Sunday, July 10, 2011

Soma Drop: Settlers 2

Title: Settlers II: Veni, Vidi, Vici
Developer: Blue Byte
Publisher: Blue Byte
Release: August 1996 (get it here!)

The greatest screensaver ever created!




Ant farms were one of the fascinating high points of my life back in elementary school. They are disgusting now, of course, but in the naïveté of my natal youth they were miniature worlds which held infinite promise and untold treasure. They never stopped moving. There must have been something important about them. How else could it be that they would be kept busy for so long?

I later found out they were just moving dirt around all day long and those little white things they carried were not actually super tasty nutritious rice grains but in fact gestating ant pupas being transported to their respective occupation assignment centers so they burst open and immediately begin their dirt-moving duties. Kids are stupid.

the mystery is the magic

Bystanders of a Settlers II experience will also experience that kind of naïve joy as they watch these Lilliputian pseudoromans go about their business, carrying lumber, fish, hamsteaks, coal, precious minerals, and stones, inextricably identifying with the day-in, day-out diligence and farcical purposelessness of their necessity. They must transport the wood to make the planks, and the planks they will have to carry to fuel the smithy, which only ends in the creation of axes, which implies the need for more wood, which they then must transport, to make planks.

Take control, and things change.

first is not always best

The preponderance of IIs in this particular article clearly implies this was not Blue Byte’s first entry into the series, but it is the definitive one. The first, while not forgettable, was coercively slow and, despite being rather satisfying, made for ADL-halting play sessions. The second, rather smartly, retained its satisfactory gameplay, but provided more options for transport, as well as the ability for paths to self-improve with repeated use, giving the game more of a dynamic, growing feel along with enjoyable visual feedback.

This added layer of consideration also introduced a focus on efficiency and purposefulness of planning, since the endgame was essentially to create a war machine capable of wiping out every competitor on the map. This drive to conquer propelled the transport of wood into planks into fuel into axes, swords, plows, shields, cleavers, gold, bread and the like. And the need for efficiency turned these farcically purposeless Liliputian pseudoromans into treasured tools of economy, each road placed with intent and care so that they may trot about with teleologically murderous efficiency.

Your ant farm has become a death machine.
 to come, to see, to conquer

Settlers II charms your pants off not by an obvious immersion, but by an emulated one. Unlike modern management sims which often shove off one deep end or the other, Settlers II gracefully balances in the narrow space between microorganization and macrochaos, allowing your guiding hand to rest comfortably in that space between outright force and impotent spectatordom. At times it isn’t perfect, but it is undeniably closer than any game I have seen in recent years.

It’s unfortunate, mostly because Blue Byte still hasn’t been able to outdo itself since then.
Then again, neither has anyone else.