Stardystopia: Thoughts On Doublefine’s Spacebase DF-9

By Alec Meer on October 17th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.

In Spacebase, no-one can hear you scream ‘but it’s only an alpha.’
Spacebase is pre-beta. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly pre-beta it is.
Spacebase: the unfinal build.
My god, it’s full of missing features.
They should’ve sent a QA guy. So alpha. So alpha… I had no idea.

I’ve been playing Doublefine’s new strategy-management game Spacebase DF-9, which launched on Steam’s oft-abused Early Access service yesterday. I’m comfortable with saying that now probably isn’t the right time to buy it – i.e. it feels too early for early access – but I’m equally comfortable with appreciating what it’s ultimately aiming to do even if it’s nowhere near doing it yet.

Here’s the summary – you’re the unseen manager/god of a base in space, which needs inhabitants if it’s going to be become anything but needs resources, airtight rooms, airlocks, air supplies, beds, pubs and defences against invaders if it’s going to gain and keep any of those. It’s a sandbox of sorts, and the ultimate plan is to grow it into a richly-detailed simulation of life in the vacuum.

Therein lies the rub. When I gripe about Spacebase feeling too early, I’m not really talking about roughness but content. This isn’t a bugfest, it’s a tease. It comes across somewhat like a well-polished proof of concept, or even a demo, rather than the rich simulation dev chatter promises it will be. Sure, it’s going to get updated regularly, but I couldn’t say how many times I’m going to want to fire it up again to find out what’s new: I really would rather wait until I’m sure I can have a substantial experience, building an epic space base filled with surprises, stories and disasters.

Dwarf Fortress has been the touchstone reference (hence the dual pun in that DF-9), but Double Fine’s highest debt goes to Introversion’s Prison Architect here. Both in terms of the business model – putting out the foundations of construction for a cash sum, then using that funding to drip-feed new and expanded creativity options over time – and quite a few elements of the design. Fortunately, unlike the breathtakingly cynical Godus, it doesn’t feel born of a mercenary urge for revenue rather than a well-intentioned idea. Spacebase feels good-natured and excited to exist, it feels like it’s going to go somewhere, and it feels primed to eventually tell wonderful stories even if it doesn’t yet have all the language it needs. The list of planned features is hugely tantalising, but does describe essentially an entirely different game to what we have right now.

Again, Dwarf Fortress is a particularly high bar to aim for, and it’s better for you and Spacebase both if you try to put it out of your mind. In its current form at least, it’s much more akin to a traditional management game – of the Bullfrog variety – bunking up with the clean brutality, minimalism and sci-fi survivalism of FTL. There is the dragging and dropping of room-shapes with easy mouse controls or keyboard shortcuts for the well-memoried, there is the placing of items both functional and decorative, there is the mining of rocks in pursuit of wealth, and to some degree there is the meeting of your populace’s basic needs. That said, it’s less about joyful construction than it is perpetual fire-fighting, trying to achieve all you can before the uncaring vacuum, as implacable as the mighty river which slowly erodes its banks over centuries, finds a way to wipe you out. For all the very obvious influences in Spacebase, that does give it a distinctive tone.

This isn’t the usual comical, faintly whimsical Double Fine approach. Its characters are stocky and cute, they have vaguely Sims-like nonsense conversations with each other, they’ll perform exaggerated press-ups when bored and the very slim roster of buildable objects includes Space Rugs and Space Dressers, but it’s not a funny ha-ha game by any measure. It’s a game about trying not to let people die suddenly and horribly, and usually failing.

I’m not sure whether having the bodies of everyone who died on my watch lie perpetually on the floors of my disaster-prone spacestation is part of the design or just that the feature to clean ‘em up isn’t in yet, but the place quickly looked like a Total War game had stopped by for tea. Some were murdered by raiders, some were killed by giant space-weevils, some were sucked away into space when a wall breached (actually, maybe I can get rid of the corpses that way…), but mostly they asphyxiated. A fire knocked out most of the oxygen recyclers, and my builders and maintenance staff were too slow to fix and replace. Everyone died. A raider destroyed an airlock door. Everyone died. I plum neglected to build enough air supply units for the base’s gradually increased headcount. Everyone died. I fouled up extending a room and essentially left it without a floor, yawning into the vacuum. Everyone died. It’s a merciless game, and again far more time is spent fighting fires than it is actually expanding or even having particular goals.

