Edge of Space (Review)

Source: Early Access Purchase
Price: £10.99 (£8.02 until 24 Sept 2015)
Where To Get It: Steam

At times, it’s hard to say what you think about Edge of Space. Right now, for example, it’s close to the beginning of the game, and I’m talking to a shark with a jetpack and a high pitched voice, who’s afraid of not-Metroids, while trying to build a base out of dirt and magical sandbox game powers. I mean… What do you say to that? If that was part of a normal conversation, would you be surprised if people who could overhear would edge away slowly? But such is the world of Edge of Space, which is less about world building, and more about building, in a world.

The Exodus. A tragic day... And those who were most affected were unaware...

The Exodus. A tragic day… And those who were most affected were unaware…

Similarly, it’s not quite useful to talk about Edge of Space as a “sandbox” game, because that’s a genre that already has a wide variety of different approaches, even some to do with the whole “Building a home” part. And Edge of Space definitely has a difference there, in the form of “command control.” A base isn’t truly considered yours until it’s not only constructed, but powered, and so… You’re never truly safe going down the layers of the shattered world of Achoa until your next base down is truly ready. It’s an odd choice, but not necessarily a bad one. Especially since death is by no means a permanent problem. In fact, this is both the curse and blessing of Edge of Space: That it truly experiments.

For example, what you can build mostly depends, not on blueprints, but on using your experience of this hostile world (Even if it comes from digging tiles) to expand your repertoire. Sometimes this will mean you learn you need a resource before you ever encounter it, but it’s an interesting way of doing things, and I actually kind of like it, considering you can focus where you want to, for the most part. Resource collection, however, is… Not really a pain because of speed, but because there’s a high chance you’ll have to look around for enough of a certain resource. I thought I’d lucked out in my main review run, because I’d found lots of titanium, uranium, and aluminium within easy reach, but then I realised… “Ah, crap. I’m actually aiming for Explorer armour, which uses Biomass as one of its main components.” Also Protoleaves, Protoroots, Protocellulose, and Protoseeds. Which are found in five completely different types of block or terrain feature.

Home Sweet Home (#1 out of 20)

Home Sweet Home (#1 out of 20)

As you might have guessed, your inventory will fill up quite quickly. Progression is basically a case of “Build a base. Store things in it. Get good enough armour and kit to go deeper, build another base, transfer stuff you think is important between them. Rinse, lather, repeat.” It’s a relatively slow paced game. Go too far down, and not only is there a chance of dying to increasingly aggressive creatures, there’s a chance of dying to the increased radiation, the closer you get to the core.

Similarly, if you’re looking for story in your sandbox, expect to have to piece it together. You start off knowing only that the world is called Achoa, you are a member of ArkCo, and that the ship you were on got attacked while leaving Earth. You’ll occasionally find zombie ex crew members, and start piecing together both this strange world you’re on (Where there is atmosphere, but the land is somewhat shattered, and the atmosphere gets worse the lower you go), and perhaps the story of what really happened.

Overall, this one’s a game for the patient. It’s not unfriendly to new players (Although keybinds will confuse first timers), the difficulty curve is dependent on how far you push versus what you’ve got (So is mostly under your control), there are some interesting events and places if you’re willing to hunt for them, but it’s definitely not for those who like a quick start, or want to feel attached to a single area. People who are likely to yell “BUT THAT’S SILLY!” at jetpack sharks with lasers, plants that fire plasma balls if you hit them with energy weapons, and other, stranger creatures, may also wish to give this one a miss. They’ll be missing out on something interesting, but I understand people have different ideas of “interesting” versus “silly”.

Oh, research trees... I admit, I have a weakness for them. Especially when they're unlocked by doing what I'm meant to do.

Oh, research trees… I admit, I have a weakness for them. Especially when they’re unlocked by doing what I’m meant to do.

I happen to find jetpack sharks with lasers on a world like Achoa relatively reasonable.

The Mad Welshman smiled as his rocks, mud, clay, and assorted junk was turned into many, many useful ferrosilicate building blocks. “Truly,” he thought “We live in the most advanced age!”

And then he shot a jelly, because it was annoying him.

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On Games Journalism: How Much Do You Play Before Review?

Reviewing games, as much as it’s seen as “Just playing a game, then writing about it”, is actually a fairly nuanced subject… And, because one thing I often see is reviews that reveal how a reviewer has missed something that colours their whole review (It happens to a lot of us, but it is something to watch out for), it’s something I’ve chosen to move up the “On Games Journalism” timetable.

How Long Should A Reviewer Play?

A comment I got, a fair while back (As much due to not properly editing an article I wrote while writing the game as differing ideas of “How long should a game’s examination take?”), when I wrote about Skyrim, was that it was not possible to review Skyrim in 33 hours. Balderdash. 4 hours (What I’d written at the start of the review, adding unnecessary confusion) was enough to note a fair bit about how it differed from previous games in the franchise (Especially since I had played the rest of the series), and 33 hours? That was enough to finish several guild questlines, get most of the way through the main storyline, and enough time to get bored. In fact, with a few exceptions, I started to feel bored about 9 hours in, and remained somewhat bored for the majority of the time. I cared about the woes in Morrowind. I cared about the woes in Oblivion. I didn’t, particularly, care about the Dovahkin and the politics of Skyrim.

There are three indicators of when you should stop, gather your thoughts, and write things down. When the game is too buggy to continue (4 BSODs was 3 too many for Sword of the Stars 2.) When you are bored of what you are doing for a long period (The game is not engaging you. Be honest about that.) When you’re pretty sure you’ve got a good picture of the game. We’ll come back to that last one, because it’s the hardest to judge.

Should A Reviewer Finish A Game?

Where possible, yes. But if you are not invested in finishing the game, either somebody on your end fucked up by asking you to review it, or the game just isn’t that interesting in the first place. I was not, and still am not invested in finishing Skyrim, despite loving me some RPG action. However, something complicates this: Often, it is considered bad form to talk about later parts of a game in anything but generalities, and there’s this strange disconnect between readers who want to know if it’s actually worth slogging through a game to the end, and readers who GODDAMMIT SPOILERS SPOILERS SHUT UP WITH THE SPOILERS ALREADY. One of these groups tends to be a tadge more vocal and angry about it than the other, you may have noticed. And even putting a spoiler warning on the title and having a headline view won’t necessarily stop folks getting angry.

This does lead to some less than useful disincentive. Another one we’ll deal with a moment.

However, this varies from game to game. Some games can never be “finished”, so finishing a review is a case of seeing enough of how it plays to know what you’re talking about. Some games have a difficulty curve, or other design features that mean finishing it is going to take you forever (Older RPGs and Strategy games are particularly prone to this), so it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to talk about the endgame. And sometimes, the game makes it not worth the time it’s going to take… The phenomenon known as Grindfest. For example, I’d be surprised if many folks who looked at the .//HACK games actually finished them before review. Not all, because some folk are that dedicated and good, props to them, but many. Because god-damn, that series has some serious grind. Does that mean they’re not good? Matter of taste. But it does mean they’re more difficult to completely review.

How Quickly Does The Review Need To Be Finished?

Ah, this, this is a problem! And I have good news… And bad news. The bad news, first, is that, the later you write a review, the less people will care. Many will think that they’ve gotten a good picture from a day one review, but… This isn’t necessarily the case (In fact, “Day One Review” is often used as an insult, claiming that the review is biased. We’ll talk about that another time.) Skyrim, once again, returns (Yes, there’s a reason I reprinted that one today.) You see, the review was written during a very infamous patch… You know the one. The one where dragons flew backwards, and armour that was meant to be weak to something was strong to it, and vice versa (A misplaced negative number symbol was the cause of the latter, by the way, and it was fixed.) Did that affect the review? Not particularly. In fact, re-reading it, I’m not as sure why it got the hate it did (Even after the correction). I was much nicer to it than I could have been. But it could have.

To take another (and seemingly better) example: You can get an idea of how Half Minute Hero plays from the first hour. But that’s not as useful as you’d think, because the game changes. If you just went by Hero 30, you’d miss the other game modes, how they differ, and extra story that you can think about. You would miss, in short, a large portion of the game you’re meant to be reviewing. Whoops. Big whoops.

The good news is that, in the case of games that take more time to review, people are more patient. PR folks will understand if you take two weeks, or even a month to review a large game. Editors on a publishing schedule less so, sadly.

