During E3 we learned that Double Fine was putting two unnamed games into production with help from its rich uncle, Indie Fund . Today Double Fine is releasing an early version one of those games: Spacebase DF-9 .
You may remember Spacebase as one of the five games that were selected for prototyping during Double Fine's Amnesia Fortnight event. It's a sci-fi roguelike that shares some DNA with Dwarf Fortress and Prison Architect . You build a space station on a 3D grid that's staffed and populated by “citizens” that you don't directly control. Here's the original video pitch made by project lead JP LeBreton:
Interrupting the relatively peaceful game of building, mining, and keeping your astropeople alive will be events, some of which will express the deadliness of space. For example, new citizens arrive at your station regularly, but one of these migrants might be carrying an Alien-style chestburster in its body. Such a symptom would be revealed in the citizen's “Spaceface” page, a mock social network profile that displays information about that character.
LeBreton tells me a tale of a recent run-in with one of these alien parasites. “One of our artists was playing, and some of the people who were on guard duty showed up and tried to fight the alien, and it blew a hole in the side of the wall. And that created a breach, which vented the room and the alien got sucked out into space.”
But because Double Fine hadn't added code that made the alien require oxygen to live, it survived. “It ended up drifting around in this weird way, and it ended up on a construction platform that was still in vacuum. And these builders, they don't have any AI for dealing with an alien out in space, so they just continued building, and eventually they build a room around this thing and it oxygenated, and they ran out of the room panicking.”
These sorts of surprise calamities, all too familiar to Dwarf Fortress players, are by design. However successful or secure your base is, sooner or later the dominoes will probably come crashing down. “Life is definitely very fragile [in Spacebase], which hopefully makes the value of individual life actually feel more important,” says LeBreton. “There's definitely this sense that life in space is quite dangerous and something really bad will happen eventually. In a lot of cases it's recoverable, but the way we've tuned the game right now, the odds are definitely stacked against you.”
Derelict ships will be another event type. If you send citizens to explore these abandoned vessels, they could find refugees that will join your base, but they might instead find monsters or raiders waiting for them. “Derelicts are a great little storytelling vehicle, potentially,” says LeBreton. Figuring out what happened to a System Shock-style frigate filled with corpses would build the narrative around your citizens and station. “The idea is that you'd get to click on these people and see what they were writing in their logs up until the point that they died.”
As Double Fine comes up with more ideas like derelicts, they'll place them on a page for tracking the long-term development of the game that players can weigh in on. “Transparency is something that the more that we've embraced it at Double Fine, across all of our projects, the better we've done,” says LeBreton. Double Fine also plans to open up the game to Steam Workshop once it figures out how to make Spacebase moddable. “Forming that close relationship with your fans has a lot of other benefits. It's how we see the future of the studio supporting itself and becoming self-sufficient.”