Long Play – StarTopia

Basically, this was the first ‘proper’ piece of work I submitted to PC Gamer magazine in the UK. As far as I know, it didn’t get published, nor did I actually recieve any sort of indication that it had been recieved, but in the absence of any sort of feedback since I wrote it, I thought I might as well stick it up here. It’s not the best piece of work I’ve ever done, but I feel it’s still pretty decent. As always, advice and criticism is welcome, and feel free to contact me if you would like to use it, or feel free to link here to it – so long as you credit me, and let me know.

This is a ‘Long Play’ piece on Mucky Foot’s StarTopia, one of my favourite games of all time. The idea of a Long Play article is for the writer to play a game that is fairly old by today’s standards, and tell the world why they still love it now (assuming they do). It’s a bit like a more long term review, if you will.

Box Art for the game StarTopia

Maybe it’s the little things. Like watching a Scuzzer Droid “scuzzing” to build my first energy collector. Like healing my first Grey in the Medibay in a brilliant beam of light. Like listening to the squeals of delight from the Salt Hogs as they’re put to work on the Recycler. Or, quite simply my favourite, the little comments made by the ship’s computer (cunningly named “VAL”) during the game’s tutorial, and indeed, the rest of the game: “I wish you luck, speed …and freedom from stupidity.”

It’s touches like those I mentioned above that make Startopia, quite simply, great fun to play. The premise? Well, basically, long story short, you are responsible for building a space station worthy of many unique and individual alien races to stay, sleep and, most importantly, spend their hard earned cash. Brought to us by (sadly now defunct) Mucky Foot, who were themselves born from the ashes of the great Bullfrog (Theme Park and Theme Hospital, for those of you asleep at the back or too young to remember…), the building and management portion of the game is, without doubt, a solid experience.

I started off by building an energy collector, to store my cash and energy (more on that in a second) and energy boosters to actually generate energy. Something fairly unique to Startopia, especially for its time, is the VERY close link between the player’s power supplies and their “cash” – in fact, the currency used was that of energy, so in effect your power WAS also the money you had to spend on anything. This ended up creating a rather unique dilemma for me, in that I often had to make crucial decisions: “Do I keep this room running to generate some more money for later, or do I cut this room’s power so I have enough to buy the Sick Bay I’ll be needing very soon?”

Startopia Screenshot Two

Soon enough, I was building Recyclers, Sick Bays, factories, Star Docks – all having their place in the port – Recyclers turning rubbish into much needed energy, Star Docks for trading between other ships and a much needed warehouse to store everything in. Soon enough I was running out of room, so when I had enough energy, I sent a Scuzzer to open the next section – the whole station is basically one big ring (no giggling at the back) so I can carry on expanding – it was often a great feeling of relief hearing that familiar “PSSSSSTTT!” sound of the doors opening to give me some much needed space.

However, to say that was it would be a great understatement. Every one of the nine species has various “need bars” just like other management games, including Body (Health), Nourishment (Food), Toilet, Love, Fun, Sleep, and Soul. Most of these can be fulfilled on the second floor – known as the Entertainment deck, and indeed, the range of stuff to build is quite something. Bars, shops and, most entertainingly, the place known as the “Love Nest”. Oh yes. Aliens need loving too, apparently, and rather than get down to the romantic strains of Barry White, they prefer to stand in a small cubicle while the Dahanese Sirens omit their “love rays” (I hear you sniggering…) over the love-hungry ET. If that wasn’t enough, the suggestively named Oroflex guarantees a huge increase in Fun and Love levels…

The Bio-Deck. A greenhouse if you will. With a set of terraforming tools (bet you didn’t think you’d see them in a game set in space…) you can create lush green hills and rolling valleys. Create pools for other Aliens to take a dip in, and yes, alien plant life. So if you wanted to you could create a shrubbery (with a path running down the middle). And this is what I had. Finally completing a temple, I hit save, and watched my Karmaramans set about tending to the plants, and the Polvakian Gem Slugs – the top class clientele of Startopia – were admiring the lush scenery I had created. All was well. For a while.

Startopia Screenshot

You see, in most games, a litter problem usually means a slap on the wrist, a fine and unhappy customers leaving. About midway through the game, a new species comes on board. Named Memaus, they are cute, furry and cuddly – in fact, these things look like little kittens, and give bonuses to all who come to pet the thing.. However, they also have a tendency to eat rubbish. When I play these sort of games, I tend to concentrate a lot on the expanding part, and had *ahem* neglected my cleaning duties. In essence, the Memaus’ unusual eating habits should be a blessing. In fact, it becomes infectious to any aliens that pet the thing after it has eaten a certain amount of rubbish. And, taking its cue from Alien, the unlucky victim actually ends up with another thing growing inside. And that thing has to come out. Eep.

Less than two minutes later, a Skrasher burst out of the poor Grey’s chest and proceeded to tear apart the Medibay. Bugger. My ever vigilant Security Scuzzers heard the commotion and came to try and investigate. The Skrasher made light work of them. Buggery-bugger. Within 5 minutes, it had finished tearing up the medibay, a lavatron, my Recycler and was starting work on my Space Port. Buggery-buggering-BUGGER!

The thing is, even as this monstrosity managed to tear through both man (well, alien) and machine as I sent wave upon wave of unsuccessful attempts to subdue the creature, I couldn’t help but laugh at the destruction. As much as it had managed to set me back about another hour or so of time I had spent, the Skrasher had character. He was an angry, destructive beast, and the other aliens also responded in different ways. Some, quite wisely, fled in terror, while others bravely joined in the battle and attempted to fight, jumping for guns and running kamikaze style towards the beast. But see, here’s the thing that defines StarTopia as more than another management game, and more of an experience.

Every alien, no matter how big or small, has a personality. From the haughtiness of the Gem Slugs, to the wide-eyed-ness of the Turrakken whenever they discover a new piece of technology, this one game managed to pack so much life in to the cast. Heck, even though the station itself is basically the same all the way around, the game allows you to imprint your personality on the thing – A great example would be that my stations always ended up a lot like my room, messy and cluttered – ‘organised chaos’, if you will.

The fact this game was undersold is a great shame, so I put to you; show StarTopia some love. It’s a management game with style, finesse and, most importantly, it’s a management game with character.

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2 Responses to Long Play – StarTopia

  1. Verlyn says:

    YES! I total Love this game! It is just so interesting to look at all the aliens running around my station, and when I am bored, I can even target in on a particular alien and look at my station through a POV at the top of their head!!!

    Even though I can’t really understand why when I play sandbox mode with computer players, my star dock tend to NOT open up even after I accepted the trader’s request. Kind of irritating, especially when they are bring my much needed cargo holds=(( Is it a glitch?

  2. Nick says:

    @Verlyn – Actually, when you play multiplayer, you have to keep in mind that trader ships are coming at same time for everyone, not only for you. If you don’t answer fast enough, they will most likely dock at your concurrents

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