Tag Archives: space exploration

Astroneer: The game in Alpha that just gets better & better

I haven’t backed many games through things like Kickstarter. Maybe four or five in total.

I backed Tim Schaefer’s Broken Age, which in hindsight I wished I hadn’t as it took far too long to arrive and then I didn’t actually end up playing it (I think it took so long to get finished that I just  gave up on it completely.

I obviously haven’t lost faith in Schaefer completely as I’ve also backed Psychonauts 2. Hey, the original game was underrated and bloody good – and I have to admit, progress on number two is looking really good (I hope it isn’t fool me twice, shame on me with this one).

Late last year, I backed mountain biking game Lonely Mountains. I think it appealed to me because a) It has a really appealing low-poly look to it and b) I like mountain biking so it seems like a win-win for me, really.

Last year, I also backed Astroneer, from System Era Software and I have to say I haven’t regretted it for a second. The game is still in its Alpha stage but, man, the team behind it is knocking it out of the park with new features and support.

Long story short: You’re an astronaut on a proceduraly generated planet that must craft and mine to survive. It sounds simple but, actually, it’s quite complex.I guess it’s kind of like Minecraft but in space and with 3D printers that you can print buggies and a backpack that lets you craft dynamite and power generators.

The most recent update – the biggest update yet – has dramatically changed the opening moments : Instead of a simple capsule habitat, you  know have a wonderful, large base. Oh, just watch this video, you’ll see what I mean.

This is one game that I’m glad I dropped the cash on.

Let me know what you think about Astroneer in the comments.

Astroneer: The mining/resource collecting/building game that is my go-to game right now

My base in Astroneer is coming along nicely. To the left is the rover I created with extra storage attached to carry more resources. The blue lines radiating off structures are oxygen lines. If the Astroneer runs out of oxygen he, well, dies. The space ship is directly behind the Astroneer.

 

Astroneer is a space exploration/crafting/resource gathering game that’s in pre-Alpha. That means it a long way off being finished but it’s been my go-to game lately.

I don’t want to compare it to last year’s disappointing No Man’s Sky, because the two only share a few similarities, but Astroneer’s developers, System Era s Softworks, made the right decision by putting the game into Steam’s Early Access program. It cost me $24 and I have to say it’s perhaps the best $24 I’ve spent on a game in a long, long time. It’s also available on Xbox One and from the Windows store.

In Astroneer, you blast off from an orbiting space station and land on an uninhabited planet. There you use a space vacuum to suck up resources like resin, compound, copper, aluminum etc to build a base. As you explore, you’ll come across wrecks of space craft that you can scavenge for parts and resources as well as deep caves that while containing vital resources, often contain deadly plants that spew poisonous gas.

As your base gets bigger you can make things like a 3D printer that lets you print a rover so you can drive farther, weather vanes and solar panels to power all your equipment and, eventually, a space ship that lets you blast off and explore other planets in the solar system.

As you explore the planet, you'll come across crashed space ships. They'll often contain much-needed resources and parts that can be used on other vehicles.

As you explore the planet, you’ll come across crashed space ships. They’ll often contain much-needed resources and parts that can be used on other vehicles.

It’s a hell of a lotta fun. I’ve got some videos here of my base in progress, driving the rover around and one of the randomly generated sand storms that will kill you pretty much instantly unless you’re hiding somewhere safe. Oh, it also has online co-op so you’ll be able to explore and create with a friend.

Astroneer isn’t perfect: It glitches out every now and then and my Astroneer has got stuck in structures forcing a restart, but dammit, if it isn’t fun. Even the way your Astroneer dies is comical: He can suffocate when he runs out of air and he sort of grabs his throat then spirals around, falling to the ground. It’s hilarious.

The developers have said the game could be in pre-Alpha for a least a year but they’re firing out patches pretty frequently to fix some of the problems people have encountered. I’ve noticed frame rate drops when I’ve got too many of the game’s tethers laid out and while my Astroneer is carrying a research item.

