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Starmancer is a neat looking space station sim inspired by Dwarf Fortress

RimWorld in space

If you want to get my attention, opening your Kickstarter pitch with a mention of transhumanism is a great way to go about that. Another great way is to make a game that's essentially 'RimWorld in space', and developers Ominux Games seem to have succeeded on both counts.

Starmancer is a space station sim where you play as a human/AI hybrid tasked with managing a human crew. The devs point to Dwarf Fortress as an inspiration, with colonists that get up to sneaky stuff like blabbing about their days to their crew mates, forming relationships and potentially starting mutinies if you chuck their friends out of airlocks. Starmancer's Kickstarter campaign is set to comfortably exceed its target, with an alpha that'll start in the next few months and a full release planned for January 2019.

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Colony sims are familiar territory by now, but Starmancer's setting takes the idea somewhere new. A catastrophe has befallen Earth, and you control one of many Ark ships that were loaded up with digital copies of human consciousnesses and launched into the void. Each game starts with you awaking after an unknown length of time, in an unknown solar system populated by factions from other Arks that have woken up before you. You can trade with and perform missions for those factions, though there are also pirate types that will just attack you.

It's encouraging to see that the devs know why people want to play the kind of game they're making - "for the stories that you can tell about your station". Key to that is making you care about your colonists, who'll all have their own personalities. Part of that will be shaped by you: the jobs and conditions you create for each colonist affect their behaviour, so spoil them with fancy bedrooms and they'll get used to living in decadence.

It sounds like an interesting system, though one line from the Kickstarter sets alarm bells ringing: "low class colonists are little more than animals--caring only about survival." I'm not at all comfortable with the language being used here. This gets thorny, fast, because from what I can tell the system amounts to a crude interpretation of Marx's theory of alienation. I think it's an important theory that gets at a very real and very troubling aspect of capitalism, though this is complicated and nuanced stuff that needs to be presented carefully, or else risk offensively perpetuating problems that the theory is meant to expose.

It's an issue I'll be keeping an eye on, largely because I'm still interested in the game itself. As you'd expect, there are plenty of features I haven't mentioned here, like managing the atmosphere (in terms of oxygen and temperature, not just curtailing rumour-mongering), the spread of diseases and your Ark's defences.

If any of that piques your interest, you can check out a pre-alpha gameplay video here, and the Kickstarter page is here.

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