Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Eufloria Review

Eufloria, developed by Rudolf Kremers and Alex May and published by Omni Systems.
The Good: Unique take on resource management, decent amount of content, procedurally generated levels makes each game slightly different, competent aggressive AI opponent, occasionally varied objectives, mod-friendly
The Not So Good: Simplicity introduces repetition, needs rally points for newly created units, no multiplayer
What say you? A distinctive strategy game thanks to its mechanics and presentation: 6/8

Thanks to digital distribution, independent games (more commonly known as “ROFLCOPTER”) have garnered a nice niche in the online gaming environment. A couple of guys (or gals…yeah, right) can get together and hammer out a neat little title, put it up for download, and watch the enormous stacks of cash roll in (or so I am told). The Game Formerly Known As Dyson (renamed in a contest to something less obscure) is one of those titles; garnering some recognition through the Independent Games Festival, it is now released in retail form over the Internets. This slow-paced ambient game has you send seeds across the universe to populate distant lands, and eliminate rival seeds, of course. How does the minimalist strategy-type game stack up?

Eufloria takes a minimalist approach to graphics and makes a quite effective visual package. The game has a very nice ambient glow exhibited in every map, which is more impressive on levels that feature a black background. The glow makes it easy to identify which units belong to which side, at least if you are zoomed out far enough. The planets you colonize are boring, simple spheres, though the trees planted on them have a nice, varied fractal-like appearance (or whatever you want to call it). The seedling units are nicely animated while in flight, although the combat lasers are disappointingly generic. The game also plays nice while windowed. The soundtrack of the game is quite appealing and fits the casual mood of the game well. Eufloria delivers a unique look that makes it quite distinct.

Eufloria is a strategy game that takes places across a twenty-five level campaign, where you are liberating enemy asteroids and joining up with friendly forces. There is a minor, forgettable storyline as you progress through the game. The game also features eight quite-difficult skirmish maps and a dark matter mode with tougher AI. The objectives usually involve defeating all the enemy units and colonizing each asteroid; rarely the game introduces defend (for a period of time) or counter-attack (decrease the enemy population) goals, so your overall strategy does not waver much. Eufloria uses procedural content, which produces semi-random maps for all of the campaign and skirmish levels: it’s a nice touch that increases replay value and also slightly alters your strategy in each game. In addition, you can create your own map layouts using LUA scripting, and there are already custom levels for Eufloria available for download. Things aren’t all peachy in the universe of Eufloria, however. You cannot save your progress in the middle of game and there is no scoring whatsoever, either offline or online. In addition, Eufloria lacks multiplayer, a terrible omission for a game style that would have been great for it. You can argue that most people play single player anyway, but having the option is what counts, and multiplayer is a glaring exclusion.

Eufloria uses a mouse-based interface that, because of its unconventional nature, has a bit of a learning curve. Once an asteroid is selected with a left click, you can left click and drag to another asteroid to send all units, or right click and drag to send one unit. Alternatively, you can left click and hold near the asteroid to select a proportion of the total units, let go, and then left click on a target destination. This mechanic is unusual, but useful once you are accustomed to it. You can also select only certain types of seedlings for specialized missions, like sending only speedy units on scouting assignments. I would like to have a box select like Galcon to make sending lots of units to a single destination easier. Further complicating things is the lack of a rally point option; this means you have to periodically select each and every one of your asteroids and send their units to the frontlines. Rally points would reduce tedium in the end-game, where you have five to fifteen (or more) asteroids but have to spend your time in the "back" sending troops up to the "front" instead of concentrating on where the action is. I just dislike having to do something manually that should be done automatically. The game speed is slow enough where sending up reinforcements doesn't negatively impact the gameplay, but it does add some extra clicks that are simply unnecessary. Do you know how annoying it is to individually click-and-hold on fifteen or twenty places every minute? You will once you play Eufloria! The interface does feature some great visual cues for attacks and tree types that are informative whether you are zoomed in or out. Team colors can be very similar, but there is an option to change it to more distinct selections.

