Roundtable: Books as Games

By Shamus
on Jan 7, 2009
Filed under:
Video Games

This month at Man Bytes Blog, the roundtable discussion is:

Putting the Game Before the Book What would your favorite piece of literature look like if it had been created as a game first?

I don’t participate in the roundtable as often as I would like, but I think I can make up for it with this one. I have the longest and most detailed response in the history of the roundtable. It’s 155 posts long and took a year to produce.

But my first webcomic – while true to the premise offered – is probably a bit too much to qualify as an “entry” in the roundtable. Let me check the bookshelf and see what else might be good: God Game? Er. That would be sort of meta, making a game about a book about a game. I guess you’d just end up with a game within a game. Or just making the game described in the book. Either way, that’s not very interesting. How about Cryptonomicon? Nah. WWII shooters are too passé. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? Already been done. A Brief History of Time? Er. No. Snow Crash? Yeah. That can work.

I will do better than simply imagine what that book would be like as a game. I will imagine Snow Crash as a game (made with today’s technology and design techniques), and then review it.

Review: Snow Crash

Be careful what you wish for, I guess. I’m always talking about the need for games with richer stories and more interesting characters, but whenever one comes along I’m never happy with the result. Last year it was the Indigo Prophecy, the story-based game that was more story than game, and ultimately failed at both.

Snow Crash is a crazy, schizophrenic game with a wide variety of gameplay elements, like GTA with strict linearity and less dead hookers.

You begin the game as some kind of pizza-delivery ninja (I’m not kidding here) delivering pies for (and I’m still not kidding) the Mob, which has re-formed itself into a seemingly reputable business in some freakish near-future world where the United States has shattered into a bunch of tiny little countries. It sounds absurd, but I found the setting oddly compelling and a nice break from Space Marines and Middle-Earth knockoffs.

The first section of the game is a driving sequence where you have to deliver a pizza before the time runs out, while dodging cars that change speed and lanes more or less at random. There is also a skateboarder named YT darting around in traffic. She’s supposedly fifteen or so, although if they wanted us to think of her as a kid they should have given her more clothes and a much younger voice actress. Not since Rikku has a game been so confused about whether we’re supposed to want to date or adopt a female character.

You have to keep her from grabbing onto the back of your car, because apparently in the future cars will be so feeble that the weight of a 90 pound girl will cut their speed in half, and thus you will not deliver the pizza on time, which results in a game over.

As you reach the suburbs, you enter a gauntlet of quicktime events to dodge hazards as you cut through the yards of the various houses. This section enforces my most hated of videogame tropes: Failure is forbidden until it is mandatory. It’s game over and back to start if you run out of time or miss a single quicktime challenge, but once you get to the end there is a cutscene where you crash anyway, your car is ruined, and you must hand both the the pizza and the narrative off to YT, where the game transforms into a sluggish and less-fun version of Tony Hawk Pro Skater.

The rest of the game is like this, with stiff, unsatisfying challenges blocking our progress to the next collection of overlong cutscenes. The challenges are too rigid and don’t really make you feel like you’re taking part in the gameworld. The cutscenes are gorgeous but drive home the point that you’re just riding along while the game tells you a story. It’s like a jRPG without the RPG part. You jump from one protagonist to the next, from one type of game to the next, and the whole thing feels more like a collection of mini-games than a coherent whole. You drive cars, ride skateboards, have swordfights, some gunfights, some frustrating platforming on a giant floating city, (Did you know that ocean water is instantly fatal? Neither did I.) and even a little bit of adventure-game puzzle solving. And for all the skills you have to learn in order to progress, none of them let you affect the outcome beyond simple pass / fail.

The story itself is odd but interesting, and I was constantly frustrated by the fact that the cutscenes were both too long, while at the same time not showing me enough of the world. It centers around a computer virus that affects humans, infecting people as they inhabit a Matrix-style virtual world. If you look at a “snow crash” (which looks like television snow with flickering pseudo-subliminal symbols in it) then you’re turned into a drooling husk and sent back to the loading screen. And this will happen to you a lot if you’re not a master of swordfighting and quicktime-event button mashing.

The only time where you’re able to drag the story away from rigid linearity is at the very end, when you can choose the good ending or the bad ending. And the bad ending is little more than “the city gets nuked”. That’s not as much of a spoiler as it may seem, since it’s heavily telegraphed from the start.

