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StarDrive Hands-On Beta Preview

By on August 21st, 2012 1:52 pm


It was not that long ago that I was gazing longingly at the “List of Sci-fi/Space Games You Can’t Miss In 2012″ and wondering how I was going to find the time to play so many amazing 4X games this year. Now, as the summer starts to wane and we rapidly approach the 4th quarter, I have to let out a sigh of disappointment at what the year has become. A year that was once filled with promise for me has become a year that I personally would probably rather forget about.

It is with the mindset of a jaded, pessimistic, disappointed, and bored strategy gamer that I have approached one of the last titles remaining on SpaceSector’s 2012 list. It’s a game from a brand new studio, and it’s being created by a brand new developer who hasn’t ever completed a game before. All of the signs, on the surface, would indicate that it is doomed to be a failure. Stop! I say to you, my fellow disgruntled strategy fans, and do not dismiss StarDrive as just another 4X game. What we have here is perhaps not only the savior of sci-fi strategy in 2012, but also the makings of what will be a classic for years to come. Read on to dive into our lengthy beta preview…

A “4X Action Strategy” game that even turn-based players can enjoy

StarDrive, a PC game being developed by Zero Sum Games, is described on its official site as a 4X action strategy game. It’s an appropriate title, but I want to make it clear based on hands on experience that this is not a game turn-based players need to fear keeping up with.

Yes, StarDrive is a real-time 4X game with action elements, but it is also a game that can be played the way you want to play it. If you want to pause the game constantly, get your affairs in order, and then unpause and watch it play out for a bit, you are able to do so. Perhaps instead you like a faster pace and want to keep the game going constantly, pausing for perhaps very few things like designing ships. That’s not a problem here. What they’ve done here is created a great way to play a real-time game because, unless you choose to allow it to, it never feels too fast paced to keep up with even for a traditionally turn-based MoO II fan like myself.

Don’t like to micromanage? That’s not as big a problem here either. StarDrive also has several automation options, from colony governors who can manage the food/industry/research sliders and buildings, to more abstract functions like auto exploration, auto colonization, auto projector creation (creates starlanes for you), and Automatic Freighters (builds transports and shuttles food, people, and industry around). While not quite to the Distant Worlds standard of automation options at this point, StarDrive is certainly offering a lot of ways to help reduce the constant maintenance of running a growing empire.


Some of you might recall hearing in some of the very first footage of the game that “at all times, you have direct arcade-like control over your flagship.” I want you to understand that while this game can be played in an action-oriented manner, it is again by no means required at all based on my experiences. If you want to lead a fleet of your ships into combat personally, and fight a particular battle, or perhaps all battles, as the admiral and pilot of a ship you designed in action-oriented, yet tactical combat, you certainly can.

You can manage your ship’s facing, it’s firing arcs, and yes firing arcs play a big part here, and it’s energy/ammo usage as you fly it around arcade style using WASD and your mouse. You can even pause the game at any time to reassess the situation if you need to. If, however, you are terrible at action games and would only end up dying a horrible death with manual control over your newly minted ship, as I have done more often than I wish to speak about, you may by all means allow the AI to control your ships in combat by simply not choosing to take control of one of them. I’ll speak more about combat in a bit though.

Making a list, and checking it twice

As 4X gamers, we tend to look for specific features in a game right off the bat. Though we don’t, or at least I don’t, literally keep a checklist of features on hand to compare against, we all in some way after hearing about a game do a mental comparison of the game against our wants and needs. I’m going to quickly run down the list of things StarDrive includes as of now. I will preface this by saying that in this beta stage some of these elements still need some love and care by Zer0sum games, but they are already in-game and usable.

Who you are and where you live

Race creation and customization is here and is reminiscent of MoO II. Choose one of the 4 races currently in the game (8 are planned by release) and then customize all of the abilities as you choose using a positive/negative points system. You can make a savage race of militaristic imbeciles, a smart race with a huge homeworld who don’t like ground combat, or even a timid bunch of lazy gluttons if you’re looking for a challenge. You can rename the race and its homeworld as well. In essence, everything is unique to your design except your race’s portrait and its hull designs based on what I’ve seen. Speaking of race portraits, the race portraits, which are really animated videos as well, are the best I’ve ever seen in a sci-fi 4X game. I don’t care too much about artwork or graphics in a strategy game, but I have to comment that the artist behind StarDrive is absolutely fantastic.


StarDrive has tile-based construction and colony management. Whatever you build, you hand place into one of up to 35 (7×5) habitable squares. Depending on the quality of the planet, you may need to first place biospheres to make uninhabitable squares usable and to increase you planet’s maximum population. In addition, you will also build and place troops on these squares in preparation for ground invasions. I’ll discuss more about that a bit later. All in all, it does what it needs to do, although I’ve not come anywhere near filling all of a planet’s squares up with buildings yet. I’m not sure there are enough building choices to even fill that many squares based on what I’ve seen. There are some weapons to help against ground invasion, so I suspect filling remaining squares up with those may be a good idea in the long run.


Regarding colonies, I want to add that finite resource management has been discussed a few times on the forums, and a mineral value is present on the planets currently. I haven’t noticed an impact yet, but I believe the eventual goal is to allow for the strip mining of planets to the point that they become devoid of resources. There are also plans to make this a toggle-able setting.

