The very fantastic Resonance Studios (my friend Jordan is a founder) have published their new game Starship Mechanic to the 2014 Indie Game Maker Contest. It’s very good fun, even as an early stage game despite its need of a polish.
You, “Alex”, play as a lowly mechanic on a decrepit pile-of-junk starship, that seems to mostly fly around getting into fights it can’t win. These fights do not concern you greatly, you can’t control them, you can’t prevent them. The captain mostly treats you in the same way he treats his coffee machine. Your job is to fix the things that get broken, put out fires and balance competing power needs in order to keep up with the whims of your captain. To do this you walk around from system to system, hitting them with your spanner, shooting them with the fire extinguisher and walking up to batteries to choose where power is going.
In the first run through you will probably be pretty confused. The control scheme has a fairly steep learning curve on the keyboard, but is much more natural on the XBox Controller. You start off with a short warm up period in which you can move your trusty spanner and fire extinguisher somewhere you will find them later, rewire as you see fit and power up what seems useful. Over time you’ll learn that keeping things powered off is good, a full battery can give you a very handy life-line. Soon after you’ll get your first order, and you’ll rush over to power up that item. Some systems have to be kept up. The life support will slow down the game and eventually kill you if you don’t keep it powered and repaired. Comms going down will make your life very hard as you will lose your task list.
Power in the game is fairly involved. The source is a power generator surrounded by crystals which bounce from left to right in sync. If you keep the generator and crystals in good shape they’ll pump out plenty of power. Damage to this system tends to snowball though, just one crystal being out of sync (because of damage) can easily cause a cascading failure leaving you wasting valuable time patching up while your captain begs for his left hand shields. From here power flows outwards to the batteries, which act as both switching points and capacitors. This gives you some breathing room if/when your power goes down.
The game plays as an addictive “just one minute more” game, after a few minutes it becomes quite frantic, you always have more to do than you can achieve in the time given and you have to prioritise to make progress. You’ll be begging the fire to go out so you can repair the thrice-damned life support system, or rushing back from the engines at the back to power the forward shields. This makes for a game that keeps you playing for a long while.
The game does suffer from a few bugs every now and then as you’d expect from an early game. Sometimes it’s not clear what has gone wrong, which can make the game feel a little unfair too. I imagine a lot of this will be solved before a 1.0 release though.
I’m really hopefully that this is the first of many similarly quirky and compelling games from such a young studio.