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Cosmic storms and galactic monsters in Pastaspace Interactive’s Underspace

The creator of the ‘open world lovecraftian spacefighter RPG’ Underspace calls it a ‘vast freaky universe,’ and even that might be an understatement. This sci-fi world is not only rooted in science but goes full-on supernatural. Expect cosmic storms and massive space monsters to try to take a bite out of your spaceship. “I find something that doesn’t belong in space normally, and then I put it in space. If someone complains that it doesn’t belong there, I double down on it.

Kevin Brock, founder of indie game studio Pastaspace Interactive, is the creative mind behind Underspace. Operating out of Wisconsin, USA he spent the last ten years building his passion project. “Besides me, there’s also a legion of contractors and commissioned artists that help make assets for the game”, he says. But space games have a tendency to be big and so things kinda grew out of control. “I have asked others for advice and they’d be like ‘Don’t make a game that big’. I didn’t listen. I don’t usually listen.”

Looking at the current staple of space games, Brock felt there was clearly something lacking. “There really aren’t a lot of fantasy-oriented space games out there”, he says. “Moreso, there’s no real space games out there that put a focus on giant space leviathans. It’s odd, considering space whales and the like are kind of a staple of the genre, but it’s rare to encounter them in games. But they’re in Underspace. There’s a lot of weird deep sea things out there, and it was a matter of taking what really horrified people, and trying to transpose that into a space setting.”

Color scheme and palette

Noting Freelancer as a big inspiration both in terms of gameplay and general styling, Brock was especially taken by that game’s color scheme and palette. “I’ve always wanted to see a proper game that took what was great about Freelancer and brought it to the next level. For Undespace I found the visual style one of the most difficult parts of development. So I looked at how they used colors to differentiate between the various regions. Trying to keep it color-consistent for each region for our own game was therefore important to me.

Another difficult part of development was the scope of the game. It’s massive and that means there’s a massive amount of resources, scenes, locations and data. “We had to start doing things to load aspects of the game piecemeal, because otherwise people were quickly running out of resources and the archive files were straight up breaking”, explains Brock.  “What made it difficult was that a lot of solutions or tech that works for games normally just didn’t work at something of this scale.”

Giant space squid

The solution? A system Brock calls ‘conditionals’. It’s a powerful internal data structure that tracks absolutely everything that the player can do or has done, and it can be applied to almost every aspect of the game. It’s not dynamic, but it leads to interesting setups in the game based on the player’s previous actions. “For example we have one sidequest where you play xenobiologist to a giant space squid. Afterwards the game acknowledges that you’ve done that quest and starts adding that same squid to dynamic spawns in storms. It will hunt you down out of sheer animalistic persistence.” 

“In another quest a lot of experimental superweapons leaked onto the black market. Later in the game you’ll suddenly start to encounter pirate factions carrying those same weapons on occasion. There’s a lot to it and it’s formed such a backbone to the game’s world. It’ll be cool to see what players figure out what triggers what.”

Multiplayer and console

Now, after all the years of hard work, Underspace is released in Early Access today. Brock expects the game to stay there for one year. “We’ll release a big roadmap with all the planned updates. We want to implement the last bits of content, including multiplayer, as well as several additional post-launch pieces of content that were originally kickstarter stretch goals. So, things like bounty hunting boards, more side quests, more planets to walk around on and explore and party member dialogues. Also really interesting things like spacewalking and salvaging new ships to fly, exploring old derelicts, lost or forbidden star systems, and even whole new dimensions to explore.”

Console players need to be patient though. “Stay tuned”, says Brock. “The game’s got a focus on fast paced precision shooting, so there’s a lot of caveats to get this to play on controllers while still feeling fun.” 

Eric Bartelson
Eric Bartelson
Editor-in-Chief of PreMortem.Games. Veteran game journalist for over 20 years. Started out in 1999 for game magazines (yes the ones made of paper) such as PC Zone Benelux, PlayNation and GameQuest, before co-founding Dutch industry paper Control Magazine.

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