Maia hands-on: managing mood in a complex space colony sim

What are you doing?” asks Maia writer Paul Dean. It is a fair question. The area just outside my latest space colony on the planet Maia is liberally festooned with Union Jack flags. To the point where one of them seems to have joined forces with its neighbours and mutated into a flagsplosion, fluttering in the breeze.

“Building a Queen trap.”

Actually, I was enjoying watching how this sim's ever-changing weather affects the movement of the flags and wind turbines you can place outside. Flags are decorative – a nod to the tradition of conquering strange new lands by jamming a stick with a facecloth on one end into the earth. Wind turbines on the other hand can be used to supply the interior of your colony with power. Solar arrays do the same job, but they're less interesting to watch.

“Pip, I'm not sure the Queen is in Maia.”

She isn't. I've been through all the game's context sensitive object lists and there are fission reactors, work tables, couches and intravenous drips, but no monarch.

Maia is a hard-SF space colony sim. As such you can eventually expect scientifically accurate objects and systems as well as concepts grounded in contemporary research. It's a complex undertaking so at the moment there are relatively few objects to contend with, but the list is growing. The couches mentioned earlier are found in the most recent build (0.33). The version I'm playing is 0.31, which seems more stable, crashing maybe 20 minutes into a session rather than four or five.

The interconnection between systems and objects is basic but with a promising attention to detail. Placing the solar arrays outside, for example, means you can power objects such as lights inside the colony. When the weather changes – say a solar flare hits the planet or a storm breaks overhead – the lights inside will flicker or dim accordingly.

There are seven types of room: generic, storage, workroom, research lab, medical, hydroponics and radiation containment. For each, you select and place objects from a context sensitive list. If you have a workroom with a worktable the sims will build the objects for you. If not, or if the AI is behaving oddly, you can place them with a keyboard shortcut. Maia 0.31 is like a space version of The Sims' build mode.

0.31 offers many hints of future content. The research lab contains equipment for conducting autopsies, and hover text reveals that red and blue glowsticks have different effects on mood – blue sooths but also reduces productivity while red promotes productivity but adds aggression.

It is while I'm investigating the hover text that I discover I may have been wrong about one thing. “God save the Queen!” announces a door. The Queen? Startled I mouse over again to check what I just saw. “PLATITUDES.DLL IS CORRUPT AND UNREADABLE,” says the door. “Please register this software to receive more Door GreetingsTM.”