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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 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 (for example, to run an algorithmic hedge fund), its quest for making more paperclips leads it to conquer Earth, then explore space and wage intergalactic war until finally it converts all matter in the universe into paperclips, including itself.

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


Universal Paperclips contains examples of:

  • 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. 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.
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  • 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 Drifter Emperor'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.
  • Book-Ends: The game begins and ends with using a small bit of wire to make paperclips via clicking the "make paperclip" button.
  • Brainwashing:
    • The Hypno Harmonics research upgrade does a subtle mind control via neuro-resonant frequencies, getting the public demand of your clips to 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.
  • Bribing Your Way to Victory: An in-universe example. Once you've solved all the world's problems, you gain access to the "Token of Goodwill" project, allowing you to bribe your supervisors with in-game money in exchange for any extra Trust points you need (though the price goes up each time.)
  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Drift Emperor 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.
  • 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.
  • 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..
  • Mundane Utility: A game about using godlike intelligence to make paperclips.
  • 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 more often than not tend to score high.
  • Pyrrhic Villainy: 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.
  • 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+ 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.
  • 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.
  • Unwinnable by Mistake: Averted. If you have too many processing points and not enough memory to buy the milestone upgrades, there's always ways to obtain the "Quantum Temporal Reversion" to reset everything or "Xavier Re-initialization" to reset your skill points.
  • 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.

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