Games have a tendency to stress the importance of resources over people. Admitted, it’s awfully fun to hijack a car and drive at 90MPH down a crowded sidewalk, or set down a tornado in the middle of your virtual metropolis, but sometimes it’s good to step back and realize that, just because you’ve got untold millions in the bank and can rebuild with a few button clicks, you probably tore apart a host of tiny polygonal hearts. In Banished, you might have a wealth of resources but they won’t do you a bit of good if your village loses the manpower to make use of them.
Banished will be a medieval village-builder, where you create a small town that needs to defend against starvation, disease, and all the other dangers that can arise in a low-tech agrarian hunter-gatherer settlement. Your settlers grow crops, hunt the forests, fish the streams, and stock up for the coming winter. The reward for survival is the chance to do it all over again, hopefully expanding the town during the process, but with tradeoffs between expansion and land usage to make life tricky.
Take hunting, for example. A small settlement surrounded by woods is going to have plenty of deer to track down, and old-growth forests are great for finding herbs and other medicinal plants. As the forest gets removed, however, deer get scarcer. You can have your woodsmen replant trees, but that won’t bring back the herbs’ environment. Still, those crops are going to need some space to grow, so the trees are just going to have to make way. Don’t expect to use the same plot for farming over and over without penalty, though, because the nutrients in the dirt aren’t an infinite resource. You’ll need to rotate your plantings, letting a field lie fallow now and then, to get the best use out of the land. Of course, you might want to use it for livestock instead. Decisions, decisions…
The purpose of all this work will be to take care of your villagers. Central to the planned game design is that there’s no magic reserve to draw on, and a dead villager is going to take a long time to replace. You might have all the resources in the world to build a mine, but if your remaining guys are too busy hunting and farming to man it then it won’t be pulling in many resources. Once you’ve got a bit of breathing room, however, you can start sending the kids to school, because an educated worker is an effective worker, and the long-term payoff should be well worth the short-term inconvenience.
Despite having never heard of this project until yesterday (thanks, Rock, Paper, Shotgun!), Banished is fairly far along in development, with a planned “mid to late 2013″ release date. It’s looking absolutely phenomenal at this point, though, so that’s not going to make the waiting any easier.