. It was Mae who trained the local wolves and foxes to haul grain while half the colony was bedridden with the plague. It was Mae who patched up captured raiders after an assault. It was Mae who later brainwashed convinced those prisoners to give up their piratey ways and find a better life at the colony with us. Everyone loved her. She had saved most of our lives, charmed many of us into settling here, and bolstered our workforce with four-legged, furry companions. She couldn't fight, haul, or clean, but she was the secret lifeblood that made sure we endured.

One chilly winter morning, Mae died from a heart attack.

Many of the domesticated forest beasts sharing our home went berserk with rage at the death of their mistress. Gunfire rang out from every corner of the fort as colonists desperately fought back against the furry horde. Some of our own fell to tooth and claw. Still others fell to friendly-fire in the impromptu firefight. Our medical ward overflowed. Many colonists needed to be treated in their own beds. Blood stained every corner of the colony. Still, few of the initial injuries were grave and it seemed we might pull through. Then the despair of Mae's death began to sink in.

Mae had saved many of us. Mae had spent many a day talking with us, eating with us, playing chess with us. She always had time for us (Mostly because she refused to haul, clean, or fight.). For some, Mae was the reason that they joined the colony in the first place. Mae's loss would take a heavy toll on the psyche of the colonists.

One by one, we began to crack. Some stripped naked and ran into the twenty degree below wilderness. Some went mad and started pummeling their fellow colony dwellers. The injury count grew. The blood spread. The despair deepened. Our one remaining doctor was forced to inject Go Juice every day just to keep up with the tending of wounds. Those not bleeding tried to clean as fast as possible to remove the offending blood from the most commonly used rooms. The medical supplies ran out. Infections set in. Emergency amputations amongst those suffering frostbite from wandering outside in the brutal winter weather, lost to reality in a haze of sadness, became common. Our people, even when sane, were becoming slower and less able-bodied with every lost appendage.

This is the way our world would end. Not with the bang of a pirate triple rocket launcher, but with the whimper of a woman dying of natural causes.

But usually you'll be wiped out by giant bugs tunneling into your bedroom a mob of bloodthirsty alpacas.

An almost hysterically dark science fiction survival simulator and colony building game, RimWorld has captivated most of the GUO cast and crew this year. It's lush stories, vast variety, and extensive mod support leaves no doubt that this beautiful mash-up of The Sims and Firefly is our collective choice to take home 2016's Giant Golden Fire-Breathing Robot Baby.

After three years of being quietly available to the public in a woefully unfinished state, Ludeon Studio's RimWorld has finally dragged itself into the limelight as one of the most interesting, detailed, and brutally difficult city building games yet. Shamelessly aping both style and substance from its peers Dwarf Fortress and Prison Architect, RimWorld manages to shine brighter than both of these contemporaries not by what it adds, but rather by what it cuts. Whereas other 'colony builder' titles constantly try to push scale, RimWorld creates a smaller, more intimate world for its users to enjoy. Gone are the bustling multi-story fortresses full of hundreds of denizens. It its place it a cozy village inhabited with a dozen individuals you know intimately.

And what a dozen individuals they are! The colonists of RimWorld occasionally give Will Wright's legendary Sims a run for their money. RimWorld's 'Pawns' of are chock full of fears and foibles, strengths and weaknesses, prejudices and family ties. Colonists will fall in love, get married, get divorced, and try to punch out rivals throughout the course of an adventure, all without the intervention of the player. In fact, social interactions between characters can never be initiated by the god-like clicking of your pointer, but can only evolve organically as a result of compatible traits and frequent proximity. Even with all of the underlying math laid bare (somewhere) in RimWorld's byzantine interface, the stores of love, loss, despair, and hope are wondrous to watch unfold. And, if you get sick of 'em, you're free to surgically implant a 'Joywire' in their brain.

Another system that RimWorld wisely applies scale reduction to is production chains. While many entries in the colony and city builder genres focus a great deal of effort simulating the minutia of creating creature comforts, RimWorld does an admirable job of minimizing the flow of goods and requirements needed advance and maintain settlements. There's little of the typical 'Mine ore, mine coal, smelt ingots, craft sword' stuff. Steel is mined usable straight from the mountain. Production is handled at non-dedicated workbenches, complete with production queues. Labor is assigned using a weighted work priority system negating the need of dedicated artisans and ensuring everyone who can help out, will help out as time permits. A couple quick mouse clicks allows direct control over a pawn to ensure critical jobs get done immediately without needing to tediously reassign the workforce. Again, this emphasis on the importance of people, more than their habitat, is what makes this title a much more fascinating experience than its contemporaries.

Another interesting area where personality is leveraged to create a more intimate experience is the "Storyteller" event system. On paper, a Storyteller is just a different way of weighting the random event tables to deliver catastrophes upon your unwitting pawns. In practice, it puts an actual name and face to the diabolical AI out to turn your minions into desiccated corpses. Easily dismissed, there is a brilliantly subtle psychological hook to personifying a 'wandering monster table'. Players will surely be alternately cursing and thanking their virtual Dungeon Masters by name.

This year's GOTY award doesn't come without a caveat. A rather stiff learning curve is in store for newcomers to the outer rim, and not just from the raw difficulty of the game. While one of the best in its class (Not saying much considering Dwarf Fortress barely implements such niceties as mouse support), RimWorld's UI will take a good deal of exploration and memorization to effectively utilize, particularly for newcomers to the genre. The bottom of the game screen is littered with ten buttons full of more buttons, critical messages appear in two separate areas on opposite corners of the screen (and neither one has a log of events you might have missed), each member of your colony boasts six panels full of stats, carried items, medical issues, and personality traits with a further three pages of information relating to exactly how those dozens of stats and quirks affect the game's myriad equations. A final coup de grĂ¢ce to player's sanity is that the window showing how a skill is computed cannot be open at the same time as the window where you allocate jobs. And, of course, there is no hyperlinking of one area to another. In short, the user interface is a catastrophe to anyone who doesn't consider multidimensional spreadsheets "fun". Players won't need to know all the numbers behind the scenes to govern their colony effectively, but, make no mistake, RimWorld is the love child of a programmer, not an artist.

Infodump jumble of a user interface or not, there is no denying RimWorld is easily the pinnacle of the colony builder sub-genre.  Moving the emphasis from ores, alloys, and ingots and putting the focus squarely on the breaking backs of the folks you were harvesting and building for in the first place injects much needed personality into a class of game that all too often devolves into juggling numbers. As a result, RimWorld's pawns are the most engaging and endearing Little Computer People we've seen in years.


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