Hand Babbage Only: Steambirds

I've been thinking what Ada Lovelace would have made of Steampunk recently. I do suspect she'd have been horrified by how it synthesized her two parent's belief-structures.

CMaster points me in the direction of a turn-based flight-combat game in the vein of Critical Mass. Steambirds marries that with a splash of Steampunk and has just whiled away a half-hour pleasantly enough. The main reservation is that once your ship’s control device goes off the map, you can’t get it back, so you always go flying off. STAY AWAY FROM EDGE OF MAP. Also, steampunk. ALL YOUR STEAMPUNK SPEAKS OF IS FEAR OF THE FUTURE. ALSO, PAST. Yes, the Steampunk backlash is on, at least until 7:30, when the reappraisal starts, followed by the second revival before bed-time. Go play it here or watch some footage beneath the cut. Though you’re being terrible lazy if you do the latter.


  1. Brumisator says:

    OOhh, this is one of the best flash games in a while, kudos Armorgames, you’re a continual source of entertainment in a bleak and talentless internet crowd.

    • Brumisator says:

      (forgot to log in so I can’t edit)

      Also, click-dragging the map works just fine to get your off-screen cursor back.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      And when you reach the total edge of the map play area?


    • Brumisator says:

      I suppose the universe implodes and we all die horribly.

      You may be right, hasn’t happened to me yet. I misunderstood ;)

    • CMaster says:

      My understanding is that Armorgames scour the internet (or at least popular portals like Newgrounds and Kongregate) for good games developers and then pay them to make something with the Armor badge on it.

      Oh and as for the edge of the map business – I’ve seen a few commetors on Kongregate complaining about that. I have to say I’ve never seen any need to go to the edge of the map.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      CMaster: Leading one of the enemies with a trailing-creating planes. Just carrying on indefinitely, smoking them, as they won’t break away. Only realised the map had an end as I hit it. Clearly, you don’t do it twice.


    • Hmm-Hmm. says:

      It doesn’t need to be done for smoke-trailing, either. It can also easily be used to lead a big enemy off on a merry goose-chase while its compatriots fire at it from the rear.

    • Robin says:

      @CMaster Actually they scour FlashGameLicense.com for games that have already been developed but not released onto the wider internet.

      They’ve clearly done a good job of building a brand, though.

    • Andy Moore says:

      Yeah, I never got close to the edge of the map in all of my playtesting. You internets keep breaking my stuff!

      ArmorGames did indeed bid on my game on FlashGameLicense and had the highest bid there. It’s like an auction clearinghouse.

  2. jsutcliffe says:

    There are so many good rulesets for tabletop dogfight games that I’m amazed there are so few computer versions. This looks like rather a lot of fun.

  3. Wisq says:

    I heard about this before, and I could’ve sworn it was from RPS — maybe in a Sunday Papers or something? But Google tells me my memory is lying to me, so I guess I’m just getting old.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Wisq: I thought the same thing, I admit.


    • Wisq says:

      You thought I was getting old too? I guess I have been a bit cranky lately.

      Actually, I know where I saw it now — Penny Arcade. Might be the same for you. I guess I was just confused by the rather lopsided ratio of “games I hear about from RPS” versus “games I hear about anywhere else”.

    • Gareth says:

      @wisq: I thought the same thing but after a bit of head scratching I remembered it was actually on Gamasutras round up of indie games the other week.

      link to gamasutra.com

    • Jeremy says:

      I think I have the same issue :) About 93.62% of all my game purchases and/or news comes from RPS, so I’m always thinking I heard it from here.

  4. CMaster says:

    I (obviously) enjoyed this to recommend it, but at the same time I always felt (like with a lot of flash games) it was begging for someone to make a more complete game out of it. One with random battles to add some longevity, more friendly (and enemy) unit types, clearer cones of fire for units (seriously, I never managed to work out just what rules governed whether baloons shot your or not) and the ability to pick your own ship special powers and so on.
    All in all, making it a bit more like Critical Mass I guess…
    Edit (sidenote, couldn’t find the edit button, had to go to the Forums):
    Yay for finally getting a mention on RPS. All my previous hints have gone ignored or beaten to it by someone else.