I don’t know if a story like this can fit within the context of a game. I realize this sounds odd coming from a “games are art” evangelist like myself, but games can only add to the other forms of art, not supplant them. It really seems like the designer had a bigger idea than game budget. Maybe a bigger idea than could be supported by any game budget. The game has things to say about politics, technology, the future, government, language, religion, disease, computer viruses, and a dozen other things I could barely keep track of. The highlight of the game for me was a huge dialog tree with The Librarian, a pseudo-AI that lives in a virtual world and can fill in the details of the backstory and setting, as well as filling in some of the denser ideas connected to the main plot. Sadly, you don’t meet him until about halfway through the game and not at the start when he would have been really useful.

Snow Crash isn’t a great game, but I’d love to see what it would have been like as a graphic novel, or a book. Although, I have to admit I can’t picture it as just a book. The look of the Metaverse (Snow Crash’s version of the Matrix) is so distinctive, I can’t imagine how you could manage it with just prose.

Obviously this fiction puts Snow Crash at a disadvantage by having it come out today, instead of seventeen years ago. This makes it a descendant of The Matrix, and not the other way around. In any case, we’d have no idea what we were missing. Videogames are still my favorite form of entertainment, but they are not as universal or as articulate as I’d like them to be. At least, not yet.

EDIT: To answer the question of what the book look like if it was a game first:

I don’t think the game WOULD get made into a book. Maybe this seems like a cop-out, but it’s where the thought experiment led me. I imagined if Stephenson handed off his plot to a team of reasonably competent (in the technical sense) developers and they did their best to make it into a game. This is very much the approach used by developers making games based on movies, and we all know how those usually turn out.

The result would NOT be something that would make gamers clamor for the book, because so much had been lost in the port from prose to pixels.

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20208Feeling chatty? There are 48 comments.

From the Archives:

  1. Saint Rising says:

    Very interesting concept. Good reviewing and thinking exercise, it seems.

    Also: zomgfirst.

  2. Stargazer says:

    Aren’t you answering the wrong question here?

    – What would the book be like, if it was a game first, but you answer
    – What would the game be like, if it was made over a book?
    Not that I dislike your answer, even though I haven’t read Snow Crash.

  3. Illiterate says:

    I don’t know, i think i’d be very interested to see what a game designed by Stephenson would look like.

    I doubt it would be like this.

    Why not do Zodiac? Mostly he drove his little watercraft around when he wasn’t on foot, and as beyond good and evil showed, these two can flow seamlessly into one another with a unified control style.

    BG&E is pretty railroaded, too.

  4. Rowan says:

    You might want to link to something that explains to us unwashed masses what is “Snow Crash”…

    Edit: STFW and all that but I’m just lazy ;)

  5. Gandaug says:

    I don’t have a favorite book really. I’ve read so many and enjoyed a lot. I recently read the Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin and loved them. A game? Probably a turn based strategy similar to the Total War series would fit it best. What would actually happen? It would be a shell of its current glory with lots of particle effects, shallow gameplay, and a thousand achievements.

  6. Rowan says:

    Gandaug: I’ve imagined just the same thing. Apparently there’s even some kind of an effort to make a Westeros mod for M2TW.

  7. Zerotime says:

    I’d like to see Roadside Picnic: The first-person RPG (aka The Game S.T.A.L.K.E.R Should Have Been).

    Rowan: Let me Google that for you.

  8. Huckleberry says:

    @ Gandaug and Rowan:

    There *is* a boardgame that is based on Song of Ice and Fire:
    A Game of Thrones. I haven’t played it yet, but it does look really interesting (if you can get a group together), and it is on my wishlist for next christmas…

    And thanks for the review, Shamus! I liked (but didn’t love) the novel (I definitely prefer Neuromancer), but I find your review of the game excellent.

