The soft color pallets and simplistic landscape might be the only thing that’s easy in the new space adventure, Astroneer, as the premise is to go out into the void and stake your claim. Taking the third person perspective, the player becomes an Astroneer- a combination of the words “astronaut” and “pioneer,” in case it wasn’t adorably obvious. Their task is to travel to any number of planetary bodies, as well as asteroids and moons, looking for resources to eke out a fortune, and maybe a colony or two. The terrain is yours to mold, whether it is to raise mountains or create an homage to Jules Verne by journeying to the center of a planet. It may sound a little bit like the worldwide sensation that is Minecraft in many ways, but in a bold move to go where many have tried, System Era Softworks’ Astroneer provides the player with something a lot more visually impactful than its low-res, blocky predecessor. The game has been made “in a uniquely rendered voxel engine, featuring a texture-less aesthetic that allows players to deform and shape the terrain as though it were made of Play-Doh.”1
The team at System Era come from a richer background than one might expect, themselves, having worked on favorite franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Halo, Doom, and Sims, to name a few. This is their first effort as a combined force, and they say that the alliance was formed “out of a desire to build high quality titles that represent our shared passion for space exploration and technology, and explore the systems that drive the world.”2 The promotional artwork for the game somehow looks both cute and menacing with the little person inside of what is inarguably an iconic-looking spacesuit. But that little guy is facing the vastness of the great mystery that is the universe, itself, and it looks as achingly awesome in this game as it often can in this writer’s own dreams. The lack of detailed texture may make for a less realistic terrain, but there are plenty of distractions in the other aspects of the art style. As mentioned before, the palette looks to be pastels and warm tones that are reminiscent of many a sci-fi pulp cover from the golden era of the genre, which could likely endear fans to it all the more.
Astroneer is described by its creators as being set in the midst of a “25th century gold rush,” when there is a technology boom that allows for cheap, quick, civilian space travel for those with the pioneer spirit. The game’s premise is propelled by a major corporate conglomerate, called Exo Dynamics, offering volunteers the opportunity to strike out and mine space for all its worth, establishing colonies along the way. Just like any corporation, though, Exo Dynamics may have some ulterior motives for sending these plucky adventurers into the dangers of the unknown. It isn’t to be a simple mining and building game, however; Astroneer is a game for explorers and archaeologists, too. The player will perhaps come across evidence and artifacts left from alien civilizations, and there’s always the possibility of making contact with living extra-terrestrials in their wanderings. The curious-at-heart will likely find this promise of playing at the ultimate investigation endearing and enjoyable, while the aesthetician will marvel at the simple, yet beautiful, canvases they will encounter in Astroneer’s procedurally generated environments.
Even the website for Astroneer is ingenious- the foreground image of rocky alien hills moves up, while the background- and the space man standing there- is still, appearing to be lost to perspective as you scroll down the page. The developers have put the game up on Steam as an early access title in the hopes that players themselves can help to make it “the best aerospace and planetary exploration experience ever.”3 There is no actual set date for this possible masterpiece’s release, but the System Era’s site and their Steam store page does say it will be this year. Gameplay will be made even more exciting as it will also have the option of online and local multiplayer modes. If the execution is as enticing as its promotion, Astroneer should prove to be a genuinely inspired work of video gaming art.
It is the author’s express opinion that the game described above looks super fresh and really exciting. She is in no way being paid by, nor is she party to, System Era Softworks. But she would be, if they offered. Seriously.