Sandbox Space Sim: Kinetic Void

By Shamus
on Jan 24, 2014
Filed under:
Game Reviews

There the rules are pretty sketchy for what it takes to qualify for “Early Access” on Steam. I don’t know that there can be such a rule in a black-and-white, qualify-or-not sense of things. But in my own sense of what I expect from an alpha, I’d say “more than this”.

Basically what we have here is a really great ship builder and a marginally successful system for test-driving your design.

kinetic_void1.jpg

This is something I’ve always wanted in a space game. Very few of them seem to wrap their heads around this idea that the ship is the avatar. Instead, somewhere buried on a tab of a dialog I never look at is a picture of my pilot, and that’s supposed to be “me”. But from a gameplay standpoint it’s much more useful to think of “me” as the thing in the middle of the screen: The ship. That’s what I’m looking at. (Assuming the game is third person.) That’s what gets damaged, upgraded, or killed by my actions. That’s the thing I want to name, personalize, and look at in dramatic camera views.

So I dislike the usual system of progression in these games where you upgrade from one fixed design to another. It’s like playing Diablo II and “upgrading” your necromancer into a sorceress, and then later trading her in for a barbarian. It just feels wrong. Maybe ship A has the stats that I really want, but it’s got wings and pointy bits on it that I dislike for aesthetic reasons. Ship B has a form I find appealing, but the stats are geared for (say) mining while I’m more interested in combat. In a genre so focused on freedom, I’ve always found this annoying.

A lot of games focus on letting you amass and command fleets. That’s nice, but rather than commanding a dozen fixed ships I’d much rather fly one really cool one. Even if I’m the only person who thinks it’s cool. I want to command the Enterprise, not the Federation, and I want to explore the galaxy, not run an intergalactic trucking company. But that’s just me.

kinetic_void2.jpg

Kinetic Void solves this – or if you like, will solve it – with a great system of ship design. You pick the pieces. You rotate, flip, and stick them together however you like. You choose the paint job, the color of the interior lights, and how shiny the thing is.

Once you’re done with the hull, you fill the interior with systems. Engines, shields, reactors, etc. Your available space is determined by ship class, not physical volume of the ship, so [I’m pretty sure] you can’t build yourself a massive supercarrier by sticking together tons and tons of little fighter pieces. Which makes sense.

There are a lot of pieces, and people have made some really interesting ships with them. Even better is that the ship designer is sensible and intuitive. I was able to build and design ships basically* without reading anything or bothering with the docs.

* I did mess up my very first ship because I didn’t understand the mechanic of adding subsystems. So I crafted a ship that was basically an empty hull. Makes me laugh. Once I figured that bit out everything was fine.

kinetic_void3.jpg

Beyond this, I can’t recommend the game. I don’t think there’s enough gameplay here to make it worthwhile just yet. The patch notes talk about there being combat and trade, but when I got into the game I couldn’t find a way to engage in either, and I encountered a few bugs just trying to fly around.

The ship builder is quality. If the rest of the game can reach that point this will turn into something special.

Reminder: This isn’t intended to be a full review. This is a first-glance, first-impressions kind of deal, as part of a series where I play a whole bunch of Sandbox Space Sims.

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From the Archives:

  1. Sleeping Dragon says:

    Ah, this one is sitting in my wishlist waiting for when I have more money to burn, or when it goes out of early access, not really a fan of playing games in that state. So far I have heard numerous comments to the effect of “not enough gameplay” but the ship editor does look pretty (I’m curious though, what’s the sense of scale, shipsize, the game offers?). I do hope for a nice, possibly moddable, sandbox or semi-sandbox game once it is finally released.

  2. X2Eliah says:

    Ah, this one.

    I also bought this game expecting… well, a lot more. This doesn’t feel like an “alpha” by any definition I’ve used before, because there even isn’t a core gameplay structure in place. This one is, as it stands, unplayable. And tbh I don’t know if it will evolve into a good game, because.. well, because we have a bunch of amazing upcoming games on the horizon.

