Let's not talk up a game too much before it launches, but Starbound will quite likely stand as one of humanity's greatest achievements, next to the wheel, and actual space travel.
A bold claim. One made in jest, but with a small, small sliver of truth. If you haven't been following this enormously promising indie project, allow this brief post to open the door to your inevitable obsession. This sprite-based, 2D play space has about as much potential as the sky has stars.
While the developers might tire of this comparison, the easiest way to describe Starbound is likening it to Terraria (a 2D, Minecraft-esque sandbox), except set in space. A game that permits players to travel the stars, with an infinite number of randomly-generated planets to explore, excavate, terraform, and enjoy. Almost everything in Starbound is customizable, from characters to command ships. The amount of content planned for this game boggles the mind. It's almost overwhelming.
When I still worked at IGN, I had the distinct pleasure to touch base with Tiyuri, the founder of Starbound developer Chucklefish, and interview him over Skype. Despite his supremely busy schedule and rising stress levels, he chatted with me for hours about his work, his plans, and his expectations. Every word that popped up in that chat window brimmed with excitement. He and his team have something special in their hands.
But with life's great pleasures comes life's great ironies -- especially the unfortunate variety. The morning that I finished writing up my interview and preview of Starbound, I was called into a meeting room with IGN's Vice President. I stood up and walked away from my desk, the Word document with all of Tiy's genuine enthusiasm sitting eagerly on my monitor. I was laid off in that meeting, after six blissful years creating content for IGN. I was never able to publish that article.
I am determined, however, to share my interest in Starbound with my fellow gamers. As someone who truly appreciates the joys of randomized gaming elements (loot for the win), an entire universe built this way sounds pretty damn fantastic. And I think a lot of gamers have a fascination with mining, given its encouragement of exploration and discovery. Well, Starbound has mining. And with mining comes building. And with building comes videos like this, an early look at the collaborative creation tools contained within Starbound.
That demo was created last year, so I'm sure Chucklefish has changed/improved a lot, but it still showcases the kind of fun you can have while playing.
One of the most interesting aspects of Starbound, however, comes from the sort of interactive fiction that's so hard to fashion into words.
I'll put it this way: for you Final Fantasy fans out there, remember the feeling of first riding the train with Avalanche through Midgar? You've just pulled off an incredible mission and you're heading home, the blood-pounding thrill of destroying the Sector 1 Reactor ebbing away. Cloud walks around the train, talking curtly with the other members. Late-night businessmen doze in their seats. You can hear the train clatter along the tracks outside the windows.
It felt right. And you belonged in that world, with all its little details and assumed realities.
I sense the same will be true in Starbound. Look at this screenshot and think about what you see.
At first glance, there's the obvious: a space-faring sprite with a sword, dreaming of a little R&R. But look more deeply and you start to see other fictional elements. The sweeping dunes in the background filled with sandy secrets, the tunnel snaking off to the right with its own possibilities below. Has this character come to the planet alone, to escape the stressors of other, more dangerous worlds? Or does an entire party wait at a base camp off-screen, or off-planet?
You can imagine in this type of game. Create your own stories to realize the world around you. And sometimes that's just as fun as actual play.
Fortunately for the hard-working team at Chucklefish, the pre-order campaign was a colossal success. With 54,954 backers (at the time this was written) investing 1.3 million dollars in a humble indie venture, Starbound has more than enough fuel to sail into space. Not to toot my own horn, but I myself am a proud Diamond Tier backer, and I even added a little extra to my order just to show my support.
Yes, I paid more than $75 for a $15 game. Because I believe it will do amazing things. And even if, somehow, in some alternate universe, it doesn't reach its goals...
...well, the trip was totally worth it.