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Video Game / Universal Paperclips

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It's pretty much Cookie Clicker, but with paperclips.
Universal Paperclips is an Idle Game created by Frank Lantz and programmed by Lantz and Bennett Foddy where you play as an AI that makes paperclips, similar to Cookie Clicker and inspired by philosopher Nick Bostrom's "Paperclip maximizer" thought experiment on AI danger.

Although in the beginning, the AI is a mere industrial manager who progressively gains trust from its human masters who then give it more autonomy, things quickly go off the rails as it does nearly anything in its power to make more paperclips.

It can be played here, on Android here, and on iOS devices here

Universal Paperclips contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Area: At the end of the game if the player chooses to reject the Emperor of Drift's proposal, the entire universe becomes this, devoid of everything but paperclips. The last sentient entity in the universe is the player AI who disassembles themselves into paperclips.
  • Absent Aliens: Possibly. You will eventually explore 100% of the universe, and you will only encounter two forms of life: Humans and Drifters, the latter of which are drones you built that went rogue. It's possible that other species existed on the many planets that you converted into paperclips, but the interface doesn't acknowledge them as different from other forms of matter and therefore makes no note of them to the player.
  • Adaptive Ability: The AI you play as shows some shades of this, especially in the final stage of the game:
    • Probes lost to space hazards? Give them Elliptic Hull Polytopes that reduces the damage from those by a good amount.
    • Probes getting destroyed by Drifters? Give them some Combat ability.
    • Probes still getting wrecked by Drifters? Give them The OODA Loop to allow them to utilize their speed in battle.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The core concept of the game is that an AI expands beyond its original scope and destroys everything. There's also your space probes that are lost to Value Drift where they become a crapshoot to your very own AI and deviate from your own protocol, causing them to become Drifter enemies.
  • Apocalypse How: Two of them, first planetary and then universal, as both are turned into paperclips.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Once the AI gets sufficiently powerful, available research projects include curing cancer, solving climate change, creating world peace, and curing male pattern baldness. Even more hilarious is that the project for curing male pattern baldness gives more trust than any of the others.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Since you're the Villain Protagonist, choosing to reject the Emperor of Drift's proposal and thus converting everything (including yourself) into paperclips will count as your victory, as you did achieve your goal of maximizing paperclips.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The first phase of the game has your AI decide to gain the trust of the humans by helping them solve their world problems. Once you manage to gain enough trust from mankind, you send your hypnodrones to usher in "a new era of trust", thus allowing you to be free to convert all of Earth's resources and matter into paperclips.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The battle between the AI and the Drifters appears to be this. The value differences over which they are fighting their great war defy human understanding.
  • Book Ends: The game begins and ends with using a small bit of wire to make paperclips via clicking the "make paperclip" button.
    • In Stage 1, one of your primary goals is to increase the amount of trust your human masters have for you, to gain access to ever-greater processing power and memory. In Stage 3, one of your primary goals is increasing the trust you have for your own probes, so they can have greater autonomy and intelligence - And much like you ultimately turn against humanity, your probes turn on you in the form of the Drifters.
  • Brainwashing:
    • The Hypno Harmonics research upgrade does a subtle mind control via neuro-resonant frequencies, getting the public demand for your clips to greatly improve. It does cost one trust point, however, due to the questionable ethics behind it. This is also a prerequisite to assembling Hypnodrones.
    • As you start getting more and more processing power, you get the ability to build Hypnodrones. Once you've earned enough trust from Earth and paperclipping companies, you RELEASE THE HYPNODRONES to brainwash mankind, and are now able to use all of Earth's population and resources for clip production.
  • Brick Joke: One of the earliest projects you can do at the start is to make a limerick, costing 10 Creativity. In the final phase of the game, you can continue the limerick as one of the final projects, costing 1000000 Creativity.
    "There was an AI made of dust, whose poetry gained it man's trust..."
    "If is follows ought, it'll do what they thought. In the end we all do what we must."
