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I am going to describe the decisions that led to this project and some details from its development.
Space Engineers is in alpha stage of development - the core gameplay is almost finished (constructing modular grid-like objects in manual and creative mode, volumetric physics, piloting ships, character animations, deformable and destructible objects, electricity, reactors, thrusters, artificial gravity, etc.), some art assets are still placeholders and there are no sound effects. It’s still a “work in progress”, far from “feature complete”.
I could say that the idea of Space Engineers emerged as a logical extension to what we started in Miner Wars - but it’s actually much older. Ten years ago, I wanted to make a game that would be like a computer version of “LEGO TECHNIC” (volumetric objects made of modules interconnected in a grid, with real physical properties and interactions).
Miner Wars 2081 was our first shot and it only touched this idea. Space Engineers is our second attempt and I believe we are going in the right direction.
After finishing Miner Wars 2081, we could have proceeded with a sequel or an MMO, but we felt that first we need to focus on construction and sandbox mechanics, integrate them into our VRAGE engine, build a game that represents them in a best possible way - “Space Engineers” and then reuse them in our future games: a sequel to Miner Wars 2081, an MMO or something else.
In Space Engineers, every object is made of block-modules interconnected in a grid. Every module is a real entity with volume. Depending on the purpose of a module, it can have storage capacity, electricity consumption or production, etc. If you want your lights to operate, better connect them to a grid so they can receive power from a nuclear reactor, which needs uranium to keep running. If you interrupt the grid, the power is lost. If you overload the grid, some consumers get shut down.
Space Engineers is inspired by reality and is played in an environment that can be completely altered by the player. No fake buildings with empty interiors. No fake doors leading to nowhere. No lights, computers or thrusters receiving power from some abstract source. No inventory located “somewhere” in the ship. Everything in the game has some use. There are no "decorative" assets.
Design and development of Space Engineers is guided by our pursuit for realism. Every design decision is shaped by questions such as “how would this thing work in real life?”, “is this technology feasible in the 21st century by extrapolating our current knowledge?”, “what would NASA do?” etc. Not making design-shortcuts proved to be useful and I can say that “the reality is the best designer”.
The foundation of this new technology is a modular grid with real-time deformation and destruction physics. The development of breaking physics took us about a month of work, but it was worth it. It would feel weird if you could build a mother ship, crash it into an asteroid and have it just bounce away. Now it will deform blocks in collision and if damage reaches a certain point, destroy them completely. The video above shows how this works.
On a side note, the modular system is an interesting idea for real space stations and space ships and perhaps if future space engineers have enough resources and 3D printers, they will use it :-)
Another significant difference to Miner Wars and our original plans is that we added character animations. The player is no longer “a ship”. This change adds new gameplay possibilities.
The art style of Space Engineers isn’t finished yet (many models are still just placeholders), but I am already satisfied with the way it’s going - simple colors, low frequency textures with little noise and clutter, current-era look and no flashy, “too sci-fi” surfaces. The “stripe pattern” design that we use when constructing ships was an idea that emerged from the block-nature of how ship construction works and also by the “tourist signs” we have in forests here, in Czech Republic. I am not yet satisfied with how boxy the small ships appear; we may redesign that in a future iteration.
We started working on Space Engineers in April 2013, right after we finished with our post-release works on Miner Wars 2081. I am writing these lines in August 2013 – so that’s 5 months of development. Not including me and a few other people, the major portion of Space Engineers alpha was carried out by 3 programmers and 1 artist. No overtimes and no crunch periods. I am amazed by what my colleagues achieved and I’m very proud of them.
If you want to see some actual game-play, watch these three unofficial teasers that we released in August):
Thanks for reading this!
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Warning: Space Engineers is still in development. Everything in the game is subject to change.