It was probably when the first screenshot from Starbound emerged onto the hazy plains of the internet that a law was passed making it illegal to refer to the game without nodding approvingly and saying, "Huh, Terraria in space I guess". Yes, it's a side-scrolling game with mining and construction, a similar visual style, and, yes, there's crossover in some of the design talent, but there are plenty of differences as well. For one, rather than seeding standalone worlds, Starbound takes place on planets which can be visited by other players, provided you pass them the coordinates. There's a lot more variety in terms of creatures and landscapes as well, with procedurally generated flora and fauna. Thrillingly, the only video I've found is a lighting demo. Be thrilled!
The most exciting thing about Starbound isn't the directional lighting, it's the idea of a game about exploration and discovery, along with the crafting and construction. Although blocks can be harvested and homes can be built, Starbound's creators seem more interested in building worlds for the player, or at least building the tools that build the worlds, rather than spaces for the player to fill.
Starting from a space station, which can be upgraded and populated with the rare and the wonderful, the player can gather crews, produce mechs and explore the universe.
Because we’re working so hard to make each planet unique, we want to give you the tools to catalogue the things you find and make sure absolutely everything you find has depth in the world. Much like old school point and click adventures, absolutely every object in the world, right down to the trees and flowers, can be examined for a description.
See a weird alien tree? Examine it! Maybe you’ll discover something about its use! For any explorer, sharing discoveries is important. So whilst the game is fully coop (Bring your friends along! Form an expedition!) you can also record your findings in an electronic logbook. Not only that, but each and every planet has unique coordinates in the Universe that you can share online, so other players can check out exactly what you found!
I think this is a game in which I can be a space botanist with a pet space penguin and I didn't realise how much I've longed for such a thing until moments ago. Oh yeah, the penguins.
Creatures from different space sectors! Is the one on the right with the shell pointing the way? I think so. I hope so. I want him to lead my expedition.
As well as finding weird and wonderful new worlds, it's possible to make a planet your home. Not just a little bit of it but the entire planet. Once that's done, pass out its location and invite people round for tea and crumpets, or mess with the meteorology and terraform the place to your heart's content.
When you claim a planet as your new homeworld, a whole new aspect of gameplay opens up. Everything that makes a planet unique is at your command. Feel like changing the weather? Build a weather centre! Don’t like the terrain? Terraform it! Every aspect of the planet is under your control. Once you’re happy with it, start populating it with characters you’ve met in your travels and take care of them! They’ll have needs and desires and won’t hesitate to ask for your help if they require assistance.
Different stages of gameplay, culminating in godlike abilities. Procedurally generated places and lifeforms. Terraria in space is one way of describing it, sure, but maybe there's a little bit of Spore in there as well, along with the adventure game influences. It's certainly a project worth keeping in mind, although there's only the vague hope of a summer 2012 release at present.