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Hands-on with Edge of Space

Gareth Harmer Posted:
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The mission was dangerous, but I knew that when I signed up with the Ark Corporation. Hundreds of light years from home, but I knew there was no going back. If I were going to survive at all, I’d need to adapt this strange world with the powers of Science. But it wouldn’t be easy, out here in the Edge of Space.

Luckily, I had some friends with me on this perilous mission. To celebrate the recent release of the multiplayer patch, I teamed up with designer Jake Crane, one half of indie developer Handyman Studios. Together with a small group of contractors, the pair have been working on the 2D sandbox at a ferocious pace, adding features and squashing bugs.

Edge of Space is available through Steam Early Access, but don’t let being a pioneer put you off, as there’s plenty of fun to be had. After a successful Kickstarter, the team was eager to get the game into players hands as soon as possible, as Crane explained. “It does help with funding, to be sure, but it also helps with visibility.” It also uses a Minecraft-style approach of releasing regularly and getting community feedback to help shape the game.

On a Rocket Ship

How did I end up blasting chunks of rock out of an asteroid? The story goes that ArkCo entered into a clandestine agreement with four other mega-corporations to abandon earth and find rich new planets to terraform. After searching for some time, the other operations wanted to give up and head back home, and demanded that ArkCo give up its experimental faster-than-light technology so they could arrive there much quicker. The plucky company stood firm and refused to give in, at which point the others turned against it. Thinking quickly, the ArkCo flagship’s captain ordered an emergency FTL jump, delivering them to the edge of space.

With a spaceship full of terraforming technology, it makes sense to start using it on anything suitable. Which is why, as an ArkCo recruit fresh out of cryo-sleep, I was learning how to make the nearby planetoids a little more habitable. This far out though, deep space is a strange place, with all kinds of creatures looking to put an end to my astronautic career. Luckily, I’m put through a series of training missions to learn how to use my standard-issue kit (including a jetpack), before I’m thrown out of the airlock to blast rocks, plants and aliens.

The terraforming concept works well in a 2D sandbox, but many of the mechanics are inspired from a long line of sandbox MMOs. “I actually met Paul [Ash, co-founder and engineer] through pre-NGE Star Wars Galaxies, and I think that was the largest influence of being a large, multiplayer sandbox game. It’s a major influence on our crafting system, especially the later parts.” Since those early college days, the pair worked on an number of educational games before landing jobs on Fallen Earth. Crane also spent some time at CCP out in Iceland, home of the biggest sandbox on the MMO market.

Reunited stateside, Crane and Ash made the decision to start up by themselves, doing contract work as Unity developers while moonlighting on their own games. “That actually started out really well, but we learned pretty quickly that it was extremely hard to try and keep up the pace contract-wise and trying to do our own stuff.” At that point, the duo pooled together all the cash they had raised from contracting to start work on Edge of Space, before debuting it on Kickstarter. Everything raised from crowdfunding was then ploughed back into development, getting them through Steam Greenlight and into Early Access.

Teaming Up

Even though it’s rough around the edges, the multiplayer aspect of Edge of Space holds a cargo hold full of promise. Just as with Minecraft and Terraria, we’ll be able to set up our own private servers and invite our friends to explore strange worlds with us. It’s a different experience every time, as each one is procedurally generated. Handyman’s goal is to make it a smooth, stable experience for around five players, although the team would like to optimize it to support more.

Our small group starts by building a base, working together to mine nearby rocks and ores before turning them into simple materials.  It doesn’t take very long with our mining lasers, particularly as aiming together chips away at the blocks faster. More complex items require machinery to make, starting out with a basic workbench. Before long we’ve got a sizeable station from which we can strike deep into the asteroid.

The alien jungle landscape is teeming with life, most of it hostile. Pincer-sharp crabs prowl the ground, while floating jellyfish roam the air. At one point I encountered a jellyfish nest and started blasting away at it, only for it to burst into a cluster of lethal offspring. My plasma rifle would fire away but it has a reload time, forcing me to switch between gunning them down and running for my life. Crane later told me that it was a dynamic event – an AI dubbed the Director was watching our every move, and decides what to spawn at a particular time.

Our gear at this point in time was fairly basic, but it’s possible to upgrade almost every aspect of a character, from base stats to carried equipment. All weaponry is procedurally generated as well, meaning that it’s possible to strike it lucky with additional crafting attempts. There’s even a solid progression path - although we start out in the Protolife biome, it’s possible to advance to other exotic locales. The Comet biome is already in-game, while Barren, Infested and Irradiated are in development.

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Gareth Harmer

Gareth Harmer / Gareth “Gazimoff” Harmer has been blasting and fireballing his way through MMOs for over ten years. When he's not exploring an online world, he can usually be found enthusiastically dissecting and debating them. Follow him on Twitter at @Gazimoff.