So indie games all seem to have this sell the alpha for funding thing going on. I guess they saw Notch get massively wealthy and think hey you know what that would be a nice thing to be. Thing is, it’s a tricky bargain selling the alpha. Minecraft was unusual in that the basic mechanic, much less gameplay, was compelling. People will play with blocks and have fun, that’s a given. Other indie games are usually competing within a more established niche against similar games with gameplay that requires some interest in said genre to appreciate. So I think while funding yourself with alpha sales is a nice way of rewarding true die-hard genre fans that are interested in scoping out new entries into the FPS/RPG/TBS/whatever field, I don’t think any of them are going to wind up giving people the triple-sized shot of Moneyspresso that Notch got.
Starfarer by developer Fractal Softworks, though, I’m totally giving money to. Why? Well. First off: Space. Fucking space. I can’t even tell you how awesome I find space. I want to make sweet delirious love to space and wake up in the morning to find space stroking my hair and telling me how fantastic I am. I want to marry space in whatever state it’s legal. Not even a joke: I learned the word “ship” as shorthand for “spaceship” before I knew it usually referred to boats. So by that token alone, a game about being a spaceship captain and tooling around shooting people with laser beams and rockets is just fucking aces. I mean we all talk about how oh haha everyone’s a space marine, but when was the last game you played that allowed you to be a space Captain? I mean jeez we all jerked off to Captain Picard in our formative years, right? You’d think there would be a market for this sort of thing. There’s more to it than an oddly underused setting though.
Starfarer appears to be for all intents and purposes a sequel to the games that absorbed at least two of my formative years: Escape Velocity/Escape Velocity Nova. In those games, you played a ship captain who through trade, combat, and diplomacy bought bigger and better vessels and got more important until finally you played a part in any one of a half-dozen galaxy-spanning storylines. I always ended up picking the people who had living ships, because they were boss. The linear campaigns interspersed with nonlinear trading missions along with the vast number of options for ships and components made for an extremely unique gameplay experience. I had more fun calculating fuel costs in order to get my jumps set up for maximum trade profit in that game than was at all sensible.
Starfarer has ambitions that go much further than anything Escape Velocity ever did, and that excites me. But what excites me more is that they appear to be doing everything they can to demonstrate their ability to actually deliver on their promises. The game is being built solid from the ground up. What they have now, rather than being a “vertical slice”, is a sort-of complete “space battle” game. They plan to make this portion of gameplay merely one feature on the list, but the fact that they’re figuring out how to get it feeling right instead of slapping everything together as fast as they can and then telling me they’ll bug-fix as they go makes me want to pay them my money. Hell, they’ve already even got some pretty fully-featured mods on display, so the community can apparently kick in its own work reasonably easily as it grows.
Right now, for $10, you get the standard alpha-buying deal of all the updates plus the final game. If you wait for the final release version, it’ll cost you $20. Now, in a smart move what you get to play immediately looks like actual fun times. Taking the on the role of the Captain of a Flagship, you lead your AI-controlled fleet into battle. Now, obviously everyone hates AI-controlled anything. But the general idea seems to be that the AI on your side be so competent that with the proper load-out they will pretty much just kick ass where you tell them to. You assign priorities and targets going into the mission, and you have a certain number of chances (plus a panic “Full Retreat!” button) to alter orders while underway. Basically like an RTS with little to no micromanagement. So you get to feel all like an admiral ordering around your Captains which aaagh just makes me actually vibrate with joy. There are plans to tweak settings in how well the AI dodges/targets/etc based on how experienced and what the mental state is of whatever captain you have assigned to a given ship.
Also look at this, from their FAQ:
Aren’t you worried about piracy?
Oh yeah, big time. That’s why we put actual piracy in the game as a mechanic – to ward of the evil, real world software piracy. That dark voodoo will definitely work better than any other DRM scheme. That, and chicken sacrifices. Note: we do not condone chicken sacrifices.
I really enjoy indie developers sometimes.
Here, I’ll leave you with a few movies of it in action.
The most recent, a full mission in action:
And just some space ships going pew pew: