by Sergio Brinkhuis
previewed on PC
“But... is it a game?” I asked Starship Corporation’s creator David Murent. He shrugged, smiled, and said “I’m not sure myself!”.
While the classification of Starship Corporation as a game may be somewhat in question, its classification as a challenging strategic simulation is absolutely clear. Players head up a starship building company with everything that entails. You’ll bid on contracts, design ships and successfully submit them through a variety of tests to verify that it meets all the requirements.
That sounds straightforward but it’s actually a pretty involved process. In the bidding phase, other contractors bid alongside of you. Bid too high and the contract goes to another shipyard, bid too low and you may end up bankrupting yourself trying to fulfill the contract.
And it’s not just the money that’s important - you also need to have the right technology. If you have been focusing your research on defensive military technology, you may not have the knowledge required to build a hyper-fast, modern tradeship. Researching one technology does not exclude the other, but as competition among shipbuilders heats up, specialization may well be the key to keeping your head above the water.
The demand fluctuates as well. Humanity slowly expands its galactic footprint. New stars and planets are discovered all the time. A rich mining planet may initially cause an upsurge in demand for mining and transportation ships. As the local economy flourishes, the trade routes will turn into hunting grounds for pirates which means that focus on military tech is finally going to pay off.
While intriguing all by themselves, the above gameplay mechanics really are in the service of Starship Corporation’s ship design component. You see, you don’t pilot or direct any of the ships you build. You’re just the contractor remember?
The meat of the game takes place in the ship design and test screens. Both start off as futuristic blueprints but are distinctly different. In the designer, you begin with an empty hull and a list of requirements. You add ship modules for crew quarters, defenses, power plants, security systems and everything else necessary to build a functioning ship. Part of making it functioning is drawing power lines and water pipes to ship modules.
The ship’s requirements will always go beyond the basic “needs to fit 10 crew” or “fly very fast” requirements. Just throwing a bunch of modules at random locations within the hull’s space is not going to cut it. The contract may also ask for things such as “needs to be able to withstand X amount of heat” or “have a large enough crew to defend against a boarding party of X number of pirates”.
This makes the location of modules of strategic importance - you don’t want the generators to be hit first for instance. And when they do get hit, the ship’s crew needs to be able to access them quickly for repairs. Similarly, you don’t want to place power generators too close to the hull lest a single meteor impact or guided missile disables the entire ship.
So once you have designed your ship, you put it through a wide range of very rigorous stress-tests to see if it meets the requirements not just on paper but in simulated ‘disasters’ as well. During the tests, you can tell the crew how to deal with specific situations. As you do, you kind of write the ship’s manual and crew handbook. If a requirement would be “delay an invasion by X amount of time before help arrives”, you could instruct the crew to weld shut a main corridor, or to open an airlock that sucks the air out of a section of the ship.
It is entirely possible that, during a seemingly unrelated test, you find out that a small problem has the potential to cascade into a major disaster. A meteor hits one of the power supplies, which cuts of power to the coolant reservoir, which overheats the engine, which melts the adjacent oxygen supply and the single technician on board is not enough to fix it all in time. A solution could be to add an extra technician, but maybe an extra coolant reservoir on the other side of the ship will do the trick as well.
The range of simulated disasters is as vast as it is creative. Alien infestations, fire, meteor strikes, floating space junk, invading pirates, space mines attracted by power generators, if you’ve seen it in a space movie, you will find it here. And for each disaster there are dozens if not hundreds of possible solutions that keep the ship and its crew safe.
I honestly cannot answer if Starship Corporation is a game, but I can tell you one thing: I am going to spend weeks losing myself designing the best ships the galaxy will have ever seen, and no alien will breach my hulls and survive - even if it kills me.