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Thread: The Space & Planet Exploration Genre

  1. #1
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo

    The Space & Planet Exploration Genre

    I figure this is specialized enough to have its own thread.

    So looking back at the games I've been playing this past year, many of them fall into this genre (if it can be called a genre yet), most recently Empyrion. In the Starfield thread I said that's the best representative, but I need to amend that since it's not actually such a "good" game--although it is fun (for me)--but that says something about the genre if it's one of the better exemplars.

    So long story short, I wanted to give my survey. First, there's the question of definition. There are games that are only space exploration, which is actually one of the oldest genres out there falling under the category of Elite-likes. The current batch of quality games are Elite and X3 (although the latest one was a disappointment), and I like Avorion a lot, but it's quite simplified, which is part of why I like it.

    Then there are games that are alien planet exploration, the current benchmark IMO being Subnautica. (If we're allowed to get away from FPS, the great oldschool standard was Alpha Centauri. That game really made my imagination soar by the sheer disturbing alienness of it.) Of course everyone should already know my love for Hardwar, but it's a dated example now, and there's Mass Effect, which isn't really the sandbox sim style, but it's still a data-point.

    So by themselves there's been some good standards on each side of that coin. The catch is when you try to combine them into a game where you can explore space (trade, fight, pirate, upgrade your ship, etc.) and still land on planets and explore (exploit, build, etc) alien worlds. That combination has been something of a cursed genre.

    So let's look at the field out there--

    First, there's the scandalous No Man's Land, which had great (if cartoonish) visuals, but was paper thin after you'd visited only a few planets and realized the whole game was rinse and repeating a pretty basic set of activities for every planet which was more or less the same thing with slightly different packaging. It might have been better received if it'd been sub-$10. It was still a finished game and did what it said on the tin.

    On the other side of the spectrum you have Star Citizen, which is of course biting off way more than it can chew in any amount of time on a human scale. It has such amazing potential. But the fact is it's not only not finished, but it's not even clear "finished" is something that's in the cards for the foreseeable future. It's not clear what's happening with it (last I checked). They're making plans on the scale of years, and the promise of them delivering a bona fide complete game with all the bells and whistles is starting to wear thin. So you have to wonder, investing money in it now, what you think you're doing. it's great for people that are really into beta-testing and seeing the systems develop. Granted, following Subnautica for that reason was kind of cool; but then again Subnautica, even as an incomplete game, was still awesome and feature-complete-enough (and had the single player story early on) to make it fun to play as a complete game.

    I should mention Space Engineers. It's great if you like Buildcraft & the like in Minecraft (which I do). You can make all kinds of working contraptions that actually work, and do it in space! But it's not really what I'd call a "game". It's got a lot of depth with the building, but there's not much to do outside of building. The universe is there as your field of play for the contraptions, rather than the contraptions being there to advance you to some greater goal. Also: It's buggy, which is a pretty compromising thing for a game that depends so heavily on wiring up complex contraptions to work as intended. I don't want to say too much though because I've only watched Lets Plays, but that's the impression I got from them.

    So it's in that context that I said in the Starfield thread that Empyrion is the top of the field. It is only in that it's better than those three games, but that's such a low bar, really, that it doesn't actually mean that much. Emyprion is better as a game. There's a greater depth of stuff you can do on the planet, it feels more alive and unique, and you can still get to building and improving your ship and going on to other planets that actually present different challenges. You're spending a lot more time on a single planet building your bases and really taking ownership over your space in a way you don't in NML. There's a story to follow; not a great one, but funcitonable.The problem with Empyrion is that it looks really amateurish. The models are crap. It still has some buggyness. It's quite unfinished, with a lot of systems not near complete, although you can see the whole game coming together in a way you don't see with SC. But it's not just that it's still unfinished. Subnautica was noticably unfinished through its alpha testing, but still looked all pro and you could see where things were going. While Empyrion is technically the best in the field so far, I worry it's going to keep that amateur smell on it even as it develops. But all that said, milling around on the planet, exploring it, building stuff, surviving, is still fun, and it doesn't wear thin like on NML just because of the amount and variety of stuff you have to do to survive and thrive on the planet.