    Free (bad) Games || Mountainbiking Videos || Gaming Videos

  5. C_B says:

    I was a little unhappy that you only ever got to play with the Bristol, and couldn’t ever choose powers or starting formation. Other than that, great show. Here’s hoping for a Steambirds2 with (at least) twice as many planes.

    • CMaster says:


      Hit “bonus levels” and you get to play some slightly further future fights using the “Commonwealth” as opposed to the Bristol. It’s faster, gets better specials and maybe even turns a little tighter. Have to say that much like the gas and KG, you can use the missiles to exploit the AI’s weakness.

  6. Ffitz says:

    I’m convinced I’ve seen this on RPS before. If this isn’t the case, then there’s something gone terribly wrong inside my head.

    Anyway, this looks like it’s worth a play. Rather like Achtung! Spitfire, by the sounds of things, except with bigger moustaches.

    • Torgen says:

      I too, was wondering “Why is RPS talking about this a second time?”

      I think this is a trial run for an April Fools joke, where the RPS Hivemind hides older articles and pretends to be covering the subjects for the first time.

  7. Schmung says:

    Loved it, but sadly I can’t play for more than about two minutes before it brings my PC to a grinding halt. Sadface and so froth.

  8. Jesterrr says:

    Played this a while ago (also found on PA) and I am virtually SCREAMING for more. I’d really enjoy seeing objectives such as protecting an airfield from bombers or, naturally, successfully making a bombing run by evading the hostile planes.

    Perhaps protecting a civilian liner.

    I’d love to be able to customise my force somewhat to tackle the challenge presented. And in fact add the inevitable RPG progression elements and let me unlock new equipment and better planes progressively through the game.

    Yeah, I don’t ask for much, I know…

    • Veret says:

      Your wish list there perfectly describes Critical Mass (link in the beginning of the article, if you missed it). It’s clearly a spiritual predecessor to Steambirds, but with more customization and a lot more fully-featured. I remember spending a solid month on the free demo alone before finally dropping $20 on the full game. The only reason you wouldn’t like Critical Mass is if you’re really attached to the steampunk setting; everything else is just better.

    • Andy Moore says:

      Sounds like I should really get my hands on a copy of CriticalMass. :) A lot of comparisons being made! Future versions are definitely on the way with new features and extended gameplay.

  9. SpinalJack says:

    I must say that the missile kinda makes the missions too easy, just fire one off and do a sharp turn. Rinse and repeat. Especially against the slow moving balloons. Maybe someone can knick this guy’s idea and make a full game based on turn based dog fighting XD

  10. Flowerpot Wang says:

    I liked how the difficulty curve went up *just enough* to make the game feel challenging as well as enjoyable :D

  11. Lu-Tze says:

    When I saw this about a month ago I was reminded of Critical Mass, i’m glad i’m not the only person in the whole world who remembers it.

  12. LionsPhil says:

    Full Thrust. \o/

    Ruleset for that is available online for free download:
    link to groundzerogames.net
    Guess their business plan is to use this to drive sales of the models.

    • user@example.com says:

      If you like spaceship shooty wargames, Starmada’s pretty much the competitor to Full Thrust. Costs money, but not much, and there’s an officially-licensed Star Trek supplement if you like that kind of thing.

    • user@example.com says:

      Well, that, or the Ad Astra Games games. You do want hardcore 3D movement and facing, right? And these delightful nonograms designed to speed and simplify just parts of the sequence for generating a missile firing solution?

      (I heart Ad Astra and want their games :( )

  13. KillahMate says:

    Yeah, had a bout of deja vu myself. But I’m with Wisq, I actually saw it first at Penny Arcade. A shame really, I used to read Danc’s blog regularly, but kind of drifted away in the last year.

  14. Coins says:

    Aaah. I am incredibly bad at this sort of games. It’s quite rather fun, but I tend to, ah, die a lot. Also, I’m missing the steampunk bit, a bit?

