I wanted to know what state Space Engineers was in, because it's been a few months since I last tried it out and it was already pretty impressive back then. How much could a game about building space ships and flying them change in a few months?
Well, on my first playthrough I was slinging ships across the void, watching as they met and crumpled and cooing at the damage model and simple building tools. Since then they've added multiplayer and Steam Workshop support, which was how I ended I ended up flying a spaceship the form of a shark into the crotch of a monolithic Homer Simpson. I apologise in advance.
I was joined on this trip into the Workshop by Philippa "The Undoing" Warr, who was helping me test out the game's new-ish multiplayer. It's an easy set-up: you can start a server by editing the settings of one of your saves, and selecting it as 'online'. Then you can invite friends only or open it to the public. I foolishly invited Pip.
The Steam Workshop files are actually save games that players upload, so you can take any build and turn it into a server. As with every game that enables the player to create and form and fashion things, fandoms shine through: Warhammer fans, Mass Effect fans, and even Crysis fans have been building and distributing. But however impressive those were, I ended up grabbing the sillier uploads, and I started with Homer & Marge Simpson by Comagable.
There are limits to what you can do with ship shapes, but this little Simpsons scene is still recognisably Simpsonsy: Homer and Marge hung in the grey sky and a little gathering of Simpsons themed ships--some glazed doughnuts and a few Duff beers--drift nearby. Homer's mouth was agape, and it was the entry-point to a ship that was way more detailed than we'd imagined. We disappeared into the oesophagus and ended up looping through corridors. The complex innards of Homer put Pip in mind of a duodenum, and for a while we wandered intestiny-feeling tracts of corridors before arriving at a cavernous section that held the rib-cage, spine, and heart.
It's so cavernous, in fact, that we got lost and had to punch our way out of his body, which is not how I imagined this little adventure going. Nor did I think I'd be adding nipples to the body before smashing a can of Duff so stiffly into Homer's mouth that his face bent. Life is full of surprises, and the complexity of the inner workings of the Homer-ship was a pleasant reminder that people make extraordinarily ridiculous things in games for us to break.
Here is a recording of our adventure, with apologies for Pip's mic, my breathing and Scottishness, and the overall aimlessness of the thing. We'll get it right one day.
The best thing about setting up a server is it didn't warn Pip of what was coming, so I'd be able to surprise her with the Workshop's whims. To that end, I grabbed "Giant Articulated Shark" from the Workshop and invited her in.
I first thought this huge space shark was a bit of a cheat, as it appeared to me that the sections weren't joined, but Pip proved that notion was incorrect by hopping behind the controls and waggling the head side-to-side. That waggle passed along the length of it the shark, tapering out into the void of space. It's been so long since I've messed with Space Engineers that I'd forgotten how a lot of the mechanics work, so this impossible creature seemed even more fantastical as it slowly sculled the grey void, looking like a lost Discworld character. In fact, you can hear the awe building in my voice, a sense of wonder slowly swimming up from the deep, just before Pip exerted the carcharodon carcharias just a little too much.
The horror! With the shark decapitated, it was time to try another Workshop entry. This time I was intrigued by what claimed to by a huge representation of Han Solo being frozen in carbonite. Excited at the thought of having an inert Harrison Ford as a personal plaything, I grabbed it and led Pip into the game.
Now I don't quite understand the concept behind it, but it's a surprisingly good render of Han, even down to the pursed lips that the movie model has. As a ship it left a lot to be desired, though. The main problem is that it wasn't built with maneuverability in mind: there was a pile of thrusters and reactors built onto it, but they all pointed in one direction. While it was impressive to scoot around it and see where the game's building tools had allowed for angled blocks to shape the galaxy's greatest ruffian, it could only go in one direction very quickly.
Which was another opportunity for Pip to Pip things up. We both wandered over it and she found the controls first. I backed off, attempting to frame an *amazing* screenshot of the monolith. Seriously, this was going to be a shot for the ages. Angels were preparing their trumpets to celebrate it, the Louvre ripped old Mona off the wall and reinforced the floor's concrete for the crowds, and the world's calendars were recoiled so an extra day could be added just to worship it.
And then Pip hit accelerate and disappeared off into space.
I love her, really. But given the previous evidence, the next download was playing with fire. It was a giant Ballista. At first I thought it would be static, but that's not giving Space Engineers the credit it deserves: the bow was linked to the frame by a chain that we could see gently drifting in the solar winds, and the apparently ingenious idea was that two people could 'pilot' either end, providing the kinetic energy it needed to straighten the chain and fire the loaded arrow. In theory. I'm including this mostly because I want to know where we went wrong. When sitting in the cockpit of each prong of the bow, neither of us could figure out how to drive the mechanism that snapped the bow. It should work, but there were no attached thrusters, and those we did hook up failed.
Of course, the best thing about Space Engineers is that I could fix it, and so I did. Behold, my arrow with added cockpit, reactor and thruster. I aim to puncture a planet with this, just as soon as I find one.
With me heading off on an arrow into deep space, we called it a day (not really: my PC was getting wobbly). There are plenty of things that I wanted to try on the Workshop, but I had space to pierce. I regret not getting to play Space Chess or Space Mario. We didn't have the time to try out this maze, and I was worried about the carnage Pip would wreak with this Chaos Engine. I am a coward, but I'm also fascinated by the creativity of the Space Engineers community, because without them this couldn't have happened.
I already apologised, yeah?