Super Ships & Wasted Worlds: Modding Starbound

Middle click this.
Starbound was always going to be a game that players would want to re-build in their own image. A procedurally generated sandbox means systems. Lots and lots of systems. It means the community can change whatever they want, and the players have responded at a phenomenal rate of moddery. I’ve done ridiculous things to my game that I’d never recommend you do. I’ve added a Dubstep gun and a Vuvuzela*. But there are broader changes I’d happily recommend: tweaks to ship shapes, planet generation, better farming. There’s as much to explore in the modding scene as there is on Alpha Diadem 028 III C, and I’ve beamed down to have a look.

Before you do anything, install this Starbound Mod Manager. It acts like teacher on a school outing to ensure the mods know what they’re doing, where they need to be, and how to get along. That’s really important when dealing with potential incompatibility between mods. It’ll do all this while preventing changes to any of the game’s core files, which is probably its most invaluable trick.

And because I dared to start with something as utilitarian and emotionally crippled as a mod manager, my next suggestion would be to grab the Creative Mode mod. It features in both Starbound Nexus and the official channel’s “top mod” list, and allows you to play a free-form Jazz solo with the game’s items. Its purpose is simple: to allow the players to access as much (though not quite all) of the content as and when they need it. It’s the toolbox to unlock the actual sandbox, so you have a lot more resources and abilities available, like invincibility and a super-powerful matter manipulator. It could seem like a giant box of cheats, but the flight mode reveals its true purpose is to enable players to construct anything, unbound by the notion of grind and gravity. There’s still some smelting and crafting involved, which I like because it fits into the game’s theme, but this is perfect if you’re looking to make something of the world.

Starbound’s beta status is obvious when you play it: you have all those tools to reshape the world, but you can’t reshape your ship? All you have is a cramped rectangle that that an estate agent would label as “cosy”. I imagine reshaping your ship so it’s more shipshape will be coming in an official update, but I can’t see it topping Spaceship: Block by Block Building. Your ship can be completely torn apart and rebuilt using any of the game’s materials, and it adds the early stages of a complete overhaul of how the ships work: life-support, landing pods, teleporters, etc. There’s more to come from this mod, but if you want to see what it’s capable of, just click the main image of the article.

But it doesn’t work on servers, which makes me sad. Who wants to spend all that time retooling a ship – retooling it into a glorious space phallus – if people can’t admire it? That is the point of self-expression, isn’t it? If you’re happy to work with just the base materials, and can do without the extras, Fully Customisable Ship will let you build a ship other players can admire in vanilla multiplayer.

But where could you take that ship? The universe Starbound creates is one of gaming’s most impressive feats: star systems with explorable planets and moons, lovely backdrops of desert moons, forest planets, and arid, evocative landscapes. Variety Is The Spice of the Universe adds to that in some wonderful ways, turning the weird and exotic up a notch. There are Frostfire planets with sub-zero surface temperatures and pools of lava, Tarballs are dirty rocks of slime and bones (and tar), and many more. On top of those are biomes as well: metallic moons, or huge mountains, or spooky forests. And there are a few more modifiers, like acid eating away at the savannah. I can’t say I was ever bored exploring in Starbound, but with this installed I’m almost sure I’ll never be bored again.

To make sure of that, I uninstalled it. Why? Because I found the sadly incompatible Wastelands Planets, and I just had to have it. Despite everything Starbound is capable of, it doesn’t do desolation very well. That’s clearly a stylistic choice by the developers, and though there are abandoned places, they don’t feel old. Wastelands Planets are post-industrial places: cracked, grey, lost. It’s the backdrops that really sell it, with tilted, post-apocalyptic landscapes creating a lovely mood for the rubble and the ash storms.

It seems like the perfect place to take on Per Aspera Ad Aspera, an in progress mod that has some evil plans. I’m suggesting you keep an eye on this rather than installing it now, because the plan is to basically overhaul the complexity of the game, turning it into a ridiculous, complicated adventure where material properties extends to things like thermal conductivity, organic protection, temperature stabilisation. Just look at the list and tell me you don’t want to be dealing with nuclear fission and colonial warfare.

Hmm, things are getting kind of bleak. To counter-act the destruction and darkness there’s Persistent Farmables. It’s one of those mods that would be right at home if it was added to the vanilla game, making crops grow when you’re off-planet and on adventures. You can even have them sprout when you’re not even playing the game, which makes complete sense to me. A living breathing universe should tick along when you’re not around. I love the idea of coming back to something that you’ve planted as proof that the world kept on going when you were asleep.

