Thursday, December 27, 2012

UnReal World

Note that this character is looking northwest, and he doesn't have eyes in the back of his head. :)  (That's why half the screen is grayed out.)

Here's an interesting article at The Escapist about UnReal World and its Finnish developer, Sami Maaranen, who's been working on the game for 20 years:
If it took God six days to build the world, then indie developer Sami Maaranen is taking it a little slower. More than 20 years slower, to be exact. That's how long Maaranen has been working on UnReal World.

In 1992, the Finnish developer, then just 17 years old, released version 1.00 of the tough survival roguelike that's developed a cult following over the years. The game is a wilderness survival sim/ roguelike based in Finland during the late Iron Age with a deep focus on player freedom. It pits the player as a lone individual against the rugged wilderness and dangers of nature.

I mentioned this game last spring, when I stumbled across a YouTube Let's Play of it, but I haven't played it myself for three years (version 3.13, and he's just released 3.15). It's a great game, it really is, and I definitely plan to play it again, when I can find the time.

But it's also the kind of game you might expect from a lone developer working on his own vision for twenty years. I mean, you're not going to have AAA graphics, so if that really matters to you, forget it. For me, the graphics in that screenshot above are plenty good enough, as long as the gameplay is there - and it is.

The game is not exactly user-friendly, either. I highly recommend that you check out the wiki, especially the beginner guides. But it's really different, and really neat. Plus, you can play the demo for free, or pay the developer just $3 for the current version of the game. At that price, it's a steal!

UnReal World is a turn-based survival simulation set in Iron Age Finland, and the goal is simply to survive. You can start with nothing, if you wish, but even the easier starts aren't actually easy. It's hard just to get enough food to stay alive, especially right at the beginning.

If you start in the spring, you'll have longer to prepare for winter, when things get really tough. But in early spring, the rivers are still frozen, and you can easily starve to death or freeze. Hunting is particularly difficult, so it's helpful to live alongside a river, where you can fish.

Still, using a fishing rod is normally a slow battle with starvation, since it's hard to get enough food to let you do anything else but fish. Nets are critical, since you can set them and come back later (but don't wait too long, or you'll find a lot of dead and rotting fish). And when you do get a stockpile of food, you have to worry about it spoiling.

Most likely, your character will die rather quickly in your first attempt to play UnReal World. No problem. The world is randomized on every play. And if surviving wasn't a challenge, there wouldn't be any point to it. Well, I guess there's surviving and there's also building.

The really neat thing about the game is that you can build almost everything you need, including tools (although you get better tools, iron tools, through trading with villagers). The screenshot above shows a character building a shelter. There are different ways to do that, but this is a log shelter (most of the gameworld is heavily forested).

Of course, I tend to be a builder in games anyway, when I can, so I find this incredibly satisfying. It's not just that you can build things, but that it makes sense how you build things, too. But you have to watch your food and water, and you have to build a fire when you get cold. There are many, many ways to die in this game.

UnReal World is like Dwarf Fortress, in that there's no way to win the game, but many different ways to lose. You play until your character dies, or until you decide to create a new character and start all over. As I say, a new world is created each time.

And everything is always entirely up to you. One of the reasons I love this game is because there's no set story. Rather, you create your own story as you play the game. It's a lot like Dwarf Fortress in that respect, too. Every play is different, because every play is a separate story. It's only indie game developers who are doing that kind of thing, which is why I love them so.

I mentioned that video Let's Play I discovered last spring. Here's another, which was recommended on the UnReal World homepage. Note that he shows you an established character at the beginning of the first video, and then he walks you through purchasing the game and creating a new character. I didn't watch much of it, but it looks like good stuff. It should give you a good idea of the game, at least.

But if that doesn't appeal to you, here's Jef Major, one of my favorite YouTube gamers, with an eleven hour video play of UnReal World - all on one video (at Twitch TV)! No, I haven't watched that - I want to actually play games - but if you've got eleven hours to kill, I'm sure it would be very entertaining. (I did watch a little of it. Note that it starts at about the three and a half minute mark, and it might be useful to watch the first part, at least.)

UnReal World doesn't seem to be very well known, despite being around for twenty years or so. I hope that article at The Escapist changes that. This is a really fun game, and for $3, how can you go wrong?

I tend to play it the same way I do Dwarf Fortress - I play it obsessively for awhile, then I put it down for a year or so. Well, as I mentioned above, it's been three years this time - and two new versions have been released - so I really wonder what's different. I need to check it out again, I guess.

But in the meantime, if you try it, let me know how it goes. Hearing stories of the gameplay in UnReal World is almost as much fun as playing the game myself. :)

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