Pride and Falls: Neptune’s Pride Diary Part 7

By Kieron Gillen on March 16th, 2010 at 1:21 pm.


It’s over! 17,000 words later and at last we have a victor for this, the most miserable and guilty of all AARs. Will the galaxy enter the rule of Kieron’s glittering red Empire? Or will it be empurpled by the all-powerful, all-duplicitious Graham? Or perhaps blue underdog Jimothy Rossignol will at last spring his winning gambit. Read the grim and salty conclusion to our game of Neptune’s Pride after the jump (or read it over at the PC Gamer blog here here).


Graham: Apparently I’m a street kid who lives for revenge. I’d had a choice between sending fleets while Kieron was offline in the evening, or waiting till bedtime. If I waited till bedtime, I was fairly sure it would be too late. I sent them earlier, without really thinking about the why of Kieron being offline.

I spent the night squirming, waiting for the moment of discovery. I even pictured the reaction: Anger? Frustration? An acepting laugh? A weary sadness?

Kieron logged on to MSN. I knew he was home, and I immediately opened up Neptune’s Pride and started refreshing. That’s when I noticed Kieron’s planets started to switch to my side. He was just giving them to me! No no no no. Not like this! I didn’t want it to end like this.

I opened up a chat window.

[01:01] Graham: :(
[01:03] Kieron:There you go.

Kieron logs off, and a cold weight drops from my ribcage, slides down my legs and into my feet. It might be the small chunk of black coal that sits where my heart should be. I feel fucking terrible, just unspeakably guilty. I’ve played the game with a single-minded focus towards gaining the only meaning Neptune’s Pride has: those 93 stars, and victory. I’ve betrayed everyone – and I’ve been betrayed plenty, including by Kieron – but this time is different. We’d explicitly talked about our tiredness of betrayal, our desire to work together properly, and our hope that we could make it work, if only for the hopeful message it’d add to the end of the inevitable story we’d write based on the game.

But I’d gone and done it anyway.

For the five weeks this game had lasted, I’d been speaking to my fellow players via instant messenger every night. While we were called AdaLovelace, swiss and Gonnas in game, in real life we were Kieron, Jim and Graham. I’d invested so much time and thought and energy into playing this game, that somewhere along the line, it stopped feeling like a game and started feeling very personal. People’s betrayals of me didn’t hurt. But now betrayals of them did. The 93 goal stars wasn’t the only meaning the game had anymore; by working together, we’d imbued it with something far more powerful.

I continued to feel fucking awful.

I fought against the coming rush of Kieron’s gifted planets the only way I could.

Kieron: I’m sitting around, listening to pop-music and thinking, and decide to check Neptune’s Pride. Something odd’s happened. Graham hasn’t won. In fact, a load of planets haven’t transferred over at all. Is this some fucking bug? Was I drunk enough to fuck this up. I decide to talk to Graham.

I turn back on Messenger.

[01:17] Kieron: How annoying.
[01:17] Kieron: I can’t just seed you all the planets
[01:18] Kieron: But it did take my money
[01:18] Graham: You gave me a bunch of planets and I have 93.
[01:18] Graham: It didn’t end.
[01:18] Kieron: refresh
[01:19] Kieron: I have them all back
[01:19] Graham: I’m utterly ashamed and don’t want to win anymore. I gave you as many back as I could afford.
[01:19] Graham: Any fleets in motion will hit your planets and immediately turn back and go home.

It’s at this point I realise what’s happened. Graham has actually given me all the planets back. I laugh hard. We’ve both disappeared down a guilty hole, and I feel awful. I realise that the only defence I had – actually being nice to someone and taking an alliance seriously – has worked.

[01:19] Kieron: This is ludicrous
[01:19] Graham: I’m also pulling all my fleets back to a single planet at the back of my territory.
[01:19] Kieron: (I’m seriously LoLing)
[01:19] Kieron: Dude
[01:20] Kieron: I can’t win by making you feel guilty
[01:20] Graham: Well, I reached 93 and it didn’t end, so maybe no one can win.
[01:20] Kieron: I dunno
[01:20] Kieron: Maybe there’s a thing
[01:21] Kieron: That it has to be 93 for a bit
[01:21] Kieron: Yes, I was off celebrating the end of the last 5 years my life coming to an end
[01:21] Kieron: Which is on par with stabbing knowing I’m at a funeral
[01:21] Kieron: But it’d have worked at any time

I immediately regret saying all of this. Well… maybe a shitty funeral of someone you don’t know very well and you’re mainly there for politeness’ sake. Not like, your mum’s funeral. But I’m trying to show my cards, but…

[01:22] Graham: I had the choice of doing it while you were or when you were in bed. I chose the first available time. Doing it at any time, I think, is equally as horrible. Either way, I don’t much like, well, this.
[01:22] Graham: Or me or the game or whatever. I don’t know.
[01:22] Kieron: Dude:
[01:22] Kieron: I’d have given you the planets if you asked
[01:24] Graham: Yeah, but isn’t the point of the game to win, within the rules? And isn’t that the fun? I can ask you to knock over your King in a game of chess, but that’s not really playing the game.

A beat.

[01:24] Graham: But then, it turns out that winning within the mechanics isn’t fun.

The conversation is taking a strange turn.

