Back on Christmas Day (which was almost a month ago already, where does the time go?), I spent a couple of hours in the evening being somewhat… manic. I don’t recall precisely what initiated this, but for whatever reason I had pictured a specific kind of game in my head, and I was now tearing apart my collection or the internet in a frenzy to find and play it. It cascaded into me playing a handful of games since that point, trying to find something that would absolutely meet the requirements I was searching for.
From this, I ended up discarding or putting aside most of these games when they failed to achieve success, or else playing the ones I did stick with for incomplete or else different reasons. Most of these games I’ll speak about at length in the future (probably their own articles), but by now I feel like I should address the kind of game I was looking for.
In short, I was looking for quite possibly the nerdiest thing I could: a game of resource management, production chains, and logistics. And while I’m sure a few people could see that and immediately list off a few examples — just as I could, did, and started with in my search — I was looking for something more expansive. I don’t just want the end result of the chains, but the acquisition of the resources used, and the utilisation of these to allow me to expand or further my goals.
See, the first title I gravitated towards during my thought process and subsequent search was Black Desert Online. Besides the flashy and graphically striking action combat that the game sells as its main feature, it has a variety of “life skills” to complement this. You can set up farms, buy and sell trade resources in various markets that you can either manually carry or transport via wagons and boats (which you can build, and even breed better horses for), acquire property in towns that can be converted into production centres, and hire workers to work these centres or even gather the resources themselves from some areas if you didn’t feel like doing it yourself.
This was the part of the game that kept me playing for a lot longer than I expected previously. I would frequently go from place to place in order to figure out what resources were available, do smaller quests in order to open them up or else just farm contribution points that let me expand my sphere of influence, or just run trade routes back and forth in the background while doing other things. And it was this model that the manic searching for more games like this was based around.
So why didn’t I just play Black Desert Online when this mood struck me? Well… a few reasons.
For a start, technical difficulties. I’ve had this in the past, but when attempting to try and play it more recently, I would constantly run into issues where I just couldn’t get past the character log in. It failed to fully load my character in, and I’d just run around a world that was non-interactive because until the server finally kicked me. Multiple fixes and adjustments didn’t seem to change things, and it was only by luck that I got it working again.
So once I was finally in, the next issue: all your characters on a single account are tied to a family name, and all things you accomplish with any character are linked to that family. As such, I could start a new character fresh and still have the exact same selection of workers, resources in warehouses, production chains etc. that I had on my last character. This is fine for an MMORPG, as punishing one for playing a new character or trying to find variety in your gameplay is something that many games ultimately come under fire for.
Alas, I had not played the game in at least a year, and so my setups and systems were unfamiliar and all over the place. I wasn’t interested in trying to pick up my old character again, or else salvage on a new one all of what I’d done previously and try to go from there; I wanted a clean slate from which to start again. The progression aspect is a big deal to me. So in the end, after fighting all the technical issues and finally getting the game to perform as directed, Black Desert Online was put aside after maybe an hour tops.
Since then, the many and varied games I have bounced around between have failed to reach that same kind of level that a fresh run of BDO might have had (and, knowing my experience of the game, probably wouldn’t do the trick anyway). There have been strategy games, RPGs with crafting elements, survival games, or even just diving quite heavily into the crafting aspect of Final Fantasy 14. Still, however, the desire has not been fully met and the search continues, even if a little less rampant now.
So Delf, what the hell do you want?
It’s probably fairly clear the kind of game I want, but I still feel the desire to break it down into component elements further. As such, I’m going to pitch what I think this game would probably look like at the very heart, whether or not this actually exists.
So as stated above, I’m looking for a game with the primary focus being resource acquisition and management, which leads into developing production chains to make use of it all. Get specific resources to make set upgrades or advanced production that leads to newer resources, which leads to further development and production, and so on. Ultimately, I would want this to all tie back into some kind of progression, either through short or long-term objectives and missions that pace the game out and continue to escalate upwards over time.
Ideally, there’d be some kind of gameplay systems in there that make the actual resource acquisition interesting, whether by specific gathering processes or else just something like “fight and kill specific monsters for their parts”. Then, ultimately, all this production chain management would lead to expansion of systems or facilities, much like the building of a town or empire or something to that extent.
