In Space No-one Can Hear You Base

One slightly over-looked project from Double Fine Productions, Spacebase DF9 has been bubbling away on Steam Early Access since October 2013. Now that it’s up to its fifth full Alpha release the time seems ripe to base some space and see how things are shaping up.

Early access suddenly seems like a really good idea.
Early access suddenly seems like a really good idea.

I’m a big fan of sim games and city builders generally, although I’ve only played a few (to an unhealthy degree). They represent a kind of push-pull of creativity versus anal and methodical precision; either you let things develop naturally and accept the quirks this entails or you plan ruthlessly and have a boring but extremely functional creation. Ideally you want to be somewhere in the middle. Like Ikea.

There isn’t usually a goal to these kinds of games beyond expansion and maintenance. Spacebase, in practice, holds true to this but the central goal of ‘resettle the milky way’ gives enough of a premise to at least justify all the spacing and basing on a thematic level.

Let's do it guys! Milky way A-OK Yeah!
Let’s do it guys! Milky way A-OK!
Ah, crap.
Ah, crap.

Spacebase is kind of like Shining Rock’s Banished with its role assignment system for your crew members, except it randomly assigns them a personality and a skill level in all of the different jobs required for successful running of a base. This means it’s quite possible to start out with a team of elite bartenders with limited skill in building or mining or anything you need starting out. Fortunately your spacemates gain skill in whatever job they are assigned so they can learn a new trade by doing, slowly gaining efficiency. The system works for the most part. It makes accepting new crew members from passing ships a bit of a gamble, since they can either be a useful asset and fill a vacancy for something you really need like a doctor or just be another useless drain on your resources.

Or should I say resource. Matter, mined from asteroids or reclaimed from structures is the only resource available at present. It’s simple and keeps construction free from fuss whilst making sense thematically so I don’t see the need to change it up too much. There is talk on the official blog of a power management system being introduced, with vital base machinery requiring a well-kept reactor to function. This will add some valuable depth to the gameplay and prevent players from immediately being able to expand to massive base sizes, making for better pacing.

Although, sometimes it's hard enough to get started without stressing over power.
Although, sometimes it’s hard enough to get started even without stressing over power.

There’s already some cool things that can happen while spacebasing besides being punished for your own idiocy/hubris. Raiders can attack, either boarding through airlocks (flush ’em!) or cutting a hole somewhere in the ship and running riot. Space parasites can also infect your crew, bursting out of them as massive insects and turning on the others. These events usually end in your entire crew rushing in to stamp the offender to death but new early warning systems such as automated turrets and doctor scans can save you a bloody mess in your canteen.

Where everybody knows your name.
Where everybody knows your naaame.

In the early days, Spacebase really didn’t have much to offer beyond its charmingly unfinished AI and witty writing. Now however it’s starting to come into its own and the ambition of the project is starting to show. Future updates suggest crew preferences for jobs which will effect their health and your base’s performance if ignored, as well as the aforementioned power system. The game already features a shipboard social network called SpaceFace where crew members’ personalities reveal themselves and overlap with members forming positive and negative relationships with one another and comment on their overall well-being. With more integration of these elements, every base could end up being truly unique and allow for some hilarious stories to develop organically out of this steadily evolving sandbox.


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