Repeatedly, I came back from a total wipeout because a passing ship delivered new crew to me, the eight minutes of oxygen in their spacesuits usually lasting long enough for them to patch up the most immediate damage to my base and turn it into a fragile oasis of oxygen once again. I’m not sure about the reliance on these regular visits as the primary means of increasing or replacing base inhabitants – it’s an overtly gamey mechanic that stands in the way of my base being a living, breathing thing.

That leads on to the largest issue I have with the game itself, which is that in the game’s current alpha state crew don’t much feel like they matter, either individually or collectively. They’re just a resource, one that it’s annoying not to have enough of, but not one that feels precious or deserving of careful cultivation.

I’d be absolutely fine with absolute callousness being front and centre, but it seems a little at odds with how Spacebase is presented – crew’s random names and appearances, the listing of favourite bands and foods, the star ratings for their skills at building, maintenance, security, mining or bartending, the list of existential crisis-tinged faux-Twitter updates if you click on them, and most of all the air of loneliness to the whole affair. Maybe if and when they have more to do, more ways to have individual adventures, it’ll hurt to see them suffer and die. Right now all they can do is build and mine and repair and bartend and occasionally shoot invaders, and they do all of these extremely unreliably.

I’m unclear as yet quite how much of this is design or a current lack of tools to shape the situation, but most disasters occurred because my guys took bloody forever to perform urgent tasks. With a fire raging, oxygen ebbing or invaders invading, they’d lurk around the bar, do those bloody press-ups or jet off to an empty room in an explored derelict and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. Just now I watched an airlock door gradually degrade through use, down to 60%, 50%, 40%, 20% health (door health!) until it finally broke down and two guys got sucked into space. I watched my six maintenance crew do nothing about; walk right past it even. It’s not like they were living their lives, like those Fortress Dwarves – they were just lurking pointlessly. To some degree I can use doors to save my skin – suck invaders out the airlock, or preserve the rest of the base’s oxygen by locking down a room with a damaged door – but the uselessness of crew was maddening. I missed the quiet reliability of those little FTL dudes.

While no two players of Spacebase will have quite the same experience, right now they will hit the same Is This It? wall. You build one of each room. You then expand them, or build additional ones to provide for the slow influx of new inhabitants. Everyone will die once or twice. You’ll incorporate a derelict into your base. And then. And then you either repeat yourself, or you think ‘I’ll wait for the next update’ and you quit and maybe you read some patch notes later that make you think ‘aha, yes, I have to try that’, or maybe you’re knee-deep in another game by that point and you just can’t be bothered.

Justifications of Early Access stuff or not, first impressions matter, and while Spacebase most certainly does not make a bad one (quite the opposite, in that I immediately wanted more of it) my concern is the disconnect between current reality and future plans. This alpha runs out of gas while it’s still very much exploring the lands of cute little management game rather crossing the border into detailed, surprising simulation. But I can tell it’s itching to go places, I can tell it’s been made with a strong sense of what’s going to engage and challenge rather than, as with Godus’s cheerless clicking, purely to facilitate empty progress. Space-heart very much in the right space-place.

I think it’s going to be great, eventually. I just really wish I hadn’t played it yet, because feeling like I’ve exhausted it already may hurt my urge to come back to when it’s surely better, fuller, longer, stronger later on. I wish they’d put a few more months into it before ‘launching’, I really do: but that a few of these things were there from the off. Even if you’re so sold on the concept that you want to help fund Spacebase right now, for your own sake, please wait a while to actually play it: I’m fairly confident it’ll be worth it.

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86 Comments »

  1. chiablo says:

    Early access is leaving a bad taste in my mouth. I think the only game that has really benefited from this system is Don’t Starve because every single week, there was a new substantial update and the developers were constantly releasing trailers and listening to feedback.

    Now it feels like people are just dumping garbage alphas up in the hopes of tricking people into buying an unfinished game.

    • almostDead says:

      Yes, but I’ve burnt out on don’t starve as a result, even after coming back after a long break. The content is all later stuff (I know you can go caving day 1 if you wanted), and so the early game is the same.

      Plus I hate, hate, hate the caves.

      Still totally my favourite developer though, for both content and attitude.

    • Dominic White says:

      How is anyone tricking anyone into anything? The game is clearly labelled as unfinished. If you do not want to play unfinished games, here’s a radical suggestion:

      DO NOT BUY GAMES THAT SPECIFICALLY SAY THAT THEY ARE UNFINISHED.

      Is that so hard?

      • airmikee99 says:

        Too true. I hate the idea of paying for early access, so I don’t do it, but it hardly seems like a trick. They’re clearly labeled as unfinished while being ‘sold’ in a manner that clearly labels them as unfinished, that portion of the Steam store is specifically labeled ‘Early Access’. Anyone that feels tricked probably shouldn’t admit in public to having such low reading comprehension abilities.