I’ve attached three game play videos I took while playing: The first one shows the progress of my base as I build; the second is footage of me driving a rover across a planet’s surface; and the third shows a violent storm as it ravages my base. I’ve seen video and photos of some people sculpting as variety of things using the game’s vacuum gun.

Look, I’m loving Astroneer and I’m excited to see where it goes in the coming months and see whether I can boldly go where no man has gone before …

 

No Man’s Sky: Fly, land, gather

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*Apologies if this review seems a little disjointed in places. I just had so many thoughts and ideas about No Man’s Sky that I just jotted them down.
For the first time in a long time, I’m torn over what I think about a game.
The game in question is No Man’s Sky, the procedurally generated survival/exploration game from small British developers Hello Games. One moment I’d decided I’ve had enough because the relentless grind to farm more resources from another planet was getting too much or the game has crashed yet again while trying to warp between systems,  the next something wonderful happened and I’ll play for another hour.

My quandary is that while I don’t hate No Man’s Sky, neither am I in love with it and I can’t see myself playing it in a month’s time. Why? I think it’s because after visiting 20 or so planets, I think the grind has finally got to me.

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No Man’s Sky starts with you on a uniquely named planed (every player starts on a unique planet), your spaceship a piece of wreckage and you having to hunt for the resources to get it working again so you can head into space. Simple.

 

You’re armed with a multi-tool – a mining tool that lets you blast rocks and minerals – and a survival suit, and not much else at this stage. After you’ve hoovered up enough plutonium, carbon or whatever other mineral is needed, an onscreen message will tell you to repair your ship’s busted launch jets and pulse unit, meaning you can head into space.

I couldn’t even pronounce the name on my starter planet: Subaiawag-quyli IE906. Sure, I could have renamed it to something more personal, more meaningful but was there any point?

I upgraded my multi-tool’s  scanner equipment which let me scan and catalogue fauna and flora that I came across. I found a weird dinosaur-like thing so renamed it Gerasauriis Bipodal. I scanned some more animals and some plants. I uploaded the data to some giant space database and got some galactic credits for my trouble.

I found crashed escape pods which offered blueprints for upgrades to my multi-tool or space ship, and I unlocked beacons at settlements that revealed the locations of things like alien ruins, distress transmissions or colonial outposts. It give me a reason to stay on a planet for a bit, exploring it rather than roaring off world after a few minutes.

No Man's Sky_20160811205707Then the grind set in. I had to constantly mine for things like plutonium and other isotopes that would keep my ship fuelled and my survival suit working. My son suggested No Man’s Sky is “Minecraft but in space” and I guess he isn’t far wrong, in some respects.

I landed on a planet that had water that was -75deg. I’d started to wish I’d packed my 7mm wetsuit in my spaceship’s boot. It didn’t matter: A large whale-like creature with a red icon floating above its head swam past. It looked hungry. I decided to stay out of the water and walked back to my spaceship. A creature walked up to me: It looked friendly – but then it head butted me, draining some of my health. I shot it with the weapon function of my multi-tool and  got  back into my space ship, took off and found somewhere else to land.

Settlements on planets often have alien lifeforms that speak to you and offer you things like blueprints but after a few encounters you realise that they’re trotting out the same type of dialogue and there is no real interaction with them.

Orbiting a new planet, I was alerted to a distress signal planet side. After traveling to what seemed almost the entire circumference of the planet, I discovered an abandoned space ship. I compared the stats of the new ship and my current one – and while on paper it was better, l was reluctant to repair it because a) it was a toxic environment and there were hungry crabs surround the space ship and b) it was a toxic environment and there were hungry crabs surrounding the space ship. I headed off world, happy with the decision I’d made.

I didn’t venture much into caves on planets as I’d heard that heard that because they’re procedurally generated, chances are they might not end – and if you can’t remember what direction you can from, you’re screwed as you can’t warp back to your ship from anywhere, either.

