Eufloria

The zoomed-in viewEufloria, like DHSGiT and Crayon Physics, is a game that I remember trying out in its more primitive pre-release stages, back when it was called Dyson. It’s essentially a slow-paced minimalist RTS, the sort that breaks everything down to its bare elements and then rebuilds them in a slightly different direction.

The setting is an agglomeration of circular “asteroids” sitting in a plane. On these asteroids grow fractal trees, and the trees are your fortresses and the source of your armies. They produce “seedlings” which are essentially little spaceships or fighter jets that go into orbit and harry intruders. You can send seedlings to other asteroids within a certain range, where they’ll do battle with any other plant empires present so you can claim the territory for your own and plant more trees. Planting trees uses up seedlings, so there’s a balance to be maintained between future growth and current numbers.

There’s a bit more to it than that, but that’s the core gameplay. I don’t know how much depth it adds, but I understand that there are game elements to be introduced that weren’t in the simpler version I played back when. That was one of the two basic criticisms of the original: that it was too simple, that there wasn’t enough tactical variation for it to be interesting. So I think that’s been fixed somewhat. The other criticism seems to still be in force. This is a game that lets you zoom in and out with the scrollwheel, from a wide schematic view of the entire level down to close enough that you can count the leaves on the trees. There’s a certain austere beauty to the zoomed-out view, where the seedlings shrink to dots and, en masse, flow like liquid, but it’s definitely at its prettiest when you’re zoomed in and can see the fractals and the individual seedlings going about their business. But — here’s the criticism — the game doesn’t really give you a reason to do so. You don’t get useful information from tree-gazing, and there’s no micromanagement to be done that you can’t do as effectively from the zoomed-out view.

And at this point, I find myself asking how this observation jibes with my comments about Bioshock. There, it struck me as wrong-headed to complain that the game didn’t force the player to appreciate all it had to offer. Why do I feel like the same complaint is more legitimate here? I think it’s mainly a matter of interactivity. My colleague who felt that Bioshock was stupid had refused to take advantage of the options it gave him. In Eufloria, unless there’s some mechanic I’ve yet to see introduced, there are no such options. The zoomed-in view is purely cosmetic, like clicking on individual troops to learn their names in Powermonger, only less story and more simulation.

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