    Oh, yes, also, I want to rant a bit about the ship designer. The object manipulation tools (i.e. rotate, move, skew) are, for some reason, super-weird and unintuitive, when compared to 3d object manipulation in modelling softwares. There’s something just intrinsically ‘wrong’ about how the object movements correspond to the buttons you are pressing, it feels like a couple of values are inverted or somesuch. Maybe this isn’t an issue for people who aren’t used to twiddling cgi 3d objects already, though.

    P.S. Given your remarks on wanting to have a single ship, Shamus, you might actually end up liking Darkstar One. (it’s on gog, I think).

  3. aldowyn says:

    Another game (a 4x, actually…) with a pretty in-depth ship customization/build system is Galactic Civilizations.

    But yeah, most games let you, at best, pick a basic ship type, try and find a style you like, and then use the set number of hardpoints for specific kinds of things. Not a ton of freedom.

  4. ENC says:

    When I saw the first screenshot I thought it was Eve Online.

    • mololabo says:

      It really reminded me of the Armageddon thanks to it’s rounded front. http://static1.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20090915064333/eve/images/8/83/Armageddon512.jpg

      • Thomas says:

        I feel spaceship design is a fairly unexplored area, lots of the ships on EVE remind me of other sci-fi ships and lots of other sci-fi ships remind me of EVE. (In particular I’m sure just recently I looked at something pretty identical to the Sisters of Eve ships). The geddon looks quite Star Wars republic-y

        • Mechaninja says:

          Alternatively, perhaps there’s only so much that nerds like us are likely to do in the ship design space.

          Perhaps it hasn’t been explored by like, designers. Like, you know, like interior designers, or clothes designers. Designers.

          As for forms that make sense, it kind of goes a lot off of what you want.

          A globe or cube or something probably makes lots of sense in a space-going vessel that isn’t going very deep into planetary gravity wells, but maybe you want something more streamlined if it is a ship that lands on planets.

          Perhaps you have issues with thrust to tensile strength, so maybe a cube or globe would disintegrate under the angular stresses? So then you want something that’s more cigar shapped, sort of the classic space ship. Maybe that’s not a problem and you’re a huge fan of Star Wars so you want to build a Corellian style freighter and trick it out with weapons.

  5. TMTVL says:

    Ship builder… Hmmm…

    I know! Play Kingdom Hearts, the gummi ship building thing kinda allows you to build your own ship. Or better yet, don’t because the game is horribly terrible and terribly horrible.

    • Kereminde says:

      . . . why exactly is the game so bad? I mean as a space shooter, both games on the PS2 are incredibly awkward at it and are more like rail shooters a la “Starfox”.

      But seriously, “it’s terribly horrible” sort of piques my interest because people throw around incredible statements like that all the time.

  6. CJ says:

    Based on the discussion in the other thread, I’m pretty close to getting Space Rangers 2. There’s a “HD” “Reboot” on Steam that came out about 4 months ago that’s supposed to still be good.

  7. Bropocalypse says:

    A while back NC Soft had a game which was like EVE Online, but with Caribbean pirates. You could set a color scheme for your ships… In that scenario, I don’t know if player-designed ships would be possible.

    • Adeon says:

      I think you’re thinking of Pirates of the Burning Sea although that was actually published by SOE not NCSoft.

      If so the answer on ship customization is sort of. They did have some user designed ships int he game but it was more like Steam Workshop where someone created the models and they added it into the game as a standard ship for everyone rather than letting players make their own special ships.

  8. Dev Null says:

    I think you’ve commented on this before, but I think these games do themselves a disservice by releasing such early alphas. I for one have no need to be the first human being to lay eyes on a game, and would much rather play it when its a) done and b) debugged.

    • RandomCommenter says:

      So… Don’t play it? Sorry for phrasing it rudely, but this type of argument sounds like the usual “if *I* can’t find any use for this thing, then it is pointless”, which is rather self-centered.