Sailing through space with your own custom rides

I know a lot of people are not fans of star/space lanes, and you need to know that StarDrive does not use pre-made star lanes. Ships have no restrictions on flight in open space beyond their fuel capacity, and even then, they still fly, but they go horrendously slowly. You can, however, create your own space-lanes by either hand placing, or checking the box in the Projector automation option I mentioned earlier. A subspace projector creates a sphere of influence around it and provides for faster travel and fuel-less travel within its sphere if you choose to create them.

In StarDrive, it’s important to note that you won’t just have warships flying around. You’ll be transporting colonists and goods from colony to colony quite often with freighters and colony ships, and with the right technologies, you’ll even be rewarded handsomely for doing so. It is therefore quite advantageous to build these travel lanes between your systems. Thankfully, if you check the box of the aforementioned automation option, one of your existing colonies will automatically queue up the creation of these space lane generators between your colonies and any newly colonized planets. At least, that’s how it usually works. The game had some issues during my time with it where sometimes it just didn’t work as advertised. This is particularly noticeable when you load a saved game after taking a break or suffering from a crash to desktop.

Ship Design is an integral part of StarDrive. If you know anything about StarDrive coming into this preview, it’s likely something to do with its ship design system. I’ve included a screenshot to show you a few of the frigate designs currently in-game.


As you can see, they are all shaped differently and have different amounts and placements of the letters E, I, O, and IO. This is very important because each module can only be placed in particular locations on the ship, and each module has a particular shape, size, and firing arc as well. Some weapons for instance are 2×2, fit in an I or IO slot, and can have their arc of fire rotated to any angle you choose. Others might be 3×2 and have an unchangeable forward facing arc. Still others might be 3×1, only go in O slots, and contain guidance equipment that tracks targets automatically.

Some ships and races are likely going to be better doing frontal assaults with their ships, while others may have enough arcs of fire and mount points in their design to use broadside attacks or even to defend their rear from attack. The best part about this is that beyond your chosen race’s hull shape/configuration, you are the architect of your war machines, and you designate where your ships strengths and weaknesses will be. I’ve included a screenshot of a fully armed “capital” class ship (3rd largest in size), showing all of its arcs of fire, should you want to see an example of how customizable things are. Every one of those yellow arcs can be pulled to face a different direction if desired. I’ve seen this thing in combat, and man, its fun to watch!


Beyond weapons in ship design, you also have to keep in mind all the little things that matter. Like a cockpit or bridge for your captain and crew, for instance. You’ll need an engine to actually make it mobile. These go in the E slots. You’ll also need a reactor to power your engines, energy weapons, and perhaps even shielding. Don’t forget about fuel, you’ll also want some of that. Using weapons with physical projectiles? You’ll want to pack on some ordinance (ammo) as well or else you’ll be in for a surprise when you get into combat. You can avoid ordinance if you instead want to use energy weapons, but you’d better make sure your reactors can keep up with them. Let’s not forget missile launchers, fighter bays, assault shuttles, marine barracks, cargo modules, colonist transport modules, and a whole host of other modules either.

In addition to ship design, you can also design defense platforms. I’ve not spent a lot of time with these yet, but they do exist. I’m not sure how large they can get though, as the ones I have seen are quite small and limited in size.


War in your backyard and coming in your front door

Ground combat invasions, bombardments, and ship boarding are all in the game. Ship boarding at this point is quite straightforward and consists primary of telling a troop transport ship to “attack” an enemy ship. It will attempt to intercept the ship and take it over. Should that ship not have any defenders present, it will convert to your side pretty easily. I’ve not experienced any lengthy ship boarding battles as of yet as generally I see it intercept the enemy and then the enemy ship instantly becomes mine. If the enemy were to place marine barracks on their ships, it should make this a more difficult task in theory.

Ground combat really frustrated me for awhile. Not because the combat itself was frustrating, but because I couldn’t figure out how to initiate it. After bringing a large fleet of ships and troop shuttles near an enemy planet, and spending awhile trying, I ended up deciding to ask how to do it. Once I found out, I sort of understood based on how some other mechanics work in-game, but in general some UI or tutorial work is going to be necessary so new players don’t end up wondering like I did.

Ground combat takes place on the same 7×5 grid as colony construction. In fact, the same buildings and ground troops you may have trained at the colony appear on this grid. In order to take a colony from you, the attacking troops must lower your colony’s headquarters to 0 health. The HQ itself can defend itself decently, but any decent size force is going to take it and your colony if you don’t reinforce it by training and placing some defensive troops of your own on the planet. The plan is for ground combat is to include animated troops for each race fighting it out, but at this time the animations and unique racial models are not in place yet.


I did manage to bombard a planet a bit, using a ship I designed that contained numerous bomb modules, but I did not know at first what this was doing for me or even had some trouble figuring out how to get the ship to consistently bomb the world. Once I figured out how to get into ground combat, it made a bit more sense. The bombs from space actually seem to hit the individual 7×5 grid squares. I assume the plan is for these to destroy buildings, lower the defense of the HQ, and possibly destroy some defending troops as well. By the time I attacked, I’d bombed so much that only the HQ remained anyway. So if you want to take the planet with all buildings intact, avoiding a scorched earth policy and going full on with troops is likely the better choice.

I should also make mention of the fleets system as well. Fleets are sets of ships flying in a formation you determine and following a set of orders you decide. You can change their pursue distance, their flight pattern (attack from the front, try to keep the enemy always to your left, maintain formation at all cost, etc.), and even set their attack priorities based on enemy ship size, damage, defensive systems, or other factors. You also can leave these at their default and end up with a pretty good fleet as well. Again, tons of customization here.

