The Games Of Christmas ’10: Day 5

By RPS on December 5th, 2010 at 12:00 pm.


The fifth window of our towering advent calendar of judgment must be opened. Open it! There we are. What lies beyond is a game of unfathomable human drama. A thing of betrayal and backstabbing, of hope and resilience, and – if it gets really bad – of making sure you set your alarm clock. What could it be?

It’s… Neptune’s Pride!

Jim: This is probably one of the best real-time strategies I’ve played. And I want to emphasize the /real-time/. The traveling battlefleets on the map of conflict take hours to reach their target and, more importantly, cannot be stopped once they set out in their journey. If you have second thoughts then you’d better haven then in the time it takes the fleet to make its jump, or the regrets could be serious.

I allowed myself a shudder at my own snobbery after we’d been playing Neptune’s Pride for a while. I thought: “Great idea, but how good can a browser game really be?” A ludicrous judgment, of course, because – well – a game is a game. And Neptune’s Pride is a colossal, nuanced enormity of a game that works brilliantly precisely because it is accessible. The abiding memory of this multiplayer galactic conquest game was, for me, learning the routines of the other player’s real lives, so as to better plan my tactics. “Kieron is out tonight, so he can’t possibly counter-attack in time…” “Quintin won’t be awake yet, time for my second prong in the attack!” And so on. Watching other players adjust their tactics in real time as I set up my fleets moving, only for me to countermand, and their counter-countermand, was a thing is beauty, and of frustration.

What’s best about Neptune’s Pride, I suspect, is that it keeps things simple. It facilitates the natural urges of players to ally, doublecross, or otherwise politic their way through what is a social situation. Your empire probably isn’t going to survive without other people. Space bound imperialism is a social animal. As in life, so in Neptune’s Pride. Play with friends for the most chilling results.

Quinns: When I wrote about Neptune’s Pride elsewhere, I described it as a game of-

#1: INTERGALACTIC WAR
#2: Being a jerk.

Which I think is as succinct a summary as you’ll find anywhere. The glacial pace of Neptune’s Pride and the lack of anything resembling random chance (besides the chance that your opponent might not be away having a drink or burying his parents when you invade his territory) makes it a polite, noble game. Does sir understand? This is war. It is a game of outthinking, out-maneuevering and outsmarting your opponents. The decision to slide your fleets forward or pull them back is not to be taken lightly. It’s a decision to be mulled over for whole minutes, perhaps with a glass of something expensive.

And yet at the same time you’ve got #2: Being a jerk. Despite its dignified overtones, Neptune’s Pride is also a game where the most conniving, devious, hateful, lying bottom-feeder of a human being is right at home. Why do you think I did so well at the beginning of our game? But oh, then everybody else cottoned on. I’m telling you, this game should have been called Neptune’s Shame. As much as it’s a game for thoughtful gentlemen, there can be no turning a blind eye towards the importance of numbers. Each of you, as an individual, is comparatively weak. Together, you are mighty. And yet only one of you can win.

This mix of grace and ugliness makes Neptune’s Pride a strange beast. It’s ballet for bastards, it’s knife-fighting for nice-guys. I love it for that.

It’s just a shame that the talked-of update never showed up, the one that was meant to bring additional features and race-specific abilities. As much as I’m looking forward to Iron Helmet’s next game, Blight of the Immortals, with a little bit more variety and colour I could (and still can) see Neptune’s Pride becoming an obsession for many, many people. I’m still obsessed, and I only ever played one game. But then, being betrayed by your “friends” will do that to you. Oh, Neptune’s Pride. Why you gotta hurt so good.

Kieron: Yeah, that one game, wrote up in extensive detail in the Pride & Falls diary. I never went back either. After those few months sleeping with a gun (i.e. A netbook with a portable connection) beneath my pillow, I fancied a break. Though I took no small pride at the game which I pushed first devoured games journalist circles. I’m a little surprised Future Publishing wasn’t burned to the ground in those few months, given the amount of hatred and loathing that was crammed inside it, thanks to Neptune’s Pride.

