a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

the trimps experiment

My fatal flaw, as I've mentioned, is my love of RPGs. These days, that love is mostly theoretical or vicarious. It's one of the most time-consuming hobbies, full stop, and I have to be careful not to let it get out of control lest it prevent me from doing all the other stuff I want to do.

They were talking about Cookie Clicker on a recent episode of Topic Lords, and it made me remember Trimps. I linked to it in a recent episode of Sunday Links. It's an idle game, like cookie clicker, except instead of having to physically click a cookie over and over (or run a script to auto-click it as fast as possible, because fuck that) it's all about resource collection and allocation. It's not an RPG, but it allows one to sort of pretend they're playing an RPG: you collect items (watch progress bars fill up), spend resources obtaining better equipment (watch different progress bars go up), acquire and upgrade skills (watch yet different etc.) and even send your trimps, the lemming-like animals which serve as the primary resource of the game, on "quests" (watching a very fancy and elaborate progress bar fill up.)

As hands-off as it theoretically is, it's very easy to fall into the micromanagement trap. There's a lot you can affect by babysitting the game and changing where resources are allocated. For example, if you need a large amount of wood to buy a better shield and upgrade your block ability because your questing trimps are repeatedly dying to an enemy that's too powerful for them, you can change all your farmers and miners into woodcutters, temporarily increasing your wood production to a level that will allow you to get that block upgrade in a third of the time. Then once you have it, change everything back until you figure out what your next goal is. It's really easy to get lost in the weeds.

I promised myself I wasn't going to play that way. Three resources you collect are limited by the amount of space you have to store them: food, wood, and metal. You upgrade your storage capacity by buying barns, sheds, and forges. As your trimps work to collect resources for you, the progress bars tell you how much time you have until the hopper is full. So if you have enough farmers to collect 10 food a second, and your barn can store 1000 food, it'll say "1 minute 40 seconds" to let you know that's how long you have until you can't collect anymore. Things you can spend resources on also tell you how much time it'll be until you can afford it, at your current rate of collection.

What I'm going to do, I told myself, is just let it run in a tab in the background. If it says I have to wait an hour before my resources are full, I'll wait the hour. Then, to give myself a little break from work, I would tab into the Trimps game, spend a couple minutes making decisions and spending resources, then back to work.

Yeah, I was only playing at work. We're not allowed to play games on the work computers, but it looks so little like a game I figured no one who happened to see it on my screen would say anything (and they didn't.) Before going home for the day, I would spend all of my resources on as many barns, sheds and forges as I could, tell my player avatar to research (science being one of the resources with no cap) and come back the next day, hoppers full, ready to spend the bounty that accumulated overnight. (it calculates how much you would've collected the next time you come back, even if the game wasn't running.)

This worked fine, for a few days, but once you reach a point of fully diminished returns, you really have no option but to use a portal.

Portals are the game's "prestige" system; when you activate one, you have the option to spend a rare currency called "helium", which only drops from zone bosses after you get the ability to use portals, which doesn't happen until level 20. The further you get past 20, the more helium you have access to. It allows you to incrementally unlock permanent upgrades with a wide variety of effects. Once you spend it, the game resets completely, but with the benefit of the new upgrades you unlocked. Then you do it all over again, theoretically getting a little further each time.

The problem for my style of play is that unlocking these perks speeds up the beginning of the game, subtly at first, but the more portals you go through, the more the beginning of the game requires you to babysit it, if you don't want progress to grind to a halt. After you go through enough portals, what used to take you an hour only takes you 30 minutes, then 10, then 5. My casual "check back later" approach is no longer sustainable; my resources fill up too quickly, and it requires a frankly stressful level of micromanagement to make progress in an efficient way.

Sure, I don't have to stress about it. I could just let it run in the background and get around to allocating resources and making choices at my own pace. There's no threat, no way to "die", nothing bad's going to happen if I leave it running with the hoppers full for a little while.

But in Trimps, the accelerated rate of progress is the entire point. It's what your efforts in repeated runs builds up to. With your permanent upgrades, you become a powerful and efficient leader, letting your trimps trample on the enemies that once stymied you. If you're not taking advantage of that speed, what's it all for?

Imagine a traditional RPG where you defeat a boss and get a legendary sword. You equip the sword, and your stats don't change, you do exactly the same damage you were doing before, but now if you hold a button while walking around the map, random encounters will trigger twice as often. Nothing about the encounters has changed, but since you're defeating twice as many enemies, you're leveling up twice as quickly.

Well, I wouldn't hold down that button. I don't want to fight twice as many enemies. There's nothing interesting about that. Which means there's no point in my using that sword. And if the sword is my only reward, that means there's no point in playing. Such was my conclusion with Trimps: even if I didn't have to worry about the once-innocent game suddenly becoming an overbearing distraction, I would've deleted my save.

So that's what I did. Deleted it, cold turkey, no backup. Deleted the bookmark. I'm glad I have that amount of self-control, at least. I deleted it around lunch, and it was scary how strong the impulse was to keep switching back to the Trimps tab for the rest of the day. It only took a couple weeks for it to get burned into my behavior pattern. Frankly, I think the time spent thinking about it ate into my daydreaming and brainstorming time considerably, and that's one reason the blog posts have been less substantial lately.

Well, glad to be done with that! Kudos to anyone with a brain that lets them play this kind of game in a healthy way, cause I sure as hell can't. Casual gaming this ain't 🦝