[01:24] Kieron: It’s a diplomatic game, man
[01:25] Kieron: The only reason we teamed up was because we were tired
[01:25] Kieron: The out of game explanations are everything
[01:25] Kieron: I mean, I knew guilt was my main weapon against you
[01:25] Kieron: Which is why I so obviously 100% trusted you
[01:25] Kieron: And left me open for a stab
[01:26] Kieron: Because I knew the only defence I had, really, was making you feel really bad if you did it
[01:26] Graham: Yeah, but then I’m looking at the board, and I can see that you’re going to win, and I’m thinking, well, why am I still playing? I’m in a position where I can willfully lose by doing nothing, or willfully win by attacking you. And if I’m doing nothing, then I’m not playing. I may as well not login and just let you get on with it.
[01:26] Kieron: Totally
[01:26] Kieron: So why do you feel bad?
[01:27] Graham: Because it was a lousy thing to do, in a very obvious ethical way. Because winning isn’t everything. Because we’re friends, and I hurt you in some small way.
[01:27] Kieron: Nah
[01:27] Kieron: don’t feel bad
[01:27] Kieron: I manouvered it to make you feel as bad as possible if you did it
[01:28] Graham: I don’t feel bad when I backstab a trusting Medic in TF2, but this is way, way worse.
[01:28] Kieron: I mean, you were in a much stronger position
[01:28] Kieron: In that, you were only fighting one person
[01:28] Kieron: And, frankly, not even fighting them
[01:28] Kieron: As they had no chance to hurt you
[01:28] Kieron: I was stuck with Jim
[01:28] Kieron: We said when we teamed up
[01:28] Kieron: That I was fine with coming first or second
[01:29] Kieron: I do wish you said it

As in, said it, and I’d have given him the planets.

[01:29] Graham: I am the space slug, you are the space squid. There’s no separation between us and the game, so it’s basically like I’ve just walked over and kicked you. While you were at a funeral.
[01:29] Kieron: Because – y’know – you stabbing me or me giving you the planet
[01:29] Kieron: I knew i had no defence
[01:30] Kieron: I said to Jim 5 days ago
[01:30] Kieron: “All you can do is stop me from winning”
[01:31] Graham: Sorry, Kieron.

And we both head to bed. Victory is mine.

They say that War doesn’t have any winners. They were right.

, .

93 Comments »

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  1. Sobric says:

    Shame about this ending.

    I do find it fascinating how Solium Infernum could be so triumphant in its closing stages, yet NP so anti-climactic. I guess lack of an end-ticker makes for this type of game. Could it also be because the mechanics of SI allow for multiple play styles within the same game, all of which could decide a winner? NP is based solely around Galactic Might.

    I guess that it’s good NP is still a beta, as it appears there is a long way to go.

    NB: I read it on PCG first. I’m not superman when it comes to reading.

    • Heliocentric says:

      You find it strange? Neptunes Pride is slipperly slope incarnate. The whole exponential growth thing is written into it at every level. You hurry early, so you can hurry later.

    • Mr Pink says:

      That is a really interesting point. I am wondering if another part of this is that Solium Infernum very much encourages being an unpleasant backstabbing demon in both its lore and its mechanics. It’s definitely all part of the game. Somehow in NP the betrayals are more personal. I don’t know… just thinking out loud really.

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      AndrewC says:

      Yeah, when it’s just bass, naked mechanics, you can’t fall back on the good natured sharing of the ‘being a devil’ lore. In NP it’s just you and the numbers. You can’t hide behind role playing.

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      Base! How low can you go?

    • ShaunCG says:

      I think this is a brilliant ending for the game, actually, considering what we’ve seen before now.

    • P7uen says:

      Saying NP is anti-climactic is like saying war is anti-climactic.

      Sure Vietnam was boring after a while, but you still have some D-days on the beaches of your galaxies. It’s different every time, do you see?

    • Quinns says:

      I’m not sure it’s anything to do with pretending to be a demon. It’s to do with Solium Infernum being designed with sneaky tactics in mind.

      In SI everything can change in a heartbeat, and the game gives you a dozen different ways to fight back. NI is nothing but hard numbers. In short, losing’s a lot less fun when there’s nothing you can do about it.

    • Mr Pink says:

      “losing’s a lot less fun when there’s nothing you can do about it.”

      This rings true. NP fails here due to the exponential nature of growth, and need to constantly monitor the game (which few people have the time to do), and the constant possibility of being ganged up on.

      In SI there is very little that can happen without warning (suicide attacks on strongholds excepted, but that’s another issue). It’s turn based, moving at the pace of the slowest player, so no-one has an advantage in terms of attention they can pay to the game. And there are many mechanics which allow someone with fewer resources to significantly hurt a leading player.

      At first I thought the purity of mechanics in NP was a wonderful thing. It turns out that something like SI, which is at the opposite end of the scale in terms of complexity, adds the complexity for a reason.

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      Kelron says:

      The end of an SI game tends to be the most chaotic, as everyone pulls out their last ditch gambles in an attempt to grab victory, compared to more cautious play at the start where no one wants to set themselves up as a target. In NP that’s reversed, you start out struggling with evenly matched opponents trying to gain an advantage, but by the end it just comes down to whoever has the most ships.

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      AndrewC says:

      @ Mr Pink: I always thought the complexity of SI was deliberate over-complexity to give hardened and done-it-all players the same joyous feeling of discovery that they had as kids first coming across games. The complexity-escalation problem that afflicts all hardcore genres.

      NP is purer and so, perhaps, the ‘better’ game, but it does not necessarily lead to fun, so proving, I guess, that ‘fun’ is not an elemental particle of the universe. Suck for us.

      Then again, you are deliberately entering a real-time game that you know will last a month, so it is not like it is hiding its nature and you only have yourselves to blame.

      How about a nice game of Galcon Fusion?

    • Rich says:

      War rarely ends in some climactic finale, followed by credits and rousing orchestral music while everyone goes home. WW2 might not seem like the best example, but really its climax was D-Day. Once the Allies reached Germany it was just a slow slog until the Russians took Berlin. Then there was the whole mess that needed to be cleaned up in central Europe. The end of the war with Japan was not yet in sight. The cold war followed shortly after anyway, in which most of the smaller wars e.g. American involvement in Vietnam, where a result of diplomatic decisions made when the spoils were being tabulated.

      If history is anything to go by, at least one of those two empires (purple and red) are going to break up into independent states sooner or later.

