If we remember since the games like Minecraft and, to a lesser extent, Dwarf Fortress hit the scene, the idea of what constituted a “goal” in video games was put under intense scrutiny. Sure, there had been games that didn’t bank as heavily on violence or other forms of conflict, but very few games had ever challenged the notion so heavily as to say “well, what if we just gave players a giant sandbox and let them do whatever they wanted with it.”
But with the onset of Minecraft, Notch seemed to remind us why we loved to play aimlessly with LEGOs as kids and the so-called “building” genre was born. Lots of games have filled in entries of the genre since then – of widely varying qualities and some less “sandboxy” than others – but few have really captured the hearts and minds of the gaming scene quite like Minecraft did way back in 2009. Part of the problem is that many sandbox building games just seem to be marching in lockstep, barely innovating at all and keeping things nice and predictable.
The release trailer for System Era’s new game Astroneer (which you can and should check out below) makes it look anything but predictable.
Astroneer looks to be equal parts Minecraft and Journey with a hint of something completely different. Here’s the premise according to the developers’ blog.
IN THE NOT-SO-DISTANT FUTURE, THE SUDDEN DEVELOPMENT OF TECHNOLOGY FOR RAPID SPACE TRAVEL ENABLES FAST AND INEXPENSIVE JOURNEYS TO THE STARS. THE DOMINANT CONGLOMERATE IN THIS VENTURE, EXO DYNAMICS, HAS OPENED LONG DISTANCE TRAVEL TO PRIVATE CITIZENS. LIKE THE YUKON GOLD RUSH OF OLD, THE RESULT IS A FLOOD OF PEOPLE SIGNING UP TO LAUNCH THEMSELVES INTO A NEW FRONTIER. RECKLESS ADVENTURERS RISK EVERYTHING TO SEEK THEIR FORTUNE IN THE FAR REACHES OF THE GALAXY.
YOU ARE ONE SUCH ADVENTURER, ASTRONEER. INSUFFICIENTLY TRAINED AND EQUIPPED BY UNSCRUPULOUS OUTFITTERS, YOU MUST USE YOUR WITS AND HARD WORK TO THRIVE ON DISTANT WORLDS YET UNTOUCHED BY MANKIND.
Astroneer looks to mix things up in inumerable huge ways, introducing major environmental elements, a creative spin on the whole “crafting” mechanic (was that a 3D printer I saw? Makes more sense than a crafting grid!) and leaning heavily on the exploration of alien environments and locales to capture that sense of wonder that cresting a blocky rise in Minecraft still evokes to this day…only to the nth degree.
If it seems like I’m talking Astroneer up a bit, that’s a fair assessment, but it’s been a long time since a new title – particularly one of the much-maligned “Minecraft-clones” – has evoked this sense of wonder and excitement in me. I really enjoyed Starbound, which plays like a weird Terraria in space, but the idea of a Minecraft in space makes me positively giddy.
Much more preliminary information about the game is available on the aforementioned blog and you can follow the team on Twitter and Facebook. The team looks to be aiming for an Early Access release on Steam early in 2016 which will focus, first, on its “exploration sandbox and balancing its elements with the world-building power players can wield.”