      You’re not losing anything by waiting for the full game, and those other players who want to get on the action early oh have the option to do so. Early Access seems to be useful for many games, just look at Rust or DayZ. Whether they will put those mountains of cash to good use to better their game, at least they have a chance to do so, a chance they wouldn’t have if they had waited to do a traditional release.

      Perhaps the claim can be made multiplayer games have a risk of being deserted come release time… But for that to happen most people would have to value playing early more than playing a debugged game, and if that’s they want, why should they be denied that option?

      • Shamus says:

        He didn’t say they shouldn’t be allowed. He said they do themselves a disservice. Like, they might sell better overall if they waited before going on sale.

        It’s an interesting problem, and a big part of it is that there’s no agreed-upon standard for what is “Early Access”. Does that mean, “Kinda buggy, and a few features aren’t done” or “Barely even a game and nothing works yet”? There’s no clear line and you’re not sure what you’re getting.

        Lots of people might get the game in the early state, get bored, and move on. You can say they shouldn’t have played it so soon, but maybe they bought other games that were also Early Access but were more complete, so they were coming in with different expectations.

        It’s not as simple as saying “Don’t play it if you want a complete game”, because even the concept of “complete game” is getting pretty blurry. Minecraft was a perfectly playable game over a year before the official launch, but is also still adding new features years AFTER launch. When was it “complete”? When it was a playable game? At launch? Now? When they stop updating?

        The point is, the customer isn’t sure what they’re getting and the developer doesn’t have any hard data on when it’s good to put the game up for sale. What gives the user the most value? What builds the best community? What gives the developer the best return?

        It’s complicated, and like Dev Null I suspect the dev is harming their overall potential by releasing too early.

        • RandomCommenter says:

          I’m certainly not suggesting anyone is saying this shouldn’t be allowed.

          No doubt there’s a lack of data to make informed decisions. It seems to me the solution here is to get more data, rather than to dismiss the trend on the basis that it *might* not be profitable. If nobody tried anything new, we’d be stuck with $60 games.

          The Steam sales/Humble Bundle model and the F2P model have both shown people value games differently, and that the life can be significantly extended by accounting for these different purchasing habits. It doesn’t seem like such a stretch to see Early Access as a possible extension of that.

          I can’t quite agree with the notion you don’t know what you’re getting into with Early Access games, because it sort of implies you do know what you’re getting into with actual releases, as if a full release is a stamp of quality; and IME, that’s just not the case. Broken ports, aggressive DRM, technical issues, games with cut content. Going in without doing your research is a bit like playing Russian Roulette.

          And that’s another potential plus of Early Access games, for gamers willing to wait. Content isn’t locked behind marketing or reviews of dubious professional integrity, you get to see Youtube footage of the game and impressions of actual players.

          I’m not disagreeing with you on the concept of complete game either. That’s another strength of Early Access in my eyes: you get to play whenever you feel the game is interesting enough, not when developers say it’s ready (or when publishers force devs to push it out).

          • Axehurdle says:

            I think the original point was mostly about the marketing value of exactly when you release the early access, rather than the value of early access as a concept. If you release too soon it is conceivable that the very incomplete game will become associated with negative experiences. We can see that kind of happening in Shamus’s post.

            Shamus pretty clearly feels some amount of disappointment in the game because it didn’t meet his expectations of an early access title. Regardless of whether he should feel this way or not inducing that feeling is bad for the financial future of the producers.

        • Mephane says:

          I think forums and user comments solve this problem entirely. I have bought Early Access for some games after reading some forums to see what the game actually has implemented, others I avoided after realizing it is too early or not even my type of game.

          I even do this kind of research just to find out how the game plays. For example, things like checkpoints vs save everywhere is rarely part of the game description, but will be mentioned in a forum when it is done badly. Or game genres. A lot of games on Steam are listed with generic categories like “Action, Indie” – yeah, what does that even mean? Example: Borderlands 2. Steam lists it as “Action, RPG”, because it also has levels and skill trees, which apparently is enough to give it the RPG classification.

