At a cursory glance, the game industry is stagnating. With the big name developers pumping out game after game, there seems little regard for innovation. It’s lucky then, that while the titans of the industry clash, indie developers are creating fire.
Coming out of the holiday season, several games stood out from within the heaps of incredible deals and discounts. I say so, for these games came to us in a curious manner. Technically, they have not been released; not in full, anyway. Rather, they are still works in progress. But for a lesser fee than you would pay at full release, you can get them through the Early Access system. Early Access allows developers to release their games early, affording the masses to give input on how they feel the game could be improved prior to its release.
One such game is the addictive Starbound. While somewhat dwarfed by the release of the much-lauded DayZ and other such open world survival games, Starbound is a curious release. In the guise of a spiritual successor or unofficial sequel to the massively popular 2D exploration and survival game Terraria, Starbound takes players to the stars in their very own ships.
Starbound has players surviving on a hostile, randomly generated planet, their ship having run out of fuel in orbit. Teleporting down to the surface, you are tasked with survival, but unlike other open -ended games like Minecraft, the player is given goals to achieve. Finding fuel, discovering new powers (the first power I discovered, buried in an ancient alien tomb, was the double jump, allowing me to gleefully vault over enemies), constructing more advanced armour and supplies, and building your homestead are key activities. With time and fuel, you take to the stars and find new planets, some inhabited by strange and varied civilizations. When you feel your journeying is complete, you can return home whenever you wish to garnish it with the spoils of your adventures among the stars.
What is most fascinating about the game, though, is that it is constantly shifting. The creators have opened up the game to modification by the public. With mod tools, players are improving, altering and expanding Starbound at a shocking rate. One such mod allowed me to create a mech which could carry me across the harsh terrain of the planet without worrying about the hostile wildlife. Another gave me Marty McFly’s shoes from Back to the Future 2. In the final build of the game, the mech will likely stay, the shoes likely not, but the possibility remains.
With the game incomplete but wholly playable, the users have an actual say in how the game they have paid for turns out. Whether this will shape the evolution of video games as a medium, raising them up to a greater standard of quality, or will leave the games muddled and generic, suffering from lack of a focused voice is yet to be seen. Regardless of how Early Access programs comes to shape the future of gaming, I highly suggest you pick up Starbound on Steam for $14.99 on PC and Mac.