About Star Explorers
by Michael Klaus Schmidt – devlog 5/7/2021
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I wanted to start writing about Star Explorers, for the players, for the potential players, and for myself, as a way to document my thinking behind the game. This is not where I will be posting updates or announcing changes to the game, you can see all that on the Steam Page, but I want this to be about the deeper stuff. This first post is dedicated to those shows, books, games and ideas that really formed the primary influences of Star Explorers.
Minecraft meets Star Trek
The whole idea for Star Explorers came up some time in 2013, around October if memory serves, and it was a result of playing a bunch of Minecraft and watching a ton of Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes on Netflix. I remember specifically the image of the Enterprise orbiting a new world, and wondering if I could make different worlds, like Minecraft does, but in a way where a player could visit many of them in the same game.
It's that image of the Enterprise's view screen, with a planet slowly circling on the left, and space extending off to the right, that I really wanted to capture. There is something magical about the idea of treading on new ground. The mystery of what may or may not exist on the surface of a new world. The expectancy and anticipation of it all, just like the crew of the Enterprise must have felt (theoretically) whenever they approached a new, unexplored planet, and could see it from the relative safety of their ship before attempting to transport down ... that's what originally motivated me to make this game.
Of course I had an interest in actual space exploration. Much of my art leading up to this involved paintings of the moon, stars and planets. I had written a Children's book called "The Adventures of the Salamander" in which the protagonist, Slippy the Salamander, visits the moon, and is whisked off to another world in one of his many adventures.
Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers and many others films and television shows formed a foundation of my childhood and later, reading the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Isaac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Frank Herbert, the Strugatsky brothers and others formed a more detailed, serious, and occasionally silly, take on the subject of space travel and other worlds.
Video games were one area in which my interest in space did not really become prominent. I think it had mainly to do with the fact that space games tend to take place in space, where I was more interested in visiting other worlds, space being merely the means of reaching them. There were games like this, of course, but somehow most had escaped my notice in one way or another. One I remember from my childhood was Rescue on Fractalis, which, while not a great game in my opinion, did introduce the idea of procedurally generated worlds to my young mind.
In gaming I tended to be interested in fantasy RPGs, and later first person action games. These of course also allow you to explore different worlds, but usually only one at a time. So from a gameplay perspective, Star Explorers is not really influenced by space games as much as RPG and FPS games.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. Shadows of Chernobyl, despite taking place of earth, and having very little, if anything, to do with space, probably forms the primary gameplay influence on Star Explorers. I wanted each world to have a day/night cycle. This was directly taken from S.T.A.L.K.E.R., along with the changing weather patterns, and harsh environmental factors. It was the atmosphere, and open ended exploration of the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. games that I really loved the most, making them my favorite game series to date. I wanted to capture some of that in the worlds of Star Explorers. Whether I achieved anything remotely similar, I leave to players to decide.
Regarding No Man's Sky
No Man's Sky needs to be mentioned here. There are a number of very obvious overlaps between Star Explorers and No Man's Sky. I have written extensively about this already, here. Briefly, while they do share a lot of superficial similarities, Star Explorers was already a working prototype before I had even encountered No Man's Sky. It's hard to convince people that simultaneous invention exists, but indeed it is a well known phenomenon. I would only say that while I totally respect that game and what it is, when I actually played it, it did not fulfill the sense of exploration and discovery that I was aiming for. Many players have expressed similar sentiments after playing both games, and I think this serves as an interesting case study in how games based on an almost identical "idea" can result in two very different interpretations and expressions of that idea.
Behind the Game
So far, I've covered only the things that have influenced Star Explorers as a game. But there is another deeper idea behind it. The very idea of space travel and exploration is something I am fascinated by. We look at games as fantasy and escapism, but in regard to Star Explorers, there is a definite element of reality that cannot be ignored.
After all, we live in space. The earth, our home for as long as humans can remember, is orbiting its own star, one of billions in our galaxy, one of billions of galaxies in the known universe. The fact is that we are already in space and it is just waiting to be explored. My ultimate feeling is a kind of sadness that humans cannot seem to realize how vast an opportunity this is, as we resort to squabbling over the resources of our one, small world.
Sure, there was a time when space travel was unthinkable, and most of the current conflicts are based on things that happened before this momentous possibility became apparent. It's also not my suggestion to ignore real injustices and problems on earth, when practical space travel is still a thing that is generations away. But for me, the very possibility of travel to other worlds makes me think we should strive to overcome our differences, support one another, and work together towards this goal. We are all Earthlings, are we not?
Many have suggested that a common enemy, an alien threat perhaps, might help us unite and treat each other with dignity and respect. I think that may be true, but does it have to be a green alien with big eyes and a laser? What about the threat of an asteroid that might emerge suddenly? What about the threat of a solar flare? What about the expiration of our sun? These very real threats face us right now (okay the sun is a few billion years off but you get the idea) and we could use them to help us see our shared humanity.
In Star Explorers, it's already too late. The Earth is destroyed, and humans have taken refuge in the Mothership Altair. Your task is to find another earth like planet, and to help guide the mothership and keep it fueled on its journey across the galaxy. So Star Explorers is my way of trying to help us see the vast potential of human activity in space, and perhaps to help us forgive and move past the wrongs of history. That's a big stretch for a video game, but it's worth a try, right