Planetoid Pioneers Is Spore Meets Garry’s Mod In 2D

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.

28 Comments

  1. Serial Breaker says:

    Its good to see Data realms are still out there after completing Cortex Command who is an awesome game with pretty much the same concept without the spore bit maybe, and more combat, and disembodied brain

    • jonfitt says:

      Oh, did they finish Cortex Command?! I last played it a couple of years ago and it was in between the ice ages of releases. It was still a way off looking finished at the time.

      • jonfitt says:

        I see that there was a release in March which I hadn’t noticed. Did they fix the massive slowdown once the game gets busy, or fix the AI navigation so that they don’t always get stuck on a single pixel?

        • lanelor says:

          release=dropped

          Tried Cortex Command in campaign mode and the same old problems are still there.

          • Serial Breaker says:

            Still I had a lot of fun because of silly stuff happening in Cortex Command. the mods were awesome.

          • WdMeaun says:

            Yea, it’s a shame.. but not completely.
            (didnt know it was dropped / had an actual content release)

            I loved how the game worked, where every pixel actually had purpose.
            Spent quite a while building a nice bunker (not too big, because crashes/performance) and battle it out against either AI (with 2 humans in 1 team), or 1 vs 1.
            It was a shame that it always crashed after a while, but I tolerated it. (having tons and tons of gibs shooting around.. sure.. I allow thee to crash)

            It’s because I loved Cortex Command so much for its core, that I forgive the lack of a proper final release.
            I was obvious the developer was focussing elsewhere and is trying now again in a new jacket.. I hope it turns out okay.

            Only how dropships worked with thrusters.. it was wonderful

          • jonfitt says:

            Oh that’s disappointing. Well I enjoyed the core of Cortex Command, but it definitely needed more work.
            This will be a wait-and-see for me.

  2. The_invalid says:

    I did enjoy Cortex Command, but I did feel a lot of the same things with it – There was some gorgeous artwork, and all of the game’s interlocking systems were fantastic and emergent, but that it somehow added up to a bit of a frustrating, if incredibly interesting and frequently amusing package.
    I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on this, even if the finished product isn’t entirely my cup of tea.

  3. Nootrac4571 says:

    ZX Spectrum font!

  4. rushakoff says:

    I’ve loved Data Realms since I first played cortex command many years ago. I’m optimistically excited for this. For the flaws that cortex command had, it still is a ton of fun and it really evolved since the early builds. If this game has the same innovative spirit as the last game, I know I’ll be having plenty of fun with it.

  5. Nevard says:

    I loved Cortex Command… but for the mods, not really because of any work it’s developer did,
    As far as I can remember the experience with DaTa was long periods of silence, sporadic activity, and glacial development speeds (then the announcement of this game when th old one wasn’t done, must have been about seven years ago by now?)
    One of the biggest updates was only because he got some mod makers to make some official content for him

    I’m sure this will be fun, it looks it, but I hope this time it will be because of rather than in spite of the developer’s efforts

  6. theslap says:

    I really love the artist on this project. He has an interesting hand-painted style that still works in 2D games. You can find his blog here. I really like his take on MoO. link to androidarts.com

  7. magicwalnuts says:

    Every time I see a game that looks like Cortex Command I think. “Cool! But will it be shit like Cortex Command too?”

  8. Freud says:

    Don’t go too deep or the mole people will get you.

  9. Ksempac says:

    When i saw the first image i was like “Oh that dummy robot remind me of Cortex COmmand”, then i watched the first seconds of the trailer “Data Realm” and was like “Ok, no way i’m gonna be burned again”. I’ve waited for years for Cortex Command to end up in a reasonable shape. I was super excited when they announced its final release…and then i played it. The thing was a broken mess, poorly explained, with one of the worst UI ever for a tactical/strategical game (even worse it’s real time) and after a few hours of stumbling in the dark i quickly gave up on it.

