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Space Engineers – Alpha First Impressions

By on October 28th, 2013 11:20 am

Space Engineers | Keen Software House

Space Engineers has reached alpha and is now available on Steam, for the PC. The team developing it is Keen Software House, the same developers behind the space shooter Miner Wars 2081. Space Engineers is their latest title and it’s a “sandbox game where players build space ships and space stations, pilot ships and perform asteroid mining”, says KSH. Or, it will be, when the game is finished.

But, what exactly can you do? At the moment of these impressions (alpha build 01.002.014), you can wander around in space, equipped only with your jetpacked space suit or aboard one of the pre-designed and readily available spaceships. Or, you can decide to build your own. You can build small ships, large ships and space stations. Everything is built using block cubes that you must combine one by one. You can use different colors for your cubes and, well, the rest is up to you. The only thing required is that you equip your vessel with a cockpit, some thrusters, a reactor, a gyroscope, and you’ve got yourself a flying ship.

So, without pre-established goals, since the game only offers a complete sandbox experience at the moment – which the devs call “Creative Mode” – what should I do? I started by wandering around to have a good feel of the controls and to look around at the rendered universe, which looks quite nice by the way. The asteroids rendering are particular beautiful. But, there’s no motion going on, so, everything feels a bit dead.

Space Engineers - Wandering in space

Next, I decided to build a small ship. Hum, what should I design… Well, a Star Wars Y-Wing seemed like a good choice for starters. So, I decided to go with the very familiar Y-shaped ship. I installed a few thrusters, one for each direction, otherwise the ship wouldn’t be able to steer that way. I equipped the ship with a couple of gatling guns, however weapons don’t fire at the moment, unfortunately. Then I installed a small reactor for power and the engines immediately ignited. I also added a gyroscope for attitude control. And, here’s the result:

Look, I made an Y-Wing. Or,... sort of.

Not bad, I guess :) And it was quite fast to build too. Flew it around, and it was nice for a little while, but since there are no goals or any immediate problems to solve at the moment, I got bored pretty quickly. So, I slammed the ship into the nearest asteroid head on, and the result was a Y-Wing, without a cockpit. Time to try something else. Let’s build a capital ship.

Building large ships felt pretty much the same as building small ships (at least in the beginning), but the block size is bigger this time, so that you can build something massive much more quickly. You can create as many walls and corridors as you like and even walk inside your ship like you would in a first-person shooter game. So, I built a large structure, installed the basics, and took control of the big flying, thing.

Let me tell you that something magical happens when you take control of such a large structure. It really makes you feel powerful. And that’s something that I think the game captures quite well. But, like in my Y-Wing small experience, the flying was brief and the captain abandoned ship quite fast.

Space Engineers - My big skeleton ship

By the way, there’s ambiance music but no sound effects just as of yet.

So, you can build ships and stations in this alpha build, but what’s next?

In the game’s list of features, one can see that the devs plan to inject economy elements in the game at some point, namely mining and manufacturing gameplay. And while they state that “everything in the game is subject to change”, there’s a drilling/harvesting mechanic planned, a refinery to process the harvested ore, and an assembler to manufacture components after the processed ore.

So, sounds like challenge is on the way. Weapons should be fully functional at some point, and sound effects should be in place. Then, multiplayer is hinted as being a possibility. Some currently inoperative ship components should be made functional, joystick support is also listed and a Survival scenario to make you start from the bare minimum, where you must harvest and build your way through from a humble beginning, is also planned.

Controls and the game’s basics are quite easy to pickup. However, sometimes it’s not that easy, or shall I say, too comfortable to design your ship since you need to constantly move around your ship in order to give your building orders. That, or I didn’t learn too well how to do my layouts in my few hours of play. But, building something basic is quite easy and fast.

Space Engineers - Designing a Star Wars Y-Wing. Or trying.

Closing thoughts

Clearly, Space Engineers is still a bit far from being a complete product. I mean, the game engine and the basic building blocks are already there, and you can have some fun wandering around in space and building and smashing ships like you would when playing with lego toys. But, at the moment you feel like you’re interacting more with a game framework (an interesting and promising one no doubt), rather than playing a game.

One of my initial doubts about this game was what it was really about. After playing the alpha for a few hours, I would say that Space Engineers, at the moment, feels like an open-world construction simulation game. The thing is that open-ended, or sandbox games, even when not offering immediate objectives – since the idea is for you to create your own – should give you something to figure out and solve. Or, something to manage. And, right now, there isn’t much challenge to be found here, if at all, as resources are infinite at the moment, and you can build as much components as you like.

