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StarDrive Alpha Preview

By on February 2nd, 2012 8:49 am

StarDrive is part of the Space Sector’s sci-fi/space games you can’t miss in 2012 list, and it is definitely a very promising space game to look for this year.

For the ones of you that are not yet familiarized with this title, StarDrive was announced to the world in December of last year through the kickstarter crowdfunding platform. The pledge was a success and Daniel DiCicco (StarDrive’s single-man show developer) received support from 647 backers to finish his game (+135% more than he asked for).

StarDrive is a real-time 4X space strategy game with a bit more action to it than usual in 4X games. It will provide more action because on top of the traditional 4X features StarDrive will let you control your flagship in an arcade shooter kind of way. The game is currently in alpha stage and is available at Desura, where you can pre-purchase it and have access to the current alpha builds all the way through closed beta (to happen somewhere in spring time), followed by final release, which is targeted for this summer.

I played around with the current alpha for a bit. The game is not really playable yet, since a lot is still missing but here is a small preview of what you can expect later this summer. Enjoy!

The 4X Universe has become prettier

The first thing you notice when you launch the game is the music, which is excellent. I don’t know where you got that music from Dan but let me tell you that it’s just phenomenal! The next beautiful thing you notice is the planet’s and stars rendering quality, and the ships models that look great also.

But before launching a game you must setup a few things first, which includes the need to customize your race. In this customization process not only you need to choose a name and a flag for your empire and race, but you also need to choose between a set of negative and positive traits (your race’s specific abilities). Those will be your strong and weak points that will make your faction unique. Thank god, Dan! Finally someone included this key feature in a 4X game again. It was about time.

The starmap is 2D but you can tell (and experience) that the objects are projected in an isometric 3D kind of way. This is particularly interesting because you can take advantage of a more realistic presentation but without having the hassle of real 3D map navigation, which can be a cumbersome experience sometimes (like in Star Ruler or Sword of the Stars for example).

So, if you approach one of your ships from one side and zoom-in you experience a sense of depth. Well done. Not only it’s very easy to navigate through the various star systems, but the objects (planets, stars, asteroids, ships) also look wonderful. The stars rendering when you zoom-in an zoom-out are absolutely fantastic. StarDrives offers the best stellar representations I’ve seen in 4X games to date, for sure.

Now, the game unfolds in real-time which may be seen as a downer by many. After all, most 4X gamers are TBS lovers, so, this may be seen as an obstacle. In fact it doesn’t have to be a problem at all if the pacing is the right one. For example, Distant Worlds unfolds 100% in real-time but it offers a pause mode, and multiple time span speed options, which resolves the real-time pacing issue completely and offers the best of both worlds (at least for me it did the trick). So, Dan, if you read this preview (that I’ll make sure you do :) ), please have a careful look at this timing and pacing issue. I strongly recommend that you implement a timing control mechanism, if you’re not planning that already that is.

The diplomacy screen is not functional yet, however you can get a small taste of what’s to come when you interact with other factions when you meet them. The contact with the races is cool and feels good. I don’t know, it has something to do with the game’s tone, combined with the music and the sound. Everything in StarDrive seems to transmit a feeling of lightness, which I’m loving.

Another important aspect worth noting already at this time is the quality, the lightness and the accessibleness of the UI. All StarDrive screens are very sharp, simple and easy to use. I didn’t have a single doubt using them. They are simple but as everybody knows it’s not that simple (it’s very hard in fact) to come up with such quality and elegance. All is looking good in this front also. I just have a remark/suggestion to make in the planet screen. The sliders. They need locks. Pretty obvious suggestion ok, but never hurts to stress that.

I found the research system to be quite simple yet compelling. Basically you accumulate research points and then use those points to unlock techs. It’s not your traditional research, wait a bit and breakthrough tech system (which is a more realistic way to approach it in my view), but I guess this simplified mechanic of accumulating points and spending them to unlock techs could work out ok in the end. We will see.

Ship design is probably one of the game’s flagship features. I played with it for a while and got absolutely fascinated by its simple yet fun mechanics. You can allocate your components freely (power, defense, weapons, etc). You actually decide in which part of the ship you put them (in the rear, the middle or in the front). And on top of that you need to design your ship in a way in which all your components must get connected with the ship’s power network (you even have power conduits to connect components to power sources!).

