The Lighthouse Customer: Starforge (Survival Mode)

Does this zit on my back look infected? It's super itchy.

Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, pantsless survival and gimp mask crafting in Starforge.

The Earth’s sun is being devoured by a black hole, and humankind, desperate to survive, has sent scouts to the planet Atlas to prepare the mysterious new world for colonization. I am one of those scouts, the Earth’s last and best hope, which is a bit of a shame because I’ve been here for several days and I’m still wearing just the underpants I arrived in and I’ve been living in a hole in the ground. On the plus side… well… I dug the hole myself?

After toying with Starforge’s creative mode, which gives players unfettered access to all the weapons, armor, vehicles, and building materials, I’m now giving survival mode a go. I’m plopped onto the planet’s randomly generated surface wearing only a pair of shorts and carrying only few items in those shorts. Apart from what appears to be an enormous, infected zit on my back, it feels like the standard survival game opening scenario. I see trees: I need to knock them down. I see minerals: I need to dig them up. I see alien lifeforms: I need to kill them, eat them, and make clothes from them. I know the drill. In fact, I have a drill.

My wish, upon the first star I see tonight, is for pants.

I chase cute glowing bugs around, drilling into their butts and trying to loot their corpses as they gently roll downhill. In addition to meat and fiber, some of these glowbugs are carrying blueprints and metal ingots: it appears these alien insects are intelligent enough to design complicated gadgets and refine metals, hinting at advanced intelligence. On the other hand, I have a big drill.

Out of fiber collected from several bugs I assemble the only bit of armor I can afford at the moment: a helmet, though it looks more like a leather mask. Combined with my tight black leather shorts and the fact that I’m running around killing creatures with a power drill, I look and feel like some sort of serial-killing gimp.

Stop running! There's already no dignity in this!

I lose my fetish mask a moment later, and everything else I’ve collected, after encountering a large angry leech monster, which apparently hasn’t gotten the memo that I’m here to kill aliens and wear pants and I’m all out of pants. I’m brutally and comically slaughtered, my body tumbling through the air like a Stretch Armstrong doll hit by a baseball bat. Respawning, I decide to put aside my mass murder of architect bugs and instead work on building a shelter.

No one mentioned this might happen during scout orientation.

After crafting some storage boxes, I’m driven back to mass murder due to my dwindling food meter. Collecting alien meat, I craft it into energy syringes, because here in the future, we don’t need to eat with our mouths anymore. Gotta say, I think this games misses the satisfying thing about hunting and harvesting meat in video games: cooking it over a fire. I can’t quite say why sticking a meat-unit into a fire-container and later pulling it out when it’s a different color is so darn satisfying in games. All I know is, sticking a meat-unit into a syringe and then jabbing it into my arm is not.

Not sure why my bed needs security settings, but it might as well have all of them.

Since I’ve got some boxes sitting here anyway, I think it’s the right time time and place to construct a massive, impenetrable base of operations. I mean, Earth might ring me up to ask how it’s going, and I can’t very well say “Well, so far I’ve made a sex mask and injected some alien beef into my arm. How are you?” I’m hampered a bit because night has fallen, and even with my flashlight, nighttime is incredibly dark. I craft a wooden ramp and stick a wall light on it so I can see what I’m doing, though doing so exhausts my supply of everything, so now I’m not doing anything, but at least I can see that I’m not doing anything.

Planet: dominated.

I add a bedroll (not for sleeping, apparently, but so if and when I die I can respawn right here) and another thingie I have in my inventory that I don’t know what it does, but it looks futuristic. Several giant leeches are roaming around nearby, and running around in the pitch black, even with my flashlight, has only resulted in me falling into a cave which took a half-hour of jumping to escape from. With little else to do until morning, I dig a hole near my boxes and stand motionless in it until dawn arrives. STARFORGE!

In the morning, I see the all the work was worth it. My base, consisting of boxes full of dirt, and my hole, where the dirt came from, are an impressive, fearsome sight.

I know it doesn't look like much, but remember, there's a hole, too.

Having thus established an impressive base, sending a clear message to the planet that, yes, I have completely dominated y’all, I think it’s time to do some real exploring. I can assure you, it has nothing to do with the fact that a bunch of those leech monsters have suddenly decided my base is the perfect place to slither around hissing. I don my new fetish mask and set out for the nearest mountain. Let’s see what else this planet has to offer besides leeches and glowbugs.

The world stretches out before me. It's a real shame.

