Writing Starsector 2: Westernesse Boondoggle

A couple weeks ago I mentioned that I was happy to answer random questions about my game dev practice (offer still stands!), and in the following discussion I said something about having cut a bunch of text from “the anarchist art collective” portion of the Starsector missions. There was at least one person interested in hearing more, so who am I to deny this request?

It turns out that getting to that anarchist art collective involves – for the purposes of context, of course – a meandering path through the entire process of writing narrative for Starsector. Therefore, my friends, that’s what we’re going to do today.

There will be spoilers in this post for content that was released in Starsector 0.95, the March of 2021 vintage. I won’t talk about any upcoming content ( … unless?). So if you haven’t done the so-called “main quest” of the game starting at the Galatia Academy, both myself and Hegemony COMSEC recommend you hold off on reading further.

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Writing Starsector

The next update will add strong narrative RPG elements to Starsector, among other things.

I feel no small amount of trepidation because this is both a change and it is a particular story about particular characters in a way the pure sandbox certainly isn’t. This necessarily constrains your – the player’s – experience of the game-fantasy and the meta-game fantasy of an “unfinished game” which has the potential to become everyone’s dreams in a free-floating quantum state… until you see it for real and it turns out it isn’t quite what you dreamed.

I suppose this seems like an awfully negative way to start off; this is what I mean about trepidation. And I am legitimately excited about sharing more of the world of Starsector, letting players dive in a bit closer and get a feel for what it’s like for people that live in this world. Find out what they think, find out a bit more about why movers and shakers move like they do. If I may say so, I think we’ve done some pretty good work!

The written wordcount has already exceeded the minimum definition for a novel (50k) a few times over by now. I’ve attempted Nanowrimo a few times in the past and always choked almost instantly. My experience writing Starsector has been a stark contrast – the words just flow! It seems so obvious, most of the time, what comes next, what feels right to be said. I suspect part of it is the constraint of the medium focusing creativity, but it may also perhaps be the very clear connection to an audience (that’s y’all out there!). A novel feels a bit like a bunch of words floating out  in (ha) space. A game, however, has a player. They must actively engage and progress. I know a player is committed in a way a reader isn’t. (Which probably isn’t at all true; people read books, after all. I’ve even read one or two in my day.)

Whatever it is, maybe I can’t rationalize it. But something works here for me in a way that hasn’t elsewhere. I’ll take it.

Let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this.

We’ve had to deal with certain constraints and design problems while adding written content to Starsector. Some of these are faced by all games which use writing, some are particular to the context of Starsector. I am not going to talk about any specific narrative beats or plot details, but I will talk about how the narrative is structured, so from a certain point of view one could derive meta-spoilers from this blog post. I think the most pure and magical way to experience Starsector would be with no foreknowledge of any of this, so I’ll give you fair warning now: if you don’t want to know anything, stop reading.

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A True and Accurate History of the Persean Sector

Rise and shine, sleeper.

So you’ve just been hauled out of cryosleep, your quiet journey through space interrupted after a couple hundred cycles drifting along to a Better Place.

Sorry, and welcome to the Persean Sector! You’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

It may seem like a bit of a mess, but you should count your lucky stars: you haven’t been carved up for spare parts by some pirate! On a related note, you are going to need credits to put toward interest on the Recovery Installment Plan which has already been attached to your genecode, so let’s introduce the thought that you may indeed wish to sell a kidney, most of your liver, or a surprising amount of skin with very little harm to normal biological function – provided you pass the rad screening, of course. You don’t have to answer now, we’ll give you a bit to think it over.

In the meantime, we’ve prepared a little primer to help catch you up on what’s been going on in the local volume. Your eye movements will trigger text navigation so you don’t have to move your variably atrophied limbs – hope you didn’t go with the cheap model cryotank! Sit back, and please pay attention. We have good statistics which demonstrate that a steady grounding in the present historical context helps cryo-recovered subjects re-integrate with society in 78.3% of cases.

hulk

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Building Better Worlds

No, not terraforming; world-building! You know, like writing and content implementation.

In the upcoming Starsector 0.8x patch we’ve added at least one* new faction and expanded the number of hand-scripted star systems in the Sector by a significant though not quite finalized number. Alex has of course obliquely described how he has expanded the number of procedurally generated star systems from zero in the currently available build to potentially a whole bunch in the upcoming patch. This does much to embiggen the world of Starsector! My part in this has focused mostly on the hand-scripted Core Worlds, the centers of human civilization, industry, and conflict within the volume of the Persean Sector.

I’ll talk a bit about the creative process as well as design considerations that go into creating this content. We’ll cover some old star systems, some new star systems, the Persean League just a tiny bit, and whatever tangents that come up.

(*Hedging how I word this because the truth of the matter is a touch complex.)

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A Starsector Reading List

As you might imagine, I’ve been busy cooking up some new star systems and worlds to visit in Starsector.

Which brings to mind that for some time now I’ve wanted to share a few of the science fiction novels I feel relate to how I approach the world of Starsector creatively. Reviewing my list of novels, I find some common themes: dark settings where terrible things happen (or have happened); they are often about distinct factions with differing philosophies coming into conflict; they’re set in “used” worlds filled with ruins, ancient and often misunderstood technology, scratches and dents and rust and rubble and history. And of course they’re space operas with the battles and pew-pew lasers and that lot. Just like Starsector! Such is what I aspire to, at least. Let’s begin!

starsector_art3

(The art, by the way, is just some stuff I’m working on for Starsector, nothing to do with the books.)

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