Spacebase DF-9 (2014)

If shows like Babylon 5 and Star Trek DS9 have taught us, managing an interstellar spaceport can be hard. Offering amenities for travellers and staff, not knowing who to trust. But at least in those cases, there were organisations behind those stations, providing them with the tools and manpower to get started. But what happens if the space station you were put in charge of constructing was practically all that was left? Forcing you to rely entirely on the kindness of passing strangers. Few games put you into that situation so perilous yet so optimistic, probably why Spacebase DF-9 was a perfect Candidate for Double Fine’s famous Amnesia fortnight, and for the project they should work on next.

At the start of the game, you pick a coordinate in space to set up your station, the different plots not only have cosmetic consequences, but also impacts on variables such as external threats, making the game easier or harder as the player desires. From there you quickly realise that 35804 years have passed, all you’ve got is a rudimentary power device, some materials, a compartment of three workers with limited oxygen, and the deep void of space. With only one mission to complete: Repopulate the Milky Way.

Despite its charming look, Spacebase DF-9 can be a mighty fine challenge to get your base operational as well as running smoothly. At the start, the citizens need the facilities and, they need them done yesterday. You have a limited amount of resources to start with, especially considering you’ve got to get oxygen up and running before you’re three starting members suffocate. Once you’ve got oxygen set up, you then must deal with asteroid attacks and visitors who can be both friendly additions or perilous foes.

The characters, much like the Sims, have different tastes and personalities, this even comes down to their job preferences. Social media has also survived in the cryo-stasis and offers a well-written insight into the minds of your workers. The humour that made Double Fine famous is present and accounted for here. Spacebase DF-9 has an impressive look to it, with luminescent colours of distant nebulas, faux outdated terminal interface, and its soundtrack of synths and acoustic guitars help accentuate what’s going on the screen.

Spacebase DF-9 is a charming yet fiendishly challenging space sim that speaks to the heart of the established gaming titan behind it. It’s a game that makes you wonder why this idea hasn’t been done before, as the minutes turn to hours of continuous expansion. It’s a perfect example of what creativity can emerge from a two-week gaming jam. While Spacebase ceased its ambitious development and was released early in 2014. The game’s code has been released into the public through open source and despite not being maintained by Double Fine, there’s an active community still trying to make the game live up to the lofty ideals of the concept a reality.

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