im coming up on 1000 days now and im surviving sustainably on deadly hills and id just like to say i dont know how you did it but you somehow made niche fun again [big rant incoming]
one of my favourite parts about adams quest [jessimews story mode series] is how she perfectly utilised niche as a storytelling medium- its a playthrough of the game that isnt very informed on the main mechanics [because it had just then come out] and leads to a really well done mix of storytelling that *relies* on the game and the tribes survival rather than a story that is basically entirely separate from the tribes survival- when i try to do story tribes it all falls apart because it gets to the point id rather just write a story or draw a comic instead of being held back by things like "this nicheling is going to die before im done with their story" "a bearynea came and killed my favourite character when i wanted to do x with them", and when i do a basic story mode playthrough it gets so incredibly easy because you know exactly what is going to put you in danger and how to manage it, making your only enemy rng [especially after more than one completed story mode playthrough].
what jessimew manages to accomplish though is having a story that is perfectly balanced with the actual game and trying to survive on each new island, stuff like how the story is relatively tame on easier islands because there isnt much to worry about and then when gameplay gets harder the story gets more dramatic so that neither can ever overshadow the other; for example pine having "visions" of the apes whilst jessimew was getting concerned that apes could spawn on the grass adventure islands, the bluebird feathers splitting as the first apes of the playthrough start spawning so that the focus was never fully on the gameplay of avoiding the apes- the only point id say this falters is the long winter island and how the story is the general hopelessness of the tribe dying out, but that part is so differently executed and unique to the rest of the playthrough it doesnt really count.
throughout all the time ive played this game ive always struggled with one small thing that stops me from being as fully immersed as i was as a 12 year old coming home from school every day and waiting until 4pm for the new episode to come out- that balance never happened.
no matter how hard i tried, every time i started a tribe itd end one of two ways: id have a fully fledged story, id write notes on all the characters, id spend painstakingly long on each turn plotting all the different things i could do with them and then id give up on grass adventure because i got bored and it would take an absolute machoist to keep that up until home island, start a new tribe and see if i can get a "more interesting story to keep me going", give up, repeat. or, id say "im getting to home island this weekend" and id completely discard all story to get a perfectly genetically engineered pack of superhuman hybrid dogs to massacre the long winter island's population, get to about 1000 food, and then spend 45 minutes running to home island and then after that go and get all the ancient genes and feel a little bit of satisfaction.
[if i tried ahvhc 1.0 it ended up hinging purely on survival due to the randomised and difficult start, and after i was in a comfortable spot where i was able to survive, the loooong lifespans of nichelings (which im assuming is for storytelling purposes) got boring and disrupted the gameplay loop of breeding better and better nichelings.]
and before, i blamed this on the rng- some story moments in jessimews playthrough just seem too good to be true and i never really managed to capture the pure magic of some of jessimews best moments. i felt that the gameplay was so mundane that there was nothing to go off of except my own completely separate ideas, and that leads you down the aforementioned rabbit hole of "i should just write a story". now i realise that the magic of jessimews reincarnations and deities and tragic deaths wasnt a random thing that let it be so perfect, but instead a mix of her skills and adaptability as a storyteller (but that isnt very important for my point) and the random events brought about by not really knowing what youre doing.
its hard to word what i mean here so im just going to give an example and let you see what im talking about- jessimew migrated her nichelings to the burning savannah island and one of her nichelings had a child, melody. she had a striking appearance that highlighted to jessimew that she should do something important storytelling-wise with melody. then, the fires started, which is something jessimew didnt know would happen, and she put together the pieces to make melody a "herald of flames" that was ousted after her tribemates believed she brought the fires to their nest.
meanwhile, if im trying to make a story, id move to the burning savannah, wait a few days, see the fire, and because i fully expected it it wouldnt mean much to me and id just carry on with my playthrough whilst trying to avoid it, whilst thinking about the oh-so-dramatic hidden love story between the leader and a rogue male child thats going to leave me dissapointed when the rogue male child gets mauled to death by a bearynea before i can set up the ~climatic ending~ i envisioned in my mind.
in ahvhc 1.0, id be so weary of everything that the thought of storytelling wouldnt even cross my mind, and after scrambling to make sure everyone can survive i realised the game isnt fun anymore because ive accomplished the goal of ensuring my survival and theres nothing left for me to do.
however, in ahvhc 2.0, theres a great balance in the gameplay that allows me to stay far more faithful to the jessimew era style of storytelling in this game that got me into it into the first place- but before i say an example of how this happened ive got to quickly explain the gameplay.
(before i get into this- any criticisms i have towards the games design hindering storytelling are not actual flaws the game has. i dont think when philo and mark were making a game based purely on education on genetics they intended it to be used as a storytelling medium)
basically my problem with the gameplay in normal niche is that its far too easy once you have a basic understanding of the animal's ai and the gene system. the mutation menu, despite being perfectly available in story mode, acts as a switch between "accurate simulation of population genetics" [not used] and "turn based strategy game that creatively uses the idea of genetics as a game mechanic" [used]. knowing that a bearynea can take two turns per night and can move two tiles per turn makes dealing with them easy because you just stay 3 tiles away from them at all times, preventing them from getting close enough to use their second turn on attacking you. knowledge like this, along with a perfect view of all of a nichelings hidden genetic flaws and the tool to remove them on demand [the mutation menu], makes the game a systematic and dull repeat of working towards "perfect" nichelings and then getting bored once youre done. the mutation menu takes away all challenges of adaptation to new environments, as you can breed suited nichelings with the mutation menu before you even get to the island and once youre there its just a matter of waiting it out to unlock new genes and then leaving for the next island.
