Starbound Preview

18 Dec 2013  by   Tim McDonald

Start as you mean to go on, they say. In Starbound that can only really mean “randomly”, and if I’m going to start anywhere, it’s going to be at character creation. Considering the multitude of options – from race to underwear colour – random is the only way to go.

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Okay, maybe not. I don’t actually want to be a transvestite robot named Meat-singer. That brings back far too many terrifying memories of what I had to do for money a few years back. Let’s try that again.

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Sephiroth-with-tits isn’t much of an improvement, but oh well. Let’s call her Rigby. Hello, Rigby!

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Starbound opens with Rigby all alone in the galaxy, in a spaceship with no fuel, orbiting a mysterious planet. First things first: loot the ship’s storage container to get a matter manipulator (read: very, very bad pickaxe/axe combination), a broken sword, a flashlight, some torches, and a few seeds for farming. That done, it’s off to the planet.

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Well isn’t this nice? A lovely snowy area, bathed in the glow of a purple dawn. The game reckons that our first task should be to chop down some trees, get some wood, and construct a crafting table. This doesn’t seem to be a terrible idea. Also, note the ore of some sort buried a little way beneath that tree. I’m sure I’ll be digging that up before long.

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Wood gathered, Rigby refines it into planks and then assembles a crafting table. The game’s next suggestion is that we construct a hunting bow, nab ourselves some meat by callously slaughtering the planet’s native wildlife, and then cook it up on a fire. As I’ve always wanted to try to make something extinct, I am in favour of this plan.

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I don’t know what the shit that thing is, but I’m not sure I want to eat it. Alas, he’s the only thing around. Morality hawks: don’t worry. This little masked weirdo is hostile, which makes it totally acceptable to butcher him for meat and then devour him. With our food supply sorted for today, we’d better get to exploring. Finding trees, ore, and stone would be nice; the game wants us to build a furnace, and I’d really like to build up a shelter of some sort before night falls. I’ve played games before. I know that night is gaming’s way of deciding it’s fair to murder you.

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To the right, the ground quickly starts sloping downwards, revealing both a cave and some ground made of dirt rather than snow. That will come in helpful, I suspect, so I fill my space-pockets full of dirt and snow and rocks and… I’m acting like a four year old.

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Also, a random wheelbarrow! Yoink.

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Apparently, that wheelbarrow had an owner – this Floran lady, who has apparently gotten herself stuck down a hole. I’ve also nicked her campfire and one of her iron lanterns, but I guess I can leave her with the remaining iron lantern. It might come in useful if she ever gets out of that hole.

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She’s a merchant, it transpires, who appears to be living in a cave to hawk clothing to anyone passing by. I’m going to assume she’s actually some sort of missionary who finds the nudism of the local wildlife and monsters personally offensive, and is trying to sell them clothes. I have the pixels (the in-game currency) to purchase whatever I want, but… I don’t want anything. I already have cool clothes, dammit. Let’s leave her be and do some more mining.

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I took so long doing my mining that night actually fell before I could get back to my crafting table, which does at least give me a good opportunity to show off the rather nice flashlight effects and AAAAAH WHAT THE FUCK ARE THOSE

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Following the bloody evisceration of some terrifying green masked lizard bird things, I decide to shut myself inside. Forever. Doors are for people who aren’t terrified of the godforsaken rock they’ve found themselves on. This is bringing back memories of Bridgwater. Anyway: I’ve got plenty of wood for constructing walls, and I’ve even got enough materials to set up a furnace and a bed, plus I’ve got that weird missionary’s campfire to keep me warm. I can even set up her wheelbarrow on my roof, as a warning to interlopers that… I have wheelbarrows on my roof? Hm. I may need to think that through. It seems to attract that attention of this flying lizard cat abomination, but he can’t get in because I have no doors. HAH!

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Morning comes, and I discover two things. First: shooting stuff from your rooftop is a great way to start the day, even though most beasts around here can leap fifty feet into the air. Second: I think I’ve figured out that you use the right mouse button to place background walls, which means that my shelter might actually, y’know, be sheltered now. Or whenever I get the wood to finish it. Let’s explore to the left today; we might find some trees, and I’ve made a pickaxe by tying a rock to a stick. The sad thing? That’s actually more effective than my super-advanced matter manipulator. Caveman technology is better than space-age energy beams, which is just a depressing signal that the future isn’t worth it.

