Someone could create an incredible game within Planetoid Pioneers [official site], it’s just too early to tell whether that someone is its developers. My demo at Gamescom 2015 focuses mainly on the tools being used to make the game, and with good reason: they’re impressive, expansive, and they’ll ship with the game when it launches on Early Access this autumn.
The game begins when you crashland onto the surface of an alien planet, causing your ship to smash into a dozen pieces. There are some cave entrances nearby. You have a tool which allows you to hoover up the spaceship debris and any other object, turn them into base materials of metal, water, silicon and carbon, and then use them to construct new objects from blueprints. This is similar to the setup of a lot of 2D games on PC right now.
Planetoid Pioneers is different for a few reasons. First, that planet isn’t procedurally generated: everything in the game is handcrafted, including the planet and the network of tunnels beneath its surface. Second, everything is physics-driven and destructible, not in distinct parts, but in small, incremental chunks. Third, the game will ship with the toolkit that was used to make it, meaning that when you blast off from the starting planet after a couple of hours, you can go to explore a galaxy of planets created by other players, populated by physics creatures created by other players that you can fight with weapons created by… You get the idea: textures, animations, LUA scripting; every part of the game can be added to, changed, and easily shared.
The sharing part is especially easy because the game outputs everything as PNG files and those PNG files contain all the detail about the object in question. Data Realms show me an octopus created by one of their testers by dragging its PNG image directly from a browser window pointed at the game’s forum and into the game window itself. The octopus appears in world as a physics object with articulated body parts. If this octopus had particular behaviours scripted, those would be included too.
In the demo world I’m shown, those behaviours include a spindly alien plant that grabs objects and tosses them around, slamming them into walls. The developers demonstrate this with their buggy vehicle, before throwing their character into the fray themselves. Everything is physics-driven, and it’s first charming to watch your character be tossed about, then exciting when the developers use a grappling hook to tether the spindly plant to the cave ceiling so it can no longer move.
There’s huge potential in that physics system, although also cause for concern. The physics movement often looks fun, but just as frequently looks frustrating as the player trips or becomes trapped between or underneath other objects. It remains to be seen with those niggles can be removed or are rendered moot by the tools at your disposal, but Cortex Command, the developer’s previous game, had similar problems.
If the heady mix of Spore and Garry’s Mod weren’t enough enough, there’s also a little of Scribblenauts in the game’s DNA, which becomes clear when the developers start showing me the different ways creatures can interact with each other as well as the player. The developers drop down a Robby the Robot-style automaton that stomps back and forth and, when he gets too close, quickly burns the player to a crisp.
The developers next drop down a snake-like robot which is lined with a set of rapidly spinning metal cogs. The two robots now attack each other and the snake quickly grinds Robby into dust. Almost literally, too: the game’s damage model is locational and chips away at enemies in small, triangular pieces. As long as some part of them is still intact, they’ll continue trying to move.
Once Robby is defeated, the snake turns its attention back towards the player and grinds him into pulp also. To overcome the enemy, the developers spawn a freeze ray and use it to ice up one of the snake’s cogs. Now it can’t grind or move.
What I saw was just a small sliver of what’s planned, and eventually this whole starting planet will have its surface and innards filled with enemies to overcome, materials to gather, and an increasingly large armada of machinery to build. The game’s development log suggests you’ll be able to supplement your starting grapple and jetpack with pilotable mechs, hover tanks, spiderbots, zeppelins and deep sea submarines. Hopping into this world with friends – four-player local co-op is confirmed, online multiplayer is not – to explore and fight and wreak self-designed havoc sounds like it could be a fun time.
But more exciting is the thought that the game might take off with a creative community, who are likely to be able to go far further than its small development team can. Data Realms are starting that process early by working with a select few hundred community members utilising a private development forum. I’m crossing my fingers that it produces more than penis-monsters.