(As opposed to the normal level of hatred and loathing which is crammed inside any building that houses games journalists)

Mostly, Neptune’s Pride was the closest I came to what I was looking for after stepping away from Travian. Rather than the MMO-format where mass-dynamics trumps anything else, I was looking for an online game with a smaller number of players. Like about 50. Big enough to be BIG, but not big enough to be totally alien. Neptune’s Pride was a bit like that, but with the player numbers of a large boardgame. It also illuminated that problem of mass, while worse in a game with more players, is one which rests on whatever game mechanics you choose.

(I’m not surprised that they’re going for Blight Of The Immortals next, which doesn’t use the competitive set-up.)

Still -what Neptune’s Pride pointed towards is where I think a slice of PC gaming will be headed. This is very old school PC gaming, but made accessible in the manner of the modern world. I’d love to see lots more games like this. It’s where you half-hope at least part of the face-book games will go – something that’s mechanically more interesting than what’s generally being done. And most of all, when I think of Neptune’s Pride, I think back to that late night conversation between Graham and me and laugh and shudder at what Games can do to human beings.

, .

55 Comments »

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  1. Tom Camfield says:

    I sank more time into this and (currently) die2nite.com than anything else this year. I think.

  2. Chris says:

    I spent an entire couple of months basically thinking NP. My only regret is being unable to set up a game of people I actually knew, so I could destroy them all. Completely.

  3. mlaskus says:

    I love the game, but I played only one session. I backstabbed my friend and all the other players at some point. It was great, even if my friend didn’t want to talk to me for a month. It requires you to be online almost all the time though. It’s not a problem at first, when all the fleets move at a glacial speed but as the game progresses it demands more and more time to be sank into it. That’s why I won’t play it again even though I love it.
    I would prefer it to be turn based.

  4. Jelly says:

    The Idle Thumbs podcast did a really interesting discussion on this game in their (second) 8th episode. Well worth a listen, as are all of the episodes.

    (Neptunes Pride starts at about 55:10)

  5. Premium User Badge

    Lambchops says:

    The Neptune’s Pride and Solium Infernum diaries were two of my favourite things to read on RPS this year, even though I know I’ll probably never play either of them.

    • Doctor_Hellsturm says:

      This! Those were definitely the highlights of RPS in 2010.

    • Koldunas says:

      seconded. that’s why it makes me sad when other diaries fail to be developed and concluded. Can Song of Onionbog and Journey of Saga be our Christmas presents? Please?

    • Caiman says:

      The RPS diary actually put me off playing the game, but in a good way because I realized it was absolutely not for me. Great read though.

    • Cerebrium says:

      Speaking of which. Song of Onionbog. WHERE.

    • alh_p says:

      Yes indeed, what is happening in the bog? Or has RPS hit the marathon runner’s wall on Dwarf fortress’ learning curve?

    • DrazharLn says:

      Cerebium: Quinns said in another comment thread that he probably won’t do another.

      My guess is that either he chickened out or it wasn’t proving interesting enough to write about.

  6. Tusque d'Ivoire says:

    Yea, I played a bit of Neptunes Pride after having read about it on here, too. I started right in the middle of the galaxy, and even though I negotiated quite well, got utterly smacked around my home planets… by the party I least reckoned with.

    Recently, i found GalCon Fusion to be quite different, but a lot alike to this gem. bought it in the steam thanksgiving sale… way more arcadey of course.

  7. alm says:

    From all the reviews I’m suprised it isn’t called Neptune’s Shame Inducer.

  8. Monchberter says:

    This year’s DEFCON?

  9. Premium User Badge

    Colthor says:

    I played a game of this. It was great, but NEVER AGAIN.

  10. hbunny says:

    Argh! No! That looks a lot like Masters of Orion, but with sneaky humans for opponents. I don’t have time to get sucked into something like that. Argh! I can feel the force of attraction!

  11. Schmung says:

    I lost every single game of Neptunes Pride that I ever played. I think maybe I finished second once. It was marvellous, marvellous fun.

  12. Axez D. Nyde says:

    Weird, Searching for `Master of Orion 2´ on this page yields `no results found´!

