Ah. It’s good to be back in the saddle and today I bring news of my week playing the Steam Greenlight hopeful StarMade. “But what IS StarMade? Can I spread it on my toast?” you may ask in a curiously attractive, yet nasal voice. Well, beautiful internet person, let me tell (and show) you all about it after the obligatory bump.
StarMade, currently in alpha, is gearing up to be a free-form sandbox space sim that has a voxel-based engine.
Many refer to it as Minecraft in space, but that’s a terrible comparison. Minecraft is all about unmoving buildings, farming, and bothering chickens. Other than the occasional imaginative use of pistons, it’s an expansive, but essentially static world populated by tiny, square men and the occasional animal.
StarMade, on the other hand, is all about piecing together your own space ship. You build its power systems (out of blocks), shield generators (out of slightly different blocks) and weapons (out of, yes, more blocks) . Then you take your ship out for a spin. Maybe you’ll mine asteroids or gather flora one of several different world types. Perhaps you’ll encounter some pirates and blow them up, sucking up their sweet loots and jetting back to your custom-built space station to improve and enhance your creation.
And oh, what creations we can make. Some are inventive, some are obsessive, but each ship you see here represents just a slice of what one can accomplish with the ship building tools.
The game isn’t done, of course. It’s still in alpha and the creators seem to be primarily focused on getting the game’s systems in place before worrying overmuch about art assets and models, but there’s still a bit to see. Planets, which for programming and/or science reasons, are simply thick, enormous disks floating in a spherical atmosphere come in several types with interesting terrain and plenty of resources to harvest. Once you’ve seen each type once, they can be rather boring, but, hopefully, they’ll add crashed ships, ancient ruins, or other neat little discoveries in the future. Just a wish.
The build tools are surprisingly robust and far, far more powerful than what you’d get in Minecraft. By popping into the core of your ship and using the advanced build menu (currently bound to the left-hand CTRL key) you can change the size of the voxel brush along all three axis, set vertical and horizontal mirroring options and all sorts of other handy, time-saving devices. And you’ll need them, too, as the scale of the things you can create can be astounding.
And, really, the creation is the best part of this game because it informs almost everything else. Like a particular ship design? Save it as a blueprint and anyone on your server can buy it pre-built right from a shop. The game will use these blueprints to spawn pirate vessels. Is your universe feeling a bit empty and you can’t be bothered to populate it with sweet-looking space ships? Upload them from your friends or from the list of wonderful designs available at starmade.org.
And people already are going to town in this thing. Some folks, myself included, simply design and build whole fleets worth of ships. Some folks snag a 64 player server and set up multi-faction wargrounds, constantly tossing new designs into the mix. Some just model obsessively. And it’s all great fun. The only downside is that, right now, there’s not much of an actual game, so much as a sandbox with a few functional systems. But that’s to be expected, it is still in Alpha, after all. But as a shared play box full of blocks it’s hard to beat.
Right now, new weapons are being update and a recent surge in interest has knocked down their servers more than once, but with a price-tag of FREE the alpha’s absolutely worth a play.
As a big thank you to the Starmade forum members who donated some screenshots, here’s a few more to pique your interest.
And a final shot: