Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Seeing Starships Footage Now

Sid Meier and Firaxis’ new thing, Starships, was announced last week, but all we got to see was a cinematic. Fortunately, Unca Sid did a talk at PAX South a couple of days back, in which he showed off the game proper. Those who could not drag themselves to a sweaty hall in Texas may now be similarly indulged. There are some bits and pieces of Civ in there – perhaps striving for commonality with Beyond Earth, which it shares a setting/fiction with – but primarily it’s about customising spaceships then making ’em fight.

Meier also tackles the thorny question “how do you put maps in space?” and clarifies that people who call themselves ‘marauders’ don’t tend to be terribly friendly.

The Starships footage kicks off at around the 30 minute mark, but the more patient view can enjoy a whole 50 minutes of Sidchat.

It’s certainly not another case of Civ V with knobs on, at any rate. There’s even a tiny little bit of XCOM in there, if I’m not totally mistaken. I think I’m going to have to play it myself to get my head around it, but I’m certainly feeling the pull. Not sure about asteroid fields making (in)convenient pathways – it kind of rubs the ‘hey this isn’t really 3D space’ aspect in my face a little, but we’ll see. I’d much rather something that feels good than is totally explicable.

I am also very much down with stealthy spaceships. This is due on tablets as well, but there seems to be quite a bit going on it. I’m not feeling the ‘mobile game upscaled to PC’ anxiety just yet. Obviously there is some wariness after Beyond Earth proved to be such a conservative game, but Firaxis trying something different worked out pretty damn well last time they tried it.

‘Spring 2015’ is the release window, so hopefully all will be revealed soon.


  1. blimey says:

    This game being on iOS shouldn’t be that worrisome. After all, they are the studio that put out XCOM on the iOS, one of the most complex iOS game to date. The situation is a bit different in this case because it’s not a PC port to iOS. But I think we can assume the studio can do a good job a not too simplifying the game because of the platform.

    • Shadow says:

      Yeah, but… it looks rather basic. And call me crazy, but the fact player ships are colour-coded much like Ace Patrol’s airplanes I somehow take as a sign Starships won’t be much more complex than that one. Another hint is the simplicity of the tech tree, which only sports a handful of techs which merely increase in level, and are all related to starship components. They didn’t really show off planetary development, but I don’t expect it to be much more involved than the research part.

      As Sid said, everything will work in service of the starships you control, which based on the gameplay footage I can read as “you’ll find the most depth in the starships, and everything else will be accessories”.

      It’s not that the game is dumbed down for the sake of tablets and such, but more like it’s not all that ambitious a design to begin with. It really doesn’t strike me as Firaxis trying to do a proper space 4X game a la Master of Orion or GalCiv or even Sword of the Stars.

      • Juke says:

        I’m inclined to agree. I attended the panel last weekend, and it became clear that this wasn’t a space sim, but a casual game about buzzing your ships from planet to planet completing missions in the randomized, asteroid-filled skirmishes. It might still be fun, but there is no attempt at grand strategy. You can see from the way that adding planets to your Federation merely provides a boost to some resources + a random bonus trait, that there isn’t really another layer to the game. It’s strictly about pursuing ship upgrades and taking on tougher missions as a result.

        Arguably, XCOM is not much different from that, though I’d say there are more competing priorities in that game to make the upgrade choices you make more meaningful, but maybe Starships can achieve that balance also.

        I do hope that they are still tuning up the UI before release, as in person it had rather low-res models for the ships, and a placeholdery feel to the UI, with some odd placement and padding around buttons & info windows. That is very much the kind of thing that can be polished at the end of development, though, so managing expectations is key. If it achieves what it sets out to do, it could still be a fun little game.

      • Zenicetus says:

        Right, your last paragraph sums it up. This doesn’t look like it’s trying to compete with GalCiv, Endless Space or the rest. They should just put an explanation mark at the end of the game and call it “Starships!” so the legacy from the lightweight Pirates! game would be more obvious.

        And that could still sell, because Pirates! was fun. But don’t try to mix this game in with deeper 4X space strategy games with the marketing.

        • Shadow says:

          I’m not even sure about that. Pirates! did have a measure of complexity (at least on PC): it was a set of well-done minigames working in synergy around a “world” map with various factions you could interact with in a variety of non-adversarial ways. It all made it feel a living universe.

          Starships has the battles and the rest is just very superficial. There’s other factions but they’re like opposing players in a boardgame, trying to do the same thing you are, with the same means. The game world seems far less living than that of Pirates!.

          So on the complexity scale, I’d put Starships between Ace Patrol and Pirates!, and pretty far from Civilization.

          To clarify, I’m not denying Starships could be fun, but I think we should be mindful of our expectations.

  2. Zenicetus says:

    I dunno… this looks like a designed-for-iOS game that they’re porting to PC to pick up a few more sales. Not many factors to deal with, easily controlled by touch, and static graphics that aren’t CPU/GPU hungry. The focus on just one fleet of ships to control is very reminiscent of his Pirates! game. Which was a lot of fun, and worked well as an iPad version. But as a PC strategy game, this just seems very lightweight.

    I’ll still keep an eye on it, but based on what I’m seeing here, it’s not looking like the kind of PC space strategy game I’m interested in. I might get it for my iPad though, if it’s reasonably entertaining.

  3. Tom De Roeck says:

    Ace Patrol was “something experimental” to me too, more experimental than XCOM I would say.

  4. MartinWisse says:

    There’s no stealth in space.

    • Sardonic says:

      Two words: Cloaking Device.

    • Zenicetus says:

      One word: Relativity.

      Ships at long enough range are cloaked by lightspeed delay, so sensor returns and weapon targeting gets more inaccurate the further away you are. You’re seeing the enemy ship in the recent past, and not the present, so evasive maneuver at long enough range = cloaking.

      Of course no space strategy game has ever used this (AFAIK). I wish one would, along with some of the other relativistic effects like time dilation for ships moving fast enough. It could be interesting.

      • Danley says:

        Long-range targeting (if not obstructed in some way) should be way more complex than it is anyway. At the same time that it’s hard to hit a moving object in relativistic space, it should be equally as hard to protect a planet or a star that follows a predictable path. Once you know where a consistently travelling object is, what path it is following and what other objects it will interact with on that path, you should literally be able to target it accurately and relentlessly so that defending an astronomical body is a feat in itself.

        Others have referred to Homeworld, which does long range targeting as well as anyone. If you’re in space, you can shoot from a very long way away.

    • jonfitt says:

      This is worth a read:
      link to

  5. Caelyn Ellis says:

    That headline. Beautiful.

  6. Rizlar says:

    Sooo it’s meant to be about going on an epic voyage to discover the fates of your far-flung relatives. But it looks like what you actually do in game is just blob out, taking over territory from your neighbours. Eh?

  7. Richard Nixon says:

    I was kinda excited about this until I saw the upgrade system. Really, just buying points in a few set stats? No modules, different weapons, etc.? GalCiv, Endless Space, Gratuitous Space Battles, etc, already did it better…

    • Chmilz says:

      Yeah I found that a bit odd. It’s all about the ships, yet Endless Space has what appears to be a more detailed design/build system, yet the sole focus is not on battle. I would expect this to be a lot more robust considering it’s all about the ships.

      Seems very 1 dimensional. I hope I’m wrong.

      • Juke says:

        It did seem under-baked for a game that is “All about the ships.” In the first voiceover trailer they released, I got a sense that there would be some ability to actually design your starships from a kit of available parts. But in action I didn’t really see that at all. There were a few different ship “body styles,” and all the functional bits that got added were only determined by how high your numerical upgrades were. Which is to say, you won’t be giving your ships their own look; if you spend your ships’ “skill points” the same each game, they’ll always look the same.

        Which is fine for a casual game, not a dealbreaker, but I was hoping for something a bit more creative. Sid himself acknowledges that he considered directing and battling with the starships the “most fun” part of the space exploration scenario, so it was odd that they so streamlined the options to make the ships your own.

    • Frank says:

      Hopefully they are not actually trying to do the exact same thing as those other games. It’s quite possible to insert (interesting) strategic depth in other parts of such a game.

      Personally, I am not a fan of hypercustomization; I’m in it for the “where” more than the “what” in strategy games.

  8. vecordae says:

    If one doesn’t find this engaging, there’s always the homeworld remaster to look forward. Less than two months away, if Steam isn’t playing a cruel joke on us all.

  9. peterako1989 says:

    and Im like “skip, they talk, skip they talk some more, skip even more taaaalk, sk-gameplay!”

  10. Gemberkoekje says:

    Marauder? I hardly know her~!

  11. bob51 says:

    Could you write a review about Invasion CLX for iPad ?

  12. Neil123 says:

    I was excited about this game when I first read about it but, having watched the live demo, I am likely to give it a miss. A game where the developers are choosing to put a major focus on ship design needs to put a lot more detail into the ship design process. I was expecting a wide variety of weapons with different characteristics, different firing arcs, etc. Instead there are just a handful of stats you can increase the value of. Looks like a game designed for causal ipad play, sadly.

  13. Danley says:

    How is this not part of Beyond Earth, either an expansion or just an improvement to the base game? The game has a whole ‘orbital’ mechanic which just means a structure that can’t move that can stack with a ground unit, while other people in house are literally developing an orbital 4X game.

    If the games are connected, then I take it back. If what you do in BE affects Starships and vice-versa, even if you do have to buy them as standalone titles, it’s not that much different than an expansion, and that’s fine. But if a whole space hex-combat system is used in-house but not for BE it will just reinforce the notion that the game is an afterthought. So, please.