Review: Rymdkapsel31 Jul 2013 0
Released 01 Aug 2013
Pull out Tangerine Dream's 1974 Phaedra LP, place it on the turntable, put on some nice ear encompassing headphones, and space out to the slow strategies of Rymdkapsel.
On first load it's easy to see why Martin Jonasson's creation was given an honourary nod for design in the 2013 IGF. The isometric space station that you're tasked to build floats above a slowly rotating star field in full flat shaded glory. A small population of busy-bodied white rectangles carry geometric resources to construction site outlines of single purpose rooms. The colours are bright and make it easy to visualize how everything is pieced together and how well they're functioning. On the bottom is a menu that shows what all your minions are doing and allows you to assign them a task, and on the top are the rooms you can build and how much they cost. A red progress bar fills ominously.
The beauty in this simplicity is in how much information it conveys and how much utility it gives without any secondary menus. Everything you need to know or do is present on screen. There isn't a single superfluous pixel and it looks beautiful because of it, like the interior map for the most modernist of shopping malls. In space. It fits in with the upcoming "post-texture" iOS UI era while remaining more utilitarian than trendy. This shopping mall clearly has an Apple store.
Yet for all its seeming clarity, Rymdkapsel is hard to accurately describe without resorting to numerous strained comparisons to other games: "It's like SimCity crossed with an RTS tower-defense game with a little bit of Tetris. In space". You build rooms with specific functions connected via corridors, as per a city building game. You have to manage your units so that you can maximize resource production and productivity, as per an RTS. You get attacked by ever more frequent and populous waves of enemies as per a tower-defense game. And everything you build has to fit together using a random series of Tetris shaped rooms because why the hell not? It's a testament to its subtractive design that something so hard to parse, in text, feels so straightforward in-game.
It sounds hectic but your minions aren't exactly in a rush to do their jobs. Even with an attack imminent those tasked to their battle stations walk there with the same slow gait as those carrying sludge to the kitchen. They have no urgency to speak of -- maybe they're unionized? -- and with your interactions with them limited to nothing more than a general assignment of jobs you should expect waiting. They work at their own pace. You're just along for the slow ride.
That's why Rymdkapsel is self-described as a "meditative" strategy game; patience is essential. There are few immediate gratifications in its system. Everything else is planning and watching. To minimize the waiting (or to succeed at its three main missions) it's imperative to build a very efficient arrangement of rooms. Like Tetris, this can be difficult if all the game provides are ill-fitting pieces. Efficiency speeds up construction and helps to guide the, at times, rather dim minions. Their workplace self-management is probably the most frustrating thing here and although you can prioritize a room, that too seems to be more of a suggestion than an imperative for those little white rectangles. No, I'm sure they're unionized.
It's all futile in the end anyway so there's no point in stressing about it. The resources are finite, the waves of attackers are ever more frequent, and the pace of worker creation just can't keep up with that ominous progress bar. Like a mandala built in sand, doomed to be brushed away, the experience of getting there is the end goal in itself. There are those aforementioned missions with achievements, to give an air of progress, but they're very much in the background. It is easy to start a game and not notice an hour go by. There is odd comfort in watching these little guys do their medial jobs while commuting to your own.
The appeal of this depends on what you did with that Phaedra LP. If before the needle reached the centre you said "screw this" and put on a Queen or ELO LP in its stead, Rymdkapsel might be best substituted with a more energetic RTS. If, however, the grooves on that vinyl start getting worn out and the corners of the sleeve all bent and you keep those albums on and loop that record non-stop while dreaming of far-out stars then, yeah, alright man, build that space station.