Skip to main content

You're a Star, alright, but you're Driving me crazy

Ugh, I feel terrible; not sick, just crappy.  Despite work requiring I move around quite a bit, I think I really do need to hit the gym more often.  I went ahead and bought StarDrive on Steam, and a goodly 20 hours of my free time was immediately sunk into it.  I don't have enough free time for this... sitting around doing one thing for 20 hours, maybe exercise will be the answer.

What is StarDrive?  Well, I think the developer's website summarizes it well:
StarDrive is a 4X Action-Strategy game where the goal is to build a space empire.

Starting with a single planet and a small number of space-worthy vessels, you forge out into the galaxy, exploring new worlds, building new colonies, and discovering the StarDrive universe.

The heart of StarDrive is its ship design and combat engine.

StarDrive takes a module-based approach to ship design, allowing the player to create custom ship designs where the composition and placement of ship modules really matters to the performance of a ship in combat. In combat, if your portside armor is taking a beating, then rotate around and show them the starboard side! Hide behind a friendly capital ship's shields, warp into and out of the fray, launch fighters, lay mines, and so much more.
The emphasis of this description is on just the right place.   Yes, StarDrive is a 4X game, but specifically "the heart of the game is in its ship design and combat engine," it's the main thing StarDrive does well.  Why?  Because "StarDrive takes a module-based approach to ship design [... for example] if your portside armor is taking a beating, then rotate round and show them the starboard side!"
If you have played a lot of space 4X games before, the idea of "module-based approach to ship design" probably does not tell you enough to understand why StarDrive's approach is well beyond the call of duty in this regard.  Hopefully this screenshot will clarify it for you.  StarDrive's ship design is the most comprehensively detailed I have seen since Space Empires VI or V, and Space Empire does not actually model damage directly impacting the ships like this, to the point where the placement of a single armor plate can make a difference.
That's a kind of fidelity, both in the ship design and combat engine aspects of 4X games, that very little of their competition in the 4X game genre does, and none of them does quite as well as StarDrive.

That said, it's easy to nitpick fault in any game sooner or later, and StarDrive's faults (at least in this release build) are many.  For starters:
  • The game is unstable. 

    On the first (and only - but very long) game I played of it, it played just fine as I took over the first 60% of the map, but then the game started to crash every few minutes, which made the slog to the victory screen quite uncomfortable. 

    As with all games, your frequency of crashes may vary, as there's always issues with hardware compatibility and whatnot to consider.  However, with StarDrive scenarios being procedurally generated, it's possible you will play games with no crashing at all, or immediate and constant crashing.
  • The computer opponents' artificial intelligence is weak. 

    Not just weak, but overly accommodating to the player, as though they were deliberately coded not to be challenging so much as to allow the players to feel good about beating them up.  Indeed, it seems the AI's most dangerous feature is it will reuse the players' designs, so the player has the potential to be their own worst opponent.

    It seems that, so long as you are not completely defenceless, the AI is coded to allow players to take as long as they like to build up their elaborate death fleets.  Meanwhile, the AIs will just sit back and fight amongst themselves for several hundred turns.  At least, this is what happened in my first game, and seems to be the case now, partway into my second.

    I also have had no problem completely devastating them in espionage, assassinating all their agents, stealing technology, and wreaking havoc in general.  In my experience, they are very slow to anger from espionage, but they will declare war immediately if you attack a single one of their subspace generators. 

    I think the AI fleet movements generally do not go very well, rarely have I had to deal with them even bothering to attack my systems, and a lot of that is probably due to the following issue...
  • Warping doesn't work consistently. 

    This is a serious problem because warping is the primary means of movement there is in the game.  Trying to move a fleet from one position to another will inevitably result in the ships being far between each other because some of the ships will move at a crawl. 

    The foremost reason this will happen is because a carrier ship moves at impulse to facilitate their fighters returning to their hangers, but their fighters never catch up, and this unfortunately also affects supply ships which do not have a "warp on ahead of fighters" button to click.  However, I have noticed that strange slow-speed warping (or possibly only moving at impulse) seems to affect all my ships at random.

    It is quite frustrating waiting for my stupid fleets to get together so the attack can get underway, and I usually lose my patience and send them in piecemeal to be butchered or otherwise deal with their fleet indicator icon on the map being somewhat displaced from where the majority of the ships are due to stragglers messing it up.
  • The GUI could use some work. 