No doubt that explanation has brought a few suggestions to your minds, and I’ve asked a few people for such recommendations also. The most obvious would be a survival or management game like Minecraft or perhaps Dwarf Fortress. I’m certain there are Minecraft mods out there that might accomplish what I’m describing; something like SevTech has an absolutely absurd progression of materials and resources across pretty much the entirety of human history. If it wasn’t such a slog to try and play that solo, it’d probably be my go to, but alas… trying to play that on my own just doesn’t evoke the feeling I’d hope for. Dwarf Fortress is a little too finicky, and more about the overall simulation details rather than a specific gameplay loop.
My predilection for a certain genres — notably RPGs and strategy games — tends to make me want something more in that vein. One of the games that helped fuel this sentiment was 2018’s Ni no Kuni 2, which featured a kingdom management system that saw me recruiting scores of NPCs in order to build and man facilities at a home base, which in turn could further upgrade my party’s abilities and equipment. Ultimately, that game kept my attention despite it being fairly average due to this setup, and something a little more complex and not so mind-numbingly easy to beat would have been ideal.
When this desire first surfaced more recently, I specifically looked for RPGs with aspects like that to try out. I’m now playing through the Suikoden series again, mostly because earlier versions of Ni no Kuni 2’s systems were some of their selling points, but they’re more about character acquisition and combat than resource management. The Atelier games feature a robust series of crafting systems which see you gathering and fighting monsters for the parts, so I ended up playing Atelier Ayesha on the PS3 to completion in the first week of 2019.
Again, it was quite fun and the specific gathering and crafting loop was quite close to what I was seeking out, but there ended up being much less use for the more advanced items I created aside from making the combat easy and helping me crush some of the game’s toughest fights. There were a lot of requests and objectives that saw me requiring specific items also, but in the end, the feeling of progression and further advancement ended up feeling a bit lacking. Atelier Ayesha did spark an interest in playing more of the games — I’d only really played and finished Atelier Iris 3 back on the PS2 — so I expect I’ll tackle more of those in the near future.
Aside from the RPG front, I dabbled in plenty of different strategy games also. The faithful standbys of Civilization 6 and Stellaris certainly scratch the itch, though they’re more about territory acquisition and military campaigns than anything quite like the logistics juggling I’d like. Perhaps there are mods out there to do the trick, but for now I went on to other games instead.
Northgard remains one of the more resource-focused RTS games I’ve played in recent memory, serving much like a slower Age of Empires games that sees me with smaller armies but more tightly controlled territory and resource acquisition. Quite good, but lacking in that kind of long-term possibility I was hoping for. Speaking of the Age of Empires series, I even played a bit of Age of Mythology Extended Edition for the same reason, and it’s as great a game as it ever was even if not what I’m after here.
From there, I went looking into another strategy subgenre: city builders. This is probably where I was the closest to finding success, as I played a significant chunk of Aven Colony, then jumped back to the decades old historical city builders by Sierra such as Pharaoh, Zeus, Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom, and such. There’s lots I could talk about with these games, and as usual, I’ll probably save that for a full article in their own right.
But that’s about where the search reached before I more or less stopped and began to consolidate my attention. This is to say nothing of trying games like the Anno series, Tropico 4, Majesty 2, Frostpunk, the Settlers series, and more that I played in this endeavour, most of which didn’t get the same attention as the aforementioned games for various reasons.
Now, before people get too agitated, there’s a big one here that I haven’t mentioned at all that I’m sure some would be quick to suggest as being perfect: Factorio.
So by all accounts, Factorio is absolutely what would do the trick and sate my desires in this matter. Indeed, I played the demo to completion and quite enjoyed myself. So why haven’t I caved and bought it yet? It’s not even the Early Access thing; I tend to shy away from that, but if a game is content rich and developed enough, it certainly won’t stop me.
