This is the seventy-fourth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
Build up a world piece-by-piece while balancing the tempers of the Fates
Tempting fate is hard enough, now we have to tempt a whole bunch of them?
I was surprised to discover that Fate Tectonics requires Adobe AIR to play. That’s not even supported by Adobe anymore, it’s now run by Harman, although it is still possible to install the AIR runtime and use it to play Fate Tectonics. Which is good, because Fate Tectonics is a lot of fun.
The premise brought to mind the recent success Dorfromantik (the original prototype for which is included in the bundle), although Fate Tectonics came first. Players build a world using tiles with various terrain types, trying to match edges so they fit together seamlessly and create a nice landscape of fields, forests, lakes and oceans. Where Dorfromantik is a relaxed affair, however, Fate Tectonics includes some time pressure and challenge in the form of the Fates, godlike beings who each have their own wants and desires. It’s not always possible to keep them all happy, and when they get angry they can take it out on the world, destroying or tainting large swathes of it, with profound effects on future building. In fact, in the main game mode, destroying the world and then rebuilding anew is part of the cycle.
Worlds in Fate Tectonics are flat, their edges actual edges from which water pours into the void below. Players must strive to build stable worlds, which means matching as many edges as possible (a single tile hanging off an edge is liable to crumble away) and adding stabilizing features like towns and fleets of ships. The square tiles contain triangles of terrain, one type for each edge, such that the assembled world is full of diagonal lines delineating the terrain. Build enough, and new Fates will be unlocked and can be added to the world, granting new building powers. Barnacles, for example, excels at building oceans, but gets angry when players place fleets. Hogweed loves it when players construct forests and offers powers to stabilize them, but can get upset if too many tiles are placed elsewhere, and will use a massive elbow drop to smash the land if his rage grows too much.
There are also Fates who are less directly involved, but determine the shape of the game, acting as personified game modes. Ragnarosa and Fortuna are the twins of death and rebirth, and selecting them means players will build up as fancy a world as possible within a time limit, and then switch to destroying it with an array of apocalyptic powers, before starting again in the next age. But I found this mode got a bit repetitive. Every Age starts the same way, by placing the temple of Penelope, the Fate of Civilization. She grants the ability to place grassland tiles, but these are actually the most varied tiles of the bunch, usually holding a mix of plains, forests, and water. Tiles are randomly generated and there’s no hint about what’s coming next, so my worlds ended up as weird patchworks full of tiny ponds and clumps of trees. These were the only matches I could find. Unlocking other Fates lets players be more expressive in their building, but all too soon it’s time to destroy the world. There are various tools for this, including poisoning the water with offshore oil rigs, caving in a tile to start a chain of collapse, or just going all out with a massive rain of fire. It was unclear to me the real difference between these (why not just unleash the devastating fire rain every time?), but others might enjoy the variety on show.
I had more fun when picking Serenity, the Fate of Eternal Calm. He’s happy to let players build to their heart’s content, and keeps the other Fates from getting too unruly unless provoked. In this mode I was able to try for a decent sized world, aiming to maintain balance and harmony. Fate Tectonics is never entirely peaceful, however, as eventually Pestur, the Fate of Pestilence, will show up unbidden to cause famines and droughts. This can in turn anger the other Fates, occasionally leading to a chain reaction of calamity that wrecks part of the world. I noticed some interesting details in the aftermath of one such event. The building out of civilization through towns and ship fleets (which are placed on top of existing tiles) is roughly medieval-themed, with nearby fields turning into farmland and larger settlements able to transform into castles. They’re also all beneficial, stabilizing the tiles around them. But after a calamity, some more modern — and detrimental — signs of civilization appeared. Sometimes I was left with factories belching smoke, which destabilized nearby land, or even the very same offshore oil rigs I used when destroying my worlds, sitting there polluting the water.
In fact, there are a lot of interactions I don’t fully understand. The tutorial, administered by Tutyr the helpful satyr, does a good job of explaining the basics, but not the nuances. I’m sure there are optimal places to put towns, for example, where they will thrive and grow, but I don’t know what they are. Tutyr says he’s found a perfect spot when showing me the ropes, but he doesn’t say why it’s perfect. Presumably towns should be near large areas of plains, for farmland, and also water, for fleets? But these are hard to arrange, and sometimes towns that I thought should thrive instead languished as tiny hamlets. I also wasn’t sure how far apart they should placed. When do they start crowding each other? Is proximity good? Fate Tectonics is the kind of game where knowing these details could enrich the experience. Golden Gear Games seem to want players to work it out on their own, but it never became clear to me.
I have a few other complaints too. The game defaults to a small window, and switching to fullscreen only partially works, leaving lots of blank space. I tried the option to increase font sizes since the text was a little small on my large screen, but this just cut off Tutyr’s messages during the tutorial so I couldn’t read the instructions. Turning it back off, some UI elements stayed large while others shrunk again, and these were inconsistent when launching the game again later. Those rough edges weren’t too annoying, but I did lament the lack of an undo button. In one game, an accidental click placed a misaligned tile, which then started a chain reaction that collapsed a big chunk of land, including a town which I’d thought had stabilized the area. Then there’s the frustration of finding a spot for a tile that just doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. I think there’s no penalty to matching just one side of a tile on the edge of the world, where it will shortly crumble away, but this happened more often than I wanted.
Mostly, though, I really enjoyed Fate Tectonics. It has beautiful, colorful pixel art, making it a joy to watch a world take shape. The music is an homage to the days of MIDI, using retro synth approximations of classical instruments like organs and flutes, and each new Fate adds to the ensemble with their own instruments. If the Fates are upset at each other, the music becomes cacophonous, but build a balanced world and it settles into harmony, each Fate inserting itself into the melody seamlessly. There are even some Fates I barely got to play with, like Auroara, who looks like a giant polar bear. When I summoned her into my world, she brought an ice age with her, which became a minor calamity, collapsing a lot of tiles, including her own. That meant I’d need to summon her again, but I couldn’t bear to unleash such a cataclysm a second time, so I never found out what the final Fate, Archaeomagusaurus, is like. His description says he brings magic, but also meteors. Uh oh.
Fate Tectonics is an easy one to recommend. The little things that bothered me only stand out because everything else is so polished. I enjoyed how, even in the more relaxed game mode, some disasters are inevitable and indeed necessary for building a vibrant world. I lamented the difficulty of finding a place for tiles sometimes, but one way to solve that is to collapse a bunch of the world and rebuild in a different way. It’s also possible to replace existing tiles with new ones, something that I probably should have done more often. If you fancy some worldbuilding that’s not afraid to shake things up, definitely try Fate Tectonics. Yes, it’s even worth installing Adobe AIR for it. If you missed it in the bundle, Fate Tectonics is sold for a minimum price of $5.69.
That’s 74 down, and only 1667 to go!