The Lighthouse Customer: Rodina

By Christopher Livingston on August 11th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Space: not quite as empty as we've been led to believe.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, seamless solar system exploration in Rodina.

What’s space travel like? Enchanting and serene? Gazing at distant galaxies, skimming past slowly-spinning asteroids, watching beautiful and mysterious alien planets grow ever-larger as you draw closer? Or is space travel scary as hell, requiring you to fight your way through turbulent atmospheres as your ship burns inside and out while swarms of hostile alien ships fill your screen with homing missiles?

How about both? Rodina’s got you covered.

We seem to be orbiting an exciting new era of space games, though we’re not quite ready to land on most of them yet. No Man’s Sky sounds promising, but we’ll have to endure PS4 owners gloating over their “exclusive” ownership before we see it on PC. Elite: Dangerous looks beautiful, but has chosen the “it’s way more expensive to buy it early” route (editorial note: *fart noise*). Then there’s Star Citizen, which I will not comment on for fear of a comments section comprised of nothing but comments about Star Citizen.

How ’bout Rodina, then? It begins simply and without fanfare, with me standing on the surface of a small brown planetoid. I find my spaceship nearby, climb aboard, walk around inside it for a bit, examining its many rooms and chambers (which are fully customizable through an in-game ship editor) until I find the cockpit. After a quick flying lesson, I take off, visit a few similarly brown asteroids nearby, land on them, and collect a few items like missiles for my weapons system and communication fragments for my back-story database.

That's no moon. Actually, it's pretty much a moon.

All of this traveling through space, finding planetoids, landing, and walking around (both inside my ship and on the asteroids themselves) is done completely seamlessly. Planetoids first appear as a dot, then a small sphere. Then they get bigger and bigger until they fill the screen. Then you can land, get out of your pilot’s seat, walk to your airlock, and stroll around on the planetoid, where the tiny ripples and ridges you saw earlier have become looming mountain ranges. All with nary a loading screen. It’s really neat.

Wasn't this just a small round thing a minute ago?

After the fourth or fifth brown planetoid, however, I’m getting a bit restless for something else. I aim for a more distant space rock, hoping it’ll be a little different. It definitely is. It’s gray, for starters, and more importantly, it’s not alone. The music suddenly changes from peaceful, cosmic exploration mode to INCOMING ENEMY SHIP mode. An alien aggressor, his ship trailing green particles, speeds towards me.

I assume he's not here to welcome me with open tentacles.

We trade laser fire as it barrels past and then I swing around to get behind it, where I fire, in a panic, roughly every single missile I’ve collected. He blows up real good. On the new planetoid I find a crystal that I can use to power my ship’s Liminal Drive. My HUD now shows other objects my new hyperdrive has brought within reach, mysterious objects labeled with question marks. In the chaotic purple energy field of the Liminal Drive I shudder through space at incredible speeds. When I shift back down to cruising speed, I discover the question marks are planets.

I'm gonna need a bigger ship.

I thought those earlier planetoids were big. Planets are huge. Huge! What’s more, they’re dotted with multiple points of interest and appear to be surrounded by enemy ships. I figure I’ll be fighting aliens for hours just to clear a spot to land, but I’ve already forgotten what I just said a moment ago: planets are huge. As I draw closer and the planet fills my screen, the enemy dots spread apart and I see that avoiding aliens will be pretty easy. I get ready to land.

Houston, we have several problems.

Planets are not just huge, I discover, but far more complicated than the simple asteroids I’ve been parking on. Those things called atmospheres? They’re not too kind to objects rocketing through them at a bazillion miles per hour, and the game indicates this by shaking my ship like its in a blender. The intense friction immediately wreaths my ship in flames as warnings blare and flash on my screen. I’m coming in too fast, too steep, and I’m burning up, and even after plunging for a couple minutes I’m still miles from the surface. I decide to abort. I wrestle the ship around, point my nose up and rocket back out into space, having essentially bounced off the atmosphere. Back in space, I notice I’m still getting a fire warning. What’s that all about?

I thought it seemed several hundred degrees warmer in here.