    Want to find a planet off a list?  The game makes it hard to do, as it will select the planet from the list when you double-click it (in order to display information about it), but when you cancel out the information box it quickly scrolls back to what you were previously looking at, only giving you a vague idea where that planet was.  I don't bother memorizing my maps, knowing that they're just procedurally generated and be different the next game, and this makes it very hard to find planets. 

    The diplomacy screen splits important functions between the "discuss" and "negotiate" menu.  Want to trade some technology?  Negotiate.  Want to ask them to declare war on another species?  Discuss.  Want to forge an alliance?  Negotiate.  Want to have them merge with your empire in something also called an alliance?  Discuss.

    You will be continually zooming in and out in this game, Supreme Commander style, but the speed of the zoom is rather slow and the hotkeys to zoom quicker are located way over on the right side, which is a problem for the majority of people who use the mouse right-handed.  

    There does not seem to be any way to rebind keys at this point, and currently I am unsure where to find the keyboard shortcuts for certain things (such as how to bring up the view of a ship's modules on the main map). 

There's more little issues with it I could mention, of course, but those are the main ones that really bother me.   Like many games released on the PC via Steam these days, Stardrive is a work in progress, and it's a reasonably safe bet (though never a guarantee) that the developer and/or mod community will eventually get around to fixing the majority of these issues.  When that day comes, I hope to give Stardrive another spin but, for the time being, a 20 hours binge was enough.

That said, games that are really good will provoke a willingness to put up with quite a lot of their bullshit problems and continue to play them.  Stardrive is one such game, whether it be because of the gorgeous stylized 2D graphics or the sheer nerdgasmic joy that comes in tweaking such an intricate ship design system or the high fidelity combat.  I would recommend it, if not now, then certainly after they have patched out the more glaring issues.


Popular posts from this blog

Empyrion Vrs Space Engineers: A Different Kind Of Space Race

In my quest for more compelling virtual worlds, I have been watching Empyrion: Galactic Survival a lot this bizarro weekend, mostly via the Angry Joe Show twitch stream.  What I have concluded from my observations is Empyrion is following in Space Engineers' shadow, but it is nevertheless threatening the elder game due to a greater feature set (the modding scene notwithstanding).

Empyrion is made in Unity, whereas Space Engineers is built on a custom engine.  While this does put Empyrion at a disadvantage when it comes to conceptual flexibility, its developers nevertheless have a substantial advantage when it comes to adding features due to a savings of time spent that would have gone into developing their own engine.  Examples include:
Planets.  Empyrion already has planets and space to explore between them, whereas in Space Engineers planets are in the works but still awhile away (so you just have asteroid fields to scavenge).Enemies.  Space Engineers' survival mode boasts onl…

Resonant Induction Really Grinds My Gears... In A Good Way

From about 2pm yesterday until 8pm today, I've been dabbling with my latest custom mod mix for Minecraft 1.6.4, which is this time very much Universal Electricity focused.
Aside from the usual GUI enhancers and Somnia, the primary contenders in this mix were:
Calclavia Core - Of course: this is the base of the Universal Electricity system.Resonant Induction - This seems to be largely focused on increasingly more advanced methods of refining ores divided across 4 ages of technological progression.  It also includes some really cool things such as assembly lines.  I'll primarily be talking about just a few blocks out of this mod today.Atomic Science - A mod dedicated to generating more of those lovely universal electricity volts via the power of splitting the atom.  Build your own nuclear reactor!  Deal with nuclear meltdowns!  You maniac!ICBM - A mod dedicated to generating more destruction using those lovely universal electricity volts (and more than a little gunpowder), it cer…

Greasing The Grind: Adding Lasting Appeal To Virtual World Sandboxes

Game design, being about entertainment, is not as much science as art.  We're coming up with interesting things that the human mind likes to chew on that "taste" good to it.  Different people find different things, "Fun," and a game designer is tasked with coming up with fun, appealing things.  As pertains to virtual world sandboxes, I identified three of them.

Challenge Appeal.

Dwarf Fortress and Fortresscraft Evolved have the same end game appeal preservation mechanic: wealth equals threat.  The more money your Dwarf Fortress is worth, the bigger the baddies who will come for you, including a bunch of snobby useless nobles who do nothing but push dwarves around and eat.  The more energy you make in Fortresscraft Evolved, the more and bigger bugs come to shut down your base.  Rimworld does something a little different based off of which AI Storyteller you choose, but it generally adds time to your wealth accumulation when deciding what kind of threats to throw a…