however, the fun gameplay of ahvhc 2.0 shines when you dont use the mutation menu along with blind genes and arrive on harsh environments like the oasis island, because you get a super fun experience of having to breed in wanderers (ever noticed how wanderers/rogue males have some genes suited to the biome they spawn in? its an incredible substitute to the mutation menu that i never considered before this). and bring out their genes in your own animals whilst not even being able to know what genes did get carried over (blind genes). id painstakingly categorise everyone in my family tree based on whether or not theres a chance they got big ears/water body and then breed pairs together, before getting a miracle pair that managed to produce maybe one or two babies that were exactly what i wanted and honing in on just those two, using others to fend off bearyneas, hoping to get maybe one or two more babies out of them that fitted the bill close enough. i didnt end up getting another two babies- one died of sickness and the other didnt get the desired genes, but that meant that there was still a goal to work towards to, rather than just mashing the water body into my mutation menu and looking at the genes of everyone to get an immunity gene matched pair that both had big ears recessive. it was challenging, based somewhat in luck but also in the skill of knowing who will have what recessive, and it was the most fun ive had in this game in a while.
(one point that doesnt really naturally fit in anywhere is how not being able to see immunity genes and dying of sickness immediately helps population control- you have to let go of the frustration of "this pairing are from completely different families but have the same immunity gene so i cant breed them" and instead live with some babies just not making it, wittling down your population by quite a large amount. it adds some extra challenge but also lets the scope of the current story in the tribe be much more manageable. i think this is how immunity genes were meant to be used in the first place if im honest; instead of ensuring each pair is safe, you just live with some sickness whilst avoiding breeding siblings because theyre far more likely to have the same immunity genes)
and now to get to how this helps storytelling- i have an example that has a few branches to it but proves my point very well.
on the original grass mingle island i had about 20 nichelings and small groups were scattered around the island. i had two sets of three nichelings- a daughter of a leader that was good at gathering and set to be the next leader, her hybrid half sister, and a rogue child who had no purpose other than sitting on a stump and singing to entertain the others. the other trio was three siblings from a hybrid family trying to bring out the hybrid genes- a daughter born that looked identical to her mother, her sister who had the bearynea snout and immediately outshines her sister, and their youngest brother who was identical to their father.
in the first trio of nichelings, they lived out their normal lives. the hybrid half sister felt she had no use as a warrior with no bearynea to kill. one day, a wanderer with the water body came to her and asked her to bring her to the shore. they agreed that they would both travel to the shore, and the hybrid would learn to fish as her new purpose whilst the wanderer would finally be able to swim in the seas again.
meanwhile, in the second trio, the two sisters lived out their lives whilst the youngest brother was sitting by the riverbank with his father as he fished. i accidentally misclicked on the brother and moved him into the river, and because he had no extra turns to move back out he immediately drowned. the whole family went into mourning, especially the father.
however, a few days after the brother had died a baby wanderer had come out next to the father, who adopted her as his new daughter. i decided here that she was a reincarnation of the dead baby that allowed the whole family to move on from the death. the baby grew up as the new sister to the two original sisters.
shortly after, though, the hybrid sister from the first trio had made it to the shore, and a bearynea had targeted the pair and killed both of them despite me sending down the reincarnation to try and help them. i then decided that the reincarnation had also now become a reincarnation of the hybrid sister who had just died, having both souls in her that connect the two pairs of sisters together. as the four original sisters died, she also took up all of their souls, which i decided made her immortal and engaged in some console toomfoolery to keep her going as a nice wise old lady for a while until her story fizzled out on the next island and i let a bearynea kill her.
to pick apart how this story had happened in these specific circumstances- because of the added difficulty of the immediate death, the first baby drowning was an unforseen consequence of something that usually requires a healing fruit and a "why did i do that" to fix, that let me adapt a story around his death that included the brand new wanderer. immediate drowning has let me learn a lot more about water mechanics and what constitutes "drowning" in this game [definitely not me trying to find a bright side to the pain of "WHY DID YOU DROWN" "OH NO WAIT I MEANT TO MOVE YOU OUT OF THE RIVER NOT UP IT" "WHY DID THE BEARYNEA ATTACK HER SHES IN THE RIVER"]
the second death was a consequence of something i hadnt yet learned about bearynea spawning mechanics- they are, in my experience, far more likely to spawn near small groups rather than large groups, whether thats due to the reduced amount of lit up tiles or just a mechanic that was prebuilt into the game. the two lone nichelings meant a bearynea quickly spawned, taking the hybrid sister and the wanderer out quickly.
the reason i love ahvhc 2.0 so much is that its a perfect balance- these moments couldntve happened if the increased difficulty didnt allow for unforseen challenges to come along that i could adapt my story to, and the more refined version of the previous ahvhc that cuts down the lifespan perfects the balance of gameplay and storytelling; the short lifespan makes more room for generations to pass and the genes you want to help your survival come out more, whilst also making the character's time the perfect length of "enough to get attatched" but "not long enough to get bored". and thats why this, in my opinion, is the best way to play niche that has allowed me to put into words my problems with the game and reintroduce myself to the experience of early playthroughs of the game that really made it special
[hope you dont mind me writing all of this just based on your sandbox setting preset- it talks about far more than just those settings but really, sky, its so well made and the only reason i can put this all into words is because of the way ahvhc 2.0 has been done.. and ive been wanting to put all my feelings towards the design of this game into words for a while lol. heres the sisters if youre curious!]