Oh. It’s a fire. Like, on the inside part of my ship. I didn’t even know that could even happen! I grab a nearby fire extinguisher and empty it, but the fire circles around behind me, cutting me off from my other extinguishers. I retreat back to my airlock, suddenly remembering that I can customize my ship with the computer! Ha ha! I’ll just add a bunch of fire extinguishers back here using the ship editor!

DAMMIT.

Or, not. Eventually (after a couple of deaths), I manage to quell the fire and I attempt another landing, a more careful one. Minutes later, after another white-knuckle plunge, I reach the safety of the planet’s lower atmosphere, only to discover it ain’t that safe down here, either. It’s so cold on this planet that frigid winds are literally eating through my ship’s hull. I get close — so close — to the icon I’m targeting, but my ship is bleeding damage. I can’t land here. I point my nose up and punch it, barely escaping back into space with my ship intact.

The next planet I visit is similarly inhospitable, and after another harrowing fight through the upper atmosphere I discover that my hull is again being eaten away, this time by burning acid winds. Stupid alien planets! Why aren’t they like planets in Star Trek, where everything has the same exact atmosphere as earth? Back in space, I finally decide to check all those radio messages I’ve been collecting, and find one telling me I should begin my exploration on planet Jarilo. Whoops! I guess I should check my space-radio more often, but then again, Han Solo probably didn’t spend a lot of time reading his mail, either.

Okay, planet. I'm counting on you to be nice.

I reach Jarilo and fight my way through its atmosphere, keeping my descent from getting too steep through the long, shuddering minutes, but then I’m through! I’m skimming over the planet’s surface, and the air isn’t chewing through my hull for a change. Also, again, planets are huge. The little icon I was aiming for has slipped below the horizon and I spend several peaceful minutes cruising over the planet, watching mountain ranges rise and fall, watching the sun set, and noticing that the sun actually appears a different color depending on which atmosphere you’re viewing it through. Cool.

Same planet after entry. Again: planets are huge.

I land, and pick up more messages and supplies for my ship, then take off and fly toward the next-nearest icon, which is quite some way away. Somewhere on Jarilo, I’m sure, I’ll find some sort of power-up or improvement for my ship that will allow me to survive on those other, more hostile planets. At the moment, though, it looks like some of the locals have finally noticed me skulking around. In fact, they swooped in while I was still walking around outside, and I had to scramble back and take off before they arrived. I’m sure it’s just a misunderstanding and soon we’ll all be friends. Right?

Oh, thanks SO MUCH for the warning.

So. Rodina (I played verson 1.1.1) is really neat. The soundtrack is dynamic (exciting things happening means exciting music plays) and wonderful. I do wish there was some way to swing the view around the ship — at the moment, the only way to look left is to turn left. Combat is also really hard at the moment against multiple enemies, but you can play in peaceful mode without the hostiles. I’d recommend that.

Rodina is available from Steam for £11.

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23 Comments »

  1. rexx.sabotage says:

    Aha! It’s nice to see that the folks working on Trillek aren’t the only ones who fell in love with Notch’s idea! This is an instabuy, thanks for introducing it to me.

    C-Boss, you need to Check yo Trek, there’s a whole alphabet of planets in the Roddenberrian universe, M-class is just one flavor.

    • Asdfreak says:

      Please note that this project was startet weeks before notch’s idea became public. The creator went public with the project way earlyer than planed to avoid people saying he ripped off Notch’s idea. Notch actually tweeted about the game and clarified that.
      The creator is by the way a really nice guy. He discussed actually physically possible faster than light speed travel, specifically the Alcubierre-Drive, with me. He wrote that he didn’t know yet what kind of drive he would add to I send him some links and he actually discussed those with me, which was awesome.

  2. Retro says:

    Ah I thought ‘russians in space’ and confused this one with The Mandate but alas..

  3. Premium User Badge Faldrath says:

    Wow, that looks pretty good. Steam’s page says “Partial Controller Support”. So I guess my question is, how are the controls?

    • rexx.sabotage says:

      Try the demo and let us know ;)

    • BobbyFizz says:

      I bought it a couple of weeks ago, tried with ps3 analogue sticks but found it more enjoyable with mouse & keys.