  13. Navagon says:

    You might want to check the article for typos. There are a few.

    The game seems interesting and worth of mention here. But it also seems very time-demanding. I don’t think it’s really meant for me.

  14. RagingLion says:

    I won the one game of Neptune’s Pride I started after reading the diaries, sadly not with friends. Not everyone was trying the the same amount but there were still some immensely satisfying and thought out plans and deals done which were a lot of fun and very sweet.

  15. Jake says:

    I played one immense 12 player game of NP, loved it but it pretty much took over my life for a month or two. I’d spend hours with the calculator figuring out exactly how few ships I could use to conquer a star, or stay awake all night just so I could launch attacks that no-one would be awake to respond to.

    Eventually I had the largest empire and needed about 20 more stars to win when all the remaining empires turned on me as one. I decided on a mad gambit to capture 20 stars in one night before my red empire collapsed and just barely pulled it off – but the planning was insane, I got a screenshot of it here: http://bit.ly/gQDdCX

    I think its the most complicated and demanding game I’ve ever played, totally recommend it to anyone.

    • neems says:

      That sounds fantastic, if a little time consuming. The idea that you can do something crazy in the face of virtually insurmountable odds…

    • OctaneHugo says:

      That’s insane. In a bad way. But very, very entertaining.

  16. Xercies says:

    I played quite a few games of this with the pC gamer community at the time. Bloody good fun even though i died all the games i had. definitely made you think a bit. But maybe a bit to easy to backstab someone even with alliances i have to say.

  17. The Codicier says:

    “I loved the game but I only played it once”

    That is the phrase that you will hear said time and time again about Neptune’s pride.

    Supposedly the best way to make anyone stressed is to put them in a situation where what they perceive they need to do and how they perceive their own ability to cope with it don’t match up and boy does NP do that(and then some).

    The game always starts with you feeling in control because of its simplicity then as it progresses the vagaries of player interaction begin to take hold. Add to that a technology system which at times almost seemed designed to disrupt the players thought process and you get a whole lot of uncertainty.
    It was possible to log off seemingly certain of a victory and then log back on to find that because of a advance in your opponent’s speed or weapons it had become a defeat. Often there was nothing you can do to predict it all to stop it.

    In some ways I think the designers succeeded to well, they created a very pure model of conflict which reproduced not only the exhilaration but also the stress and exhaustion that it can produce.

    All in all I’m glad it exists but I’m not sure I’ll ever want to play it again

    • Edgar the Peaceful says:

      You’ve completely nailed it. I played one month-long game;loved it; won! Was exhausted. An experience I’m pleased I’ve had but I’m never going back.

  18. Alguem says:

    I’m amused to see how general my feelings towards it were.

    I also loved it, but did not manage to finish a single game, even as I had the upper hand at the time I quit. The tranquility of the morning after told me enough on how unfitting I was for it.

  19. Premium User Badge

    AndrewC says:

    When the NP diary ended with the screenshot of the final positions, I teared up a bit, so expressive was that image once it was understood what it had taken to get it there, but then I had been on the wine that night.

    But I do think the main purpose of games journalists is to do things like this. Mostly so that I don’t have to.

  20. McDan says:

    I did love that NP diary of war, it did get me obsessed with the game though. then I forgot about it, now reminded of it and plan on backstabbing people merrily for a few week at least.

  21. malkav11 says:

    I think that promised but never delivered update would have been crucial to my having any interest in it. I mean, I’m also not excited about the idea of a game delivered in real time when my weekday only ever has maybe 6 hours in which I can do browser games. But as it is, it sounds like the sort of game which can be quietly vicious and intensely full of player diplomacy while having very little meat or flavour intrinsic in the game mechanics. And I need that meat and that flavour. Solium Infernum sounded far, far more interesting….if only I’d ever gotten around to actually playing it once I bought it.

