Rust, A Game Review
Disclaimer: As a mod of /r/rust, I see a lot posts and comments confusing the game with the programming language. So I decided to write this humorous take.
I kept hearing about this “Rust” game that Mozilla of all companies has apparently been working on for four years supported by a loose knit community of game devs (?), so I finally took the plunge. Nice: You can download the game completely free of charge and there are zero micropayments. You don’t even need to register! There are a few books you can buy, though the main one is available online, also for free. Incredible.
The website tells you to download and run the installer from rustup.rs, which is bit strange (why don’t they distribute the game from their main site? Ah I see, there are installers, but this rustup thing can download and update different versions of the game – no idea why one would do that).
Starting the game gives you a long message containing usage instructions. It appears this game is very different from what I’ve played so far. You have to create one or more text files and give it to the “compiler” which will then do interesting things with it, or at least I hope so. Mental note: This game is not for casuals.
The user interface is pretty bare, but betrays a surprising complexity. The game designers have created a whole language of things you can tell the compiler to do, and playing basically requires learning this language. There seems to be some sort of hive-mind with multiple entities working together to deny you access. Your task is to get through.
Your first encounter will probably be the “syntax checker”. This is some sort of AI opponent that denies you entry to the other AIs if you fail to close your parenthesis or something. As it’s the beginner level, it tells you how to beat it. Other game designers should take notes – this is a good idea for tutorial levels.
Having dispatched with the syntax checker, you move on to the “type checker”. See, below the language is another, mostly implicit language, the language of types. Those have to line up correctly, or the type checker will stop you. This is starting to look like learning Japanese by intercepting untranslated messages from a broken TV set. Ah, well, I’ve already sunk half a week into this “game”, might as well learn how to play it correctly.
The type checker will also tell you how to beat it. This seems to be a common theme with the game. It ups the difficulty a bit by giving you multiple options every now and then.
At this point it dawned on me that I had underestimated the complexity of this game, so I went to /r/rust to ask how to play correctly, only to have my post removed by the mods and being told that I should read the sidebar before posting. Which has a few playground rules and a sick video.
The Rust players are very competitive, it seems, and they apppear to coerce the game to do surprising things. Modding is obviously a big part of the community, and there is a central repository for mods called crates.io. What is it with Rust people and strange web addresses?
Despite my setback, I was intrigued to look into some of those mods (and also skimmed the book, which was quite friendly though jargon-laden) and found a great number of strange but effective techniques. I also learned that the players of the game refer to themselves as “Rustaceans”, and that there is a final nemesis, the “borrow checker”. Only the hardest players manage to dispatch this foe, and are rewarded with god-like modding capabilities.
Reading more about it, there is a very rich lore that is strewn on social media, various blogs, semi-official websites and other locations. I’ve also learned that the designers built a tool called “cargo” that allows one to load mods for playing. This makes things much more interesting.
Three weeks in, I finally have my first encounter with the borrow checker. And this is where the game gets crazy hard. See, just as with the “type” language waiting below the game language to trip up unsuspecting newbies, the “lifetime” language is hidden in the “type” language, and if you get it wrong, the borrow checker will ruin your day. For now it tells me that I have conflicting lifetime requirements. To solve this, I am told I should shorten my lifetime – which I already did by playing this game for so long! I’m giving up!
Conclusion: I’m reminded of the time I tried Dwarf Fortress, only this time the gameplay is even stranger. There is no graphics or sound to speak of, but that is besides the point. This game is not for the weak – only the hardest players will slog through. Once you’ve mastered all the opponents, you’ll be granted modding powers that rival anything seen in other games. Players have even started creating GUIs for it from within the game. It puzzles me that the designers didn’t think of creating their own GUI yet, but I presume they are busy creating even bigger and badder enemies.