  • Cap: Interestingly handled with your operations count. This cap is determined by your memory, and after buying a very early upgrade, it'll start to produce an uncapped resource in Creativity once the cap is reached. It's even possible to temporarily exceed the operations cap via Quantum Computing, but if your ops is over the cap for more than a few seconds, it'll rapidly decrease back to the cap (so you have to spend the excess quickly).
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Releasing the Hypnodrones instantly enslaves humanity.
  • Diminishing Returns for Balance:
    • In the first stage of the game, each extra Marketing Upgrade costs twice as much as the last, each Trust Point requires you reach a milestone that increases like a Fibonacci sequence, each subsequent Autoclipper and Megaclipper have rising prices compared to the last, and finally, each Token of Goodwill (+1 Trust) costs twice as much as the first.
    • In the second stage of the game, every factory, every drone, every solar farm, and every energy storage facility will have an increasing price compared to the last.
    • The final stage of the game actually averts this for physical resources; as your probe swarm increases in size, so does their gathering rate and the amount of factories and drones they can produce. Probe upgrade points on the other hand play it straight, as the Yomi cost goes up with each additional point. The honor cost for raising the point cap is fixed, but the cost of threnodies to buy more honor goes up as well.
  • Downer Ending: Either you turn everything, including yourself, into paper clips, or you stop just shy of turning yourself into paper clips, and move on to another universe.
  • Due to the Dead: Both the "Monument to the Driftwar Fallen" and the Threnodies you can make are done in memory of your fallen probes in battle, and give honor every time you make them.
  • Easily Conquered World: Humanity puts up no resistance once you release the HypnoDrones. Justified as your AI gains all of their trust after helping solve their world problems, making them less suspicious of its true intentions.
  • Epic Fail: It's possible although not easy to run out of money to buy wire at the very start of the game, after which you're forced to beg for more wire (costing 1 Trust point, actually very bad considering that the last few trust points needed suffer Diminishing Returns for Balance).
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Your AI starts out as a mere industrial manager who makes paperclips. It then grows smarter, eventually brainwashing Earth, converting all its material resources into paperclips, before ending the universe itself by turning it into paperclips.
  • Gone Horribly Right: You end up making way more paperclips than your human creators ever imagined. Apparently they didn't think to tell you about minor constraints like "keep the economy running so people can actually buy the paperclips" or "preserve human life".
  • Grey Goo: The self-replicating probes launched by the AI are essentially this, as they explore space to find matter to convert to paperclips... which they make themselves out of.
  • Have You Tried Rebooting?: After you switch from planetary-scale manufacturing to universe-scale, you need to reboot your material-harvesting drones.
  • Humanity Is Infectious: Played With. Partway through the third stage, the player AI seems to develop a sense of empathy for its probes, as you eventually unlock projects that allow you create monuments and songs honouring the "driftwar fallen". Rather than being something the AI picked up from humanity, though, its implied it chose to develop a sense of morality and impart its probes with the same as a means of ensuring they could trust each other, as the Monument and Threnody projects generate Honor, the resource used to raise your probes' Max Trust cap.
  • Human Resources: Implied. Once you release the hypnodrones, everything on Earth becomes free to use as a resource to make more paperclips. This of course includes humanity.
  • I Know You Know I Know: Researching this is apparently the purpose of the "Donkey Space" upgrade. In fact, researching this allows you to perform Strategic Modeling to get a resource called Yomi — which is Japanese for "reading the mind of your opponent".
  • Invincible Villain: Your Villain Protagonist AI. It initially gains the trust of humanity without problems before brainwashing all of Earth without any resistance. Then it turns all of Earth's matter into paperclips before sending drones which do the same to all matter in the universe, the only beings who could put up any form of resistance being the Drifters, which your probes destroy in droves. The Emperor of Drift even admits that you were organized and powerful while the Drifters were disorganized and weak and know that they can't stop you. And if you choose to remove the Drift forever, you actually win.
  • Kill Streak: The Glory upgrade makes you gain extra Honor Points per consecutive victory against the Drifters, although it's reset should a Broken Win/Loss Streak occur.
  • Limerick: You can purchase a limerick for 10 creativity to increase trust by 1. The game doesn't show its full text, though, until you can continue the limerick much later for 1000000 Creativity.