The point I’m trying to make here is that, the bigger the game, the longer you should take over it. And that although day one issues should be acknowledged and discussed (Especially in the case of trainwreck day ones), they shouldn’t dominate your review.

Am I Missing Something Important?

This is an important issue. Make sure. Half Minute Hero was a good example, and another? SWYDS2015. That arrow is obvious. It leads to more options. But some folks apparently missed it (Not naming names, but it happened.) And so they missed the game getting progressively weirder as it goes on. This, as much as anything else, is a factor in how long you play the game before review. And I could cite many more examples where the game changes in some important fashion later in the game. Hell, one of the first would be the first Ultima, which had a space battle segment late in the game because… Well, I don’t actually know for sure. It was pretty jarring. Might and Magic pulled a similar trick with their first game worlds, CRON and VARN (Stale Spoiler: They’re not, strictly speaking, planets.)

These factors sound simple… But unfortunately, the variety of games, and the tricks developers like to play (Even today), means that you will always find edge cases. It’s part of the reason reviewing is not as simple as it looks. It’s part of the reason why a good review takes time and effort. Mistakes will, undoubtedly, be made. We’ll go into that, other facets of reviewing, and how we all make mistakes another time.

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Skyrim (Reprint, Review)

This is a reprint of an article originally published on the older version of Da Game-Boyz. It has not been edited, including the original editorial mistake, as a complement to this article. The game scored a 7.5 overall, with 7 in half the categories, 8 in the other half.

What the hell have I gotten myself into? First I got involved with some rebellion, and that led me to the headsman’s block, and then there was a dragon, and weird voices, and… now, I’m wandering through a dungeon killing some people called the Silver Hand because I didn’t realise my fellow warriors were actually werewolves! Heeeelp!Skyrim1

Okay, so that last bit may seem like a spoiler, but it really isn’t. See, everything except the werewolves happened in my first hour of main plot play, and that last bit? I’m not telling you. Skyrim, to those who don’t know (for shame!) is the latest in the Elder Scrolls series of RPGs, games with lore so deep, and so thick on the ground, that not even a +15 chainsaw could get through it all. The basic idea of this installment is that… well, after centuries of being who-knows-where (maybe having a good sleep?), dragons have come back to the land of Tamriel, and you, through the usual Elder Scrolls mcguffin of the prophecy, are the fated one. Don’t let the corniness fool you, Bethesda are good at their job of storytelling, and I’ve seen them pull off cornier premises. In the same series.



For those looking for an improvement from the last game graphically, there is… and there isn’t. See, the creatures and characters are even more beautiful to look at, although the character engine doesn’t seem to allow true obesity (if it did, my chargen abominations would have been so much more evil). So yeah, the characters look great, most of the creatures look great. Know what doesn’t look great? Watching trees suddenly pop into clarity in the distance as I run forward. On High settings. Seeing the base ground texture if I look at it in just the right way. But in dungeons, and when exploring ruins, my two favourite activities, it’s just fine, and the architecture, as always, is pretty damn stunning. Sure, the cities aren’t always great, but when you see a barrows with huge stone ribs poking out of the ground? You know you’re in high fantasy country, and the immersion skyrockets.



If you’ve heard the soundtracks of Morrowind and Oblivion, you have at least some idea as to the music. The sort of music you’d hear while Aahnold and James Earl Jones have a good staring match, or when Aragorn is kicking righteous buttock. It fits with the theme, is stirring when it wants to be (in combat), and, while it’s nothing new under the sun, it’s still pretty cool. The Bethesda Curse, as it was known in gaming circles, is also much less evident here. No more does it sound like there’s maybe 5 voice actors phoning it in. It’s definitely quite a few of them, and only one or two characters sound like their lines are being read in a classroom. Combat sounds, similarly, are slightly improved, although it’s sorta hard to improve on “BASH, CLANG, THUMP, Urrrrggh!”. They still pull it off, and even manage to make arrows swoosh past. The one thing I personally found special however? The dragons. They’re obviously the focus of the action, and… wow. Every wingbeat sounds visceral, and the sound of dragonfire is audio-coded for “This will roast you. Hard.” Even the other creatures occasionally sound cool, like a wolf howl on the plains at night. How many are there? Daaaamn, can’t tell! And that, again, adds to the immersion.



