While real-time strategy is not a genre I actively seek out, I do have a decent grasp of its norms and formulas. When I think of "real-time strategy", I imagine a large terrain, base camps, resource gathering, different units, and above all, micromanagement. Say "combat" and I imagine Age of Empires or Command & Conquer. Say "sci-fi" and I imagine StarCraft. Say "space" and I imagine vast playing fields like in Sins of a Solar Empire.
What I never would have imagined from the keywords "real-time strategy," "combat," "sci-fi" and "space" is Eufloria, released last week on the PlayStation Network.
Formerly known as “Dyson,” Eufloria was created by independent developers Alex May and Rudolf Kremers in 2009. The idea of the game is based on "Dyson’s Tree Hypothesis," presented by American physicist and mathematician Freeman Dyson. A Dyson Tree is a genetically-engineered plant capable of not only growing on a comet, but also sustaining itself through solar energy in space and the comet’s materials as nutrients; the ultimate goal is to create a breathable atmosphere on the comet using these plants, making it a habitable place for humans.
In Eufloria, you’re tasked by the "Mother Tree" with spreading "Seedlings" across various asteroids and sprouting Dyson Trees, effectively colonizing them. The Seedlings were originally created by enigmatic individuals called "the Growers," and the Mother Tree plans to serve them by expanding the colony. The story is conveyed through the Mother Tree’s dialogue in simple text-boxes.
Unless specified otherwise, your mission is to occupy all asteroids in a stage using Seedlings, generated from Dyson Trees. Seedlings are multi-purpose units you can command, shaped like small, colored insects. Since you need 10 Seedlings to plant a tree, they also serve as a form of currency, which replaces the resource gathering element of RTS games. To occupy an uninhabited asteroid, just plant a tree on it, and it’s yours. Each stage differs in how many Seedlings and trees you start with.
Each asteroid has a limited "orbit" around it, and you can only send Seedlings to others within the range of your occupied asteroids. The first couple of chapters focus on teaching you the basic controls: how to move Seedlings, how to discover new asteroids, how to plant a tree, and so on.
Soon afterward, you run into enemies: the Greys. They are, according to the Mother Tree, infected Seedlings turned mad and violent by a disease. Soon after meeting the Greys, another bigger enemy faction appears which seems to be against both you and the Greys. This is where the combat aspects of Eufloria come into play.
There are a handful of tree types you can plant, which would be analogous to different structures in RTS. The most basic and vital type is the Dyson Tree, which generates more Seedlings over time; this is the type you’ll be planting the most, since it supplies your army as well as resources. Next one is the Defense Tree, which doesn’t generate Seedlings, but releases homing Pods very effective at defeating enemies. In fact, having one on an asteroid provides enough defense for me to invest my Seedlings in other tasks.
While I’m talking about Seedlings, I should also mention parameters. Each asteroid has three parameters: Energy (Yellow), Strength (Red) and Speed (Blue). These parameters apply to Seedlings and Pods generated from trees grown on it. Energy seems to determines how much punishment Seedlings can take; Strength is self-explanatory; high-Speed Seedlings can travel very quickly and are suitable as reinforcements in emergencies.
One interesting feature the creators programmed in is that each asteroid’s Seedling sprites look uniquely different depending on their parameters. High-Energy makes the Seedlings plump and bulky; high-Strength makes their head pointier; high-Speed adds an extra pair of fins at their back. Not the type of detail I expected on units in a real-time strategy game, to be honest, but it’s nice to know that the creators care about details like this.
Those Dyson and Defense Trees are the basic trees needed to progress effectively. There are optional trees too. The Beacon plant, which costs nothing, can help you relay newly sprouted Seedlings on its asteroid to others. Then there’s the Terra-forming plant, which is my favorite tree by far. It lets you increase a single parameter of your choice of an asteroid. Of course, there are restrictions: You’re given 100 points (which is actually more than enough, if you can spend all), and you need to sacrifice a Seedling for each point increase. When I first tried it, I made the mistake of queuing all 100 points at once, which leads to all the spawned Seedlings being spent immediately and leaving none to defend the asteroid. Terra-forming is an expensive long-term process, but the results are certainly worth the trouble. In RTS terms, Terra-forming is a simplified “tech-tree” — pun intended.
Lastly, there’s one special facility that isn’t something you can create at will: Dyson Trees that have grown for a good while will start to produce Flowers, which can be attached to a single basic tree as free augmentation. Add it to a Dyson Tree, and all Seedlings it produces will be greatly enhanced; add it to a Defense Tree, and it’ll start producing a super-unit called Laser Mine — a pinwheel-like "Seed" (for lack of a better term) which can be controlled like Seedlings, and can take care of multiple enemies at once.
The default game mode in Eufloria is the Campaign. As you progress, you’ll unlock "Skirmish Maps" and "Dark Matter Mode". The former is where you play defensively against a plethora of enemy bases; the latter is more or less the Campaign chapters revisited with higher difficulty. If you’re not in the mood to trudge through the Campaign to unlock everything, no problem! The unlockables are a toggle away under Options; turn them on and off as you desire.
There are two types of settings in the game: Classic ("slower, more sedate") and New ("faster, more dynamic"). As New Settings demand slightly faster reaction time on the player’s part, you could say the two Settings also serve as difficulty levels in practice. There’s also an in-game speed-up toggle if you feel that things are going a bit slow.
I first took Eufloria for a game one can play in short bursts, but a few hours into the game, I learned that it’s not exactly the case. Each Campaign chapter takes longer to complete, as well as progressively becoming more elaborate.
Not having a Save option despite all these time-consumptions means Eufloria is not quite a "quickie" type of game; i.e: not the type you can play on the fly or in short bursts. On the other hand, it’s a nice game for someone that might want to try out a real-time strategy game that isn’t overly complicated. Since Eufloria is only for a single player, there’s no need to worry about the competitive aspect either.
Food for thought:
1. Music is composed mainly of soft, gentle notes, too; it’s certainly pleasant, but it can be a bit too soft at times that I can barely hear it at some points.
2. While playing, you can zoom out to see the whole map, and zoom in all the way down to a single Seedling.