Hey everyone, mCharger here. So I might have a problem.
If you aren’t familiar and properly addicted like I am, RimWorld released on Steam Early Access July 15th, and is essentially a sci-fi Dwarf Fortress where you control a “colony” of people who crash land on a procedurally generated planet. It’s a big game, with tons of content and mod support and has been in development since 2013, and while it’s very different from Stonehearth, I think it shares some common ground in terms of mechanics and gameplay. Since I’ve already written something similar to this post about Timber & Stone (RIP) and I figured I’d spend at least one night explaining what I think Stonehearth can learn from RimWorld.
Theme & Narrative
Well, let me start out with the underlining theme and narrative. I’m assuming most of you haven’t played or even heard of RimWorld, so let me start out with this warning; RimWorld is very different from Stonehearth.
RimWorld likes to call itself a “colony sim driven by an intelligent AI storyteller,” and I really want to emphasize the storytelling part. I have so many great stories from this game; I tell them to some of my non-gamer coworkers and they genuinely enjoy them to the point where one asked me today what new happened in “my game last night” and asked me for a health update on “Kimmy”, my favorite colonist who recently lost her hand to friendly fire. The RimWorld storytelling (or narrative) is great, but it’s great because it’s really emotional.
I originally was going to say that RimWorld’s theme and narrative are dark. You’re survivors from a plane crash, Lost style, so things are about to get ugly pretty much the second you land on the planet. As the player, you can do stuff that usually makes headline news or was a hot political issue in the 1800’s. Cannibalism, slavery, harvesting organs, imprisonment, mental illness, and dealing with indigenous tribal peoples who don’t like you are all part of the game. The random storytelling and mechanics of the game can put you in some sticky situations, and it can be pretty grim. I’ve had a situation where I had two critically wounded colonists, with only one able bodied colonist nearby to rescue them, and enemies coming straight at me so I had to pick which one to rescue and one to leave to be captured and sold into slavery. As I watched my colonist get dragged away by pirates, I found myself really upset, and I had to put the game down for a little bit. Besides the combat mechanics, there are tons of other really dark aspects to the game. Your colonists can have mental illnesses and suffer breakdowns where they unintentionally harm themselves or others, and your characters can build relationships only to watch them fall to pieces when a marriage proposal goes wrong or someone is horribly scarred in battle and the other party suddenly finds them ugly. There are absolutely no “non-lethal” weapons in the game, so if you find yourself having to stop one of your pyromaniac colonists from burning down one of your village, your only options are to shoot or stab them until they stop, and hopefully not kill them in the process.
But the thing is, RimWorld also has a lot of really happy and satisfying elements to it. Your colonists scratch a living out of a crash site, build a new home from almost nothing, survive hardships together, form bonds, can tame and train helpful animals, and can even get married and throw a celebration. By being a good player, you can help a colonist with a missing leg by pooling your resources and giving them a new bionic leg, and can do really good things like purchasing slaves from slavers just to set them free. Simple acts of kindness like healing a traveling merchant from a snake bite are part of the game’s mechanics, and if you want to be a “good Samaritan” it’s fairly straight forward, although a bit more difficult than being a cold-hearted, pragmatic ruler. RimWorld has a lot wiggle room between the ups and downs in the mechanics-driven narrative, and that is definitely one of the reasons why I like it so much.
Stonehearth, only the other hand is more of a gradual investment of time and energy. It’s a building game. I wouldn’t consider Stonehearth to be an emotional game, to me it’s always been more about building and leveling up your town than trying to survive in a hostile environment. There is considerably less death in Stonehearth (well, excluding the Goblins.) It’s not unheard of a village having 40 Hearthlings and having zero combat casualties on the way there, but in RimWorld on pretty much any difficulty that’d be nearly impossible. Hell, my first colony on RimWorld had nearly 100 graves surrounding it filled with raiders, tribals, and the occasional colonist who died in a firefight, were struck by disease, or had been involved in a terrible hunting accident involving an ostrich. I would show a picture, but my second colony had a cremation oven, so there are no graves around it, and I think it says a lot about RimWorld’s theme that the developer made a cremation oven a part of the game.
