[Set your eyeballs to “read” as we sit down with veteran Terraria developer Tiy, here to talk about his latest project: Starbound! The procedural generated space RPG boldly going where, reportedly, killer space penguins have very much been before.]
IGM: For the uninitiated’s benefit, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and give us the basic lowdown on Starbound?
Tiy: Hi everyone, I’m Tiy the lead developer of Starbound. I’ve worked on and managed a bunch of games. Starbound is both my dream game and my attempt to take the wonderful gameplay and aesthetics of some of the classic games I grew up with and combine them with the depth of modern titles.
IGM: You’ve described Starbound as a mix of Diablo, Metroid, Borderlands, Castlevania and Pokemon. While I expected most of those, that last one really caught me off guard! What kind of Pokemon influences are we going to see reflected in the gameplay?
Tiy: I really like the fact that in Pokémon each of the enemies you encounter in your journey can become an ally or a tool for the player to use. Also, the idea that the player is out there to explore and catalogue their findings. We’ve drawn inspiration from both of these ideas in Starbound. I also like the concept of fostering some kind of attachment between a player and the creatures in the game.
IGM: Borderlands seems to really stand out on that list too, considering it’s a relatively recent IP compared to the other “classics” you mentioned. What was it about that title that struck a chord with you?
Tiy: The procedural generation of Weapons! It’s an idea that’s appeared in a bunch of games but largely only in regards to a weapons stats or requirements. Borderlands was really the first game to make the weapons feel and function differently. It meant that, rather than forever just choosing the weapon with the highest stats, players could chose weapons based on how they felt. It also goes a long way towards keeping the game fresh, which is why the idea of producing content on the fly in order to create a never ending experience is the foundation of Starbound.
IGM: The screenshots we’ve seen of Starbound (so far) have had what looks to be a fairly low-key and streamlined UI. Will the game be like that when it’s in motion too, or are we going to see more overt RPG business like hit points and stats flying across the screen?
Tiy: There will be (optional) hit points, as well as a few other RPG tropes, but we will be keeping the minimal UI intact as we want as much of the screen real estate as possible focused on the action. We’ve put major work into ensuring the whole UI is super intuitive and making sure it’s only there when it needs to be.
IGM: Procedurally generating each planet’s inhabitants sounds really fascinating! What range of different behaviours can we expect from these creatures? Will some be friendly?
Tiy: Some will definitely be friendly! Many creatures in Starbound have a whole range of behaviours that only appear in certain planet generations. They also have a huge range of modifications and skins that are mixed together to create a unique visual variation of the creature. We want the inhabitants of each planet to be surprising and varied.
IGM: Do you have any favourite examples of crazy stuff Starbound has thrown together in testing so far? I’ve heard people mention killer penguins!
Tiy: Oh don’t get me started on the Penguins… They’re a particularly rowdy sentient race. I was once ambushed by a raiding band of space pirate penguins whilst exploring a crystal planet. That was fun.
IGM: On the official site you said you wanted Starbound to have the “depth of a modern title” is there anything specific you’re aiming for with that ideal?
Tiy: Whilst many classic games had extremely tight game play and beautiful visuals, often you’d experience everything the game had to offer in a single play through. As technology has progressed and budgets have increased games have become increasingly deep experiences where the player can get lost in a game world, be it a multi-faceted single player experience or social multiplayer one. Sadly I think the cost has been that classic gameplay being somewhat left behind. We’re aiming to combine the two and produce a title with modern depth and classic gameplay.
IGM: Procedural open world games tend to shy away from any narrative other than the one the players make for themselves, but by the sounds of it you’re trying to integrate an actual scripted storyline into Starbound! Is it proving challenging trying to bring those two concepts together?
Tiy: It’s really not so bad. If anything the sandbox experience makes the story missions in the game all the more poignant. The sandbox play also serves as a great way for the player to prepare for story missions, whilst the story missions serve as a great way to present the player with direction so the player is never left in the world (unless they want to be).
IGM: Are the storyline missions going to be rewards onto themselves, or will some unique loot and/or game features be tied to story progression?
Tiy: I can’t talk too much about this just yet, but story missions will certainly have big rewards attached to them that players can take into the world.
IGM: Considering Starbound has a futuristic setting, does this mean combat is going to mainly focus on projectile weapons?
Tiy: Not at all, melee combat plays a huge role in Starbound and has its own mechanics, strengths and weaknesses. We’re making sure both melee combat and ranged combat are very balanced and in complement with each other.
IGM: Almost everything we’ve heard/seen about Starbound so far has related to either planet side or space station gameplay. Is that stuff going to be the main bulk of the game, or is there a chance of some deep space exploration/combat in there too?
Tiy: There won’t be any space combat at release, but it’s something we’re interested in for an update. We want to make sure we put out an amazing experience on the Space station or whilst exploring planets for the first release.
IGM: As we’re planet hopping around Starbound’s universe, are we going to be seeing lots of relatively small environments or is every world going to feel gigantic in its own right?
Tiy: Worlds do differ in size, but even the smallest worlds are relatively huge. Each world will also consist of multiple environments. It’s entirely possible to get lost in a single world for a long time if you desire.
IGM: Will we be able to lose hours of our lives focusing our efforts on just a small handful of planets, or will exploring strange new worlds be the main path to a satisfying experience?
Tiy: It really depends on the kind of game you want to play. If fostering a single world is your thing, you’ll certainly be able to do that. However exploring new worlds will supply you with more and more powerful equipment and a much larger range of experiences. You’re also able to combine the two by taking a world as your homeworld and exploring the universe to find increasingly better ways of expanding it.
IGM: I’ll be honest, it’s been really hard to come up with questions that you haven’t already answered somewhere else. Even for an Indie, you’ve been incredibly open about this project right from the get-go! What made you decide to take such an approach with Starbound?
Tiy: I think games are becoming less a single product and more a social experience. Customers are buying not only into the game, but into the community, into spending time with their friends doing something they enjoy. And it makes sense that those players would like to help shape the experience. I try to be as open as I can be because that desire to shape the game is extremely valuable. Also, I don’t see the need for smoke and mirrors, if you’re producing a genuinely good game there’s nothing to hide!
IGM: Ok, this last one might be a bit of a simple mundane question, but I just can’t get it out of my head! Are the 2D environments going to “loop around” on themselves? i.e. If I keep walking in one direction will I eventually end up where I started?
Tiy: Yes! We’ve been doing this for a while now. The engine is also capable of producing infinite planets (!?).
IGM: Thanks very much for talking with us about Starbound! Is there anything you would like to say to our readers before we finish?
Tiy: Just thank you for all the wonderful support, remind you that you can always reach me via email/Starbound chat/forums and that I’m going to make sure the game lives up to expectations. The Starbound community rocks!
Keep up with the development of Starbound over on the official site!