Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Hotel Full of Bees

This is another post on Evil Genius, covering a couple mechanics that I didn't really last time. And yes, there will be discussions of hotels, possibly full of bees.

Let's start with the tourists. Your base is carved out of a mountain on some remote island. There are no local inhabitants. There's just the mountain and the sea. A dock and a helipad I guess. And yet somehow the tourists show up. They wander around for a while and leave. If in the meantime they saw something that freaked them out, they go back and raise your global heat level. With some effort you can calm them down so they won't raise your heat (keep a certain class of minion trained and available, keep an eye out for panicky Hawaiian shirts) (I should also mention there appears to be a bug that makes this part not work). As far as I can tell, there's no penalty for killing them and hiding the body.

So how do I as a player react to the tourists? Mostly I ignore them. I mean, if they get all scared yeah, I can delegate minions to calm them down, but generally they've got better things to do. If they manage to wander into my base then depending on how I'm feeling I calm them down and lead them out or I torture them to death. Not much room for a middle road there. But the consequences to me as a supervillian are pretty mild either way.

Or, I can build a hotel, as the game suggests. Spend a couple hundred thou of my hard stolen loot, but oh what a hotel! It's got drinks (free drinks, so far as I can tell. I never see a dime for providing them) and dining, a dance floor, a guy at the grand piano in the lobby. It's got an adjoining casino with roulette and craps and baccarat. The game says the varied furniture will entertain the tourists, keeping them from poking their noses in where they don't belong. I've never known the hotel to detain the tourists a quarter as effectively as the minions who staff it.

Tourism, in Evil Genius, is a poorly designed mechanic. Any mechanic which players can largely ignore should draw scrutiny as to whether it deserves to be in the game to begin with. There are more important things to pay attention to. Furthermore, dealing with them doesn't provide you a good, it only allows you to avoid a negative (and a mild one at that; half the things you do increase your world heat anyway). It's the difference between wanting to do something and having to do something. So dealing with the tourists tends to be an annoyance rather than a pleasure. And after that, the mechanic could use some balancing. I went through all this trouble to build you a nice hotel with no bees at all in it and you're not using it? I guess getting gummed up in the impact stress analyzer in my laboratory was more important.

So how could they, at the game design level fixed this? The could have made the hotels make you money. If the tourists are a positive source of income then you've got a reason to pay attention to them, to herd them out of your base rather than strap them to the laser. You'd have a reason to build the hotels. You wouldn't get so annoyed that they keep visiting your island because they represent a viable source of revenue. Which would have also saved the mechanic from irrelevance.

Revenue there would push your existing revenue streams from the world map into being less relevant but that's fine. You do enough on the world map as it is, and even assuming they took out the infinite money bug at the start of the game stealing is never the most important thing you do there.

And speaking of the world map, let's talk notoriety. Whenever you engage in an act of infamy on the world map you gain in notoriety. This has a couple effects:

As your notoriety goes up, you can recruit more henchmen. The world powers send more powerful agents to your island. At predetermined levels the powers send superagents to your island. (Superagents roughly translate to the protagonists you'd find in other, less villain centric stories.) And occasionally you have to reach a certain notoriety to pass an objective.

The problem with the mechanic is it gives you very little to go out of your way to commit those acts of infamy. I mean, if you figure the henchmen you get are about equivalent to the superagents (an arguable point, but take it for the sake of argument for now.), and if the more powerful agents aren't that much of a problem, then at best you're getting a neutral deal by raising your notoriety. A neutral basis doesn't give you the incentive to go out there and neuter that panda.

If you just did a spit take, well, let me explain. Inasmuch as the game provides many, many openings for making fun of the mechanics, they really did fine with the writing. These acts of infamy you engage in as an Evil Genius are, well, cartoonish supervillainry. They include stuffing fish with radio beacons to overtax a sonar system, blowing up a Russian vodka distillery, very publicly executing a boy band mid performance, stealing a solid gold Buddha statue and replacing it with a solid brass one, replacing an ivory supply with elephant squeaky toys just before the forces of justice descend on it and so forth. My favorite is, of course, neutering the worlds only panda that's interested in breeding.

But the point is that engaging in these diabolic acts form a large part of the reason you want to be an Evil Genius. They're the draw for the market. That and the whole conquering the world thing, which doesn't enter into this discussion. Doing them isn't easy; you have to mold your minion base into the appropriate form and then keep them alive on the map long enough to finish the objective. I wish the game gave you more reward for them than a high notoriety, or at least more reward for a high notoriety.

Some of the acts of infamy also get you a loot item; those I'm fine with. At least you get the Ark of the Covenant to use as a coffee table. That doesn't mean the other type works. The game should do more to encourage people to go after giant pandas with a hedge clipper.

One final mechanic: traps.

Again the game hits this one out of the park in terms of the creative aspect. You get to build pirahna tanks, trapdoors into furnaces, tesla coils and all manner of fiendish devices with which to baffle your foe. Which is great. The trouble is that the traps tend to have a number of annoying downsides.

First off, you'll catch plenty of minions in them. While this cultivates a properly evil sense of outrage (I spent a lot of time teaching that mook quantum mechanics and he goes and gets himself stuck on the sawblades. Why am I surrounded by idiots?), a sense of outrage isn't the feeling I expect to get when I'm playing my videogames, however evil. And however remote you make the trap, your minions will go poking around it, potentially setting it off or being near it when an agent sets it off. Somebody has to clean up the bodies, after all. And you'd better hope the agents get killed by it, if they somehow manage to survive (blast them!), they'll find the motion detector and blow it up, making traps expensive to maintain.

The traps themselves are fun, and in a rare case of getting the incentives right the game awards you small amounts of cash which get bigger the more traps an agent sets off at once. You're not in it for the money, but it's nice to know someone appreciates your art. My favorite trap is, of course, the beehive. Stepping in the wrong place and getting chased by swarms of malevolent, genetically engineered superbees? Awesome.

Which brings me to the title. The Hotel Full of Bees. This latest time playing through the game (for all I complain, I do seem to play it) I built a lavish base with all the amenities, including two sets of backup generators. I built two hotels with all the amenities even though they're largely useless. I then built a third, decoy hotel. Full of Bees. Which is, as they say, pretty much what it says on the tin. Rather than constructing the usual bar and rooms and all the hotel contains nothing but motion detectors, pressure sensitive tiles, laser trip beams and roughly fifty beehives.

Literally dozens and dozens of agents and tourists have wandered in only to come running out pursued by swarms of bees.

I still haven't stopped laughing about it.

It's a Hotel. Full of Bees.

Now that's the kind of supervillainry I signed up for.

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