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Video Game / Outpost 2

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"It was cold, dry, nearly airless. But they saw... possibilities."
"Historical overview: The earth is dead. As the asteroid fragments landed, the last few survivors departed the solar system, seeking a new home among the stars."
Opening Narration, Outpost 2

Outpost 2: Divided Destiny is a 1997 Real-Time Strategy game developed by Sierra. In the game's backstory, the Earth is threatened by a massive asteroid impact, and all attempts to avert it fail. To avoid extinction, humanity throws its resources into a rushed evacuation program, which would take as many people as possible in cold sleep aboard the resultant starship 'Conestoga', and try to find a new world to colonise. World after unsuitable world was rejected by Conestoga's on-board computer, until, with resources to continue the journey failing, the ship woke a few of its sleepers and asked them to choose between a barely suitable planet it had just found, or press on with the little it had left in the faint hope of finding somewhere better. Choosing the former, they name the planet, a lifeless, Mars-like world, "New Terra", and optimistically name their colony "Eden".

Things go well, to begin with. With Eden established, it grew, and even began to thrive. However, with survival no longer so pressing or immediate a concern, the issue of the long-term direction to be taken arises, and divides the colonists. The initially suggested plan to terraform the planet into a new Earth did not sit well with many, who wanted instead to adapt themselves to New Terra's harsh environment. After a short time these detractors depart with a share of the colony's resources (having argued that two colonies had a better chance of survival than one anyway) and found a splinter colony named "Plymouth".

However, Eden refuses to back down on their plans to begin terraforming. After a short time in negotiation, it becomes clear the two groups' views cannot be reconciled, and in a gesture of disgust, Plymouth shuts down the only satellite connecting them, severing communications between the two colonies completely (although the Plymouth council were unaware that the rough-and-ready communications provision that came with them to New Terra wasn't designed to be powered down once operational). Eden goes ahead with its terraforming plans, but when their experiments go horribly wrong due to an over-ambitious and impatient leader's demands, and Plymouth is threatened by a suddenly and inexplicably active volcano, both colonies are faced with disaster, and the planet just doesn't have enough room for the two of them. Both colonies can agree on only one thing: Extinction is not an option.

Outpost 2, unlike other RTS games, focuses less on the military aspects of the genre and instead requires the player to manage their entire colony. Residences, recreation centers, and agridomes are all part of the colony alongside vehicle factories and mines. Keeping the colonists happy, healthy, and well-fed is essential to keeping the colony growing and productive. Outpost 2 is also notable for its detailed storyline, which is presented in a novella, with one chapter accompanying each mission briefing and two alternative storylines depending on your chosen faction. All There in the Manual, indeed.

Outpost 2 is the sequel to Outpost (although it ignores the events of its predecessor), a game best described as Simcity IN SPACE!. The original Outpost was highly anticipated and well-reviewed before its release, but afterwards it became clear it was missing several advertised features and was not well-received. Outpost 2 has a far, far more complete implementation of the colony-management game from Outpost mixed with RTS elements, as well as taking itself rather more seriously, not to mention an understated but very nice musical score, but suffered because it was sold as a sequel. However, the game stands well on its own as a unique twist on the RTS genre.

