Some of you might not know the overall idea of Starmancer or our development process, so I created this post.
I tried to include some new information, and to collect information that I shared over several, scattered posts.
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What is a Starmancer
The core idea of Starmancer is that you (the player) assume the role of an Artificial Intelligence (AI) aboard a space station. You have a physical presence that can be destroyed.
We emphasize the interplay between machine and human. Between free-will and absolute obedience.
It’s your responsibility to keep the colonists alive by building and maintaining farms, bedrooms, ore refineries, ships, etc.
The brief version of the story is that some sort of catastrophe on Earth prompted the formation of the Starmancer Initiative. The brains of countless volunteers were uploaded to your memory banks and you embarked into the cosmos with the hopes of saving humanity.
You wake up in a strange star system with other Starmancers already online. You don’t know how long you’ve been sleeping.
Starmancer is a colony management game, similar to Rimworld, Prison Architect, or Dwarf Fortress.
It’s sort of like playing The Sims, but you don’t get to control any of the people, and you’re only allowed to build and assign jobs.
At the same time, you have to keep your colonists happy. If they get too upset they’ll stop working or completely rebel and attempt to destroy you.
There’s also the vacuum of space, enemy factions, diseases, starvation, murder, and space dementia. But hey, if you fail, just regrow a new batch of colonists.
It’s completely single-player, although we’d like to have multiplayer eventually (a really long time from now).
We have 5 rules that govern every aspect of the game—from the smallest balancing tweak to the largest feature.
By understanding these pillars, you’ll understand the type of game that we envision for Starmancer.
You shouldn’t have to micromanage. Colonists should just “know” what to do. The Starmancer issues orders, and your colonists (hopefully) obey.
Micromanagement will be available, but it will never be forced on the player.
For example, the Ore Refinery is a machine that converts raw ore into metal and fuel. By default, 1 ore is converted into 1 metal and 1 fuel. The player can select the refinery and change the active recipe to “Fuel Only” or “Metal Only”. Doing so will adjust the conversion to create only fuel or only metal.
There are advantages in specializing your refinery, but nothing bad will happen if you want to “place and forget” your machines.
Cause and Effect
You shouldn’t have to play multiple times in order to understand what to do. You shouldn’t need to watch a tutorial before you play a video game.
The core idea of “Cause and Effect” could be summarized as “actions have consequences”.
Your colony will not randomly rebel against you. Pirates will not randomly attack. Your crops will not randomly die.
Treating your colonists poorly will lead to rebellion. Poor station defense will entice pirates to attack. Untrained farmers might accidentally kill your crops.
Another part to this pillar is that it’s okay for the “bad stuff” to be very punishing. You might lose your entire colony because of 1 bad decision.
We’re designing Starmancer to be slightly rouge-like. Where the station is persistent, but the colonists are dying and replaced frequently. (This is why you grow humans in bio-tanks)
The player should be able to combine unrelated mechanics in order to create a solution to their problems.
For example. Food decays when a room gets warm. Separately, the player can control the temperature of a room. When combined, a clever player can create a giant “freezer” for all of their perishable food.
Even more separately, water is acquired by mining ice from asteroids. Ice thaws in warm rooms, but in the process, it also cools off the room. So you could move all of your ice into a room and make a freezer.
By the way, there’s many reasons that ice lowers room temperature: it forces the player to plan, it teaches the player about the temperature system (including that pirates can be damaged by extreme temperatures), and it makes it simpler to create a cold room for the player.
RPG Style Upgrades
The player should have a sense of progression and choice.
Colonists should occasionally find “rare” objects, items, blueprints, and resources.
An asteroid miner might return with some uranium. The player can use this uranium to build a nuclear reactor. This has an enormous power output (and an enormous risk if it explodes).
The player should be able to “upgrade” existing objects. Maybe the Ore Refinery can be upgraded so that it produces extra metal or so that it doesn’t require electricity.
