Starship Corporation

Starship Corporation

Written by Dave Gamble on 5/18/2018 for PC  
More On: Starship Corporation

There are many seemingly disparate things in our world that unexpectedly have a number of things in common. As a thought exercise, let us consider the three following wildly divergent things that differ in mission and complexity: travel trailers, airplanes, and spaceships. What do all three of those things share in common, besides the obvious fact that they all provide some form of transportation? Well, probably a lot of things, but two you made not have considered are the laser-like focus on controlling weight and maximizing useful space. Travel trailers need to be as light as possible because they are typically being pulled by consumer-grade vehicles. Airplanes and spaceships also need to be as light as possible because they have to be able to lift their own weight, plus pilots and cargo. All three share the same need to maximize available storage space as well, for what should be readily apparent reasons.

Why do we care about this? Good question, and the answer is that we care because Starship Corporation, at its core, is a game about designing spaceships. There are business management aspects, of course, if you choose to play in campaign mode where you will be subjected to budgetary constraints. In sandbox mode you have no such worries, but just as in campaign mode, there are only so many cubic inches of space to work within and an awful lot of necessary stuff to cram into it.

As a junior starship architect, you start with a small hull that is only suitable for relatively short jaunts through space. Eventually you will gain the experience and facilities to build larger and more capable ships, but because you are just starting out you will be designing a small “pilot” ship, which should not be confused with “a ship for small pilots.” Floor space is very limited in your bottom of the line hull, so you will quickly find that designing a spaceship that includes all of the power, water, air, motive force, and the dozens of the ancillary systems that are required to host a crew and travel through space can be quite a challenge. In fact, that aspect of the game could just as easily go under the name of IKEA Flat Pack Furniture Designer. There is very little room to be had, but necessities are by definition mandatory and must be included in the final design no matter how hard it is to find room to squeeze them all in.

 

It all becomes even more complex when various blocks of equipment have extra needs, such as having to be attached to an edge of the hull or having high maintenance requirements that require crew members to periodically come in and check up on things. Crew members are heavy, take up space, and need food, water, and air to survive. You need them, but you also need to have as few of them as possible. In other words, they must be efficient, and a large part of that efficiency can be gained or lost by an efficient or inefficient floor plan design, respectively. Pilots, for example, need to spend most of their time on the bridge, but they also need to make periodic inspections and repairs in the computer room. If the majority of their time is traversing the hallways between the two areas, they are not going to be nearly as efficient as they could be. Obviously, then, you want the computer room to be as close to the bridge as possible, but finding a way to squeeze it into the most optimal location can be downright difficult to do.

It’s not just enough to get everything squeezed in, either. Many of the systems require power, cooling, and other additional services. As mentioned before, there are also things like cooling ducts and portals that must be placed near the hull in order to have access to space. Once it all the systems and living spaces are in place, that all have to be connected with hatches and hallways.

This sounds complicated for a very good reason: it is! Fortunately, there is a good tutorial in place that walks you through your first design. Unfortunately, after three tries at the tutorial that each ended with in application crash back to the Windows desktop, the initial practice design is the only ship I have designed. It has been a long, long time since I have had these kinds of problems with a released game (as opposed to Early Access, but even with those crashes are far less common than they used to be) and it’s a real shame, especially considering the lengthy load times and the time invested in getting a good design done.

The ship design is the heart and soul of this game (in my opinion), although you also have the opportunity to use your ships as revenue generators after you have thoroughly tested them using your inhouse simulated testing system. The testing system points out inefficiencies in standard operations and while in a conflict with another ship, as well as during emergencies. Inefficiencies can be rectified by relocating rooms and functions, or by developing better routes for your crewmembers. Space can be a mean place, too, so it comes as no surprise that your defensive systems may come into play. While you hope never to need them, you also have to pay attention to efficient escape plans and provide emergency pods for your crews. And, if you have the money and the deck space, weapons as well.

