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In Space, No One Can Hear Your Construction

Though I intended to give Clickteam Fusion a more serious shakedown this bizarro weekend, thus far it has gone to Space Engineers.
Fine; if my turrets are not going to stop meteorites from poking holes in my base, then I'll build a sacrificial wall to poke holes in!
How does one play Space Engineers?  You are a near-future astronaut wearing a space suit (of course) that features a jetpack (for full 3D movement in space) and a life support system that substitutes energy for oxygen (and apparently food, too).  You can freely access the tools in your backpack, which may include:
  • A welder - This has two roles.  One is to bend deformed blocks back into their original shape, repairing them.  The other is to add components from your inventory to the blocks you place, building them.
  • A grinder - Use this to break blocks built down to their original components.
  • A hand drill - Use this to mine asteroids for minerals or make a mess out of built blocks.
  • An automatic rifle - For personal defense.
By and large, your main activity in Space Engineers is the same as it is in Minecraft: you turn natural resources into things you build.  However, unlike the typical Minecraft clone, Space Engineers plays distinctly differently because the whole thing takes place in zero gravity in the depths of space.  The Newtonian physics are quite well modeled, with everything floating around in a convincing manner.  A collision between two ships is particularly spectacular, warping them into maimed specters of their former glory.
I placed everything in these blocks by hand.  Even the smaller ships were built by me. 
(The skeletal blocks have yet to have their components added.)
Like Minecraft, placing blocks is where things get exciting. This glorious, free-floating space sandbox actually allows you to build things in it!  You can cobble together walls, catwalks, refineries, light fixtures, cameras, automated defense turrets, and so on.  A fellow could put together some pretty cool things here.  Everything in these screenshots was built, block by block.

Space Engineers allows you to build working spacecraft, which is pretty fantastic.  Various blocks provide energy, cargo storage and redistribution, fairly realistic thrust-mechanics, and so on.  They operate on two scales of spacecraft, large and small, with the smaller blocks at 1/125th the size of the larger ones.
  • Larger blocks are intended for capital ships or space stations.  The blocks that refine ore or build parts are exclusive to the larger size, and those blocks are essential towards getting anything done.  Ships can attach to each other via magnetized landing gears, so the larger ships will likely become carriers of smaller ships.  
  • Smaller ships can mount more powerful versions of welders and grinders, which makes them ideal for harvesting asteroids.  Since they are smaller targets and more nimble, smaller ships are ideal for combat situations.
Though you can do a lot in your spacesuit, you suit's tiny backpack is major impediment, so getting a working spaceship with a cargo bay should be an immediate priority.  (Besides, if you do not have somewhere to charge up you suit's battery, you will soon run out and suffocate!)

My first attempt at a mining ship proved to be tough,
but plagued with technical problems.
I often feel disappointed with Minecraft because it has no long-term purpose, insisting players come up with their own.  Space Engineers is currently in Steam "Early Access," so it has an excuse for not having one either.  In both games, you collect resources to build things simply because that's all there is to do.  In both games, there is no real goal to all this construction, not yet, it is simply a matter of building for the joy of building.

Despite knowing the futility of my task, I kept playing Space Engineers.
  • On the first day, I mostly focused on coming up with an effective means to mitigate the damage from meteors.  Those are currently the only real enemy in the game unless you invite some other players into your game to wreck things. 
  • On the second day, I was heavily occupied with rebuilding what I lost, but the building of a second general refinery and a third specialized iron refinery finally allowed me to make some headway.  I decided to create a "rollcage" around my space platform to blunt the more harmful damage done by the meteors because my automated Gatling turrets' imperfect job of deflecting them often left me wincing at what I had to repair.
  • On the third day, I finished enough of the "rollcage" to hazard creating some spacecraft in the protected area.  I built a small mining vessel and another small vessel for welding.  As I was mining by hand with the tiny confines of my astronaut's tiny backpack, I probably would have saved quite a bit of time had I started on one of these sooner.
These tasks took hours... Steam counts 33 were spent in the game over this period!  Yet, I was having fun.

Looking back now, I guess I built some pretty cool stuff, and I learned a lot about this game... but I suspect there are more effective productivity apps I could have spent my time in.  Clickteam Fusion I've mentioned, but what if the simple value of a story written in a word processor?  How does time invested doing that compare to building elaborate spaceships in Space Engineers?

Maybe this is my major hangup in game development: it is hard to feel productive about creating something that primarily just absorbs productivity.  But the trouble with this argument is that nobody really understands what a game is.  Games would seem to have a purpose of a sort, perhaps to learn, otherwise why are people engineered to want to have fun?


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