This planet, I discover, has nothing else to offer besides leeches and glow bugs. I find more crafting materials — iron, sandstone, clay, water — but it seems foolish to spend time collecting them, because if I die out here I’ll lose them, and I can find them closer to my base anyway. The one thing I really need, sulfur, to craft bullets for my pistol, I can’t find anywhere.

Night falls again, and I spend a while trying to chase glowbugs up a mountainside, but when they die they roll all the way back down so it seems kinda pointless. To be honest, a lot of this seems kinda pointless. I need to drill a ton of bugs to death just to make a pair of pants and a shirt, but bug-chasing isn’t particularly fun. I need to knock down a ton of trees to collect enough wood to craft even a few medium sized building cubes, but drilling trees is even less engaging than chasing bugs. I typically prefer survival modes in crafting games, but there’s not much to do in this one, and what little there is, isn’t exactly a hoot.

In creative mode, armor makes me look cool, not creepy.

Naked man to Earth: you might want to hold off on the colonization. At least until my hole is big enough for two.

Clearly, Starforge is in the early alpha beta oven and survival mode, at least, needs a lot more time to bake (this column is based on the patched version of v.0.7.5, dated June 24). If you’re desperately hungry for an early access game where you’ve crashed on a planet and have to kill trees, Planet Explorers is much further along and features more interesting alien beasties.


  1. Grey_Ghost says:


  2. Viroso says:

    I’ve put like… way too many hours into Terraria, 50% of these hours probably spent holding down the left mouse button swinging a pickaxe or drilling, 25% of these hours building crap. That said

    Do people really like the grind? Cutting trees, killing the same monsters so they drop enough crap, hitting stone for five minutes. There’s a sense of satisfaction when you grind and build, the bigger your house the more satisfying. But I’m pretty sure it can be just as fun without grinding. 50% of Terraria was very dull, even bad gameplay.

    Why do all these games insist on this. It’s what puts me off in most cases. If at least they’d do something more creative than cutting down trees. Like in that PIxeljunk game that’s not out yet, just shake things up a bit.

    • realitysconcierge says:

      For me it was the progression system and crafting that was really addictive and kept me playing.

    • BTAxis says:

      I recently gave Minecraft another try with some mods tacked on to see if they added anything, but I found I couldn’t stomach the tedious mining for resources. The same goes for Terraria and friends, and I fear I might even end up giving Starbound a miss, despite my enthusiastic pre-order.

      I have better hopes for Factorio, which is more about setting up chains of automated systems. I played the demo, and enjoyed it.

      • Grey_Ghost says:

        Mods have an answer for that as well! Automated mining operations, such as Quarries.

      • Blackrook says:

        Factorio was quite good fun but I’d sort of exhausted the possibility after a weekend and a few evenings.
        In the end it just turned into churning out more science bottles to unlock more stuff you didn’t really need.
        I might go back if it gets more content but over all I felt minecraft/terraria had much more variety and longer appeal.

    • Shuck says:

      I have to say, just the time I’ve spent in Minecraft seems to have completely cured me of any desire to play any more survival games, especially anything that involves chopping down trees and digging up minerals.

    • Baines says:

      If you take out the grind, then you take out a lot of the game.

      Imagine having infinite resources in Terraria. What would you do with it? Carve out a spot of land and create your dream house? (Probably complaining about the clunky build interface in the process, because once you detach yourself from the idea of collecting tons of tiny blocks to build with, you might wonder why you have to stand near what you want to build and why you can only craft while holding the right items near the right objects.)

      When it comes to such building projects, constructions designed for gathering resources lose their purpose if you greatly reduce or eliminate the grind for resources. No more gameplay purpose to glowing mushroom farms or obsidian farms, not even really to simple reforestation projects as you’d no longer have reason to run deforestation projects in the first place.

      Then what do you do? The danger level of enemies is connected to the amount of grind expected to overcome them. The bulk of the combat itself is tied to the grind, mostly from encountering enemies while grinding for various resources. Even the penalty for death, if you choose to use such penalties, is made real by the time that would be required to replace lost items.

      Terraria is kind of weak in the area of combat. It is kind of limited when it comes to exploration, when you don’t have the need to grind resources slowing you down and giving you purpose. Reducing grind might help with the pace that you can craft better items (largely because vanilla Terraria is paced so that by the time you can craft a couple of items out of a new material, that material is already old and the next better item has already been found), but of course does nothing to deal with how existing materials quickly become overflowing stacks of garbage as new materials are found.)

