Starbase Interview: Players per Server Unlimited in Theory, Game too Much for Consoles

Nathan Birch

Earlier this year, Trine developer Frozenbyte surprised many by announcing Starbase, a new, super-ambitious space exploration MMO. Starbase promises fully destructible objects and environments, the ability to design your own spacecraft, and perhaps even full space stations, all while interacting with potentially thousands of other players (you can learn more here). A far cry from the relatively straightforward puzzle-platformers Frozenbyte is best known for!

Starbase wasn’t available to check out at E3 2019, but I’m definitely curious about the game, so I managed to slip some questions to Frozenbyte’s Kai Tuovinen. Scroll on down for some answers about construction mechanics, factions, players per server, a console release, and more!

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Starbase is a major departure from past Frozenbyte games. What inspired you to go down this route?

Starbase has pretty long roots, it started out as a project five years ago, but even before that our CEO Lauri had been toying around with some ideas. He had a castle building/defending type of game in mind but that never went further than the idea stage really. Eventually he figured that an even cooler game could be made, and he set out the initial designs for Starbase. Starbase has very much been a research project, because we set out some ambitious goals for the core design years ago, and have been continuously ramping up those ambitions every time our tech makes a leap forward. It's Lauri's dream game but everybody else is also very excited to work on it, Starbase is something special!

We know you’ll be able to build ships in the game, but will players be able to construct the large space stations we’ve seen in the trailers?

Yes, station building is coming to the game and we’ve already got a pretty good station blueprint editor working. It’ll allow you to design the layout and shape of the station with some readymade modules like hallways, halls and landing platforms. After the blueprint is ready, you’ll have to gather the required materials and use your building tool to build the blueprints to an actual physical station. Once the structure is finished, you’ll need to create electricity and data networks, add things like lamps, functional doors and other interactive things.

Eventually players with enough resources will be able to construct giant space stations and form their own factions. Initially they can rent lots inside the starting mega stations.

What’s to stop people from just destroying the work you’ve done to build up your space station?

There are safe zones in the game and our starting stations for example are protected. So your first experience as a player will be safeguarded and you won’t be instantly ganked by more established forces. The designs for station building outside the safe zones/mega station confines are still being tested, and we have some ideas for implementing safe zones that diminish based on enemy ship presence. So you won’t be able to create permanent safe zones – you’ll need to protect them with forces.

Construction seems pretty complex. Will there be an easier building mode for people who don’t want to delve too deep?

The blueprint building of ships is coming at some point, whether it makes the EA launch is still not certain. Station building with the blueprints is quite straightforward for the larger structures. Once the blueprint ship editor is available, that will make it a lot easier for anyone to build ships from scratch, as it will have some ready-made modules included. At Early Access launch, you can of course purchase ships and then modify them to your liking, which is a lot easier than designing and building something from nothing.

Can you explain how the MMO elements will work? What motivation will players have to work together?

Some of the goals we set out for players will required them to work together if they wish to succeed. Players will start at a cluster of stations orbiting a gas giant, and one of the first goals we set out for them is to reach a “nearby” moon. With the current top speed of ships, it’ll be a several day journey, and it’ll be completely up to the players to figure out how they can reach it. Will they build huge ship and stock it full of fuel, alternating the captain role to keep the ship going on the right course, or perhaps build some refueling stations on the way and make the trip in slower increments? We want players to start their own factions, get an economy going, and compete for the resources and fame and fortune. Our design for the game allows the player’s own creativity to flourish, and as everyone is motivated from slightly different things, our job is to enable whatever they come up with.

What’s your overall goal? Can you “win” Starbase?

It’s an MMO where a lot of things are possible and the goal people set is pretty subjective, so there’s no definitive win or ending to the game. You can have different goals depending on what you want to accomplish – for some people that might be exploring new areas, growing your faction, designing spaceships, fighting other players in giant space battles and becoming the best pilot, building a factory…it can be anything. The overall goal is to do what you feel like doing.

Can you describe some of the factions in the game?

Right now there are two established developer factions, Empire and Kingdom. These will be the factions that rule the protected starting areas where you start out your experience. Empire is the largest faction in the Starbase universe, ruled by Emperor Laurentius. They are a militaristic faction with the largest fleet in the galaxy, a complex rank system and have a tax for everything. Kingdom is the second of the two large factions in the universe. They are in war with the Empire! They are more loosely formed, and ruled by King Joel the Just.

The war between Empire and Kingdom is the driving force of the early stages of the Starbase universe, and we’ll see where this war takes us during Early Access. The rest of the factions will be up to players to form, and we hope they will surpass our own factions in due time.

How deep is the game’s lore? Why the heck is everybody a robot anyways?

There’s not a whole lot of lore to the game, our Early Access players will be part of the expansion of the robotkind and will be creating the history, as they will be the pioneers who shape up the known universe. It is currently unknown why everyone is a robot.

How many players will be allowed on a server at once?

The number of players on a server is in theory unlimited. Most of the data is transferred using a peer-to-peer connection. However, the amount of players you’ll be able to see has some limits. Currently we’ve capped the visible players to 100 and have tested with 70+ developer players in the same space battle late last year. We have some instancing going on, but the tech is constantly evolving and it’s still difficult to say what the hard limits will be – our pre-alpha/alpha tests with real players will give us a lot more data to work with.

So, 100 players will be the limit for a single battle?

Right now the amount of players visible to you is 100, and any additional players will create their own dynamic instance. We are still testing these amounts internally and optimizing the experience, so it’s hard to say what the maximum number of players in the same instance will end up being. The goal is to enable as many as possible.

How big will the Starbase universe be? Will it mostly be hand-crafted, or will procedural generation be used?

The universe is designed to be infinitely expanding and most of it will be procedurally generated, but the largest structures such as megastations are handcrafted.

Around when do you expect Starbase to hit Steam Early Access? And how long will it stay there before the game’s full release?

All we’ve got for the moment is 2019 for the Early Access, and we’ll probably remain in EA for 1-2 years at least. It’s a big project!

Any plans for a console release?

Not at the moment. We want to focus fully on the PC version and getting the game ready for Early Access, so we don’t want to create any distractions or unnecessary bottlenecks. Current generation consoles probably couldn’t run Starbase without heavy optimizations, so we might look at our options when the next-gen consoles have arrived.

 Thanks for chatting with me!

 As mentioned, Starbase hits Steam Early Access later this year. A full release date has not been set yet. Want more Frozenbyte goodness? Check out our full E3 2019 Trine 4 interview.

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