Stonehearth’s narrative and themes lean more towards a gradual improvement of your town’s condition and quality of life; your settlers start with relatively little but through hard work and dedication can build themselves something to be proud of. RimWorld’s narrative is great ups and downs, huge victories and soul-crushing defeats, while Stonehearth’s is about the small victories building up into something grand that you can share with others.
I’d get more into my thoughts on how Stonehearth has more of a linear narrative but I’m not going to go there because RimWorld has a lot more of a random element to it than Stonehearth, and in this regard it’s unfair to compare apples to oranges. Both games are designed with their narratives and themes in mind, and I don’t think Stonehearth’s is really supposed to be any different from what I just described above. Stonehearth also has a lot less of the story elements in the game yet since we only have a handful of campaigns, and the ones we do have a very different from RimWorld’s “event” system where seemingly random events tie together to make a story. Stonehearth’s events and campaigns might one day become more randomized, throwing challenges at the players as a way of testing their skill at the game, but right now it’s not there yet and I haven’t heard or seen any of Team Radiant’s plans regarding this kind of stuff.
Ah combat. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you probably know that I love the smell of napalm in the morning. I already have much to say about combat in Stonehearth, (insert shameless plug My thoughts on adding depth and tactical decision making to combat) and I really love it in RimWorld. It does combat pretty well, and has a pretty simple to learn, difficult to master progression. There’s only a handful of types of weapons, all have advantages and disadvantages, everything is context based, and the battle is really won or lost by the way you plan beforehand and the execution of your plan.
You can set yourself up for success by building good defenses and setting up sandbags for your colonists to fight behind, building auto-turrets, and even can lay IED landmines or build a spot to set up a mortar for raining artillery on your enemies. But that’s not the cool thing, since RimWorld essentially switches from being a colony sim to a tactics simulator the second you want it to. You can “draft” any colonist and instantly manually control them to do combat tasks including shooting, moving, rescuing fallen comrades, capturing enemies, or manning mortars or gun emplacements. Your colonists don’t really automatically fight without you telling them to, so if you build a good enough turret network you can actually go through an entire raid without drafting any colonists, but most likely you will want to anyways because its loads of fun and your colonists are far better fighters than the turrets ever will be. You can make small squads on the fly by grabbing a few colonists and have them go a separate direction than the rest of the colonists, or if you are like me, have all your melee-equipped guys act as a sort of reserve, using them as combat medics or the pursuing force trying to capture retreating enemies. I once performed a mock battle drill where I had my whole colony form up like a battle was approaching while friendly traders came in, just to make sure I had enough good firing positions for everyone and to see how long it’d take them to get set up.
The best combat mechanic in RimWorld is that your colonists usually are not instantly killed by most weaponry. They are much more likely to “downed” by enemy fire than just straight up killed. There’s a level of health (not sure on the specifics) between them being able to stand and fight and them being dead, and it’s in this health range where they are incapable of moving and fighting but are very much alive. During the “downed” state enemies can capture your colonists, or they can be killed by any continuing fire or by simply bleeding out. You can have your soldiers rescue any colonist who has been downed and send them to a bed to be healed by a doctor, but doing so takes the person doing the rescuing out of the fight and puts them at risk of being shot themselves, sometimes making it worthwhile to wait until the fighting is over to rescue the wounded. This adds a ton of depth to the game, and I think this one feature makes RimWorld’s combat both unique and fun. There is no dedicated medic class, and it gives it more of that “oh ****, Johnny is down!” feel every time because it’s a race against the clock to get Johnny immediate medical care or he might not make it. I had a colonist who I really should rename to Forrest Gump because he was an absolutely terrible fighter but was really fast and I would use him to ferry my wounded to the hospital during particularly bad fights. The downed state also allows you a chance of redemption for anytime you may make a mistake or the enemy gets a lucky shot in, and since it works both ways it ends up being pretty fair. That simple mechanic is included in most of my “top ten” RimWorld moments, because it really adds a lot to the combat and game as a whole.
