Double Fine have announced that development of Spacebase DF-9 is coming to an end and the development plan listing planned features has been removed. The Steam Early Access page has been updated to state that version 1.0 is due for release. It “will be its final major update”, according to the recently updated development plans page. The previous version of that page contained hundreds of features that “might possibly” be implemented at some point. Today’s update makes it clear that any future implementation will be in the hands of the users rather than Double Fine themselves, thanks to a full source code release.
For those who haven’t been tuned in, Spacebase DF-9 is a product of Double Fine’s internal jam, the Amnesia Fortnight. As with many games made in such a short timeframe, enthusiasm for the game was invested in its potential rather than its current form. It wasn’t the first game to make people yell “DWARF FORTRESS WITH AN INTERFACE AND A GRAPHIC” but it was one of the first to make them add, “IN SPACE”. Of course, it might well take decades of development to create Dwarf Fortress in space and Spacebase DF-9 will not be that game.
The most important words from the Steam update are as follows.
As for what will be added between now and the 1.0 build, new features will be aimed at providing the complete experience you’d expect of a non-Early Access game: a Tutorial mode to smooth out the early game a bit and help new players learn the basics, and a Goal system that lets you work towards concrete objectives. That as well as over a month’s worth of pure bug-fixing work and final polish.
We’re also pleased to announce we’ll be releasing the game’s full Lua source code a short time after 1.0, which will allow the community to create potentially far-ranging mods that add content, new features, and change some fundamental game behaviors. We’ll of course be sticking around a bit for bug fixing and support, but any new content for the game will now be in your hands. We’re eager to see what people do with this game!
A lot of people will likely find that last part a particularly bitter pill to swallow. If the original prototype had been released with full source code, there’d probably be a heck of a lot more content already available for the game, but as it is, moving to 1.0 at this point feels much too early and much too late. Early because there aren’t enough possibilities for emergent scenarios in the current content, at least not when weighed against what was originally planned, and too late because if this were to be a user-content driven experience that hadn’t been clear until now. Releasing the source code is fantastic for those who want to meddle but not so great for those who were hoping for Double Fine’s own take on the emergent life sim.
I used to be of the opinion that story driven games were ill-suited to Early Acess but I’m increasingly coming to believe that ambitious sims are the most likely to suffer. The complexity of what Double Fine intended or hoped Spacebase DF-9 could be – or what players envisioned it might be – was perhaps untenable from the start, which makes the Early Access release an offering of potential and possibility.
It’s doubtful that Double Fine wanted to move to 1.0 in this fashion and the hollow hurrah of the ‘it’s in your hands now!’ announcement made me wince like I’d eaten a Jif lemon, but we don’t know the reasons. Staff may be required on other projects, money is probably tighter than it appears to be from an outside perspective (it almost always is). That’s little comfort to those who’ve bought a game that is lacking the features and content they were anticipating, particularly when the company seems to have its fingers in so many other pies. A case of over-reach then? The truth might be that attempting to make the game that Spacebase DF-9 could have been would overstretch anybody.
We’ve contacted Double Fine for comment.