Yesterday, at EGX Rezzed, we go to go hands on with Stationeers and speak to the man behind it all, Dean Hall. For those who haven’t been following RocketWerkz, Dean Hall is the man behind the DayZ mod for Arma II that eventually became the DayZ game on Early Access. Unfortunately remembered for broken promises, an incredibly long development cycle, and Hall leaving the project unifinished, it’s easy to forget just how amazing DayZ is. A huge open map, realistic combat, the constant risk of losing everything not just from a stray sniper, but from hunger, cold, or thirst. We put over 500 hours into the DayZ mod and another 100 into the full game, mostly because the player interactions were unlike anything else. In the early days of the mod, people didn’t just kill on sight, people would trade, gang up, help each other, and even travel across maps to fix someone’s broken leg. Some of our favourite gaming moments came from the emergent gameplay afforded to us by Dean Hall trying something different, and it looks like he’s going to try again.
His new company RocketWerks have taken the approach of not wanting to show anything until they have something to show, and it’s worked. In a small room in the basement of Tobacco Dock, London, Hall and two other developers from the six-man development team stood near four computers running their latest game, Stationeers.
In Stationeers you are in charge of building and maintaining a Space Station. The graphics are simple and blocky, but that’s purposeful, it takes attention away from what looks realistic and focuses on what matters, the systems. In Stationeers as much as possible is properly simulated. The space station itself doesn’t move through space, it’s on a fixed plane and everything else moves around it, and as this is a very early version of the game, plenty of systems are quite there yet, but as a proof of concept it’s enthralling.
As I sat down to have a go I found I was in some kind of engineering room surrounded by pipes and what looked like large pumps or boilers. On every machine and on plenty of the pipes there were readings, describing the exact pressure inside them. There were loads of numbers that I didn’t know how to interpret alongside complex interactions of conveyer belts, machinery, and supporting structures. Hall explained that the idea behind the game is to not take the player out of game too much by giving them information directly. Instead things must be read from displays. If you can’t work out why not enough Hydrogen is being provided to your water creation, you need to find where the pressure is dropping. Perhaps a valve has been left open, perhaps it’s being re-routed somewhere else, perhaps you have an unfinished pipe leaking into space.
Currently the game is strictly creative mode, there’s no way to get new raw resources, but you can refine them using the machines. Different elements react and combine in the way you’d expect so you need to be careful about the oxygen mix in the air, or hydrogen leaks leading to catastrophic fires.
The game we were playing had four people all in one server, but I was assured they’ve got it working with up to 16 players so far and are still finalising how big they want these servers to be. As I pottered about exploring the station I regularly game across the other players doing their own thing and editing the station as they saw fit.
I opened up an airlock and went for a float outside. Seeing a long tunnel of girders I ventured inside the end and travelled up to what looked like an airlock that was holding back a great deal of fire. “You probably don’t want to go in there” a dev explained, ” that guy’s trying to build a railgun.” Another guest at the show had apparently spent most of the day before and all of that day stuck to the game, seeing how far he could push the simulation. He had built up a huge amount of energy and pressure within one compartment then used an airlock system to load some shot (in this case some loose canisters) into the ‘barrel’ and a final airlock to hold it all in while he built up the required power. I rush out of the barrel and took a vantage point a little way away. Quickly a mass of blue fire enveloped the space station, what he was doing was incredibly destructive, but impressive. The fire raged through the compartment, built up to the airlock, then when it was remotely opened, canisters fire at speed out of the barrel. A success! As I was marvelling, the shockwave hit me and sent me tumbling a little bit backwards.
It’s not all 100% scientifically accurate (yet), and many are going to be wary of any promises that Hall makes, but I’m already eager to put my money in for Early Access. It’s a fantastic project and what little there already is would be more than enough to provide hours of entertainment to anyone with a mind towards experiments. Here’s hoping the world of internet negativity doesn’t stifle this kind of creativity in games development. Yes Rocketwerkz might be taking a lot of risk, but I’m glad they are.