Each asteroid has a specific rating in energy, strength, and speed, and it will produce seedlings with those attributes. New seedlings are grown by planting dyson trees, which cost ten seedlings to plant. You can also plant defensive trees for the same cost that launch mines automatically against incoming enemy units, useful for frontline or important asteroids. Eventually, mature trees will grow flowers that can be planted on asteroids for more powerful seedlings or laser mines that can be sent around the galaxy. All asteroids have a small (usually four) limit on how many trees can be planted, so expansion is a necessity. In addition, there is a limit on your expansion range dependent on the size of the asteroid, which makes for some nice choke points of intense conflict. In order to capture an enemy asteroid, you must destroy one tree so that seedlings can burrow to the core and sacrifice themselves to deplete the core energy to zero. The surviving trees are yours to keep, but you can’t destroy them and plant replacements if you don’t need so many defensive trees.

All combat is done automatically once you send your units in, so Eufloria is purely a strategic game. The AI does a decent, if disorganized, job attacking enemy planets. The rule of thumb seems to be to have double the number of units as the enemy, more if there are defensive trees. There is minor fog of war in the game: once you scout an asteroid once, you have a permanent view of it. I really like how Eufloria treats resource management, since seedlings are used both to attack and indirectly grow more seedlings. The AI, at least on later levels, is pretty good about attacking right after you invest in a non-refundable tree and don’t have enough seedlings to defend against an attack. The pace of the game is quite “relaxed” (some would say “boring”), more so in the beginning of a match as you are waiting for trees to grow more units. I would really like the ability to adjust the speed of the game at will. Once you have six or seven fully developed asteroids under your control, populations snowball quickly, but the beginning of a match involves too much waiting. Things get a lot more interesting with larger levels and multiple opponents. Of course, you're usually greatly outnumbered, so the increased difficulty isn't necessarily fair. It’s fairly easy to succeed in the game if you don’t expand too quickly (using up too many seedlings) or too slowly (not producing enough). Eufloria can get repetitive, as the objectives almost always involve exterminating all of the other players and there are few actual decisions to make along the way. That’s the trade-off for simplicity, I suppose.

Eufloria is a unique strategy game that's also fun to play. The game is easily approachable thanks to its simple mechanics and straightforward mouse-driven control scheme. The game has a good amount of content, with twenty-five procedurally generated levels that are slightly different each time you play, in addition to some skirmish offerings and a more difficult dark mode. The most significant blemish is the lack of multiplayer, especially because the design of the game really lends itself towards human competition. The objectives tend to get repetitive after a while, as the occasional defend mission or alternate goal is rarely used. Because of this, your strategy will remain the same, with slight tweaks based on what the AI is doing. Eufloria is interesting as a game because of its method of resource management: seedlings are used to attack, defend, and grow new seedlings, so you must carefully balance your units. The AI does a great job watching your moves and invading your empire right after you use seedlings for a new tree; the computer provides a good opponent, which almost makes up for the lack of multiplayer…almost. The minimal interface is good except for one glaring omission: rally points for new seedlings, as they would solve tedium in the end-game. Different asteroids produce different kinds of seedlings (energy, speed, and health) that can be used for varied purposes, which, along with the laser mines, enhanced trees, and randomized maps, can support different strategies each game. The map designs lead to some nice choke points and areas of intense conflict. However, Eufloria may be a bit too simple for its own good, as the game can get repetitive in the long term. The game really only has two important decisions: how many seedlings to use for trees and where (and when) to expand. This limited nature can result in monotony that more complex game do not suffer from. The relaxed pace of the game also cannot be adjusted, so you will typically have to sit around waiting for seedlings to develop; it helps that the game can be windowed so that you can do other things while waiting for populations to increase. In summary, Eufloria is like a slower paced Galcon, and its relaxed nature and unique simplified gameplay should be appealing to strategy fans.