Their are jobs for smart guys too

Research is in the game and works much like you’d imagine. It’s not mind boggling deep or all that aesthetically pleasing to look at, but it does give you the sense that each new technology you receive is really important. Quality over quantity in this area is always better in my opinion. Whether you want to focus on production improvements, revenue, ship sizes, weapons, travel speed, or freighters, all of the bases are covered here. The current pace of research is considered a bit fast by most of the testers, so I’d expect to see it slowed down a bit by default upon release. It will also hopefully be toggle-able for those who prefer a faster or slower paced game.


Diplomacy and espionage are in, and though relatively new additions, they look like they are going to be a lot of fun to play with. Daniel DiCicco (StarDrive’s lead developer) is doing some innovative things here. In diplomacy, you can approach other races and ask them what they think of you and why. You can also ask them about other races you both may know, though this particular function is not currently implemented.

You can also of course participate in treaties, but in an interesting twist you can ask for them in either a neutral, threatening, or pleading tone. Depending on their sense of superiority, or fear of inadequacy, you may decide to change how you deal with the race. For instance, I saw that the Pollops (plant people) were fearful of me, so I decided to take a more aggressive tone with them when making my demands. Time will tell how this turns out in the long run. Once again, the racial animations on this screen are excellent and really make you feel as though you are dealing with an actual space-faring entity.

Espionage is a feature often omitted or pushed to the backburner, but it is not looking like that is going to be the case here at all. StarDrive offers the option to spend money on a new type of currency in the game called Penetration Points. These penetration points are a currency you gain separately per race and are built up over time. As you accumulate them, you will learn a lot about a particular race such as how powerful its military is, what they are currently researching, how much they are spending in counter-intelligence (you can also invest in counter-intelligence), how much they are spending on espionage specifically against you (hmm, interesting), and what their personality type is.

You can also spend these points to do things like plant moles (not the animal, the other kind guys) in their colonies, which can give you lots of info about the specific colony you plant them into. In addition to this, you can also use penetration points to attempt to steal technologies, damage a race’s relations with another race, sabotage one of their ships, or even multiple ships, and also to uncover moles hidden within your own empire. While I’m not entirely sure everything is currently working as described in this area, and I haven’t really seen the AI making use of this stuff themselves yet, the fact that this stuff is going to be included is very, very, cool.


A few quick feature related notes worth mentioning:

  • The only options available when starting a new game currently consist of selecting your race related settings and the galaxy size. There is currently no settings related to number of AI opponents, AI difficulty, research pacing, good vs bad planets, finite resource management, hotkey management, or even sound or music volume. This is a beta though, so hopefully these types of things will be added in the coming months.
  • Pirates are already in the game and are offering “protection” for a fee. They aren’t fully implemented yet, but they will become more of a nuisance in the future I am told.
  • There is a battle mode/campaign apparently going in with one playable scenario thus far for those who might want a fast action fix without the rest of the 4X gameplay.
  • Dan has stated a few times that they StarDrive is going to support modding pretty heavily.

Turning a dream into reality can take some time

Before I cause people to enter a panicky rage over the fact that they don’t have StarDrive yet, I want to mention that the game is still in need of a bit of streamlining and quite a bit of bug fixing and polish. I’ve mentioned some of these problem areas as I’ve gone along, but there is more to talk about in this area. StarDrive does crash at times, sometimes for no apparent reason. Dan has been quick to locate the cause of these crashes when provided with the crash output and save games though. StarDrive also has some elements that are either not working properly or are beyond my current level of understanding. Espionage still seems a bit wonky to me.

Ground combat is without its troop animations, is cumbersome to get into as the attacker, and as a defender the enemy seemed to land on my planet out of nowhere (I never saw their troop ships in my area, but may have overlooked them during some pirate fighting). 4 of the 8 races are not currently in the game. The AI needs a bit of work, but did manage to take a colony I established far away with their ground troops. AI is obviously an area I hope to see get a lot of work in the coming months.

Some other elements that people enjoy in 4X may not make it in the initial release at all. I don’t think some elements like “heroes” or rebellions are in the game or perhaps even on the drawing board for the original release. Currently there aren’t any victory conditions in the game. Dan did state that victory conditions would be in the game and would “be what you would expect.” on the forums.

I’ve said all these things not to dissuade you from buying it, but I want to make sure everyone knows that this game, while fun to play, is not release ready yet. I also kind of want to make you feel less anguish over the fact that you don’t have it yet.


I’ve personally spent quite a few hours doing my own version of QA testing. I’ve been making notes and taking screenshots every time I play regarding anything and everything I see that either doesn’t make sense or doesn’t seem to work right. I’m posting them for Dan to hopefully fix or enhance. I’m following up on the ones he fixed and keeping track of those he hasn’t fixed yet, as well as adding more to my list every time I play. I want this game to be great for all of us, and I am doing my best to assist in that effort. I have every reason to believe that it will based on what I’m seeing put into the game thus far.

I also love the fact that Dan mentioned continuing to expand the game beyond release with more polish and expansion races and features for perhaps years to come. Far too often I see games producing sequels on new engines so they look prettier when in reality they would be better served by adding more content expansions instead. I think it’s great that he plans to build off this base game for years to come.

Above all else, if you take nothing else from this preview, I want you to know that my impression is that this game is a true labor of its creator’s passion, and therefore, it will dream big and succeed wildly because of it.

As always, SpaceSector encourages you to make your purchasing decisions based on all available information. I can’t know what I don’t know, and what I don’t know is how the game is going to end up by the time it hits the finishing line. We will certainly have more articles and information out about the game in the future if you’re on the fence, including a full review upon release, so please hang in there if you’re budget is tight and you don’t want to take a risk.