Simply put… I have a strong suspicion that once I start Factorio for real, it may very well consume me for quite some time. Just look at the amount of time, dedication and nearly rabid searching I committed to find games in my collection or buried in archives that might come close. If Factorio really is exactly what I want it to be, well… all of that is going to have a singular focus, and I struggle to imagine getting much done otherwise.
So yes. Factorio is well within my crosshairs, but I’m holding off pulling the trigger until I truly have the time to dedicate to it. For now, I’m kind of enjoying the process of searching and experimentation to find the right kind of concepts.
With all of that said, this search for these specific game design aspects and mechanics in conjunction with one another all made me think about my taste in games. It can certainly feel like I’m going after something very specific, but at the end of the day… this is essentially me searching for the most direct and pure form of the sort of games and gameplay I like.
New Era, Same Great Taste
There’s very little about these various gameplay elements that I’ve described that aren’t in some way reflected in the games I most enjoy or spend time with.
As a kid, I cut my teeth on the early Civilization games, moving on to things like Command and Conquer or Starcraft, then gradually finding RPGs through things like Pokemon, Baldur’s Gate, Chrono Trigger and so on. Aforementioned city builders like Pharaoh were literally part of my childhood, as it was a gift from my dad to bridge my video game hobby with my ancient history fascination.
The strategy games, as warlike as most are, often saw me focused more on base building, empire expansion, or wonder construction. There were times where I’d just get enemies to points where they couldn’t fight back, then do things like mine out entire maps and build massive, intricate bases. I loved having organised base defences and walls in C&C, or covering the entire map of Starcraft in Zerg creep. And my Civilization games were often more concerned with claiming as most territory and then building the best possible cities.
By the time I discovered RPGs, I’d mostly moved on to a bigger focus on playing the games as intended. I had quickly begun to fall in love with the narratives and character writing of things like Baldur’s Gate or Golden Sun. Turn-based RPGs frequently drew me in with their stories, and then kept me there with their battle systems as I did my best to exploit them and become as powerful and creative as they’d let me be.
But still, it all seems to be coming back full circle. I might play a lot more real time or action games in addition to all of these other things, but it’s those systems and concepts that keep pulling me back. Something with a sense of progression that I can methodically move through and just escalate further always draws me in, and it’s why I had a brief escapade with clicker games like Realm Grinder or my exploration of the mobile game hellscape. Much of their gameplay can be summarised as “Number Go Up”, and whatever higher requirements I might desire in my games, my animal instincts are still heavily drawn to this.
So whether it was trying to max out my rank with every guild at once in Morrowind, or having the most impressive coloured blob on the galaxy map in Stellaris, or even my recent steady progress in levelling up the crafting classes in Final Fantasy 14… I seem to always be drawn back to these concepts. And this manic search of mine just seemed to be my conceiving of what I might consider a near-perfect unison of all these disparate elements into one super game that just screams Delfeir in every aspect.
I probably won’t find it quick like I want. Even if I do, it might not turn out to be quite as brilliant as I’d hoped, or else might still need further adjustment or development to tune it just as I’d like. But in a way, that search made me look at my preferred styles of gameplay and titles in a new light, while also having me start digging through games I might have passed by or missed in the hopes of striking gold.
Quite frankly, that seems like a pretty good way to kick off 2019, and doubly so since I managed to turn it all into the semi-creative and introspective writing exercise that is the article you just finished reading. I’ll take it!
Since 2018 was kind of lackluster in terms of my writing output due to struggles with health and the mental hurdles of increased workloads, I’m aspiring to do more this year. If I can’t get back into a more official writing role on another website — paid or otherwise — then I’d like to expand more on what I do here on this blog. Deadlines and schedules are still something that don’t blend well with my health, unfortunately, but I’m going to see what I can do about keeping things semi-consistent here.
So if you thought this was interesting, watch this space and I’ll hopefully have something up soon. I definitely would like to talk about some of the games mentioned here, particularly Suikoden, Atelier Ayesha and Pharaoh. And if you’ve got a game suggestion that I might’ve missed or think would do the trick, by all means send it my way. Only thing I like doing more than writing about games in this fashion is discussing them and having dialogues with people on the same subjects, so please do hit me up.
Until next time, folks.