Imagine taking the things that made Minecraft the smash success it is – the gathering of resources, the limitless potential to build just about anything you can dream up – and blasting these concepts right through the stratosphere…literally. Well, this is what indie game developer Robin Promesberger, a.k.a. schema is attempting to do with his space-set sandbox building game, StarMade.
Upon starting a new game, your avatar (a human body, akin to a department store mannequin) is placed floating into a persistent galaxy, complete with stars and far-off nebulae all around. An in-game tutorial walks you through some of the more basic controls, and your first task is made clear to you: in order for you to be able to efficiently move around space, you’ll need to design and build your first spaceship.
Building in StarMade works much like it does in Minecraft – various blocks performing different functions, like weapons, can be placed in any small or large design you opt for, as long as they connect to a previously placed block (they can’t be left floating alone in space). That being said, while I understood the ropes of how to place blocks together to assemble my spaceship, I still wasn’t quite clear on the reasoning behind which blocks were needed where to end up with a working transport; my final spaceship looked the part, and seemed to have all the necessary parts, but I wasn’t able to fly it or make it move in any way. Even the in-game tutorial didn’t provide me with an answer to my problem.
StarMade provides you with a few basic building supplies, like hull pieces, thrusters, and batteries, and more varied building blocks can be purchased at an in-game store. Since there doesn’t appear to be an apparent way to make money, this problem has been solved with a steady stream of credits accumulating on your heads-up display as time passes, seemingly for doing nothing more than waiting. (I can’t help but wonder why the concept of a currency was implemented into the game at all if it’s supplied freely, but maybe that is an issue still up for change before the game is finalized.)
Though I wasn’t competent enough to achieve this myself, I have seen how the process of mining for resources has been implemented in StarMade: a finished spaceship with a working battery of lasers can use these to systematically blast small sections on asteroids and other planetoids, each of which nets various types of material. Via a similar method, the designer has told me that multiplayer matches will be added, with a generated “map with two bases at the most far apart Star Systems, with lots of clusters in between. AI Mobs will automatically spawn and aim for the enemy base on different routes (lanes)”, and players will have to fly their ships into the enemy base and destroy its core (think of it like an assault run on the Death Star).
While the game is playable, it’s still far from complete. Building spaceships was doable, but, in my opinion, a bit too clunky of an experience; using the mouse, players have to select which cube to build on, then turn the constructed object using that cube as a focal point around which to revolve it, adding the next piece once the desired surface is highlighted. This works well enough, as long as you’re building in a straight line. Try and relocate to a different part of the shape to commence building in a new direction, however, and maneuvering has just become your new worst enemy.
Additionally, having more types of material to build with would be beneficial; the more variety is present, the easier it’ll be to translate grand imaginative designs into virtual reality. Finally, I was assured by schema himself that he is implementing Space Stations, as well as more and more star systems “so the players would be able to meet each other. I will soon introduce facilities to research better technologies and new modules to use. I will also expand on the economy, letting shops have a stock of modules with prices that are dependent on the available count.”
Currently still in version 0.074, StarMade is free to download in its present form from the developer’s website, with an option to purchase all future upgrades (including the final finished game) for a mere $3. If this has so far piqued your interest, you can find plenty of additional gameplay videos here.