  15. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    I’m still (30min on or something) laughing about that terrible pun in the title.

    Actually it can’t be that bad a pun can it. Seriously, well played KG, I’m still chuckling.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      It took me much longer than usual – like, 20 seconds – and that was all I had. I figured, fuck it. BUT IT APPEARS I HIT THE SO BAD IT’S GOOD RIGHT ON.


    • FRIENDLYUNIT says:

      For the record I’ve stopped laughing when I think about it but am still smirking.

      Seriously, it’s gold. Why has no one else commented yet? DO YOU PHILISTINES EVEN KNOW WHO BABBAGE WAS?

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      FRIENDLYUNIT: Jim also messaged me immediately about it, so you’re in good company. Also, Jim.


    • KillahMate says:

      It only works properly if your first association is to “The Difference Engine” book.

    • DMcCool says:

      Its a mighty pun for sure. I’m not entirely sure how Babbage relates to steampunk aeroplane games but I’m not complaining. Its babbage.

  16. Brad says:

    link to games.defencejobs.gov.au has a game like this in it somewhere. It was turn-based , but worked with a grid-style unlike this game. You could turn hard, turn slightly, go straight or do a loop. You had several jets and had to take down the enmy jets.

    Fake edit: After looking at the site they have a HEAP of new games now.

  17. Bret says:

    So, the floating palace.

    What’s the trick?

    Because it’s kinda clobbering me.

  18. A-Scale says:

    1939 saw the NUKING of Paris? SAY WHAT, VIDEO GAME?

    • Vinraith says:

      What, you mean fusion aircraft weren’t invented in 1835?

    • Andy Moore says:

      To be fair, I also gas london and (gasp!) carpet-bomb berlin, but w/e

      but yes

      fusion steam engines are allright, don’t worry about that detail

  19. Vinraith says:

    Quite possibly my favorite flash game ever. I sincerely wish they’d create a commercial version of this for download, it’s that good.

  20. TCM says:

    Paris could use a good Nuking now and then, just to spice things up, keep world politics interesting.

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    phuzz says:

    Some one must have posted this in a comment then, that or KG realised it had been posted before and cruelly censored the previous post.
    WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE GILLEN? The Ministry of Truth?

    ahem, is fun game, although it destroyed my productivity at work for an afternoon.

  22. Buceph says:

    I’ve seen this linked from somewhere before (I too presumed it was from RPS.) Wherever I did see it linked from made the link between this and Wings of War, a WWI and WWII dog fighting game with either cards for planes (boxed game) or miniatures (each sold seperately.) It’s meant to be quite a good game, and 30 eurobucks for an 8 person dogfighting game seems good.

    Also a Full Thrust game would be awesome, I read the rules about a month ago and have been trying to convince people to play it with me.

  23. MinisterofDOOM says:

    This is a lot of fun. Lots and lots and lots and LOTS of flanking, but a good basis for some fun combat. I’d like to see a version with a loadout configurator (firefox thinks I’m making up words here, foolish browser) and variable altitude (even if just in fixed stages). Actually, I think I just described Flotilla.

  24. Polysynchronicity says:

    Currently trying to take down the floating palace by making the shieldy-planes take turns distracting it while the speedy-planes make strafing runs. Seems good in theory, difficult in practice. Is there some way to customize your aircraft that I’m missing?

  25. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    Played it for a while, even linked to in on my blog. It’s a fun little thing, but it reminded me of Achtung Spitfire, and nothing beats Achtung Spitfire, so I kept mum about it. If I knew RPS were this easy, I could be frontpage famous by now! :P

  26. Biggles says:

    Andy, any plans to port this over to the ipad with a little hotseat multiplayer? I think it would suit touch screens and being social really rather well.

    Aside from platform, people obviously really like this, so here’s hoping you develop the idea further!


  27. Tim says:

    I can’t seem to get past the first level. I beat it, of course, since it’s easy as anything, but the next level won’t unlock. I must have something wrong with my cookies or some nonsense.