It is also important to note that you aren’t just designing a ship to kill time. It is a business, after all, and that means paying customers. Paying customers have their own wants and needs - these will be provided to you as design requirements. These requirements will often dictate what kind of equipment needs to be installed in addition to the basic requirements that any space-faring ship will need. It ends up being something of a circular process. The customer might want long range and high speed; this will dictate the use of larger engines, which in turn require higher fuel loads and more cooling vents. Your ship needs a bridge, which requires at least two pilots. Pilots need berthing rooms, so there goes more floor space, cooling, and power. It almost becomes a ratcheting up operation: I need two coolers and a generator for the engines. Oh, now I have berths for 7 crewmembers, so will need an escape pod, even more power, even more air, even more…. of a bunch of stuff, some of which will also introduce additional needs of their own. It’s like the proverbial snowball rolling down the mountain, getting bigger and heavier at each turn. And that is the challenge of designing a spaceship to meet specifications and customer requirements.

It can be difficult to remember or to fully know exactly which systems you have already installed and what tasks are still waiting to be done. Fortunately, there is a punch-list that tracks your progress and highlights gaps in the design. It won’t help with the efficiency of the design, but it does serve to ensure that you don’t attempt to launch a ship without including food, water, air, a pilot or two, etc.

As you progress to more sophisticated designs, you will have the opportunity to unlock another 22 hull designs to support ever more capable and/or powerful ships to satisfy customer contracts. You can also expand your business to other star systems, accept missions to perform, or send a fleet of mining ships out to, well, do some mining. The thing is, though, that I really didn’t care to do that stuff - my interest was purely in designing the best ships that I could. The challenges inherent in designing the ships to meet contract specifications in the most efficient and financially efficacious way possible was enjoyable. I wasn’t all that interested in running the business, but I loved being the chief architect. Once a ship was done, I really just wanted to design another. That said, working through a tech tree to unlock new hulls and equipment certainly plays a role in that too; it is a short-sighted CEO that isn’t also investing in Research and Design.

As I briefly mentioned above, I found the game to be unstable. This was surprising when you consider that the game was in early access somewhere back in 2013 or thereabouts. It’s a shame, too. I enjoyed the ship design aspects of the game quite a lot, although I ran into problems every now and then - one example was a system that I installed that absolutely refused to turn green (systems will be outlined in red on the floor plan diagram in they are missing an essential service, such as cooling or electricity.  Because of the earlier difficulties with the game crashing, I didn’t know if the problem was of my own making or it was a flaw in the game. Things like that can be very frustrating, especially for a game that is so interesting to play but requires a significant time investment.

Starship Corporation has the features you would expect from a vehicle designer / guy-in-charge game, provided in an easy to use set of menus and helper screens. A thorough tutorial gives the player a good background for moving forward. We did encounter some stability issues, though.

Rating: 7.4 Above Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I've been fascinated with video games and computers for as long as I can remember. It was always a treat to get dragged to the mall with my parents because I'd get to play for a few minutes on the Atari 2600. I partially blame Asteroids, the crack cocaine of arcade games, for my low GPA in college which eventually led me to temporarily ditch academics and join the USAF to "see the world." The rest of the blame goes to my passion for all things aviation, and the opportunity to work on work on the truly awesome SR-71 Blackbird sealed the deal.

My first computer was a TRS-80 Model 1 that I bought in 1977 when they first came out. At that time you had to order them through a Radio Shack store - Tandy didn't think they'd sell enough to justify stocking them in the retail stores. My favorite game then was the SubLogic Flight Simulator, which was the great Grandaddy of the Microsoft flight sims.

While I was in the military, I bought a Commodore 64. From there I moved on up through the PC line, always buying just enough machine to support the latest version of the flight sims. I never really paid much attention to consoles until the Dreamcast came out. I now have an Xbox for my console games, and a 1ghz Celeron with a GeForce4 for graphics. Being married and having a very expensive toy (my airplane) means I don't get to spend a lot of money on the lastest/greatest PC and console hardware.

My interests these days are primarily auto racing and flying sims on the PC. I'm too old and slow to do well at the FPS twitchers or fighting games, but I do enjoy online Rainbow 6 or the like now and then, although I had to give up Americas Army due to my complete inability to discern friend from foe. I have the Xbox mostly to play games with my daughter and for the sports games.
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