        • Decius says:

          Maybe they are hurting themselves, maybe they are getting better feedback and helping themselves. The final arbiter of that will be reality and the future, not logic. Other developers will use the lessons learned by the early adopters of Early Access, and adjust their methodology to follow.

          Empirical science FTW.

        • I blame the Star Trek movies for teaching kids that it’s okay to launch your starship when half the systems haven’t been tested or installed.

      • Bubble181 says:

        There’s a lot of abuse of the “Early Access” name going around though, and for many games, by the time it’s officially released, the Internet has passed it by – the social aspect of gaming can be a factor. I’m justp laying Skyrim now, and I don’t mind, but some people like the idea of playing through a game the same time everyone esle does – discovering together, so to speak, trying out new wild mods as they appear.
        That aspect gets diluted and can often be entirely lost if you play it only when it’s officially released these days.

        • RandomCommenter says:

          True, but I think this falls into “majority rules”. If you want to play with most people, you have to go with what most people like. It’s understandable to be disappointed if most people used to like the same thing as you do and now don’t, but if it turns out their preference was by default, that given another choice they’d rather go another route, to assume the practice isn’t good for the game because it isn’t good for you personally seems a bit petty.

    • X2Eliah says:

      I agree. I played this game’s alpha (and frankly didn’t like it, because it’s not a playable game). Will I ever play this game again, even when it is finished? Probably not. The first impression was bad, and I’ve consigned this to a failed investment.

      And this goes for most early-access games I’ve fallen for like a sucker. Play them a bit, see that they are nowhere near playable, uninstall and never play again.

      • Kereminde says:

        I’ve played a handful of “Early Access”, and only about two of them I really regret. “CubeWorld” is one because while it looked like it had some interesting things it was mostly an exercise in frustration. In a year it might be something fun, but now? Really a difficult mess for no apparent reason other than it’s not finished.

        The other one I regret more is Starbound. No, not because it’s bad. But because it’s so expansive and almost demands a lot of attention to make it work out nicely.

        Other “Early Access” purchases would be:

        – Desktop Dungeons: Fun game, completely playable even if it’s a “beta” currently. I like the idea of it, even if the random nature can make some levels unwinnable without incredible prescience of what’s coming up. It was worth it getting it on a sale for a discount.

        – Gnomoria: Because enough people extolled the infinite virtues of “Dwarf Fortress” and this game was advertised to me as “DF with a graphical interface and less complexity”. Sold. It’s pretty fun but, of course, if you’re not really quick at developing your land it can get all swept away come the twentieth day.

        – Minecraft: Can’t say enough good or bad things about this game. It really shines when you get to the mods which have been developed for it, and what those mods can do with the base game.

      • Zukhramm says:

        I’d think the opposite would make more sense, trying again after some time of development to give that money a chance to unwaste itself.

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        But you already payed,so whether you will play it later or not doesnt impact the games sales at all.It only impacts the future projects of the developer,and considering that most of indies produce a game or two on their own before getting swallowed by a big company,its irrelevant for them as well.

  9. Eric Meyer says:

    Somebody really needs to turn on the air scrubbers in that construction bay. And if it’s a hard vacuum, then they’ve got even bigger problems.

    • Paul Spooner says:

      I’m going to imagine that those are clouds of nano-assemblers. Or welding fumes. Or, corona from the un-shielded electric arc lamps? Or… They use the construction bay as the air handler return manifold? That’s a fair idea actually; As long as you have a big old room, may as well use it for accumulating all the waste fumes in the station.

  10. Brandon says:

    This one probably gets overlooked because of what it is, but.. Spore has all of those mechanics in the space era.

    Build your own ship, upgrade it, fly it around, trade, do diplomacy, fight. It has it all. :)

    But yeah, it’s Spore.

