Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Space Engineers - 20/20 hours

I did it! I made it into space. And not just into space, but to the moon! And not just to the moon, but back again! It was an incredible journey, and I only died twice!

The first time was right after I finished my rocket. I was so pumped at being able to get a vehicle off the ground that I took off before the fuel tank was completely charged, got up to an altitude of about 3000 meters and then plummeted back to earth. I reloaded my save rather than rebuild, so it wasn't that big a deal, and frankly, the crater it made at the impact site was plenty impressive.

The second time I died was from crashing into the moon. That was just stupidity on my part. I had my engines turned off to conserve fuel on the flight (which was something like 25 minutes each way) and I overestimated how much time I would have to react once I entered its gravitational field. Again, I reloaded, because I was going to be damned if I was going to go through all that again.

But once I learned to actually fly my ship, it was pretty smooth sailing. It was a little touch and go for awhile because I brought just barely enough ice on my way out. I landed with a stack of about 1k (out of 27k), which was enough to supply me with oxygen for a long time, and could quite possibly gotten me out of the moon's gravity well, but would have been far too little for me to ever land the ship again.

I was worried for awhile. I thought I was stranded on the moon. I had to boost myself into lunar orbit with my jetpack to find the ice deposits that allowed me to get home. However my second trip in my interplanetary rocket was a piece of cake. The hard lessons I learned from all my crashing and near-marooning were enough to ensure that I would pilot more cautiously and bring larger material stockpiles.

Anyway, for those curious about what my triumphant conquest of space looks like in practice, here's a screenshot:

Yes. it's literally the most minimalist design I could think of. Stack all the essential components onto a 3x3 armor platform. The good news is that those two large rockets on the bottom offer excellent braking out of freefall . . . when I remembered to turn them on.

But it was all worth it for the view

And, of course, the feeling of relief when I got back to solid ground

That final screenshot was taken with just ten minutes to spare.

Looking back at my 20 hours of Space Engineers, I accomplished everything I set out to do, but in terms of what the game is capable of, I didn't set out to do nearly enough. I know this because certain of the custom starts will give you a full-sized spaceship and damn, if Space Engineers large ships don't look amazing. I love the idea of having a mobile home in space. That almost all of the machinery aboard is not only functional, but cares about placement and orientation, is enough to inflame my imagination and get me thinking about all sorts of ambitious possibilities.

Despite the occasional frustration along the way, there's no part of Space Engineers I didn't love (okay, maybe wheeled vehicles had too many fiddly settings, considering their role in the game). It's the sort of simulated world that I can easily get lost in, and, if anything, wasn't "hardcore" enough. What I really want is a game like this where everything is functional, and you have to worry about food and sleep and waste elimination and the regulation of temperature. I want large ships to require large crews, which themselves need food and air and sleeping quarters and all that simulated stuff.

Which isn't to fault Space Engineers. It comes closer to my mad dream than most, and to the degree it falls short, it is probably due mainly to the voxel-crafting-survival genre still being in its infancy. Nonetheless, it amazes me that games let you build now. That a simulated world could be, in some sense, malleable simply blows my mind. Such a thing was unimaginable when I started gaming, and the most sophisticated game was one that allowed you to save on the cartridge.

I will definitely be playing Space Engineers again. There's still so much left undone. Despite getting to the moon and back, I have not set up the necessary infrastructure to make such trips routine. I don't just want to visit space, I want to have a station there. I want to be able to assemble massive ships in orbit and have them travel from planet to planet. I want my shuttles to actually look half-decent. I want it all, basically.

But that will all have to wait until I'm done with my blog. I've played games past my deadline before, and Space Engineers is definitely the sort of game that merits it, but the long round trip between celestial bodies has convinced me that even one more project would be a massive time sink. It's a thought I relish, but not when I've just completed my New Year's resolution. I'm much too energized about the prospect of finishing my blog to take a break from it now.

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