I have a similar love for Your Starbound Crew, which adds a crew to your ship. Aside from making your ship feel less like an escape pod and more like a wagon on the final frontier, the crew act as nodes for a lot of the game’s content, enabling you to unlock supply merchants who’ll hang around your deck. This means you’re always able to find an item without needing to craft or hunt down what’s needed through trial-and-error. As long as you can afford it, you’ll be able to access food, meds, tools, weapons, and even the lore that underpins the universe.

*Though I drew a line at the Aryan Race mod :(


  1. geldonyetich says:

    A lot of these mods are going to be overwritten by things the Starbound development team is already planning. Although, if crops growing when the chunk isn’t loaded doesn’t end up being part of the stock engine, I’m going to be pretty disappointed: it’s one of the main reasons I’ve put the game on hold right now.

    • frightlever says:

      Never found crops to be all that important when you can harvest pretty much every thing you need for hundreds of hours of play just by running across one planet.

      Given that we’re due a new patch soon-ish, now might not have been the best time for a mod article. I’m gonna to keep the article book-marked until then.

      • mechabuddha says:

        I guess that depends on how you play this game. I’ve built myself a pretty nice home on my first planet, and I don’t really want to be leaving all the time just for some grub.

        • derbefrier says:

          Crops are pretty useless as far as I can tell anyway. I can get enough meat to last a long time just running around killing shit at night and then once you find a chef you can just buy all the food you need.

          • Universal Quitter says:

            People just play things differently. That’s more or less how I felt about Minecraft and crops, but then you see people making these enormous Rube Goldberg contraptions to harvest a thousand mobs or watermelons per hour. Some people make statues that you could probably see from space, some people try to beat the dragon and “win” the game, and some people make giant dongs in the desert in multiplayer.

            Especially with sandbox games, efficiency can murder the fun for some people, or is completely irrelevant.

          • derbefrier says:

            heh yeah fair enough. I was one of those people that built weird stuff in minecraft. I made a whole island obstacle course\death trap( trap doors, lots of drap doors and lava) once whose sole purpose was to get my friends to kill themselves

          • darkChozo says:

            Crop foods also give you buffs that are fairly interesting. The speed boost is pretty fun to run around with.

        • SavageTech says:

          I agree, crops are good for people who prefer building to exploring. I don’t get the point of making crops persistent, though, because if you go out exploring you can easily pick up tons of food as you go. If you don’t go out exploring then your crops would’ve kept growing without the mod. Either way you end up with so much goddamn food that it seems silly to make sure you always have more waiting for you.

          I’m a fan of making gardens in my spaceship because they’ll grow while I’m crafting, sleeping, doing space travel, dropping off loot, etc. I always end up with so much food that I just stop harvesting it.

  2. Taidan says:

    So you’ll do Vuvuzelas, but draw the line at an Ayran Race mod?

    Those are some screwed up priorities you have there, my friend. Nothing is worse than Vuvuzelas.

    • tk421242 says:

      I would rather see Spain win another World Cup then have to endure Vuvuzelas again… and I have zero love for Spain!

      Vuvuzelas are the devil’s invention.

      • 0positivo says:

        Wait, haven’t Vuvuzelas come out of the South Africa world cup?

      • ahmedabdo says:

        Oh god how much I hate Vuvuzelas. There sounds still in my head after all this time.

    • SavageTech says:

      The Nazis were monsters, but even they wouldn’t subject someone to vuvuzela torture.

  3. asclark says:

    ‘Per Aspera Ad Astra’, surely?

    ‘Per Aspera ad Aspera’ would mean “Through Hardships to [more] Hardships”. Which would actually be a better mod name but clicking on the link disappointed me.

    • LTK says:

      Yeah, I liked how thematically appropriate that modification is for a mod that makes things more difficult just for the sake of more difficulty, but alas.

  4. ceriphim says:

    I binged hard on this game when I first got it around Xmas, but since then I’ve refused to play until we get another few patches. I don’t want to burn out like I did on Terraria. In the meantime, I’ve rotated to Kerbal Space Program and am having a blast since last playing in Feb of 2013. Next up is Prison Architect!

    • Snidesworth says:

      I’m in the same boat, along with my friends. We had a good fortnight of binging and messing about together, then most of us hit the last tier of upgrades and the universe got wiped. I haven’t seen enough feature updates in the patch notes to lure me back yet.

    • derbefrier says:

      the curse of early access.

      “I really wanna play this but don’t wanna get burned out before its finished”

      Also patiently wait for Sir, You are being hunted to finish up as well.

  5. Harlander says:

    It’s really exciting to me how quickly the mod scene in Starbound has taken off. I can’t wait for what kind of craziness is available when the game’s actually finished…

  6. aguynamedmark says:

    Modding and flexibility are great, which is why I’m sad to see Starbound still doesn’t support something as basic and necessary as customized keybindings. I never play any games with ASDW and trying to do it for just this one is such a frustrating experience that it makes me hate playing the game, even if I like the game itself.