Why I’m Waiting for Another Outpost 2

So earlier this week, I mentioned something that to some of you, probably came off as unusual (har-de-har-har, right?). I was talking about E3, and mentioned that my hopes for an Outpost 2 successor hadn’t been met. Now, I should mention that I didn’t expect any sort of successor to Outpost 2 to be announced—after all, the original game was never that popular, and the developer that produced it is long since gone. That’s why you can freely grab a copy of Outpost 2 and play it: it’s abandonware. Abandonware that, while fun, does display a game that’s rough around the edges.

But I’m still playing it from time to time, despite the sheer brutality and often random cruelty the game deposits on me. I’m not kidding about that difficulty, btw, this game sometimes feels like a roguelike in that it just decides to randomly crush you for no reason other than you finally got a break. I had one game where after several attempts to dodge a lava flow, I successfully relocated my base to a mineral rich area, started to fend off attackers from a rival colony … and then watched as everything I’d ever built was leveled by an earthquake. Should have built more disaster relief centers, I guess.

And yet, every so often I go back to it, for one simple, strange reason: there is nothing like it, nor has been, since the game was released.

Which is why I found myself hoping for something close to it this year during E3. I knew it was a forlorn hope from the start; unless some team of indie developers all discover Outpost 2 or a team of old developers makes a successful kickstarter, the odds are against there ever being anything like, but I hoped all the same. I want to see another game like this, a game that meshes the management of a space colony struggling to survive with the military aspects of an RTS game. It’s a brilliant fusion, though it must be said that it stands against nearly everything the RTS genre has become in the last fifteen or so years since its release.

It’s also old, which is one of the reasons I’d like to see a new game tackle the concept. Outpost 2 is serviceable, and its unique mechanics are still fun, but at the same time there are a multitude of parts to the game now that feel clunky and outdated, or just not nearly as explored in-depth as they could be. Training of new workers, for example, is an early requirement that can only be fulfilled by a single structure and research path. If you don’t get this structure and the associated research completed in the first five or so minutes, you will die in the next ten. So every game becomes a rush to get this one thing that seems otherwise unimportant done. Clunky.

But I probably shouldn’t talk about where the game could improve. At least, not without explaining what the game does well that makes it so refreshing.

Outpost 2 Post Base
It took me easy mode to get a colony this large.

Survival
First of all, it’s a game about survival. Not in the traditional sense of survival against your fellow players, but survival against the elements. Your colonists need food. They need living space. They need medical attention. Morale needs to be managed and cared for. The post above? All those greenhouse-looking buildings in the middle of that colony are greenhouses. Agricultural domes, to use the game’s term. Each one provides a steady amount of food that in turn is consumed by the people living in the residences in the upper-right and lower-left corners of the screen.

Of course, meeting these needs means you need workers. Someone has to grow that food. And there need to be doctors in the hospitals, nurses in the nursery, scientists in your labs … and while the tools for dealing with these needs are simple (the game itself determines automatically where to distribute people until you step in and manually tell a building to go idle, which you should do because the game automatically will pick the worst buildings to go offline), you still need to deal with them. And of course you’ll need to make sure everyone has power, too. The game doesn’t require you to keep track of everything (water, for example, or air, though some research projects mention it), but most of the time when dealing with your colony you’re playing an administrator of sorts, trying to keep it all running smoothly.

Then there’s the environment. Nothing on the planet is static. Volcanoes erupt (as you can see above). Electrical storms brew, knocking out buildings. Meteors strike from time to time. Earthquakes. Tornadoes. The wrong strike at the wrong moment means bad things for your people, the loss of skilled scientists or even failure. You can’t rest easy most of the time.

Again, there’s a sense of clunk to it. The game certainly isn’t handling many of these things as adroitly as a modern game could. There need to be more options for dealing with many of the games problems, both in what those problems do and how you fix them. Most of them just boil down to time, metal, or instant-death/reload from save, which isn’t the greatest solution set. After a few games, you get a sense of “solve X problem by doing Y” and it’s always Y, which lowers the fun a bit.

But the game still captures, even in a simple way, that sense of survival. The momentary sense of panic when the alert comes up that “A scientist has died” and … oh no … they were the one keeping the hospital running can be pretty inspiring. Or the slow sense of creeping dread as a wall of lava slowly presses closer to you and your colony. Even with the limited tools, you fell better for conquering the challenges thrown your way.

