No, this isn't about Business Simulators played in the cold dark vastness of the stars
(though it can be sometimes). The idea behind a Space Management Game
is for the player to figure out how to make the most out of as little space as possible.
"Space Management Games" is the collective name for a respectable number of Simulation Games
which all follow very similar core gameplay. They usually share the same premise: The player is the head of some organization or business, and receives a set amount of money (or points) with which to construct a facility. This can be a business place, a secret lair of evil, an amusement park, or even a city - depending on the genre of the specific game involved. The player is allotted a limited amount of space for construction of this facility, as well as access to the various "pieces" that must be placed down in order to make the facility work. These pieces (which are usually called "Rooms", "Buildings" or "Zones", depending on the scope of the game) are often oddly-shaped, and some must be placed in close proximity to specific other pieces in order for the facility to achieve peak efficiency. Deciding what to put where is the whole point of the game, and it is often necessary to make compromises in order to fit everything in.
In nearly all Space Management Games the facility itself is not just for show - it will quickly become populated by a large number of characters (often referred to as "Denizens"). The Denizens may be your staff, coming to operate the facility, or they may just be visiting it - but they will invariably spend much of their time traveling from one zone to another to carry out all sorts of activities. The further they have to travel to reach their desired destinations within your facility, the less efficient the entire facility will be. If the denizens are your customers, then you need to make sure that they spend as much money as possible in the facility before they leave, ensure that they don't have to wait long in queues, and keep them generally happy. If the denizens are your minions or employees, you'll have to make sure that every area is easily accessible so that they don't have to travel long distances as they work. The patterns of Denizen movement must be studied and understood in order to build any successful facility.
Though they can be very different from one another overall, most Space Management Games share many common characteristics. Most of these games give you the ability to examine copious statistics about each Denizen, to determine whether they are happy and/or efficient. Other common traits include a grid-like environment that assists players in calculating how large each room should be, where passageways for the denizens will go, and how far one room is and should be from the others. A grid design also makes it easier for the AI to figure out routes between the rooms and corridors - it is going to have to calculate routes for dozens, possibly hundreds of characters simultaneously. Real Time with Pause
functionality is virtually always included, and the ability to pick up stray denizens who happen to be in the wrong place and drop them elsewhere is common as well.
Expect the game to be split into "missions" or "levels", where the first missions give you ample amount of space and money to work with, and later ones requiring you to cram more rooms into smaller areas. Often, missions also set a certain monetary goal, so the facility needs to generate a certain amount of something
within a limited amount of time in order to complete the mission, thus requiring it to run as efficiently as possible.
Some companies have specialized in creating such games, and whole series of Space Management Games have come and gone over the years as a result. This created several "branches" of the genre, with each branch having its own special rules within the genre. Other games quickly followed suit, placing themselves neatly into one or more of these sub-genres:
- Beginning with SimCity, these games put you in the shoes of the mayor of a more-or-less realistic, modern city. You'll have to place down residential zones, provide employment in industrial and commercial areas, connect areas with roads and electricity, provide services like water and education, and generally make sure that the city is attractive to new immigrants. Money is the chief commodity, so it's important to stay in the black. The laid-back nature of city-building is usually supported by open-ended gameplay, although "scenario"-type missions are also sometimes included. There may or may not be any visible denizens at all - Mayor Games tend to treat them as a statistic rather than as individuals.
- Similar to Mayor Games, you'll be constructing a city or other bustling living area from the ground up. However here, the focus is the production of material goods. The denizens who come to live in your city will need to extract raw materials from the surrounding area, deliver it to craftsmen, and eventually process it into consumption goods (required to keep the denizens alive) and into trade goods (to be sold for money). Expect having to conduct diplomacy with other cities, and possibly even raise an army to defend your city from them. The first game in this genre was probably Caesar, set in the Roman Empire, which launched a long series of sequels set in various periods throughout human history.
- In these games, you are constructing a fortress or lair for yourself and your minions. Unlike other Space Management Games, while money is still required for construction (and possibly to pay your minions' wages), the main objective of most missions is warfare: destroying a nearby enemy lair, or defending your lair from enemies that arrive periodically to destroy it. This requires hiring combat units, creating guard posts in strategic locations, setting up training rooms for your troops, and constructing elaborate traps to serve as your first line of defense. Traps, of course, take up valuable space - so placing them properly makes part of the challenge. Dungeon Keeper is widely considered the common ancestor for this sub-genre.
