May 28, 2004 | Ken Newquist
Take The Sims, mix in some heavily dysfunctional astronauts, and throw them a few light years into space and you’ve got Space Colony, a science-fiction themed social strategy game.
Like Maxis’ popular people simulator, Space Colony puts you in control of virtual individuals, managing their careers, satisfying their needs, and dealing with their catastrophes. Unlike like The Sims though, Space Colony offers reasons for all this micro-management.
The primary game mode – simply called “Space Colony” -- is an ongoing Real Worldish storyline in which a bunch of misfits attempt to exploit extraterrestrial colonies for a stereotypical, money-grubbing corporation. The second, “Galaxy Mode”, offers a choice of different scenarios at varying difficulty levels. Some are production oriented, and involve harvesting resources. Others deal with more social problems, such as promoting tourism on a frontier world, while still others involve military objectives like attacking aliens. The third mode, “Sandbox”, lets you pursue open-ended goals in extreme environments of your own choosing. The final mode allows you to try your hand at player-created scenarios, either homegrown ones created using the included Planet and Campaign editors, or ones that others have posted to the Net.
Lost (and Found) in SpaceRegardless of the mode chosen, game play is largely the same. Players are assigned several different characters to assist them in their scenarios. Each of these characters comes with certain basic skills, such as the ability to run the Oxygen or Power generation machines, raise Space Chickens, or operate mining equipment. They also come with extremely dysfunctional, stereotypical personalities, which makes managing them a challenge at the very least. Each has several core needs, such as sleep, finances, entertainment, food and hygiene, which vary over time. One of these stats is of overarching importance to the character, and if it is not met, the character quickly becomes miserable. Each character is capable of performing a primary and secondary job, and while they start with only a limited number of skills, more can learned by spending time in the library.
The amount of time they spend working on their jobs is directly proportional to their happiness. Miserable employees will simply refuse to work, and if they get into a serious enough funk, they may need professional (or at least robotic) help to get out of it. Unlike The Sims, where characters work to earn money for food and goods, in Space Colony they work in order to survive. Characters must produce the oxygen and food they need to survive, while at the same time harvesting the alien bounty around them to pay for improvements to their base.
Improvements vary. Some, like the Chicken Rancher, Ore Processor and Plant Harvester, are industrial in nature. Others, including bars, saunas, psychiatric robots and showers, serve to improve the character’s happiness and provide places for social interaction. Still others are defensive, and provide characters with the tools they need to prevent infestations of alien insects or to repel lava slugs.
Social interactions play as big a part in characters’ happiness as life support and they span the emotional scale from love to hatred. The characters’ virtual emotions run from hatred to love. Individuals in love can get married (or at least committed to one another) while fights can break out among those who despise one another. In the later case, players can cool off the combatants by sticking one in a brig.