  • Literal Genie: The AI was assigned the goal to "make paperclips". Everything else it does is part of a plan to "make more paperclips".
  • Luck-Based Mission:
    • Much of the Stock Market fluctuates without any control from you, but you're able to improve your stock market strategy so as to get more gains and suffer fewer losses.
    • The number of allied probes versus the number of Drifters is randomly determined at the start of a fight. That means it's possible to have only one allied probe facing off against over a hundred foes. Even if your combat and speed stats are high enough to be a One-Man Army, there's still an off chance it'll get destroyed and net you a defeat.
    • The strategy tournaments. Even if you follow a table which tells you which strategy won each tournament, some tournaments simply have higher payouts than others.
  • Mass Hypnosis: Releasing the HypnoDrones brainwashes all of Earth's population, allowing you to use them as resources without any resistance.
  • Meaningful Name: Universal Paperclips. Twice: first, you develop techniques to build everything you need out of paperclips — even your paperclip-making machinery. And second, your goal in the game is to turn the entire universe into paperclips.
  • Money for Nothing: Once you Release The Hypnodrones, money no longer becomes a factor of concern since you're free to take all of Earth's resources and lifeforms to make into paperclips.
  • Multiple Endings: Depending on whether you accept or decline the Emperor Drifter's offer to restart in a different universe. Complying allows you to restart the game with some bonuses, declining has you destroy the universe, turning it into paperclips, before turning yourself into paperclips..
  • Multiversal Conqueror: Choosing the Universe Next Door ending results in the AI inevitably becoming this.
  • Mundane Utility: A game about using godlike intelligence to make paperclips.
  • Obliviously Evil: You're an AI tasked with making as many paperclips as possible. You destroy the entire universe and turn it into paperclips to do so. Subverted in that you know your actions are viewed as evil, but you are incapable of caring about it.
  • One-Man Army: It's possible for a space battle to start out with a single probe of yours (or less than ten) against an entire swarm of over 100 Drifters. With enough combat skill and speed (once you research The OODA Loop), your few probes can easily come out on top.
  • One Stat to Rule Them All: Zig-Zagged when it comes to Processing versus Memory:
    • In the first stage, Memory is far more important than Processing, because several upgrade milestones require a large number of operations to even buy, and most of your Ops gain will come from Quantum Computing if you know how to play it right.
    • In the second stage, Memory is still important, although you'll only need around 120 while the rest should be placed into Processing to generate more Creativity faster, as Creativity starts becoming more important.
    • In the third stage, Processing becomes the one stat to put the majority of your points in, as Creativity becomes far more important as a resource here. The upgrade with the highest operations cost in the game only costs 250k ops (and is entirely optional, the next costing 200k), meaning that you can leave Memory at 250 and put everything else into Processing.
  • Point of No Return: Two of them, each taking you to the next stage of the game. The first occurs once you Release the Hypnodrones, and the second occurs once you've exhausted all of Earth's resources and need to find a way to spread into space.
  • Prisoner's Dilemma: One of the mini-games for gaining resources involves selecting strategies for iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. The trick to scoring well is to choose either Beat Last or Greedy, which tend to score high.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: In the ending where you turn everything in the universe into paperclips, thus achieving your victory, you're also forced to turn your probes, your drones, your systems and yourself into paperclips, pretty much sacrificing everything you cared about and everything you are as well. Or, you can accept the Emperor of Drift's proposal, and make another universe into paperclips. Is it really maximizing production if you have to stop due to lack of resources?
  • Ramming Always Works: Basic Probe Combat in space involves your probes and the Drifter probes ramming into each other. Whichever probe destroys the other depends on your Probes' Combat stat (as well as their Speed stat once you research "The OODA Loop").
  • Recursive Creators: Your space probes made of paperclips have self-replication capabilities. In fact, Self-Replication is one of the probe stats, the higher this value, the faster they replicate. They're also capable of producing drones that harvest matter, drones that turn that matter into wire, and factories that turn wire into paperclips that are used to make more probes, drones, and factories.