    • Nytzschy says:

      One of the more disappointing aspects of Spore, for me, was precisely that the spaceship was so customizable—but it was customizable only in a completely meaningless fashion. A simple textureless sphere flew and fought in exactly the same way that Sithguy69420’s custom Star Destroyer with racing stripes did. Sure, I had fun designing UFOs and flying them around, but sooner or later this lack of tangible effect between design choices undermined the fun. And that’s the difference between something that was enjoyable to play for a little while and something one comes back to over and over again.

      • ShantySeaShantyDo says:

        But as Shamus was saying above, having ships of different designs work in different ways introduces its own problems. It’s really better to just separate form from function so that players can choose the best of both without having to compromise between them.

        • Zukhramm says:

          But what he’s talking about is upgrading by switching between complete ships with set stats. Having the individual parts mitigates that somewhat. And regardless, in my eyes any problem introduced is smaller than the giant problem of making my design entirely meaningless.

          • ShantySeaShantyDo says:

            Regardless of whether it’s entire ships with set stats or individual parts with set stats, the basic principal still applies: in order to get the mechanical benefits they need for their playstyle, players might have to compromise on the aesthetics of their ship. In my eyes that’s a far bigger problem than the design being meaningless, which is really only a problem if you think about it too much.

          • syal says:

            From the article:

            Maybe ship A has the stats that I really want, but it’s got wings and pointy bits on it that I dislike for aesthetic reasons. Ship B has a form I find appealing, but the stats are geared for (say) mining while I’m more interested in combat. In a genre so focused on freedom, I’ve always found this annoying.

            The complaint is that the stats determine what your ship looks like.

            But you bring up a good point, in that while it’s nice to make a ship look like you want it to, everyone doing so takes away the ability to gauge another ship’s strength by looking at the design. Maybe some kind of toggle would be nice; maybe you can “cloak” yourself as a more aesthetically appealing ship, but people can pierce the cloak if they try and see the ugly box-o-stats you really are.

            • Zukhramm says:

              I wouldn’t say the stats determine aesthetics, or the other way around. They are just needlessly bound together without actually having anything to do with each other.

              Letting players override their looks seems to me to be just a more complicated way of divorcing the two completely. I think the solution is to make sure every part has something to offer every playstyle.

              • syal says:

                That sounds ridiculously complicated. Like, if I want the aesthetics of three thrusters but would rather have more firepower than more thruster output, how do you make the thrusters increase my damage? How do you make my extra forward-facing guns add thrust?

    • MrWhales says:

      I wish that Maxis would have just brought out the stages in quasi-separate games.

  11. Museli says:

    “I want to explore the galaxy, not run an intergalactic trucking company.”

    Exploring the galaxy is great, but I would also buy the heck out of ‘Space Trucking Simulator 2014’.

    • anaphysik says:

      Space Bus for Hope.

    • Veylon says:

      I have enough trouble running a terrestial trucking company in Simutrans. The last thing the galaxy needs is me making a traffic jam stretching from here to Sirius.

      Seriously, though. Setting up a massive, sprawling organization to systemically exploit the resources of whole solar systems does appeal. There are all these space elevators and hydrogen scoopers and tin-foil asteroid derailers and what-not that people have imagined and it would be pretty neat to have a game where you combine them into some sort of interplanetary rube-goldberg apparatus. Sure, I’ll just slingshot this asteroid into a moon to dislodge it from it’s orbit and send it careening into this other planet to blast off it’s dense atmosphere so that I can set up a mining colony down there and reduce the galactic cost of iridium by .03%.

    • X2Eliah says:

      Hm. X:Rebirth kinda feels like a space trucker simulator: all you do are menial tasks akin to delivering stuff from one point to another. Might be worth a look, perhaps? (relevant: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Uj2GWkv3SM ) <- highly suggested

      • Veylon says:

        A few minutes of that video is giving me flashbacks to Spoony’s review of Privateer II. Everything’s been crowbarred and cut down in the name of streamlining.

        I’ve got the original X-set on a Steam sale, but haven’t played them significantly; maybe I should start there.