    In that sense, SC and Empyrion are yin and yang. SC is never going to be finished, but it'll always have that scent of great ambition, and Empyrion is going to finish up as a fine game but always have that slight scent of amateurism. This is why I think the genre is just cursed. It takes a lot of ambition, time, resources, practicality, good-sense, vision, cleverness, etc, to make a game like this. It's just one can never seem to find everything coming together in one game. It'll have some of those things but not others, and it may be just an inherent problem built into the genre itself.

    Uh, ok, that's my thought dump after playing through some of these games and thinking about the prospects for this genre. Anybody else want to chime in? Which is your favorite game in this genre, and what do you think of its prospects in the future, including the fate of the in-development games?

    (PS, There's also Factorio and those games about moon bases and Mars bases I'm skipping over, but those aren't really the targets of this genre the way I'm thinking about it. There are other games I know I've seen videos for that are also in this genre, but I can't think of any of them right now.)

  2. #2
    Member
    Registered: Dec 2003
    Location: Location, Location
    No Man's Sky, Dema.

  3. #3
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    Lol. Yeah. It's been a long day.

  4. #4
    Moderator
    Registered: Jan 2003
    Location: NeoTokyo
    No Man's Land is the WWI version where the player scoots from trench to trench, each time gassing up his tank, traveling to the center of the borderlands where you finally get to confront the mythical dysentery virus end boss.

  5. #5
    Have you played StarMade? That's the one I always thought looked interesting, but I've never pulled the trigger on buying/playing it.

  6. #6
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Switzerland
    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    No Man's Land is the WWI version where the player scoots from trench to trench, each time gassing up his tank, traveling to the center of the borderlands where you finally get to confront the mythical dysentery virus end boss.
    It should be pretty easy to procedurally generate trenches, stultifying monotony and machine gun barrages. Look out for the Christmas Truce DLC, coming this December, which adds football gameplay!

  7. #7
    Level 10,000 achieved
    Registered: Mar 2001
    Location: Finland
    I didn't know about Empyrion, looks nice!

    Out of that bunch I've only really played NMS. Picked it up for 15 bucks and had a fun week with it before getting bored. Might give it another go when the next big update comes out.

    Quote Originally Posted by demagogue View Post
    So by themselves there's been some good standards on each side of that coin. The catch is when you try to combine them into a game where you can explore space (trade, fight, pirate, upgrade your ship, etc.) and still land on planets and explore (exploit, build, etc) alien worlds.
    Y'know, you can land on planets in Elite: Dangerous as well if you have the Horizons DLC. Though they're all very barren. I like the surface missions for their Terra Nova: SFC-like ambiance tho.


  8. #8
    Member
    Registered: Apr 2001
    Location: Switzerland
    They're planning to add more variety to Elite's planets, possibly including atmospheric worlds, by the end of the year. Having said that, I don't expect these will offer much in the way of new, different gameplay - though I'm sure they'll look really nice!

  9. #9
    Member
    Registered: Feb 2001
    Location: Somewhere
    I have raved about Empyrion a couple of times in different threads. Its excellent, though it does change very often being in Alpha state.

    Quote Originally Posted by PigLick View Post
    Has anyone got Empyrion-Galactic Survival at all? Its still in alpha (or early access if you wish). Its basically kinda what No Mans Sky should have been, with multiplayer and steam workshop. I hadnt played it for quite a while and it was really enjoyable back then. I decided to update and play it today and they have added a whole story mode, and its very good. Some jankiness which is to be expected as still alpha build, but by far the best sci-fi survival/crafting/exploration game I have played.
    You can build these amazing spaceships and traverse the whole solar system, with each planet a whole world to explore and exploit, ecosystems and alien civilisations. Well worth a try.
    Also you start with a jetpack

    .
    Last edited by PigLick; 19th Jun 2018 at 09:27.

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