The term ‘emergent gameplay’ tends to have a bit of a (probably justified) negative connotation to it. The main reason for this is a certain game developer by the name of Peter Molyneux, who has a reputation for promising a fifteen course banquet, only to deliver a takeaway from the local kebab shop, and he lost half of your order en-route to your house. ‘Emergent’ was one of his favourite buzzwords for the longest time.
But while Molyneux has certainly sullied the term itself, it’s still a valid descriptor for a particular type of game. And one of those particular types of game just so happens to Include the title I’m going to talk about today: Rimworld. This is a colony management sim and story generator, the main draw of which is seeing how long you last until the sadistic storyteller manages to kill you.
In reality, once you know how the game works, it’s relatively easy to stay alive and keep a prosperous colony up and running, even on the hardest difficulty, but as a newbie? Oh boy, you’ll die a lot. And it’ll be fun! Or else. Rimworld is one of my all-time favourite games, and a large part of why is because it falls into the category of emergent gameplay/story, allowing for all kinds of crazy situations to develop as a natural result of how the various systems interact with each other.
The procedural events of the game end up telling weird and wonderful stories of your characters and their various triumphs and failures, and I felt like sharing one of my earliest stories with this astoundingly awesome game. Pretty sure I was only in my first ten or so hours with the game (I’ve had a good 500+ now), so this was all new to me and kind of blew my mind with how everything just fell into place, with one event following another in a way that almost felt like it had been written for maximum drama by an actual author.
Of course, if you’ve played Dwarf Fortress none of this will be especially new to you, but I’ve not played that game. Mostly because I’m more into sci-fi for games like this, and therefore Rimworld just tickles my fancy in a way Dwarf Fortress doesn’t. Anyway, the story starts in a relatively new colony I was playing…
A couple of in-game weeks into one of my first runs, I had a functional colony set up and was doing okay. Few minor mishaps here and there, an accidental fire as I shot a boomrat a little too close to the base, a bout of sickness, a few minor injuries during a small raid. Nothing too major.
Then we had a drop pod crash to the north of the base, an escape pod of some sort. Inside was an elderly woman in her late 60s. Now, this was before I learned that old people in Rimworld are more a liability than anything, and started discriminating and being an ageist asshole, so of course my slightly less cynical self sent someone out to rescue her.
Back at base, we healed her up and she was eventually well enough to join the colony and go to work around the place. Helping out in whatever ways she could, we discovered that she was a really good hunter. Great! Off she went, hunting deer and the occasional rabbit.
Some time passed and soon I noticed that her performance was dropping rapidly. Okay, she’s old, so I guess that’s to be expected, but just in case I checked her over. I was still new to the game at the time and had barely messed with the health tab of my pawns. Turned out, my elderly trooper had an addiction to Go-Juice, a performance enhancing drug I hadn’t come across before that point.
Well all righty then, lesson learned, always check a colonist’s health tab before recruiting them. No problem, we’ll just have to help her through the withdrawal. Not like we had any Go-Juice for her to take, so it was cold turkey time. Over the next two seasons (30 in-game days, 15 per season) she suffered like crazy, had multiple mental breaks, wandered around in a daze, and eventually went berserk. The berserk state happened more than once, and each time I had to knock her out and take her to the med bay.
Eventually, after much heartache and pain, she got over her addiction and finally went back to work doing what she did best; hunting like a goddamn terminator with an absolute hatred of all things fluffy and cute. She’d never really got along with the others in the colony, not least I imagine because of the withdrawal symptoms making her someone no one else wanted to deal with. But she had one good friend there, the younger woman who had originally rescued her from the escape pod.
Things went well for a time, and I was super pleased at the outcome of this little series of events. My perseverance had paid off, and I had a productive member of the community who was keeping us all fed on delicious animal flesh, not to mention the nice new clothes we all had from the various leathers.
I could’ve euthanised her after that first psychotic break. I could’ve simply left her to die to the elements instead of rescuing her. I could’ve been a cold-hearted bastard. But no! I persevered and saw things through, and she became one of the most valued members of the colony.
However… not all stories have happy endings, and this is doubly true of Rimworld, where the storyteller AIs are sadistic pricks who love seeing players suffer. Winter had arrived, the crops were dying—though we had plenty in the freezer, no biggie—and we were gradually switching over to warmer clothing.
It was at this point that the raid came. A large group of scumbags from a nearby settlement of hostile pirate types had arrived and were shooting the place up. Take a wild guess who was first on the scene to repel the attack? Yep, my drug recoveree grandma, who by now was using a decent quality sniper rifle.
Taking cover behind some sandbags with a couple of the other colonists, she dropped two of the enemies, then hesitated. One of the attackers was familiar. He was lobbing grenades at them, so it was difficult to tell, but Sniper Grandma recognised him as her grandson. Before she could take a careful shot at his leg in hopes of knocking him down to capture, he had already tossed another grenade.
Unfortunately, sandbags don’t protect all that well against grenade explosions, and grandma was killed instantly by her own grandson. Our surviving guys managed to put down enough of the remaining raiders to make them flee, but grandma was dead and there was no bringing her back. Chasing the raiders as they fled, we killed as many as we could before they reached the map edge and vanished, then returned to base to bury our fallen hunter in a marble sarcophagus.
It was only later, when I noticed a huge mood debuff on one of my other colonists, that I realised one of the other attackers had also been related to another of my colonists… and we’d managed to kill that one, too, resulting in a colony that was subdued and mournful for the next couple of seasons, interspersed with occasional mental breaks as they all realised how horrible life on the Rim truly was.
So yeah… that was really the point I where I fell in love with Rimworld. And it’s full of these kinds of emergent stories.
Oh, and before anyone asks why I didn’t put grandma on ice and try and find a Resurrection Mech Serum, this was back in B16, long before those items were even added to the game. If someone died, that was it, they were dead for good (unless you reloaded a save, of course, which I didn’t on this occasion).
Anyway, if this little story hasn’t convinced you that Rimworld is awesome and well worth your time, grab yourself a bottle of Smirnoff and watch the below video. If you’re still not convinced, there might not be any hope for you, I’m afraid. Thanks for reading!