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I come across a chest in the middle of nowhere which contains a sword that looks like it’s made of wood, but does obscene damage, triggers this big blue flame effect, and shoots out orbs of energy. I… I think I just found the Master Sword.

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I find another Floran merchant hawking clothing, which seems incredibly ironic coming from a species that appears to be wearing sodding leaves. Also pictured: an adorable pink/yellow rat thing with a curly tail, which is one of the only things on this planet which hasn’t tried to kill me yet.

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Obviously, I nick the merchant’s campfire, wheelbarrow, and one of her lanterns. It’s becoming tradition at this point. Florans will tell tales of the mysterious black-clad thief who steals wheelbarrows and leaves only a single iron lantern as a calling card. It’s not exactly a single red rose, and “The Iron Lantern” makes me sound like a spectacularly rubbish superhero, but everyone has to start somewhere.

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Following a brief trip back to my shelter to ward off the HORRORS OF THE NIGHT, I carry on toddling left. I have absolutely no idea what this structure is, but – for once – I actually don’t feel compelled to break it down and use it to upgrade my shelter. Part of this might be that I looted the big glowy chest in the middle, which honestly didn’t contain much of any interest. Part of it may be that I fell into the murky liquid below the chest, which poisoned me. I don’t want any reminders of this citadel of disappointment.

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Deforesting the planet! Because it might destroy the natural habitat of the bastard catlizardbirds things that keep trying to eat me.

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Spelunking for ores and minerals! Because it might AAAAAH WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT

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Alright, home expansion time. I craft myself an axe and a hoe, upgrade my pickaxe into copper, fill in the area behind my house with snow, layer the top of it with dirt, hoe the ground, and plant some seeds. Then I place the second wheelbarrow down as a warning to anyone who somehow missed the first, in the hopes that two wheelbarrows will somehow be scarier than one.

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Not only do I discover that two wheelbarrows are exactly as not-scary as one wheelbarrow, but the game teaches me this by summoning flying cats with bright orange penises. What the hell, Starbound? Seriously?

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With the home expanded a bit more and a lovely self-sufficient load of crops growing, I figure it’s about time to explore the rest of the solar system. My spaceship – like all good spaceships – runs on coal, so let’s head back up there, fuel it up with some of what we’ve found, and head off somewhere new.

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For reference’s sake, this is the galaxy. Or rather, the “Alpha Sector”, which is just the first bit of the game. For further reference, I can pretty much scroll to the right forever finding more stars and planets to visit. I’m pretty sure that it’s categorically impossible to explore the entire in-game universe. That said, because of the way the procedural generation works, the planets at each set of coordinates are the same for everyone – you can tap in the coordinates displayed there, and you’ll wind up somewhere near to the planet I’m at. It’ll be as pristine as if I’d never visited it because I’m not in multiplayer, but everything else should be pretty much as I’ve described above.

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Here we are, on the moon to the planet I was just on. And you can see the planet itself hovering in the sky over there! Things like this really make you realise how small you are. It’s so beautiful.

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Doing a bit of digging for ores, I… huh. That’s odd. That looks like a little village or mine or something, over there. I can see barrels and crates and wooden supports with my magic x-ray eyes. Maybe that yellow/orange guy in the corner is friendly? A friendly village full of supplies to barter would be welcome.

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Hooking back around to the surface to find a way in, I come across a cave entrance with a load of tents and crates outside. I take a brief nap in one of the tents to restore some health, and wander in to meet my new friends!

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Hahaha only joking they try to kill me almost immediately. I fight them off, steal as many supplies as I can, nick one of the tents and an iron chair, and head back home in my spaceship. The Iron Lantern strikes again! Only now he’s moved into raiding other people’s mines, which I guess might count as banditry. I am now a Space Bandit.

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Favourite thing I stole? This red flashlight. It makes it impossible to see any details, but damn if it’s not atmospheric.

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I take that back, it’s my second favourite thing. This harmonica – which lets me bang out a selection of tunes, and in multiplayer will apparently let me start a band – is my new high point.

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And that, I think, is enough for now. It’s time for the restful sleep of the murderous galactic bandit, while a terrifying one-eyed dragon abomination lurks outside my doors. Goodnight, room. Goodnight, purple and blue moon. Goodnight, terrifying one-eyed dragon-like abomination lurking outside of my house. Goodnight, Starbound.

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