Eufloria: Wrapping Up

Posting really late this time: I managed to breeze through the remainder of Eufloria on Sunday afternoon and evening. Some days, writing is just hard.

I said before that there was never a good reason to zoom in in Eufloria. This isn’t quite true. There are two reasons do to is. First, taking a closer look at enemy seedlings can give you information about their stats. The stats — Energy, Strength, and Speed, all determined by the properties of the asteroid where they sprouted — determine a seedling’s shape and size. This isn’t very useful, though; although having better stats doubtless helps, battles are generally won through overwhelming numbers, and you don’t need to zoom in to see those.

The other reason is that you have to zoom in order to reposition your view. There’s no way to just scroll around the battlefield directly; all you can do is zoom into a spot near the edge and then zoom out from there. A peculiar UI choice, and not the only one — to some degree, this game is a showcase for experiments. Consider the way you send seedlings from one asteroid to another. You can send the asteroid’s entire population by left-dragging from source to destination, or you can right-click the source repeatedly to increment a counter of how many you want to send, one seedling per click. Neither of these options is ideal when you want to split up your hundred-strong armada into two groups to pursue different routes. The solution here is to left-drag out only a little way — the targeting interface that shows the limits of where you can travel to also shows a circle around the asteroid you started at, and within the bound of that circle, your mouse-dragging acts like a radial slider for selecting anything up to 100% of the seedlings there. It was only well into the game that I started taking advantage of this, partly because I didn’t really understand it. The game could stand better documentation (or any at all), but then, I probably wouldn’t have read it anyway.

It turns out that there was only one more game element to be introduced after my last post: the flowers that I planted to let my defensive trees grow orbital defenses could alternately, past a certain level, be used to enhance seedling production. Beyond that, the remaining levels produce variety through the scenarios. One level plays with scarcity, in the form of asteroids that could only support one tree, or none at all. One is a timed survival challenge, one is an escort mission. Several of them have plot triggers when you explore particular asteroids — for example, one level has a particularly large one in the opposite corner from where you start, obviously serving as the enemy home base, until you actually reach it and discover that it’s just the beginning of a larger empire, which immediately attacks you. (This is where the limitations on scrolling around become important: they prevent you from knowing the true extents of the level.) Occasionally, the triggers are outmoded by the time you reach them: I recall getting a pop-up describing how the planet I had just explored had fallen victim to the “gray plague” (a side consisting of senselessly aggressive zombie seedlings), when in fact another computer-controlled enemy had already driven it out.

In short, most of the game is spent on the sort of thing I can imagine happening in any other RTS. But in a way, I think that’s the point: that your basic RTS tactics don’t have to be coupled to conventional military imagery. You can put them in a world of pastel colors and gentle ambient music and it works just as well.

Eufloria: Basic Tactics

So, I’ve played a bit more of Eufloria. My progress through the campaign mode has slowed. There are 25 levels, and my first session took me through levels 1-10, but my second only took me through 11. It seems easy to get into quasi-stalemates, which surprised me a little, because you’d think that whichever side has more trees would be able to just outproduce the other. But there seems to be a population cap for each asteroid, or perhaps a production cap — a total number of seedlings beyond which it won’t produce more until some of them get killed. Probably the latter, because that’s the mechanic used for the orbital defense platforms occasionally produced by the defensive trees. It’s easier to observe with them because the limit there seems to be one per asteroid. But I’m really not sure about the rules, and I’m going to have to learn more before I play much further, either by finding info online or just by observing things more closely.

The tactics so far haven’t varied a great deal: you wait for your asteroids to build up an army of seedlings, you send them to storm enemy asteroids. Defense seems to be a lot easier than offense, at least at the stage I’m at — I’ve only recently received defense-enhancing gimmicks like aforementioned orbitals, and if there are corresponding offense-enhancers, I haven’t reached them yet. This encourages turtle-and-rush gameplay, with a substantial delay in conquering asteroids when you’re in rush mode, because it takes a while to claim them fully: even if the enemy isn’t defending an asteroid, it only changes ownership once your seedlings have worn down its “energy” by sacrificing themselves.

The one useful tactic beyond this I’ve found so far is divide-and-conquer, splitting the enemy territory into separate pockets. And it’s kind of interesting how this interacts with the movement rules. There’s a limit to how far away from the asteroids you own your seedlings can go, and there’s a limit to how far they can travel in a single jump between asteroids, but seedlings are quite capable of using an asteroid you don’t own as a stepping-stone to get to their destination more efficiently. And the enemies are no different. If you attack an enemy asteroid, the enemy will often send seedlings from other asteroids to defend it. If they have to go through an asteroid you own to get there, and if that asteroid is bristling with defensive trees and orbital platforms, you basically get to take shots at the enemy forces for free. I’ve got to try taking more advantage of this, by doing things like repeatedly sending small waves of seedlings at two separated asteroids in order to make the enemy keep shuttling back and forth through my defenses.


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.