Galcon Fusion is good times, some of the time

The gulf between multiplayer and singleplayer Galcon is like the gulf between an adorable puppy and a dead puppy that is already rotting.

Actually, that’s very unfair. But there is a huge divide. In my opinion, this iPhone-game-turned-PC-clickyfest is practically only worth playing on multiplayer. Multiplayer, particularly the team multiplayer, is a strategy-rich experience; the singleplayer is a dull, brief, staccato process that seems particularly ill-suited to the PC. I’ve heard good things about it on the iPhone, but when you’re playing thirty-second strategy games in your hand, while, as one reviewer put it, brushing your teeth, that’s a very different experience from hunching in front of your computer while the whole screen fills with robot strategy triangles. It’s simply not interesting enough to deserve all that space in front of your face.

Somebody got owned. By triangles.

Because that’s what this game is all about: circles and triangles. Lean, lean visuals. Admirable depth evolving out of a very slight, pared-down set of mechanics. And the developers tried to give this PC version some more totally unneeded complexity by including a seething mess of ill-explained singleplayer game modes that seem to have no reason for existing. And then there’s the AI. It comes in ten levels, some or most of which I could not actually tell apart from one another while playing. So, make of that what you will. This is a game which deserved more than to be weighted down with a million irrelevancies.

This is mainly because the multiplayer is so fantastic. I played multiplayer once last week—during finals week at my college—for over three hours straight. And it did not feel like a waste of time.

See, Galcon multiplayer is is more explicitly a kind of communication than it is in any other strategy game I’ve tried, simply because it’s so stripped down. The units are triangles; they point where they’re going. More triangles means more troops. No triangles means a player’s turtling. Everything that happens is right there on the table, ready for players to draw their own conclusions from. The pull and play of triangles is like a conversation between opponents.

The result is an incredible range of strategy—incredible, really, for a game with only one kind of troop, one kind of command, and automated unit production. By manipulating your troop output, you can trick enemies into thinking you have more or less troops than you actually do; by changing your troops’ direction mid-flight,y ou can pull off some impressive feints. And because your enemies here are people, not AI, the kind of strategy and trickery you can pull off is so much broader, so much more satisfying. There are such a diversity of viable strategies that by the time you’ve grasped the basic mechanics you’ve probably developed a distinctly personal play-style. And these styles stick out. The game is so slight in visuals that player behavior takes the absolute center stage. Other players in your game will know you by your favorite tricks. And you’ll know them by theirs. And team multiplayer is even more glorious—those games are all about wordless cooperation, about games turning on a dime, about perpetrating a fantastic kind of human chaos. It’s something that simply isn’t possible in the singleplayer.

So, the game has terrible music, unimpressive graphics, and a singleplayer mode that struck me as a waste of time. But it has a multiplayer that, out of a few bare-bones elements, inspires a pretty-much endless strategy experience. This is some really tight design. I am incredibly impressed with it. What I’m not impressed with, though, is the fact that the multiplayer servers go absolutely cold during much of the day, which makes it impossible for me to enjoy the one aspect of the game that I actually adore.

Actually, this is what the game looks like most of the time. A bit more placid, I'd say.

I got the game for two bucks as part of an indie bundle; knowing what I know now about the singleplayer and the multiplayer server situation, I’m not sure I would have bought the full ten dollar game just by itself. At any rate, there’s a free demo on Steam. I’d certainly recommend that, but since I bought the game already I don’t even know if that demo has multiplayer in it. I hope it does—this game certainly wants to show potential customers the best it has to offer, not the worst.

Wondered where we were all last week? We were doing finals. It was kind of a bitch. But we’re back now, and you’ll be seeing some interesting stuff soon!

Also, we are going to PAX East. More about that later.

ALSO ALSO, Galcon, regular iPhone Galcon, won the Innovation in Mobile Game Design award at the IGF last year. Here’s the dev’s– Phil Hassey’s–website.

Leave a comment


  1. For once, I don’t have anything related to say. However! I bought the same pack on Steam when it was on sale. (I was actually debating asking you your thoughts on the games, but then I figured it was only $10 so even if I hated everything I wouldn’t really be too bad.) Clearly, we should play Galcon Fusion multiplayer together.

    I haven’t played the game yet, though, so what I can say is limited. Though I think now that this indie bundle deal has come and gone, and a number of people have bit on it, we should have another indie game pass-the-computer-around get-together so people can try all of these out.

    • lauramichet

       /  March 16, 2010

      Yeah- when term starts again I’d love to have another thing at AO. I can reserve the room with the television and everything– it could be pretty awesome.

      My first experience in Galcon was an insanely long team session with the same, say, eight people, multiple hours all stuck together– and it was absolutely fantastic. I’d never had so much fun figuring out how to play a game. Not like I wanted to play it for the rest of my life, you understand, but it’s well done for what it is, and it’s challenging to try and get yourself to master all the little aspects of it. Thing is, you need quite a number of players, and they need to not be idiots. I’ve been in games where the last two players kept stopping to ‘trade’ planets and stuff, and THAT got dull FAST.

      What games in the bundle have you played yet?

      • So far I’ve only played Space Giraffe (with LEGITIMATE BARNYARD NOISES), and on the laptop I am typing this on I have downloaded Bullet Candy and will be playing it later today. So far though, I’ve had to sign up for external accounts with two games — Galcon Fusion and Altitude. That really pisses me off, actually; I was wondering if you would be interested in having a guest column to talk about and complain about exactly why that is horrible.

        I’ll make sure to bring a DVI cable when we have the TV room again, so we can get a good resolution.

        What is the minimum number of players to make an optimal Galcon Fusion game?

      • lauramichet

         /  March 17, 2010

        We would LOVE that guest article. I actually had the same annoyance with that problem, though not as acutely as you seem to have had. It seemed particularly extraneous to me in Altitude, which I found just to be a dull game. There wasn’t even enough there for me to want to review it.
        I’ve played gridrunner revolution, which was also kind of slight and boring; I plant on giving space girrafe a look later today, after I’ve finished writing about an adventure game I’ve just played. Also: try super laser racer. very good in its mindless simplicity– also, you can make your own racetracks! woo!

  2. Space Giraffe is fucking crazy.

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