        • Shadowcat says:

          One of the problems (and Valve will be WELL aware of this), is that a significant proportion of gamers have absolutely no clue about game development. I have long observed that people often desperately want to play something before it’s released, from which I have inferred that they believe the game will be more or less identical to the eventual finished product in all the ways which matter to them.

          At the very least, it’s clear that some of them don’t understand that when a game is in the process of being created, important gameplay elements are liable to (a) not be present, (b) be badly broken, (c) not actually be fun yet.

          Far too many games are released in an unfinished state as it is, so people should really be a bit wary of buying a game when it is released, let alone when no one is even pretending it’s ready. Unfortunately a lot of people have some kind of misplaced trust that it something is available to buy, it must be in a good state.

          Basically, the idea of asking people to pay for a product which is nowhere near finished strikes me as highly dubious at best; so while the developers in question are obviously at fault, I really think the whole Steam Early Access thing is a bit dodgy on Valve’s part.

          • airmikee99 says:

            People think lots of stupid things, that doesn’t mean the companies involved are tricking people.

            A couple of people in the last few years have filed lawsuits because Captain Crunch with Crunchberries doesn’t have real crunchberries in it.

            Every single listing I’ve seen in the Early Access store carries the disclaimer: “Early Access Game
            Get instant access and start playing; get involved with this game as it develops.” With another link beneath that that takes one to a page that clearly explains the game is still in development.

            So again I say, if someone can buy an Early Access game without realizing they’re purchasing an unfinished game the only problem is that the purchaser needs to learn how to read. Caveat emptor.

          • SillyWizard says:

            I’ve Early Accessed my way into both Infested Planet and Door Kickers, and I don’t regret either purchase at all. I’m well aware that I’m buying an unfinished product, and I hope that with the support of my purchase and the purchase of many others, the final products will be that much better. I don’t know, of course, but I’d rather take the “risk” of all of $10 or $15 and contribute to things that appeal to me, than refuse to make a purchase and then be able to snidely say “I told you so” on an internet forum when the final products ends up being either crap or fails to materialize entirely.

            (I expect Steam safeguards against this by requiring a playable alpha to be ready before getting on to Early Access.)

            Both of the items I’ve pre-purchased have stable alpha versions which are a great deal of fun (for me). Both games are based on an idea that the meat and potatoes will be randomly generated maps (which Infested Planet already has implemented), so I don’t feel I’m in any more danger of becoming sick of these games pre-release as I would be post-.

            The point is: don’t hate — participate!

          • JohnnyPanzer says:

            You’re saying that both the developers and Valve are “to blame”, but I still haven’t figured out what the heck they are to blame for? Yes, a lot of people are unaware of how games are created and that doesn’t make them stupid. Their complete and utter inability to understand the phrase “This is an unfinished product! It is not finished! It is a product that is the opposite of finished!”, however, IS a sign of grose stupidity.

            If a company offers product B for sale, and clearly labels it as product B, it doesn’t matter how much some people tend to confuse product B with product A, it still doesn not mean that the company “tricked” those customers into buying product B. And that is exactly what we have here: a bunch of people too stupid to understand information that is more or less screamed directly at them are complaining about how they were tricked by the company, because the company should have been aware of just how stupid some of their customers are.

            I went to buy a toaster yesterday, so I picked up a box labeled “stereo speakers” and then asked the clerc if it was a toaster. He clearly stated that no, it was in fact a pair of speakers at wich point I felt satisfied that the box contained a toaster and payed for it. To my surprise, I later discovered that the box did NOT contain a toaster, but a set of speakers and now I’m seeking compensation from the store that tricked me.

            God…

          • mouton says:

            You can protect people from themselves only so far. Early Access is not labelled as unfinished in depths of some EULA or an obscure disclaimer page somewhere. It is clearly marked and if people choose to ignore it and expect something els,e then perhaps they are on a quest to become more experienced.

        • SillyWizard says:

          Am I missing something? Who are these “people” that feel that they’ve been victimized by early access?

          • Listlurker says:

            To answer your question: most of the ranting and frothing I’ve seen, with people complaining about being “tricked” by DF-9′s alpha state, has occurred in the Steam discussion forums for the game.

            Unsurprisingly, most of the posters raging the loudest seem to be young, and/or (cough) not terribly self-aware.

          • Monkeh says:

            The amount of flak developers are getting on the Steam Forums of Early Acces games is beyond terrible. Valve should really be doing something about this IMO.

