This week drschnell wrote to tell me about "Mini Metro." It's a little game that combines the visual elegance of modern transit mapping, interesting puzzles loosely based on the real-world challenges of transportation planning, a simple and intuitive interface, and a grinding sense of relentless entropy and impending failure. It's very good!
I start a new game at 8:53 p.m. with three transit stations, each starting to accumulate people who would rather be at some other transit station.
I create my first rail line, the Red Line, to connect them, 1-2-3, and people start to move. But immediately, other stations start popping up. I don't build them, mind you; they pop up of their own volition. By 8:55, only two minutes into the game, I've build a Green Line to connect three new stations to my network and a circular Purple Line to keep traffic moving. I've taken 26 people to where they wanted to go. And already another station over to the east needs my attention.
Only one minute later, 8:56, and I've more than doubled the number of people I've delivered. I've extended the Red Line to the new station, and created a Blue Line to another new station east of the river. I'm deliberately overbuilding at this point, using all of the tunnels and lines at my disposal, because I know that I can freely modify them later. Indeed, none of my first four lines are going to remain in much like their original form. The most important feature that has emerged in these first few minutes is the interchange point where the lines that cross over the eastern river -- the East River, I suppose -- meet. That station will be a very efficient transfer point, until eventually it stops being efficient and wipes me out.
Three more minutes pass, and it's now 8:59. The map continues to pull back and show a wider area in which I must constantly connect to more stations. So... many... stations... There are three more in the east and two more on the west. The Green Line is no longer connected to any of its original stations. Instead, it runs out of a single massive hub serving all six lines, including a brand new Orange circular line.
The next three minutes are relatively quiet, but keep adding new challenges just the same. An awkwardly placed new station appears to the southwest. Rather than try to distort the Green Line, I get an extra tunnel -- which means not being able to get a new train -- and rework the Purple Line completely. The Orange Line is expanded, and the Red Line rerouted to pick up some of the stations that the Purple Line used to serve.There are now two very strong hubs in place... and yet another new station that needs to be served.
Another three minutes, and that new station, now incorporated into the Orange Line, is on the brink of losing the game for me. It has a gazillion passengers waiting, which is not OK.
Now, there's a reason for this. The Orange Line runs clockwise, and always leaves that massive west-side hub completely full; therefore, it is never able to pick up passengers at the next station. They are starting to pile up. Given this kind of problem, I like to have time to think about what I'm going to do to solve it. Plus, as I build and tweak my system, I get a little attached to it. I like to sit back, watch the trains run, and feel like I've done my part for the urban organism. And this is why I don't like Mini Metro as much as I might: by the time a problem evolves, you really only have a few seconds to react to it, and meanwhile YET MORE STATIONS ARE ALWAYS DEMANDING CONNECTION.
A minute later, I have improvised a fix with a short Yellow Line. It brings in the new station, relieves pressure on the problem station, and makes an attempt at relieving pressure from the east-side junction as well. In the long run -- a few minutes, that is -- it's probably just going to cause trouble by depositing extra people at this increasingly weak link.
It's 9:08 p.m., I've been playing for 15 minutes, and things are getting a little desperate. I've extended the Yellow and Red Lines to absorb new stations to the east. Making the lines longer means that their trains pull into any given station less often, which means that passengers have more time to stack up. Partly because of this, it's getting a little crazy at the two focal hubs, so I build a Brown Line connecting just them and yet another random new station. It seems like a good idea at the time....
...but it isn't, really. Any pressure it takes off of one crowded hub is just dropped off at the other crowded hub a few seconds later. It would have been fun and interesting to think through a better solution, but I only had a few seconds to work with. Because by now it is 9:10, and my eastern hub is getting too crowded for the good people of the city to tolerate.
Alas, my game is over.
My assessment for drschnell: "OK, that's kind of great up to a point, but that point comes too early. When I build a transport system, I want to tinker, improve, manage, curate, and otherwise fuss with it. But I don't so much like transit systems, and games, where THE CLOCK IS TICKING AND RELENTLESS DOOM IS BUILDING AND ALL YOU CAN DO IS HOLD OUT UNTIL OVERWHELMED. Of course, the possibility exists that I'm just playing badly."
drschnell's rebuttal: "I think it’s important for games I play to have a building up of relentless doom, and an eventual, unavoidable end, because otherwise, I’m far too willing to tinker and improve and manage and curate, and then am likely to look up and notice that it is, in fact, now next Tuesday."
Both of us, despite being grown men with jobs and responsibilities, have slapped down three bucks to preorder an expanded version with lots of bells and whistles. One bell, or perhaps it's a whistle, is something called "infinite-play zen mode." That sounds like it will suit me to a tee.