    • Sobric says:

      I think that NP resembles the boardgame Risk so much. And I mean the fairly ruleless version of Risk I sometimes played among friends, where the aim was just to conquer as much as you could (rather than the hidden objective cards). Those games a) used to go on ages b) cause arguments as pacts were made and broken and c) end anti-climactically as one person emerges as a clear winner.

      I didn’t really enjoy Risk that much if I’m honest.

    • Jesse says:

      So maybe war…isn’t fun?

      This game is so good it taught us not to play. World leaders should be required to play the beta version of Neptune’s Pride.

    • RagingLion says:

      This is all fascinating conversation. There’s some quite deep thinking going on here. I totally agree with the sentiments expressed about the similarity to Risk. I was just thinking to myself yesterday that the reason Risk can be so popular with people is that it hardly ever gets played. My own experience is always wanting to play Risk but it never really happening because of the effort of getting people together to devote many hours to it. But when you actually get round to playing it it always ends in a whimper and somewhat unsatisfying way. I started playing some online Risk a last year and finally I was able to get my fill of it but it did show that when you have a multiplayer game with everyone using the same simple ruleset it becomes all about smashing whoever becomes the most powerful player and therefore about manipulating the inter-player relationships. I.e. you only end up winning because the other players hate each other so much that they’d rather kill each other than stopping your progress to victories. There’s different ways it can go down of course, but it often boils down to this.

      The comparison with SI seems inevitable as people have been discussing here. SI’s succeeded (purely from reading these AARs) in making the game interesting right up until the end which seems as least partly due to the complexity of its ruleset (though the fixed duration of the game is a big part of it). Maybe I’m being presumptious but NP with its stripped down ruleset has almost shown this type of game to be fundamentally unsatisfying, which is an achievement in itself.

    • Sobric says:

      The life absorbing play-time aside, I do think that SI’s mechanics allow for a better game than NP because NP’s mechanics are all based around Ships: the amount you have, the amount you can produce and their tech level. Just like in Risk, it’s pretty much just about having a number (that is the sum of those 3 Ship aspects) high than your opponent.

      Where I think NP could develop is to place interesting mechanics that could aid a losing player (or at least give players the option of a different play style). For example, if Tech gave more than just +n to your fleet’s power but allowed for smaller, tech-heavy fleets to out gun an industrial monster, then I feel the game would open right up. Or perhaps it would just drag it out, who knows.

    • scundoo says:

      Kieron’s Real Doomsday Device:

    • Bret says:

      Stupid risk.

      It claims to be a game of strategy, and luck can ruin every single tactic without fail.

      Also, it’s long and boring.

    • Koldunas says:

      The comparison shouldn’t be with Risk, it should be with Diplomacy. Which also has zero luck once the game starts and just a manipulative mind to rely on for winning. I think you are right about SI complexity making it more exciting for inter-player interactions. It just feel better to know that you lost because your opponent outsmarted you – pulled out something he was holding on for a long time, did some good calculations to figure out a way to dodge your attack, anything really… As long as it is not just mere callous back-stabbing, it feels nicer to lose (and to win). (I don’t like Diplomacy, as you can imagine)

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      drewski says:

      Yeah, from the diaries it seems like Diplomacy is a better example than risk. Diplomacy’s mechanics are so absolutely pure, so reliant on trust and alliances and strategic thinking…whereas Risk has a huge element of luck and as someone noted in the Part 6, whoever gets the big army from cards at the end tends to walk the table.

      I like Diplomacy to a point…but you have to force yourself not to take things personally. You ARE going to ge betrayed, you ARE going to get betrayed by your best friend, and you ARE gonig to lose if you don’t betray people yourself. I recall once unfinished game of Diplomacy where I was Russia, a friend was Turkey and he was under the impression that we were going to “roll west” and conquer all…trusting me completely, not realising I had agreed with Austria to backstab him shortly.

      Not finishing the game means he still thinks I’m trustworthy, the poor fool. NP reminds me of that – stabbing is part and parcel of the game and if you can’t handle that duplicity, you’re going to find the game demoralising.

    • zipdrive says:

      I’d be careful to state sweeping conclusions on the two games (SI and NP) based on a single play of each.
      Other sessions, with other players, may achieve different results, no?

  2. Nick says:

    I notice the star clusters kind of resemble a heart.

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    James G says:

    A disturbingly tragi-comic ending. It felt like the ending to a moralistic kids film, passed through the minds of cynical, exhausted adults. ‘Its the taking part that counts’ became, ‘we’ll all lose one way or another so whats the f’ing point.’

  4. Mr Labbes says:

    What an unexpected turn of events. Not that my game of NP was a lot different, I felt like shit after my final backstab.

  5. FriendGaru says:

    Yep, that’s how my game with friends ended as well, not with a bang but with a whimper. Once the star gifting starts, people seem to lose interest rapidly. NP definitely needs some tweaks to the endgame.

    • Stromko says:

      You actually can’t gift stars anymore, at least with the default settings on the last free match I was in. If someone wants to give you a star you now need to actually send your ships to take it, so things don’t tend to flip out of nowhere just because someone decided to give away some stars.

  6. Jae Armstrong says:

    W…wow. Around diary 3 I was all revved up to start a game of my own. Now?

    How has the game changed since this was played? Have the changes done anything to alleviate the problems like late game exhaustion etc.?

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    Grey Cap says:

    It’s heartrending.

  8. misterk says:

    Perhaps the difference between SI and neptunes pride (other than ye olde do stuff while someones not there issue), is that in SI, while there was much betrayal, it involved scheming and craftiness of a ballsy nature- betrayal in neptunes pride is easy and obvious to some extent- you send your ships at them, while in SI you only have n moves a turn, limiting a sudden attack. Perhaps I’m talking nonsense. I’d really like a review from the rps players after all of this

  9. Web Cole says:

    That was really quite special I think, in its way.