Of course, a modern game could really help this out.

Research
A lot of games these days make research either a fairly easy process (click some buttons and go in a straight line) or a very telling, straightforward one (here’s everything, so just pick the path you want to get what you need). Outpost 2 does neither.

First, it makes research a question of resources: time and scientists. You need to assign scientists to each research project … but that means pulling scientists away from somewhere else where they’re probably needed. Except sometimes you know you really need that research, and suddenly pulling a researcher away to keep the hospital running becomes a tall order.

It gets even riskier when you realize that rather than a tech-tree, you have a tech web … one that despite the small size compared to what it could be … can require some elements of risk. Sometimes research projects are fairly straightforward—such as a suggested engine research project that states outright its goal is to provide better engines for some of the cargo vehicles you’ll be using. Of course, as with in real science, often the researchers discover other things as well … so you may decide your cargo trucks don’t need better engines and then not realize until later that this research will also trigger a breakthrough in heavy vehicle frames you’ll need for tougher war machine production.

A lot of the research is like this. Quite a few of them even include the words “may” in them, as in “we may be able to do this.” And while you always get something—more research options for a start—sometimes what you get isn’t what you expected, or even what you need at the moment.

Then again, sometimes it is. Weapons research usually pays off.

The point is, this is a game where you are, at least until you know the general shape of the web, taking risks with every research project you assign. You’re hoping that each research project will give you the edge you need to survive a little longer, to beat back a storm, or a power shortage, or a food shortage, a housing shortage, mental health problems … and since scientists are (until late game) a very limited resource, you’re usually waiting ten-fifteen minutes or longer on these projects, hoping that they’ll pay off with what you hope. Worse—and this has happened to me—sometimes your desperately working to develop a counter of some kind to an attacker and you only have one or two scientists left researching it when—disaster! A scientists elsewhere on your base has died in an accident! Do you cancel your research and get the building they were running back up? Or do you push for the hope that you won’t need that archive until later?

Again, it’s not perfect. A modern game could do better. Much better. Make the research more spontaneous. Give players more options, more paths to follow. Have research show up in reaction to some of the goings on around the players colony. To be fair, some research only appears long after you’ve solved said problem with lower-tech means—like lava barriers. Good luck ever using those for their intended purpose.

But as clunky as it is, there’s a sense of satisfaction about it.

Combat
Every RTS these days (well, almost every one) has combat. That’s usually the goal. And to be fair, combat is one area where Outpost 2 doesn’t shine, but drag. The units are uncreative, the control is lackluster, and the units you control move in jerky, awkward lines that are bad enough to be Dune II on the Sega Genesis. And this is after building the robotics control structure that actually improves unit pathfinding, though interestingly enough that structure does as advertised. But the combat is pretty bad.

Save for one aspect that makes Outpost 2 so different: Morale. You see, in RTS games today, victory is easy. Build a base to pump out an army of hard-counters, then rush your opponent and win!

You can’t do that here. First, the game is a little early to the counter game. So you just need a mass of enough units. But there’s another factor. See, your colonists may not like you opponent … but they definitely don’t like the idea of humanity going extinct. And your opponents represent some of the last humans alive. So you can break their war-mongering power … but blow up a hospital? Their nursery? Their food production, starving them? Your people start to get uneasy. And while this means you can keep right on steamrolling your opponent, it also means everything back at your colony slows to a near halt as colonists, upset by your war crimes, get sloppy and inefficient.

Whoa. Can you imagine what a game of Starcraft would look like if killing your opponents workers made your own forces depressed? That’s what Outpost 2 is trying to do. And granted, it doesn’t do it great. Again, a modern game could do far better at making this a real, heavily impactful part of the system, making the warfare aspect of the game something that has to be carefully weighed as as a risk-reward system … but still, it’s a great idea. Not only that, but it’s a fairly real idea—do you think your people would really be happy to see you blow up the other sides nursery?

Heck, build a new game right, and you could have all sorts of scenarios for careful action—is the risk of losing productivity and morale among your colonists worth blowing up a minor outpost to get a resource you’ll soon need?