I headed back into space and coming out of a warp into a new system, I landed smack bang in the middle of a space battle. I took down one of the three enemy ships but, sadly, my ship was out gunned and I spiralled into a death role and blew up. I re-spawned on the nearest space station and my ship had lost the items in its storage slots but, thankfully, my grave was still floating in space the next time I fired up the game.

No Man's Sky_20160810233958I found a space station and was sucked in by its tractor beam. On board was a solidary alien, sitting behind a desk. He spoke some language that I didn’t understand but the game told me he wanted me to handover my multi-tool. I refused, not sure what would happen. He applauded my stand, apparently, clapping. He gave me some more words of his language. I was still confused about things.

Hello Games have nailed the thrill of pointing your spaceship at a planet, engaging the pulse drive and racing to your destination. It’s seamless, too: You see your ship’s heat shield glowing pink as you enter the planet’s atmosphere, spreading pastel colours across the craft’s nose, then it’ll level out as it hits the planet’s atmosphere. It’s all automatic, though: You can’t crash your ship into the planet or objects and landing is as simple as pushing a button.

There is combat, but to be honest, it’s lacklustre and involves either shooting at the galactic police sentinels because they think you’ve mined too much stuff or at pirate spaceships that are after any precious cargo you’ve got onboard.

No Man’s Sky is a survival game as much as it is an exploration game but the grind is real, and after a handful of hours, I started to wonder whether the grind had got too much. I’m not even sure the carrot of reaching the end of the universe is enough for me to carry on.

One of No Man’s Sky’s biggest flaws  is the number of inventory slots you have in your ship and exosuit. You don’t have enough to space to start with – and your suit will constant nag at you about it “NO FREE SLOTS IN SUIT INVENTORY”” –  so you’re constantly having to transfer items between your suit and ship,  and eventually discarding stuff just to free up space. You even have to have a free slot in your suit inventory just to talk to another alien!! I find this mind-boggling that I must have free space in my inventory to talk to an alien. That’s like saying I can’t talk to a work colleague until I’ve taken something out of my jeans pockets first.  It’s madness!

 

After a few hours, though, plants that you saw three planets ago start looking similar to the plants on the planet you’re currently on, and the animals you saw four planets ago kind of look similar to the ones in front of you now.  That’s not surprising, as the animals are all generated from a finite pool of body parts so it’s inevitable that eventually similarities are going to happen. A lot of the plants look similar but are just named differently, too.

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On the technical side, No Man’s Sky crashed several times while I was either warping between star systems or preparing to warp. When it crashed the sixth time in six days, doing the same thing, I decided enough was enough and decided to call it quits until it’s more stable, even though I was having moments when I was enjoying it.

No Man’s Sky is probably one of the few games that I’ve really been conflicted about it. I like that you can explore a huge galaxy – and Hello Games have done a nice job of making you feel you are in a huge universe – but I not really big on the fact that after a few hours the game becomes a grind and, frankly, a little tedious.
Hello Games is an indie studio – despite the fact that PlayStation handled all its PS4 marketing – and should be applauded for trying something risky and ambitious, but I can’t help but think that because of the massive hype heaped upon it by both PlayStation, games media and gamers themselves, it was never going to live up to expectations.

 

I really do think No Man’s Sky is a slow burner game if you have patience, and if you’re a gamer who gets satisfaction from resource gathering then more power to you but for me, I’m at the point now that the relentless grind of doing the same thing over and over again is just getting a little too much. Also, I don’t think it’s worth $NZ95. It’s been promoted as an indie game from a small study but it’s commanding a premium price.

I’m sure in a few months No Man’s Sky will be a much different game to the one that it is now (a new patch was released for PC and PS4 on Friday) and chances are I’ll revisit it sometime in the future just to see  to see what has changed, but for now, I’m done with No Man’s Sky. There just isn’t enough variety to keep me interested any more.