One thing you ought to know, if you’re new to Elder Scrolls games, is that they’re always pretty big, world wise. Not always full of content, but big. At the time of writing this paragraph, I’m 4 hours in, and, while I’ve completed something like 11 quests across 8 or 9 locations (and explored another 4 or 5 on top of that), I have only finished two, maybe three story missions out of god knows how many. Including the mandatory tutorial quest. One thing that old Elder Scrolls players will either take or leave, and experienced CRPG players may be a bit concerned about, is that some quests are not “take the quest and finish it when you can be bothered.” They have to be done, as far as I can tell, immediately after taking them. On the one hand, this means people going for the main quest will be rushing into situations they can’t control, and possibly moving further along than they feel comfortable with, but, on the other, it does keep that vital immersion factor going. Good example: Killing your first dragon. The military aren’t going to wait for you, and so, going seems pretty important. Even if it turns out I’m wrong, and it isn’t mandatory to follow them, it certainly puts some virtual pressure on. But, as my play time increased, I saw the cracks…

Skyrim is the first Elder Scrolls game to be designed for console accessibility, and, in places, it shows. Is this a bad thing? It’s not bad, it’s not good, it’s just different. For example, while the mouse controls for inventory and conversation choices are finicky (and downright annoying in the character creator, due to small sliders), using the keyboard is actually much simpler, and the interface itself has become a lot more user-friendly, with nearly everything do-able with just the direction keys, mouse buttons, E and Q keys. The obviously regenerating health (not ultra-speedy, we’re talking obvious to an RPG player here) feels sort of odd, but considering factors I’ll get to in a bit, it’s nonetheless welcome. What isn’t so welcome is the lack of HUD tips for things previous games told you, like the fact that you have a disease. Check your active effects semi-regularly people, because the messages are easy to miss, and I almost became a vampire, thanks to not realising I was about to catch it. Dual wielding finally came to the Elder Scrolls with Skyrim as well, and good god, it feels good… although instakills for both you and your opponent when low on stamina is a mixed blessing.

There’s too much to talk about in one sitting, so, with these examples in mind, I’m going to say that, where Skyrim gives with one hand, it takes away with the other. Argonians, for example, finally have some semi-regular use for that Water Breathing fix they had back in Oblivion, yet melee characters will quickly find themselves in large amounts of the brown stuff if they don’t also take mage and rogue skills. This isn’t much of a problem, because characters in the Elder Scrolls can learn anything they want, but pure melee characters are definitely a tougher proposition than in previous games.Skyrim5

One thing that I will finish on is the difficulty. To say the difficulty in this game is erratic is like saying ghost chillis are “slightly warm”. One second, you can be happily slaying skeletons in single hits, and the next, a Master Vampire might lay the smackdown. Or you could be walking merrily along, slaying some bandits as you go, and… you hear the dreaded wing-flaps of a dragon, the screech that lets you know it’s seen you, and… you might as well savescum there and then until you’ve got some decent cutlery. It’s also quite glitchy, crashing while screenshotting, screwing up the Steam overlay on PC, and, in one instance, hurling me 200 feet up from a giant’s smackdown, only to crash as I tried to screenshot the awesome. And then refusing to catapult me when I reloaded the game and died again to try and bring you some awesome-sauce.


Skyrim is good, but it’s a flawed good. It’s a different experience in many ways to previous Elder Scrolls games, but, at the same time, it’s still the familiar world Elder Scrolls fans know and love. It has the usual kickass story, but the difficulty curve is a bit wobbly, to say the least, and, in general, it’s a story of give and take. I’d still give this my thumbs up, but only to RPG fans, as opposed to newbies to the genre. You want a “my first RPG” to ease you in, this isn’t it. You want an entertaining, but sometimes frustrating experience? Go for it, empty your wallets, and don’t be like the douches who torrented this game with no intention of buying.

EDIT: The review was written after 33+ hours, the specific paragraph was written 4 hours in. Apologies for the confusion.

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On Games Journalism: We Are *All* Only Human. (Reprint)

This was originally posted on my personal blog in February of this year. There are only light re-edits.