    • Fuu says:

      There is no comparison between these games in my opinion. Solium Infernum is one of the best games I have ever played, and since reading the RPS diaries I have been playing it ever since (and since you have it, you should head to the official forums, where a couple of games are starting). It is full of innovative mechanisms, multiple routes to victory, and – though to a far lesser degree than Neptune’s Pride – diplomacy. Also the ability to customise your avatar is something which ensures replayability in any game. Neptune’s Pride by contrast has little in the way of replayability, boils down to raw numbers in a far less elegant and complex manner than Solium Infernum, and is severely hampered by the dreadful real-time gameplay.

      PS Soilum Infernum for top of the list (unless it is ineligible since it was released last year…)

  22. Daniel Rivas says:

    Oh gosh, this game. My friend and I jumped into a game and quickly became neighbouring superpowers in the North through merit of co-ordination, stupid opponents, an inelastic alliance and a python script he had made to work out who would win a battle, and with what losses. By the end we were fighting an enormous proxy war that neither of us would acknowledge in the chaotic South of the map.

    Long story short – in that week or so of play, I learned to hate.

    Play it! You’ll have fun.

  23. Neoviper says:

    Would it be possible to get a friend in a different timezone to take over for you while you sleep, or other such dividing the time between a few people so you can actually have a life? I would think that would work out pretty well, relieve the stress of “What if they’re about to launch an attack right now, I’d be powerless to stop it! Better just stay up all night to be safe”.

    • Daniel Rivas says:

      Perhaps, but setting your alarm clock to 3AM so you can ‘accidentally’ send a three-hundred strong fleet to the space-equivalent of Gibraltar (which your friend owns, and is the only way to get to a huge star cluster) then ‘being offline’ so you can hold it for a few days without sparking an enormous galactic war is, in my view, an integral part of the game.

    • Schmung says:

      The flipside to that is stumbling in from a night out at 3am to discover an invasion fleet on it’s way and making the most awful, awful decisions as your booze addled brain queues up hundreds of actions and not discovering the extent of your folly until you drag yourself out of bed somewhere north of midday and realise that you’ve spectacularly shot yourself in the foot.

  24. Teph says:

    I’m another member of the ‘played one game, loved it’ category. I spent that month obsessed; I dreamt about it, I made battleplans, scripted my politicking while on the way to work, even used it as a psychological tool to get myself up earlier (ie. “if I get up at 6am to check my fleets, I can then get shit done until I have to go to work”) and be more productive.

    Unfortunately I won that game, and was left in the situation of choosing either to: a) play another free game with random folks who may not decide to stick with it, or b) play a paid game where the other players probably had more time to spend online than I did. I could never decide between the two, so never went any further. Still, it was amazing, and maybe when things calm down a bit in the new year I’ll give it another go.

  25. Ed Burst says:

    I have resolved to never again play a game that rewards you for playing it at 3am. Don’t make me choose between sleep and conquest.

  26. gulag says:

    Oh Gods, Neptunes Pride. I finished a long PBeM game of Diplomacy with friends at the end of last year, and promised myself I’d never become that insane, scheming, lying betrayal-trout again. And then Neptunes Pride showed up. Calamity.

    Playing with strangers certainly made it easier, and with little else to go on than an avatar and some sporadic messages, sharpening up the Glaive of Back Scabbarding became second nature. Through some quirk, I came second in every game I played (I think), so I have enough creds to jump into a more full featured game, but never did so. Cheers for reminding me this was still going.

    Must check what my /diplomacy ‘buddies’ are up to…

  27. Premium User Badge

    sonofsanta says:

    You totally need to make the number window on each diary clickable as well, so I can enjoy Horace’s gift of Clicking every day without having to go to the main calendar.

  28. Lightbulb says:

    It really should be turn based shouldn’t it?

    Playing Planetarion back in the day was enough waking up a 4am then going back to bed once orders were sent for one lifetime. :)

    My proudest moment in that game was actually not in the game at all.

    For those who don’t know about the game its basically its a browser based space war game where you are in teams determined by starting ‘galaxy’, I think it was 8 players per galaxy – there were hundreds maybe even a couple of thousand galaxies in total? Maybe it was even 20 to a galaxy? Anyway doesn’t really matter. Outside that there were alliance which were out of game groupings of people who cooperated but the ranking were for top player and top galaxy.

