It’s my brother’s fault. He has followed SC with great interest the last couple of years, and tipped me off to the free play “alpha” a few weeks ago. I asked him why in the world I would do that, and he said to trust him. Well, if you can’t trust your brother who can you trust? And he was right, it was worth every minute, but not in the way you think.
First of all, I want to say that even though this is an “alpha” the game has been in development for over three years, with the best and brightest designers money can buy. So while the label says “alpha,” I (and you and everyone else) should expect more than the usual “alpha” experience. Especially since they opened it up for everyone to come try, in hopes of completing the SpaceBalls Quest For More Money.
That said, I also want, right off the bat, to tell you that the game is very, very pretty. Gorgeous, epic visuals that should be the standard for any space game.
Also, I’m going to give you a little mea culpa – it took the second night of gameplay to figure out that I had to spawn my own personal starship on the landing pad. I ran from ship to ship, trying to get into a cockpit, waving my arms in frustration. I will say thought that this is a completely understandable mistake, given that 1) lots of other people were making it and 2) there is absolutely no indication in game that you need to go to the control center and spawn a ship before you can fly it, and 3) I was actually able to board a ship that wasn’t mine on my first attempt. I’m not sure if that was a bug or someone “unlocked it” by getting in and then out without taking off or what. But I got into at least two different ships long before I figured out how to get my own.
I do not regret this mistake though, as it led to some of the most interesting moments in this not-yet-ready-for-primetime alpha. I was so bored in the beginning that I actually jumped off the edge of the space station and accidentally discovered EVA. I used this to fly to another platform and eventually get into a ship that wasn’t mine. This would come in handy later – the EVA part that is.
So I finally jumped on board one of the larger ships. And I was fiddling with buttons and I found out, you can totally use the toilet in this game! That was wicked awesome, functional toilets! Well. Sort of functional. In SC, you can sit down to poo, but you can’t get back up again. Literally. You have to log out to leave the toilet. Which is, you know, kinda apropos I suppose. Log. Log out. To finish on the toilet…
Anyway, after I finished up there and ran around awhile longer, I managed to get aboard another starship. I ran for the controls this time, but some dude beat me there, and a third guy ran up the ramp right after me. Three of us, in a starship, about to fly! This is the bomb. This is what this game was made for right?
So the pilot takes off and we have a “punch it Chewie!” moment where he hammers whatever passes for an accelerator in the SC universe and the ship is jamming off fast. So fast. So incredibly fast. So incredibly fast that me and the other passenger start sliding backwards through the ship. And our journey did not end at the tail of the ship, oh no. We clipped through the damn walls of the ship, and our journey ended 12 kilometers from the space station, granting us our own private Major Tom moment.
I checked the controls and found that they had implemented a respawn/kill yourself button. And given that the EVA got me a half a kilometer over the course of 5 minutes, I decided that was the way to go.
Did I mention by the way, that my 12 year old daughter was watching at this point? She loves all things space, and so she was intrigued. And then she started laughing. And then she said, “this has to be the worst game I’ve ever seen you try to play.” Right on so many levels honey.
The laughter and the last bit were prompted when I hit that mercy killing button. You see, it doesn’t work. I was mashing it over, and over, and over again. I had to log out to get out. Only this time, there were no clever puns to salvage the experience.
Having had enough of space for awhile, I decided to spawn on the planetary level they were showing off, to see what was going on there and if maybe they would let me fly a spaceship from there, since at that point, I still hadn’t had any success on the actual space station. What could go wrong on the planet right? Not like I can clip into space there!
Random death. That’s what can go wrong. You can just be walking and all of a sudden, you keel over dead. Virulent space disease perhaps. I respawned. Again. And I went looking around the way-smaller-than-I-expected-it-to-be city. There was a medbay, where I spawned. There were a couple of other shops, some of which you could actually go in. And there was a sign for a spaceport. So, after checking out a shop, where I couldn’t sit in any of the chairs or actually buy anything, I headed for the port. And I found a spaceship!
The only problem was that the doors don’t actually open. At all. There is a spaceport there, but its not for you, dear user. But by now I know the dirty secrets, and I am determined to get out on that landing pad. Yes, its time to clip my way to success!
But then there was another invisible barrier and then I clipped through the building and fell to my death. Well, not really, I fell to my entrapment, and then had to log again. Because dying only happens at random, not by falling hundreds of stories into ray-traced block land.
Eventually, of course, I did get to fly a starship, and I can tell you the experience was very familiar to me. Because it was just like this:
That is the other SC – Star Conflict. It hasn’t raised millions of dollars in pledges. It hasn’t recently announced that it would divide itself into two things. Its not years off its projected development cycle. But it does offer you the same gameplay experience. For free. And if you do decided to sink some money into it, you can buy two star ships, a fat wallet, and a permanent 10% xp gain for less money than you can buy a starter ship and half of a game that’s not yet finished. But don’t worry, I’m sure it will be totally worth the $60 or $115 or $275 or $15,000 you dropped on the game when it releases.
And by then they will probably have all the clipping and stuff worked out. And the camera bugs. Did I mention the camera bugs?
For what it’s worth, it was the best time I’ve ever had in an Alpha. But at this point, I’m not sure that’s saying a whole lot.
Ultimately the game seems to suffer from what I call the MechWarrior Online Failure of Unclear Priorities, or MOFUP. In MWO, when the game launched, some of the most basic systems and balancing were not even in the game yet. Some were not even in the planning stages yet – but you could change the interior lighting in the cockpit of your Mech between four ambient brightness levels. Someone had spend hours and hours programming cockpit lighting instead of modeling mechs, or balancing combat, or even just touching base to see if things were, you know, FUN.
Same problem here in SC. Gobs of development time has been vomited onto the tiniest of details while the big pictures looms alarmingly unfulfilled. If that doesn’t change (and I don’t believe it will), all kidding aside, this game is in for a serious implosion of the $100 million plus variety.
And I, for one, am getting my lawn chair and popcorn ready for that show.
Cue the hater’s in the comments section…