I hope this preview has proven to be length and meaty enough to answer most of your most burning questions, but please feel free to fire away in the comments and I’ll do my best to respond. Who knows, Dan may even show up to respond himself. For more info or additional screenshots of StarDrive, visit their site. As of now the game is not currently available for public pre-order. There’s also not a firm release date set yet but Iceberg Interactive’s last word (StarDrive’s publisher) pointed to a Q4 2012 release.

More Screenshots

Keith Turner, also known as aReclusiveMind here on SpaceSector, has been an avid gamer ever since he first laid his hands on a Commodore 128 in the mid 1980s. He enjoys multiple computer game genres, but his primary interests are in deep strategy games, 4x games, rpgs, and action rpgs. He enjoys writing and hopes to contribute with additional reviews, previews, and informative AARs to the community. See all Keith’s posts here.

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  1. Ashbery76 says:

    I am very much looking foward to this game.The ship design UI and system looks like it could top the genre,so does espionage.The race art is fantastic.This could be the one.

    Shame about the horrid Galciv2 UI colony system.Ground combat also looks a bit poor.Why not just use MOO2’s superior design as a template for both?

    • Keith Turner says:

      The colony system seems to get the job done and compliments the ground combat mechanics fairly well. The ground combat mechanics have the potential to be rather complex. Certainly much more so than in Master of Orion II (although I did love MoO II’s cinematic style ground combat).

      When you enter ground combat, all of your defending troops start out on the exact squares you placed them in prior to the battle. If ships are bombarding the planet, they actually hit these very same squares. I’ve not tested thoroughly, but I imagine the intent is for these bombarding ships to not only damage buildings, but also to damage defending troops and possibly your own troops if you don’t call off the bombings when you dropship your troops in.

      As far as ground combat troops go…
      You can move your troops by clicking on them and then clicking on an adjacent square. Once you’ve done so, you can not move that specific troop again until 10 seconds have passed (at least with the troops I’ve tried). You can attack an adjacent square as well, but any time you attack your move timer and an attack timer for that unit are set to 10 seconds again, effectively paralyzing the unit. So, your choices per troop are basically:

      Move (10 second timer set until next move. You can still attack, but move timer is also reset)
      Attack Adjacent (10 second timer set until next attack OR move can take place)

      You can also fire gun platforms you have built on the colony, but obviously these don’t have the move option.

      Each troop has a defensive strength and also a soft target attack rating (for non-armored type troops), and a hard target attack rating (for armored troops and buildings like the main outpost or capital buildings).

      The foundation is in place for some decent ground combat mechanics. Ideally there will be some troops and weapons that can fire more than one square at some point, and perhaps some specialized sappers that are dangerous to buildings but weak against troops. I’m not sure what Dan has planned for the initial release regarding this. I do know each race will have their own troop type and there will be animations.

      Not sure this helps you appreciate the ground combat or colony system, or how they integrate, any better, but maybe it will. :)

      • Ashbery76 says:

        Moo’s abstraction was cool because it added a lot to the tech tree in choices and also having marines,battloids and various other units involved with a massive battle added great immersion to the game.

        In this game I am seeing a square grid with troops moving around it.It is not exactly a Unity of command mini game in sophistication.

  2. caekdaemon says:

    I’m liking the look of this game, especially the colony system and ground combat. Real time battles are great, too :D

  3. Slish says:

    Hey there,
    Nice (p)review again as always from spacesector.

    I too have been disappointed by the 4x game-releases this year. Only Distant Legends seemed to have pretty good gameplay, but still lacking on some stuff. Endless Space was quite the opposite of Distant Legends, very polished looks but lack of indepth gameplay imo.

    Anyways about this, am I correct to assume this is mostly like a Distant Worlds? Based on your preview it seemed so. :)

    • Keith Turner says:

      It’s closer to Distant Worlds than Endless Space is as far as complexity goes. It’s a bit too soon to compare to a seasoned title like Distant Worlds and its expansions though. What did you find lacking in Distant Worlds Legends? Maybe I can try to answer whether StarDrive will fill that gap for you or not?

      • Slish says:

        Distant Worlds is pretty good :) It didn’t lack much, but the graphics (in particular the user interface) could have been a bit better. I don’t know it all felt a bit ‘sturdy’ for me, if you know what I mean.

        Also the research portion of Distant Worlds felt a bit too simple for me for some reason, but as I have read in stardrive it’s pretty much the same?

        Sorry if I’m a bit vague :)

        • Blrop says:

          Stardrive research is much more simple if only because it’s much less fleshed out. Same basic research patterns though. Hopefully it ends up more like Sword of the Stars, but it probably won’t.

  4. peschiNL says:

    too bad there is no 3d space combat. I thought Homeworld implemented it rather good, but there seems to be no game after that who did it right.

  5. David Karnok says:

    I like that the UI is not bloated like ES, GalCiv2, or mine. The style is clean and the animated alien races look gorgeous. I like the fact that the 3D is not overwhelmingly pressed here, and the developers have time to do a proper UI, game mechanic and AI development; unlike LoP.

    I wish there would be an option to play completely solo, without AI opponents just to see and get a feel of it. Also, I find it somehow scary that my ships fly around, they seem so vulnerable.

    My biggest fear is that the developers run out of money before release and many features get cut. The kickstarter amount was pretty low; my estimate would be at least 10x as much, although I don’t know the preorder-counts.

  6. Zero says:

    We’re not going to run out of money!

