Startopia is a British game developed by Mucky Foot and published by Eidos Interactive (Now Square Enix Europe). (Alas, Mucky Foot has been shut down in what seems to be part of a disturbing trend in the British game industry...) Set in a fantasy sci-fi future, you play the part of a space station administrator operating in a galactic civilisation ravaged by a recent space war. The action takes place in a spectacular and unusual game environment - the interior of a huge, torus shaped spinning space station. Inside, you are trying to develop and maintain a utopian environment for nine alien species, each with their own skills, personalities and foibles: a Startopia. The recent war has wrecked planets and destroyed ecosystems; its up to you to help rebuild interstellar civilisation and provide a home for the dispossessed. Quite simply, Startopia does an excellent impression of a bustling space station. It feels like an actual place.
This is simulation management rather than real time strategy although Startopia is a little unusual for a sim in that it has strategic elements that actually give it a point of focus. That is, it plays as a game with a definite start, middle and end, and there's a goal to it - recolonising an entire (derelict) space station - that makes it eligible as a networkable strategy game between players. You can play to win, or you can use it like an ant farm in Sandbox Mode, poking it with a stick and watch it burble away in its own simulated world forever. This is a free wheeling, do-anything-you-like scenario where you can run the default game with whatever conditions and objectives that you like.
Startopia's amazing Bio-Deck.
A couple of Peeps take in the scenery and have a dip. They're hardly units anymore, more like the Sims in outer space. Just around the curve of the Station is a Zedem Temple, and the small brown spots in the water are fish and butterflies. You also can pull the camera through the panoramic windows and see all this, plus the rest of the (incredibly detailed) station from outer space.
Superficially, the game is very reminiscent of Bullfrog's Dungeon Keeper 2. This probably isn't all that surprising given that Mucky Foot has several ex-Bullfrog members in it, but unlike that older title Startopia is more detailed and cleaner to the eye, using a powerful and clever game engine. The use of rooms and furniture is similar between the other game's, except placed in a high tech environment. You get an army of Scuzzer Droids instead of dungeon Imps and build Space Ports to allow visitor access instead of attracting monsters from the netherworld via a hellish Gate.
You create the right rooms, equip them with the necessary equipment and then hire the appropriate aliens from your population who run them with very little direct interaction at all. To keep and maintain your workforce, essential services must be provided: sanitation, food, accommodation, medical facilities, recreation; even a bit of love and religion on the side. The main function of the Station is to accommodate the hordes of passing space travelers and keep them entertained so you can part them with their money. Add space rats, space plagues, errant meteorites, giant killer bugs and, of course, other Station Administrators and this becomes a cool little game. The more you beef up your station's facilities and extend its hospitality, the more customers you attract and money you make. The station itself requires resources and trading to function properly, constant maintenance and some law enforcement. Luckily for you, there's that expendable army of unpaid 'Scuzzer' Droids to scurry about to do all this for you. You allocate the tasks; your employees and Droids do the rest.
Graphically, structurally and entertainment wise, Startopia is nothing short of spectacular. There's a good camera to play with here, and you can flit up to the ceilings to take in the huge curving floor and the crowds or drop down to chat to one of the locals in close-up. There's a richness of clarity and detail that many contemporary 3D sims seem to lack. You'll need a good graphics card to see it all properly though, but since GeForce2's and their ilk are a dime a dozen these days that isn't so much of a drama as it was just a year or two ago. If you have less than 450Mhz and a not so crash hot graphics card you may find this game a bit clunky at higher resolutions. However, for all the sophistication of characters and activity on screen, there's surprisingly little lag.
|Version and install||Its a straight install.|
1.01 - If you have problems with this patch, you can find the 1.01b version at Startopia Post.
1.02 - This is an unofficial "patch" released by one of the old Startopia graphics coders, TomF, that adds realistic shadows to the game!
Mucky Foot a Mini-Video Card Patch to allow Startopia to keep up with the (then) latest PC graphics cards.
|Demo||Yes - an 86.4 Mb download from Mucky Foot. (no longer available)|
|FAQs||Eidos Interactive (no longer available)|
|Networks||Up to 4 LAN players on IPX or TCP/IP.|
Up to 4 over the Internet, but only through GameSpy, which comes with the game. Expect to faff about if you're new to GameSpy.
We found Startopia crashed frequently on GameSpy, but its autosave features rescued it every time. Actually, there's a theory that did the rounds in the Startopia forums that the autosave feature itself may be the cause of the crashes. You can avoid the crashes (a little) by write protecting the autosave files found inside your Profile folder in the game folder.
But it DOES run beautifully in a LAN environment for us - but we have found that many multiplayer menus simply won't return you back to the game. We suspect its a DirectX9.0b issue.
So: only network the game on a LAN; don't try and save anything, DON'T hit Pause or even think of touching ESC while you're playing. Avoid Gamespy multiplayer like the plague - and you'll have hours of great fun. Don't worry - its sim management: you can leave it running in the background to answer the phone or go on holidays during a game.
Don't be too surprised if a game simply dies prematurely. Its a bugger.
|Maps||There are no maps, only the one location: the Station. Some segments may be blocked off or use a different skin, but its the same each time. Its your artistic skills that make them interesting!|
Maps are custom missions that adjust gameplay settings, lookup tables and triggers.
Game variation comes from tweaked settings, lookup tables and changed victory conditions.
Multiplayer gives you a pool of victory conditions: you can select up to four of them for a netgame, ranging from a straight conquest game through to first-past-the-post economic races.
|Units||Not so much units as personalities with names, hobbies, histories, and a general sense of well being. And humour, of course.|
9 different aliens, each representing a character type and fulfilling a certain role.
4 kinds of `Scuzzer' Droid: three workers and a Security Scuzzer - a robot policeman.
A number of other aliens: Space Vermin (rats), Memaus (pussy cats), Skrashers (very, very nasty) and Spies (camp saboteurs), colourful butterflies and fish (found on the Bio-Deck).
Not all alien races get on with each other. All of them have both helpful and hindering character traits.
Population limits per species are set by conditions established in the mission folder.
|Resources||Energy is your primary resource, used as currency and for construction, powering and supplying your Station.|
All cargo comes in crates. Four ways to acquire cargo: buy it, manufacture it, cultivate it or conquer next door's segment with a full Cargo Hold.
|Research||Research is performed in specially built Laboratories, staffed by a race of two headed aliens called the Turrakken.|
Unlike most strategy games, there's no discovering to do in research. Research simply reverse engineers existing techs so you don't have to spend money buying them, or makes techs you have already researched even more cheaper to make yourself.