    • Poklamez says:

      I´m actually really enjoying my early-access games. Your comment that only Don’t starve has benefited from this model is ludicrous, even if you don’t count Minecraft. Prison Architect is amazing even in it’s unfinished form, Un-Epic is a blast, Kerbal Space Program gets even better each update and so on. I really like the fact that I can see these games change through development. Some may be worse than others, but that’s true regardless of whatever state the game is in.
      You don’t have to buy games in early access, I don’t understand what your problem is. You can just wait and let the people who do enjoy early-access play their unfinished games.

    • trjp says:

      Ironically, Don’t Starve took feedback from early adopters on Chrome Store for eons (at least 3-4 months) before it even arrived on Steam…

    • belgand says:

      I think the bigger problem is that the trend of “permanent beta” is now extending further and further out and has now reached the point where you pay for it. Mods that release early and solicit feedback to help grow and build up word-of-mouth? Not great but understandable. Free web apps? Yeah, pretty much the same thing. But when you start charging for it and increasingly large number of games adopt this development style is when it starts to become worrying.

  2. BTAxis says:

    I… failed to recognize all of those references save one. Should I be distressed?

    • RedViv says:

      You thus can’t recognise four of the most well-known quotable sci-fi works. Work harder!

    • acheron says:

      In Spacebase, no-one can hear you scream ‘but it’s only an alpha.’: Alien
      Spacebase is pre-beta. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly pre-beta it is.: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
      Spacebase: the unfinal build.: Star Trek
      My god, it’s full of missing features.: 2001
      They should’ve sent a QA guy. So alpha. So alpha… I had no idea.: Contact

      • almostDead says:

        Holy crap, so like Alec is somewhat talented.

      • Eddy9000 says:

        Sorry to be a pedant, but “my god it’s full of…” is from 2010 not 2001.

        • Convolvulus says:

          It’s in the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, though “God” is capitalized because he’s referring to the one true God of Thunder (Gene Simmons).

    • pilouuuu says:

      DF-9 like DS9 (Deep Space Nine) and DF (Dwarf Fortress).

    • Michael Fogg says:

      Let’s not forget Public Enemy (Bass! How low can you go?)

  3. Armante says:

    Wish you’d posted this earlier, if possible. I backed it (and it’s my first alpha, exactly because of the concerns you listed) and I feel much the same.

    By the same token, however, I stayed up late playing it and enjoyed it all the same. Mostly I backed it because I love DoubleFine, and with all the Kickstarter backer-only videos from Broken Age it feels like I got to know this group of people and just want to help them out. Go and grow, SpaceBase DF9 :)

  4. RedViv says:

    It’s very, very, very bare. But functional. There is not much more to say at this point.

  5. Teovald says:

    I backed Godus & bought Spacebase DF9 (I have been waiting for a DF clone that is easier to learn & has some “not ASCII” graphics, I am okay with low tech or minimalism, but this is really too much for me. Additionally I loved almost all Double Fine games, so they are one of the only studio on my insta buy list).
    The comparison is interesting. Both are in Alpha stage, and I tried them both. Godus seems utterly broken to me & beyond all hope to be a decent game. I regret backing it to be honest.
    I played Spacebase DF9 for one hour. I don’t want to play more at the moment, because there are indeed not enough things to do. But unlike Godus, I am fairly convinced that this is the core of what can be one day a marvelous game.

    • almostDead says:

      What did you think of the Cave?

      • Teovald says:

        I liked it a lot. The biggest complaint I have against it is that there are two endings for each characters and you need to replay the whole game with each characters twice to see all of these. It is not that bad since you play with 3 characters out of 7, but I would have much preferred to have a save system allowing me to see both endings in a it single play-through.
        Regarding the core of the game itself, it is an interesting attempt at making a 201X adventure game. It does not work that well though, because of mechanics that are slightly broken. The enigmas are too easy, you can only pickup one item at a time (even though having 3 characters help a little) & there is too much walking around.
        I still like the game for its story & ambiance, but the gameplay is lacking.. It is a pity, there would have been very interesting things to do with 3 characters (Lost Vikings, Day of the Tentacle, …), maybe that the problem is that with 7 characters that all have their own skills it is impossible to build a game where you need to combine your characters skills to solve puzzles..
        Even though I liked it, it is one of the weakest DF games… It is a pity, with both Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer, it sounded like the project that would restore adventure games to its former glory.