Pacing
All of this is wrapped up in a design that is, sadly, counter to most RTS games these days. RTS games these days want to be fast. Fast so that players can quickly feel like a winner or quickly back away from the sting of losing. So fast they can throw everything into a make or break strategy and then see the results in less time than it takes to get a base up in old RTS games. And they keep going farther to compete with the lackluster attention span of the average RTS player—Blizzard has bragged that the match time in the newest iteration of Starcraft II will be under ten minutes per game. That’s not a game of strategy, that’s a game of dice. Halo matches last longer than that on a regular basis.

Outpost 2 is not a blink and you’ll miss it game. It’s a game that adds weight to your decisions. Research takes time. Construction takes time. Training takes time. Food-production takes time. Even getting your slow, heavy-duty cargo trucks back to base takes time.

And with that time comes anticipation. Fear. Worry that maybe you’ve made the wrong choice. Second-guessing yourself. We don’t see a lot of that in modern RTS games anymore—at least not any second-guessing that comes right before a player either concedes a match or the game ends.

Again, there’s things that could be improved here. Near the end of a game, a colony’s growth can outstrip the players ability to keep up with it, growing on an exponential curve and leading to overpopulation and crowding. Resource distribution and collection is grossly disproportionate to the rate you need it (there needs to be some sort of cumulative cost to things, an upkeep as well as a sliding scale of efficiency).


So … in the end, what do we have? We have a game that’s different, a game that blends two different genres of games into one fairly cohesive whole. The thing is, though, it’s not complete. Like I said, the game has problems. Balance issues. It’s playable, and it’s fun, but it’s hard not to see where it would benefit from a modern touch on all respects.

Am I dreaming? Sure. But this is my blog, and once and a while I think I’m allowed to indulge myself here. And right now, I’m indulging my brain in thinking I’d love to see a game in the direct style of Outpost 2 make a comeback. Forlorn? Sure. But hey, dreams are dreams. Maybe someday someone else who’s played this old gem will get a small train of thought that eventually pulls into the creative station, leading to a modern attempt on the genre itself. Probably one involving Kickstarter, given the game’s niche audience.

But hey, until then, Outpost 2 and its like may be abandoned by the industry, but they’re also abandoned by license, so if anything mentioned here caught your interest, you can grab a legal, fan-patched version of the game for modern systems here. Go ahead and give it a spin.

Just trust me and research “Training Programs” first thing. Then build the university and keep it running. After that, you’re on your own, but at least you won’t have a worker shortage (well, not too bad of one).

9 thoughts on “Why I’m Waiting for Another Outpost 2

  1. I’m disappointed that there’s nothing here.

    Yes. Yes this game should see a sequel.

    This game used to be all I played. Hours and hours just dumped into it. Modifying the maps, changing the tech trees… Really just doing things.

    In some of my most successful colonies I had quarantined the virus spread, or walled in my enemies. In one I jokingly decided to cover the entire world in tubes. Another I had built a dozen starships. But these successes didn’t come without truly feeling failure.

    Eden’s loss as a Microwave comes though and destroys the Lab… killing everyone inside.
    Plymouth’s death as the evac group gets a little too close to Eden’s guards. Lost the Command Kit.
    The great panic as I prepare the phoenix module as the blight encroaches across the launchpad.
    Shouting out in joy as you complete the quarantine wall… Before the wall bursts on the other side.
    The meteor, oh god the meteor that took my command center within the first 30 minutes.

    It’s not much for me to say this, I’m only one voice.

    But no game I’ve played to date has ever been quite like OP2. And frankly that disappoints me. If one is out there, someone please tell me.

    “You have done well, our colony is surviving.” – Outpost 2

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  2. First time I played this game, i didn’t know English. So I could only manage to play it on the lowest difficulty and only so-so survive. I had no idea what most of the things in the game meant. What the technologies were for, what the buildings were for… I didn’t know what the word “morale” meant.
    But I remember that I liked building the base and I was so excited when the first combat unit was produced. I loved the units that would stun the enemy and the acid cloud spitter that would instantly melt all the enemy spider robots.

    Only recently, I tried to replay it. But to be fair, I was unable to discover what am I supposed to do to keep the moral high. It just goes down, down and down. You say that scientists are a limited resource until late game? For me it was the opposite. Only when the game first starts and I produce the first batch of scientists from the university, I got plenty of them… but ever since then, they just keep dying, dying and more friggin dying! And there is never enough new workers to produce more. Even before any enemy starts attacking, even before I start attacking, even before any natural catastrophe hits me… the system to keep the moral on optimal level is just confusing to me.

