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Rimworld is a sci-fi colony management game set on the untamed frontier. The game’s devs cite Firefly and Dune as influences and it certainly shows — the worlds you’re colonising are wild and lawless, sparsely populated by tribes and other colonies, some of whom will be friendly and others decidedly not.

The other major influence is, of course, Dwarf Fortress, from which Rimworld takes its approach to deep simulation — colonists have body parts and internal organs, psychological states and moods, relationships with other colonists and animals, needs, desires, prejudices and preferences and so on. The simulation is not as deep as that of Dwarf Fortress — Rimworld doesn’t generate thousands of years worth of history, mythology, geological activity etc. — but it’s deep enough.

Many people, myself included, have been waiting for a decent Dwarf Fortress with a clicky GUI for a long time. There’ve been many attempts and they usually have the same failing; bad AI. When you do not have direct control over your colonists/gnomes/dwarfs (let’s call them ‘people’) it’s imperative that they do what you intended — you don’t want your people chopping wood when you just noticed winter is on its way and created a work order for coats. When you have the resources to make coats and you’ve created a work order for coats and, instead of making coats, your people all freeze to death chopping wood, that’s frustrating. Your people died of stupidity and it really wasn’t your fault.

Rimworld’s colonists are actually smart. It’s as if they, like you, want to prosper, and that feels good. Often they’ll even do pressing things before I realise they need doing, leaving me free to concentrate on the bigger picture, which is exactly what I want from a game like this.

Rimworld is not Dwarf Fortress with a GUI, in some ways its less — nothing matches Dwarf Fortress in terms of the depth and breadth of simulation and the resulting emergence. But nor is it just Dwarf Fortress Lite — it’s very much its own thing and it brings its own ideas, notably the AI Director, an idea borrowed from Left 4 Dead. The AI Director is an entity designed to generate interesting and, importantly, appropriate challenges for your particular colony at that particular time. You can choose from multiple personalities for this AI Director — the gradually escalating Cassandra Classic, the more sedate Phoebe Chillax and Randy Random who is, well, random — which, combined with the game’s difficulty setting and a plethora of starting scenarios, cover the full gamut of players’ pacing preferences; from a hardcore roguelike survival experience to a relaxed game which emphasises management and growth over challenge.

The devs describe Rimworld as a story generator:

RimWorld is not designed as a competitive strategy game, but as a story generator. It’s not about winning and losing - it’s about the drama, tragedy, and comedy that goes on in your colony.

And it really does excel at that.

With that in mind, I’ll tell you a little about my current colony, GNU Slash Hope (actual slashes weren’t allowed).

GNU Slash Hope

My three colonists crash landed in their escape pods in a temperate forest region of the planet. Let’s meet them:

  • Rose, a 27 year old machine collector who grew up as a shelter child. She’s an unremarkable all-rounder but she does have the Optimist trait which helps keep her spirits up.
  • Taiki, a 32 year old counsellor who grew up as a shopkeeper. He’s excellent at social interactions and pretty good at building and mining. He has the Heat Tolerant trait, which is handy, and is also Ascetic, meaning that lavish surroundings actually make him sad — perfect for me!
  • Buchanan, a 38 year old herbalist who grew up, apparently, as a coma child. I got lucky with Buchanan, her growing skills meant I could grow a wide range of crops from the outset. She shares the Ascetic trait with Taiki but is also Abraisive which means she’ll always speak her mind and often piss people off doing so. I know how that feels.

After emerging from their pods, my colonists gathered up the scant supplies that had survived the crash (some food, wood and steel) and began work on a temporary dormitory so they’d have somewhere sheltered to sleep. I decided, since wood is plentiful in this region, to use that as a building material. This is somewhat risky since fires are not uncommon but, since all my colonists are capable of firefighting, I chance it.

We begin settling in — building a basic power grid and a refrigerated area for food — when a wanderer called Mitch joins us. Mitch is a not-very-bright sniper who grew up as a naturalist which seems to have given him a passion for growing things. He has the Fast Walker trait, which is handy, so I put him to work in the fields.

Around this time we experience the first of what will become many bandit attacks. My people, surprisingly, hold their own during the attack, quickly dealing with two attackers and scaring the third away. After the attack is over and my wounded are safely tucked into their medical beds I notice that one of the downed attackers, ‘Tomboy’, is still — barely — alive. I hastily build a small prison cell and tell my people to capture her in the hope that I can recruit her into the colony. Recruiting prisoners is difficult and time-consuming — the colonists occasionally chat with Tomboy and try to convince her to give up banditry and join our lovely settlement, but it has a very low chance of success. It’s also a drain on resources since we have to provide food and medical attention. We have good farmers though so food is plentiful and I decide it’s worth it.

Unfortunately Tomboy died in captivity sometime later, I’m not entirely sure why. Her death made Mitch very sad since he’d grown to like her.