        The two DF that I did not like are :
        -Middle Manager of Justice : it is a mobile game of the kind I hate : the one where you are only here to watch timers (time until hero 1 have finished training, time until this room is built, time until this battle is over, ….) with the idea to make you spend money to buy a consumable that allow you to bypass timers. I have nothing against paying my mobile games, but this particular business model just suck.
        -Stacking : I know that many people loved it but I just can’t enjoy it for some reason.

    • Chicago Ted says:

      Just install a graphical tileset, they make those.
      For babies.

    • TaylanK says:

      I didn’t pitch in to Godus KS, but I did buy it on early access. Even though I have more faith in Double Fine than I have in Moly, I have an extremely bitter taste in my mouth from Godus. I think I’ll sit this one out and see how it shapes up. Thanks, Moly, for ruining early access for everyone (half-joking).

      Re: Godus – I feel like an idiot for realizing this now, but it seems the entire purpose of that Project Curiosity experiment was to see how long people would click monotonously before realizing there is no real fun to be had, and how many people could be suckered in to pay for micro-transactions before that point.

    • Behrditz says:

      You want a non-ascii, easier to learn dwarf fortress? Get Gnomoria.

  6. pilouuuu says:

    I have tried, but I simply can’t get into Dwarf Fortress. I’m still waiting for a clone with a decent UI and understable graphics which has an amazing level of detail, but I doubt it will ever happen. I wish this gets close to it.

    Maybe I should tried harder to get into DF as there is even some kind of charm in the ASCII Matrix-like graphics.

    Can anyone tell me if the game becomes actually fun?

    • almostDead says:

      Surely you play with a tileset? Didn’t you play the package that comes with the spreadsheet and 3-d viewer programs?

      I haven’t played in ages, but I found I never really knew whether I was actually doing what I thought I was, especially military stuff and zoning.

      DF for me was just a stress-mess. I don’t know how many people would describe it as fun unless they were super detached from it or were super on top of it.

    • Drakythe says:

      Might I suggest Gnomoria? Its a very nice DF-like with nice pixel graphics. For all of Alpha the author updated it once a week (with a few exceptions) and now after 56 such updates he has decided that game is ready for Beta. He is still offering a discount for buying it early, but even full price the game is only going to be $10.

      You can find it at http://gnomoria.com/ — the “download” section will show you all your purchasing options (direct, Desurea, Steam) — It really is quite fun.

      EDIT: I can’t spell, or count.

    • Ergates_Antius says:

      Try the Dwarf Fortress Lazy New Pack.

      It’s *exactly* like DF, but with better graphics and a whole bunch of helper apps to make your life easier.

      • pilouuuu says:

        Thank you. I think I will try ONCE again to get into DF.

        • ShootyFace says:

          You might want to watch Captnduck’s 2012 DF tutorials, as well. He helped me get my head around DF a TON. I would essentially watch his tutorial and then try and emulate what he had done. By the time I got to the end of his somewhat long series, I was able to have plenty of !FUN! with the game.

          If it’s still too much for you, definitely look into Gnomoria. It’s a pretty nice DF clone, although nowhere as complex, it still has a lot of gameplay and shares much of the spirit of Dwarf Fortress.

    • HothMonster says:

      Check out the lazy newb pack for Dwarf Fortress. It gives you some add-ons that make managing a large fortress easier and it includes some graphical overhauls you can switch on with a couple clicks of the mouse. The tilesets are really a must imo, you can parse so much more info without your eyes bleeding. Now if only someone would rework the menu system so every 3rd menu doesn’t have a whole new set of keys interacting with it.

      edit: damn ninjas

  7. Enkinan says:

    This is why I try to avoid alphas and early betas.

    I say that now, but Wasteland 2 Beta is closing in.

    I WILL STAY STRONG.

    • almostDead says:

      No, no you won’t.

      You know you won’t, we know you won’t.

      • airmikee99 says:

        This, this, a thousand times this.

        I won’t be able to resist either, someone once told me it was futile.

  8. cheborra says:

    Remember Space Colony?
    http://www.gog.com/game/space_colony_hd

    Same game with different background

    • chabuhi says:

      GOD(us), that game had so much appeal. Got too repetitive too fast for me thought. I still load it and Evil Genius every once in awhile thinking that I’d love to play again, only to shortly thereafter recall why I stopped playing short of the finish line.

  9. Ako says:

    “unlike the breathtakingly cynical Godus, it doesn’t feel born of a mercenary urge for revenue”
    I missed you Alec <3

  10. DarkFarmer says:

    myeh I think we are unloading pretty hard here. I don’t think DF would have released this to early beta if they didn’t need the money.

