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Sunday, March 9, 2014

I've Been Banished!

I like Indie games. Well, I like the idea of Indie games at least. For those of you who may read this and not keep up with the gaming world, an Indie game is like an Indie movie: it's not produced by a big publisher. And though we need the big publishers because without them we don't get the really big productions like EVE Online or League of Legends (LoL,) we also need the Indy producers to fill in the gaps the big publishers are uninterested in filling.

For example, I cannot think of any big publishing house that would have underwrote Kerbal Space Program (KSP.) As much as I love rocket science, I have to face facts. I'm a weird geeky nerd type science junkie and most people aren't. The audience for a program like KSP is smaller than it would be for a game like LoL, and that means less earning potential. The big houses need that earning potential to support their place in the industry. That is why so many of them, not only in gaming but in movie and books, tend to stick with tried and true formulas for success. The result though can be a rather bland spectrum of entertainment that is more boring than it is wide. Indie games makes the entire landscape just a little less boring - or a lot less depending on how good they are.

In the past, the quality of Indy games has varied greatly with many not really living up to their promise. That has changed in the past decade - a lot. With the maturation of the Internet and the reach of Social Media, it is possible for Indie games to become very successful. Look at where KSP has gone. Even NASA wants in on it. So to say I am always on the look out for promising Indie games is an understatement. That said, they also have to appeal to my basic gaming desires. I like (mostly) strategy, simulation and role play type games. I'm not so keen on first person shooters, though given enough role play I'll cross that line. But rampage for the sake of rampage isn't really my style unless it's team based as is LoL. And even then the price of "death" can be no higher than going back to GO, but you can keep the $200. That's why I'm not keen on wiping out someones hard work in EVE Online, but I'll happily gank you in LoL. :-)

The last three paragraphs have all been a lead in to this review of my latest Indie purchase: Banished! (The exclamation is part of the title and should not be construed as emotional content. ;-) ) Banished! is a city simulation. It is a sandbox - a true sandbox. There is no multi-player mode. It is you versus the AI - a purely player versus environment game. And I mean that literally. Have a look at the welcome screen for yourself.

[caption id="attachment_1892" align="alignleft" width="800"]Welcome to Banished! Welcome to Banished![/caption]

It says,

"Welcome to Banished! In this game, you control a group of exiled travelers who decide to restart their lives in a new land. You'll have to help them survive."

There is no grandiose introduction movie as in the game Civilization. There is no scene of horrendous injustice as the armed ruffians of a tyrant run these poor people off their land and burn all their homes. The game starts with your band of travelers standing around in the wilderness one spring and you've got two seasons to make certain they don't starve or freeze to death in the coming winter. Rinse, lather and repeat over the next year.

That's what I'm talking about! (That exclamation can be interpreted as emotional content ;-) .) What could be better than starting with a few bedraggled peasants and a wagon full of goods? It's man and woman against the world. One could even say it's evolution in action.

So what does one get in this game? Well, to elaborate on the welcome message, you get a couple dozen homeless people and a wagon load of provisions. But rather than just dive in and get all these folks killed, I decided it would be prudent to at least run through the tutorial to get an idea on what I had available to me. It would also help me size up the game.

One of the problems I've seen with Indie games in the past is they are really a beta game (sometimes alpha) released as full featured when they are not. Over the years, Indie games have figured out this is a bad way to treat players and are now making certain people understand the game is an open beta, if that is the case. Banished! made no such claim that I could see. I expected it to be full featured with the necessary tools to complete a meaningful game. I am not disappointed. It certainly looks finished. As for the tutorials themselves, they were just right: neither too lengthy nor too short. There were four of them dealing with the major aspects of game play. They took me about 30 minutes to complete.

[caption id="attachment_1896" align="alignright" width="300"]Banished! Professions Banished! Professions[/caption]

The basic means to an end in the game is building shelter and gathering food. The exiles start by building houses using rock and timber they find around them. Any exile can make rock for foundations and timber for housing. These are not specialized skills. However, as your little village grows you will need to designate some of the villagers to handle specialized roles. The picture to the right lists of the various professions available. The tutorial concentrates on the ones you will really need just to stay alive that first winter, like the Woodcutter. The Woodcutter makes all the fire wood the villagers use to stay warm in their houses.

