Oh boy, I can already tell this blog’s comments section could get ugly. It seems like mentioning this game just about anywhere causes drama, flame wars, insults and who knows what other dickery from any possible side of just about every viewpoint possible. This piece should be seen as my own personal viewpoint on this game and the company behind it, as it is for me to talk about my time having known about Starbound and Chucklefish. I would like to note now that this is my personal opinion, and I could get some facts wrong. Many of the events that have transpired during this game’s development have made some people see things differently than others, or me and in this situation; it literally is the case of personal thought on the matters. As such, my feelings below and the terminology I use are mine alone on this topic. So without further ado, let’s get started with a simple question for those not in the know…
Also one extra note, sorry for the lack of pictures, this blog I feel, while long, doesn't lend itself well to having a bunch of screenshots I'd haveto go take.
Who the heck are Chucklefish?
Chucklefish are British independent game developer and publisher consisting of approximately 11 members. Currently they have two games in development, their first, Starbound, and a second project currently in early development, being made by four of the team members called Wayward Tide. Chucklefish is also a publisher for independent games such as Risk of Rain, Wanderlust, or (my personally most anticipated indie game CF is publishing) Stardew Valley. With this information in mind, it is time to begin looking into my history with the main show for Chucklefish, Starbound.
I will admit right here and now that I never really clicked with Terraria. Sure some of the weapons were neat to fling around and the soundtrack was cute but something about it, that I can’t put my finger on always held me back from just totally enjoying myself. Maybe it was something with how the combat felt, or how you had to mine one tiny….tiny block at a time, or had to make a separate wall piece for the back of your structures. I don’t know but while the game was fun, it just never clicked like Minecraft did.
What is my history with the development of Starbound?
It was mid-2012 when I first heard of Starbound, though for the life of me I don’t remember where. I want to say it was from Destructoid, but I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember is eventually finding my way to the site, and the lighting demo, and that piqued my interest. As the weeks came and went, and more details emerged, I began to get excited for the project. After all it looked similar to Terraria (With the project lead, Tiy, being one of the artists on the original Terraria) in many ways, except it also felt different from it, even when looking at the videos. The sprites were larger, it felt more carefully animated than Terraria (seriously, whenever I walk in that game I feel like I have three legs from how the sprite is animated) and it was set in space.
Space games and I go together you see, I have loved the idea of exploring space and different planets in video games for a long time, sadly Privateer was before my time and patience to play it had come, so I missed out on that classic. My first true love of the open space game would probably be Freelancer, my word that game is awesome. Evochron Mercenary would follow. Being an almost entirely solo effort indie game featuring a fully open galaxy for you to do whatever in (really, you can travel from one end of the game’s space area to the other on conventional drives alone with no loading times, though that would take a really, REALLY long time). The game was also the first time I experienced being able to freely fly down to a planet and explore the surface without needing to load a new map, but I’m getting off track here.
Anyway, Starbound had the exploration/survival thing in space, which helped the idea click in my head and make me wait anxiously for pre-orders to come up. In April 2013, they did as a crowd funding, Kickstarter like style, which also doubled as your pre-order for the finished title. On the 17th, I placed my own order in, and then the waiting game began, would we get to play the early beta that summer? Oh, it would be awesome. That awesome however did not happen, at least not in summer. Turned out Chucklefish had bitten off more than they could chew, and went basically completely quiet for a few months, which brought about concern and ire from quite a few members of the community (I was vocal about this too, though not in a hateful way.)
Come November, Chucklefish had started talking again and they decided to change their estimated release date of 2013 to only having the beta out in that year. Considering they were so sure they would have the game out that year, many of us voiced our concern with the sudden change. My opinion feels like CF got in over their heads with this project, a huge, procedurally generated universe exploration game is quite the vast idea, and with a new-start company and small team working on it, there was no way the game was going to be ready, and so we waited. In late November the beta plan was released. The idea was to have it in three stages, the first stage being quick and relentless updates to the game, the second stage would be more stable, but have regular updates, with the third stage being the final push to finish the base experience.
Chucklefish asked the community to decide how to do this. Taking into consideration that a DRM-Free version of the game is to be made, but patching it there and on Steam would be quite the hassle, so they put up a vote in the official forums, where having Steam be the only version until at least stage two was preferable, since updating would be easier that way. Therefore, the game went to the Steam Early Access program. The real surprise came on December 4th, when the beta went up. The game was rough around the edges, but for the groundwork, it was quite enjoyable.