    Every season (which last a few months before the game started over) they would run a competition where each alliance had to get as many members on IRC as possible. The winner was given nothing in game but it was still a sought after title.

    At the time there were two big alliances – Legion and Elysium. They each had several thousand players and to be honest the only way to stand a chance as a galaxy was to have members from each with you else you would get swallowed up.

    Now at the time I was a 13 year old kid. I had got to know a few people in game and actually in a galaxy with members from both and that season we did pretty well. However this was the time when I had what I think of as my ‘brave heart’ moment.

    You see everyone knew that either legion or Elysium would win. They were heads and shoulders above the other alliance. Sure there were some group who were of the same scale but no where near winning.

    Still, everyone logged on a put their alliance tag on – be it a dozen members, or a couple of hundred. They all knew they didn’t stand a chance. It was done just for the pride of the thing. Just to say you were there.

    Then I started to suggest to people that this was the case. That they could not in fact win. That it was in fact pointless. They could sit on IRC for hours talking crap with a couple of thousand people posting away so everyone messages scrolled up the screen before you could even really read them. Conversations were had but only in the briefest possible sentences.

    So I pointed all this out to people – I said that they stood no chance but if they wanted to they could beat those two alliances. Now I guess I tapped into a seam of resentment here. See Legion and Elysium only needed to be biggest to win – and since the basically cooperated it was not in their interest to grow their membership any more. A galaxy with members from both would win in the end and that was what mattered.

    I taped into this – not really knwoing what I was doing at the time when I think back to 13 years ago – I tapped into the dislike of the big guys. After an hour or so the developers disabled chat for normal members. Only operators could speak. I think there was an interview with the devs or something.

    Then I noticed that changing your status wasn’t suppressed – so you could make the IRC program say *Lightbulb is away*. So I started to change my status to *Lightbulb is saying TAG Vampy for freeeeeeeedom!*

    It started something. More and more people started tagging Vampy. She was just a player in my galaxy, it started out as a joke but it build momentum. More and more people starting changing their status to continue the rallying cry.

    I’m sure it must have pissed off the devs and they asked us to stop but it had momentum by that time. I had no real way to manually count how many people were tagged Legion, Elysium or Vampy but you could tell that all the other smaller alliances were coming over.

    I have no idea if I set off heated discussion in private channels – I probably did. AllI know is that it started out with two people in our galaxy and when I logged off (I was 13 and had school the next day) far later than I should have the outcome was unclear.

    When I got back onto IRC after school I found that the devs had changed the rules. No longer were ‘not real’ alliances allowed to be counted in the competition because it was unfair. Still not sure exactly what was unfair about it. Sure Vampy wasn’t a real alliance in the game but it was democracy in action. People voting to stop the usual suspects winning. For once Legion and Elysium didn’t win.

    It could never happen again, not until someone knocked those alliances off the top spot anyway, because the dev’s changed the rules. However on that once night I set in motion something that affected thousands of people.

    We won, we beat the people who knew they were going to win and that once was enough for me. I never did play another round after that one. As I said I’d had enough getting up at 4am but I got something from that game that nothing else ever got me. A way to affect thousands of people. Sure it was trivial and makes not real difference in my life. Infact I haven’t even thought about it for 13 years since it happened but looking back it was something to be a little proud of. Didn’t let us be beaten, unified thousand of people to collectively win.

    tl;dr

    I seem to remember the conclusion of these diaries was that in the end the remaining players couldn’t stomach any more fighting. They had invested everything into the game and thought they wanted to win at all costs – friendships and alliances meant nothing. I don’t remember fully but I seem to recall that in the end someone let someone else have the victory because they decided that they didn’t want to win anymore.

    So I have two things to say about this game. The first is that its quite scary just how obsessive we as people can be and secondly that its a shame that there is no room in the game for an alliance victory because ultimately we prefer a team victory. We don’t always want to spoil an alliance with a backstab. Sometime its nice to be part of a team.

    This is why I probably never will play that game. I don’t think I want to become what it takes to win one – even though its all ‘pretend’.

    Anway didn’t intend to write anything this long when I started and not sure anyone will read it but sometimes its good to tell stories, even if its just to yourself…

    • Oak says:

      It really should be turn based shouldn’t it?

