Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Better Bunker Bureau

Cortex Command is a computer game I've enjoyed in spurts off and on over the past 5 or 6 years. It's been in beta that entire time, and is far from complete or bug free, but it's pretty amusing. Link to publisher.

In a nutshell, in Cortex Command you control a brain in a jar (or sometimes in a robot body) that in turn controls mobs of stupid little soldiers. You build bases and blow people up. The terrain is very destructible, with huge fortresses being demolished appallingly quickly, as every gunshot knocks stray pistols off of the landscape. There's a short campaign game, that can be pretty arbitrary and punishing, and it also comes packaged with a number of little one-shot scenarios. Delightful mayhem in a cartoony 8-bit retro aesthetic. It is stupid fun. 

However, I feel like the base-building part of the core game is poorly balanced. It's a huge part of the metagame, and completely out of whack. Tiny little blocks of concrete cost as much as large pre-fabricated bunkers of concrete and steel. Whenever I play it, I feel compelled to spend time designing unique bases, but doing so involves a lot of frustration over the in-game economics. There have been a few mods that addressed it (and I took a stab at it myself back in 2009), but they were all for previous versions of the game, back when it was a pain in the butt to install mods. Nowadays, the game is available via Steam, and mods published via Steam Workshop are easy to install.

As much fun as it is to complain about things on the internet, sometimes I actually feel compelled to do a little work to improve the things that bother me. So, this week I uploaded a mod, the "Better Bunker Bureau", to Steam. Download Link

It's pretty straight-forward. For starters, I took the existing elements from the base game, and re-organized them so they'd be easier to find the things you wanted during the campaign (stairs and ladders together, tunnels organized by size and shape, etc). I adjusted the in-game prices on all the terrain pieces, so if one wall was clearly superior to another their prices would reflect it. (Though this does break down a little amongst the cheapest items.) I also tweaked the materials files so the pre-fab bunker sections now have rubberized floors that better survive the normal wear and tear of heavy robots tromping around (and falling from the rooftops) all day.

While I was at it, I added a few new terrain elements and pre-fabricated construction modules for base building. Some of these were obvious holes the game was lacking, such as making mirrored and rotated versions of existing bits so you didn't have to orient your fortress in a particular direction. Other new bits were a little goofier, like wooden walls and platforms, and piles of old tires, mostly included to provide a bit of set dressing and variety. (Seriously, if concrete and metal get nibbled away with every bullet, wood walls vanish in the blink of an eye.) If it's not obvious by now, my goal was to make the game more playable, not necessarily more winnable.

Most of the work was stuff I did back in 2009, with a bit more in 2012, and some finishing touches this week (2015). Just like playing Cortex Command, this mod is something I've toyed with from time to time over past several years.

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