This weekend, GOG.com struck again. There was the usual weekend sale and Constructor was heavily discounted. I bought it.
What is Constructor?
It’s a simulation game built to frustrate you, to put it shortly. The frustration is of the type that makes you want to play more, though, so this isn’t exactly a bad thing.
It’s a game on a low scale, which means the city you build is nowhere near SimCity levels. Instead, you buy housing blocks with each having room for a few homes at a time. You focus on making your tenants happy, keeping their homes in working order and dealing with the enemy faction(s).
Constructor was released on the PC and the PlayStation and I actually owned the game on the PlayStation as a kid. I think I might even have the box somewhere. Back then, the concept of a PC was completely alien to me, but somehow, I understood Constructor would be easier to play with a mouse, so I kept nagging my big sister until she bought me one.
The thing is, you don’t have much room for a mouse when you’re gaming in front of a TV; so while the controls in Constructor definitely were better with a PlayStation mouse, the ergonomics of the whole thing was very questionable.
Eventually, if I remember correctly, I think I’ve completely given up on playing the game with the mouse. The thing I very clearly remember is that I played Constructor extensively, in spite of my lack of understanding or skill with the game.
How did it age?
While the game was downloading (my Internet isn’t great), I actually entertained the idea that it would be different this time; that it would be enjoyment of the easy kind, the one where you could just relax and play. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
It’s the exact same frustrating, but fun experience, boosted by the fact that the controls have aged badly and you know they can be done better these days.
Outside perhaps the first few minutes of the game, and even that part is questionable, there isn’t a moment of peace, especially if you play with computer players. There’s constantly some trouble going on. Your tenants are complaining, the opposing players are sabotaging you or your houses and buildings simply spontaneously combust.
Even when none of that happens, the council suddenly decided to give you an optional mission with the two options being “do the mission” and “game over”.
But the question is was how well Constructor aged, right? Well, it didn’t age too badly. The problem is, the resolution is fixed to a low value and low and the mouse behaves weirdly, probably because of the resolution. Once you get used to that, though, it plays great, as long as Constructor is the type of game you’d want to play.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
There’s no real campaign you progress through in Constructor.
At the start, you create a game. Based on difficulty, you have a selection of available maps, with only one map available in easy mode, which is the mode you should be playing at first.
So you pick a difficulty, a map and a victory condition. There are four victory condition and a fifth non-condition:
- Financial Conquest – Obtain a bank balance of 1000 000 within 40 years.
- Egomania – Build every type of house possible and eventually a pyramid in your honor.
- World Domination – Own at least one residential property at every estate in the world.
- Utopian State – Have at least 3 of every type of tenant with their happiness above 90%.
- Build, Build, Build – Sandbox mode.
Keep in mind, I have yet to win a single game of Constructor. Heck, I have yet to even get remotely close.
So I picked my poison, and I started in the southeast, where the green player starts. The world map is a grid of estates. You buy estates from the council and then you get to build your buildings on your estates. There’s slightly more to it than that, but that’s what matters at the start.
Before building anything else, you need a saw mill to get wood, so I build that.
Once the saw mill is built, it’s time to build the first level of homes. Residential buildings are split into five levels, each intended to house the same level of tenants. You only start out with level one tenants and once the saw mill is built, you only get to build level one houses, so that’s that.
You can only build each one house a limited amount of times, so you are forced to progress up the ranks eventually.
Each level of tenants has two tenant types. One is usually meant for paying rent, while the other breeds faster.
Breeds? Yup! You start out with a bunch of tenants, but after about 2-3000 days of living in your house, they die. The only way to get more is to breed them. Basically, each level of tenants can do four things. One will always be to pay rent.
For level one tenants, the other three choices are to have a type of baby. Their babies can be set to become level one tenants, workers or level 2 tenants, provided you equip their house with a computer.
For the second level tenants, they can breed into more level 2 tenants (faster than the level 1 tenants would), police officers or level 3 tenants. The list progresses along the same line all the way to the top.
Higher level tenants pay more, but they have shorter life spans and they breed more slowly, so there’s always a reason to hold low level tenants.
Short Rise and a Quick Fall
So I built my saw mill, and I built two of the cheapest shacks, renting them to one of each of the two tenants. I take my time and then the computer builds a house on my estate.