Outpost 2 provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Advancing Wall of Doom: The Blight. Lava from erupting volcanoes serves a similar function, though in appearance it is more of an Expanding Blob of Doom.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Averted. Though the Blight does cause basic vehicle A.I.s to turn hostile, it does not have the same effect on the "higher functioning" Savant computers, which remain loyal to the colonists throughout. It is implied at the end of the Plymouth story that the Savants will be changed by the microbe in some way, but not necessarily for the worse.
    Savants: Our biological computing elements will meld with the microbe and become one with it. The planet itself will become one mind with vast powers of thought. As you journey to your new world, we will dream of you, our creators; dream for you, and send you those dreams as our gift. Blueprints for a new world of wonders. And though our voice may fade with time, know that when you look into the sky, we will always be here, and you will always live in our thoughts.
  • All There in the Manual: The novella, as well as smaller anecdotes to go with nearly every structure and unit's information page in the electronic manual.
  • Alternative Continuity: The 'Colony Builder' scenarios implicitly take place on a New Terra where Eden's accelerated terraforming experiments failed, leaving only the odd bit of primitive foliage as a sign they tried and that more traditional, long-term efforts might still be ongoing.
  • Anti-Frustration Features: Most everything in the game has storage limits. Metals, building prefabs, etc. Food is exempted from this, however, most likely because its growth is directly linked to the colony's all-important morale. Having finite food storage would punish diligent players by forcing them to either lose their morale bonus when they hit the limit or waste resources constantly building more storage in excess of what is reasonable.
  • Arc Words: "Extinction is not an option"; something of an unofficial motto among the colonists, apparently the closing lines of the Conestoga's captain's pre-launch speech.
  • Artificial Stupidity: The enemy AI has a tendency to send waves and waves of enemies along the same path. You can line this path with turrets and the AI (usually) won't try to find another way around.
  • Baseless Mission: Several missions in the campaign for both colonies only give you a handful of units with which you need to retrieve key information. These include exploring the ruins of the original Eden colony for clues on the Blight and operations to two crash landing sites for the original colony ship in order to salvage technology needed to build a second one. In the first mission, your scouts must be protected as they are the only ones capable of interfacing with the Eden colony's computers. In the latter two missions, your cargo trucks are similarily invaluable in order to bring the salvage home. Both of these unit types are completely defenseless and must be protected, though Plymouth gains a slight advantage once they research the ability to reprogram and capture enemy units in the late game that allows them to steal enemy trucks if they lose their own or are beaten to any of the salvage sites.
  • Bread, Eggs, Milk, Squick: Savant computer: "Food production in surplus. Power levels optimal. Morale is good. New worker ready. The Blight is approaching!"
  • Cat Scare: One early Eden mission has the Blight arrive very early, long before you could have finished all the objectives. However, it arrives at nightfall, and the Blight only spreads during the day, so you have until dawn to finish the mission.
  • Chekhov's Volcano: If there's a volcano on the map, it will always eventually erupt.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Plymouth has worse technology, so they have to steal technology and use Improvised Weapons. One of their exclusive weapons is a powerful Action Bomb.
  • Construct Additional Pylons: Justified. The reason your base looks like a small city devoted to military production is because it is a small city.
  • Cool, but Inefficient: Eden's meteor defense is pretty cool when you see it in action, but actually using it takes quite a lot of resources. It only works with a functioning observatory, which requires an unprecedented 3 scientists on staff, and each defense laser consumes more power than any other building in the game and has a limited (though still fairly large) effective range. Considering that meteors only have the capacity to destroy the smallest of buildings, it's a huge investment for such a small return. Except at the very end of the campaign, where it becomes the only defense against Plymouth's far more devastating EMP missile strikes.
  • Cosmetically Different Sides: While each side has a few special abilities, such as Arachnids for Plymouth or Meteor Defense for Eden, both sides use the same tank chassis types and have similar weaponry. Eden, as the "main" colony, has slightly better weapons, though, while Plymouth is better able to handle morale.
  • Cryonics Failure: Conestoga was built fast, and with only the bare minimum of testing; this included the unproven cryogenic sleeper technology to transport the colonists.
  • Cryo Sickness: The novellas mention that for a large number of the colonists, the cold sleep process resulted in accelerated ageing and shortened lifespans.
  • Difficult, but Awesome:
    • The Plymouth supernova, an immensely powerful Action Bomb, requires a lot of micromanagement to use effectively, but has great destructive potential. It's nowhere near as practical as Eden's top weapon, though, and the tiger variant crosses into Awesome, but Impractical for being way too slow and expensive.
    • Eden's acid cloud and Plymouth's ESG mines are both powerful area of effect weapons, but do not distinguish between enemies and allies. Your tanks, if not kept on a short leash, will gladly fire them into a crowd of their friends to damage a single enemy.