    That being said, the interface feels right, and I think now that they have the groundwork in place, I hope they can flesh it out really quickly with some rapid fire updates. I’m a little worried though that they might be overly mongering on the updates, I’d hope they can keep churning them out at like once every 2 weeks.

    I worry about these Steam EA games, if people will start just taking the money and moving onto new projects :/

  11. rustybroomhandle says:

    Ok, call me unoriginal, but, I made the Kestrel from FTL. :)

    http://i.imgur.com/ALXmPIf.jpg

    Yes, the pub is the Kestrel’s med-bay .

  12. DigitalImpostor says:

    Double Fine’s highest debt goes to Introversion’s Prison Architect here. Both in terms of the business model – putting out the foundations of construction for a cash sum, then using that funding to drip-feed new and expanded creativity options over time –
    Surely that’s the point of Steam’s Early Access program. And if any game made this funding method popular it’s Minecraft.

    and quite a few elements of the design.
    The basis of the game was created during Amnesia Fortnight 2012, when Prison Architect was in very early alpha.

    • JohnnyPanzer says:

      I honestly think he meant the business model IN the game, not the business model behind it. You know, as in how in Prison Architect you build the foundations of the prison using a large cash reserve that is balanced to be more or less drained by the time you have the foundations up and running, and from there you get a small trickle of revenue that you can slowly use to, piece by piece, expand your creative options.

      It sounds like a tried and true formula for managment games, but somehow it still struck me as very much original in PA. I can’t explain exactly why I felt it was unique, but there was something about the whole thing that I had never experienced before. Maybe it was the sheer scale of it, the way you blow all your money just to get started and then have to carefully balance your economy to even stay afloat.

  13. hemmingjay says:

    It is bare but I don’t regret my purchase or my involvement on the forums. I backed it early because I wanted a vested stake in how it turns out.

    • Midnite says:

      Exactly how I feel about it. I’ve bought like 6 games over the past several days and have come back to this one still. Not sure why, but it just grabs me in just the right manner. I’m sure it has to do with the fact that I don’t have to rush to get things done. I’ve even gone as far as to write notes on what feedback I want to give on the game as well as bug reports (Which there are a lot of).

      Typically, I can get a feel for what a game is going to be and as most folks say, a lot of early access games disappoint. This one, has a lot of potential.

      While I do concede that they should/could have waited a little while longer to add in a few more juicy items, I for one am glad to have my hands on it.

      Now, if you don’t mind, I think another one went out the airlock…..

  14. Renegade says:

    It looks interesting enough but I still find myself more drawn towards Maia. Has anybody played the Alpha for both games?

  15. Shadow says:

    “I just really wish I hadn’t played it yet, because feeling like I’ve exhausted it already may hurt my urge to come back to when it’s surely better, fuller, longer, stronger later on.”

    That sums up my feelings and the exact reason I do my best to steer clear of alphas and betas.

    Even though Spacebase DF-9 has the makings of a great game, unfortunately it seems to be one of those Early Access abuse cases. I really wish Valve imposed a beta-stage minimum requirement for developers to be able to submit a game for an Early Access launch: I get the feeling it otherwise hurts the game in the long run.

    But who knows, maybe DF-9 is really starved for budget, and without a very early release Double Fine wouldn’t be able to fund its development at all. Tricky business, I suppose.

  16. aunshi says:

    How has nobody made the direct connection between this game and Astrobase command? a game currently in development and indeed written about on this very website just a few months ago. While DF-9 certainly seems to have more progress, I still wonder which game will ultimately prove to be the better. http://astrobasecommand.com/

  17. CmdrCrunchy says:

    The only question I need to know the answer to :

    Does it play like Startopia? Man I utterly adore that game. So much so that when I saw it was on steam earlier this week I nearly bought it again for what must be about the 7th time.

    • samsharp99 says:

      Absolutely this.

      Startopia was the first game I thought of when I saw the videos/info about this! I thought that was a great game – funny and managed to put lots of hours into it all those years ago (although nostalgia glasses might be active). I also think it reminds me of Towns (except not in space) and Maia (which is on a planet rather than space-floating).

      At the moment, I don’t see where the unique ‘hook’ for this game is – from what I can gather (although having not played either), Maia looks like a much more interesting game!

  18. trjp says:

    I’ve learned to avoid betas and early access because it almost always spoils the game for later.

    It’s so tempting to get in early – esp if you think you’ll save money (I got Don’t Starve for a TINY sum through the Chrome Store) but even when I score a cheap game, I’ll often hold-off until I know it’s ready-to-play.

    It’s worse now that we effectively have legitimised ‘pre-order-ordering’ through this and Kickstarter too!