Yup, they get to do that. If you buy an estate, you better be prepared to fill it up as quickly as possible, because the land will be taken over otherwise. Heck, even the council demands you have at least 90% of land coverage during their periodic inspections.
The thing is, you also better have tenants to fill those houses you’ve built, because if you don’t, bad things will happen. The empty homes can get infested, or they eventually burn down, in both of which cases the neighbors start complaining.
They can also be taken over by enemy undesirables which is another aspect of the game I’ll talk about in a moment.
So, you need to buy land to keep up with the enemy, you need to have money and workers to build homes on the land, and you need to breed enough tenants to fill empty houses, breed more tenants AND pay enough rent to keep you afloat.
That’s what I tried to do and failed.
I built the two cheapest shacks and made one of them into level one tenant breeders, while the other family was paying rent.
Then the computer took some of my land, so I had to buy another estate. There, I built the two other shacks, and this unlocked the cement factory. This is how you progress through the buildings.
The cement factory creates cement, which allows you to build level two buildings, including the gadget factory, for tools like the computer I already mentioned and decorations such as trees. As soon as the gadget factory became available for building, the complaints started pouring in.
The tenants want trees in their garden.
The complaints are another system that keeps you busy. Tenants complain about a lot of stuff, such as the above lack of trees, the wrong fence around their yard, the quality of their rooms, their rent, etc. Each of these needs to be handled, or you get black marks, which affect how the council deals with you and can make you outright lose the game.
So I built the cement factory and the gadget factory on the new estate and started delivering trees. I also bought a computer for one of the breeders and made them create a level 2 tenant, because I unlocked level 2 houses.
My money was going down and the computer opponent was doing just fine.
You have your workers and your foremen, who simply lead the workers, and then you have your repairmen. I didn’t figure out the repairmen properly. You can manually assign them to repair buildings, or you can send them on patrol, but I guess you need to somehow assign a patrol area, because my houses started catching fire faster than I could send staff to maintain them.
Also, the two repairmen you start with aren’t even close to being enough. The only way to get more is to convert three workers into a repairman, which means you need level one tenants to breed like rabbits.
Of course, this means more houses, more tenants, more complaints, more gadget delivery, more things to maintain and an even faster trip towards the game over screen.
But the complexity is far from over.
The computer started sending thieves at me, so I built a Pawn Shop of my own.
Undesirables are special buildings which the tenants don’t like, but allow you to do some evil stuff to your enemy. The first two are the Hippy Commune and the Pawn Shop.
Just to give an idea of how much the tenants don’t like it, building a Hippy Commune on an estate requires you to upgrade the bathrooms of every home on that estate within the time limit or bad things happen.
In any case, the Hippy Commune gives you a hippy and the Pawn Shop gives you a thief. The thief can, of course, steal stuff, while the hippy can do a variety of things.
For instance, you can start a house party, which causes everyone nearby to dance and not work. They can also take over empty houses, stopping the enemy from renting them or basically do anything but destroy them. They can picket production buildings, starving the enemy of resources. Lastly, they can deal with an enemy hippy.
In any case, the computer started sending it’s thief on me, so I got a mission to deal with him. At this point, I figured out how to take over buildings.
Your foreman can be sent to take over any enemy building by slowly removing the fence from it. Once it’s done, the building is yours and in case of the thief, the mission to get rid of him is completed, so that’s how I avoided the game over screen for the time being.
The thing is, the computer keeps sending the undesirables at you, so you have to build the police HQ eventually, which means you also need to devote level two tenants to breed police officers. Naturally, there are additional costs involved and even more micro-management, what with having to assign police to each estate individually.
I made the HQ and I bred a few officers, but the game got away from me, so I ran out of both tenants and officers after a while.
Constructor is a difficult game
It’s difficult. There’s no denying it. It’s also fun and addictive, but it’s difficult and definitely not for everyone.
I lost my first game after reaching level 3 tenants. Things got away from me, houses started burning down, and I got a few missions I wasn’t able to handle in time, so I got sacked. I’ve started a few more games since, and I do slightly better every time, but eventually, the game is simply too difficult to manage for me.
I even abandoned the game a few times, starting a new one.
The thing is, as I’m writing this right now, all I think about is when I’ll be able to play Constructor some more, so it’s definitely fun and engaging. I’d even compare it with the Dwarf Fortress type of hard, at least based on how Dwarf Fortress was described to me, since I never played it myself.
So I’m off to play some more Constructor.