What’s also really cool about RimWorld’s combat is the cover system. RimWorld is a top-down 2D game, so every object has an implied “cover” stat that determines how effectively it can be used as cover for combat. Sandbags and walls are some of the best cover, and your colonists can use well-designed walls and sandbag layouts to make really effective pillboxes and fighting positions, and it’s pretty cool that a game rewards basic knowledge of modern tactics.
A big thing I’d like to see Stonehearth add is the “downed” state to soldiers. In real life, most combat casualties are not instantaneous, and in medieval & ancient war, you were much more likely be wounded than killed, and I think it really adds to the drama of combat. If your knight is wounded to the point where they can’t fight anymore, your footmen should have to respond by changing their current action to respond to your knight going down. Make it easier for your fighters to become wounded enough to be “downed” and tie their recovery into the herbalist class. Make Stonehearth players feel the rush as that single brave Hearthling makes a mad dash across a field as arrows close in to save their buddy from an Orc’s coup de grace. It fits in really well with RimWorld’s deep medical mechanics, but it also really could work well with Stonehearth’s current classes and healing. It’s not hard to imagine a badly wounded soldier being carried by his buddy to the herbalist to be healed, while any minor cuts and bruises are healed by the cleric on the field. It also would prevent your soldiers from chashing a fleeing enemy across a field who has a meagre amount of health left, since they’d be incapacitated.
I’d say the draft feature is also one of my favorite parts of RimWorld’s combat. RimWorld is a class-less game, and Stonehearth definitely is not, but I think it’d be interesting if you could essentially assign all of your Hearthlings both a combat and professional class, with no penalty for switching between those two. I want my Smith to also be a Footmen, and my Trapper to also be an Archer, because in reality if a horde of zombies, goblins, orcs, or Cthulhu Titan monsters came to my village I really hope more than just the three professional soldiers we pay to protect the town and do nothing else would help fight them off. It also helps add drama to the combat. It’s a freaking tragedy in RimWorld if you lose your best cook, crafter, or doctor in a firefight. I’ve had a colony completely collapse into basically anarchy because nobody could cook at all after my professional chef took a stray bullet to the face and we sent him to the great big kitchen in the sky. In Stonehearth, losing a level 6 Smith in a fight would be pretty bad, and would be a game-changing event that makes you refocus your efforts while you lick your wounds. I also think it could add more to the late game; I mean honestly I’ve never really done much with my crafters after they hit level 6, because there is very little point to further train them and by then I really only need them for acquiring more wealth. Taking them out on some combat patrols to level them up so they aren’t completely hopeless when the Orcs come would be a good way to both increase their usage and allow you to accomplish more work with less Hearthlings.
Stonehearth really should also take a look at the cover system of RimWorld. I know that medieval fantasy doesn’t have guns and there is no chance of my Hearthlings leaning around a corner to get a shot off, but that doesn’t mean there should be no advantage to having good defenses. Archers could get a defensive bonus when standing behind parapets and crenellations on top of walls, and tying in the vertically of a wall into archery would be a really good way to incentivize building walls and putting ramparts on top of them for Stonehearth players. It doesn’t need to be some crazy algorithm, I’d argue a range/defense bonus to the archer on the wall and a range/attack debuff to the archer shooting at the wall would be plenty to justify good castle design. Traps and turrets are already in the game, but I think they’d fit better with the theme if they actually tied into your town’s overall defensive network. Having turrets shoot a little further the higher they were from the target could spur some very creative designs, and I can imagine some players (or at least me) building a tower with turrets on top with traps lining the stairs that could fend off a large number of enemies with little input from the player.
Ugh. If there’s one deeply fatal flaw with RimWorld, it’s the micromanagement and some of the UI elements. Don’t get me wrong, it’s got a great AI that really guides the player’s colonists in the right direction, there are mods that really help out with it, and it’s a huge leap forward from Dwarf Fortress which is completely unplayable by most standards due to its UI. But menus man, look at these menus. I’m 100 hours in and I still barely understand these and haven’t really wanted to learn much more.