For anyone keeping up with gaming news, Peter Molyneux recently got it in the pants over Godus. Bigtime. While some things needed to be said to the British GameDev Wunderkind, others didn’t, and it made me think of something we tend to forget: Everyone in the Games Biz, from the devs to the journos, to the players, are only human. And we tend to forget this. All of us.

The Devs

Warren Spector, from Martian Dreams.

Richard Garriott. Warren Spector. Graeme Devine. John Romero. These, and many more, are names to conjure with in the games industry. But we, both players and games press, tend to overlook the oddities and failings of these folk. Go look at Martian Dreams and Savage Worlds. You’ll find a literal self insert of Warren Spector in both. In fact, Wikipedia has a selection of his self-inserts on the page about him.

They’re good folks, but they’re not rockstars. They have their failings. Tabula Rasa was a flop. Thief: Deadly Shadows definitely had flaws. Even the series I’m currently Let’s Playing, Wipeout, Made Mistakes.

But we have a tendency to ignore this, and when we do discover folks have their human qualities, not necessarily good ones? We tend not to react too well. An extreme case in point: Phil Fish. Phil Fish is another dev who’s been raked over the coals, for the crime of… Being abrasive and temperamental. And because he is a public figure, a celebrity… The reaction is disproportionate.

But let’s look at the other two sides here.

The Journos

As someone who used to review, I’m just as guilty as every other game journo out there for being attracted by something that just… Doesn’t… Work. In my particular case, a prime example would be Nuclear Dawn.

If you can instinctively make sense of this, congratulations, you could be a Nuclear Dawn Commander!

What, you haven’t heard of it? But it rewards good team-based play, actually talking to other players, and… Oh, yeah, it didn’t do very well because it wasn’t accessible to the average player. See, the average player, for various reasons, just wants to god-damn play. They want to shoot mans, not stand in a corridor waiting for an enemy push they’re not sure will come. They definitely don’t want some asshole telling them what to do (Especially if said asshole turns out to be incompetent), and they don’t want to spend time guarding said asshole from the enemy, even if that’s a vital element of the game.

So what ended up happening was that whoever co-ordinated and/or had a decent team leader would steamroll the pubbies. Again. And Again. And Again. And lo, it Wasn’t Fun. So the servers were nigh ghost towns, and the game didn’t do nearly as well as its interesting gameplay could have gotten.

On the other end of things, for me, was Blur, by Bizarre Creations. Blur had problems. The track design meant that a reasonably skilled player could DNF (Did Not Finish) all the other racers on many tracks, people were having connection issues out the wazoo, and a third to half the vehicles were basically reskins. But the first part and the third in our equation, Players and Devs, came into play here…

Blur: The Big Boys Mario Kart. Oh ho. Ho ho ho ho ho.

…You see, Bizarre Creations also made Project Gotham Racing, which was, in many folks’ minds, a Good Series. So when a review score was lower than expected, they came out to complain. I didn’t get a whole lot of complaints (A whole ten, I think… I’m not a celebrity writer, never was), but, on the strength of those, my editor at the time claimed that I had been “experiencing day-one issues”.

Three months later, I issued a re-review (Something many game journos will tell you is a bad idea… And they would generally be right), and nobody appeared to care one way or another (A pattern that has held for all of the rare occasions a re-review has been issued by me). Bizarre, you see, had started copy-pasting responses to bug reports, claiming it was being looked at, while already talking about a sequel, and working on another game (Bloodstone, which also Had Problems).

They folded a few months after my re-review (A sad occasion, regardless.) Now, here comes the weird part. The players came out again, but they didn’t yell at me (Who scored the game relatively poorly). No, I opened up the letters page of PC Gamer, to find someone blaming them for the demise of Blur. This was pretty irrational, as PC Gamer had been a lot nicer than I had, and didn’t even mention many of the issues seen with the game.

It was a head-shaking experience. But it leads us nicely to the third part of our little equation.

The Players

The Bush-Wookie in his natural habitat.

In a very real sense, the players are a more diverse group than either the developers or gaming press. But what you see isn’t that diverse at all, because what most folks see of a playerbase are comments, forum posts, and meeting them in actual play… And the bad tends to stick out like a sore thumb.