  10. Ffitz says:

    “An interesting game. The only winning move is not to play.”

    • Aldehyde says:

      @Ffitz: Haha, Wargames, a lovely movie.

    • Michael says:

      “How about a nice game of chess?”

      I wonder if the developers have considered invoking some form of anti-poop socking through limited turns/orders per day. It feels a little like cheating when you purposely wait till the middle of the night to attack your opponents since so much of the game’s strategy can be undone when your opponent doesn’t react in real-time. A possible solution would be to have all orders be carried out simultaneously at some set time each day.

      It just occurred to me. Tom was the only real winner.

  11. Mike says:

    Amazingly, this is exactly how my NP game ended too. Old allies lamenting the game’s essence, an succumbing. Someone gave all their planets to me.

    Of course, the game had alliances now. Different dynamic.

  12. Cooper says:

    It seems that, not being turn based, NP loses some of the fairness of SI.

    If the guilt came from acting in the game when you knew another player was away for good reason, the game has extended itself into your everyday lives, and so the advantage taking is no longer purely in the game.

    I’ve had similar problems in office games of Defcon taking place over 8 hours. People with the time can micro-manage bomber and fighter squadrons to devastating effect. people without are doomed.

    Maybe a solution for NP is to add a limit on the number of actions you can initiate or amount of time you can spend on the game in any 24 hour period, thus evening the playing field somewhat.

    Currently playing a game myself, and I know I’ll probably lose as I’m too busy with that real world stuff to check it more than twice a day, at most. But I’m fine with that as it stands.

    • JellyfishGreen says:

      “If the guilt came from acting in the game when you knew another player was away for good reason, the game has extended itself into your everyday lives, and so the advantage taking is no longer purely in the game.”

      Hear hear. I want games as escapism, and I don’t mind if a friend is devious and cunning within the framework of a game. “I guess you would make the best evil overlord, ha ha, well played.” If it extends outside the game, he’s not a very good friend.

  13. Jesse says:

    That’s…beautiful!

    The image of the unlabeled starfield at the end – two intermingled systems floating in space. Purple and pink. It’s kind of…pretty?

    So it turns out Neptune’s Pride is an art game about the nature of war. It’s not a ‘fun’ game where you win through superior strategy, it’s an indie title that makes you think, and also, feel bad about yourself. The only winner is me, reading about Tom’s hilariously narcoleptic alien emperor and the fleshsack hating Governator 3000. I hope ya’ll don’t feel too guilty. Perhaps it wasn’t really you, Graham, that betrayed Kieron – it was the game that betrayed you. Once you become proficient in the basic mechanics, it’s really all about the betrayals, isn’t it? Or maybe there’ s another layer on top of that one, too: the guilt layer, which Kieron discovered, and which DID, in fact, win him the game.

    It’s an emotional arms race. DAMN SO META! On one level anyway NP, in its beta state, is total genius.

    I look forward to a wrap-up with thoughts from all, and more analysis of how SI succeeds where NP falters – and does the new ‘alliance’ button help fix it? Because of these two game diaries we the audience are uniquely suited to understand and benefit from a comparison of these games. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re all tiring of these long-form games and want to take a break for a while, but whenever you’re ready to revisit the format we’ll be thrilled to read it. Even one-off breakdowns of real-time games would make for great articles.

    • Dragon Master says:

      War, war never changes…And it’s certainly not fun. There’s a moral to be had in this game folks!

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    Morph says:

    Wow. What a poignant ending, I certainly wasn’t expecting that, but thanks for another excellent piece.

  15. RagingLion says:

    Oh, and a general thank you to RPS (and PC gamer). This was all areally interesting to read once again. If you do any more of this I’ll lap it all up.

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    AndrewC says:

    I couldn’t find a music reference for Pride & Falls, though. Could the secret be revealed for those playing at home?

    • Hypocee says:

      @AndrewC: I don’t know about music references, but must it necessarily go beyond ‘pride goeth before the fall’, the game title including pride, and the gameplay being about people falling out of the game?

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      AndrewC says:

      Because it’s Kieron.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      AndrewC: Yeah, no music reference here.

      If you want an alternative title for the pop-much-obsessives for the series go with “Mistakes & Regrets”.

      KG

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    phuzz says:

    I feel almost, wrong? after having read this. It obviously wasn’t the most pleasant experience for any of you and reading it made me feel like a voyeur at someone’s break-up or something.

    War; war never changes…

  18. Mario Figueiredo says:

    Does it cross someone’s mind that there’s probably nothing fundamentally wrong about NP, but where the game failed was in the choice of players?
    Because quite frankly, if everyone is going to behave like rotten back stabbers throughout the whole play time, exactly what ending was anyone expecting other than lament. If players need to be hand feed with game mechanics in order to avoid this type of behavior, then that’s not much of a game (and doesn’t say good things of the players themselves). An open multiplayer game which treats diplomacy as an external affair and is only concerned in creating basic mechanics like (allied, at war and neutral) is often a game where players can truly explore they “diplomacy at the service of strategy” abilities.
    But when players can only understand the word Victory in face of the game objectives, they are not exercising their strategic or diplomatic abilities. It’s not corny when I say you can win if you don’t come up first. And I’m sure many of you have won when you took 2nd, 3rd or even last place on many games before. When, you were heard things like this being said about you: “I couldn’t have won without his help”, or “Dammit! He made my life miserable. I won out of sheer luck”, or even “I had a great time playing against you!”
    This is not about morality. It’s about game objectives. If anyone really thinks coming out of game like what was played in NP, completely exhausted and feeling rotten about themselves, as a great victory they need to check with their doctor. Instead a good player of strategic games will know by mid game how are they faring and who are they playing with. They will have a firm grasp of their conditions to win or not. And with that knowledge they establish themselves realistic objectives that may even pass by helping someone else to victory. A game objective is what the player sets, not what the game establishes. And victory is achieved that way. As well as your fellow players respect. If, however winning is all that matter to these players, then they really have no place as my or anyone else’s ally. They obviously cannot be trusting partners. They can only serve as puppets in someone’s hand, or be immediately attacked to give room to those really interested in playing the diplomatic game in all its potential.
    Back stabbing someone is sometimes a necessity. We all should do it sooner or later. But what these players don’t seem to realize is that when it is used every other turn, they are turning a powerful weapon into a useless tool.
    If anything, and I’m sorry if I sound rash, what you folks did was a disservice to NP. As the comments around here seem to indicate, your utter failure as players of strategic games lead to the belief the fault is on the game itself. I’m sorry. But that’s basically it. You sucked. It’s not the game fault.

