Just an ant farm to mess with
You know what’s good? TFI Friday, RPS’s regular roundup of indie games by Alice B. It’s where I learned about another good thing: WorldBox, a god sim that entertained me (and my son) over the Christmas holidays.
Is it cheeky to write about a game that I learned about because RPS already wrote about it? No, says I, because more people deserve to know about this game.
I like god sims, but I don’t like the way they’re often structured. I want to be a god, which means I don’t want to have to unlock my powers, and I don’t want to have to gather wood for singing sailors. WorldBox seems to understands this and it’s more of a toybox than a game.
There are no objectives, just a generated pixel world with which to tinker. You have a suite of tools with which to change that world. In the first instance, that might mean dropping little people – humans, orcs, dwarves and elves – and leaving them to it. The pixel people will scurry around, chopping down trees, mining, building homes and farms. Eventually, they’ll form kingdoms, go to war with their neighbours, build boats and go colonising.
As an ant farm, it’s great. You can zoom all the way out so that the people are nothing more than dots, or zoom in and click on individual citizens to learn about them. Some like sushi, some have bloodlust, some have lost an eye. They grow old, they have babies, they declare themselves king and secede from their nation. It’s relatively light touch, but it’s enough to support the fantasy that this is a world living independently from you.
You can, of course, get more involved. You can paint new islands, change biomes, drop down fruit bushes and ore. You can pick an island and fill it with nothing but monkeys.
Or you can do what my son likes to do: wreak havoc. He has learned that I like it when he builds a nice world of happy little people and lots of cows. But when I look away, it’s instant carnage. As I said, it’s a toybox and toys are for smashing together to see who wins. My son will spawn 28 dragons, drop a volcano in the ocean, plop a sandworm below the elves. He’ll infect the dwarves with the plague, then set nanomachines to convert the world into grey goo.
The citizens aren’t helpless in the face of this onslaught. They’ll form a militia and fight back against the dragons, and give it a generation or two and people will develop an immunity to the plague. The grey goo… Yeah, there’s not much they can do about the grey goo. But if you spawn a giant crab, the only creature you can directly control, then detonate it, they’ll later build statues in its honour.
I’d probably had my fill of WorldBox after around 4 hours, but it was a happy four hours. My kid’s appetite for it is insatiable. It remains in early access and you can get it from Steam.