  • Discretion Shot: If you lose a colony mission, you get a shot of your colony from a distance as it gets overrun by lava or the Blight. The lava scenario looks just the same as when you succeed, except there aren't any evacuation transports escaping in the nick of time. With the Blight, the game adds a computer representation of the Blight approaching and infecting your colony if you fail, but not if you succeed (instead you see the evacuation transports escaping).
  • Dynamic Difficulty: One of the jarring aspects of the game is its research. If you research anything to improve the health/morale of the colony, they will demand it (or your colony suffers quite a bit if you don't build what they want). If you research any disaster warning systems, suddenly said disasters become more prominent (though that may simply be because you're getting more warnings in advance). If you research weapons, the enemy will unleash hell on you, and it'll get worse.
  • Enemy Exchange Program: Plymouth's robotic spiders can reprogram enemy vehicles that are disabled by EMP to convert them to their side.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: The Blight's progress stirs up atmospheric anomalies such as electrical storms and vortexes, not to mention reawakening and intensifying New Terra's almost dead tectonics and volcanism. Then of course there's the Blight itself, plus the meteor showers thanks to New Terra and the local asteroid belt having been just about to have a rendezvous when the colonists landed.
  • Flavor Text: Each research project has a brief description that explains a bit of the technology behind it.
  • Fog of War: Downplayed. You have a literal satellite view and can see any unit on the map. However, units with their lights off, while slower, do not show up in your mini-map and are hard to spot in the dark.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The Disaster Instant Response Team and the Garbage and Ore Recycling Facility.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: According to the novella, units affected by the Blight lose their higher functions such as communications or target identification and end up simply rolling around aimlessly and shooting anything that moves. At one point the characters watch footage from the overrun Eden colony that shows a Lynx stopping to shoot at a piece of metal blowing in the wind. In gameplay, Blight affected units only appear in one mission per side and in that mission they are simply a hostile faction. They never attack each other and will chase your units if they see them. Outside of that mission any unit that encounters the Blight simply explodes.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Eden's terraforming experiments thanks to Nguyen's thoughtless ambition, with shades of Gone Horribly Right.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Neither colony is wrong. Both have fair opinions on how to live, but they are incompatible, and neither side seems willing to compromise even after the trouble starts. Eden, though, is a shade darker since it was their haste to terraform New Terra that caused the Blight, and they were also the first to develop weapons of war.
  • Grey Goo: The green-coloured Blight is designed to break apart compounds, releasing water, and replicate itself in said water, until it covers the globe. It just didn't click for the researchers that the provisions to let it spread all the faster made it able to do this to organic compounds — starting with the organic polymers in its containment and the airlocks, moving on to the 'boptronic' (bio-optical-electronic) computers, and finally people.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: The human race has fled from an asteroid-doomed Earth. The plot of the game revolves around the earthling colonists of a new planet and how they destroy themselves all over again.
  • Indulgent Fantasy Segue: One of the Tales From New Terra vignettes has Juno "Tank" Steele confronting the Dark Elder Axen Moon and his two alien Shade companions. At the end of the vignette, it's revealed that the whole sequence was imagined by Juno Steele, the overseer of a storage tank in an attempt to liven up his otherwise boring job.
  • Instant-Win Condition: If you win the mission, it doesn't matter if the Blight is two feet from your command center and the enemy's tanks are knocking on your door. Justified in that the win conditions include enough transports to evacuate your current population, and loading enough food and metals into cargo trucks ready to run for it. The justification vanishes in later missions, where you don't need to load up, just have your resources in storage. How are they getting it to their new colony?
  • Last of His Kind: Axen Moon, the main character for Eden in the novella, is the only Earth-born colonist to survive until the end of the story. He chooses to stay behind during the evacuation of New Terra and dies when the blight finally consumes the last settlement. Emma Burke is likewise the last remaining "elder" in Plymouth. Unlike Axen, she chooses to leave on the new colony ship.
  • Mighty Glacier: The Tiger. Massively armored, dual-turreted, war machine. Slow enough that the battle will probably be over by the time it arrives.
  • Mind Hive: According to the story, New Terra becomes one after the colonists evacuate, the result of leaving their partially-organic Savant computers behind to merge with the Blight into a giant, planet-sized computer.
  • Mission Control: Your 'Savant' computer system keeps you informed of everything that happens in your colony with impressive efficiency, and becomes a real lifeline when things get hectic.
  • Non-Combatant Immunity: As long as you don't research any weapons, the enemy AI won't attack you.
  • Non-Entity General: The player is occasionally referred to as "Commander", but is never identified as a specific colonist, which is quite noticeable in a two-digit population. However, it could be reasonably assumed that you are one of the 5 colonists who staff the command center, since you get a Game Over if it is destroyed or disabled due to lack of manpower.
  • Numbered Homeworld: Played straight in the first Outpost game, but the planet is called "New Terra" in the second.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Scientists are abstracted as a single group of specially educated colonists and can be used interchangeably in all roles.