    I enjoyed the game more because all of the other aspects than the worker management and morals… and the catastrophes… I liked the idea that ;buildings need to be powered. I liked the idea that units are constructed by a factory and only deployed by workers. I liked that the buildings must by connected by tubes and that the metals must be processed and distributed to the central factory to be actually used as a construction material. Opposed to most RTS games where you have a single measly worker that can magically create a building anywhere you wish out of nothing The resources are just some kind of abstract currency that gets added to your imaginary “bank” in the upper right corner of the screen and you can use it anywhere you wish. If I remember correctly, in Outpost 2, each base had to have it’s own building that would store the metal resources and if those bases were not connected by tubes, you would be unable to use the resources stored in the first base by the construction buildings in the second base.

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  3. I agree. I picked up Outpost 2 back in the 90s when stores still sold them in boxes large enough to make you feel like you were actually purchasing something.

    I think you hit the nail on the head though when you mentioned everything is trying to be fast. I hate that, absolutely *hate* hearing this game is “fast” or “action packed”. It screams little thought, big explosions, and little satisfaction. I was a huge Red Alert 2 player. I played in matches during the weekend that may have lasted 2-3 hours. I loved every minute of it. But nowdays if it isn’t a twitch shooter (CoD, Halo, H&G, PS2, ect) or doesn’t promise huge explosions in less than 5 minutes, the millennials groan, and turn their noses up at it. I was so excited for Red Alert 3, and the rest of the C&C series, and boy was I disappointed in the newer ones. Garbage does not accurately enough describe the news games from those series.

    To boil it down to the easiest way to understand it, the reason why game are so fast, and DLC ridden today, is thanks to the children now days that buy games. They don’t know of a world where you would purchase a game, and own all of it, not bits and pieces of it, that you can add to in DLC that sometimes will cost as much as the original game. It is the gamer’s fault, and while most of us now days are close to 30, too many gamers are still in the single digits, or worse the 10-18 year gap. Those are the gamers who have to have FPS, have it now, and the game to be over yesterday because their goldfish attention spans can’t stand sitting at the PC and playing a game, for hours. All this leads to gamers our age playing games and wondering where the sense of accomplishment went. Well today’s gamers took accomplishment out back behind the shed and squeezed a piece of lead between its eyes.

    Sadly, I’d love to say that when these gamers mature (when we get closer to 40) then maybe we will see it again. But that is highly, highly doubtful. As these gamers only breed worse and worse gamers.

    Remember the arcade? Our MMOs from the 80s and 90s? Remember how you could play against people, and still be within arms reach of them? Yea, the kids from the CoD era would have never survived our MMOs. Sure there was shit talk, but there was always a line, that you only crossed if you felt bold enough to piss off a room full of gamers who would knock all of your teeth out, happily. Now days with children being protected behind a computer screen, they can say and do, anything they want. Troll the shit out of you, and ruin the few hours a day you have to play? Almost all the time, because it is “fun” to them, to ruin someone else’s gameplay experience. What happens? Less older people play, and more younger people gravitate towards it, causing the problem to grow even worse. Maybe most of these problems could be solved with, making players have to put in an actual age, say, none younger than 18, and find a way, even if it has to be with a credit card number that is never used, to make that stick, preventing the 17 year olds and younger gamers from ruining the game.

    But again, sadly, I don’t see that happening. There is just to much money to be made be pandering to the lowest common denominator (idiot children) of a gaming group, and then milking them for all their parents money. Our era and video gaming is dead, and before it was murdered, it was raped, tortured, and humiliated. We will never have those types of games anymore, and if they have anything to do about it, they are going to prevent us from being able to play those older games, for “security” reasons.

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    • I’ve looked a few times, but still haven’t found anything even close to it. Once I do, though, you can bet I’ll make a note of it here!

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  4. I was playing outpost 2 yesterday, and thinking man….if only there was a build queue for the factories. If only literally everything didn’t have to be done manually in 6 “easy” steps(like building a structure). I suppose the latter isn’t too big of an issue until later when you are building 16 residence structures and 4 medical centers to keep up with your exponentially growing population… That could be a research area in of itself. Automated Administrative Logistics, which will take over the droll housing problem. Or perhaps you can just have a cap, and then send extra colonists to another area(or space) via rockets.

