Feeding The Universe, Manipulating Virtual People

This bizarro weekend, I've attempt to instil a bit of meaning into my procrastination by purchasing Nom Nom Galaxy and The Sims 4.  The former surprised me by being available for half-off on Steam, while the later surprised me by being released somewhere other than Steam.  My motivation to purchase both games was somewhat motivated by my desire to build something in a sandbox and have it mean something outside of the act of simply building.
It's probably Minecraft's fault.  This game is excellent at the building aspect but, like a flighty modern artist, Notch challenges the viewers to come up with their own meaning for his work.  Then I installed mods onto Minecraft that made building more powerful than ever, and this underscored the lack of purpose to build all the more.

Nom Nom Galaxy.

Nom Nom Galaxy's provides purpose to the sandbox by turning the whole thing into a soup making competition.  Where I was complaining about how the Minecraft villagers do not really eat, in Nom Nom Galaxy you are perpetually feeding the universe!  However, the real goal is to drive your soup making competitors out of business by producing enough soup to capture the entire market share.

In practice, Nom Nom Galaxy plays only slightly like the 2D, side-perspective Minecraft (e.g. Terraria).   I would say that it owes more of its design to the likes of classic 80s games like Dig Dug, because it's really more about action than building.  You need to build faster than your competitors to win!
In the current early access version of Nom Nom Galaxy I am playing, the goal is to find soup components, move them to your soup making factories, and then move the completed soup to launch pads.  To accomplish this, there are essentially three resources:
  • You can collect "matter" by digging certain blocks and that is used to build sections of your base.  
  • You earn money primarily by selling soup, and that is primarily used to purchase useful things like assistant robots, weapons, and vehicles.  
  • You must unlock most of the things you can purchase via research points which are earned by digging up floppy discs or finding them on enemies.  
Bring that all together, and you are using matter to construct a base that you purchase assistant robots to move ingredients to soup factories and from soup to the launchpad while you back them up with various tools you can purchase.

Nom Nom Galaxy is far from finished, at least if the version number (v0.14), is any indicator, but is quite playable, and it has some of the most charmingly stylized aesthetics of any game I have ever played.  At half-off, it was $10 well spent.

The Sims 4.

The Sims 4 has no "early access" excuse: it is a "finished" game.  Granted, the definition of "finished" has been a loopy thing for AAA PC games for quite some time.  More accurately, The Sims 4 is a released game that will continue to be patched, so it will likely not be truly "finished" for quite some time.  It will also have a lot of expansions and downloadable content sold for it because, after all, that is a major part of the EA Maxis business model.
Most first impressions of The Sims 4 have been poor.  It's doing rather badly on metacritic, particularly among players, for several reasons:
  • The Sims 3 was rather cool because you could simply zoom in on any building on the map and see what's going on there, which created the illusion that the entire map was being simulated at once.  In The Sims 4, only one lot is fully loaded into memory at a time, with a big fat loading screen in between each transition.
  • Work places are gone; your little Sims simply vanish from the map while they are at work.  EAMaxis will probably ransom back actual workplaces in a later Ambitions-like expansion, but the carpool car is a traditional fixture in this series that has completely vanished, and your Sims cannot meet their coworkers.
  • No swimming pools or toddlers are in the release version.  There are a surprising number of fans of this series who would not think of playing the game without one or both features.
  • It's generally reputed to be buggy.  Personally, I have experienced less bugs in The Sims 4 than I did in post-many-expansion The Sims 3, but I will say that your neighbors have an unfortunate tendency to age early.  These issues will likely be patched out in time.
At first, I was not too happy with The Sims 4 because it basically feels like a dumbed down version of The Sims 3 bereft of many core features we have come to enjoy from the game and its many expansions, such as being able to visit a market (apparently the Sims do all shopping by mail now).  Perhaps the lead strike against The Sims 4 was that we have already burned out from this franchise three times already... why do it to ourselves again?!

However, I eventually warmed up to The Sims 4 because of two core reasons:
  1. The new "mood" system is not only an improvement, but it was needed. 

    Previous installments in this series were silly because there were only two moods - happy and sad - and so it was basically a game of stacking as much positive moodlets as you can to offset your negative moodlets.  In many cases, the combinations of moodlets to produce a positive outcome made very little sense and, as the expansions piled on, the means to get positive moodlets just became easier and easier to the point where it was very difficult to have a Sim in trouble.

    In The Sims 4, moods and moodlets have been replaced with "emotions," they are not just positive or negative, they are specific.  Negative emotions include being angry, bored, cranky, dazed, or embarrassed.  Positive emotions include being focused, inspired, flirty, or energized.  Each emotion carries appropriate advantages or disadvantages, as well as changes the way that sim is animated.
  2. I felt The Sims 3 had become a top-heavy mess; the game had apparently become so badly entangled in its own spaghetti code that they've left vital parts of it broken for months. 

    It was time for a reboot in order to take advantage of new hardware and OS, and The Sims 4 seems to deliver solidly.  The game performs quite well on my system, and has thus far exhibited no sign of instability.  EAMaxis has expressed their goal was to put out a good platform for further expansions, and if that is what they have done here then I feel their priorities are in the right place.
Overall, I find the gloom and doom from some of the Sims 4 naysayers to be a tad over-the-top.  The game plays solid, and there is a decent amount to do (albeit not as much as an already-released predecessor installment, but that's just par for the course).  Like it or not, The Sims 4 will likely do fine and sell like gangbusters, as here is one game that succeeds in appealing to a large casual base and deserves it for having nailed them down so well by delivering the one thing that casual gamers do the most: not game.  By simulating life, that's where The Sims 4 is.

Yet, despite this being a largely casual game, despite the overall tone of The Sims as being insultingly trite at times, and despite the guaranteed relentless nickle-and-diming of Origin, I am actually not regretting my purchase.   This is because The Sims 4 has a highly mutable world, with an unusually detailed range of dynamic content, and a remarkably intricate simulation of modern interpersonal relations.  In other words, at the heart of this casual-appealing mess, this game is a truly nerdcore piece of software.

That said, I am already sort of bored of The Sims 4 because I have already seen most of what it does when I was playing The Sims 3.  About the only new thing it really brings to the table, in terms of gameplay, is the emotions.  Being an introvert myself, getting invested in the emotions of those little Sims is not my cup of tea.  Maybe I'll stick with the game long enough to see a completion of a career track and lifetime aspiration.  Maybe.

Here Comes Trouble.

Honestly, if I am that desperate to explore a glorious sandbox of creating something significant on my computer, I really need to get back into programming again.  However, a threat looms immediately before me that tells me that this may be difficult in the near future...
ArcheAge's release date has been announced.  Not ten days from now, headstart begins.  Open beta begins tomorrow, if I want to check that out.  Sadly, I work during the first three of four days of the headstart, but I am not going to bother taking a vacation for it this time, as it did not make much difference in the case of the last game anyway.

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