Thursday, December 15, 2011

2011: A Spaceman Simulation in Space Station 13

Five or six years ago, I found myself really wanting when it came to games. As far as I was concerned, a half dozen legitimately enjoyable games came out a year, and few of those could last me eight long, cold weeks, much less remain truly enjoyable for that long. Before long, I found myself looking into the dark corners, trying to find anything strange, weird, or just generally interesting. I found the most amazing things, stuff that you would never find on the shelves next to Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto. I found Dwarf Fortress, WWII plane simulators, a trove of indie titles, and then I found Space Station 13.

As a forewarning, no matter what I may say next, I love Space Station 13. As far as I am concerned, this frustrating, broken, abysmal game is perhaps the best thing I have ever played in my entire life.

Space Station 13 could be considered a life simulator, if your life was onboard a research station in space. In some ways, it's not unlike The Sims. You play a character you create, choose a profession for him, and live his life. With 25 jobs, ranging from a lowly Janitor to the station's AI, the game opens up with a wealth of options, all of which interact and cascade with each other. The Chef has a vast array recipes that he could produce (if you know them!), but most of them rely on ingredients produced in the nearby Botany. If those Botanists aren't busy growing marijuana (Hint: They are!), the can grow any of 28 crops, with an additional 10 crop mutations possible, if you splice the DNA of seeds enough. If Botany wants some more planting pots, or some plant nutrients, they can request the Quartermasters (another available job), to have it shipped to the station. Shipping has a budget, however, and if they have spent it all (and they have, always), Mining (yet another job) can send them some mined ore to sell to the Space Market. Things continue to progress in this manner, and every job inevitably affects every other, in some way.

Jobs, as well as the... "interface".

On the flip-side, there are a variety of antagonistic roles taken on by players randomly at the start of each round. They could be designated as a Syndicate traitor, and given resources to purchase a variety of items used to do naughty things, ranging from lightsabers to cloaking devices. They could also be part of a Syndicate squad, starting on a ship with the sole goal of retrieving the Nuclear Authentication Disk usually carried by the Captain, arming the nuke, and killing everyone. It could be a Revolution round, where three players are selected as leaders of the Revolution, tasked with converting players to their side and taking out the Heads of the station. They could also be a member of the Space Wizard Federation, who are granted a variety of spells in order to accomplish a generated objective. Even more, they could be an Alien Queen, straight out of the film Alien, with the goal to infect/kill every one in a Head position. Lastly, there is the Changeling. Similar to the creature from The Thing, the Changeling looks like you or me, assuming they have consumed their DNA already. They leave behind husks of humans that are sure signs of a Changeling, however, so they must be discreet and careful. On a plus side, if you heat a Changeling blood sample, it'll scream.

However, with a playerbase of anywhere from 30-70 anonymous players at any given time, coupled with the fact that the most popular servers are administrated by Something Awful's Goons, things quickly devolve into a shit show, and this is where I derive the most pleasure from Space Station 13. Whatever the game is meant to be, it's a stark lesson in humanity. If you give a group of strangers a vast range of interesting, unique, and sometimes amazing options, they will still just club each other with fire extinguishers. While griefing is against the rules, it's such a fundamental, perfect aspect to the game, I'd be remiss not to discuss it. If you play Space Station 13, someone is going to do something really bad to you, you likely won't even know what is happening, and it will probably be for no real reason. You've been warned.

Explosions. Gibs. Vomit. Yup, sure is SS13 in here.

There is truly nothing else like Space Station 13, as far as I know. It takes the random nature of the Roguelike, mixes it with full multiplayer, and leaves you with a recipe for both the best and worst times you'll ever have in a game. This is a game for the sort of person who enjoys his entertainment with a side of absurdism, with flippant disregard for fair and equal, and the mentality of a 12 year old. It is equal parts Asimov and dick jokes.

Disclaimer: Space Station 13 can be found via BYOND. The game is a laggy mess. This article was written in regards to the Goonstation versions. They are bad people. Don't blame me when they knock you down, steal all your stuff, defecate on you, and weld you into a locker.

Dan is an EMT, as well as a casual Spaceman. Feel free to follow him on Twitter.


  1. This seems like playing an Excel spreadsheet while 4chan tries to fuck it up as much as they can. Awesome.

  2. That being said, your articles are a great look into an amazing world of gaming I never knew existed...

  3. I'd strongly encourage you to give any of them a try, Chris. Dwarf Fortress might require some genuine dedication to learn, but SS13 is pretty pick-up and play, baring the awful platform and terrible netcode and the atrocious UI., but really, fun things do happen! Emergent stuff!