Growing’s up and running — we’re producing a decent crop of potatoes, healroot (which produces herbal medicine) and strawberries — so food is taken care of for now and I decide it’s time to build individual rooms for my colonists which should improve their mood somewhat — they like having their own space.

During this period we’re joined by two more colonists — Weiss, a 23 year old architect who grew up as a medical assistant and Leighton, a 47 year old defector who grew up as a refugee. Weiss was on the run from pirates and offered to join our colony if we fight them off, which we did. She’s my first colonist with any ability in research so I take her off most duties so she can concentrate on that. She’s an optimistic heat lover, which is good for me, but she’s psychically sensitive so I’ll have to keep an eye on her during any psychic anomalies. Leighton is skilled at combat, which is not much use to me since weaponry is limited, and not much else. I put him to work as a labourer.

Things settle down and I expand the complex — nicer bedrooms for the colonists (being careful not to make them too nice for those with the ascetic trait), turning the old dormitory into a recreation area, creating an indoor storage room for goods that don’t do well out in the weather and I expand my fields so that we’re now producing corn and cotton alongside the potatoes, strawberries and healroot.

Since raids seem frequent here, I also expand the prison and make it a lot nicer — happy prisoners are less likely to want to escape — and we end up with three prisoners thanks to raids. Grasshopper has the nudist trait so I take her clothes which makes her much happier. Red eventually agrees to join us, she’s a healer — which is handy as the raids are often leaving my people needing medical attention — who grew up as a scavenger, an optimist who dreams of becoming bionic. She’s good at research and growing as well as medicine so I welcome her with open arms. Grasshopper and Rodaballo escape some time later and I decide not to pursue. Neither had great skills so I decide it’s not worth risking.

Things tick along nicely, the odd raid aside. I expand storage and create a second refrigerated area for food. Thanks to my researchers, we gain the ability to cut stone and make carpets, so I expand the workshops. We don’t have access to much in the way of defenses yet but I build sandbags in strategic locations as cover for my colonists. We’re well fed and clothed and a calm period ensues with plenty of down-time to keep my colonists happy. During this period, Rose and Taiki become lovers and eventually get married. Buchanan’s abrasiveness keeps bubbling over and occasional fist fights break out between her and Rose as well as Mitch and Taiki, all four are frequent guests in the infirmary. On one occasion I saw Mitch beat the shit out of Taiki, then carry him to an infirmary bed and treat his wounds, feed him and then keep him company until sleep came. It’s nice to see that they can put their grievances aside after clearing the air. What’s life without a little conflict.

There are a couple of things we’re lacking. Firstly, we don’t have a decent cook which means we can only produce the most basic meals. Secondly, we don’t have anyone with any animal training skills to speak of which means we’re missing out on all those delicious tortoise eggs, that muffalo milk, lovely alpaca wool and so on. Also there’s a giant sloth wandering around that looks like it would be pretty handy in a fight. What our colony really needs is a giant mega guard-sloth. We’re well clothed, though — all that cotton has been turned into stylish cowboy hats, dusters, shirts and trousers. We’re looking good.

The hum drum routine of colony life is broken by another bandit raid and this one might actually be a problem, there are five attackers and they’re far better armed than my colonists — they have SMGs and sniper rifles, we have two bolt action rifles, two pistols and a couple of bows. I quickly gather my colonists into defensive positions behind sandbags and wait for the attack. We manage to kill two bandits and down a third, but four of my people are hospitalised with severe wounds. I tend to my wounded and capture the downed bandit. Rose is left with a shattered rib, Taiki loses his left index finger and Red loses the big toe of her left foot.

Our new prisoner, Emily, fares worse. We shot her left leg off during the attack and, after recovering from her wounds, she’s left immobile. I decide to task Mitch with operating on her to install a peg leg. He fumbles the operation the first time, but, once she’s re-recovered manages to install the peg leg on the second try. Emily, a space pirate who grew up as an apocalypse survivor, quickly joins us. She doesn’t have much in the way of skills outside of combat but I have a soft spot for her — she’s been through a lot. She has the Jealous trait which means she gets unhappy if she doesn’t have the nicest bedroom. This makes me laugh and I start planning a lavish, carpeted bedroom, furnished with the finest tables and chairs we can make and decorated with Buchanan’s — frankly shitty — wooden sculptures.

Emily is exactly the kind of misfit we welcome at GNU Slash Hope, the future’s looking good.

Rimworld is great. I’ve been waiting for a game like this for a long time. It deftly avoids the genre’s common pitfalls and introduces a few innovative flourishes of its own. The AI Director, combined with flexible, extensive difficulty and starting scenario settings allows it to cater to all the people who might want to play a game like this, from the hardcore right through to the casual. It’s amazing to think that this is only the beginning — it feels like a finished game — I can’t wait to see where it goes in the future. This is not just Dwarf Fortress with a GUI; it does scratch that itch, but this is its own thing with its own identity. It feels like a classic in the making.

Rimworld is available via the dev’s website and also on Steam.

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