  7. Jeff P says:

    I’m very pleased to see that Stardrive has paid attention to the atmosphere: nothing bores me faster with a Sci Fi/4X game than one in which each race plays the same and there is no visceral connection with your supposedly unique alien avatar. Appropriately “otherworldly” music is also a big plus for me, but I didn’t see any reference to background music or sound effects in the review. An oversight? I realize this is mostly eye/ear-candy, but to me it is what separates a memorable experience (Gal Civ, Homeworld, MOO, SotS and SoaSE) from just another strategy game (i.e., Endless Space and Star Ruler.)

    Thanks for the review!

    • Keith Turner says:

      Sorry for not commenting more on the music. The music currently in-game is rather subdued. It is relatively easy to drown it out into the background. It isn’t unappealing, but isn’t particularly noteworthy either. I think it consists primarily of one track that repeats. It does make you feel like you are lost somewhere in the emptiness of space, while at the same time not being disruptive, so in that sense it succeeds.

      Each of the race’s also has their own unique music/sound effects going on when you talk to them in diplomacy. All of the tracks seem to fit the races they are assigned to. These tracks do tend to loop relatively frequently, but this only becomes noticeable if you spend awhile discussing terms with them or asking them questions. I do find them enjoyable, especially with the accompanying animated videos.

      The sound effects are quite satisfying. Missiles, lasers, and balistic weapons are all well done.

      While sound and music is important, I’d say it’s much less important to me than the game mechanics and AI in a 4x game. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed though.

  8. Sarissofoi says:

    I have high hopes for this title.

  9. dayrinni says:

    Looks REALLY good.

  10. Mike says:

    Would you say it’s a modern take on “Stars!”? That’s my favorite 4x of all time, and from the screen shots and some of your descriptions it sounds just like it. If it is, then I’ll have to be all over it! Tired of waiting for the fan Stars! clone clients to get finished.

    • Keith Turner says:

      I’m afraid I’ve never played Stars!, so it’d be hard for me to say. I was always too busy playing MoO or later MoO II and Space Empires IV to really check it out. I tried to find some images or video online and only found a very few screenshots.

    • Tim says:

      I think what made Stars! the best 4X game was the community. The Jeffs were part of that community and so were willing to listen and incorporate good ideas (and able to tell the good from the bad ones) into the patches. They also did not develop the game to satisfy everyone or make money, but because they were bored and wanted to play a game, across platforms that traditionally could not play games like Windows NT 3.1/3.5. The only thing I have against it was that it made me addicted to 4x games for the last few decades and could not reach that lofty place since.

      From everything I have seen from the Stardrive community Zero seems to be plugged into it similar to the Jeffs so it stands a good chance. At this point, even if it just comes close I will be happy with it. Either way, I have exceedingly high hopes for this game.

      • Mike says:

        Thanks, Tim, for that. And thanks too for understanding the affliction we both have, the disappointment most 4x’s give us compared to the memories we have of Stars! :P I’ve got a few projects on my plate right now but I’ve been planning on setting up a VM with Windows XP running some time soon for the express purpose of seeing if I can get Stars! rolling on it. Might need to step back to Win98 but hopefully XP will do the trick.

        Anyway, I’ll definitely be a buyer of this. Thanks again.

  11. Wayne B says:

    Now that looks pretty awesome. I will definitely have to keep an eye on it. The ship building seems pretty unique. Are there special modules that can make ships have unique functions or just basic stuff?

    • Keith Turner says:

      Hmm, depends on what you call basic I suppose. Here’s a few interesting things that do stuff beyond cause massive destruction…

      Weapon/Armor Systems:
      Siphon beams that drain enemy shields and can replenish your own
      Beams that drain the power from enemy ships
      Tractor beams for slowing enemy targets
      Weapons that target enemy defenders and crew specifically to make them easier to board
      Assault shuttle bays that allow you to launch shuttles out to attack enemies.
      Fighter bays that allow you to launch small fighter ships (fighters based on your own designs)
      Battle Raider bays that allow you to launch frigate sized ships (based on your own designs)
      EMP Torpedos and cannons that can stun ships as well as defenses against these attacks
      Ordnance Supply bay that sends shuttles out to supply ammo to nearby ships

      There are also other systems like engineering decks and combat centers that you can place on board to improve repairs and other things about the ship.

      • Ofer says:

        The combat system sounds extremely complex and detailed.

        Even without the ship customization part, there’s the layer of building fleets and considering fire arcs, formations, strength and weaknesses of different ships, attack priorities, etc. This is much more than a regular rock-paper-scissors RTS, and more similar to a realistic RTS like Total War (combat part).

        On top of that you have the customization part which allows you to “invent” new ways for ships in a fleet to support each other. My only concern is that building an AI that can compete with a human player sounds extremely difficult. If I was writing the AI, maybe I would limit it to choose from a list of reliable “fleet recipes”. And the choice will change if the current recipe works poorly in actual combat.

        All in all, sounds very interesting.

        • ProposingToBuy says:

          It would be cool if the AI chose random loadouts, but the game would monitor which setups did better vs human players and made more similar setups, and got rid of the bad setups. Gives a feeling that the AI get more intelligent over time…

  12. UncleJoe says:

    Re your comments about options. I sincerely hope there will be options such as number of AI opponents, game difficulty, overall planet quality/quantity, game speed, AI difficulty, use of intel (yes/no), etc., etc. As for graphics: the game’s the thing! Music? Great for those who love it; personally I always turn it off. This game looks great…and I’m not a fan of real time games, at all! I hope the developers take all the time they need to get it right.

