Hello! Over the next few days we hope to be bringing you impressions of a few of the demos in the Steam Next Fest. You can view them all in our 2022 Next Fest archive.
Oh, to economise. This is all I've done so far in Ixion, one of several gems in the Steam Next Fest.
Ixion is a game about managing a big, circular - almost tubular - space station. You've been put there by some corporation or another, DOLOS, and your goal is, effectively, to push pencils.
There's a bit more to it than that - your effective pencil-pushing is technically in service of the wider goal of space exploration, the search for a new home for humanity. But really it's all for the love of the bureaucracy. This is Civil Service in Space.
You'll start by being talked to, at length, by a robo-P.A. Soon after you'll be talked to at length by some Chief Administrative Health Associate Engineer Technician, or the Communications and Data Specialist, or whoever else from fourth-fifths of the way up the corporate ladder. They'll pop up now and then to give you a new objective or waffle in great detail about the Marduk council and related affiliations and organisational interests and on and on.
This sounds hellish but it's a delight, part of the supreme joy of what these games are about. In Ixion you manage this curious space-tube's six sectors, starting out with just one. In it you'll find a few disconnected roads and a load of scrappy stockpiles, and your task will be to clear those stockpiles by gathering their resources, connecting the roads efficiently, building buildings to feed your little people, building buildings to house your little people, building buildings to refine resources that allows you to build more buildings.
That ties into space exploration, where three kinds of spacecraft - most importantly the Science ships - are created at a building supplied by your other buildings. These potter off around the galaxy finding solutions to local problems. There's an abandoned structure on the Moon that could do with a quick looting. The UN's running out of Oxygen on Mars. These give you little FTL-like pop-up dilemmas, semi-blind decisions about what to prioritise to earn what resource. In time your spaceships can begin a kind of semi-automatic harvesting of basic, elemental resources out in space that can be refined back home - all for more buildings to build more buildings.
It's a wonderfully therapeutic kind of circularity, as these kinds of games always are. Much the same as in some corporations of the real world, there are people whose jobs merely exist in order to give people with other jobs work. That can seem like a drab and grey thing, a vicious circle, a bore. In Ixion and its ilk that circularity is the beauty of it. Round and round you go, taking pleasure in busyness for the sake of it.