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        Firstly, for me, Terraria had a bundle of charm which made the world a nice place to roam around in. Secondly I enjoyed the progression of the game, it was refreshingly open-ended, it seems standard for games to do extensive amounts of hand holding these days but setting your own goals and then completing them in Terraria felt really rewarding.
        Another thing I found enjoyable was that you had the ability to completely change the pace of the game and just mill around building stuff if you wanted. I enjoy the change of pace into something like the house building in Terraria where you can half play the game, not really concentrate, watch tv at the same time etc, its relaxing sometimes.
        That said I have no desire to play Minecraft. Starforge looks interesting and might give it a go once it’s finished as the alien planet sci-fi theme is appealing to me.

      • Viroso says:

        I don’t think the grind is essential like that. It doesn’t have to be a requirement for the fun bits, and the fun bits are setting your own goals, exploring, creating, overcoming danger.

        Imagine this, instead of spending 30 minutes digging rocks to have enough materials to get your upgrades, you spend 30 minutes venturing down a dungeon and at the end you find your upgrades. Basically, make the game progress in leaps instead of a crawl.

        That could still let you have all the fun things without the grind.

        Another example, keep resource gathering, but make it more fun. In Terraria it was actually fun for me getting hellstone. When hellstone is broken, it turns into lava. Hellstone is found in large quantities in a dangerous place and you usually have a big block of sand with hellstone spread all over it.

        To mine hellstone you had to take into account the lava you’d create, evacuating that lava, trying to get the most hellstone you could before making some areas too hard to get to. It required planning on my part, and 20 minutes doing that was way more enjoyable than 20 minutes holding down the same button.

        Obsidian was fun to make too, early in the game before I had figured out better ways to do it. I had to plan ways to get water in contact with lava. So it wasn’t just holding down a button anymore.

        What’s bad is that not only do a lot of these games keep the grinding aspect, they also keep it in a way that’s been done to death. Chop down wood, go from iron to silver to gold to whatever, use pickaxes and drills.

    • frightlever says:

      FWIW, first thing I usually do with most of these games is assign a script to the “back” button on my mouse to auto-repeat left mouse-click until the “back” button is pressed again.

    • bangalores says:

      The thing that keeps me interested in Minecraft is just the sense of actually being deep underground and getting lost in the mines/structures that I’ve built. The first person perspective and slightly creepy atmosphere at times in Minecraft just give it that immersion factor that I found games like Terraria sorely lacking in.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yes, Minetest somewhat mitigated it by making mining for stuff also exploring expansive cave structures.

        But in general, yes, resource-bootstrapping fatigue has set in, especially for the more mundane things like tree-punching.

  3. Behrditz says:

    hey well it wasnt up until that long ago that the “survival” mode consisted of having to wait for resources to magically fall from the sky, since there was no way to harvest them.

    • rcguitarist says:

      Then so many games came out that were exactly the same in such a short period of time that these types of games quickly became old and stale.

  4. Leb says:

    Starforge is an all around disappointment. I funded it back in the indiegogo tiers among many other early adopters, of whom a great portion like myself have been let down – and in some cases mistreated by the developers.

    For a good year their excuse for lack of progress was “just moving into the new office and getting settled in.” Last I checked it does not take a year to move into a new work location. They then canned their excellent community manager for no good reason and gave us some new chap.

    Anyways enough of my bickering on community issues, as the article states the game still is no fun, and I personally doubt it ever will be. Their original pitch was intriguing but I think what they want to do with a game is drastically different than the skill level they have demonstrated.

    • trout says:

      agree wholeheartedly, one of the duller games i’ve played in recent memory – additionally, i thought potentially the procedural landscapes/terrain might fun to explore and instead it was tepid and generic – i guess it’s the mixed lolly-bag of early access tho, sometimes you get something sour

  5. Rindan says:

    You can see the vaguest hint of a fun game hidden away in Star Forge, but I won’t hold my breath. The promise is vaguely there, but the execution is a big old solid ‘meh’. It has been in development for a while and it is still not even getting close to something fun.

    Space Engineers has a lot of the same problems that Star Forge has, but you can actually see the promise and you can see them working towards something that is truly fun. I wouldn’t recommend either of these games unless you have money to burn and no particular care that you are only going to squeeze a few hours out of them (with Star Forge squeezing out far less).

  6. Tei says:

    I am happy theres some progress. My last impression with the game is that It would die as a tech demo/bro friends joke. If it reach Rust or one of these sandbox games level of sandboxery, maybe would be worth the money I put there. *raise eyebrown*

    This article was hilarious :D

  7. pseudonym7777 says:

    Nice writeup, made me laugh out loud at parts, like the response to earth about making that mask and injecting beef into your arm, very productive indeed. A welcome departure from the self-important, heavy-handed moralizing and strange fascination with lgbt sex fetishes lately in the columns.