Ship design in StarDrive indeed feels like … design. It’s like having a mini game inside the game. It looks very promising. Just one remark. Be careful with the references to “vulcan cannon”, “vulcan scout” or even “United Federation” for the human race. You don’t want CBS (that owns the Star Trek franchise) after you because of that ;)

Conclusion

Looking good Daniel! Keep up the good work, I think you’re in the right track to develop a very enjoyable game. Many things are still missing of course, but the music is great, the art is phenomenal and the tone awesome. Everything looks great.

Playing your game’s alpha build was a pleasure and it brought me the good old Master of Orion feel days. In a way the game does capture some very good elements of the Master of Orion series. I’ll be watching StarDrive’s progress closely. Everything seems to be headed in the right direction.

You can pre-purchase StarDrive in desura for $19.99 USD. You have a few more screenshots here.

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27 Comments


  1. zerosum says:

    Adam, thanks for the preview. I shall take all your comments to heart. But did you know that vulcan is a TYPE of cannon? Not just dudes with pointy ears. The vulcan reference is to the cannon.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Ohh, so that’s a gatling cannon! Sorry about my ignorance on that. So, I guess the “vulcan scout” design is also because of the cannon. Ok :) But seeing vulcan written everywhere and then watching the human faction entitling themselves “United Federation” I couldn’t help to think “United Federation of Planets”. Well, guess I’ve watched too much Star Trek :)

  2. MammothIL says:

    Well, the game sure sounds nice! One thing, though – other then then the race generating, the review reminded me more of StarCon 2 then of Moo2. Not that it’s a bad thing :-) Anyway, one more game to wait to this year…
    On another subject, is it just me, or is this year really full of remakes? Ufo EU, Jagged Alliance 2, Syndicate, WC3 (remake on a freespace 2 engine). A real renaissance for us “oldtimers”! :-)

    • Adam Solo says:

      Yea, lots of remakes/re-imagined/clones of lately. Guess producers are trying to cash-in the PC game nostalgia sentiment big time. Fine by me :)

  3. BiggTedd says:

    I’m sure Dan was referring to Vulcanology, right Dan?…. the study of Volcanic events and really hot things ;)

  4. aReclusiveMind says:

    I’m enjoying the alpha so far as well. Certainly, there are a lot of features and fine tuning that still needs to happen, but the potential is starting to shrine through a bit more with each patch.

    The most nagging issue I’m having so far is having to hold the “F” key down to keep warp speed going. I really wish that function was a toggle on/off. Travelling large distances with my command ship is a bit of a pain as it stands.

  5. Sparky says:

    Oh for heaven sake, read more history! Vulcan was the Roman god of technology, blacksmiths, craftsmen, artisans, sculptors, metals, metallurgy, fire and volcanoes. It has NOTHING to do with Star Trek.

    • Adam Solo says:

      There are dozens of possible references for the “Vulcan” word. In this context we are talking about a game that is set in space with a sci-fi setting, not mythology sparky. So, if I’m in a sci-fi setting and I see the words “vulcan ship” next to a volcanic-looking planet, yes I will think of star trek. Then, 1 min after I see “Hi, we are the United Federation”. Bang, I couldn’t help not to think in star trek again. That’s why I took note of that in the post, because other people could make that association also.

  6. Random says:

    I kicked started too, but only enough for beta, so I don’t have any builds yet. Its great to hear its looking good even though its only in alpha!

    • Adam Solo says:

      What do you mean with “kicked started too”? You mean you have a kickstarter project too, or you mean you have started a game project yourself apart from kickstarter?
      Yes, I was quite surprised with SD’s alpha. I was not expecting so much quality already for a game at this stage. If this is the alpha, than the game will be a blast. Unless this alpha build is already very close for beta which in that case it’s not that surprising.

  7. Random says:

    BTW, you mention he got 35% more backers, but what you didn’t mention was he got over 200% of the funding, which is the far more important statistic :)

    Part of this extra funding is going to what he mentions in update #4:

    “We now have a number of professional artists working on the team including 2D illustrators, animators, and a professional sound designer.”