    Whatever tho, t isn’t fun testing software – it’s the worst job in IT after first-line-support (yes, including loading printers) – you’d be daft to throw yourself into it.

    Well – unless the developers are set on never finishing their game (HELLO DESKTOP DUNGEONS DEVELOPERS!!)

    • Tssha says:

      The problem is, though, how do you pay for it? That’s why Kickstarter took off in the first place, so folks can pay for the games through pre-orders, fan loyalty and the need for swag. The alternative is that the company has to raise the money through other means, and that has strings attached, like “Your game has to be as big as game X, I’m not backing your penny ante game”, or “I have the money, I get to say what goes into the game” and other things like that.

      Not that Kickstarter (and the fans) don’t have their own strings. You’re proof of that, the claim that they shouldn’t be doing this in the first place, and of course the possibility that they will never finish. Still, you know what you’re getting into and accept the risk, because there’s always risk. You may not like what you get. You may never get a solid, polished product in the end. Or, by the time you do, you may not care. Them’s the breaks.

      But just because you won’t ride that rollercoaster, doesn’t give you the right to vilify those who built it. All your shaking your head and pointing out the downsides doesn’t make what they’re doing wrong, or even shady.

      When you put up the warning stickers, those that take the ride know what they’re getting into. To call this wrong is just…nannyish. We’re grown adults, we can decide what we do with our money. Your approval is not required, and your condemnation unwelcome.

      But I can’t shut you up. I can only point out how annoying these complaints are, especially when you’ve stated outright that you don’t have a horse in this race. And no, being a gamer doesn’t count as having a horse in this race, because the traditional indie and publisher model will still go on, albeit in a slightly reduced capacity. Only now, there’s an alternative.

  19. JohnnyPanzer says:

    Let’s face it, Prison Architect and Kerbal Space Program ruined Early Access for everyone else. Even at their initial EA release, both games packed so much playtime that is was almost silly. Pretty much the exact opposite of what is described in this article: Buggy and unpolished, but with a sandbox mode capable of delivering hundreds (if not thousands) of hours of pure fun.

    Those two games alone are responsible for close to 500 hours of gaming for me, and they are both far from feature complete. It’s hard to compete with that, so I pity the fool that tries to release anything less than that on Early Access.

  20. SummonMew says:

    I remember signing up to Alpha/Beta games back in the day. I dont see a problem with this model as long as they are clear its Alpha and the game gets finished. If they need capitol to help finish it I dont mind helping. Though complaining about the state of an alpha confuses me. I like seeing how the games progresses and help debug but thats me.

  21. Buemba says:

    I’ll definitely keep an eye on this, but I’m still not convinced Double Fine can create a mechanically appealing game just yet (Let’s face it – Pretty much the entire appeal of Dwarf Fortress is the complexity of its systems and the way they interact with each other).

    I love all their games for the quirky presentation, funny writing and imaginative words, but none of those things matter very much in a sandbox like this appears to be.

  22. Greggh says:

    “a traditional management game – of the Bullfrog variety”

    SOLD! To the gentleman who just woke up and is startled by this game coming out of nowhere!

  23. LotKa says:

    This early access is really abusive. After a little more than one hour I had basically done everything possible in the game, a game that is fairly easy at its current stage but suffers from a disastrous AI.

    • Stromko says:

      There are sadly much, much more abusive Early Access games on Steam, at least Spacebase shows a very high level of polish and presentation in places. Granted a lot of other crucial bits are yet to be added or glitched at the moment, but at least I can say they’re aiming high.

  24. Stromko says:

    They just released hotfix 1b, among other things techs will now prioritize fixing those things that are close to destruction (such as that poor airlock), and corpses will eventually disappear. The latter is probably a placeholder, as their future dev plans include funerals and corpse disposal mechanics.

    Sadly, according to the notes it hasn’t touched upon frequent Fog-of-War issues with derelict and raider ships, or the brokenness of space combat (e.g. “Oh no, someone in that station I’m flying near is hostile to me, better float absolutely stationary right here until my oxygen runs out! Hey everybody else should come out and join me too!”).

  25. Beelzebud says:

    I’m officially done giving money to companies for games that aren’t finished. It was okay to me when it was to support indie developers, but it’s starting to feel like a feeding frenzy at this point.

    Deliver a finished product, and I’ll pay for it. I’m done being a beta tester that pays these companies.

  26. Sarah83 says:

    The weird thing about this game is that it sounds and feels much more like The Sims than any of the comparison Double Fine wants to draw. Not sure if I like that direction but, well, I’ve already spent my money.