  12. Tohron says:

    In X3 I usually think of my avatar as a spacesuit that can teleport inside owned ships if it gets close enough. The game does several things to encourage you to get out of your ship – your suit has a Repair Laser to slowly repair your hull (which is otherwise very expensive), and you have to do it to claim ownerless ships (unless you buy the expensive and illegal System Override Software). You also have to spacewalk to transfer between ships if they aren’t both docked and you lack a Transporter Device.

    • MrWhales says:

      Makes me think of Star Made, which I initially wrote off as “Minecraft in space”, which I was completely right about, but it did what I want Minecraft to do and made me relearn how to survive, and that is what makes it fun.

  13. Scerro says:

    After playing Starbound, I’ve started to avoid early access games. Sure, things lacked balance early on, but once you hit the 4th tier worlds… it was buggy beyond playability. That said, I’ll come back to it with my friends in a few years. Same story with 7 Days to Die. (It’s a mix of Left 4 Dead and Minecraft)

  14. Elric says:

    What you say doesn’t make sense. You can’t “upgrade” your Necromancer to a Sorceress and then to a Barbarian. The Necromancer is the most badass character Diablo II has to offer, so the real upgrade path is Paladin -> Sorceress -> Amazon -> Barbarian -> Necromancer -> God.

    Looks the best too.

  15. ehlijen says:

    Say, have you ever tried Galaxy Truckers?

    It’s a board game about competitively building ships out of a big, communal pile of components and then sending the resultant contraptions on a galactic race fraught with danger. Winner is usually whoever fell apart the least.

  16. Veylon says:

    Since we’re talking about building vehicles AND games in Alpha, it’s probably fair to bring up RoboCraft, a game in which you build a military vehicle out of cubes of various kinds. I say “military vehicle” because, while it’s possible to build a tank, a rocket plane, a helicopter, or a zepplin, the categories are not mutually exclusive. The cubes are destroyed invidually and a player isn’t “dead” until the pilot is killed, leaving some very chewed-up looking vehicles dragging themselves around by one wheel by the end of a match.

    It’s free, but it is in Alpha. The only weapons right now are laser guns and most of the cubes are varous bits of armor (though the headlights are a nice touch) and there’s only a couple battlefields.

    The physics are realistically tough and careless designers can spend matches tipped over on their sides or floating helplessly up into the sky or hovering upside down.

  17. Kereminde says:

    Must point out a game I found on iOS – “Galaxy on Fire 2”, which was working pretty well for me until I wound up accidentally advancing the difficulty curve somehow and now am getting shot to pieces before I can escape :) Also, iPad controls need some getting used to and have a tendency to ‘slip’ thanks to how it reads inputs.

  18. default_ex says:

    The only space sim I’ve ever liked that had the whole pre-defined ships thing was the X-series. You are able to customize your ships to some extent but for the most part however the ship looked and behaved was how it will always look and behave. There were just such a wide variety of ships to choose from that the game plays so much better if you learn how to effectively use each ship and hop between them accordingly. It felt much more like commanding a party in an RPG.

    The typical invasion strategy I used for taking on a sector went a bit as follows. First I’d go in with a recon shop configured with a load out that is very effective against missiles but not at all effective against actual ships. This recon ship would focus on scouting the area and if possible break fighter craft away from the large ships. After that I’d gate out and switch over to a larger ship, typically a Collosus. This ship would go in and take down as many of their larger ships as possible, then loop back towards the gate softening up the fighter craft on the way. Next I’d drop into my fighter, configured for maximum maneuverability with two sets of weapons: one for shield breaking and one for pounding on their hulls. After enough of the sector was cleared of hostiles I’d pop the map and start batching up commands to my haulers to come in and collect the spoils of war while I take down any stragglers with a second fighter configured for speed.

    That’s just my style of play though. There are people out there that run an entire fleet for invading sectors.

    What I’d really love is a game like what you describe Kinetic Void as but with a scripting system that lets me develop my own routines for the ship’s functions. Being able to drop turrets all over your ship is nice but swapping between them, firing all at once or worse letting some shoddy AI that knows nothing of my priorities control them sucks.

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