What do camping holidays, Sim lifespans and asteroid colonies have in common?
Recently, we put tents in the trailer and drove to Airlie Beach, and back, over four weeks. I haven’t played games for this long since 2005, when I was traveling around the world. In my normal life, I sometimes go a day or two without games. Maybe. What did I learn from my PC-free month? Firstly, it’s hard to see platypuses in the wild, but possible. Secondly, that driving past lots of houses gives me an irrepressible urge to play The Sims.
Every time I decide to play The Sims, there is a new expansion pack. It’s tradition. And convenient. But, did you know, for players like me who are chronic restarters and micromanagers, you can turn a Sim’s lifespan to “long”? I should have done this years ago. It’s relaxing, like being on holiday. You can actually realise your most outlandish goals quite comfortably, like fishing-tofertilise-plants-to-cook-meals.
As such, the new Parenthood expansion is great, but it’s impossible to be a perfectionist-player and single parent, if toddlers age up at their usual rate. (I usually get adult Sims knocked up by passing townies to avoid taking time out of their overwhelming schedules to form relationships.) You even have influence over children’s core values which become extra traits at the adult age transition, good and bad. There is much more detail here, so more time to explore it makes sense. Like letting the kids spend an extra day at the Bundaberg Ginger Beer museum.
What I most learned from holidays and Simming, however, is that I really like game systems which rely on small inputs and outputs, while evolving and improving from within. Like playing Sims who source all their own food and
tempting to give everyone their own bedroom, not just the replicants who snore
make their children neuroticly perfect. And, like our camper trailer, where you have to buy food from a supermarket, but have everything else you need to set yourself up for the night and cook a meal. It’s a cheap and efficient way to travel that you get more and more comfortable in, over time, playing games, sleeping well etc.
This is why Oxygen Not Included also had me hooked this week, in my postholiday state. You should play it, for the gamer’s version of hardcore camping, without actually having to get entangled in a sleeping bag. In fact, you start with three replicants and only a near-empty ration box. Then, you have to scout the nearby area and assess how you can use resources to develop a colony.
The initial oxygen boon is one of the game’s few freebies, like free washing powder at a caravan park. You’ll soon need to create machines or use an algae terrarium to convert carbon dioxide, which tends to collect at the bottom of the colony. Every new object, from outhouse to power plant, needs to be researched by replicants, who improve by doing all tasks. My favourite moments occur when you start having the person-power to make art, showers and accoutrements which go beyond mere survival, to prove that this closed system can grow.
Another compelling idea is to stop poking your system, to see if it really is working indefinitely. Where is the perfect balance found? It can be tempting to give everyone their own bedroom, not just the replicants who snore, and decorate them with beautiful sculptures, but then you need more resources to make and maintain the space. Is it cool that you have enough Mush Bars to eat, if they cause diarrhea? How fancy, and complicated, do you want food production to be? I’ve been able to find “stable” points, but not at the more elaborate end of colony building.
ONI is still in early access and, as such, I’d usually avoid it. But there’s something exciting about jumping into games with a glut of statistics early, before there are so many of them you have to disregard most in order to even start. The game is very similar to RimWorld in many aspects of management, the one difference being that you’re firmly enclosed and outside help, or destruction, isn’t coming. (At least yet.) Having said this, there are creatures to fight or domesticate, and new resources to find in further flung regions.
So, I would like to thank Oxygen Not Included for easing me back into post-holiday life and reviewing games. I did actually enjoy the sense of timelessness, without responsibilities and outside pressure, like the long lifespan option in The Sims, even without my PC. Camping and ONI are a bit similar, too, whether it’s realising that how you deal with waste is an important environmental consideration or taking earplugs to offset the snoring in your tent. Systems which approach self-sustainability are something that intrigue me, both in life and in games.