    • Revoran says:

      Dan has said (if I recall correctly) that you’ll be able to choose such things as the number of AI opponents, difficulty and game speed. He also has the ability to put in as many planets/quality of planets and people have requested sliders to change these – he just hasn’t put these sorts of options in yet because there are more important things right now (bugs, crashes and game features).

  13. anpd says:

    The animated diplomacy screens looks great makes me wish all games with 2d looked like that.

  14. Adam Solo says:

    Great preview Keith. Thorough and detailed.

    Gosh, 8 months have already passed since Dan got funded on kickstarter? How time flies.

    I still remember perfectly how Dan got >17.000€ for StarDrive with very little publicity. He succeeded in a time Kickstarter was yet to witness its boom. Yes, it was before it becoming fashionable. I was sold by Dan’s vision immediately by what looked to be a solid base he had already. Now confirmed.

    And that’s one aspect I think does all the difference if you’re planning to go to kickstarter – be ready to show people a solid base. Present exactly what your game is about and show face (describe yourself and your team). Expose some planning, minimum would be plans for reaching alpha, beta and release and explain why you need the money and for what. Also, don’t forget to give people access to your game if they pledge, early if possible. That was what sold me for Dan, and the fact that it was a space 4X game of course :)

    We’ll probably see some new space 4X games in kickstarter soon. Can’t wait to see what people have to offer.

    Good job so far Dan! Now, surprise us!

  15. Bluebreaker says:

    Ship building looks amazing. I’m looking for it.

  16. Towerbooks3192 says:

    No!! I am unable to preorder and have to wait for the devs to let us preorder again.

    Oh well, I guess I will just enjoy Sins Rebellion for now and preorder my extra space cash on Star Lords while waiting for this

  17. t1it says:

    Looks absolutely fabulous!
    I wonder what kind of resources are there (common planetary, exotic etc)? Are there anything that your fleet or some other empire aspects *needs*? Any “rare” resources? What about trading?

  18. Martok says:

    Good-looking preview, Keith. Thanks for writing it up!

    (Also, thanks to you and all those beta-testing the game. I know it can be a chore!)

  19. Jay says:

    Having the beta of this (through the desura alpha funding, now closed last I heard) and the Star Lords alpha I fail to see how this is “perhaps not only the savior of sci-fi strategy in 2012, but also the makings of what will be a classic for years to come”.

    Not that I think they are competing with each other but Star lords seems far more promising for me and unless they change a lot of things, I don’t see the 4x part of Stardrive being any superior to any game released this year. There are some interesting things in the game, but that’s about it.

    • Keith Turner says:

      I agree with you Jay, Star Lords does seem quite promising. I’ll definitely be picking it up as well. I think both games have their strong points, and it is great to see a promising new turn based game as well a promising real-time game both in the works. Along with the big sale on Distant Worlds, 2012 really seems to be getting exciting towards the end of the year.

      I respect the fact that you aren’t as enamored with Stardrive as I am at this point. I think a lot of my excitement comes from the fact that a solid foundation has been built and now it just needs to be expanded. I really find it a lot of fun to play. At the same time, I think Star Lords sounds great, and I am excited about it as well. Depending on a player’s preferences, certain aspects of each game may or may not appeal to particular players. We are very fortunate to have some promising new choices alongside Distant Worlds Legends, which Adam reviewed very highly.

  20. Harry says:

    That looks cool..
    Thanks for the writing, I love this website.. You did a great preview!

    I like the Starlane and the arcade gaming Idea..

    And I like the idea for the animated ground invasion..

    I hope they will test this babye. And dont rush like the LOP Desaster..

    Adam how far is the AI? You mention it.. Is it just some scripts that the AI is building colonies and then attacks?? Or is the AI really reacting on your action?

    • Adam Solo says:

      I’m sure Keith will be more than happy to assist you with that ;) After all he is the author of this preview.

    • Keith Turner says:

      The AI is functional, but it is not fully implemented by any means right now. It will attempt to negotiate treaties with you or declare war against you from a diplomatic standpoint, but I’m not sure if there is much logic behind it’s actions yet. I can say that they seem to spread out and colonize pretty well, although I’ve seen them skip a better planet in favor of another in the system for some unknown reason. All in all, it needs work, but that’s what the beta period is for.

      Here is what Dan said about the AI’s current state on 8/15:
      “The AI is competent but incomplete. They should be able to wage a fairly effective war on you but I haven’t spent a great deal of time on optimizing their war-fighting and once you’re at war there’s no option for peace presently. That said, the AI is totally capable of wiping you out if you aren’t careful.”

      Here are the AI related changes I see coming in the next beta patch that should be posted today or tomorrow:
      “Added improvements to AI Colony Slider management to prevent waste and to help them research a bit faster
      Added logic for AI to make a more balanced fleet
      Added mandatory opening research paths for AI personalities to ensure that they get some good military units out the door earlier and to prevent fighter spam”

      I’m interested to test it out and see for myself. I’ve played a lot of games (a lot of patches still tend to require a restart from the beginning), and even had a colony taken from me due to invasion as I mentioned, but most of my testing time has been spent exploring what features are or aren’t working in the game. I’ve also been reporting on some crashes and a lot of UI elements that either aren’t straightforward or which were inconvenient to use. To Dan’s credit, he’s come a long way in solving those issues in only around a week’s time, so I should be able to focus more on things like AI and diplomacy oddities now.