    • misterk says:

      Really? Because in many strategy games theres more of a reward. In the free games theres a big incentive for coming seond, as I mentioned, so allying for second place makes a lot of sense. In this, presumably premium game, the only prize was for first place. Yes, you can invent rules if you like, but game as written thats what you should be striving for. I wouldn’t count them as failed for that.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Mario: “You’re playing it wrong” isn’t exactly an argument anyone takes seriously, man.

      KG

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      @Kieron

      Certainly, if that’s all you see in my argument. And that’s all you saw in my argument.

      Let me ask you: How good is the game engine in terms of offering strategic and tactical opportunities for the players to explore? Is this a game about “size matters”, or does the game offers other opportunities in terms of confrontation? How does the economy reflect in the military power? What about sustainable growth? Does the game lacks in its ability to keep large empires viable and capable of fending themselves against possible aggressors? Or does it fail like so many before it, in that it’s all to easy for two much weaker forces to destroy a large empire in 24 hours?

      These and many other questions were left unanswered. All because there doesn’t need to be an answer to any of it when the basis of the whole gameplay was waiting for someone to turn their backs so they could be attacked.

      Now, if you (collective you, mind you) did an effort to actually explore the game, you’d probably have ended the game feeling alot better about it, informed us of the game goods and bads, and almost certainly had a lot more fun in the process. What started out to look like a fun experiment, ended up in cheap, childish drama.

    • Koldunas says:

      Tl;dr.
      Seriously though, this was about games becoming personal due to their mechanics. I think it sparked a splendid discussion. Just because it wasn’t what you expected, doesn’t mean it was bad. Also – shut up.

    • Chris D says:

      -Mario “Cheap and childish”? No, what started out as a well written, entertaining and engaging read turned into something poignant and beautiful, a meditation on the nature of war, competition, friendship and where we draw our lines.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Mario: I’ll be nice by throwing a bone – the game was well into the end game before the game added the mechanic of any position other than first place mattering. It seemed like a “Who Is The Winner” game. Most people played it as such. When first-to-third started being flagged – especially with the rewards – people started being more accepting of the lower places.

      Which is one reason why your “If players need to be hand feed with game mechanics in order to avoid this type of behavior, then that’s not much of a game” is as flawed a statement about game design that has ever been written. Game design is nothing but shaping player’s behaviour through application of mechanics. That’s what game design is. Otherwise you’re sitting there playing make believe. “How do you win?” is as core to game design as it gets.

      Everyone’s yabbered about Solium Infernum, but let’s take last year’s boardgame Chaos In The Old World. One player wins. There is no second place. However, it is also possible for no-one to win. Once you’ve failed to win yourself, you still have the second objective of stopping someone else triumphing so *everyone Loses*. Of course, this ties into the theme of the game being about warring, bitter chaos gods who can’t conquer the world because they all hate each other so much. If a player starts ignoring the rules like you suggest, the game breaks. You set realistic objectives, yes, but you set realistic objectives *towards achieving the game’s objectives*. If there is no second place and you are playing for second place, you simply aren’t playing the game. In fact, you’re ruining the game.

      All of which is why I could boil everything you down to “You’re playing it wrong”. That’s all you were saying.

      Well, not *all* you were saying – all of this is beside the fact that this is a match report about a specific game. As in, a specific individual match. This is something which happened. We write about the human experiences because they are human experiences. You appear to be under the impression we were reviewing the thing.

      KG

    • Mario Figueiredo says:

      That’s a good point. I’m just not sure if I buy into that. Although I must agree you make a valid argument if the game mechanics indeed lead players to progress only through such means. However, before proceeding one note:
      <i>It’s true that I was under the impression the point was to evaluate the game. Being that not the case, then I must retract my most abusive remarks. And apologize accordingly. So, my apologies for that. Sincerely.</i>
      Now, “Game design is nothing but shaping player’s behaviour through application of mechanics.” That’s just fluff. Ruffling my hair with quaint remarks with subjective validity is not going to make me more receptive. I’m just not susceptible to paternalism. Ultimately that statement can be perceive as correct. But says nothing about your ability of choosing your own path in a strategic game of diplomacy.
      And this is especially true of games where diplomacy is mostly an external event. The arts of bargaining, suggestion, or deceiving are not negotiated by the game mechanics. The game mechanics only understanding of these things is that of allied, or enemy forces. Much like a board game of Diplomacy, which plays differently depending on the people you play with, and not always the same because the mechanics don’t change.
      What troubles me, and annoys me slightly, is that you folks played a game that didn’t brush any aspects of the actual game you were playing. Lost on a spiral of betrayals, consequent guilty feelings and later cheap morals, you eventually (in my view, I admit) grew tired of the game. The result was that the idea was passed on the game is boring, doesn’t offer much in terms of the fun factor, is too long, and is hard to actually win the damn thing. Those questions above, and others, that were left unanswered reflect this.
      I too play games of strategy as you may suspect. For many years, nearly 30 if you want to know. Far from wanting to pass as an expert, instead I was more interested in learning about those other aspects. Something I did not get. I understand now that wasn’t your guys objective (to evaluate the game). But still there you have it; your whole playthrough, while a fun and interesting reading, was reduced to a morality trip and no real juice on what exactly is Neptune’s Pride.

