The Settlers III


The Settlers III is a strategy game, the third installment in the famous Settlers series. The game was released in 1998 on PC. The Settlers III’s focus lies on controlling a settlement’s economy, which eventually enables the player to build up an army and defeat the enemies. The economy is a complex system with a long production chain. Each type of resources has its own type of building where it is produced.

Wikipedia article (no official website is currently maintained):

Gameplay video:

Analysis of the game through lenses

1: The lens of essential experience

The essential experience in Settlers III is building up the settlement’s economy through carefully balancing all elements of the production chain. Because all resources are physical objects, it is crucial to take transportation of resources into consideration when placing the buildings. An important part of the experience is being able to see a well functioning settlement, which looks like a living organism.

2: The lens of surprise

The element of surprise is a bit lacking from the game – the differences between the maps don’t introduce enough variety and the gameplay eventually boils down to the same process in every mission. The only moments when the player can be surprised are a) when the time of the opponent’s attack comes earlier / the scale of the attack is larger than expected, or b) when the player finds stacks of resources that are sometimes placed in distant locations of the map. Some elements of the map like a shipwreck on a coast are supposed to introduce more variety to the maps, but it is only an aesthetic addition and doesn’t affect the gameplay.

5: The lens of endogenous value

There are certain resources in the game that are on top of the production chain – notably gold and weapons.Thanks to the fact that all resources are physical objects, the sheer wealth of a settlement is shown not simply by a number somewhere in the UI, but by the resources one can directly see lying on the ground. This motivates players to accumulate wealth and is a rewarding sight. One of the most pleasant experiences is when after one conquers part of the opponent’s land, the carriers swarm the conquered land, collecting valuable resources and bringing them back to the main settlement. The main value in the game lies in the resources.

7: The lens of the elemental tetrad

From the tetrad, the elements that are the most important for The Settlers III are aesthetics and mechanics. The story is almost inexistent – in the campaigns there is some backstory, involving competition between ancient gods and the diaries of the nations’ leaders, but it appears only between the missions and not within the game itself. Regarding technology, the game is a classic 2D isometric view strategy game, only the elements of the world have been originally modelled in 3D and then converted to 2D images, which gives them a distinct look. The aesthetic contributes greatly to the experience of the game – the visual style is very idyllic, with bright colors and good animations. The sound design is very important, with a lot of ambient sounds of the settlement and all the performed jobs, adding to the feel of the settlement as a living organism.

The mechanics are the most important element, as the character of the game lies in the focus on managing the production and trasportation of resources – thus making the game different from most titles.

17: The lens of pleasure

A few main elements give players pleasure: the colorful graphics, vivid music and sound effects contributing to a laid-back experience; the experience of seeing the settlement live its own life; the collecting of resources; the experience of destroying the enemy’s settlement and gaining their resources.

25: The lens of goals

The goal of the game is usually to capture all the opponent’s territory. However, this tends to get a bit boring towards the end of the game, where it is clear that the player is winning. The most emotional phase of a conflict are usually the first attacks, where both parties have amassed large armies. Later on, when the main forces of the enemy have already been destroyed, the conquest stops being interesting. Sometimes the goal of a mission is to collect a certain number of resources, but this doesn’t drastically change the gameplay.

42: The lens of simplicity/complexity

The process of controlling the economy is a complex task, therefore several other elements have been simplified: all settlers move automatically, performing their tasks. The player can control the priorities – what is the most important good to be transported etc. On one hand, this lets the player to focus on a higher level of management, however this automation sometimes leads to problems, where the player would hope to have more control over the actions of the settlers. Military units are controlled manually, but the AI behind the execution of orders is not perfect and usually the only possible tactic is amassing a large number of soldiers and then sending them all to attack the opponent, hoping to succeed.

Invisible Inc [A0099858Y]

The game: Invisible Inc

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Invisible Inc is a turn-based strategy game with a heavy emphasis on stealth and infiltration. The player control a squad of spy operatives to infiltrate procedurally-generated environments to steal information, money and equipment (among other objectives) while avoiding guards and automated security. Unlike in other strategy games, players are encouraged to avoid direct confrontations at all costs because all player-controlled units “die” instantly upon being shot at. The game is still in beta phase but the gameplay is already very fleshed out and feels complete.

Game website:

A “Let’s Play” episode:

My own experience

I’d already had about 30 hours of experience with the game prior to playing the game for the sake of this assignment and was already familiar with the mechanics and most of the equipment and abilities in the game.

The lens of Essential Experience

It was immediate to me that the essential experience of this game is about being a spy (or being an operator directing a group of spies), sneaking around corporate buildings to steal secrets while evading security. It made me feel really cool when I was able to execute my tactics and overcome the security, or when I was able to evade danger just in the nick of time. This sense of accomplishment is further enhanced by the fact that the game does not allow the player to reload to an earlier point in the game (commonly known as “Ironman Mode” in turn-based games) and any mistakes will have permanent consequences, hence the game’s challenges can not be overcome by simple trial and error.

