Neptune’s Pride: The Complete Epic

By Alec Meer on January 2nd, 2012 at 11:35 am.

In case you missed it first time around in March 2010, this epic space conflict AAR is about as required-reading as this site has to offer.

Neptune’s Pride is a slow-form multiplayer Strategy game. We got together with our friends from PC Gamer to play. Weeks of bloodthirst, treachery and violence on a galactic scale later, we stopped. Then took a few weeks to recover. And then we wrote about it. The results follow. They say more about the players than anyone would like to admit.

The combatants:

Phill Cameron aka Poisoned Sponge, writer
Tom Francis, PC Gamer
Kieron Gillen, Rock Paper Shotgun
Hentzau, writer.
Chris Pelling aka Crispy, Inventive Dingo Games
Quintin Smith, Rock Paper Shotgun
Jim Rossignol, Rock Paper Shotgun
Graham Smith, PC Gamer

Here’s where, roughly, they all began:

And here’s how it all turned out:

Good times. Treacherous times.

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47 Comments »

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  1. Inglourious Badger says:

    EPIC. I read it before but I think I might just read it again.

    Considering you guys are on holiday you’re posting an awful lot of stuff this week! It’s almost more fun when you’re off than when you’re working. Almost.

    • migbasys says:

      cptgone, I guess that’s just the charm of random games, you never know what kind of alliances are true and not, and what binds them together. http://trimr.de/17l6

  2. HexagonalBolts says:

    I’ve never played it but I want to so badly. Anyone fancy a game? We could also write up our fumbled attempts…

  3. Patches the Hyena says:

    Brilliant, I lost a whole night to your Solium Infernum writeup. Time to lose one more!

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      Except the SI one ended up sort of triumphantly, while the NP one sort of dissolves into a morass of despair and contemplation of man’s fallen nature. I always feel dirty after I read this one.

      I do hope to see more features like this in the coming year though. It is RPS at it’s best.

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    Rinox says:

    It sounds like an awesome game but the fact that you pretty much need to be semi-constantly online with many people for a while seems like its downfall to me. The beauty of actual turn-based PBEM is that you can allow for a hiatus of another player for a few days or more, if he or she is busy with work, holidays, life, whatever. That seems like a pretty important difference for people who work and/or have families.

    • Jeff_MES says:

      @Rinox Totally agree. I really like NP but the commitment is pretty daunting. I was on a path to make a somewhat similar game when I first stumbled on NP some time ago and since then we’ve steered away towards a more relaxed asynchronus turn system. I think the Iron Helmet guys have realized this as well, since their follow up games have been of a smaller scope

    • liqourish says:

      The constant time commitment is sort of what makes the games so great though. Not necessarily Fun, but certainly Great.

      I’m not sure you could actually capture the sense of creeping paranoia and steady loss of humanity you experience in a good game of neptune’s pride in words. The constant need to check on your and your enemies’ progress only makes it better / worse.

      It’s one of the best examples of what games can be as a genre, something that makes us think and feel in ways we wouldn’t have otherwise.

  5. cptgone says:

    i played a game of Neptune’s Pride, don’t think i will ever do so again.

    i started out real good. at the end of my initial (peaceful) expansion i was attacked by 3 other players. they were pretty bad at the game so i managed to fence off their relentless attacks. the 4 remaining players were waging 1 on 1 wars. by the time their opponents had been vanquished, i had 1 weakened opponent left. guess what the 2 other players did… right, they attacked [i]me[/i]. i withdrew, focusing my fleets on my last original opponent, leaving a vacuum for the 2 big guys to fight over. they only needed a few more stars to win, so it didn’t make sense for them to not attack each other. but, as it turned out, they were a couple in RL…

    tldr; i fought 3 adversaries and won, only to be beaten by the remaining alliance of 2.

    • Jables says:

      cptgone, I guess that’s just the charm of random games, you never know what kind of alliances are true and not, and what binds them together. Playing with friends might improve your game, at least in terms of knowing any pre-existant bonds of loyalty.

      Personally I don’t believe a loss is a reason to quit playing a game I enjoy, though. ;)

    • cptgone says:

      Jables, i didn’t quit cause i lost, i quit cause my game was so frustrating. despite of my good start, i never got the initiative. the only decision i got to make was, which ganker do i counter attack first?

      my other reason for quitting was the fact it’s an extremely demanding game. i even set my alarm clock once :) way too much effort for getting ganked.

      good point about playing with friends, but my friends aren’t gamers…

    • ZeroMatter says:

      The game is extremely demanding. Even more if you are trying to roleplay the leader of an intergalactic empire. (And I wasn’t the only one in my game – it was truly hilarious sometimes!)

      Neptunes Pride is without a doubt the slowest game I ever played – and yet it was the most demanding and time consuming monstrosity I ever played. (I never played and hate MMOS)
      I remember checking on it every 20-30 minutes, always extremely nervous and staring HOURS at the screen, just waiting for something (crucial) to happen. In the end, I had to quit, because I had a few days of stress and couldn’t play the game during that time – when I returned, the crappy AI had taken over and ruined all my precious plans – although I was (by far) the strongest player in my game. (It’s actually not that hard, if you read a guide beforehand, and stop basically living for a few weeks.)
      In the end not the guy with the best strategy won, but the guy with the most time at hand.

