In high school, I remember daydreaming about being a spacecraft engineer and creating these strange-looking ships that would support life while we explored our known galaxy. I imagined a fusion reaction core, a factory bay, life support rooms, berthing areas, chow halls, a proforma bridge, and engine room. Obviously, some developers at Split Polygon were daydreaming same, yet they saw the potential in bringing it to life and fully realizing this dream in a video game. While the low poly count of the game caters to a specific niche, it is executed in great style and with one of the level designers moonlighting as an artist for Mechwarrior Online, what could possibly go right? Right?
This is one game that has come very far since its fledgling days in EA. When I first cracked this game open and started playing, there wasn’t much to do but build a ship and mine for resources. But I knew then something was different about this game when both my wife and I could see the exact same asteroids out our windows at exactly the same time from the same ship. I also knew the developers were on to something when you could just teleport the rocks inside your ship and automatically mine them with a device. Finally, a game you didn’t have to run out and run up to asteroids and chisel away at them!
I started out by building a little mining dingy and upgraded that and got bored. A few days later they released a patch that added defense drones — something that shoots at you. But even with those defense drones, the game was still very dry but at least it got me to the next patch a few weeks later. Today, it is a game with missions, alien AI, infinite 1:1 scale star systems, warp, team-play crewing of ships, trading, and some of the best PVP experiences I’ve ever seen as both a player and server admin.
The awkward start without any backstory in this game is something that should be overlooked for the sheer gameplay value you get where Starmade and Sims3 collide in a Science Fiction space simulator which explodes in a fantastic PVP and Multiplayer experience using reappropriated old and forgotten technologies to synchronize a gameplay experience in new and interesting ways.
The space sim genre seems to be in an out of control spiral of promoting antisocial behaviors of lone-wolf mentalities with e-pen contests of who can build the best and biggest gun-cube. That is simply not going to fly in Interstellar Rift and what a relief it is to see a team that identifies this trend as a problem and combats it by vacuuming up those of us who prefer strategy and team-work over making use of the best exploits. With that in mind, this is not a game for a single person with no intention to make friends and become a team player — in fact, you’ll likely refund the game pretty quickly as I have seen with many others. This is a game for friends and groups of friends to delegate roles to divide up the tasks so that you can get into a ship faster. Even then, it becomes a delegation of roles to who will fly the ship, who will man the guns, who will captain the ship, and who will be the engineer, who will be the hacker (yes, I said hacker), and who will be repairing stuff as the ship takes damage. If you don’t have at least some people on your ship to help out in these roles, your ship will either be vulnerable to attack or very weak in offensive abilities as the pilot only has access to the forward facing guns and guns do not auto-fire or auto-aim.
The interfaces to your ship systems in Interstellar Rift are akin to PULSAR: Lost Colony, with iOS type point and click for different screens in which you can click-to-drag sliders and toggle different switches in order to control each, individual device on your ship.
Where there is great team role-play there are also pirates. Like EVE-Online, this game has a dark side to it where players engage in extracurricular and lawless acts to gain resources. Like EVE Online, the resources aren’t easy to come by and it takes time and patience which most pirates just don’t have. There is also no insurance in this game like EVE Online, so I can make a good case that Interstellar Rift is a lot less forgiving than EVE Online and gaining resources to build gigantic ships likely takes a lot longer than EVE Online. But the emergent content that comes from Interstellar Rift is something that is much less reported and should have a lot more attention on it.
This game deserves the title of MMO. I estimate on my own 24 core Xeon Server (144GB Ram), that I could easily support 500-5,000 players with ease. With just 50 players online, the server idles at less than 1% CPU usage and consumes less than 400Mb of RAM. Just doing some rudimentary math, I could multiply that by 100 for 5,000 players and the server should be near full load. 5,000 players per server is MMO worthy. But what about the bandwidth? Keep reading.
While it is a private server based game, it leverages the use of lock stepping. I think back to my teenage years and working on AS400’s and how they would work in lockstep with the clients and servers on 500kbps token ring networks to compile reports was a headache. Lockstepping is the method in which that a server and clients make calculations together as pre-instructed in time-sync with each other. Today the developers at Split Polygon use this method to calculate physics iterations that only consumes enough network traffic to transmit a tiny piece of code (called a CheckSum) to verify the lockstep stepped correctly. This achievement may sound simple, but it has astronomical effects (see what I did there?).
- Anti-Cheating – While most cheats run on memory injections, this is impossible for lock stepping because the slightest of memory injections will throw off the calculations and cause an improper checksum to be sent to the server resulting in a desync. I said it, cheating is impossible with lock stepping. It is possible to take advantage of a bug and dupe items and whatnot, but actual hacks and cheats remain something that doesn’t work with lockstepping deployments.
- Complete Synchronization – No matter your latency, no matter your CPU speed or internet speed, you will see the exact same asteroid, moving at the exact same speed, at the exact same vector, at the exact same moment in time that I would see it, even if you’re on the opposite side of the world and you’ll never see that asteroid “rubber band” due to a physics calculation error correction.
- Minimal Network Bandwidth – Most hosting providers these days don’t have 100Gbit network connections, these are generally very expensive and reserved for multimillion dollar corporations like… Google, for instance, yet many games out there are very bandwidth intensive, some of my own hosted games will easily consume 1gbps with just 100 players online. Interstellar Rifts lock stepping mitigates this, and with 50 players online, it still uses less than 1mbps.
Like most EA games there are bugs and such in this game, but the developers are extremely responsive and generally fix critical issues within minutes of them being reported on the Steam forums. You heard that right — if they’re at the office, fixes are released within minutes. Even today, after more than two years in early access, the developers still push substantial updates adding new features, building materials, and missions about every month if not every three weeks.
At just $14.99 USD, this game is most certainly worth every cent, if you’re a team-player, of course.