    • Nafu says:

      There’s a place for all of that, but articles like this are what keep me coming back for more.

    • Jim Dandy says:

      Pseud’, RPS is encrypting its pinko weirdsex* propaganda in order to slip it quietly past your defenses. Soon you’ll be overcome by a seemingly inexplicable craving for cock.

      Allow me to elucidate. First, you need the cypher. In this case, a printed still from the orgy scene in Shortbus. Carefully cut all of the penises out of your print (you’ll be wanting to do that anyway). Now lay the print over your monitor, making sure the pierced nipple at the top left of the image is aligned with the ‘8’ in RPS’ deceitful tagline. Voila! The dick-shaped voids** reveal the insidious homoeroticism lurking within the article:

      “I’m wearing enormous, infected shorts. I chase cute butts. I have a big drill. My hole is collecting alien meat.”

      Whew, gotta stop deciphering, I’m getting wood like you wouldn’t believe. Damn this homoganda!

      *Pinko Weirdsex. Now there’s a name you could hang a hat on.
      **For some reason Courtney Love springs to mind…

      • pseudonym7777 says:

        Jim, while I won’t be doing any of those things you suggested, I think you’ve make a good point. Henceforth I shall be wearing a blindfold before perusing RPS in order to protect against this insidious re-programming effort. For good measure I shall also don a tinfoil cap. Hopefully its not too late…

  8. Tom De Roeck says:

    OK, can we please get an addendum to this piece, because youre ignoring the most important part which everyone is assuming didnt happen:

    they just went BETA with that patch, and added proper survival and a whole shittonne of features, making it, supposedly, featurecomplete, just slightly wonky. This is NOT the game it was before June 24 or whenever, so everyone that owned it, thought it was shit, this is not the same game anymore.

    So no, this is not early alpha, maybe early beta, meaning that except for balancing and beautification/ease of life additions, it is a feature complete version. I know what it was before, and Ive tried the survival mode, and they are a million miles apart.

    Nowhere in the article it gets mentioned that all of this is a recent affair, and I think it makes a huge difference.

    • Yemala says:

      Forgive me if I’ve misunderstood something, but doesn’t this just make it all the more disappointing?

      The article implies disappointment based on an assumed early alpha state, and your stance appears to be that it is ‘okay’ because the game is actually feature complete and better than it was before?

      I would have assumed that erroneously believing the game was in a much earlier production state than it is would be all the more reason to avoid it entirely rather than praise it.. but perhaps I am misunderstanding something?

      • Lancezh says:

        You see this absolutely spot on correct, if you haven’t bought it yet, stay clear of it.

      • Tom De Roeck says:

        Haters gonna hate, the game, especially in multiplayer, is quite fun, in its unpolished and wonky state. They are updating very often, compared to before where they only had an update every month or more.

        • Harlander says:

          It’s not being a “hater” to say “you might want to wait for this one to be a bit more fleshed out”, really.

          Let’s not go down the road where every disagreement is labelled trolling.

          • Tom De Roeck says:

            Thats not what hes saying though. Steam is filled with comments like OMG WORST BUY EVARRRR, and this one sounds similar.

          • Harlander says:

            I beg to differ:

            Clearly, Starforge is in the early alpha beta oven and survival mode, at least, needs a lot more time to bake

        • frightlever says:

          To be fair, it looks way more interesting than the last time I looked at it. I had written off my EA but at least it’s heading in the right direction.

          But yeah, Planet Explorers is far in advance of Starforge and already a whole lot of fun.

        • Baines says:

          You can say “haters gonna hate”, but it doesn’t change that going by your own complaint, the article really should have been much harsher on Starforge than it was. Your defense of Starforge was built entirely on an argument that completely undermines your attempt to defend Starforge.

    • Lancezh says:

      That’s actually an argument AGAINST it. Feature complete ? This pile of… ??? Really ? I backed this project a couple years ago, it’s nowhere near fun and the dev’s had to much money gained of this that i would give them the benefit of the doubt. That this is still in the steam store is mindblowing to me. If this is a beta then i don’t know what you call the Rust Alpha, that was a proper game from a proper designer and dev. This… is a disappointment, actually the biggest disappointment of ALL alphas that i had in my library, and i have alot of them. A LOT.

      • Tom De Roeck says:

        Have you played it recently? Feature complete does not mean polished or finished. Also doesnt mean the whole content is in. Just that the mechanics and systems are in, in whatever working state they are.

  9. Niko says:

    So, glowbugs drop blueprints and ingots, and you inject meat into your arm via syringe. Looks like solid sci-fi indeed.