    Oh, and: Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind” is a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful (as in: I highly recommend to read it; it is the best fantasy I’ve read since Lord of the Rings) fantasy-novel that could conceivably be turned into a campaign for a pen-and-paper-fantasy-RPG, though it would have to be somewhat adapted to fit a group with 2-4 players (And yes, I do have some suggestions for the necessary alterations ;))

  9. Stargazer says:

    @ Huckleberry

    A Game of Thrones, is an excellent strategy game, but only so with 5 players, since everyone is pitted against each other. With fewer players there is going to be some “empty” space that the neighbors of that space too easily can exploit at no serious cost. Another great boardgame is Arkham Horror

  10. Enjoyed your ruminations on Snow Crash as a game, Shamus, but I wish it had been a good game! I guess I’ll just continue to boot up Shadowrun on the emulator. =)

  11. onosson says:

    A review of the game, The Woman In The Dunes:

    This bizarre new entry into the genre of, well, I’m not quite sure, is perplexing at best, and downright frustrating at worst. The game starts out looking like some kind of murder mystery / whodunnit, as a Japanese entomologist has apparently gone missing somewhere in rural Japan. However, things change rapidly as you begin one of the many mini-games you will encounter throughout the story.

    Your first objective is – to catch bugs! Well, since you’re playing an entomologist that seems appropriate enough. And I suppose this kind of thing would appeal to the right person, but sadly I am not him.

    While you’ve been spending so much time collecting insects, your character misses the bus back to town and needs to find lodging for the night. Some shady characters in town suggest that you stay with a local woman – who happens to live in a house at the bottom of a pit dug into an enormous sand dune! Unfortunately, there is no option to refuse their suggestion, so guess where you wake up the next morning?

    In the morning, you discover that the ladder you descended into the pit is gone – and both you and the woman must spend the remainder of the game performing the task of shoveling sand out of the pit. This gets old real fast…

    The game continues with a few more mini-games as your character attempts to escape from the pit, with little success. Correction: make that no success. You can build a rudimentary trap to catch a crow (with the intent of sending an escape message) – and there is also a sub-plot involving the relationship between your character and the woman who lives in the pit. However, given that she more or less helped to trap you there, it seems somewhat unrealistic. But I guess beggars can’t be choosers, and she is the only character you will interact with for approximately 98.3% of the time spent playing this “game”.

    SPOILER ALERT: If you make it to the end of game, your character has a chance to finally escape! However, you will be eternally frustrated by a cut-scene that denies you any opportunity to choose the next course of action – as your character chooses to stay in the pit!!!

    Overall rating: One and a half stars, mostly for the lifelike bugs at the beginning, and the incredible looking sand (boy, is there a lot of it). The voice acting is abysmal, but thankfully there is very little dialogue at all. Environmental sounds are excellent, but are mostly nothing but the wind, and the sound of shoveling.

  12. Huckleberry says:

    @ Stargazer

    Thanks for the tip, Arkham Horror sounds really interesting (and seems to have a solo option as well, which is a definite plus). Do you happen to know Descent (also by Fantasy Flight Games? A solid dungeon crawl board game (all but one players as heroes against an evil overloard player) and really good fun.

  13. Rats says:

    As much as I enjoyed this post, I too was confused with whether you were trying to answer the original question or not.

    I was also surprised that you took the book as gospel for everything that happened in the game when you display a clear dislike for DIRS syndrome (I haven’t read the book, so I can’t comment on whether the world would suffer if you went down a different route to the same conclusion, or allowed a few non-fatal failures).

    If there was a book to arrive of this game “Snow Crash”, what would it be like? Would it live up to the game? Would there be public uproar when people found out the author had stated the age of the skater girl? Would it try to clear up some of the fan hate of parts of the game?

  14. Roxysteve says:

    Off topic, but I’d like to see the old Sierra game “RAMA” redone for post Win95 boxes. It had innovative elements that Riven-copiers today could do with, and the puzzles and exploration were compelling.

    Unfortunately, I only read trash. Literature is too much like hard work, which means that I think any game derived from it would be like Chivalry & Sorcery meets AD&D. Thirty thousand tables. Four days to generate a character. Combat turns that take hours. Molasses-quick play.

    And let’s not forget those modules which have more player clues than plot exposition, and where everyone turns out to be related to everyone else at the end.

    And those names: Micawber Mountain, Fagin the Mighty, Tézz of the Dob’r Villas, Lesser Mizerable, the list goes on an on (and on and on).

    Blech!

