Access Granted - Starship Corporation

By Alex Connolly 10 May 2016 0

Adjusted for interstellar time dilation, I've been waiting for Starship Corporation for roughly 3.2 million years. With the game hitting Steam Early Access by the time you read this, allow me to pull the earmuffs down and baton you into the star lanes. Blueprints and hull-breaches await.

Starship Corporation is equal parts space design bureau, business management and crisis simulator. It's a very interesting mix. At least, if nitty-gritty in any of the aforementioned tickles fancy, there's something to like in Coronado Games' protracted project. Players undertake contracts offered up by an innumerate number of companies wanting specific hardware for operations in the cosmos. But it's not just you and your Bob Clifford proclivities looking to fulfill orders. Other interstellar shipwrights are bidding for the contract, which is where a deft hand at the drafting table helps. Nobody wants a Novgorod

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Accepting contracts also means being able to meet specific technological requirements, and the inherent costs if your corporation doesn't have the gear on the shelf. This eats away at delivery target time, so careful consideration must be made in the early game, unless you're cribbing notes from a pre-restructured F-35 sinkhole. 

There's a huge tech tree to work through, and an expandable network of R&D labs to open and utilise. Being able to run a number of research operations at once helps to keep a contract in sight, without blindly expending finances between contracts. But in saying that, there is an upside to having a proven vessel ready for market when an applicable tender is offered up. As with anything, there are low-investment tenders that require merely the basics -- freighters and ferries -- with the more lucrative contracts, such as military or scientific vessel production, needing a deep technology pool and the inherent cash to plumb it. 

Once you've got the requisite tech, it's off to the shipyard to start riveting and wiring. The construction of even the most basic starship is an arduous but enjoyable task of linking modules and systems together to meet either the demands of a contract, or simply to maximise use of the fuselages. 

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Space is at a premium, and if the idea of managing an interstellar inventory appeals, Starship Corporation's blueprint design element is very much for you. Bridges, powerplants and shunters, fuel pods, crew quarters, hatches, navigation and sensor arrays, cargo bays, docking clamps and the list goes on; learning not only how to stuff the innards of your chosen vessel in the most economic way, but also slotting in redundancies and fail-safes in the event of emergencies.

Each module needs power, life support ducting, coolant and, in some cases, water. You end up with an intricate network of electrical lines, pipes, vents and tubing within their own discrete overlay; each a crucial interconnected webwork per deck, subject to the rigours of life in the space lane.

Once contract parameters are met or Hughesian ambition achieved, players then run simulations, operating their starship in variable trials where the stresses of space and crew competency are put to the test.

These short simulations shift the focus towards crew management and gives a taste of what life is like on assignment. Pilots need to maintain a presence naturally on the bridge, but also in places like the ship's computer and associated navigation arrays. Technicians maintain the ships core functions and can suit up to repair more serious damage in the event of collision or breaching. Medics do what medics do, with military personnel repelling boarders and aiding techs in bigger crises. An effective crew must be delegated routines to maintain the ships systems and subsystems, otherwise you'll be playing catch-up to avoidable disasters, had the crew been doing their job in place of playing canasta. 

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The personnel management does feel like a play from the FTL handbook. Efficiency is boosted the longer a complimentary character hooks around inside a module. Plotting service routes between rooms and decks, in addition to action administration scheduling, is akin to something out of Traffic Giant or Cities on the Move. Having a competent crew also means faster maintenance and greater efficiency, in turn achieving better results in the test-bed. After that, in the real deal of the star lanes, ratings, morale and deftness mean the difference between delivered promises and abject failure, life and ignoble passing as a frozen mote in the cosmos. 

I won't go much deeper, but believe you me, Starship Corporation is the most in-depth tycoon game I've put mitts to in a while. The meta game of plying, buying and trading between systems is something I'm only just cracking, but I find the nuts and bolts of designing and testing vessels is the true meat of the game. But it's not perfect, and with a little more massaging in Early Access, I hope they iron out the kinks.

The blueprint design system isn't hugely intuitive when dealing with systems and modules that span multiple decks. A toggled overlay of decks would go a long way when placing lifts or routing power or air ducting between levels. Given that most vessels feature differing struts and bulkheads on each deck, you don't want to leave stairwells or multi-deck modules to anything other than the opening few placements, lest it prove a right pain to position amid installed modules. 

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Given the ultra-finickiness of placement, I tell no lies when it comes to feeling like an inventory arrangement puzzler at times. The more systems, modules and crew compartments are placed on the ship, the more resources become strained. Starship Corporation does a helpful message window that alerts players to their draft deficiencies, but won't say where. Mouse-over tips highlight the type of problem, but you're left to scour the ship, deck by deck, to seek out the missing power coupling or the disconnected module. It'd make for a much more streamlined design process to locate the slipway faults via clicking through the warnings. Sure, these are issues more proficient shipbuilders would shrug off, but the path to maritime largess is fraught with slight frustration in the early days.

But that's the nature of the beast. Starship Corporation wants you to iterate and tweak, running the simulations and finding the faults and foibles of player-designed vessels. Adjusting and fiddling. It's a very canny procurement sim, distilled to a very small niche of games like Wings for the Baron, where building the tools for conflict - commercial or otherwise - is the conflict itself. A cautious recommendation.

Get Pett, go.

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