Another critical profession with its own building is the Blacksmith. Without a Blacksmith your villagers will not have the tools they need for anything beyond simple huts and a hunter/gather lifestyle of deer and fish and whatever they can gather from the woods. This may get them through a few years, but it is a hard life and your population will probably not grow - or at least that is what I took away from the tutorial. Another required specialist is the Tailor. How else do you expect the villagers to have warm cloths to see them through bad weather? The better the clothes the longer they can work outside. The longer they can work outside the more resources you'll have for survival.

[caption id="attachment_1899" align="alignleft" width="300"]Farms and Fields Farms and Fields[/caption]

Beyond these specialized village buildings, of which there are quite a few more than I've covered as you can see from the professions menu, there is also farming and ranching. There were three basic domesticated plants that I saw in the tutorial for farming: corn, wheat and potatoes. Does this imply crop rotation? I certainly hope so! For farm animals I saw sheep, cattle and chickens. You can also create orchards with apples and pears being available from the beginning. They will take a few years to mature.

[caption id="attachment_1900" align="alignright" width="300"]Trading Post Trading Post[/caption]

The tutorials plainly lead me to believe that there are other crops and animals available, but you will have to trade from them. The village is on a river and that means trade boats can dock once you build a Trading Post and assign villagers as Tradesmen. You can then place excess production into the trading post to barter for new and better things. It's a good way to acquire what you cannot already build for yourself... according to the tutorial.

Through the Trading Post I see a path to multi-player mode. It would be somewhat like Simcity 2013 where neighboring villages can trade their excess back and forth. That would be fine by me. What I would not want to see is some form of warfare built into the multi-player game as a requirement. That is not how I'd like to play this game. There are plenty of "kill them all" games on the market, and for a change I'd like one that's just about creating rather than creating and destroying. And no, that might not be as realistic but this is a game. It doesn't have to replicate every ugly feature of being human. Now does it?

After running through the tutorial and getting a feel for the game, I see promise in it. The graphics are adequate to the game play, and should run on systems without killer graphics cards as you can choose between DirectX 9.0c and DirectX 11 in the video options with low, medium and high texture settings available. I also see enough complexity and nuance in how various professions interact that it'll keep thinks interesting. I think this is another sandbox simulation I could sink hours into, and will do starting right after I publish this initial review. LOL After I get a dozen or so hours into it I'll follow this up with a post on how the game AI actually performs.

Banished! by Shining Rock Software LLC is available for $19.99 through the Steam Store. It has integrated Steam Achievements for comparing to your friends and others. It runs on Microsoft Windows and requires 250 megabytes of disk space. Full system requirements are listed on the Steam Store page. You can also get a non-DRM 105 megabyte version through the Shining Rock Software web page. The system requirements are the same. If you like supporting Indie developers as much as I do, give it a try. Or if you prefer, you can wait until I weigh in on the game AI. Unfortunately, there is no demo mode, so you'll have to go all in to try it. But please had this to your pros for supporting this Indie game,

- Can I make videos of Banished and put them on YouTube and Twitch? Can I monetize the videos?

- Yes. Shining Rock Software gives permission for the players of Banished to make videos of gameplay and publish them to YouTube, Twitch.TV or other similar video services. You are free to monetize the videos through partner programs that allow advertisements.

That's from the FAQ on the developer's web site. When was the last time you saw a big publishing house say something like that? It's one of the reasons I love Indie.


  1. This is oddly reminiscent of Dwarf Fortress, but with a better interface and maybe less going on overall. That may actually be a good thing. Would you say that is a fair comparison?

  2. I've never personally played Dwarf Fortress, but from what I've seen of it being played I'd say there are definite similarities. Those would be along the lines of resource acquisition and building. But whereas the Dwarves must face Goblin attacks and possibly unleashed Demons as their primary adversaries, in Banished it is starvation and disease that will kill off the population. There is no warfare or weapons other than hunting bows in Banished and the worst thing other humans will do to your village is give it a devastating plague. That seems like it might be bad enough. I noted with a chuckle that one of the Steam Achievements is called Tombstone. It is unlocked after you fill a graveyard with 400 graves.


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