Starbound Interview: To Infinity and Beyond the Sandbox Genre

Lead writer Ashton Raze talks about Chucklefish’s captivating space sandbox platfotmer.

Quantifying Chucklefish’s Starbound isn’t an easy task, especially in a world dominated by Terraria and Minecraft. Starbound is essentially a 2D indie sandbox platformer which allows you to mine resources and travel to other worlds in the process. There are different playable races involved, sure, but how exactly did this crowd-funded title manage such great success on the PC within a single month of the beta going live?

There’s no doubting there’s an appeal to the game, one that has drawn sandbox gamers and adventure fans alike. There is an ongoing narrative, there is a clear-cut direction in most cases as to what you must do. Several months down the line and with the recent announcement of PS4 and PS Vita port, the appeal grows ever stronger. GamingBolt spoke to lead writer Ashton Raze about the mechanics of the game, including the procedural generation, similarities to Terraria and just the overall success the game has seen.

Ravi Sinha: Starbound has seen nothing but success since being available to pre-order, with one million copies sold since January 6th. How has that success changed Chucklefish?

Ashton Raze: January 6th was actually when we announced a million copies sold, so we have another month and a bit of sales since then! Not sure of any exact figures, though. The success has changed Chucklefish in a number of ways. We have an office now, and some new employees, and Rhopunzel has taken to demanding everyone call her ‘your majesty’. Nothing too extreme, but it’s nice to be able to expand now the game’s doing well.

Ravi Sinha: For a game like this, which relies on procedurally generated content, how do you get players to experiment with the various races, given the connection usually forged from the beginning of the game onwards?

Ashton Raze: Each species has its own unique set of NPC interactions, examination text etc, but we don’t feel a huge need to push players into experimenting. If they want to, that’s great, and if they want to stick with playing as the same species, then that’s great too! There’s plenty of content to find if you do want to replay the game with different characters, but it’s all about letting the player make their choices themselves rather than pushing them into any of them. We’ve created the game to very much allow people to play how they want, which includes things like this.

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We have different species, different narratives, different locations, different things to craft and find, different game mechanics. The similarities to Terraria are really only on a genre-wide level; Terraria’s doing its own thing, we’re doing ours, both games have pretty clear identities of their own.

Ravi Sinha: How did you go about creating the procedurally generated content? Were there a set of stats that were relied on when randomly creating planets, items and missions?

Ashton Raze: There are a number of generators relating to different things; biomes, weapons, monsters etc. They decide what to add to a planet when it’s created, which parts to use to construct a weapon, monster etc. The generators change depending on which tier the player has unlocked, so tougher planets start being generated once you get out of tier one, etc.

Ravi Sinha: One look at Starbound immediately reminds us of Terraria, which also takes place from a 2D perspective. How will Starbound distinguish itself from Terraria and other games in the genre in terms of content, story and missions, and how do the races help facilitate this?

Ashton Raze: Just like other games in similar genres, to be honest. We have different species, different narratives, different locations, different things to craft and find, different game mechanics. The similarities to Terraria are really only on a genre-wide level; Terraria’s doing its own thing, we’re doing ours, both games have pretty clear identities of their own. As the beta progresses especially, we’ll be adding a lot more narrative content which will obviously be entirely unique to Starbound.

Ravi Sinha: Starbound will be heading to the PlayStation Vita and PS4. What prompted the decision to target Sony platforms, and how cooperative has Sony been?

Ashton Raze: Sony actually approached us about putting the game on their platforms, so obviously they’ve been super co-operative and accommodating. Shahid over at Sony is doing some great work getting indies involved, and it’s something we’re really happy to be a part of.

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Well, I mean, of course frame rates and resolutions *matter*, yeah. But they matter to the specific game, how it handles the frame rate/resolution, what kind of visuals the game is going for etc. Different games, different engines etc have different requirements and priorities.

Ravi Sinha: Why are you guys not bringing the game to the Xbox One?

Ashton Raze: While there are no current plans for an Xbox One version of Starbound, it’s not something we’ve ruled out.

Ravi Sinha: I am sure you guys must be targeting 1080p@60fps on the PS4. Am I correct?

Ashton Raze: Unfortunately we’re not at the stage to be able to discuss this any further just yet. We’ll release more details on the upcoming Sony versions in due course.

Ravi Sinha: Furthermore, as you must be aware of the power difference between the PS4 and Xbox One is resulting into resolution/frame rate debates. Do you think in the grander scheme of things, do frame rates and resolutions matter?

Ashton Raze: Well, I mean, of course frame rates and resolutions *matter*, yeah. But they matter to the specific game, how it handles the frame rate/resolution, what kind of visuals the game is going for etc. Different games, different engines etc have different requirements and priorities.

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I would hope we’ll be adding some extra features in the coming months, yeah! There’s still loads of things that aren’t in yet, like the quests, the story missions, the various other things we’ve talked about in terms of how to make money in-game etc.

Ravi Sinha: As someone who has originally developed for the PC platform, what do you think about the PS4’s technical specs? Do you think it is built to last?

Ashton Raze: I would imagine it’s built to last for however long they intend the console cycle to last, yeah. That’s a bit of a strange question; any fixed-spec machine isn’t built to last indefinitely in terms of eventually being replaced, but the specs don’t necessarily have much to do with the console’s longevity.

Ravi Sinha: What kind of additional content can we look forward to with Starbound’s release? Will we see any additional races or other features in the coming months in the form of regular content updates?

Ashton Raze: I would hope we’ll be adding some extra features in the coming months, yeah! There’s still loads of things that aren’t in yet, like the quests, the story missions, the various other things we’ve talked about in terms of how to make money in-game etc. As for species, the Novakids are coming as playable obviously, and we’ll be adding some more NPC species akin to the Agarans etc.


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