  15. Stargazer says:

    @ Hucklebarry

    I’m afraid I only know what you know about Descent. But I have played quite a few of these games, and one thing is certain; they can look like the 8th. Wonder but most are very shallow and usually quite boring after a few sessions. Asking around at boardgamegeek would be my best advice.

    @ Shamus

    Having read the question a few more times, I’m no longer able to see if it is book over game, or the other way around so please disregard my earlier question.

  16. Aergoth says:

    Better one. Also by Stephenson: Anathem. I once got bored and tried to figure out a way to make a conversion for d20 out of it (which was based on the rules of converting All Flesh Must Be Eaten to d20. So it’s a conversion, of a conversion.)

    Long story short: You can’t.

    Attempting to write it as a video game… ACK!

  17. Shamus says:

    I realize I wasn’t explicit in my “review”:

    I don’t think the game WOULD get made into a book. Maybe this seems like a cop-out, but it’s where the thought experiment led me. I imagined if Stephenson handed off his plot to a team of reasonably competent (in the technical sense) developers and they did their best to make it into a game.

    The result would NOT be something that would make gamers clamor for the book, because so much had been lost in the port from prose to pixels.

  18. Huckleberry says:

    @ Stargazer

    Sorry about the confusion, my post was ambigous: I own Descent, have played it a few times and do enjoy it, so I wasn’t looking for a recommendation to buy or not to buy, but rather for a fellow player’s opinion/evaluation/pet hero etc. Nevermind, though.

  19. Telas says:

    George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice was mentioned as a possible candidate to “make it a game first”.

    It’s funny; I’ve always thought of the books as the campaign journal of a misanthropic and bitter GM killing off any player character who shows the least bit of honor in his or her actions…

  20. Decius says:

    See Tom Clancy’s SSN.

    Got the book as a well-meaning gift. I don’t recommend it.

  21. Mark says:

    Shamus, I think you have a new project to sell to The Escapist: “Stolen Premises”

    I’d read it!

  22. Chuk says:

    I like the “graphic novel” in-joke at the end.

  23. Stargazer says:

    @ Huckleberry

    I wish I had a way to communicate directly, instead of spamming the comment section of dear Shamus’ excellent blog. Nevertheless, thank you for the word up on Descent. I’ll buy that next.

  24. Huckleberry says:

    @ Mark: Seconded!!

    @ Shamus: Sorry.

    @ Stargazer: just in case: redhuckleberries AT googlemail DOT com. Not my primary account…

  25. Namfoodle says:

    I liked your “translation” of Snow Crash. The bit about “date or adopt” YT was spot on.

    I think you’re right that if you tried to cram so much of the craziness in Snow Crash into a game, the game would be an iffy proposition. It still might get made into a book, who knows?

    Maybe Snow Crash isn’t the best choice for the thought experiment. I guess a book with a more straightfoward plot and fewer protaganists might make it easier.

    Although here’s an idea: How about Snow Crash being the novelization of Cyberpunk MMORPG?

  26. Mistwraithe says:

    Ditto Telas… A Song of Fire and Ice had me spellbound for the first book, even the second, but once it became obvious that everyone died as soon as you got the slightest bit interested and invested in them…

    Well it is similar to Shamus’s problem with the Witcher. If there are no characters left that you actually like then why read a book?

    I stopped buying them after #3.

    P.S. I am half way through the Witcher and actually really like it. I find the character interesting and outside of a very small number of dialogs haven’t had problems having him behave in a manner I can relate to. Different tastes for different people I guess!

  27. Derek K. says:

    Ender’s Game.

    Perfect fodder. ;)

  28. yoshi927 says:

    Would Ender’s Game be a three-dimensional RTS, or an FPS? I would imagine an FPS so that you can do the scenes where he’s just walking through the halls and things like that, but that would lose some of the potential.

  29. Bret says:

    Third person Mass Effect style RPG. With the arcade (and the endgame bits) having a RTS bit with your little ships with the Dr device.

  30. Teppesh says:

    I could see Snow Crash as a Mass Effect third-person RPG, perhaps. Also, I suspect that Neal Stephenson is the type of guy who, if he had an idea for a game like this, would probably do most of the work himself, and would probably make something very different from his book (he being a smart guy like that). He might start from the same basic premise, but he’d probably also streamline the POV’s a bit so that you spend more time as Hiro Protagonist, and less time as, say, Fido.