For a while, updates did come quick, hot fixes, stability, optimization fixes, they all came with great speed, the issues were that each update was large, about 500MB due to the files having to be replaced, and the fact that many of the updates wiped saves, so players had to start over. While this understandably upset people, the developers did make it clear that wipes would happen during this time, as is the case with a game still in heavy development. As the updates came, people started to complain more, so the updates became slower but more content came with each. Sadly the populace couldn’t be satisfied, so CF made the choice to stop updating on either the Stable branch and Unstable branch altogether, focusing on getting what they want in a 1.0 release done, eventually starting up a nightly branch, so players could see and test out the new stuff as it was worked on.
Therefore, from about April on, the game saw no updates to the two main branches, which caused even more hatred from people, especially on the Steam forums, since the devs seem to basically ignore those forums. Personally, I think not doing any updates during this time was a large mistake on their part, since they were overhauling the combat and things, these new core features, once finished, should have been pushed out to unstable and eventually stable as soon as possible. Not helping this gap in updates was the fact the entire time moved to their new office space, some coming from other countries.
As of this writing, the unstable branch has gotten the big update, what will become 1.0 once all the content is complete. (The core mechanics and features are in, but some balancing, tweaking, optimizing needs to be done, along with putting the true content where there are currently placeholders.) It took 8 months to get this update, but it is on its way, and hopefully it will be pushed to stable soon. Now some people say “Oh but the modders already did this but better!” To that I say, “When HASN’T a modder made something better than the default game.” This is especially true in the Elder Scrolls games, modding is what keeps those games alive and loved by so many. Anyway this is the my personal explanation of the history of Starbound’s development (I know I left out a couple things, like Omni’s meltdown, but that’s another thing I’d rather not look up to type more on, there’s already enough here at over 1000 words already and I haven’t even talked about the game itself yet.)
So, what is my opinion on the game in both the stable and unstable state?
To answer this question I must first mention the game’s price point. The lowest tier (Pixel) on the official website (with the purchase handled by the folks of humble bundle) costs $15 USD. For that money a person gets access to the beta (A steam key), a DRM-Free copy when they finally bring that out, and the soundtrack. As a soundtrack junkie, the OST alone is worth the price, it is a wonderful soundtrack that the current version (I thankfully saved the previous version, with has a bunch of removed experimental tracks in it) has 60 tracks to it clocking in at an impressive 5.7 hours of music.
As for the game itself, well… the stable branch is still bare bones, what is there is a building/survival/exploration sandbox with multiple planets and a couple bosses. The basic, rough framework is there, and it’s fun, but the last year hasn’t been easy on it. The unstable branch however is a different story. It’s like a new game, there’s actually goals in the beginning now, and the framework has been redone to better resemble a game, and even some of the content is now in. It’s finally starting to take shape, and soon it will be at the point where it can be called 1.0, however that’s not the end, as Tiy has already said that new stuff will be made for a year after 1.0 hits (which is when the stretch goals of pets and fossils will be added). It has been a rough year for Starbound, but things are finally starting to improve with this latest update.
I will be the first to admit that Chucklefish haven’t handled things perfectly during the last two years. They have made many mistakes, from putting out a confident guess for the final game’s release, going silent for months, to many other things. They are starting to improve I believe. The main site is updated almost every day with new information on the current developments for the game, and with this update now in unstable, it’s close to finally hitting the big 1.0, and I can’t wait. I understand the anger people have with Chucklefish, and I fully can see where they are coming from. I’ve gotten mad at them too over the last couple years, but in my mind, as long as I get a 1.0 Starbound, (and fossils and pets later on), I’ll be happy, as that is what I purchased with my pre-order (I did get mine before it went to early access, sadly things changed a bit with this transition). My main hope is that Chucklefish learns from this game’s development, and learn how to do things better with future projects, and hopefully all those people who are angry with CF, but love Starbound, will be able to look at all this and see it as a new company’s growing pains.
I will close with the following statement to Chucklefish, who I am sure won’t read this:
“Chucklefish, while you’ve angered me in the past, and I have been vocal on the forums of your mistakes, mostly in the missed 2013 date (which I don’t call a lie personally but I do understand why people think that way on this), I have given you the benefit of the doubt because I love Starbound. It is an amazing thing and I can’t wait to see it done. However, this game’s rocky development is your one shot with me, if this kind of thing happens again with your future projects, like Wayward Tide, I will not be afraid to say that Starbound will be my only Chucklefish developed game. Consider this your friendly warning.” (I still cannot wait for Stardew Valley though.)
Anyway, I think that is about all I can say on the matter now. It didn’t turn out like I formulated in my mind, but then again my original idea was going to point out every mistake I feel CF made and put my thoughts on how I would have done things differently. Aside from not announcing an estimate on anything more than the beta, and released a couple updates to help shape the stable branch’s core to the current unstable version’s set, there’s not a lot I can really say beyond being more vocal about things.
If you are still with me all the way down here than thank you for taking your time to read this rambling thing, I just hope this doesn’t spawn a series of arguments or insults to anyone.