Have you played… Startopia?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

The Last Great Management Game, at least of their first generation. (I’m not counting Dwarf Fortress, because Dwarf Fortress is so much more than that). A team partially composed of ex-Bullfrog guys was inevitably behind it, because that long-lost studio was very much the Lucasarts of management games, and if anything it shot for the stars even more than any Molyneux-led offering from that genre ever did. It’s just that Startopia quietly got on with it, I suppose.

Startopia lacked the immediacy of Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper; it’s a slower-burn game, and particularly its construction doesn’t quite manage the clicky-satisfaction of its better-remembered predecessors. I think that’s a natural, even worthwhile consequence of being far more invested in what it was actually simulating, rather than approaching it from a position of broad-strokes and comedy.

Startopia’s about running and expanding a working space station, full of aliens with different needs and different attitudes, all floating in a tin can.

It never loses sight of that latter, even as the management aspect grows frantic: Startopia’s camera, allowing you to pull out and see everything, remains a rare and precious thing. I’d do unspeakable things for a VR mod, I think.

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  1. Earl-Grey says:

    Oh man, I remember manhandling my computer ,with its Riva TNT 2 card fastened with rubber bands no less, into running the demo over and over.
    Good times.

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    Mungrul says:

    You know, I think I’m going to have to re-install this when I get home. A deeply lovely game, and I adore the faux Hitchhiker’s Guide announcer.

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      Awesomeclaw says:

      The announcer voice actor was William Franklyn, who actually voiced the Guide for the 3rd, 4th and 5th series of the radio play.

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    Awesomeclaw says:

    Really great game. I think support for it on modern machines has improved considerably (playing the original release is quite difficult at this point due to all sorts of graphics issues). I should really go back and replay it at some point.

  4. Zeroebbasta says:

    Just found the game at my parent’s house yesterday, bought it home with me for another reinstall.
    I spent hours and hours simply fiddling around in the biodeck, or watching cute droids building cute buildings layer after layer. All those tiny details! It’s lovely.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      Your parents make you buy back anything you leave at their house? Sheesh!

  5. Jeroen D Stout says:

    It is a very neat game. It has that great feeling you get from mixing something which is somewhat stressful (stat management) with something that is effortlessly pleasant (building hotels and seeing them used). The voice acting is literally Hitchhiker’s Guide, there’s some cheeky humour, a bizarre but smart tech tree… and then there is..

    The biodeck.

  6. Halk says:

    Too bad that it never got the final polish. Like the inability to do something about criminals workign in your facilities if your Police Scuzzer (even if set to arrest) just won’t enter that facility.

    • Xocrates says:

      Weren’t you able to beam up the scuzzers?

      • LionsPhil says:

        Believe so, yeah. I’m pretty sure I remember doing that to rescue some with flat batteries by dropping them right under a recharger.

        …probably don’t want to drop them on your Recycler, though.

    • NephilimNexus says:

      Cut the power on the facility. Crim exits, walks right into police scuzzer, gets arrested. Turn power back on. Minor inconvenience to regular guests at most.

  7. Kvart says:

    Played the hell out it. They really found a great balance between gameplay and humour, which is something I would love to see more in games nowadays.

  8. Koozer says:

    Startopia was amazing in every way, bar the one thing that always ruins builder games and has stopped me finishing this, Caesar III and Pharaoh: combat missions.

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      teije says:

      Agreed. Loved the old builders, not so much the lame RT combat. Still fire up Caesar III every couple years for a nostalgia kick. (And Open Transport Tycoon too, but I digress).

    • LionsPhil says:

      You can at least brute-force your way through Staropia’s combat by churning out hordes of Security Scuzzers, and hiring every one of the big burly blokes who’s even remotely trustworthy. But mostly you need secscuzzers, and lots of them, because one has to survive to reprogram the far door. I finally beat the campaign the last time or two this came up on RPS by spamming the waddly little buggers. Also helps with bombs a bit. (Make sure you have plenty of charging stations.)

      The RTSC pages have some tips, although for those new to the game, forget it, it’s a relaxed affair when you can mostly intuit this stuff from feel and by listening to the lovely station advisor.

      (Tragedy! Tom Forsyth’s homepage, with the dev-made-yet-unofficial post-release patch, seems to be down. Wonder if that got rolled into the GOG version, at least.)

      I’m not sure it’s a game that ever needs a sequel, but Mucky Foot were a studio that needed to make another game. :(

  9. Jay Load says:

    This is an odd one. I should love it. But I don’t.

    The game is well put together, humourous, and geeky in just the right way but when playing it I always found the actual gameplay to be a bit nebulous. I never seemed able to exert enough control to achieve the objectives, losing many rounds to what seemed like frustratingly difficult objectives.

    Or perhaps I’m just shit at it?

    Like Evil Genius, I think this game epitomised attempts to do god games post-golden age, and the magic wasn’t quite there. I’m sure I recall reviewers saying things like that at the time, and based on what I’ve managed to eke out of them I’d have to agree.

  10. GernauMorat says:

    That rarest of things: a game that is genuinely funny and is also fun to play.

  11. int says:

    Let Arona ‘ave a butchers at this ar’icle an’ ‘e mite buy it, for a fair price.

  12. iMad says:

    Ah Startopia, I remember being a poor college kid pirating this game. Bought the game a few years later when I’ve got a job but never got around to reinstall it. Genuinely hope to see a sequal to this, there’s been many space sim building game since then but nothing ever capture the colourful and playfulness of Startopia and left me wanting.

  13. Unsheep says:

    We’ve had an abundance of good management games since Startopia:
    * Off-World Resource Base
    * Children of the Nile
    * The Guild series
    * Evil Genius
    * the Port Royale series
    * Patrician 3
    * the ANNO series
    * Locomotion, Chris Sawyer’s
    * Prison Architect
    * Banished
    * Rimworld
    * Lethis
    * Big Pharma
    * Industry Giant 2
    * Planetbase
    * Sheltered
    * Terraria
    * Subnautica
    …and others I can’t recall or haven’t played.

    In any case, Startopia was a great game but it was not the last good game in this genre, not by a longshot.

  14. TFAJB says:

    looks amazing, maybe later in GOG, will see

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    Mungrul says:

    Hrrrm, anyone had any luck running this on Windows 10 with a 970 or similar?
    Even with the unofficial patches, I get the “No 3D Hardware Detected” error.

    • Gnoupi says:

      Hm, I have this setup, I will try that this evening and report back

    • Gnoupi says:

      I don’t have this error, you might want to try tweaking the cardid.tom, or try launching in windows compatibility mode.

      It launches for me, but I get terrible framerate drops no matter of the settings afterwards, so I’m also looking for a fix to that.

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    Marclev says:

    Loved this game, I played it a lot and it’s quite unlike anything else.

    But wasn’t there combat in later levels? I seem to remember you had to knock into other sections of the station and then battle whomever was in there – and I seem to remember losing all interest soon after as it the combat wasn’t that good.

    • ckyrkinox says:

      it was good when I played it ..very funny ..very confy atmosphere ..I would definitelly play this game nowdays if they make a remastered version of this great game ..