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What's better: unit designers, or handcrafted art?

Will you craft your men, or will someone else craft your world?

Last time, you decided that fiddling with environmental objects (henceforth known as fiddlebits) is better than rocket jumping. A toughie there, no doubt; I thank you for your careful deliberation. Next up, we're settling an issue of whose hand shapes game, whether you're getting hands-on with your mens or having someone else lovingly handcraft the entire world for you. What's better: unit designers, or handcrafted art?

Unit designers

I have spent long hours in Stellaris designing many spaceships to fill my fleet with complimentary and contrasting roles. I have grand visions of how they counter my foes, imagining my choices of weapons and carriers and countermeasures will lead to masterful manouvers and tricky traps. Oh, how foolish they will feel when they attempt to fall upon my backline and are torn up by flak! I am fairly certain that every unit I have hand-designed is worse than the game's auto-complete suggestions, and my decisions have led to the deaths of billions of citizens. But it does make me feel like a galactic mastermind.

Designing a picket ship in the Stellaris ship designer.
Buddy, I'm not even sure what a picket ship is.

I adore designing my own units. Give me a pool of perks, weapons, attributes, or whatever and I will happily tinker and coo and probably forget what I was supposed to be doing. The dress-up fun of character creators combined with the belief that actually, what I'm doing is really important. Sometimes it is. Often it is! And I'm just bad at it. That's fine; I'm having a grand old time. Especially if it's a game like Impossible Creatures letting me make daft animals.

The edges of this are blurry. Do your handcrafted vehicles in physics sandbox Besiege count as "units" if you only have one? Does customising units in XCOM or even characters in RPGs count? I suppose you could make a case for it, if you want to. Do you want to? I'll certainly let you try, though it's not me you have to convince.

Handcrafted art

Hylics is possibly the prettiest video game series. Modelling clay and real hands smoosh together in one dreamy look oozing vibes. Also, sometimes oozing melting fleshing. I adore it. It's gorgeous. The first-person spellcasting animations with gloved hands conjuring clay oddities are supremely cool. Some of the very best-looking games, these, made largely with stuff you played with as a kid.

The Dream Machine! Lumino City! Beeswing! So many games with clay and cardboard and paper and paints and pencils and wood and rubbish!

I adore dioramas, dollhouses, and stop-motion animation, and hugely respect the craft behind them. The best time I've ever had at EGX was sacking it off to visit the dollhouse show elsewhere at the NEC, cooing over tiles, houseplants, handbags, vegetables, and so many other tiny familiar objects. I bought a miniscule tiny corkscrew made of ebony and titanium from a man who insisted it would outlast my mortal body. Tiny handcrafted things are a shortcut to wonder by turning the mundane into the magic. Combining that with the Merlin-grade wizardry that is video games can be truly wondrous. A multiplier of magic.

Cover image for YouTube videoHylics 2 Trailer 3

But which is better?

Pick your winner, make your case in the comments, and we'll reconvene later to see who stands - and pose another conundrum.

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About the Author
Alice O'Connor avatar

Alice O'Connor

Associate Editor

Alice has been playing video games since SkiFree and writing about them since 2009, with nine years at RPS. She enjoys immersive sims, roguelikelikes, chunky revolvers, weird little spooky indies, mods, walking simulators, and finding joy in details. Alice lives, swims, and cycles in Scotland.