You’ll want to steer, but you won’t be able to. Charles Cox doesn’t want you to. Endless space-based video games have taught gamers to manipulate analog sticks, a d-pad or a keyboard and mouse to steer all manner of spacecraft to precisely where they want them to go. Habitat: A Thousand Generations in Orbit doesn’t work that way. Physics have the wheel in 4gency’s strategy game, and they’ll be doing all of the steering. Cox hopes the approach will work.
He showed up at PAX East last month with a playable demo of his ID@Xbox title. Actually, it was more a proof of concept than a proper demo — 4gency put together a playable outer space sandbox and filled it with junk, lots and lots of junk. There was no objective or end point to the demo. Instead, players were free to take the orbiting hunk of junk they started with (the titular habitat), weld whatever debris they pleased onto it and propel the thing through the space. Doing so is easier said than done.
Your habitat is an unwieldy thing, as you might expect a floating mass of rock, rockets and pieces of famous landmarks to be. Movement is based on physics, so, again, there’s no steering controls for your rubble-craft. What you do have control over is the placement of rockets, the rockets you want to fire up at any given time and how much thrust you want from those rockets. A mistake at any of these three levels of propulsion oversight will lead to your habitat either careening off of other objects and being smashed to pieces or performing the spacecraft equivalent of doing donuts in a car parking lot. On top of that, players also have to manage electricity and oxygen levels, as some of one or the other is necessary for rocket power.
Taking control of a habitat, I immediately screw the entire thing up by unintentionally playing bumper cars with surrounding space debris. Crucial parts of the habitat are torn asunder and most of its inhabitants are killed. Cox restarts the demo and advises me on what to do. Even with his over-the-shoulder guidance, it’s next to impossible to not make a mistake. I continually place rockets in ill-advised locations, place one rocket where there should be a pair and apply improper amounts of thrust. There’s no shortage of space junk in the demo, and I crash into most of it during my play session.
Cox says that there’s “an art to this.” If so, Leonardo Da Vinci I am not. A successful go at things seems unfeasible, but then again, there are no conditions for success in the demo, so perhaps things will be different in the final game.
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