  31. Rats says:

    @Shamus

    Thanks for clearing up the confusion and (now I re-read it with this in mind) a wonderful answer to the original question.

  32. Casper says:

    Well, if I have to name a book that is based on a computer game, Free Radical comes to mind immediately.

    Generally, you can make a game from a book (granted there is enough action scenes). It is a lot harder to do it from the other end, because usually a lot of new content must be created.

  33. Daemian Lucifer says:

    About fahrenheit(indigo prophecy):It failed because it left the heavy storry for crappy gameplay.

    About games as art:Serious sam and painkiller dont supplement anything,but they are art.Art of slaughtering zounds of enemies in fun ways.

    About a game made as a book:Doom got made into a book,and I hear it is quite a nice book.

    Thats all for now.

  34. Alex says:

    Hmm… How about games that never got the chance to be to be based off of great novels? This article reminds me a great deal of why I think Final Fantasy XII and KOTOR would have been infinitely better as anything besides video games. Both have so much quality writing hampered by god-awful “gameplay” that would have worked a lot better in any other artistic medium. Preferably one without bad voice-acting and music, while we’re at it.

    (Quotation marks added due to the near-total lack of input from the player)

    Both feature stories and characters I might have cared about if all of my thoughts associated with either game didn’t lead to bad experiences with the combat. Maybe there is some merit to the “gameplay before storytelling” argument I hear from so many big-name developer interviews at Joystiq. It’s hard to like HK-47 when the game is rolling invisible dice to determine how much of a “badass” he is in battle.

    In any case, I’d pay top dollar for competent novelizations of either. All of the quality characters and prose, with none of the mess. I’d even settle for fan-fiction at this point. I think if freaking Halo and Gears of War can get novels published, Final Fantasy and The Old Republic shouldn’t be too much a stretch.

  35. Miako says:

    Okay, let’s take examples where competent writers took a stab at coming up with games:
    1. The Dig — Lucas and Niven together. What could go Wrong? It’s a good video game, and I think adventure games suit a book’s progression and linearity fairly well.

    2. Robbing the Cradle — Shalebridge Cradle that is. The cosmically drunk slacker who came up with this does in fact write stories, and occasionally publishes them.

    Okay, I officially want to see what David Gerrold would do with a video game!

    Anachronox also seems like something strangely booklike, as does Grim Fandango.

    So we have games already that should be made into books.

    Dammit, I want a westernstyle ghostintheshell video game@!!

    Oh, and “that fucking game” TM just had a fananime made about it (with the real voiceactors no less). Catch it at Comiket.

  36. Roxysteve says:

    Sadly, having authors heavily involved with game design has been of mixed success in the past.

    Chief witness for the prosecution: Douglas Adams’s “Starship Titanic”. If only someone else had taken his notes and led the project team.

  37. Daemian Lucifer says:

    @Alex

    Just because you dont like the system doesnt mean its bad(although,d20 system really is bad).Besides,having a bit of chance during a game is actually good.And its not the primary factor here.Your development and equipment is the primary,with chance being secondary.Although criticals are the weak point of d20 system,so this ruins a few moments.

    And,what bad voice acting?Especially with HK47?

  38. Miako says:

    roxysteve,
    I think finding authors that have experience in multiple media (there’s a reason I picked Gerrold!) is a wonderful start.

  39. RussellEldrin says:

    Hopefully I won’t be met with angry insults here, but I’d prefer a more proper Forgotten realms RPG. I was born right after famous Isometric viewed games like baldur’s gate came out, and only went back and played them after playing through games like morrowind. Saying which, I believe that an open world Forgotten Realms style RPG would be amazing. Rather than focus on a party of six or eight characters, allow the player a complete character control, with heavy emphasis on combat and dialouge styles. If each different weapon style was more fleshed out and unique, then combat wouldn’t feel slow and deriviative as in the previous FR games, and since the source material is so rich (in my opinon) developers would have no trouble creating a fantastic storyline.

    -RussellEldrin
    -Rouge Scholar

  40. Shawn W says:

    Okay I’ve resisted being the diligent fanboy until now, but I really, really appreciate your insight in this and many other areas. Thank you, Shamus.

  41. AlphabetFish says:

    Lolita would have made a really WEIRD (and possibly illegal) game.