      Its a very enjoyable game for about 3 hours as your playing the skeleton story, an worth a dip back in every few days. I think as with most of these early access and alpha games, its worth waiting a year or so for a fuller experience.

  4. dE says:

    There really seems to be a renaissance of Spacegames and I couldn’t be happier about it. One I’m really enjoying at the moment is Starpoint Gemini 2, which seems to be flying around with an activated cloak as far as media and gamers are concerned. Maybe the somewhat mediocre first title is at fault for that.
    But it’s looking like a really great spacegame. It already controls well and looks nice, the basics are in place and I’m enjoying my time with it. It’s different from most spacegames in that you control a bigger ship and not a fighter. So things like Boarding are a thing, as are slow maneuvering and broadsides from the turrets. You can also let your crew handle things such as picking a target or navigating. Definitely worth a look.

    • rexx.sabotage says:

      Looks EVE-y (in a good way) I see a lot of spaceships in space but, what about planet surfaces? Planets seem to only be hubs you interact with for trading rather than things to actually explore.

      • dE says:

        Planets and Stations are currently just hubs you basically dock at. No atmospheric flight and as far as I know it isn’t a planned feature. They put their focus on battleships instead.

    • frightlever says:

      And Starpoint Gemini 2 has the turret view mode which which address at least one of the concerns mentioned in the article.

      But I’ll stick Rodina on my wishlist to keep an eye on it.

  5. Ex Lion Tamer says:

    Rodina caught my eye much earlier in development, but it sounds like it’s finally time to dive in. Oddly enough, the notion of sparser content (as in, plenty of inhospitable or uneventful planets) really adds to the appeal for me.

    (Obligatory mention that any list of space games under development should include Limit Theory.)

  6. Premium User Badge Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I enjoy Rodina. I can’t do space-fights for beans, but I enjoy it nonetheless.

  7. Bart Stewart says:

    I played an earlier version of Rodina. In addition to confirming that the creator is nice to talk with, it’s worth mentioning that there is a story that unfolds as you read the (many) data logs you can find. Surprisingly for a small game, the writing is really very good (and I’m picky about what I call “good”).

    The space-biffage definitely can be tough if you take on more than two or three enemies at a time, though. But as noted, they can (mostly) be avoided.

    Finally, yes — no list of upcoming space games worth talking about is complete without Limit Theory.

  8. Premium User Badge Wisq says:

    Saw the screenshots at the top of the thread and couldn’t immediately make out the ship. For a moment, I thought, “Wow, you get to fly around as an energy ball in space? Some sort of energy being, or a crazy new drive system?” And I was all excited because I love it when people try some new high-concept game idea. Then I realised it was just the rocket exhaust and pouted a little. But hey, more space games are good too!

    It’s funny how these gaming trends come in waves, with seemingly little regard for how saturated a market already is, but I guess that’s what happens when a bunch of people start on game concepts in secret around the same time and then all start revealing and releasing at once. And a resurgence of space games is way better than the previous surge of zombie games.

  9. AyeBraine says:

    Hm. Is it Rodina as Homeland\Homeworld in Russian?

    Also, Han Solo actually would check his mail obsessively, at least once an hour, being a freelancer and all!

  10. neofit says:

    “Rodina” means “Motherland”.

    Also, the concept is nice, but these huge “blobs of pixelart” used in place of smoke ruin it for me.

    • Velko says:

      Yup. I know it’s kinda stupid, but I just won’t play a game that looks like that last screenshot. Sorry!

      • Kaeoschassis says:

        And that’s fine. But I suspect I’m hardly alone in thinking it looks gorgeous (the effect itself, not that last screenshot, which is admittedly pretty bad). I don’t think games like this are in any danger of being ignored for how they look. I HOPE they aren’t.

      • Premium User Badge FriendlyFire says:

        Yeah, Rodina is the only game in recent memory that I just cannot bring myself to even consider due to how ugly it looks. I mean good grief, how can you manage to make space ugly? Even old games like Descent had a better art style, this is just a mess of low-poly models, low-res textures and atrocious particle effects.

        Too bad, because the premise otherwise looks fun.

  11. GameQB11 says:

    This game needs more coverage.It needs more funding. I want to see more added to it.

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