    • ymrar says:

      I have to say that I agree with Mario in part. Yes, this was diary of one game and as such it told a lot more about the character of its players than the game. Wonderful read at that. Just wonderful.

      But perhaps that’s exactly it. The game is as solid as a game of Diplomacy, where the game is how the players play it. In this case it became an ugly (yet beautiful…) play of betrayal after betrayal where the players are so exhausted that they start handing the knives to each other. “You stab me…” “No, You stab Me…”

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Mario: My battery died after I posted that, and I immediately realised part of our disagreement here – that you weren’t including game-objectives in game-mechanics. Game objectives, for me, are the most core of all game mechanics. I was wandering around Seattle airport to try and post that before sodding off, but no bloody terminals.

      I’m jetlagged now, so can’t engage properly but…
      “I’m just not susceptible to paternalism. ”

      At least here, I think you’re wrong, man. Let’s talk two hypothetical diplomatic games.

      One gives you +10 victory points every time you successfully break alliance and take terrain.
      One takes away 10 victory points every time you break an alliance.

      What game do you think is going to see more or less betrayals? It’s still about weighing up what is best for you to do at any moment – but the maths have altered. A game designer has enormous control over what should be the optimum approach in play at any moment – including encouraging or discouraging taking second place.

      (For example, think Risk. With full-board-conquering Risk, with no second place, betrayal is inevitable and necessary.*)

      It isn’t paternalism. It’s changing the cold, hard maths of the game. You can ignore those cold hard maths, of course, but you’re putting yourself at an absolutely numerical disadvantage – which, of course, may be worth it if your particular diplomatic plan pulls off.

      While I did say it wasn’t a review, there are actually some rules discussions in there and notes on profitable lines of attack and techniques. And, oddly, I’m not entirely sure that any of the stabs were necessarily ill-advised. The only one which I think was tactically really dodgy was Quinns’ final one, which was really rather arrogant. The real character of the game was there was 3 players with about equal power, any two which could topple the top one. Settling for second place when you actually *can* have first is bad strategic play in my book. And, of course, the players change everything. Who to trust in a game like that?

      (If you actually want to take a real observation on Neptune’s Pride, I’d take the long-form part of it. It takes weeks and it’s always playing. It’s not turn based like Diplomacy. Abstractly every second of every day, you’re playing the thing. This changes the emotional investment, and you get tired. Also, it gives much more time to invest emotionally. I believe Phill/Sponge has an article he’s going to publish about that topic.)

      I’m rambling. You can tell I’m jetlagged.

      KG

      *It’s been a good 20 years since I’ve played Risk, so I apologise if I’m misremembering rules.

    • battles_atlas says:

      @ Mario & Keiron
      Really interesting discussion sparked by a wonderful piece. This boils down to individual verses social construction of reality. Mario thinks you can invent, simply within your own mind, your own criteria for victory. And you can, certainly in real life with all its obvious unfairnesses and fuzzy complexities. You have to, otherwise everyone who wasn’t Russell Brand would hang themselves. In fact the vast majority of us lead lives that – by the standards we are taught to aspire to (wealth, influence, beauty) – are abject failures. So we (mercyfully) disregard those standards and set our aspirations differently. And because most of us aren’t Russell Brand, and we all experience this challenge, we know – we agree – that this is perfectly valid.
      But this is NP, not life. Keiron is right, within the stripped down, quantified universe of ships; tech; industry; planets; you can’t hide in a self-created definition of success. Sure you can try, but its just patently absurd. The disjuncture between your version of reality and everyone elses (framed by the game) is just too jarring. You’d have to be a dedicated solipsist to convince yourself otherwise. Its all about social rules at the end of the day, and in games, the game sets the rules.
      On another note, fantastic ending. It was only anti-climactic if you rely on Hollywood for your own conception of reality. And of course the other lesson was that war doesn’t end, at least until everyone is sick of it.
      Final note: you guys should really put a series of these diaries together for a book. Hell pitch it to the tv types – they’re always desperate for any vehicle they can drop David Mitchel and Frankie Boyle into. Replace you guys with some of the tv comedy regulars (I’d rather they didn’t, but they have a template they MUST FOLLOW), have the game as a backdrop against which they can Be Funny. Bang! Tele gold. RPS makes billions, gets bought up by Ubisoft, becomes hugely unprofitable after its DRM bans anyone from viewing the website least they copy and paste text from it, gets shutdown.

  19. Pani says:

    Nice read. I think these game diaries are my favourite read here on RPS. Please do more – and maybe point us in the direction of the next game you’re going to write about before you post it so that we can experience it for ourselves before hand and get a deeper understanding of it when we read it.

  20. The Great Wayne says:

    Hmmmm, funny ending. Not that surprising after the last two reports I think, and we can feel for you guys. I’m currently playing and so far it’s not been that dirty for me, as I personaly am the kind of guy to be quite righteous when it comes to agreements.
    Probably not the more efficient way of playing, but if we can’t be righteous and uncompromising in games, where are we gonna be ? :]

    That said, I’m wondering if this game is really more a game than a zen lesson. You know, the whole “learn to let go” philosophy and the “vicious circle of violence” concept.

    Definitely, those reports were interesting. Less entertaining than SI, but very interesting nontheless. Thank you guys.

    • K. says:

      Neptune’s Pride as Zen Koan – interesting one. How do you win by not winning?
      I am currently participating in two free games and have discovered the same type of backstabbing behaviour.

      The impression is that of a permanent Prisoner’s Dilemma, very visible through the pure mechanics:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prisoner%27s_dilemma

  21. TenjouUtena says:

    You know, I have always thought the Empire (Wolfpack Empire, so as not to confuse it with the 7 other Empire games that may or may not be related) has a good idea to solve this.