  8. CptData says:

    Wair .. does that mean you gain access to the Alpha (current stage) buy pre-purchasing it without being a backer?

    At least that’s what I’ve got so far. O.o
    Correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Adam Solo says:

      To my understanding yes. Don’t know if there are extra perks involved to the backers though. Apparently there was a slight communication problem between the dev and Desura on this, and Desura decided to put the game for alpha-funding (against the dev’s will). At least this was what I understood (not official). Now … it’s done, so … but I don’t know the details. People are discussing that matter in the StarDrive’s kickstarter page here btw.

  9. CptData says:

    Ah okay, thank you, Adam.

    Yeah, I’m not a backer (missed that period) and concur in a way it’s kinda unfair for those who spend a lot of money for early access while the ordinary John Doe now can get access for just 20 bucks.

    I’ll give it a try once I’m back from exercising – it looks really promising. That guy has talent!

  10. Hunter says:

    It’s great that individual races traits are different – now if only someone would make a game that every individual races technology was completely different.

    Wouldn’t it be nice that not everyone can have a class one laser. Take GalCiv or Moo – sure you could choose to have different weapons in these games – but it is also possible to have all races choose the same weapon. And seeing as there was only 3 weapon types in Moo.

    What if your technology tree was tied in to your race traits ?? And that technology is different for every race. Imagine the stratagy, imagine the replayability. It would make you want to play as a different race every game.

    Ok Ok I remember – Imperium Galactica II – 3 races – three different waepons systems – 3 ways to win – now that was a fun game.

  11. Zeraan says:

    StarDrive just emailed out batch activation for the rest of the kickstarters who didn’t pay $45 or higher. I was able to activate my copy, letting you guys know. Arg, at work, can’t try it out until later tonight :(

    • Adam Solo says:

      But, … weren’t the alpha builds only meant to be available for people that paid $45 or more? You mean this is for people that pre-purchased StarDrive on Desura?

    • Zeraan says:

      I think that was the plan. But it looks like things got messed up, and Desura allowed people to pre-order the game before the people who paid $45 or higher got access. I guess he gave up and just gave everybody who paid $25 and higher access… I’m not sure though, you might want to check with the developer on this.

      All I know is that I got an email from him, and I was able to activate my copy of stardrive on desura. I paid the $25 one.

      • Adam Solo says:

        Yes, I also got that email, I also paid the $25 one. I already had the game in any case.
        So, it seems that everybody that paid $25 will have access to the game’s alphas (such as you and me). But what about the $45 people then? What do they gain extra for having paid more? I’m sure Dan is working on that.

  12. Zer0sum says:

    It’s exactly as Zeraans says. I felt bad about people getting it for cheaper than the Kickstarter betas, so I opened up it up early. I’m probably going to have a unique ship hull or two for kickstarter alpha supporters in multi.

  13. aReclusiveMind says:

    Stardrive has been coming along well, but I’ve noticed in the past week or so that the website/forum have been inaccessible more often than not. Hopefully Dan can get those issues worked out without taking too much time away from the dev work.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I noticed that too. I remember him saying he was new to all the hosting / wordpress stuff. It’s something temporary for sure, and it’s not surprising he hasn’t fixed that yet since he released (or is about to release) a major “ground combat” update.

  14. Gwen says:

    Is stardrive actually currently available on desura? I purchased the xenonauts alpha with no trouble (love it) but it doesn’t look like I can buy stardrive now… Don’t see the option anywhere.

    • Adam Solo says:

      I have StarDrive on Desura because I was one of the backers, so, I can’t confirm if the game is available for purchase because, naturally, I don’t have that option. But I heard Dan say that Desura was no longer selling the game or something, and that now the pre-orders would be open via another channel. But where did I saw that announcement? Haa, now I know. Here: http://stardrivegame.com/preorder/

      “StarDrive is not yet available for pre-order, and we have now ended our alpha-funding period at Desura. All Kickstarter backers and Desura alpha-funders will continue to have access to the in-development builds of the game as promised.” ~StarDrive website


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