Even colonists can be upgraded through biological research and mechanical implants.
The game should be extendable, and this extension should be simple.
We literally rebuilt Starmancer from the ground up after our Kickstarter to make it flexible, extendable, and moddable.
You can read more about it here.
This mindset forces us to consider how every small back-end change will affect the entire game.
Recently, I implemented a change so that colonists would drop their carried food if they failed to eat all of it (this could happen if they passed out, died, got distracted, whatever). The simplest solution would have been to query the colonist’s inventory and drop everything.
This would be a poor solution, because eventually we want colonists to store food and other items in their inventory.
Instead, I opted to store the food that the colonist is supposed to eat, and if eating fails, I withdraw the item and amount that I had previously stored (and I had to implement this in a way that was consistent with various circumstances where the colonist was carrying something).
If we went for the quick and easy fix, it would create problems in the future.
It takes us longer to implement any one specific feature, because we’re constantly trying to expand the underlying framework of the game.
Back to the Game
Those are the 5 guiding pillars that influence every decision we make.
But let’s get back to Starmancer.
Regrow Your Station
Colonists are grown in Biotanks and assigned a consciousness from Earth.
When your entire station dies, it’s not game over. Simply dispose of the bodies and grow a new batch of colonists (assuming you have the raw materials).
We want to reward trial and error. It’s not fun when you lose all of your progress everytime your station dies.
You’re an AI. Experiment. Find out what happens when you keep a human trapped in their bedroom for two weeks, feeding them through a slot in the wall.
It’s still possible to “lose” if your physical core is destroyed or if you run out of raw resources to create more colonists.
Speaking of being an A.I.
Immersion is more important to us than anything else. The experience is more important than anything else.
We are incredibly strict about breaking immersion.
It would break immersion if a colonist can get sucked out into space, but a bed, locker, or crate of wheat can’t. Either everything behaves consistently, or we don’t add the feature.
Of course, we could find all sorts of lore justifications for inconsistencies.
Maybe beds and lockers are bolted to the floor, and maybe crates are securely strapped into shelves (this would suggest that a dropped crate, on the floor, should be sucked out into space).
Do not mistake immersion for realism. We are not trying to create a realistic simulation of space. Our rules for gravity, human growth, and memory are completely unrealistic.
When creating a fictional world, the audience accepts any rules that you create, but you must apply those rules consistently.
Ice melts in a warm room, because food rots in a warm room. It would be inconsistent if mold is affected by temperature, but ice doesn’t melt.
You already know about the core pillars that influence are decisions, but at a more day-to-day level our priority is always:
Quality of Life (including performance)
Our ideal description on release day would be: “The game is amazing, there’s so much to do, and everything works really well"
Our second most ideal description would be: “The game is really polished and stable, I just wish there was more to do”.
We would consider a successful release to be one in which the only complaint is, “there’s not enough to do”.
We can add more features. We will add more features.
But we won’t release a broken or buggy feature.
Mods will add an enormous amount of depth to Starmancer. It’s part of the reason that we focus so heavily on modding, even at such an early stage.
You can add custom art assets. You can modify existing objects. You can write your own mods in C#, VB, or any language that compiles into IL.
Modders can fill out the obscure niches that we don’t have time for, like adding cows or meat cleavers.
We don’t have “people” who manage social media, monitor discord, or write these posts. We do all of it.
We don’t have time to implement every single feature that we want, so we focus on making every feature as polished as possible.
We don’t know when Starmancer will be released.
You can view our roadmap for a rough idea of what we’re working on. You can also view our Instagantt if you want to know the exact tasks that we’re working on. By the way, we use Instagantt because it’s free and syncs directly with the project management software we already use.
Even after release, we’re not going anywhere.
Starmancer will continue to be improved for a long time.
That covers the basic idea of what Starmancer is.
If you have any questions, feel free to join the Discord.
Oh ya, if you haven’t wishlisted Starmancer yet, please do so.
Thanks for reading,