- With Service Games your facility is expected to give services and/or care to customers, who begin arriving as soon as you open the doors. Your customers will wander around the facility, paying money for the various services you provide. Generally, each customer will require different services and behave differently while visiting. Each has a certain amount of money they can spend, and will react differently to problems they encounter during their visit. Keeping everyone happy, and keeping the cash coming in, is your main objective. This is similar to Tower Defense games, except you're trying to avoid anyone suffering damage. Theme Park is probably the Trope Codifier for this sub-genre.
Examples of Mayor Games:
- SimCity and its sequels.
- SimTower is somewhere between this and Service Game.
- Transport Tycoon and its many counterparts can be described as a remote version of this. Space Management becomes a function of travel times vs. profit, which deals very much with the correct placement of stations, tracks and roads in what can occasionally be a very tight space.
- Cities XL, the current rival series to SimCity.
- Cities In Motion and its sequel.
Examples of Commodity Games:
Examples of Lair Games:
- Dungeon Keeper and its sequel.
- Evil Genius
- In X-COM (and its many sequels and derivatives) space is often at a premium during base construction, and the specific layout you use will likely influence how defensible a base will be if invaded. However the game as a whole is a Turn-Based Tactics game with very different gameplay from the others listed here, and base defense is (relatively) rare.
Examples of Service Games:
Examples of Multiple Types:
- Dwarf Fortress requires attention to all except, for now, Service.
- Mayor: Carve or construct space to zone for residence or production, allocate traffic values for pathing between them, assign subsets of population to defined districts for work and living.
- Commodity: Acquire and process raw materials for weapons, armor, trade goods, housing fixtures and, most importantly, booze. The 'Merchant Arc' currently in development will expand the role of commodities and economic power over the wider world. And the bigger a fortress becomes, the more stockpile management becomes crucial for all other aspects.
- Lair: It's called 'Fortress' for a reason. Sophisticated defense systems can be installed, with a mixture of combat personnel, guard critters, and mechanical counter-measures. Currently defensive only, but the 'Army Arc' scheduled for development will enable raiding, offensive sorties, and ranged conquest.
- Service: Currently most (all?) Fortresses are communist; booze and food are the only essential services, provided free by the state, so long as there are raws available. Earlier implementation of capitalist economies have been aborted; though a revamp may make Service relevant again, it'll likely remain an option most players won't choose.
- The 2013 edition of SimCity has slightly branched from the Mayor genre into the Commodity genre, with the introduction of resources that can be extracted from the ground, traded to other cities, and potentially processed into other, more-expensive resources. Furthermore, the interplay between cities in a region (which are often controlled by different players) also brings this a step closer to Commodity games - but not fully (still no warfare...).
- The Sims, believe it or not, is a Space Management Game - though it bears little resemblance to any of the other games listed here, it heavily involves construction and/or interior design of a limited living space (at least, during the early portion of the game). With tons of different objects (many useful ones too) available, it is virtually impossible to build a house containing everything - especially when your Sim starts out in some tiny apartment and has no chance of moving out anytime soon.
- Though money is a big factor in the game, time is really the primary currency: your Sims need to fulfill their lifetime goals before they die of old age. With a badly-designed house, Sims can waste a lot of time walking needlessly from one side of the house to the other for some simple task. The importance of happiness and time puts "The Sims" closer to a Service Game than any of the other categories. However, many possible avenues for making money (or even getting more time!) involve meticulous collection of special objects and processing them to create new objects - resulting in something that vaguely resembles a Commodity Game.
- Startopia, a Space Management Game IN SPACE!, mixes Service with Lair gameplay.
- Service: Your goal is to develop a recreational facility on a derelict space station, catering to a wide variety of alien life forms. These aliens show up, require certain facilities, and spend their heard-earned cash while you strive to keep them happy enough to spend it all.
- Lair: It turns into a very difficult combat game whenever part of the space station is occupied by one or more other companies attempting to do build their own facilities. Massive doors separating the station's torus design can be hacked open, initiating combat between the workers of one facility against it neighbour; essentially hostile takeovers.
- Stronghold, while more of a Real-Time Strategy, fits both the Commodity and Lair categories.
- Tropico, a Banana Republic simulator, is a mixture of Mayor, Commodity and Services; foreign tourists arrive on the player's island and make use of dedicated facilities built to cater for their special needs. Also since the player has to periodically revalidate his power through elections or at least be able defend his regime against armed opposition or coups, the player has to service and care for his own citizens and/or military forces or they will turn against the government.