That’s how you manage who does what. Or who can do what. Or who is SUPPOSED to do what, but my colonists really don’t seem to care, and treat them as suggestions more than rules. I flipped my keyboard in rage one time Ramon, a guy with level 6 medicine and 0 surgical experience tried to preform brain surgery on one of my colonists instead of Kimmy, my level 15 medicine who had several surgeries under her belt and at one point had performed two heart transplants in one day. I checked on Kimmy, and she was sweeping the patio, while my poor colonist’s brain implant was destroyed and he lost a good 20% of brain function until I could scrounge the funds to buy another. I’ve had people who prefer melee weapons over rifles go hunt grizzly bears while my elite sniper hunted a rabbit nearly and watched the poor sword wielder get mauled, and if you don’t pause the game every 2-3 seconds during a fight you are almost guaranteed to suffer friendly fire casualties. I mean I really like the fact that friendly fire is possible, but it’s frustrating when you are more worried about your own colonists accidently killing each other in battle than the enemy.
Crafting is also a pain in the rear in RimWorld when compared to Stonehearth. You have to navigate through a sort of unintuitive menu to craft anything, all settings are to a single workbench only, and you have to fiddle with a lot of settings to make sure your crafted good is made of the material you want. If you want your cooks to keep 100 simple meals cooked and you have 4 stovetops, you need to set that bill up four times. Stonehearth’s universal crafting menu is brilliant in comparison, and is much easier to use and master.
Stonehearth’s classes really prevent most of the micromanagement problems. You won’t have a guy untrained in farming attempting to harvest delicate mushrooms and ruining the whole crop whenever only designated farmers can farm, and there is no way your blacksmith is going to skip out on working the forge to sow some seeds, so classes are a good choice in Stonehearth. It’s a lot easier and simpler to make pre-set classes where a person masters a role and professionally only does that one thing, and realistically that’s how most jobs work anyways. I’d argue that RimWorld actually should implement some sort of optional “pre-sets” in terms of setting up the ways colonists work, but most veteran RimWorld players would probably consider it hand-holding or a fluff feature that isn’t an important part of the experience.
All in all, I think Stonehearth’s AI is better at handling the day-to-day activities of running a colony/small town. RimWorld does not have any sort of storage container system where items can really be stored in anything beyond stockpiles (imagine Stonehearth pre-Alpha 11), and while there are mods that handle that issue (I use two of them now), it’s fairly difficult to keep up with the massive amount of space needed to store any amount of material or good. Speaking of storage, there is one tiny thing I wish Stonehearth would take away from RimWorld’s stockpile system.
That little button made my life so much easier. I mean it really is one of those brilliant “wow, this is a problem so here is an incredibly simple solution.” All it does is copy’s the selected stockpile’s storage settings (restrictions based on items/quality, etc) and allows you to paste it somewhere else. It’s super nice, saves a ton of time, and makes setting up stockpiles much better. Another neat shortcut I used a lot is if you double click any particular item, it will select every single of that type of item in the view of your screen, which can be very helpful if you want to uninstall all the chairs at your dining table. Tiny user-friendly features such as those can really speed up some of the more boring aspects of building and designing, and I know Team Radiant is interested in finding user-friendly ideas because they have been improving the build editor so much lately.
Overall, I think Stonehearth’s biggest takeaways from RimWorld would be in the combat department. I know Stonehearth is going to be focusing more on the building aspects, but after playing RimWorld I found a lot of satisfaction with its combat mechanics. It had deep combat, but it wasn’t overwhelming where you had to learn hundreds of weapons and tons of commands and what-not; all you really needed to know was that you could build defenses, and you could move your troops into whatever position you wanted to optimize their firepower. The “downed” state and rescue mechanics gave combat that tension and drama needed to make it exciting, and the cover system really emphasized smart defensive play. I personally liked the fact that your colonists all could be drafted at a moment’s notice and directly commanded, allowing the player to take a “hands-on” approach when dealing with danger.
Overall though, I think Stonehearth and RimWorld fundamentally different, and I won’t suggest Stonehearth really try and compare itself too much to RimWorld. Both are great games in their own right, and I am really glad I get to enjoy both whenever I want.
So, with my thoughts complete, what are yours? I’d really like to hear from people who both have and have not tried RimWorld yet, so please throw your two cents into the discussion!