      No.

    • OctaneHugo says:

      Great story, and I think you’re spot on with your shared victories idea.

    • Lightbulb says:

      @OctaneHugo – Glad someone read it and got something out of it. :)

      @oakOk let me rephrase and expand (don’t worry I have to get work so no more epic post):

      It should be turn based if they wanted more people to play it and for more people to play it more than once.

      Since they are running a business both of the above would be good.

      —-

      Now what does 24/7 gameplay add? It adds people getting up at 3am. Now you can argue that you don’t HAVE to do this. But from what I know about human nature can = will.

      Does it add anything to the real meat of the game (the politics and player interaction)? Well I’d say they was just as much politicing in Solium Infernum so I would say no.

      What’s the downside of 24/7 gameplay? People with lives can’t play it, or if they can they won’t play it more than a few times.

      You can disagree with me of course but I finish with this:

      I haven’t bothered to play the game because of 24/7 gameplay. I’m sure there are others…

  29. Alikchi says:

    I do love this game. I’ve played 3 games to completion, and I got 2nd place twice.

    If anyone’s interested in more game diary/AAR goodness, I recommend the Guardianista Game One diaries, at the bottom of the page here: http://www.benroe.co.uk/wiki/wikka.php?wakka=NeptunesPride

    Also, shameless plug: http://www.benroe.co.uk/wiki/wikka.php?wakka=AlikchiNPDiary

  30. The Pink Ninja says:

    I loved the diaries but they just weren’t as fulfilling as the much more rounded SI. All this “Attack once your enemy has gone to bed” stuff is just depressing… but I guess with the ending the game had it makes for a very interesting sort of game.

    I look forward to the Kingdom of Blight diary and I’m thinking about if I can get anyone in the forum to join me in making one when it comes out.

  31. neems says:

    I thought I would finally try this out – I only work part time, and I’m basically evil, so it sounds perfect for me.

    So apparently I need a google account to play Neptune’s Pride. Hmm, okay. I sign up, do the usual. Now we have to verify the account. Verification options : (a) Text message; (b) Fuck You.

    Wow, truly a fully featured account creation process there Mr Google. If I had a working mobile phone, I still probably wouldn’t want to give you the number.

    Shame.

    • mlaskus says:

      You have to verify your account with a mobile phone number? I don’t remember having to do that when creating mine.
      Google account is an extremely useful thing to have though. Well worth the initial inconvenience of setting it up.
      As far as I know, Google does not use your mobile phone number for anything other than account verification or sending you free alerts that you can set up in Google Calendar.

  32. Nick says:

    It just made me want to play Stars! again.

  33. Premium User Badge

    Sinomatic says:

    And another one who played once and wouldn’t go back. It was a great experience but my god, the stress. Its not just time consuming, but life-consuming; a constant stress that is permenantly gnawing away at your consciousness, regardless of what else you may be doing. An unrelenting uncertainty about what may or may not be happening in the game while you’re not there to check on it, and its draining.

    Still, it was fun, and intense and different, but such a commitment that the once was enough.

  34. pimorte says:

    The biggest thing I’d appreciate from Neptune’s Pride is an option in the game setup to block certain time periods. When the clock got to those times the game would ‘go dark’ and only text chat would work. The galaxy would be unviewable and time would stop.

    For example, I might block 10PM-6AM Australian time.

    Neptune’s Pride without sleep deprivation? I’d like that. :)

  35. adonf says:

    It’s a good thing that the article doesn’t give a link to the game because I have absolutely no time for this and I lack sleep already.

  36. Bilharzia says:

    Dreadful game because of the decision to make it realtime. I’ve noticed their next game Blight of the Immortals has a turn based mode.

  37. Edgar the Peaceful says:

    The real-time nature is the game’s USP – slow-burn impending victory/defeat. It also wore me out, so I won’t be playing again, even though I admire it.

    • Bilharzia says:

      The slow-burn is great but the fact that someone who checks the game every 20 minutes always beats someone who checks every 24 hours is dreadful.