      So, if you want to play this game, I recommend having nothing to do at all, atleast for 3 weeks – but then it can be a truly wonderful, unique experience.

    • sinister agent says:

      That’s a major downside of Neptune’s Pride. It’s not losing that’s a big deal – you’re pretty much sure to lose most games, it’s how it works. But it’s too often simply not fun once you reach a certain point, and even if you’ve got ahead, it can become a chore to stay ahead as the game moves faster the longer you survive, which means it takes up more of your day.

      I had a couple of great games, including a brilliant one where I was totally honest throughout and never double crossed anyone… until my first ally (who was the dominant power in the game) accused me of selling him out, and demanded tribute. So I said nothing, and turned the entire rest of the galaxy against him, and our combined forces completely wiped him out (If you’d trusted me, I wouldn’t have sold you out, guy). Then it became clear who the winner was, and there was a general feeling of goodwill between the rest of us, so we crowned the winner and two joint runners up, then had a big 2v2 face off for the hell of it. I got completely destroyed, obv. It can be terrific fun, but exhausting and frustrating. I doubt I’ll be back.

  6. Heliocentric says:

    Real time strategy games are best suited to being undertaken within a single hour, not a month.

    This game is insane.

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    mrwonko says:

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Good read.

  8. Pace says:

    The beginning of my love affair with Tom Francis.

  9. Harbour Master says:

    I love this diary for its ending more than anything else. But even so if it was too upbeat for you, there’s always my AAR which concentrated more on how the game peeled away my sanity and ran my life over four weeks. But you might have read this one already too, as it was posted on the Sunday Papers last year.

  10. CMaster says:

    I might read this again, but I wasn’t a big fan first time around. Gameboys from Hell is one of my all time favourite pieces on this site, but this left me cold – the core game itself just seemed to lack much space for intrigue and complexity, so the articles themselves just seem to be a long list of “I attacked X at three in the morning”

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      Neptune’s Pride is no Solium Infernum, unfortunately.

    • Premium User Badge

      felisc says:

      i had not read Gameboys from Hell… just spent most of my evening on it, that was something. wow.

  11. sqparadox says:

    I miss Kieron.

  12. Craig Stern says:

    I absolutely love these multiplayer strategy game journals; they are quite handily my favorite thing on RPS.

  13. sysdefect says:

    This sounds similar to Warring Factions. When I had found it, I was blown away. An mmo browser based strategy that doesn’t rely on ticks and meaningless numbers. Seems like it had a larger scale though, War-Facts games went by rounds that lasted forever and had factions and sub empires that consisted of many different players.

  14. DocSeuss says:

    Dammit, now I want to play a space strategy game, but I haven’t got any to play (not counting, of course, the Homeworld games and Sins of A Solar Empire, but those are different beasts), and even if I had the money to buy one, I wouldn’t know what to pick up.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      Consider Sins of a Solar Empire(Slow RTS) for MP, Distant Worlds (Pausible RTS), AI War (RTS), Galactic Civilizations 2: Twilight of the Arnor (turn based), or pick up Master of Orion 2 over on GoG for the turn based standard.

      Any of these are better strategy games than NP, in my opinion. What you get with NP, is the large scale multiplayer, accessibility, and easy match making.

      [Edit] If you want a good role playing single player game that recreates that NP sort of space opera like experience of a bunch of different alien races with distinct personalities and decent AI out to screw you, GC2:TOTA might actually be best for that, although MOO 2 is probably a better game, all around.

    • Vinraith says:

      AI War is pausable too (and has brilliant co-op, if you’re looking for MP). Sword of the Stars (great SP and MP) is also a worthwhile addition to that list, as is Armada 2526 (which has PBEM). There’s a world of good space strategy games out there. SotS, AI War, or Distant Worlds would be my strongest recommendations, but everything mentioned here by Suede and myself is quite good.

    • Heliocentric says:

      I adore SotS but it’s not for everyone. But SP&Z scratched the space itch without being too complex.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      No bigger SPAZ fan than me, but it’s not Strategy by any stretch.

    • Vinraith says:

      Does SPAZ ever move beyond “fly around, shoot stuff, upgrade?” I played it for about an hour and was bored out of my mind. It certainly looked like it had potential, is it just a slow starter?

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      Jeez, Vinraith. Admittedly SPAZ doesn’t belong in this discussion, but I’ll not have you malign the time honored tradition of flying around in spaceships and blowing shit up. You know how many great games could be distilled into “Move around, shoot stuff, upgrade”?

      Anyway, how is the expansion for Distant Worlds? I haven’t played any space strategy for a while now, and just noticed it had one. If only Matrix would demonstrate it’s remotely interested in actually selling the games that it makes by pricing them competitively, and selling them other places besides that terrible website.