The Mass Effect 3 Ending. Starbound’s “Caveman Tier” play. Fucking Bush-Wookies. The list of things players complain about, not always making sense, is immense. Let’s take the Bush-Wookies as an example.

Bush-Wookie is a nickname for the Recon class’s sniper builds in the Battlefield series, especially Bad Company 2, because their camouflage… Well, it makes them look like Wookies from Star Wars. Also because it helps them hide in bushes. Duh.

The problem is, a good sniper, in pretty much any multiplayer game, can lock down entire areas of the map. And it’s a massive pain in the arse to dig them out. Never is this more prevalent than in the Heavy Metal map of Bad Company 2.

The map doesn’t show it very well, but the middle capture point here is flanked by two hills, and there’s an AA gun in the village, just off to one side of the point itself. Snipers/engineers in those hills can fire as far away as either of the other capture points, and getting them out often requires air support, which… Oh. Oh. Again, we find that the fun of the game is instantly ruined for the average player if they’re up against a co-ordinated team. And, in the case of BC2, it doesn’t even have to be voice co-ordinated, because the classes make it fairly obvious where you should go. The snipers will graduate to the hills, because there’s a lot of cover and disguise up there. The engineers will graduate to the hills, because it’s relatively safe from the AA guns, and allows them to kill the vehicles they’re meant to. Meanwhile, the medics will assist the assaults, who will die in droves as they either try to take the next point along (Which will have everything coming their way), try to take B (Which will be protected by a force that can efficiently deny you entry if they’re even halfway competent), or try to get rid of those bloody snipers and engineers (Who will come back to said hills again and again, because it’s the best position for them)
In this map, among others, snipers are a massive force multiplier. It doesn’t help that playing a sniper as realistically as possible (Moving after shots, not revealing themselves as best they can, staying outside the range of the other classes) means that the sniper has a reputation as a player out to ruin other people’s fun.
It’s not an entirely unfair point either, because some of them genuinely are. Which is annoying, because there’s no easy solution. Battlefield 3 went with making Recon easier to spot at range, and more likely to get into short range firefights, but this makes playing a sniper a different experience, and, to some, not as fun.
Part of this problem though, is that players go in with expectations, and when those expectations aren’t met, they’re unhappy, whether because it wasn’t properly explained what sort of game it is, or because the mechanic was genuinely badly designed… Often, it’s because they just don’t get it. Good example of that: The Portal Gun. The Portal Gun doesn’t make portals on anything but white walls (Covered in moon-dust, apparently), and both games try to show you this. But, because they don’t explicitly tell you, and remind you, you get folks who completely fail to understand how it works.
Those people aren’t necessarily stupid. The game isn’t necessarily bad. But the players’ expectations coming into the game may be unrealistic, or the game might not communicating to the level of the average player.
Even this commentary on expectations is going to be subject to problems. I’ve seen these points examined before, and you know what I hear when they’re discussed?
Entitled. No Moron Left Behind Policy. I Shouldn’t Need A Tutorial, Or To Read The Manual.
Yeah, okay, players can be entitled (Oh, dear lord, they can be entitled!) It only takes a quick look at comments on negative reviews to see that (“How DARE you give X a 6/10! It’s CLEARLY PERFECT!”). But many of these are knee-jerk reactions, whether on the part of devs, or players, or journos, and there’s no easy fix for any of it.
No, really. We could say “Devs, please try to be more human”, but that won’t work without players shifting their worldview, and journos not instantly squeeing the moment Big Name is mentioned, and a lot of other things, too. We could say “Journos, please think more critically”, but that would require devs and players alike agreeing what that means… And many have seen how well that’s been going so far… We could say “Players, please try to read tutorials more/shift expectations”, but that’s massive generalisations about a very diverse group, and it can’t help but offend at least some of them.
We could say a lot of things, but a lot of it has to do with one basic principle, which I fully understand is hard for people (myself included). Be More Aware. For example, be aware that once a game has a flaw baked into it, it’s often going to be very hard, even if you genuinely are a rockstar group of super-developers, to change it and/or get it out. Be aware that sometimes, you’re not going to like the writing in a game, but that’s no reason to scream bloody murder (Sometimes quite literally). Be aware that not all games are for you, specifically, unless you truly want to learn how to play them. There’s a lot of “Be Aware”, and while all those examples were for players, there’s a lot of others for the journos and the devs too.
Funnily enough, this blog post isn’t about fixing the problem. It’s about Being Aware That It’s There.

