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I still have not quite got around to download libGDX and beginning my baby steps in a new IDE.  I know a bit about programming already, so jumping aboard Java wholeheartedly is not so very intimidating.  Understanding variable scopes and object orientation is the hardest part of getting used to that language, and I am pretty much past the greater bulk of that.  The intimidating bit is learning a whole new library.

I estimate that, if I worked really hard on getting into libGDX, I could catch up with what Construct 2 would allow me to do now (and surpass it) in in a time frame that could be as early as two months or as late as two years... and that later bit is when $130 for Scirra's game-making-made-easy software has a certain attraction.  I would not need to code my own pathfinding routines or tile engines, and so on, because those are already done.  However, I would have to settle for games that run in a browser environment...

One must walk before they can run, but am I holding myself back by not breaking into a sprint considering programming is probably my strongest skill to begin with?  Says the person with little math skills.  Very well, then, let us procrastinate some more.

Now Playing: StarMade.

If anyone ever tells you that Space Engineers or Starbound are essentially, "Minecraft in space," you can sit them down with StarMade and say, "No, THIS is Minecraft in space."  StarMade is about as literal of an interpretation of this as you could ask:
  • Everything is made of full-sized cubes that come up to about half the height of your character.
  • The planets are essentially many-sided dice (12?) made of cubes.
  • You can harvest any cube you see and it goes into your inventory for later placement.
  • StarMade was programmed in Java for some reason?
The main difference between StarMade and Minecraft is that whole, "in space" business.  Instead of a world that stretches on virtually forever, you have a universe full of solar systems, planets, space stations, asteroids, and wormholes.
StarMade: Having lost my previous ship to something inexplicable (a bug?) I have decided to create a new one with an interior cockpit.
A secondary and significant difference is that you refine raw minerals into usable minerals in StarMade.  Picking apart a derelict stations will get you scrap metal which forms the basic raw materials.  Raw materials make the basic factory blocks.  Basic factories can be used to create standard factories, and standard factories can create advanced factories.  The more advanced the factory, the more advanced things you can create (mostly ship components) but this will require increasingly more specialized forms of raw materials, most of them taking the form of "capsules," the ultimate refinement of ore (which can only be found on asteroids and planets).

You could also skip most of that fuss with factories and just focus on refining raw materials and selling them to stations run by the trader NPC faction.  This nets you credits which can be spent to get your hands on advanced components without the need to bother with crafting.  It is definitely easier, but understandably less lucrative than going through all the trouble of setting up your own factories of factory blocks and finding the right resources.  Like most things, balance remains a work in progress in StarMade.

Good insight can be found by comparing StarMade with Space Engineers, as they are essentially two games of Minecraft in space described above; the only goal the players are given in both games is to find raw materials, mine them, refine them, and then use materials to build bigger and bigger ships and stations.  So where do they differ?
  • The primary difference is in the scope of the two games.
    That imperceptable little yellow cube in the middle is the 50km square sector I am in right now.
    • StarMade is all about having a scope of an epic-sized universe with planets, stations, ships, and asteroids. 
    • Space Engineers focuses on a small patch of local space with a few asteroids to mine.
  • Graphically, the approach is different.
    • StarMade, like Minecraft, works in cubes.  Everything is cubes, including the terrain.
    • In Space Engineers, only the artificial blocks are cubes, and some of them are premade parts that are not cubes.  The asteroids are not made of cubes, they look like real asteroids (except perhaps not as pockmarked).
  • The philosophy behind ship building differs in fidelity.
    • In StarMade, you can build epic-sized ships, but it is very crude.   You build them block-by-block, putting down weapon blocks and slaving them to a weapon computer block, where the difference between a big gun and a small gun primarily comes down to the number of blocks you use.   Thruster blocks largely only go in one direction, they boost your acceleration, where the size of your ship decreases your acceleration.  Turrets are actually smaller ships you build and dock onto larger ships.
    • In Space Engineers, the bigger your ship, the more complicated it gets.  Conveying cargo between parts is not handled automatically; you need to install a conveyor system to move cargo between parts.  Weapons and turrets are all predefined parts, so you will not be building larger scale guns by putting down more of them.  Thrusters only work in one direction, so if you want your ship to have the full range of maneuverability you need to place them on the back, front, top, bottom, and both sides.
  • There is a difference in natural threats in the games.
    • In StarMade, there is an NPC "pirate" faction that will occasionally dispatch fighter ships to harass you.
    • In Space Engineers, there is no NPC opposition.  You can turn on meteor storms to pepper the local space periodically, and there is the occasional auto-piloted cargo ship passing silently through the sector.
  • Both games largely depend on player versus player for any form of end-game activity.
    • In StarMade's case, you can create your own faction and then designate a planet or station as your main faction base, and that base (and all docked faction ships) will be invulnerable, which gives them a good place to fall back to in order to keep an ongoing conflict going with other player factions.
    •  In Space Engineers, the maps are too small, there's no real room for politics.  In a way, PvP is more akin to a traditional first person shooter deathmatch setup, except for the building elements.
I would say Space Engineers is a more refined product, and StarMade is a bit bugger, but what's the point of that?   They are both in early access status, and little said here is permanent.  It would wager to guess that it will probably remain that Space Engineers is more about the local sector scope while StarMade is more about the entire universe scope, but that's about it.

Considering playing: Elite: Dangerous.

Elite: Dangerous is out, no longer in early access, and I'm tempted.   I could pay $60 for this game and end up with a highly-elaborate, cool space-shooter with some open-universe aspects to it.  What's more, the attention paid to the sound effects and overall presentation make it perhaps the most atmospheric space fighter game ever.
What's the holdup?  Well, I've already played Elite before, and this is essentially the same thing, modernized, with some more ships from later games in the series.  I know how this goes: you go out there to earn money for bigger ships in order to earn money for bigger ships, then you get to the biggest ship and there's nothing left to do.

Even when made massively multiplayer, even with the finest multimedia presentation there ever was going for it, does that grind sound like a worthwhile endeavor to you?  Games you can get for $10-$20 have better sandbox aspects than Elite: Dangerous, which wants me to pay $60 for a universe that never changes.

The creators, Frontier Developers, have mentioned they are going to add more sandbox to their elaborate space fighter simulation now that it is released, but I've seen such promises broken in the past from different parties, so only time will tell.  In the meanwhile, I am feeling mighty hesitant to slap down so much money for a 1984 game made current.
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