    • Razumen says:

      How was it broken? I can get the poorly explained part, but in my experience there wasn’t a lot of bug, ran well and the UI was serviceable, but not great (needed more bindable keys).

      The biggest fault I can say for the game is the lack of a real singleplayer portion. The current system of skirmishes is ok, but it really could have benefited from a series of well crafted story missions.

      • Ksempac says:

        Robots needed constant attention/micro management, otherwise they would fuck up (like trip and fall, block themselves, rush towards a huge defense, fail to defend your base, etc. ) but the UI would never helps you handle that. For example, you had no warning your base was under attack until your main brain was being under attack, which usually mean it was too late to do anything about it. I mean even in the 90s RTS would tell you “your base is under attack” if so much as a bullet hit your outer perimeter.

        IIRC, the buy menu was the worst of all, a total mess. I don’t remember all the aggravating things i found in it but i remember one : you could memorize some loadouts to deliver, but you couldn’t merge memorized loadouts. So if you had a “buy one soldier” loadout and a “buy one medic” loadout, you couldn’t simply click those two and get a soldier and a medic in 3 clicks, you had to manually create a full “one medic and one soldier” loadout.

        The solo campaign wasn’t explained at all, and i actually had no idea whether i was “winning” or “losing”.

        • Razumen says:

          AI could be set to stand guard or patrol, also their pathing was much improved by the final release. Yeah it needed better indicators when you’re under attack, but calling it broken is a bit much.

          I do agree about the buy menu, it took too long to order anything but preset loadouts, an option to order previously used loadouts would’ve been nice at least

          As for the solo campaign, it was pretty much put in as an a apology for the game’s lack of true SP. Since everything depended on your money, it pretty much came down to how much you’re willing to invest in a particular battle-invest too much and you might end up spending most of your reserves you’d need for the next battle. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough value to keeping control of a planet, such as increased revenue, more tech, etc.

          Even with all these faults I spend LOADS of time on the base game, and that’s not counting the modding community which is great for such a small relatively unknown title. I do have to give the developer credit for putting together such a easily moddable game.

          • WdMeaun says:

            To me it feels like DaTa had a great concept, but failed to make it work perfectly in its core. (ie. performance)

            How modding works, the extended dynamics.. the core was wonderful.. just a bit sluggish

          • Razumen says:

            Get a better CPU ;)

  10. geldonyetich says:

    Cortex Command like engine + Survival mechanics = I’m sold

  11. Telkir says:

    I agree with one of the YouTube comments. Someone needs to remake Exile in this engine. It would be glorious.

  12. Artist says:

    That f*ing lying and lazy guy from DataRealms will never ever get a single dime from me again!
    Cortex Command became the synomym for pre-purchase scams!
    Fool me once – shame on you! Fool me twice – shame on me! Not again!

  13. SlimShanks says:

    I fail to see how Cortex Command is bad when you can do a jetpack assisted kick so badass it makes people/robots explode. There is also a sword that can cut bullets out of the air. And a faction consisting entirely of wizards. And self-replicating weaponized vines.
    …Ok fine it’s totally unfinished, but hardly a waste of money.

    • Razumen says:

      I just wish it had a decent singleplayer core to it, as well as a more streamlined skirmish mode that was easier to play with friends.

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Yeah you pretty much nailed it. Even though most of the stuff you mentioned there is actually from mods, said mods are all free.

      Ultimately I think Cortex Command tried to be Early Access before Early Access was a thing, was not especially well received (on steam, at least) and the dev reacted badly to that. Had it been ‘released’ a year or two later I honestly think it might have got a very different reception.
      Anyway, that’s immaterial as far as I’m concerned. You can’t call something a waste of money when you can have that much effing fun with it. I do think it’s -way- better multiplayer, my brother and I spend a lot of time on it when we get the chance, but I still sunk about 30-40 hours into it singleplayer over the years and it’s still installed. I think I’ve already got my money’s worth.