Space Colony

Space Colony

Written by Charles Husemann on 12/22/2003 for PC  

Maxis has made a ton of money over the last few years with their SimCity and Sims franchises (the fact that there are well over six gajillion expansion packs for the Sims illustrates this) so you had to figure it was just a matter of time before someone took the concepts and ran with them. This is exactly what the folks at FireFly Studios have done. They’ve blended concepts from The Sims and SimCity along with some new concepts, tossed in a bit of British humor for spice, and voila you have Space Colony.

Space Colony takes place in the future where you represent Blackwater Industries, a semi-stereotypical conglomerate that is looking to make money in the space business. This is done by setting up mining or tourist operations on planets. It’s your job to setup shop on the planet and get things running (i.e. all of the grunt work). This involves finding items to mine, setting up the mining equipment, controlling the indigenous populations of the planets, and building the infrastructure to attract tourists. Sounds simple right? Well, the folks at Firefly have added the challenge of having to manage the workers.

Each planet will require you to manage the people who are working on your colony. In most SimCity type games, you don’t have to deal with the actual workers who build and maintain the place. They are simple, well-balanced people who do their jobs and go home. You just don’t have to deal with them. This is not the case in Space Colony as the HR department of Blackwater Industries seems to be rather erratic in how they hire people. Space Colony forces you to manage the needs and wants of a rather diverse crew of people and I have to hand it to Firefly for creating such a diverse group of personalities to deal with.

Each colonist has a skill set that allows them to operate the equipment in the colony. These skills are rated as to how well they can perform that function. Colonists can learn new skills later on in the game but it requires additional time and money to accomplish this. This skill mix is critical to ensure that you are using each colonist effectively.

Along with the skills, each colonist has a unique set of wants and needs (socialization, food, sleep etc). These impact how happy they are and you want happy workers since happy workers are better and harder workers (I would note that this is a pretty basic management concept but it’s amazing how many companies fail to grasp that concept). Unlike real life, you can easily see what’s on each workers mind and what they need to make them happy by pulling up their status screen. Workers have a clock icon in their profile, which shows their workday in the form of an analog clock icon. The happier they are, the longer the workday. Firefly has also included a base level view so you can quickly see which of your workers is happy and which ones are not. How you react to these situations is the real meat of the game, as what may be good for one worker may not work for the next.Each colony starts out with a bridge and one…possibly two sub-modules on the planet. It’s up to you to staff the bridge so that someone is manning the energy and oxygen collection systems. This is important as you need energy to power the various components of the colony and the inhabitants need oxygen to breathe (although you may sometimes want to deny them the need when they act up). There is also a medical station that preps the colony’s medical bays in case one of your colonists has an accident or catches a disease of some sort. Each colonist can be assigned a primary and a secondary task. This is pretty helpful if you have one colonist who is strong in multiple areas and allows you to create overlapping assignments. This is helpful when you have minor tasks like cleaning up the base that don’t need to be constantly performed.

Once you have your station up and running, you now have to explore the planet for resources. You explore the planet by placing light beacons around your base. Each beacon reveals a bit of the map so you will have to chain them together to get a full picture of what is around your base. I thought this was a good idea since you can quickly explore the boundaries of the map without having to send one of your colonists out (they aren’t exactly quick in the space suits). Once you have located resources, you will need to setup mining rigs specific to that resource. The final step is to staff the mining resource with one of your colonists or an android. Remember those skills I talked about before? Well, this is where they come in to play, as you will need to make sure you have someone on staff that knows how to operate the equipment in order to utilize that expensive mining rig you just purchased. Once you’ve got everything up and resources flow into the base, life is good.

Space Colony provides users with three different colony building modes. There is a Sandbox mode where players start with a bare planet and can build whatever base they want to. The single player mode has you following the career of Venus Jones as she explores the galaxy for Blackwater Industries. The final mode is the galaxy mode which has you working as an independent contractor building colonies for spec. The galaxy mode has three sub-modes: economic, military, and tourist; so you have some choice in how you want to conquer the galaxy. The three modes also guarantee that you won’t run out of things to do any time soon. When you finally get done with those modes, you can use the content creation tools to build your own campaigns and missions. To say that you get your money’s worth is an understatement.

The graphics in Space Colony are solid and have a nice, fun feel to them. The artists at Firefly did a great job of creating a bright world for your colonists to live in. There are a lot of cool little details in the game (each colonist has their own bed spread) and the attention to detail is excellent. The animations are also pretty solid for the genre.
There are some decent CGI sequences between missions but they aren’t going to cause Blizzard to lose any sleep.

The sound is one of the best and worst parts of the game. The game features a lot of great sounds, from the voices of the characters to the exceedingly good soundtrack. If you don’t dig the soundtrack, then you can copy your MP3 files over to the directory where you installed the game and play your own tunes. This is a cool feature but it would have been nice to have it pick up files from an existing MP3 directory so you don’t need multiple copies of a file. You also have to be impressed that the game features over 20,000 lines of spoken dialog. The big problem I had with the sound is that they will sometimes play over each other so you end up getting a barrage of noise when a lot of things are happening at once. What makes matters worse is that I couldn’t find a log of all of the events to see a list of the items that were coming up. This created some frustration as important notifications were overridden by trivial notifications.

The game does a nice job of breaking you in with a short tutorial and the story mode. With a game this deep, you have to introduce new concepts to the user without overloading them. The game does an excellent job of this by introducing a new concept and then having you implement it and then re-use those skills in the next mission until you’re comfortable with them.

The game is chock full of personality and life. Firefly has done an outstanding job of pushing as much life and character into the game as possible. The humor has a distinctive British flair to it so you might not get all of the jokes (I only got them due to the fact I’m subjected to a lot of BBC America by the girlfriend).

My biggest problem with Space Colony is that you really have to micromanage everything in the game. Some people are going to like this but for me it was a pain in the ass. The more colonists you have the more you have to manage and this is doubly true when you get to the more mentally unstable colonists. Combine this with the audio chaos and it can be a bit overwhelming. Some people are going to really like this but I found it to be a bit off-putting.

If you like the Sims and Sim City, then this is your game of the year. If you don’t, then you might want to pass on this one. One thing is for sure, the folks at Firefly studios have put together a fun vibrant environment.
If you’re a Sims or SimCity fan, then you will dig this game. If not, then you may want to look elsewhere.

Rating: 8.3 Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Hi, my name is Charles Husemann and I've been gaming for longer than I care to admit. For me it's always been about competing and a burning off stress. It started off simply enough with Choplifter and Lode Runner on the Apple //e, then it was the curse of Tank and Yars Revenge on the 2600. The addiction subsided somewhat until I went to college where dramatic decreases in my GPA could be traced to the release of X:Com and Doom.   I have been a Microsoft Xbox MVP since 2009.
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