Also, there’s no conflict or any kind of competition elements. But, perhaps all that will change in the next iterations and there will be more depth and challenges to keep you engaged. We’ll keep following Space Engineers closely and let you know of further developments and milestones.

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  1. TanC says:

    Nice. Kinda what I’ve been expecting, seeing everyone’s first impressions. I’ll be keeping a “keen” eye on this one until listed features are all complete (aka complete game).

  2. Xyggy says:

    Looks very promising! Can’t wait to see more.

  3. Comr4de says:

    Keen Software isn’t a company to be trusted at all. This is a company as bad as EA. Keen Software started making Miner Wars 2081 several years ago and let people pre-order it. The game was advertised as an open-world sandbox with a dynamic economy, and the ability to build lots of cool shit like secret bases in asteroids and space stations. KS also claimed that the community would be very involved in the development of the game. They lied.

    Then, it just degraded into the usual “grab the money and run” deal. Throughout the entire development process, the game never really changed from what it was in the first early access alpha build. They started trying to turn it around and make it seem as if the community just misunderstood the initial description of the game by doing things like saying building is already in the game and pointing to the shitty map editor which was supposed to just be a placeholder system.

    KS kind of got away with that, too. People were mad, and confused, but not pointing fingers yet. Then they added the campaign. No one wanted the fucking campaign as it was taking the game in the wrong direction. KS didn’t give a fuck, and this led to people attacking KS directly.

    Keen’s response was to try to save face by apologizing and promising they would fix it. Except instead of fixing it, they marked it as done, released it, and told their community to suck it up and give them more money for their next game, all while advertising the game as an arcade arena shooter in space.

    Browse the old forums for even 2 minutes and you will see what I am talking about. Go back to really old posts (like 6+months) and you’ll REALLY see what I’m talking about.

    • Gunlord says:

      This happens quite often, at least from what I’ve heard. I saw people commenting that the creators of StarDrive pulled something similar, and of course there are the shenanigans with Mechwarrior Online…

    • RandomBlue says:

      Yeah, I was going to post about getting screwed over on preordering Miner Wars 2081 but I didn’t recall the full details. Basically it sounds like this game is close to what we were promised with MW2081.

  4. Jay G says:

    Thanks for keeping us updated on this project. I’ll be waiting until it’s much further along, so it’s appreciated.

  5. Jeff P says:

    Frankly, I’m getting tired of these alpha releases. They seem to follow the same pattern: release with few features, many bugs, but the game has “great potential.” A few months pass, and the beta appears: a few underwhelming features, many bugs, forum controversy, but still “great potential.” More months pass, release date slips, then 1.0 bursts upon the scene: features don’t work as promised or are missing entirely, bugs, bugs, bugs, lots of promises for “continued development”, angry forum posts, laments about what could have been.

    Then the next great game is announced… Rinse, repeat.

    In my job, when I was given a project, I would keep it close to the vest until I knew it worked and wouldn’t embarrass me. When it was finished, it was complete and stood on its own merits.

    Computer games seem to have devolved into a never ending process rather than a product. Some of the best crafted, most anticipated recent games (e.g. XCOM-EU, Endless Space to name two) feel oddly incomplete at release, and require a series of expansions and DLCs to add features and refinements many of us expected in the vanilla game.

    I love the space/4X genre, but it is becoming very difficult to avoid cynicism.

    • Alien JD says:

      I’ve got a new rule that I don’t preorder games or buy games without a demo anymore unless its from a studio I know and trust. I don’t mind bugs that need to be fixed or AI/balance that needs to be tweaked but this crap where studios release unfinished alpha builds and abandon the game as soon as it quits selling needs to stop.

    • Mark says:

      “Computer games seem to have devolved into a never ending process rather than a product.”

      How very true! I miss the days when an expansion to a game actually offered something new and different rather than patching the initial release or implementing basic features that should have been present at launch. Civ V and Xcom EU come to mind as major offenders here.

      Am I being too cynical in thinking its just a way of milking twice the amount of money out of customers for the same eventual product? I can just picture fat businessmen smoking cigars as they rub their podgy little hands together in glee.

