Monthly Archives: November 2013

Fishbreath Plays: StarMade

I’ve been thinking about new sorts of content for the Fish Bowl, and hit upon this idea. I like games, you see, and I like writing—so maybe I should try writing about games? There’s no better place to start, I would say, than the game which has been consuming all of my time: StarMade, the block building game with spaceships.

I saw someone else say that ‘Minecraft with spaceships’ was too reductive, but it’s not inaccurate. StarMade is still in alpha, and the meat of the game right now is in the building. That part plays very much like Minecraft with extra spice: put blocks down to make ships, but some blocks have extra functionality. Power generator blocks make power, thruster blocks make you move, weapon blocks give you guns with which to blow stuff up. Putting blocks in contiguous groups makes them more effective than they’d be separately, so there are advantages to building, say, reactor rooms and engineering spaces. That leads to a natural progression from small ship to large ship in power and cost. It scratches the naval engineer itch I’ve always had—I find myself planning out a ship’s hull shape and interior spaces first, and the internals and hull from that plan in a way that isn’t entirely dissimilar to how ships are actually built.

Beyond building, the gameplay’s still being fleshed out. Crafting is more or less useless; the recipes are completely random, and you might find yourself with a block you can buy cheaply from the various space stations requiring a half-dozen of the most expensive components in the game, or you might have a 300,000-credit block recipe requiring two units of sand. The idea behind crafting is nifty, though. Factory blocks take a recipe and materials and turn them into outputs, and they can be linked together: some factory blocks could make intermediate materials from raw stuff, then be linked to a final production factory to produce usable blocks. Putting factory upgrade blocks next to factories makes them faster and more efficient. The potential for a really neat system is there, but it needs some refining to make the possible inputs to a recipe similar to the value of the outputs.

The flying and combat work reasonably well already. Flying I’d call semi-realistic; there’s drag and a speed limit, but you don’t change directions when you turn. I understand prettier competitor Space Engineers has more physics (you need reverse thrusters, for instance, and gravity is supposed to work like gravity), but StarMade gets by with what it has. Weapon construction has some interesting tradeoffs—while missiles are straight-up better the bigger they are, smaller blocks of guns do more damage over time, but at shorter ranges with slower projectile speeds. You can put AI-controlled turrets onto bigger ships, and although those could use some further development in terms of manual target selection and the like, capital ships with batteries of defensive guns and such are plenty exciting already. I find the death of ships compelling, too: weapons taking chunks out of the armor and the internal spaces, and capabilities slowly decreasing as the ship loses power, weapon, and engine blocks.

All told, it’s a delightful build-spaceships Lego set, and the AI-controlled pirates (which can use your designs if you allow it) and space stations provide some opportunities to try out your designs. Multiplayer seems solid so far, and there’s a lot of fun to be had in collaborative building and comparing designs (and eventually blowing them up). Even as an alpha, I give it a thumbs-up. I look forward to seeing how it develops as it gets closer to finished.