Oxygen Not Included (ONI) is a base-building and resource management game currently in Early Access, in the vein Dwarf Fortress and RimWorld. At least, that is what people tell me, as I have not played either one of those. What I have played is Craft the World (pt1, pt2), and ONI is basically that, minus the dwarves and goblins.
The premise of ONI is actually kind of compelling. After picking three Duplicants from a roster of randomly generated ones, they appear in the middle of an asteroid. The ostensible goal is to survive as long as possible using what resources you have available. Instead of controlling them directly, you the player can generate and prioritize tasks like digging out certain squares, constructing machines, etc, and your Duplicants will work to make that happen. Contrary to the title, some basic oxygen is included in the form of oxygen-generating rocks, but it is not nearly enough to last long-term.
Indeed, oxygen-management is indicative of what you will be working on over the arc of the entire game. In the beginning, you will create machines that convert algae (mined from special squares) into oxygen to supply your base. However, your Duplicants exhale CO2, and that will gradually accumulate in the lower reaches of your base (science!). So, eventually, you are going to need to either research technology to convert that CO2 into some other form, or at least pipe it elsewhere. Meanwhile, you also have to grow food, find water, and research some method of disposing of all the poop (or polluted dirt, if you prefer) your Duplicants generate. Have I mentioned there are germs and stress to worry about too? And the fact that you are in the middle of an asteroid, so the whole “pump the CO2 elsewhere” is really just delaying the problem for another day?
As of right now, I do not believe there is a story or “campaign mode” for ONI, and I do not know if there is any planned either. The goal is to survive as long as possible, and there are some very optimized base configurations out there to ensure that is the case. However… I’m not sure that is enough for me, game-wise. Klei’s other popular game, Don’t Starve, also features an implicit goal of surviving as long as possible against escalating threats. The end-state of death there though, usually comes from violence or mistakes rather than slowly running out of finite resources. I felt much more agency in Don’t Starve, in other words, even if the outcome was very similar.
What I will say is that Oxygen Not Included grabbed my attention very early with a compelling premise, and makes me wish there were more Terraria/Starbound/etc survival games out there that I haven’t already played . Hmm… maybe it’s time for RimWorld then…
[Blaugust Day 4]
In the time since I wrote yesterday’s post (over the weekend) and today, I’ve “beat” the first campaign level and spent a total of ~18 hours in Craft the World. For the curious, you completing a campaign world involves finding the portal room, and then defeating the guardians in that and in five other rooms before reconstructing the the portal and getting out.
Across the hours, I believe I have figured out why I don’t like the game: the tech tree. Not the idea of a tech tree – which exists as a tutorial mechanism – but simply how poorly it is paced. For example, here is the beginning part:
Early on, you get the ability to craft wooden armor. Great! For that, you need rope. Which requires wool. Which requires sheep. Which might not be anywhere near your spawning location. In my first world, the sheep were all located beyond a goblin camp, which are a group of extremely tough mobs that you can’t hope to defeat without, you know, some armor. It was only later that I realized that the Portal spell you get at the beginning of the game could be used at any distance, but still.
Another example: wooden doors. One of the first “quests” you receive is to construct a shelter for your dwarves. Like most games, a shelter is only a shelter when the walls (including the background ones) are filled in, with the exception of any doors. You can make a wooden hatch pretty early on, which implies the ole Minecraft shelter approach of just digging a hole. However, your Stash is immovably placed on the surface. Thus, right from the start, you experience the uncomfortable dissonance of either A) building a shelter underground, leaving your Stash exposed, or B) crafting an incomplete shelter around your Stash and waiting possibly hours before unlocking “wooden door” technology.
What is almost worse than this clunkiness is how intentionally bad or misleading the entire scenario appears to be. Creating a Shelter requires you to place a Totem, whose description specifically says:
Creates an aura around the house that protects from monsters.
First, I have never seen it actually “scare off” the ghosts that come each night, so either that functionality doesn’t exist, or it requires the Totem to be closer to the Stockpile and not just within the Shelter, which is unintuitive. Second, for the Totem to even be closer to the Stockpile, you either need Wooden Doors or to construct a goofy system of vertical Wooden Hatches, severely slowing down your dwarves’ harvesting of trees/ground-level resources. Or maybe going even further into the Minecraft approach of boxing yourself in at night, then breaking the walls down in the morning?