      With Space Engineers, I think I’ll wait until they actually have something to sell before I buy. But it *does* have “great potential” :)

    • lammaer says:

      “Frankly, I’m getting tired of these alpha releases. They seem to follow the same pattern: release with few features, many bugs, but the game has “great potential.” ”

      Exactly my toughts….+1

  6. whocares says:

    same here… how this kind of sentence is now sounding normal and expected? We missed something bad :(

    “Space Engineers has reached alpha and is now available on Steam”

  7. Thrangar says:

    No way No way
    after doing some research on their first attempt I will not support
    if and based on their rep that is a big if, if they get the game play to the lvl expressed then I will get the game, all I will say further is at this point in time it looks promising

    • Chuki792 says:

      Yup, been said here many times already and after my experience with endless space, stardrive and a few others (still waiting for an actual gameplay update to Kinetic void but its already looking a little shaky IMO) and not to mention the elephant in the room **cough**SOTS2**couch**, I can only say “I’ve had all i can stands, and i cant staaands no more!”

      I also hate that Steam has become the main peddler in this crap, I actually thought the greenlight system was a revelation, but it seems to be a “Suckers Gauge”, i.e. how many suckers will be willing to buy an incomplete game sold to them on the promise of x features and Y hours of gameplay, a few pretty screenshots and some super slick marketing? Well, I was one of them, and I will be no longer, I say now: a Demo /(unpaid)Review or GTFO!

      • Alien JD says:

        I agree except I don’t think SOTS2 is the same as these other games. Kerberos Productions stuck with SOTS2, never abandoned the game, and fixed it and made it playable and stable. If you bought it you got several small DLCs and an expansion for free as their way of saying sorry. It’s cool if you don’t like the game or don’t like the way it was designed but it is working as intended/designed (I am that rare person who likes it a lot). Endless Space is playable and they added 3 or 4 free packs to the game (I still didn’t like it, but I don’t feel cheated–I just didn’t like the game).

        Stardrive on the other hand. The guy couldn’t get it to work and said screw it and screw you now buy the Unity version. Bit different really.

        • RandomBlue says:

          There are many of that disagree that SOTS2 is fixed/finished. The AI is worthless, still. There are many that agree with me. 4X’s without at least decent AI are generally worthless. Yes you can play multiplayer but due to the length of 4X games most people play single player only.

          You even agree that it’s rare for anyone to like that game a lot. Quoting you: “I am that rare person who likes it a lot”

      • Mark says:

        You guys do realize that Kerberos is *still* working on and patching SOTS II don’t you? More than 2 years after release, they are still testing beta versions and patching. Its slowing down now but still very much an ongoing process. Its also mostly in their free time since Paradox stopped paying them long ago.

        There are a lot of criticisms you can level at Kerb, but taking the money and running certainly isn’t one of them. In fact I think its totally unprecedented to see a company stick with supporting a game for so long – particularly one that was an unplayable lemon on release. And as for the AI? Well what 4x game *does* have good AI? and as I said, they’re still actively working on it and it *is* slowly improving.

        There are many things I hate about SOTS II, many horrible, brain-dead design decisions that will now never be fixed (thanks Mecron). But there are also many brilliant, innovative things to love about the game. I have still never seen tactical combat in space done better by anyone.

        • Chuki792 says:

          RE: SOTS2; yeah, they’re still patching it and it is getting better, but its still not the game I payed for, SOTS1 is more feature rich and feels complete.
          I too, just dont feel the need to boot up endless space any time soon, less so since you guys did that brilliant review of the recent expansion. It seems that these days, we either get unfinished beta games released, or games with “Huge Potential(tm)” that cease to continue development post release and promised features are either forgotten entirely or some marketing suit tries to convince us that we got it all wrong and this half finished buggy mess is what we should have been expecting.

  8. John says:

    I’m having a blast building my own Starships. Well worth the $14.99

  9. Evito says:

    Caution isn’t a bad idea in todays alpha/beta/alpha of a beta/prealpha/or heavens forbid just a tech demo of a single aspect of a supposed game.

    However i will also note that in this case there is some credence, they did reveal the important points about what it ought to become, the alpha is indeed a Very solid base for what they say they want to make.

    Im also a Miner Wars early backer, while slightly disappointed with MW. I cant quite go as far as some calling these guys frauds or anything of the like. Early on the stated intention was to first make sandbox/campaign game and later expand it into an MMO, a state of affairs they say is still in effect.

    Coders, good, bad or just regular coders need to eat too and thats rather had without money. They disclosed their companys state and im still a satisfied customer.

    These fellas ain’t asking for all that much money and considering the price point vs any triple A title even MW offered Far in excess of what it costed.

    I already have 50 hours in Space Engineers, meaning its already a heck.of.a.lot cheaper than going to the movies for entertainment. Unless you watch netflix for 50+ hours a month you aint getting as good a deal.

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Post category: Game First Impressions, Game Previews