This starship sim looks like FTL meets Rimworld, and it's been in the making for over a decade

An image of Cosmoteer combat
(Image credit: Walternate Realities)

If you're anything like me, your favourite part of any game is when things are spiralling out of control. The best stories happen when half the world wants you dead and the infidels are at the gates in Crusader Kings, when the lower levels flood with lava in Dwarf Fortress, or when your crew are split evenly between suffocating, possessed, or on fire in FTL. 

So naturally my interest is piqued by the scale and variety of catastrophes that seem possible in Cosmoteer, which releases in early access this autumn. It's been in development for 11 years by indie studio Walternate Realities, and bills itself as a "starship design, simulation, and battle game" that will let you create any size and shape of starship you want before getting everyone aboard it horrifically killed in the game's "physics-driven" combat.

It sounds very much in the vein of a Rimworld or a Drox Operative: one of those small but impossibly dense, systems-heavy games that only ever seem to get made by tiny and fanatical dev teams. The game's description promises an "easy-to-learn yet incredibly flexible" starship designer, and in the trailer it looks like your personal starship Titanic can take whatever layout you're able to draw before you start layering modules on top of it. 

But the part I'm really interested in is the crew system. Starships can get as big as your PC will tolerate, but require crews to match. Guns have to be loaded and shields have to be kept charged, which means every torpedo and battery pack has to be schlepped across your ship by a member of staff, which can number "from half-a-dozen to a thousand or more individually-simulated people". 

To me, that sounds like a system that's going to generate endless stories. The best parts of this style of game happen when one of your little guys suddenly gets it in their head to do something wildly inadvisable that totally obliterates your progress. Even if Cosmoteer doesn't promise NPC simulation on the level of something like Dwarf Fortress, I'm pretty intrigued by the possibility of going down with the (city-sized) ship because one of my legioned morons got stuck in a corridor.

Walternate Realities is promising a strong community element, allowing players to swap starship designs over the Steam workshop and even including multiplayer, which feels like a rarity in these kinds of games. I'm always more interested in seeing what the AI gets up to than playing with other people, but I will absolutely download the first mod that recreates the Brunhild.

We don't get enough of these games, probably because they require intense effort and only attract small (but zealous) followings, so I'm pretty excited to see if this one delivers on its promises. Even if it doesn't, I will probably get a good hour out of designing the most ridiculous ship I can and crashing it into the space cops.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the game leaves Early Access in autumn. It releases in Early Access this autumn.

Joshua Wolens
News Writer

One of Josh's first memories is of playing Quake 2 on the family computer when he was much too young to be doing that, and he's been irreparably game-brained ever since. His writing has been featured in Vice, Fanbyte, and the Financial Times. He'll play pretty much anything, and has written far too much on everything from visual novels to Assassin's Creed. His most profound loves are for CRPGs, immersive sims, and any game whose ambition outstrips its budget. He thinks you're all far too mean about Deus Ex: Invisible War.