Regardless, the Tech Tree is poorly designed and badly paced. I still remember getting about halfway through – which requires a ton of useless crafting – and then… suddenly, inexplicably having fun. Like a lot of fun. I was crafting Mine Carts and Elevators and using Scaffolding to reconstruct the terrible Shelter I had been enduring previously. Instead of creating useless items over and over, I was progressing naturally through the Tech Tree. Things faltered a bit more later, but by that point I still had more than enough things to do to keep me busy as I gathered more resources.
Technically speaking, the Tech Tree is only relevant in Campaign mode; if you enter the Sandbox mode, you can ignore the Tech Tree entirely. But it is one of those things that hold back the entire game with its terribleness. After beating the first Campaign world, I unlocked the next, which is an Ice World. I’ve played about 1-2 hours into that world, but everything that was bad originally is still bad now. Do I seriously want to spend another 5+ hours until I get Scaffolding? Or, you know, make heroic efforts tracking down Sheep in order to get Rope? Nope.
The bottom line here is that Craft the World is servicable if you especially like this genre of games, but only if you have already played the much better titles to death.
[Note: Day 3 Blaugust]
Craft the World is a game billed as “a unique sandbox strategy game, the mix of Dungeon Keeper, Terraria and Dwarf Fortress.” What initially attracted me to the game was the comparison to Dwarf Fortress, which is one of those mythical games that someone you know spent 6000 hours playing, but you didn’t even bother looking at after seeing the screenshots. I am led to believe there are texture packs for Dwarf Fortress, but considering I can’t even bring myself to play FF12 due to graphics alone, I figure I’ll wait until some fan recreates the entire thing in an actual watchable format.
In the meantime… well, Craft the World.
Right now the game still feels like it’s in beta. I am playing in the “Campaign” mode, which I understand to be an extended tutorial. The problem is that I have no idea how to “beat” the campaign. There’s a 40-60 minute timer which dictates when a monster portal opens, and I have been defeating said monters each time they appear. I think I read something about defeating a boss, who will then drop the portal for the next campaign world. Or something about completing all the “tech trees” to unlock it. Or something.
The actual gameplay is both interesting and somewhat vapid. Instead of controlling an actual character, you are the disembodied cursor simply marking which squares you want dug/built/collected/attacked. If a dwarf is available and feels like it, he will go over and start working the squares. So the gameplay cadence is queuing up a lot of work, spending time in the crafting menu, and then watching your dwarves (hopefully) carry it out. Resources are only collected two items at a time, and said items are only actually available once the dwarf makes it back to your Stash. So the end result for me was usually watching the dwarves go about their business, eyes glazed, and then realize 5 minutes later that they were all standing around idle.
Technically, you can control a dwarf directly at any time if you want to get more hands-on. In fact, you pretty much have to to get any sort of reasonable construction project going. Not only do you have an increased object placement range (uncontrolled dwarves can only reach 2 squares instead of 3), but your controlled dwarf has full access to your entire inventory. Otherwise, yep, the dwarves have to carry over the supplies two items at a time; not a whole lot of fun when you’re trying to get them to build a ladder down a mineshaft.
As I mentioned in the beginning though, the game feels Beta-ish. The controls have clearly been designed around an eventual tablet version, as hotkeys are limited and damn near everything revolves around left-click. There are quests/tasks in the Campaign mode which are either broke, or frustratingly vague. For example, one quest was to start a farm by planting Wheat. I actually had some Wheat, but nothing I did seemed to work in terms of getting it planted. Then I thought perhaps I needed “Grain” first, e.g. seeds, but no amount of Wild Wheat harvesting produced any. And, you know, the quest clearly says to plant Wheat, not Grain. I eventually completed the quest after collecting enough Wild Wheat, which shouldn’t have worked based on the description, but whatever.
In the meantime, I’m willing to give it a little bit more time to get more interesting. I can’t help but feel like there is something there, some nugget of fun waiting to be uncovered. At the same time, I also kinda feel like the devs missed everything that was actually fun about the games they were inspired by. Terraria this ain’t, that’s for damn sure.