      In the end, I don’t think he will release until he and the testers are happy. As he mentioned, money is not going to be a problem. The game is also going to be quite moddable, and actually someone has already been working on a mod. It is even possible I may build a mod someday for it, as I have done that before with other games. In any case, any upcoming coverage/updates/review I write will be based on the vanilla game.

  21. Ray says:

    This looks very similar to Distant worlds – a top down 2D view of comat?
    Just how different is it?

    • Vtecem says:

      Well first of all, it’s technically top down. However, the objects in the game are actually rendered in 3d so the stations spin in 3d and the ships have sides when turning.

      Next, compared to Distant Worlds (which I own and love too), it doesn’t cost $80 to get to the good stuff.

      • Vtecem says:

        Forgot to mention, the ship combat is similar with the awesome exception that you can take control of any ship you wish.

  22. dori says:

    looging good and hopefully its gonna be good, Distand Worlds legends was very good but still i wanted it to be turn based, i wish the same about all these good games from Paradox, Europa Universalis and Hearts of Iron and Crusader Kings, there to much going on. i like games like Endless Space, Civilization where you can just think about what to do and do some other things on the way to if you want to.

  23. Numahr says:

    One thing that is nice in Distant Worlds, and quite unique, is the fact that through migrations and conquests you have to manage the multi-racial aspect of a galactic empire. I think this is a needed feature of a serious space strategy game. By comparison, a more arcade-oriented game like SoSE forced you to exterminate all population before taking control of a planet. Some other games like Galactic Civ abstracted population too much.

    How is it in Star Drive? Can you conquer populations of another race? Can the game remember what can kind of race a given population is, with clear effects on the game?

    • Keith Turner says:

      I just checked to make sure I was correct, and no, the populations in-game are currently represented only by a number and no race/allegiance is currently in place. When you conquer a planet via ground combat, all of the population remains and it is basically as if you colonized and grew the planet yourself. Whether or not Dan plans to change that by release, that I don’t know. As I mentioned, rebellions and such are not currently in the game. Unrest and rebellions could potentially make things more interesting though, and would create a need for more types of research and buildings.

      I do know that StarDrive’s release will not be the end of StarDrive’s progression. The plan is to continue to expand the project for years to come. The game also includes a lot of xml files that will allow for modding. Actually, I’ve been poking through some of them and see a lot of interesting gameplay items that are either not yet implemented or are perhaps postponed or cancelled. Very interesting actually…

  24. EJ says:

    Keith Turner, I went to the game website hoping to pre-order this game. It states NOT accepting pre-orders yet. Do you have the inside scoop on when pre-orders will be available?

  25. Matthew says:

    I have alot of trepidation picking up this title. I am a huge Civ5 fan but GalCiv2 doesn’t do it for me. Neither does Endless Space or Distant Worlds. Distant Worlds seemed promising but too many things were happening at the same time which seemed independant of my involvement or influence. This game looks ok but something tells me it may not cater to my overwhelming need to micromanage and feel like a general on the battlefield. For this I may stick to SoaSE : Rebellion or wait for Planetary Annihilation which is now my new best friend.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Piece of advice on Distant Worlds: don’t play with automation on. Play fully manual and pause often and you’ll not get that “things were happening at the same time which seemed independent of my involvement or influence”. If you play with automation on the experience is really much more about watching a movie than actually playing. Having the Legends expansion or at least Return of Shakturi also helps a lot because the UI was greatly improved and you can have much more control on what’s happening.

      • Mark says:

        I normally play (and enjoy) Distant worlds with full automation and just pretend that I am the captain of a single starship or at the most, the admiral of a single fleet.

        My empire does whatever it does and I don’t ever try to control it beyond the actions of my own little fleet.

        I cant even imagine how complex the game would get with all automation off. Is it even possible to play that way? I imagine that you would have to pause so often you would soon be wishing that it was turn based.

        • Adam Solo says:

          Yes, there’s also that other beautiful side about DW, as it allows you to play “differently than usual in 4X games” if you like. So, you may decide to be a captain and leave the automation running the empire thing for you in the background (like you choose to).

          But, in my case I always prefer to play as the Emperor, and I like to be in full control of things. So, after a while (after I learned how to play) I started to always play my games full manual with some “suggestions” on. I pause often yes. In a way it’s like playing a turn-based game. I also play large games but the thing about DW is that it doesn’t offer you too much to manage (while there’s lots of interesting things happening, your planets list is never too long), so I don’t feel overwhelmed. But, my sessions do tend to take a long time, but you can customize your game to your liking (e.g. size, automation level, difficulty, etc…).

  26. Aigokeros says:

    There is nothing new under the sun. Draylock (Stardrive) = Darlock (MOO2), Kulrathi (SD) = Bulrathi (MOO2), Ralyeh (cephalopods in SD) = R’lyeh (Lovecraft’s city of cephalopod Chthulu). Ship design is borrowed from Space Empires V (O, I, E decks and even the graphic layout). Economy and Research is borrowed from Galactic Civilizations down to many specific techs. And I could go on…
    Guys, I can barely discern your game under copyright signs here and there…
    Your graphic artist can’t save your…um, work from the blatant lack of fantasy and creativity.

    • csebal says:

      There is nothing new under the sun indeed. There is only so many unique things humanity can come up with and if you stop making new things just because they might be similar in one aspect or the other to old ones, then you will never ever innovate.

      Truly unique ideas are rare and few. Innovation, more often than not, is taking already existing ideas and putting a new spin on them.

      In this case, the developer combined aspects he liked from several games into a new one.