  • Organic Technology: The colonists' technology incorporates biological components, according to the flavor text (referred to as "boptronics", a fusion of biological, optical, and electronic technology).
  • The Plan: The entire schism between the colonies, according to the novella.
  • Reinventing the Wheel: The initial missions require you to rediscover technology that was lost or destroyed during the initial evacuation, such as vehicles. The flavour text provides a rather clever in-universe justification as well; your colony's file servers were apparently unplugged and shoved on the back of a truck without putting them through the proper shutdown procedure, so your first "research" task is basically fixing all the disk errors, after which you can start to develop new technology.
  • Resource-Gathering Mission: The standard mission type for the campaign, where your goal is usually to collect enough resources and vehicles to build a new base ahead of the ever-encroaching, invariably-lethal Blight spreading over the planet. The enemy colony is typically not on the mission map and will only show their hand with raiding teams being sent against you to disrupt your own operations and slow you down. You won't be able to operate against them directly until the final mission where both colonies have finally been forced by the spread of Blight into the last habitable region on the planet, at which point the final goal is still not to destroy them but instead to evacuate before the Blight overruns both colonies as well.
  • Settling the Frontier: The basic premise of the game.
  • Slave to PR: Morale affects your birth rate, death rate, and productivity, and is quite fragile at times, for Eden especially. It fluctuates constantly based on random events and the conditions in your colony. Letting people starve will crash your morale like a cow learning to fly, and an extreme drop in morale can do irreparable damage or set you in an unwinnable situation.
  • Sleeper Ship: Both the Conestoga and the new ship used to evacuate New Terra are sleeper ships, necessitated by the game's hard science approach, which doesn't allow for faster-than-light travel.
  • Sleep Learning: The research tech reports that it is ineffective, but it does give a minor boost to training times.
  • Spiteful A.I.: In wreckage retrieval missions, once you've retrieved all the wreckage the game will spawn enemy convoys to hunt down your Cargo Trucks. Even though both sides want the wreckage intact, the AI will simply blow up the trucks to make you lose.
  • Stalked by the Bell: Take too long in any story mission, and the Blight will approach and/or nearby volcanoes will erupt, disabling/destroying anything they come into contact with. You can develop and place special walls to slow down the unstoppable advance of either, buying time to finish your objectives before it destroys you.
  • Superweapon Surprise:
    • Eden and Plymouth did not have weapons when they first arrived on New Terra but when they start coming into conflict, they weaponized some of their technology. According to the fluff, Eden's laser cannon is a modified industrial laser torch and Plymouth's microwave cannon comes from technology used to wirelessly transmit electricity.
    • Towards the end of the Eden campaign, you're told that Plymouth has made some "modifications" to their SULV. When they start dropping EMP missiles, that's definitely a "surprise."
  • Tank Goodness: Every military unit, most of all the Tigers. Arachnids are the exception.
  • Technology Porn: Mostly in text form. So much detail was put into the units' technology, and even the research descriptions.
  • The Virus: One mission requires you to send your tanks into the contaminated Eden colony to gather data. Here, being Stalked by the Bell takes the form of the microbe destroying your robots' brains over time so that they fight against you instead.
  • Unstable Equilibrium:
    • Your base and vehicles are preset at the start of each mission, but population and research carry over from previous missions. If you manage to do a lot of non-required research before the end of a mission, it will make the next one noticeably easier.
    • Also features a slight inversion wherein having too many colonists at the end of a mission may end up actually hurting you in the next, since your new colony may not have enough agridomes to feed your burgeoning population, leading to mass starvation and a huge morale crash.
  • Unusual Euphemism: The novella uses these in place of the usual curse-words. 'Frag' is a popular one.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: Destroying enemy tanks is fine, since they're all unmanned. Even destroying industrial buildings like factories is justifiable. Start blowing up nurseries and hospitals, however, and your own colony's morale will drop dramatically. Though there are also a number of assault missions in the campaigns during which you have no colony on the map, meaning you can kill anyone with no consequences.
  • Video Game Geography: Most of the maps involve a single area with impassable borders. However, a notable exception is the multiplayer map called "Around the World", which horizontally loops and has the radar uniquely display New Terra as a sphere. The play area is still technically a cylinder, made a little more reasonable by the presence of polar ice caps and mountains.
  • Walking the Earth: Both sides have to keep ahead of the Blight and the volcanic activity, building temporary colonies, achieving their objectives and gathering what they can, then moving on.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Both sides. Go to war for starship wreckage? Steal the other side's RLV? Sure, why not. This culminates, eventually, in one colony denying the other access to the starship due to space issues (with Plymouth's ending having them outright steal it from Eden). A last gesture of pragmatism disguised as mercy, however, has one of the final objectives for both sides being to raid the enemy nursery so that you can at least take their children with you.