The lens of Elemental Tetrad

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Normal view vs Hacking interface

The game has very low technical requirements as it runs smoothly even on computers without discrete GPUs. However I was still very impressed by the visuals thanks to the distinct art style and very smart use of colours. Mechanics-wise, the game is very innovative as it combines elements from two very different genres (stealth and turn-based strategy) as well as bringing in twists of its own. I especially like the “hacking” interface which adds another layer of strategy on top of moving your units around on a map. The story in this game takes a backseat to the gameplay and does not appear to be significant, at least at this stage as the game is still in development and not yet fully released.

The lens of Surprise + The lens of Curiosity

All levels the players experience (save for the tutorial levels) are procedurally-generated so players will never see the map twice. It kept me on my toes at all times, since I never knew what to expect behind a closed door or around the next corner. Moving my units around recklessly could result in a nasty surprise for me (like barging inside a room full of armed guards and not having enough Action Points to escape). At the same time, I always felt the urge to fully explore each level, even at the risk of losing my units because I never knew if I had missed out on lootable items or money unless I searched through every corner of the map.

The lens of Chance

While the levels are automatically generated, the actual gameplay leaves almost nothing to chance (unlike the majority of strategy games which rely on probability to calculate the chance to hit or damage done). The same action will result in the same consequence every time. This is another aspect I really like about the game as it made me feel like I was in control all the time. It made the game feel fair as I never lost because of bad luck. Also as the lack of chance removes some element of unpredictability from the gameplay and it allowed me to plan and execute much more complex tactics than otherwise, which felt really satisfying.

My Friend’s experience

My friend had had no prior experience with the game, though he is familiar with video games in general. I briefly explained some of the basic mechanics to him while intentionally leaving things for him to discover on his own. He played the tutorial level and three automatically-generated levels.

The lens of Essential Experience

My friend was quickly able to figure out the objectives of the game and had a basic idea of what he had to do (use stealth and avoid front assault, etc). He remarked that the setting was “interesting”.

The lens of Elemental Tetrad

The visual style of the game seems to have made an impression on him. Not being familiar with turn-based game, he was initially confused by how the turn system worked, but was able to figure the game out after I had explained it to him. He enjoyed the game play much more as he started to figure out more of the game mechanics and was able to “properly” play the game. He did seem to be interested in the story as he took time to read through the (rather lengthy) text briefings before each mission.

The lens of Surprise + The lens of Curiosity

My friend was not aware the game levels were generated by the computer, but since it was his first time playing the game, he would still be unfamiliar with the maps anyway. He was caught by his first surprise very early into the game and lost one of his units. After that, he started playing very conservatively and tried to avoid any risk to his remaining unit. He rushed to complete each level as fast as possible, without fully exploring the map and ended up missing out on many rewards scattered across the levels, in order to protect his last unit.

The lens of Chance

My friend also realised the results of actions are not determined by chance in the game and the loss of his unit was not because of bad luck.

Comparison: familiarity makes all the difference

After comparing my friend’s experience with my own, I realised how much the difference in experience, both with the particular game and the genre, impact the gameplay. This is especially true for games that are unforgiving and have a steep learning curve like this one.

The lens of Essential Experience

The futuristic sci-fi setting is immediately familiar to most people without being too much of a cliché or feeling overdone. The gameplay however, is unforgiving and difficult and this can turn off casual players or those who are easily frustrated (dozens of hours invested into the game can be instantly lost because of a single mistake). This seems to be intentional on the developer’s part as the welcome message at the home screen mentions the game is “deep” and “hardcore” right off the bat.

The lens of Elemental Tetrad

Both my friend and I agreed the game is able to create good looking visuals without requiring high-powered hardware, which is excellent. The mechanics, however, is where the game is strongest at it feels tight, balanced and fair. However, while the game explains its unique features quite well in the tutorial, does not do a good job of explaining many of its genre mechanics to new players, and those new to turn-based games can feel lost. The story is insignificant at this point.

The lens of Surprise + The lens of Curiosity

The choice to use procedurally-generated levels instead of hand-crafted ones was an excellent choice because you can never know what to expect no matter how experienced you are with the game. This forces players to always be cautious and have a backup plan in case of unpleasant surprises. The fact that you cannot reload to an earlier point reinforces this even further as other games allow players to negate the element of surprise with trial-and-error. The level design also piques the player’s curiosity as each uneplored corner of the map could hide more treasures.

The lens of Chance

In a game where all actions have permanent consequences and the player’s units are extremely fragile, removing the element of chance works in the game’s favour as it ensures a stroke of bad luck does not ruin the experience for players. It also makes the game feel more fair as how successful a player is with the game depends only on their skill.