    I think a remake of this game is definitely in order. I actually wouldn’t change too much about it. Just remake it from scratch with some changes to the research tree(ok a lot of changes). Firstly, the tech “web” is a confusing mess. I can barely remember what is what and it actually changes in various game modes and scenarios. What a nightmare. A tech tree with genres more like space empires IV would be more to my liking.

    Combat would also need to be updated. The selective attack move for example. Units will attack move only certain times and at certain targets. This of course, was due to hardware limitations back in the 90’s. With all the other environmental things it was doing, it had to make cuts somewhere. now, it doesn’t have to do this. In fact, any degree of complexity can be introduced. Various behavior selections, in the style of age of empires II could be incorporated, and a formal attack move command should be added. I agree also about the movement issue. Path finding code on this is awful. They always stick to the side of plateaus even if there is a way better path.

    Another cool feature I would add is making the minimap less revealing. For example, if you have a satellite view, and you turn off your lights on the vehicles, they disappear from the enemy minimap at night. This makes surprise attacks very very possible, and adds to the fear and dread of the game. I would also not make he entire map explored with no fog of war; and volcanoes would be a little bit more devastating, and not just a game ender where half the map is covered in lava all the time(although, I think I would retain that for some maps as a trigger event/timed event and implemented the exact same way). Meteors and earthquakes are definitely staying…but meteors are getting an overhaul…when they impact, they should be varying in size as they are already, but they should leave a nice impact animation, and also an appropriately sized crater! This would give the robo dozers a bit more to do in the game.

    While the pace is one of investment, I would definitely speed things up a little bit. by no means would I make it like a modern RTS, but man…it is just painful sometimes. However, I am not sure…the slow pace does add a feeling of the environment itself. namely, a planet with a thin atmosphere and rugged terrain.

    At the moment, I am learning a new win32/64 language(power basic). I think it is perfect for developing a game like this. I could probably even use some of their DLLs( DLhell to most programmers 😀 ). not promising or committing to this, but if i get enough time i would love to make this game. I think the appropriate place to publish it would be on outpost2.net I think most fans would even be okay with the exact same graphics, or even prefer it. The style Moby games used was very simplistic and seems to draw most of its functions from windows controls. Of course, this kind of broke it later when windows changed things up quite a bit. Surprisingly though, it mostly still works. I do think that this would be a perfect learning experience for me though…and a fun game to play for decades to come as mainstream game companies continue jump the proverbial shark. It’s like a shark jumping competition at this point. building things from scratch is what I like to do anyway. I hate the modern approach to programming. It’s too prone to needing frequent patches, and just plain not working later. Also, it would make it easy for me to maintain.

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    • You know, I’d disagree about the science web. In fact, I’d like to see it even more opaque rather than more clear. In reality, you can’t go “Okay, I’m going to research this, which will then give me this, which will then give me this …” with a chart to look at. In reality, you’re blind a lot of the time. Sure, you have things like “improve engines on this vehicle” but you’re never sure it’ll work, and that research might tick over to something else.

      What I envision for a spiritual successor is a sprawling tech web with chances. Where most of the time you’re not certain of what you’re going to get. Where you assign a number of scientists to study “vulcanology” and they may come away with a new smelting method … or they may come away with a new way to detect volcanoes and tectonics. Where they may walk away with a breakthrough in a new area you haven’t studied yet, but no other results.

      You’d want to tailor things to the environment, sure. And you’d want to have a point where the scientists say “We’re pretty sure we’ve exhausted all angles of study there, let’s try something else!” And there would have to be some more regular, straightforward research for stuff that would have already been known about but needs to be rediscovered.

      But at the same time, a more elusive tech tree, where even after you’ve played the game you’re only certain that you may get one of 8 things if you tell your scientists to study “X” would add a lot of replayability and uncertainty. Perhaps with a caveat that as other research makes breakthroughs, you can be more focused.

      Of course, various factions could have various random levels to their tech trees as well.

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  5. True about the clumsy combat mechanics… everything else about Outpost 2 is amazing… Where the heck are the kickstarters when you need them???

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