Spacing Out: Why I Love that Millennia: Altered Destinies Let’s You Fail So Gloriously

I Waited an Hour for This Fuel...
I Waited an Hour for This Fuel…

So friends, I wanna talk a moment about the amazing game I’m playing this week, Millennia: Altered Destinies. If you’re unware of this game and what it’s about even at this point, go read the Wikipedia entry on it or watch the playlist, I’ll wait.

Few games give you the freedom that this game does, not only to travel in space but freely back and forth in time. As apparently the smartest being in the galaxy, you have to help four pretty distinct races not only survive, but thrive and expand enough to take over a quarter of the galaxy apiece. This involves preventing their extinction, helping them solve internal crises and so on.

What’s amazing about this game, and why I feel it is a product of its time, is that you can fail masterfully in this game, and it does nothing to stop you from doing so. I don’t think this game could’ve been made today, because it has none of the creature comforts we’ve gotten used to in games today. There are no arrows telling you were to go, no popup hints, not even a tutorial. Nope, this game basically tells you, “You have a ship that can travel in time. Seed these races and then help them fix their problems. Have fun!” and then throws you into the deep end of the pool.

Take my game session for example. When I was playing this, I got complacent that I’d have enough fuel to go where/when I wanted, and that each system would have a gas giant from which I could top off my tank. No-sir-ree-bob, I ran into a system with no gas giant and no fuel and was stuck waiting there for an actual real-time hour before enough fuel trickled in to let me jump somewhere else. ALSO, I had the navigational controls set incorrectly, so I actually didn’t need as much fuel as I thought since I had them set 100 years ahead. If I had set the same jump to the present, I would’ve needed a lot less fuel.

Did the game warn me about any of that? Noperino. Not even a low fuel light. Just BAM, you don’t have enough fuel to go anywhere. Honestly? I kinda loved that a lot. We’ve become, truly, an impatient lot as gamers. We want tutorials and popups and hints and arrows telling us where to go next, and I get why. Games are supposed to be fun, not frustrating. I’ll tell you though, it was honestly and truly refreshing to play a game that gave no fucks whether you succeeded or failed, it just provided the tools you needed to get started, and the rest was basically up to you.

Back in 1995, with fewer games to compete and less of a reliance of flashy graphics technologies, developers had to be creative in how they let players play the game, and this included, I feel, allowing them to fail. This also meant, however, they could take risks and come up with amazing challenges like the one this game provides. It’s truly a unique game, not just in space gaming but in all gaming. Time travel is tricky, but this game handles it beautifully with its time-wheels, which allow you to scroll in century-based chunks to see crises down the road. You can then jump around time, solving each as you see fit. Sometimes you have to let a race go extinct and help the others before they develop something that can help that now-extinct race…if they just happened to get it before they were wiped out.

It’s just such a damned shame this game isn’t available digitally. It’s not an expensive nor difficult game to track down on CD-ROM, and works brilliantly with DOSBox right out of the…er…box. It’s just one of those games I wish more people had experienced, because it truly deserves more love, and a bigger footnote in the history of space gaming, than it’s received up until this point. If you have the time and wherewithal, I can’t recommend it enough, as its truly a gem of the genre. Thanks for reading my random-ass thoughts on the game!

Author: Brian Rubin

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