    The game runs in real time. You can log in at any time and enter commands, but you only have so many motes of action you can take, and when you run out, you can’t have any more until the game’s next update. Sort of (It’s actually more complex, with several counts, some refreshing on server update, and some over time, but that’s the basic jist). But it’s a really fun system allowing for some interesting strategy and timing, but someone can’t just roll over you if you miss a few updates.

    • Stromko says:

      Neptune’s Pride is locked to a similar system, pay-out happens once per day and once you’re out of money you cannot develop your stars, make NEW fleets, or send technology or anything else to other players. Difference being since it’s money if you invest in economy you can do more every turn. Since the same stuff that lets you send gifts and start fleets is used to fuel economic expansion, it’s a tricky balancing act.

      First game I was in, four or five of the players were either inactive or somebody’s alts, so I was only able to conduct meaningful diplomacy with one other player. That player, with my help, managed to wipe the floor with everyone else and I ended up in 2nd place without ever having betrayed anyone.

      Second game, one of my neighbors (Purple) asked me to gang up on and attack another neighbor (Yellow), and I didn’t feel that strongly toward either of them, so I warned the other neighbor and then conducted a war on some totally different empire (Don’t Remember) that was involved in the gang-up and had pestered me earlier. Eventually I invaded Purple just so I could get through him and attack the huge empire that was on the other side of him, but I got bogged down and wasn’t able to slow down said empire. Yellow got torn to shreds by the huge distant empire. In that game I took 2nd place again, my ally was slaughtered but not betrayed, and surprisingly my rival’s ally (despite his own worries to the contrary) was not betrayed either and took 3rd.

      The way the thing plays is based entirely on the players involved. It can be a glorious and honorable matter or eight cokeheads fighting over the last rock. It all depends.

  22. EGTF says:

    It’s not possible to gift planets any more, so this ending can no longer happen in Neptune or people screwing others by gifting all their empire to somebody else. It’s now a long, bitter struggle to the end and I’m feeling incredibly compulsive about checking it but…well, the earlier mix of rage and jubliation is replaced with sadness and weariness every time I have to attack somebody new. They’ll attack back, I’ll defend and vice versa to wear one another down slowly with the 81 planet winner taking about 2 weeks longer to determine.

  23. Vinraith says:

    Great writing, flawed game, now go play AI War dammit. :)

    • Collic says:

      Yes ! Play AI War Already. It’s changed a lot since you last looked at it. I would like nothing more than for AI war to get a similar treatment to Solium Infernum. It deserves it. Get Tom Francis on board as well for extra awesome points.

  24. Cuddles Destroyer of Worlds says:

    Interestingly in my most recent game of NP the exact opposite of this scenario played out. I was the smallest empire sandwiched in the middle. The largest empire that was directly above me came forward to myself and the 2nd largest empire that happened to be below me with an alliance. We would work together and all come in the top 3. They ended up gifting me large amounts of tech and also provided intelligence to me so I could better coordinate my fleets. In the end game it came down to the 3 of us. and the Empire below mine had grown to being the largest, and it was agreed that the Empire above mine and my own would give planets to him so that he could win because he had earned it. Never once through out the entire game did any of us back stab one another.

  25. Vague-rant says:

    So, then, I wish to be the first one to say this… Ever

    War, What is it good for? Absolutely nothing

    As a side note the end game doesn’t have to be so tedious. I suspect given half the chance Quinns could’ve finished the game by giving his stars to Keiron or Graham not Jim to make him complete the 93 stars. In our game someone did this as they saw they’d lost and counted that they’d get third place by giving the leader just enough stars to fill the quota. Quite a clever move in the end.

  26. Tyndareus says:

    To me (and I’m sure a few people mentioned it earlier, but I don’t know how to quote others in RPS) the problem is that NP has one way of winning: get the most stars. There’s no diplomatic or technological victory, no surprises that stem from the game mechanics or alternative paths to victory. There are no “kingmaker” traits like in Solium Infernum. No trump cards. There can be surprises (as we saw in the end of this AAR) but these seem to be the result of people getting sick with either the game or themselves (or both).

  27. Dmo says:

    I think the biggest difference between this and SI is that SI works to craft a personal narrative of your struggle by employing colorful events, items and units whereas NP is just a bunch of resource nodes on a checklist. Hardly inspiring or distinct. For example from the last diary Quinns had a neat little tale about how he marched on Kieron only to have his units ‘asploded upon victory from a bizarre artifact. That’s intriguing compared to “my ships went to that generic star before getting spanked, and hey I got some tech as a gift.”

    In fact I found this diary harder to follow than SI for the very reason that every encounter played out just like the last with no potential spanners to muck everything up and no distinct separations to make it clear that star battle x is different from star battle y.

    Additionally NP should have paid more attention to Diplomacy. The simple fact that Diplomacy can end whenever everyone agrees to end it is a great thing that would alleviate the final slog towards killing your opponent, not because you want to but because you have to. I guess that’s the point of the new alliance button, but even that feels a bit RTSy cliche when there could just be a “make it goddamn stop flag” for every player.

  28. gryffinp says:

    I think that the SI comparisons work out something like this: NP seems like a long complex game of Mafia skullduggery and betrayal, with sham alliances and pathetic desperate maneuvers that all culminate in a few survivors knowing damn well that they can’t trust anyone and envying the ones who got out earlier.

    SI is a great big mexican standoff, where everyone is kept from moving by everyone else, and there’s a lot of talking, subtle jockeying for position, trying to convince people to aim at someone else rather than you, and not a lot actually happens.

    And then the endgame hits and everyone opens fire and it’s a great big action sequence.

  29. mbp says:

    Would it solve some of the problems if you played NP for real money. Say you played for €1 per star. At the start of the game each player pays in a stake equal to the number of stars divided by the number of players. When someone actually manages to win the game all surviving players get €1 for every star under their control. There needs to be a rule for unclaimed stars – probably just give them to the winner.

