Spacebase DF-9 is a simulation game from Double Fine. It is available on Steam through the Early Access program, where gamers can purchase the game early and play it as the developer adds and tweaks functions. This is the third of the three games currently in development over at Double Fine with the others being Broken Age and MASSIVE CHALICE. Unlike the other two games from the developer, Spacebase is choosing to take the Early Access route for funding rather than a Kickstarter campaign. Originally, Spacebase DF-9 was one of the five prototypes in Amnesia Fortnight 2012. While it shares a name with the Amnesia prototype that only served as a starting point for the team when beginning active development. The team has changed plenty of the elements previously found in the prototype when bringing Spacebase DF-9 to early access like changing to 3D models and an isometric point of view. As an Early Access game, Spacebase DF-9 is not complete and receiving updates to add in functions and complete the game. The list of planned and potential additions to the game are highly promising and hopefully some of the more ambitious ones make it into the game.
In Spacebase DF-9, players are in charge of choosing a location in the Milky Way to resettle. When choosing a location, settlers need to mind Stellar Density, Warpgate Proximity, Threat Factor and Magnetic Interference. As an Alpha not all of these criteria fully matters just yet, but Stellar Density seems to be the most important factor to consider when choosing a location. The Stellar Density of a location determines how rich the mining potential of an area is. The Warpgate and Threat criteria are measure by which how often people warp into a settlement or how much a base should worry about Raiders or Killbots attacking their base. However, it is still early and those are not as pressing concerns as mining asteroids for all the delicious matter. Once a player chooses a prime location, they launch a tiny space pod with three astronauts to the slice of space they wish to settle.
When beginning a new base, the player has eight minutes to get a base up and livable for their three astronauts. They have only eight minutes because the three astronauts only have that much oxygen left in their suits before they asphyxiate and die alone in the void of space. To create a base, a player needs to build an airlock and a room for life support. This is a basic base, where the astronauts can safely remove their space suits and have oxygen to breathe on the base. Accomplishing this is a bit of trial and error considering there is no tutorial or indication of how to build a beginners’ base successfully. However, the development team did release a handy and helpful Youtube tutorial that shows the basics of creating a base. The airlock needs to be a nice rectangular shape and the room for life support should be seperated from the airlock by a narrow hallway.
To start building, players can click on the construct tool in the menu, which has options for rooms, walls, floors, objects and demolishing construction, but using the room option is the first step. The building area is a grid, so players can create rooms by sliding their mouse over the various squares. The airlock should be a medium size rectangle, big enough to support a space suit locker and people, but not huge so as to conserve resources. A hallway about half the size of the airlock should be built right next to it. Another room large enough for an oxygen recylcer should be built next to the hallway, the UI will notify players how much of what objects a room can support. This can be done by building them separately or all at once, depending on what a player prefers.
Once a desirable base is chosen, a yellow blocking of the potential construction will show. However, construction won’t start until jobs are assigned. So, click the roster tab or individual astronauts and assign them builder roles to carry out construction. While each astronaut has aptitudes for different jobs, since the first construction is a race against time, set them all to building. No one is completely useless so even one star builders will get the job done, just slower. Different roles improve over time depending on frequency and aptitude. Once construction starts and a floor is visible, players should click on it and zone a room. Zoning a room means designating the room for a specific function. Once zoned, players can build room specific items like a space suit locker or an oxygen recycler. So, zone one room for an airlock and one for life support. Once zoned, construction on the interior can begin. Build two airlock doors on opposite ends of the airlock and a space suit locker somewhere in the room. Then build doors on the hallway to connect the life support to the airlock. Once the rooms are connected by basic doors, build an oxygen recycler in the life support room. Once that is complete, it is a matter of waiting for the rooms to fill with oxygen and the astronauts are safe. When they astronauts are not in danger of suffocating, the real building and joy of Spacebase DF-9 can begin.
The initial issue of getting those first astronauts to safety gives the game a sense of urgency and an immediate objective, which is exciting and nerve wracking. You don’t want to keep seeing those tiny polygonal astronauts asphyxiating as you dick around figuring out how to build a workable base, but there is the issue of not knowing exactly how to build a livable base that puts pressure on the player. It is a fascinating call to learn the basics of the game quickly. Once the basics are down, the players can start expanding and building a truly elaborate base that can support those initial three astronauts and all the space drifters that slowly populate the base (as long as you want them because you can refuse any distress call because they might be Killbots). After building that first oxygen recycler, players can start to work on making a way to mine asteroids and get more matter to build their base bigger because more matter means a flyer base. Want to build a sweet bar, go for it. Want to give citizen dope ass TVs in their rooms, it can be done! The options for expanding a base are pretty robust.
Once the base is to the player’s liking, they can start figuring out how to start tending to their citizens needs. How to get food in their bodies or how to make sure they sleep or how to give their live purpose or how to entertain them. All of these concerns come up as the astronauts live their lives on the base. By clicking individual astronauts, players can see their morale and what needs are not being met. Also, they will post to the future-space social media about their most pressing needs. Ensuring these needs are met is important to keeping citizen happy and healthy, which means they won’t die on the job or starve to death. The issue with satisfying needs is not so much with building rooms that could satisfying them, but getting citizens to take care of them actively. It seems to be an issue that will resolve as the game continues to update.
There is a good amount to do and manage in Spacebase DF-9 in its current Alpha 2a. Players will have a fun time figuring out how to manage citizens properly by meeting their needs and assigning work roles effectively to keep the base running smooth (don’t forget that all construction needs to be kept up or it’ll set on fire and make sure to place fire extinguishers everywhere). It may not be a full game yet, but there is plenty to do and enjoy right now with hints of where the game will go as the team continues to add and tweak functions. Maybe there will be more frequent Killbot or Raider attacks or more rooms to build. There is an ambitious plan for potential updates to the game, but the guaranteed updates are focusing on making the core base building as satisfying as possible.
Spacebase hit the Early Access program on Oct 15 and the game is currently on Alpha 2a, which went live on Nov 15 and Alpha 3 will launch sometime in December. Most Early Access games are crap shoots for how often and how frequently developers update their games. However, if the team working on Spacebase can continue a monthly Alpha update then the game certainly will be worth purchasing and trying out as the team continues toward a final product. Spacebase DF-9 digs its hooks into the gamer early even if they spend their first few attempts watching their astronauts slowly asphyxiate in the vacuum of space while trying to create a hospitable base. Despite failing a time or two, the allure of creating a working base then populating and expanding it is hugely appealing. While there are still certain functions necessary to make managing a base more intuitive, there is still an extremely satisfying feeling when creating a functioning base. Spacebase DF-9 is certainly a game to check out as it progresses in development.