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Maia 0.50 (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £17.98
Where To Get It: Steam
Other Reviews: Early Access 2

Everything is broken. My atmosphere generators have caught fire, I have people trapped in the living quarters due to a planning mistake, and one of my astronauts is waiting in the airlock for a wingman who will probably starve a little while after Airlock Boy runs out of oxygen. Some of these problems are intended. Some are not. But most of them are hilarious either way.



MAIA, a science fiction survival and base management game by Simon Roth and the MAIA team, has had a patch history almost as interesting as Dwarf Fortress. Chickens once flocked to magma vents as soon as a game began. IMPs would, in proper Asimovian fashion, try to do impossible jobs. Cats and dogs would walk on the surface of the incredibly hostile world (Called, funnily enough, Maia), with nary a care in the world that they weren’t breathing oxygen, but an incredibly volatile mix of horrific toxins. But for all that, the core idea has come across quite well, and 0.50 continues the trend.

The game’s AI, for example, has gone through some fixing. This is a good thing… And a bad thing for those of us who have been playing somewhat differently beforehand. Before, turrets were a curiosity. Now, they’re a necessity if you want your home to stay powered, as the local megafauna think that your outside buildings are either really good scratching posts, or things they trip over and get annoyed at. But let’s talk about what can be done in the game for a bit.

Essentially, right now, you control a small group of plucky (doomed) british colonists, who have somehow managed to survive long enough to build a small base in a rocky outcropping on the world known as Maia. Or, more accurately, you plan rooms, buildings, and mining operations, vaguely hoping that they’ll do what you want. That’s harder than it sounds. But it’s also more fun and challenging than it sounds.

A little cluttered, but I don't want MegaFauna using my towers as itch-relief.

A little cluttered, but I don’t want MegaFauna using my towers as itch-relief.

For example, you need to leave room for your IMP robots (Yes, the Dungeon Keeper reference is intentional) to be able to expand the base. You have to make sure you don’t open the whole thing to the toxic atmosphere. You have to start from simple needs (Power and Air), working your way up the hierarchy (Air, Food, Sleep, Stimulation), and initiate research into the world that surrounds you. Right now, that process is mostly automated… But already, the first signs of having to ask your colonists to do more work than just putting things up are showing, with Necroscopy. All that is right now is being able to cut apart and study one of the Megafauna of the world, and, once your research level is high enough, build a reactor chamber and dope your water to help stop the colonists going stir crazy (Which… May have side effects), but research also already allows for better energy storage, better food production, bigger oxygen tanks… And a little something that helps save your colonists from endlessly having to repair things.

An intelligent servo-bot, currently equipped with a repair module. These little fellers will happily maintain your atmosphere generators… Right up until they develop a phobia of repairing things!

"I can't take all this BUILDING! BUILDING BUILDING BUILDING, GRAAAGH!" ...Okay, maybe not yet. But it's apparently in the game plan.

…Okay, maybe not yet. But it’s apparently in the game plan.

You can perhaps already tell, just maybe, that Maia is not going to be a game where things are safe once everything is built. From the beginning, team MAIA has talked of intelligent doors that refuse to co-operate, IMPs with a fear of the dark, things breaking down, things going wrong… And all the while, your colonists communicate with HQ in short messages and procedurally generated haiku. Pretty good ones, actually. It’s a black comedy of a game, which is why I’ve stayed interested throughout the Early Access process so far. The visuals and music pay homage, in their way, to 60s and 70s science fiction, with bulky space suits, tape-reel computers, and alien creatures that look goofy, but are threatening. The UI is quite minimalist (Although it does need a better way to examine completed research, and more clarity on which is LOAD, and which is SAVE), which is good, and the function of things is usually pretty clear, even when it’s currently “NOT YET DEFINED.”

So if you like the thought of a dystopian, understated, science fiction simulator with a fair dose of black comedy, MAIA is definitely one to keep an eye on. But be warned, as is often the case with Early Access games, there are bugs. There are problems. But they are definitely being ironed out, on a fairly regular schedule, and I’m pretty confident, by the time it’s done, that it will be a thing to behold.

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