    • Vinraith says:

      But see, I’m not distilling. I’m not flying anywhere in particular, not blowing stuff up that I have any reason to be interested in, and the upgrade system isn’t particularly compelling. I’m not looking to malign, I’m looking/hoping for a reason to keep playing. Tell me it gets more interesting!

      As to the Distant Worlds expansion, I’ve not had time to play with it much. It adds a robust character system to the game, which looks outstanding and unique for this kind of game, but I can’t speak to it personally.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      @Vinraith

      I can’t tell if you’re sincerely uninformed, or just exaggerating for the purpose of dumping on a game you don’t enjoy, but yes, there’s obviously more going on than that. Whether it’s enough to meet your standards for feeling like you’re doing more than aimlessly shooting random stuff, only you can say. Personally, I tend to think the game probably isn’t for you.

      Have you played a demo post launch, or only beta? Significant difference. While the world is open, you are undertaking missions to curry favor with factions, and influencing who controls a sector. Your actions have political consequences. You complete missions and mine resources in order to buy new ships for your fleet, and to upgrade their abilities, and you need to make tactical decisions about which ships to deploy, how to kit them out , and what their behavior should be in order to deal with different challenges.

      It’s a top down shooter with light RPG and tactical control elements, but at the end of the day, it’s still a shooter. If you dont enjoy the actual space shooting gameplay, and the tactical overview of upgrading and equipping your fleet for different challenges, and managing them in combat to drop defenses and take out different threats, obviously you wont enjoy the game.

      No, it isn’t quite Star Control. But it’s also made by two guys and costs 5 bucks.

      Wasn’t really interested in debating the merits of the game here where it is so off topic, and it’s cool with me if the game is not for you. But I just wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt in case you were speaking of an earlier version of the game.

    • DocSeuss says:

      I’m particularly in the mood for a real-time game where you try to run your own civilization. Like Sins, but on a vastly larger scale.

    • Abundant_Suede says:

      @DocSeuss

      In that case, for real-time, large scale empire management, you might check out Distant Worlds.

      http://www.matrixgames.com/products/379/details/Distant.Worlds

      You might find one of the turn based games more accessible, though, especially if you want complete control over everything.

      If you’re set on the Real time, and you want something slightly more slick and Sins-like, you might check out Star Ruler, which I personally didn’t enjoy when I first tried it, but has reportedly undergone further work. YMMV:

      http://starruler.blind-mind.com/

    • DocSeuss says:

      Distant Worls look cool. I won’t be able to pick it up for a while, but this is the first I’ve been excited about a space game since the Sins Expansion announcemet.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Abundant_Suede

      Yeah, we’re way off topic and I apologize for that.

      And no, I’m not dumping on the game for the sake of it, I’m honestly trying to find a foothold with it. I already own it, and that hour I’ve played was over the last week. In light of what you’re saying I’ll definitely give it a bit more time, I haven’t gotten any sense of the faction gameplay you’re describing. I’m not entirely happy with the way the shooting feels, but perhaps some ship upgrades can fix that. We’ll see.

      Anyway, I appreciate the run down.

      @DocSeuss

      Not to discourage you, since Distant Worlds is awesome, but it is only fair that we say that if your only 4X experience is with something extremely lightweight, like Sins, DW is going to be something of a shock.

  15. Abundant_Suede says:

    Reply fumble.

  16. Skabooga says:

    Tom’s suicidal AI taking over had me in stitches. Overall, the endgame experience of Neptune’s Pride reminded me strongly of my experiences with Risk: it’s fun at first, with all the betrayal and backstabbing, but once the game is whittled down to 3 or 4 players, it begins to turn into an auto-balancing slog, and you start to hate the people sitting across the board from you.

    I think these types of games would be more fun if play were stopped after the first person was eliminated: no clear winners, but one clear loser, whom everyone can deride with good-natured glee.

    • Rhin says:

      First-to-lose would not be fun at all. It would be too easy for you to ally with someone to 2v1 someone, and there is absolutely no incentive for anyone else to do anything about it.

    • Skabooga says:

      Granted, I didn’t really think about my above suggestion too hard. Hmm, maybe everyone plays until the first person is eliminated, and then the person with the highest score (most countries/star-systems owned) is the winner. That scheme is also open to abuse I’m sure, but I’d still rather play that than a total domination game.

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    PoulWrist says:

    I read the whole thing. Now it’s ridiculously late and I’m sad :(

  18. gwathdring says:

    I always love reading these things. More of this sort of thing. Hilarious and intriguing. :D

    I went on a Let’s Play binge after reading this, and found Tom Francis trying to win a game of Gal Civ II on the biggest possible map without firing a shot. I actually think I found it through an RPS post aobut GalCiv a ways back. Have a go!

    http://www.computerandvideogames.com/195920/blog/galactic-civilizations-diary-days-1-26/

  19. dontnormally says:

    http://kdice.com

    ^ Scratches a similar itch, but games are more along the lines of 15-35m long.