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Astroneer: With Kids!

By Red Thomas on July 23, 2019 | Columns | Comments

Astroneer: With Kids!

I’d originally reinstalled Astroneer planning to do an article about the new Lunar update, but then the developers reached out to me to set up an interview.  That article could be in the pipe, but since I had the game installed anyway, I asked my nephew if he’d like to play it with me for another of my With Kids! articles.

It turns out the kid had been watching a lot of videos on Astroneer and it was second on his list after the game that I’d gotten him for his birthday, so we decided to give it a shot.  I’ve played Astroneer before and I was a little worried about how entertained he’d be by it, but I was worried over nothing.  The game has changed a lot over the last year or two and many of the new features are great quality of life improvements that make the game even more fun.

This is another game that I probably would have recommended even before the updates as a generally relaxed coop with fantastic aesthetics and fun game mechanics.  It’s still a bit of a niche title in that it’s a little too casual for audiences who prefer more adrenaline in their games, but it’s a homerun for those of us who enjoy savoring our games over a cup of coffee.  I also found that it was a great game to share with kids and I’ll go through a few of those adventures with you today, along with some of the things I like about the game and some suggestions for when you play it with your own youthful gamers.

Detroit Ramp City

Astroneer has made a number of improvements since the game originally released, but my favorite might be their greatly improved terrain tool.  The greatly expanded science system includes a number of attachments for changing the size of the manipulated area.  All of those new enhancement tools are fantastic, but even basic manipulation is better.  The tool can now not only raise and lower terrain but can also smooth it flat.

The terrain leveler tool can be swept around the ground to find just the right angle before hitting the mouse button to engage the feature.  There are attachments for creating flat terrain that’s perpendicular to the surface or parallel for larger areas, but the basic tool is just as flexible, if not as easy.  When you raise or lower terrain, you create a number of sections of voxel-based terrain with different angles.  That means with a little experimentation, you can find just the right angle for what you want to do.

I’m a nerd and a little OCD.  For me, that meant that I was able to create a nice flat space to lay the base out in and could keep expanding it to have an orderly base of operations.  I really appreciated being able to arrange my base around sections with specific support functions.

My nephew discovered ramps. Now, you find them out in the middle of nowhere and for no reason. It’s a little entertaining. Now that buggies have an auto-flip feature for wreck recovery, they’re great for kids goofing around.

My nephew, though…  He discovered ramps.   Using the tool, he was able to create racetracks and ramps all over the planet, which we’ve now dubbed Hotwheels Prime.  Once we’d researched the buggy, he was off and having a blast jumping sections of the base and building highways between our main base and various areas of interest.

Between exploring caves and the rest of the planet, building ramps and roads all over the place, and taking the small shuttle we built to various planets for exoplanetary exploration, my nephew has found a ton of stuff to do in Astroneer without my really having to hand-hold him at all.  He’s just tickled to be playing on the same server as I am and to occasionally do things together sometimes.  It’s been a pretty good experience for both of us.

Shocked Me

Astroneer wasn’t just a game my nephew enjoyed a lot, but I really had a great deal of fun, as well.  I hadn’t really expected him to enjoy it as much as he did, or that I would, either.  I knew the developers had continued to work on the game, but I guess I hadn’t realized how many great design choices they’d made and implemented since the last time I’d played.

One of the things I’d already mentioned that I liked is the terrain modification, but I also liked how they’ve added so much more depth to a simple mechanic.  Through research, you can unlock attachments for your terrain tool to widen or narrow the area of effect, to change the color of the added material, to add material either parallel to the planet surface or perpendicular to it, and attachments to strengthen the mining feature of the tool.   This is important because harder terrain on other planets take longer to dig through or can’t be dug through at all without the attachment.

Astroneer is a really nice-looking game. Simple, but with a great color palette.

Speaking of science, that’s been dramatically expanded.  There are a ton of new platforms, power systems, storage options, and all sorts of new base components and a ton of new elements and resources on the various moons and planets.  I found the advancement options to be a lot more interesting since the last time I played, and also found science to be a lot deeper, even with keeping the research module constantly loaded and running.

Also, because power is a lot more of a bottleneck in early base construction, the power options seem to be a lot more relevant in Astroneer than they had been in the past.  I found myself building and using fuel-based generators and also small wind and solar generators far more than I had expected.  This also meant putting more thought into the base layout so that critical systems were powered before less critical systems, rather than the spiderweb of everything connected to everything else that I used to employ.

I Love It Fun

I did learn a few things playing with my nephew that might help make your experience a little better.  Very few issues were major, which I think is a testament to really good game-design, but here are some of the things that might make your life a little easier.

Astroneer can be a little tough for kids to get going, so I’d suggest the adult do a little basic base-building and setup before inviting the kiddos in.  If you can lay out a few tethers and collect some early resources, it’ll help prevent a few deaths.  Not all of them by a long-shot, but my nephew died several times early on while exploring the untamed wilds.

On that note, it can be a little frustrating to die in any game, but Astroneer is one of those games that it happens often enough to not really be a huge problem.  By making light of it and joking when I died, I think I helped create a sense of acceptance in my nephew that streamlined his death and rebirth into the digital universe a few times.  I think going in knowing that you’ll die and arranging to set a good example before your kid experiences it is a good way to skip over potential problems.

Exploring space together can be a challenge when the kids want to land at the same place you do every time.

I found and set early beacons to mark key resources like Compound and Resin that my nephew would need.  I color coded them and just asked that he collect the beacons and bring them back to base when the resource was used up.  I also skipped some of the closer resources early on so that he could use them himself.  I think it helped him get into the game a little quicker and that early enjoyment translated to having more fun in the long-run.

Another thing that I found was that the game’s advancement system can be a little complex for kids, and like many of these survival games, the lack of clear “next-step” can be hard for younger gamers.  I enjoy the open-ended type of games because I like creating and setting my own goals, but kids need some help with that.  I found that my nephew loved running around in the buggy and the tractor, so I tasked him with finding and returning science early on.  His job was to keep the research module loaded and running.

Turns out, it worked really well.   He loved making long over-land treks to find new stuff and bringing it back to base.  We built sort of a little bowl in the ground for him to objects into and he spent a ton of time just driving around collecting random researchable objects, dropping them off, making sure the research module was on and had something in it, and then heading back out to do it again.

Lots of entertaining unlocks and such for achievements give a fun form of progression outside the main game loop.

Pick It Up

This is another of those games that I absolutely think is worth picking up and enjoying with kids.  Granted, there’ll be those kids who would rather play Fortnite and CoD to playing something as relaxed as Astroneer, but I’m finding that my nephew likes a lot of the same games as I do, and I’m having a blast introducing him to them.

With an active development team, I suspect we’ll keep getting updates to Astroneer to keep it interesting enough to play for a while yet.  I’m not sure what they’ll be working on next, but definitely a team I’m going to be keeping my eye on.

With kids or not, Astroneer would be a game that I’d strongly recommend.  It’s open enough that you’ll easily get hours of enjoyment out of it, but there is a definite form of progression that has you expanding and building bases on other planets and moons over time.  There are a lot of intelligent design decisions in the game, and it’s a small team of people who risked a lot to make something incredible.  Definitely the sort of team and game I have no problem throwing some support towards.   Let me know your experiences below, and maybe share some cool screenshots.


Red Thomas / A veteran of the US Army, raging geek, and avid gamer, Red Thomas is that cool uncle all the kids in the family like to spend their summers with. Red lives in San Antonio with his wife where he runs his company and works with the city government to promote geek culture. Follow him on Twitter: