We are living through a time of remakes and sequels we never expected. FF7R this year, Suikoden on Kickstarter anyone? However every now and again, someone chooses to remake something you never thought they would in a million years. If there’s a more beloved game from my childhood, that I never expected to get a remake, I couldn’t have chosen better than Startopia.
For those who weren’t gaming much in 2001 (so anyone under 25) Startopia was a bit of a cult classic in terms of management games. In the same year that Halo first showed us what a ring world/station could look like, Startopia let us repurpose and administer a derelict one. Ring bases were clearly popular that year, something in the water?
Giving you control of everything from docks and trade, through food production, waste management (with a big emphasis on recycling), entertainment, power generation and transport, Startopia invited you to manage a space station however you saw fit. You had three decks that went right round in a giant ring, two for business and residential, and a third, the biodeck, used solely as a beautiful green space for relaxation.
It’s pretty clear to me that the original designers were hippies, whose ethos permeated the whole game, making it a wonderfully climate-aware, peace and love-filled game. Even some of the aliens were clear treehuggers. No one, not even a die-hard fan like me, is going to say the game didn’t have its faults; it had barely any story structure, tutorials were tough, and the game was riddled with bugs and game crashing code, but it was so original and so charming that it holds a special place in the hearts of those who got a chance to play it.
19 years later (sorry, just being sci-fi dramatic)
A new development team and a new publisher have acquired the Startopia IP and a remake/spiritual successor is coming on October 23rd. Spacebase Startopia (just in case you forget it’s about a space base) looks exactly like the original through my rose-tinted spectacles. Obviously it’s not – graphics and gameplay have moved on a hell of a lot in 19 years, and good job too, but the new game is as faithful to its source material as it’s possible to be.
Your ring station starts as a blank canvas, empty of anything but docks. You need to build residential blocks and housing for a variety of local (in terms of light-years) alien life, and then amenities and buildings to run the place. Everything requires power, and the waste products of your visitors can be recycled into power to run your station. You want to become the hub of the local sector, and provide entertainment that is suitable for each different alien need; some need water facilities, some need discos, some need help with breeding and finding mates, some need massive holographic gaming modules.
You have an army of buzzer droids at your command who clear up after your visitors, repair buildings, build new ones, and unload the vast trade resources that come in. But buzzer droids can’t run facilities. Instead, you can recruit the aliens that arrive to run the types of businesses and shops that cater to their kind. You gain money and resources from the aliens that spend and trade with your station, which then allows you to build and evolve it even further.
One of the things I remember most fondly, and looks to be very present in the remake, is the Biodeck. You are given complete control to terraform everything about this deck, from the level and contours of the land, the types of terrain, to introducing water features, lakes and rivers. You can grow alien plants and create a forest, or make desolate rocky lava areas. The intention is to have sections that cater to the norms of each species home planet, so that they have a place to unwind after the work and play on the other decks.
Startopia was a charming concept the first time around. Every alien had stats, names and personalities like the populace of Watch Dogs, and you could just follow each alien’s life for hours at a time. Management in the original was close to chaos – I remember many battles with the sheer weight of alien waste that built up, and trying to have enough bins for litter and droids to clear up as I could, but it was never enough.
If the new team have kept all the best features, modernised them, and sorted all the bugs (without creating new ones) we could have another fantastic game on our hands. I can’t wait to create a wonderful hive at the centre of the galaxy and become the benevolent entertainment lord of the sector. Startopia is coming to PS4 and Xbox One and PC on October 23rd.
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