    This might solve the apathy problem – people would have a reason to keep playing even if they knew they couldn’t win. Every star they can hold on to is worth money to them and even second and third place are likely to come out with a profit.

    • drygear says:

      That might solve the problem of apathy but it would make the viciousness and backstabbing much, much worse and make it even more personal.

  30. sinister agent says:

    I totally called the winner.

    I DEMAND RECOGNITION.

    What a sad ending, but in a nice way. It makes me feel a bit better – despite the bastardry this game is supposed to encourage, every game I’ve played and read about has included some people acting honestly and decently. And, even more excellently, they’ve all beaten me in my games.

    Some people are just nice.

  31. cowthief skank says:

    A rather sad, beautiful ending…

  32. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    It’s been very, very interesting to read these. I wonder how many of the players would consider playing this game (or others like it) in the future. And, more importantly, why.

  33. DXN says:

    In space, no one can hear you sob with guilt.

    • jarvoll says:

      I’m George Bush, and I approve of the following message: this comment rules.

  34. Blackberries says:

    Excellent ending.

  35. sexyresults says:

    Interesting read, with an unexpected ended to it. Please do more of these in the future.

  36. Sussexgamer says:

    I’ve really enjoyed reading these, and I’m interested to see how it affects my own playing of the games I’m in.

    As noted above by other people, I’ve really enjoyed both this and the SI diary – please continue to do these as they’re absolutely fascinating!

  37. Loomchild says:

    First, I’d like to express how great the whole experience of reading this has been. It is very well written and clearly the best way of discovering a game I have ever seen. So here it is, congratulations, and as has already been said, please do more.

    As for the ending, I believe that a game able to make people feel such strong feelings cannot possibly be a failure. Even if they are bad feelings, the fact that players have been some of them humbled, others discouraged, and all of them spent, is a sign that the game is good. Very good. I do not remember having experienced a bad game I wanted to keep playing, but I clearly remember the strongest emotions I felt were when playing great games.

    It is also a clue in my view that players seem to have learned something about themselves and the others when playing. When a video game becomes good enough not just to entertain but to teach and make people feel things, it becomes a work of art and not just a toy. And isn’t that a greater aspiration ?

  38. Tom West says:

    Would NP be improved by making the end game mechanic non-deterministic? The game ends randomly between certain selectable times (say 10-14 days), and at that time the holder of the most stars wins. At least it would prevent endless exhaustion and make it worthwhile to be the biggest player (and gather the most enemies) even if you couldn’t get the majority number.

  39. Josh W says:

    It seems to me that what this game needs is clever AI, maybe even a way to teach the AI your own strategy. That way, Toms hilarious explosion would be replaced by AIs that keep alliances, and people wouldn’t have to feel so tired because they could prepare for betrayals by programming the AI.

    If there was some way to make that work, then suddenly loads about the game would shift; you’d wonder instead if players were doing something you hadn’t predicted, instead of going back to see if they’d actually done yet what you expect. Base covering uncertainty rather than fatalistic dread, and what is more, there would be an extra layer of complexity: Once you’d mastered any system, you could teach the AI to do it for you.

  40. Squiggly Beast says:

    It’s been a great series of game diaries and, just like the SI diaries, has got me really interested in playing.

    One thing I’m left wondering is whether any of the players are intending to play again?

    It’s been compared above to Diplomacy. One of the really interesting aspects of Diplomacy from my experience is the evolution of players over a number of games. I found that the first game of Diplomacy, with new people always involves complete treachery and often bitter stalemates. But what is really interesting is when played again with the same players, how much their playing style, and the whole experience of the game changes. I found that (some) people become more open, honest, noble, and put more stock in the reputation with other players etc etc.

    In a way, its almost like you redefine the endgame because you’ve already seen what brute individualism does, and in replays you don’t have the stomach for it. All this has also got me thinking about how interesting it would be to have a game which allows the players to agree on the terms of ending.

    But then, perhaps a game achieves this most easily by having no ending at all….

  41. Kevin says:

    The ending was unexpected. I read all the diaries of NP fully expecting someone’s glorious triumph, but instead this happens. In a way, this outcome is more fulfulling. It wasn’t the classic, cliche Hollywood ending of “clear victor, clear loser.” It was 8 people commanding empires against each other and, in the end, the final two discovering for themselves the one lesson war can teach: it isn’t worth it.

    The whole thing was quite beautiful. I especially like the picture at the end of this diary segment: the picture of the galaxy with the names stripped away. We were so focused on stars and territories and defining borders and fronts and who had what that we didn’t think to step back and admire the beauty of the heart-shaped galaxy.

  42. Malibu Stacey says:

    Was hoping for another Quinns victory (even though he has no iron). Or Jim to pull of some crazy stunt with all the stuff Quinns gave him & emerge victorious from the ashes of Kieron & Grahams empires.

  43. Luke says:

    It seems that the ending is much as you described — the war ends not with resolution, but simply the growing apathy from lack of will of the sides to continue the conflict.

    Maybe the game can accept a fatigued peace as a possible end state simply by offering a resign/armistice button? The game ends when everyone clicks.

  44. pupsikaso says:

    I find it odd how everyone enjoyed, and even revelled, in the filthy back-stabbery of SI, while by the end of NP, with more or less the same people, it became a lot more personal. Is this due to the two game’s different natures themselves, or due to the people playing them? Perhaps, having had a good round at backstabbing friends one time was more than enough?

  45. Zankmam says:

    It’s like I read a book.

    Quite an emotionally powerful book, packed with… Drama.
    No, not drama… Human thoughts.
    Thinking, thinking and more thinking.
    Also, morality and ethics.

    It’s awesome, but the ending is so weird.
    Great stuff btw.