      That’s just how things work in life. If you want to shoot him for that, then go ahead and shoot 80-90% of all the inventors out there in the world too and live happily in a stagnant, boring world where nothing gets created.

      • Noosphyra says:

        Do not extrapolate the subject. Aigokeros talks about video game, you talk about humanity and boring world. And by the way, don’t you find boring to set the same few elements in a slightly different order over and over again? That’s exactly what we have in this case. Moreover the dev didn’t even try to drape a little the things he simply ripped out of the old titles!

  27. DevildogFF says:

    Meh, this is sad. How about you come up with a truly unique idea that’s playable and FUN and then you can criticize this game, or any other game for that matter. I mean, since you’re obviously the type of person to criticize instead of offer constructive thoughts.

    The problem with UNIQUE is that most people want things to feel at least somewhat familiar and intuitive. It’s difficult to offer something truly unique, even if done well, and have it sell well. You ever play “The Tone Rebellion”? It was Logic Factory’s next game after Acendancy and it was pretty awesome and unique, but it sold very poorly and is part of the reason they…disappeared…there for a long while.

    So yeah, tell us how you’d make a unique game that no one has thought of before. Please.

    • Noosphyra says:

      You may not believe it but The Tone Rebellion is still on my D disk (distributives).
      So it is the thing I’m talking about: about this “sold very poorly”. The main target group for modern video games is schoolboys trying to outdo each other whether in terms of their PC hardware configuration (Crysis-group) or in terms of kicking each other’s behinds online (MMO-group). Thus in the end we have ephemera games with shallow story, shaders/voxels of 23d generation and with no singleplayer mode (due to the lack of decent AI).
      In StarDrive’s case we see (besides the schoolboys pretending to be witty strategists) the try to aim one more target group, nostalgia-filled old-schooled Moo2 admirers tired to wait for something different from their icon. So – it’s the pure “market game”.
      As the opposite example you could take, say, Dominions or Moonbase Commander or M.A.X. – for true STRATEGIC experience.

  28. Devildogff says:

    Then why do you complain? This game isn’t YOUR cup of tea, but it is many others’, including me who enjoyed all of those games you mentioned AND Stardrive. To call me a “schoolboy” sounds offensive and is rather schoolboy-like, to be honest.

    There are games being made and kickstarted that fill your need for unique and deeply strategic, do why focus your frustration on this game? It’s fun.

    It may not be the next Tone Rebellion, but is unique in the way it puts together the gameplay mechanics that it does…and it’s the work of one hard working man that has an idea of what is fun and will sell and with hopes of making other, possibly more unique games in the future

  29. Devildogff says:

    Plus this guy (Zero, Dan DiCicco) didn’t set out to make the “market’s game”, but rather he set out to build the game HE wanted to play. Can you really fault him for that if he’s also building a game that others want to play, too?

  30. HectorOfTroy says:

    Stardrive beta is getting released on Friday 9/ March 2013 on Steam. Just to let you all know.

    • Loyal_Viggo says:

      I assume you mean Friday March 8th… today… and whilst beta is good news how do you get access to it?

      • Keith Turner says:

        Hey guys. Yes, StarDrive is now available on Steam. You can find it by going here: StarDrive or by looking through the games coming soon.

        Expect an updated preview to go out shortly that will bring you up to speed on what’s new since this preview.

  31. Njordin says:

    how about another news, hm`?

  32. Touko says:

    It struck me as odd, that the review spent a whole paragraph extolling that this game can be played by slow people getting overwhelmed if a game is ‘too fast’…

    Then I realized that ‘turn based’ games are essentially like playing long distance chess by sending each other postcards with the next move… (ok exaggerating a little)

    Does this mean that games like X3 or X-Rebirth do not fall under the category “4X game”..?

    What kinds of games are considered to be “4X”…?

    • Adam Solo says:

      Hi Touko, welcome to the blog.

      Apart from having the 4Xs (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) in their gameplay, 4X games are strategy games that offer a complex and deep experience that essentially involves building an empire, usually from a very humble beginning (a single settlement).

      What stands them apart from other strategy games is that more focus is put on economics, diplomacy and technology development than war. However, combat is still an important aspect (eXtermination), although it may be more or less tactical.

      4X games usually take a longer time to finish than other games. They can be turn-based or real-time and usually don’t have a central story or campaign but offer more a sandbox gameplay with domination objectives (economy, tech, military-based, among others). In other words, the player is free to pursue victory according to his/her preference with very low (or none) narrative restrictions.

      Classic 4X game examples are the Civilization series (historical), the Master of Orion series (sci-fi) and Master of Magic (fantasy).

      The X3 series is not usually considered 4X. It falls more on the space sim / trading category. Of course, some games are not considered 4X but still have 4X elements. Games like Command & Conquer and StarCraft.

      • Touko says:

        Thanks for the explanation!

        So, X3 is only a 3X game ;-)

        Only thing I missed in X3 was some small multiplayer mode to play with one to two friends.

        But it does go beyond just trading, you build complex space stations, that have to make economic sense to the NPC’s to earn any money, you can influence their profitability by producing some ingredients yourself or by eliminating competing factories, or by delivering the goods they’d otherwise pick up somewhere closer. Setting up supply and delivery routes can get rather more complex than anything I’ve seen playing Civilization. Finally, you have to hire combat ships to protect your stations and freighters, put up laser batteries etc, lest you find them blown to bits later, wondering why production is halted elsewhere, which was relying on the output.

        There’s less outright owning of any particlar land or space, but its still a mercantile empire you build.

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