GDC 2017: From Other Suns is a Procedurally Generated Multiplayer Starship Simulator
From Other Suns, a brand new VR title by Gunfire Games, draws heavy inspiration from several existing concepts and combines them all together, effortlessly, into a fresh and shiny package. It’s got the ship and crew management of games like Star Trek: Bridge Crew and FTL, it’s got the cooperative first-person shooter elements of games like Onward and Borderlands, with tons of loot to gather and gear to acquire, and it’s got the crazy ragtag crew antics of something like Guardians of the Galaxy — you can watch the trailer below to catch all of the vibes.
Even though it’s designed primarily as a three-player cooperative multiplayer game, the first time I played From Other Suns at GDC 2017 this week I was on my own. The other two demo stations were occupied by players also playing alone so I’d be rolling solo for my first mission. It was like my own private trial by galactic fire, as it were.
Everything began aboard my starship as the onsite Gunfire Games developer walked me through the controls and movement systems. On my wrists are a couple of buttons I can press with my opposite hand to pull up things like the options window or a map screen. The Oculus Touch controller face buttons toggle an inventory and an equipment display.
The default, more comfortable, movement system was a bit unique. You start by pressing forward on the left analog stick and then as you move around you watch your avatar from a third-person perspective.
Once you let go of the analog stick, you immediately teleport back into your body as you’re standing still. It feels almost like an out of body experience, but is a good option for those sensitive to motion sickness. It seemed to be a decent stop-gap solution, but I can’t imagine someone playing the entire game this way. It’s just wonky and feels like an inferior way of experiencing it.
For me, I preferred the full locomotion movement. It worked very similarly to Onward, allowing me to freely move around the world with few issues.
Once I got that down, it was time for my mission briefing. I headed to the bridge and looked down at my star map. After I selected a space station that was in trouble, my commander informed me that robots had overtaken the vessel and killed everyone on board. Because of course they did.
I made my way back to the chamber with the teleportation pad and inspected the guns on the wall. My starting pistol was good, but not great. Each of the guns had different fire rates, magazine sizes, and damage output. One functioned like an energy rifle, another shot lighting bolts, and then another was sort of like a short range shotgun. Plenty of diversity with options for every situation.
Once my loadout was set I stepped onto the pad and beamed down onto the ship. The developers told me that in the real game, maps like this would be procedurally generated from tilesets. This means that no two mission will ever be the same due to randomization, but it won’t be as lifeless as a truly randomized area.
Knowing that killer robots were on the loose, I was much more cautious than when freely roaming my own starship. I slowly edged around corners, poked my head out from cover to sneak a look, and made sure to stay mobile.
Eventually I encountered my first enemy, a robotic adversary that resembled the droids from the Star Wars prequels a bit. He was flanked by two similar robots, so I started by poking out from around the corner, gunning for headshots with my pistol. Soon, I swapped to the automatic rifle and peppered the chest of the closest one until it dropped. Once they got too close I switched to the shotgun and blasted their heads off. It felt extremely satisfying, especially with full locomotion.
Upon death, the robots dropped a few glowing items. One was a shield, which I could hold in one hand and squeeze the trigger to activate — if it got hit too many times it’d break and need to recharge. The second glowing item was green and I found out it was a syringe, which I could stab myself with to heal. Stocking up on those saved me a few times later in the mission.
When I came came back to the booth at a later time I was able to hop into a multiplayer session with UploadVR’s own Senior Editor, Ian Hamilton. While exploring the starship I quickly realized that I could hear him just fine over voice chat, but he couldn’t hear me. It was just a minor hardware issue. I decided to use this to my advantage.
While this was technically a cooperative multiplayer game, the folks at Gunfire didn’t want to cut any corners. This is a hardcore game about manning a starship and trying to survive. Friendly fire happens. I learned this by opening fire on Ian as he was still trying to find his way around the ship; I could even hear the booth attendees talking to him over the microphone.
One thing led to another and I killed him in cold blood before the mission even started. I didn’t need him slowing me down, but he just respawned and joined me anyway.
While we were down there, team dynamics started to emerge. Whoever had the shield could walk in front, drawing fire and keeping enemies busy, while someone else headed up the rear taking aim with more powerful and precise weapons.
The inclusion of thrown weapons like EMP blasts to stun robots or grenades to blow apart large groups would be a welcomed addition if the developers decided to add them. Later on, large robots with rocket launcher weapons could demolish a fully charged shield in a single blow, making it clear this wouldn’t be an easy game when it finally releases.
During our time with the game, Gunfire also mentioned a suite of features that weren’t available in the demo we tried. For starters, while aboard your ship, you can actually engage other ships in combat. Gameplay during these moments would consist of sending crew members to repair parts of the ship and actively rerouting power to shields or guns during a fight.
Ultimately, even though I was more successful and actually beat the mission on my own before joining forces with Ian, playing as a team was rewarding and exciting. Perhaps with a more competent partner things wouldn’t have broken down so quickly.
I ended up killing him again out of pure spite before the demo was over. It didn’t make me feel any better.
From Other Suns is in development by Gunfire Games as an Oculus Rift with Touch exclusive, currently slated for Fall 2017. Even though it’s being built with three player co-op in mind, it’s still playable in single player as well.