  27. MadTinkerer says:

    Sounds like they need to implement Alerts. As in “Battle Stations!”, full on Red Alert, etc. Either triggered manually by the player or automatically if there’s an imminent hull breach or whatever, it sounds like the individual AI needs a way to be alerted to the potential emergencies they need to prioritize. In Dungeon Keeper it was a not-usually-very-useful spell due to the way jobs were assigned, but since dwarfs / base residents don’t default to racial job preferences just because they leave a room, and can specifically be assigned to combat duty, it would likely be more useful here.

  28. Lemming says:

    My impressions on this game’s announcement via original RPS article (in order):

    1. Ooh Doublefine!, this’ll be cool (looks at videos).
    2.Why is Dwarf Fortress being mentioned? Is anything with a mouse interface ‘dwarf fortress like’ now? This looks nothing like DF.
    3. Looks OK, but pretty basic. Not as good as Rimworld. And eerily similar to Star Command.
    4. Nope, I’ll wait for Rimworld.
    5. Oh hey, look Rimworld got greenlit!

    • emperor_nero says:

      My problem with with RimWorld is Tynan at the moment. He seems very much set in his own ways and not open to a lot of creative thought, which is fine since he is creating the game. But dropping names like DF and PA holds a lot of weight.. I really hope he proves me wrong, but for right now he seems a little too cocky. I mean there is a chance the game is going to hit 1000% funding and all he has said is that the extra 180K would go towards audio-visuals and maybe some programming help. I don’t like the lack of transparency.

  29. ffordesoon says:

    I rarely play Early Access (or, really, alphafunded) games for more than, like, fifteen minutes, and I usually wait for a few updates before I even do that. I pay for the game, check it out to get a sense of it a few updates down the line, and then wait for the release. My backlog is such that the wait won’t kill me.

    I learned this from my experience with Minecraft, which I put hundreds of hours into before it was “released,” and haven’t gone back to for more than a couple of brief dips into it since. Also Expeditions Conquistador, though the problem there was less about the time I put into it and more about having to do the tutorial again.

  30. Noviere says:

    I bought it to show my support, but I probably won’t play it for quite a while. I did the same with Incognita.

  31. Lanfranc says:

    Doesn’t look much like a space station, though, does it?

  32. SummonMew says:

    After playing some more I can tell you the code and architecture are in place to complete the promises they made about further features. Spaceface is a great example of how much depth is already in the game. To finish half of what they proposed as features they just need to add assets and animations. Id love to see improvement in the AI behavior and interaction but with what they’ve done I don’t see any problems with that getting pulled off.

  33. Jehuty says:

    Bought the early access yesterday, and it definitely is still very early. Almost just another iteration of the prototype, a proof of concept of the engine and the basic idea, pre-alpha stuff. It’s still very exciting, and I can’t wait to see some of the stuff in the devplan go in. I certainly don’t feel misled either, I went in expecting it to be in very rough shape, and it was. I remember Don’t Starve being similarly sparse at launch, and look at how well that’s doing now.

    I have to add when the prototype was announced, it got me really interested in how I would do my own Dwarf Fortress/Startopia hybrid. I wound up focusing on different randomly generated species requiring different living environments, and how they would interact with eachother, and on purpose driven station building (that is, stations built with a specific function and specialization in mind). If anyone felt like taking a look, I’ve pastebinned the ideas I ended up writing down: here

  34. Urist McMoansalot says:

    Is nobody else bothered by all these attempts to monetize someone else’s *free* game – Dwarf Fortress? Gnomoria, Prison Architect, Space Base DF-9, Clockwork Empire, Banished, the list goes on. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to play Dwarf Fortress in loads of different flavors. Some of the developers on those games really are creative people coming up with new ideas – but if I were one of them I would feel more than a bit iffy. You can rationalize how you want: Prison Architect stresses the planning phase; Clockwork Empire is different because, like, it’s ‘Lovecraftian’; Space Base puts ‘DF’ in its title as an ‘homage’. But all these games – many of them claiming to be further along in alpha than Dwarf Fortress but about a zillionth as developed or sophisticated – are asking you to pay for someone else’s ideas and creativity dressed up in a different suit. I can’t help feeling that in many of those cases the developers are simply exploiting the fact that Dwarf Fortress’ UI is intimidating for casual players in order to make a quick buck. They’re not even bothering to offer finished games! Space Base is in alpha and yet it is shipping for around 18 quid on Steam. How is this business model legitimate? Why aren’t review sites like Rockpapershotgun being more critical of it?