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Guest Blog: Star Ruler Review

October 14th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 8 Comments · Guest Blog, Review, Sci Fi

Kevin Hutchins is probably one of my oldest continual online friends. We made contact on the old Home of the Underdogs forum, he has had Thanksgiving at my house, and we’ve talked on and off for years.

Still, I needed him to write a more thorough bio note, because what do you say about a guy who has moved from job to job and never become less cynical?

“Kevin is a critic of some description, a gamer of every description, a writer of no description and no taste. He is a good source of strong opinions and fiber. He was raised to live a life at sea, but believes that Flash of Steel is too good a cause to abandon for a life among the waves.”

You guys remember Spaceballs? Maybe I’m miscalculating FoS’s target demographic, but I’m betting you have. More than once. Apparently that movie was only funny when I was 8, because a recent attempt to watch it led only to embarrassment for everyone involved. I admit I laughed, once again, when Dark Helmet’s ship took well over a minute to cross the screen, in a mockery of the opening of “Star Wars”. I mean, ships that size just don’t happen, except as comic relief, after all.

Or do they?

True story: I caught wind of a game called Star Ruler by Blind Mind Studios about a month ago, while I was digging around for what was new in the space 4x genre. Like a lot of folks, I really dug Sins of a Solar Empire and what it brought to the table: real-time gameplay, lasers, death beams, giant capital ships and planet-busting bombardments. Everyone loves that stuff, especially in a well-paced, epic setting. It pushed the limits of what many people considered a moribund genre, brought it back to life, and set the foundations for what was to come after.

Enter Star Ruler. If there was one thing that was missing in Sins, it was designing your own ships. A fair number of people were disappointed that one of the genre’s staples, a part of space 4x from the very beginning, wasn’t there; you had a set roster of ships, and that was it. After a while, games become somewhat stylized rock-paper-scissors affairs, as opposed to coming at your opponent out of the blue with an unexpected ship design. This is where Blind Mind’s project really shines. Their freeform ship creation, which is not limited by size or scope, is truly limitless. Not sure what I mean? Let me put it this way: would you like a ship that is the size of a small sun? No problem, just tell the ship designer and it will happily scale up the components and the material costs to build it. Would you like it to house a fleet of planet-sized ships? Easytown. Just add on a ship bay and load them in. Need to give them some asteroid size missiles to shatter your opponent’s planets? By all means, just change the scale of the ship, swap around the components, and cause the bowels of your dreaded opponent to loose themselves. Ships are fully scalable from size 0.1, which is… I don’t know, about the size of Boston? To size “32 Bit Integer” which is like 2^31 or something. That is huge, and good luck to you if you want to try and build that monster. Most people don’t get past size 100,000 which I assure you is plenty, plenty big. Keep in mind that weapon power also scales with size, and I think you can probably figure out that bigger is, more often than not, better.

The game itself is real-time like Sins and contains all the basic staples of the genre; research trees (which also scale and never ends; you can research a tech forever and get additional bonuses, as long as you have the research capacity to get it done before your dying day), colonization, evil AI empires to conquer, and resource gathering. All pretty standard and basic… which is actually the major drawback to this project; it is a no-frills experience to be sure. I waited until a half-dozen patches had come around to say anything about the game because, to be honest, the first incarnations were virtually impossible to enjoy due to bugs, crashes, missing features, broken multiplayer, brain dead AI and simple a lack of things to do besides build alarmingly large ships. But soft, my readers! I am happy to say that Blind Mind is made up of some hard-working hombres and they are gradually adding meat to what is turning out to be a very interesting expansion of the genre. As of writing (patch, you can now have a functional multiplayer game, and single player isn’t quite as lonely and dire as it used to be, with AI opponents doing amazing things like attacking you on occasion, generally slowing down your mega-ship projects with some frequency.

In any case, keep your eyes open for the new stuff being added to this game, and if you’re the adventurous type looking for a new flavor for an old dog (that’s a saying, right?), pick it up for cheap on Steam or Blind Mind’s website and give it a try. It’s an ugly duckling for sure, but we all know how that story ended, don’t we?


8 Comments so far ↓

  • Paul

    “After a while, games become somewhat stylized rock-paper-scissors affairs, as opposed to coming at your opponent out of the blue with an unexpected ship design. This is where Blind Mind’s project really shines. Their freeform ship creation, which is not limited by size or scope, is truly limitless.”

    Oh man, might’ve sold me there. I knew the game had a tough launch and they’ve been working hard at the game since, so the game had been on my radar, but only peripherally because most of the stuff out there was only talking about how bland and broken the game was.

    I kind of despise rock-paper-scissors mechanics. They become too puzzle like for me to tolerate in larger games. In smaller games, I’m happy to have a balanced approach because I don’t expect to plunge 100 hours into the game. But with larger games I like to have more options and the ability to feel like I’m still doing new things in the late game instead of strictly min/maxing my units. I don’t like to play Starcraft multiplayer, btw.

    Ship design. Scratch that, fun ship design is such an integral part to my enjoyment of 4x games over a long period that Kevin may have just sold me. Now to find the time to play …

  • frags

    I downloaded the demo for this. Loaded it up, and just lost interest. This game has the same 3D universe thing like Sword of The Stars am I right? I hate that. Maybe I’ll give it another shot.

  • Firgof

    If you dislike the 3D galaxy, you may always flatten it through the options in New Game; Quickstart defaults to a 150-system 3D spiral galaxy w/3000 spacing and 3 opponents at Difficult 2, I believe. :)

  • frags

    Oh thanks. :) I’ll give it a try.

  • Warren

    I bought Star Ruler on release, “played” it for a couple hours and haven’t touched it since. Glad to hear it might be worth some time someday.

    The find here is Kevin. I don’t believe I’d encountered your irreverent wit ‘ere now, or I’d have noted it. Quite refreshing! More; please.

  • Kevin H.

    To be sure the game is a diamond in the rough. All I would recommend to people looking to try it is to get the very expansive demo, which I believe is updated every time there is a new patch. Even with the demo limitations, it’s a meaty offering for people who are curious.

    Don’t go into it looking for polish, though. It’s a labor of love to be sure, not necessarily a finished product. See: Minecraft, et al.

    P.S. glad you liked the review, maybe Troy will whip out the cudgel and draw another one out of me…! Stranger things have happened.

  • Michael

    Star Ruler’s devs have been pretty active on the forums I frequent. They strike me similar to Chris Park of Arcen (AI War) – true gamers that took up the mantle of a game studio to produce the product _they_ want to see and play.

  • Hayden

    Check out the newest patch/patches. Some much has changed and added that in two week it feels like a whole new game.