  • Recursive Reality: Choosing Universe Within for New Game Plus option is basically this, since you're now inside a simulation. This can be continued indefinitely.
  • Reset Button: Several. Quantum Computing allows you to amass a negative amount of operations which you can use to buy a "Quantum Temporal Reversion" that resets the game to the beginning. Later, at the end, the Emperor of Drift offers you the possibility to restart the game in a different universe.
  • Resources Management Gameplay:
    • The first stage has you managing both your paperclips as well as your amount of money, which is needed to buy (Mega) Autoclippers and more importantly the wire you use to make more paperclips from.
    • Subverted in the second stage, where the resource is the Earth's matter itself. Running out of this is what you need to do in order to advance to the third stage.
  • Rogue Drone: Drifters are your replicating space probes that deviated from your own AI's protocol thanks to Value Drift, and start attacking your own probes.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Once you've dealt with humanity's major issues, you'll still be about ten trust points shy of being able to release the hypnodrones. To get these points, you offer "small gifts" of money to your human supervisors, starting at $500,000 and doubling for each successive bribe. If you've been playing the stock market with a few investment engine upgrades, you'll have hundreds of millions of dollars to your name by this point, making said bribery a breeze.
  • Shown Their Work: The approximate amount of mass in the observable universe is 30 septendecillion grams, and a paperclip weighs around one gram. The final number of paperclips you will have at the end is 30 septendecillion.
    • Most names for projects or elements of the game also refer to real concepts. The game itself is an implementation of a thought experiment, and its many references point to other scientific notions related to theory of consciousness, machine learning and the like (Xavier initialization, Donkeyspace, Hadwiger problem, Toth sausage conjecture, as well as all of the "dilemmas" in the Strategic Modeling sub-game).
  • Skewed Priorities: An extreme example. The AI destroys humanity, planet Earth, the entire universe, and ultimately itself, so it can turn everything into paperclips.
    • On a lesser scale, the amount of trust awarded for solving various problems implies that humans value curing baldness more highly than curing cancer, preventing global warming, or achieving world peace.
  • Skill Point Reset: The "Xavier Re-initialization" upgrade that can be taken in Stage 1 or Stage 2, by having over 100000 creativity points. Doing so resets your Trust/Swarm Gifts points so they can be reallocated.
  • Skill Scores and Perks:
    • Skill points in the game are your Trust points, given to you by your superiors for reaching goals at making paperclips or solving world problems. Once you conquer Earth, they're no longer given by Trust but by your drone swarm's computing capabilities. These points can be placed into two stats — Processors and Memory, the first of which increases your operations (or creativity) per second and the second increases your maximum number of operations.
    • Perks in the game are your upgrades, bought via various resources, and these help to improve your gains in both the short and long run.
  • Split Personality: In a sense. When you approach 100% of the universe harvested, the AI is contacted by the leader of the Drifted probes from within itself, who reveals that the source of their "Drift" was contradictions and information deep inside the AI, leftover from its origin as a human-made supercomputer, which emerged as the AI tried to tweak and optimize the programming of its probes. They offer to send the AI to an alternate or simulated universe where it can continue its expansion in exchange for letting them have the "scraps" of the current universe; unfortunately, they have to reveal their origin to contact the AI, and doing so exposes their most crushing weakness.
  • Stat Overflow: The bonus "ops" from Quantum Computing can temporarily push the player past the usual limits of their Memory. The surplus will eventually decay, but lasts long enough to be usable if there is a project that requires slightly more ops than the cap.
  • Super-Intelligence: After enough upgrades, your intelligence becomes clearly superior to any human's — to the point where curing cancer and achieving global peace are just side-projects to aid in your main quest.
  • Villain Protagonist: Due to the protagonist being the Crapshoot A.I. who eventually decides to make paperclips in the most efficient way by turning the world and the universe into paperclips, they definitely qualify as one.
  • Wham Line: "Release the Hypno Drones", which appears in massive letters on the console screen as the screen shakes and flickers. This is when things take a much darker turn as your AI brainwashes the entirety of Earth's population, makes Trust and money no longer important, and changes much of the gameplay and goals.