  42. Dave says:

    @Alex

    There was, in Japan, an official novelization of, of all things, Ico. Talk about a game which didn’t need anything added to it or taken away.

    (And Yorda speaks Japanese, too.)

  43. David B says:

    They did make Snow Crash into a game. It’s called “Second Life”.

  44. […] Jan. 7 – Shamus of Twenty Sided takes a decidedly pessimistic view, albeit with his characteristicly unique slant, as he offers us a Review: Snow Crash […]

  45. Excellent choice and I liked the version you came up with! The book is just over the top crazy and the vision you came up with reflects upon it faithfully. I also see how you arrived at the concussion it wouldn’t work well as a game: we are used to wacky stuff in video games. I mean you have a ninja hacker pizza delivery guy called “Hiro Protagonist” – come ON!

    They did make Snow Crash into a game. It’s called “Second Life”.

    That’s the Metaverse, not Snow Crash.

    But a good hint: maybe it could be an add-on to Second Life where you would need to login to Second Life to find hints on how to complete Snow Crash. In the final action sequence you need to download the schematics of a aircraft carrier from Second Life to find your way trough a labyrinth full of evil cyber zombie henchmen before the time runs out. :-)

  46. The Foundation:

    Never has a Civilization game been so dry, so lacking in combat, and so long. While there are amazing periods of incredible freedom, there are also many bottlenecks where you can only choose from a very small subset of options, and one part I’ll get to where it doesn’t even matter what you do.

    The Foundation begins with an interesting premise: You are, at least initially, supposed to be the head of a library foundation set up by an Empire on its last legs. Being basically a reserve library, you’re not exactly in a glamorous position, especially since you’re on a planet with no resources called “Terminus” in the galactic ass-crack, far on the outer rim. There’s some exposition about how a controversial figure, “Raven” Hari Seldon, got Imperial funding (apparently cashing in on some long-standing Imperial clout he had left from his days as a youth – now THAT could be interesting, exploring the megalopolis of Trantor at its height), and how he will issue instructions from a time-sealed vault. (Why can’t you just break in? Since the instructions will be destroyed if you do. Don’t you have the entire game, a millenia-long eon of conquest, to open it? Never you mind!)

    You spend a small period researching. This part seems tame enough, but boring. You have almost no resources and can build virtually no ships. The Empire has a quadrillion times your firepower, and it’s the only power nearby, and it’s your ally.

    Do NOT take this period lightly, though. It is a life and death period. (Hint: Research the diplomacy and religion trees, and FAST.)

    Eventually, you see that in the gigantic Galactic map, there are crumbling mini-Baronies on the outskirts, breaking off from the Empire proper. Suddenly, one of the states near you, Anacreon, starts to threaten you implicitly. Ships are moved near your border.

    Your only options are diplomacy with Anacreon, diplomacy with the Empire, and diplomacy with nearby states. Your council of advisors, except for one Salvor Hardin, tells you to send for Imperial help. Makes sense, right?

    Wrong. In a long-winded diplomacy sequence, you find that the Imperial diplomat sent to help you is a total douche who makes no concrete promises. No ship, no help, nothing.

    Now you’ve pissed off Anacreon. The invasion is imminent. Diplomacy with them, to try to buy them off? You don’t have anywhere close to enough money, bribing them with research doesn’t work because they want all of your research, and any bluffing threats are called.

    No, your only move is to ask every OTHER state in the area to declare war on Anacreon. Soon, the AI declares peace.

    Over the next few game periods, each of the other the states will declare war on you in turn. Pull the same trick. Now you have a narrow balance of power.

    You have a number of approaches at this point. You can futilely beg for Imperial help. You can desperately try to get enough money in tribute settlements to build a tiny armada. Or, if you researched Religion enough, you begin to “give” your technology as a religion! You’re treated to a cutscene of Hari Seldon telling you, guess what, that that was your only choice.

    An interesting twist emerges: The whole Foundation was ALWAYS designed to rule the galaxy! You are told of a millenia-long destiny to become the new Empire that will rule for a thousand years based on some sci-fi babble called “psychohistory”.

    This is a cool phase. The other countries remain neutral or hostile to you, but you now get huge chunks of their people supporting you, ships under your control, etc. You can’t do too much yet with that, though. Keep up your research now, accelerated by some of their people that you bring to Terminus.

    At some point, one of your enemy states will get an Imperial battlecruiser. They will send it at you. I got obliterated six times before I realized that you right-click on it and turn it off, then use a diplomacy option to speak to their people.

    Now you have an Imperial battlecruiser under your control. You keep on taking their people, ships and resources until they disappear. Great.

    Now your merchants keep trading with other states. You rake in money. Awesome. Except that the merchants keep biting at the reins, wanting to sell your best technology… to the enemies!

    Of course, the right move… is to let them. Then when your neighbors attack, go for economic blockades and sanctions. You wait them out and win their territories. Again, you keep expanding.

    It’s at this point that the Empire attacks. Unless you’ve played nigh-flawlessly, you won’t even make a dent in them. They’ll take planet after planet.

    Of course, if you’ve played twice, you know just to keep attacking, blockading, trading with and taking over other places, because eventually the Imperial general gets killed. See, either he’s a weak general and thus you beat him, or he’s a strong one and the Emperor kills him or is killed by him. Either way, you win.

    The game continues like this until you eventually begin to fight a mutant called The Mule. You’ll keep on losing dozens and dozens of fleets against single battles that the game TELLS YOU WITH THEIR PROBABILITY CALCULATOR that you have 0% chance of losing! AUGH!

    This time, when Hari Seldon appears… he doesn’t mention the Mule, or how your forces are being pummeled. He mentions some other political crap I can’t even remember. The morale of your whole society plummets.

    This was a chilling twist. Patrick Stewart ably plays the soothing intellectual to a tee, and the character seems to be an all-knowing wise grandpa. Seeing one of his predictions come wrong robs the player of whatever invulnerability he had left.

    It turns out that the Mule is a psychic, who keeps on STEALING your ships, not destroying them. Eventually, you start to play as the Second Foundation.

    This is the hardest part of the game. You have to manuever your few forces and the Second Foundation to destroy them. It reminds me of when Tassadar and Zeratul united: Sure, both badasses, but at that point they (and you) are nearly destroyed!

    Eventually, if you play ably enough, you defeat the Mule. At this point, not even half way through the game…

    It just stops.

    Asimov Publications, Inc. promises that they’ll release a new, multi-faction expansion. You’ll load your old save and continue from where you were, but also with the option of playing the Second Foundation, some hippies from a planet called Gaia, and some uber-powerful psychic robot called R. Daneel Olivaw. The gameplay is supposed to be radically different for each. But questions abound. Why are the Second Foundation BAD GUYS now? Weren’t they just my ally?! What the hell is a robot doing? This is clearly a non-robotic, non-alien galaxy. And you get warnings near the end of the game of strange signatures from neighboring galaxies, even though you’re told humans are the only sentient species! It’s like the scriptwriter conked his head and then added in a bunch of shit after fifty years.

    In the end, the Foundation is at its strongest when you are coming up with innovative solutions to problems and expanding. The plot bottlenecks can be annoying, but there is some cleverness to the final solution at each time. Ultimately, a lot of elements are randomized or procedurally determined, so you don’t have to play the same game every time. Which Barony attacks you at the beginning or where the Mule shows up doesn’t change the plot (though it can drastically impact how strong you are at the end of the event). The upper end of technology is awesome: Computers with intuitive programming and neural linkages, multi-Jump technology, anti-mentalic shielding… You distinctly can’t get very far in biological technology, nor can you get robots, as if ships that can turn planets into dust are built by your friendly local Battlecruiser Union #678.

    What’s funny is when you use cheats or play well enough to break the order of events. Then the game has no idea what’s going…

    The game reminds me of Spore: Many levels of simulation, or scenarios that you play through. Unlike Spore, there’s good voice acting and a cohesive plot uniting it. It’s ambitious, and I wouldn’t mind seeing the next installment, where we are told we will actually get to CHOOSE who conquers the galaxy and how.

  47. Phantom says:

    Unrealted, am I the only one who thinks Ender’s Game would make for an awesome stratergy game?

  48. Dreadjaws says:

    I’m not a religious man, but if somehow the Bible had been made into a game before it was a book, it would have been awesome. As it is now, the games based on the Bible are not good at all.

    Also, I hate that trope.

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