Preview: Miner Wars 2081 Mixes Descent, Wing Commander: Privateer, and Minecraft Together «

“I hope we’ll be the guys who help revive the space sim genre,” says Keen Software House’s Founder, CEO, and Miner Wars 2081 creator Marek Rosa. “There’s still space sims out there: X3 looks beautiful, but X3 isn’t that combat-oriented of a game, and EVE Online is very complex and complicated. I tried Evochron for a while, but I think our game is kind of different.”

Stay on target…

Rosa and I had a chance to talk for a bit at this past GDC, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I had some time to play the Miner Wars 2081 demo (you can download it here) to see how this space sim is coming along. In short, it feels like Descent meets Wing Commander: Privateer, which if implemented right, could be awesome. Right now its pre-alpha edges are fairly rough, but it’s easy to see the potential Rosa and his team have on their hands right now.

That’s no Moon, That’s a Space Station

“I don’t want to copy other games,” explains Rosa. “I was thinking about what features are missing from games, so I just got the idea of destructible environments, and then I built a simple prototype. Then I started a second phase of thinking and planning, ‘What kind of game can use a destructible environment?’ So then I came up with Miner Wars.”

Enemies are easier to spot when they’re on fire, in space.

With a blend of space combat, mineral harvesting from asteroids, trading with or attacking starships, and flying into and creating space stations, Miner Wars 2081 definitely has enough variety to keep me interested. But when I started the first story mission of the demo it became evident that there isn’t much in the way of a tutorial in place just yet, so it took some time to figure out how to control my ship. The WASD keys handle horizontal movement, C & F are vertical thrusters, and the mouse serves to steer the ship — all part of the “six degrees of freedom” control scheme that’s required to fly through the interior environments.

My miner ship is a single-pilot craft that looks like a cross between an Harrier jet and a submersible.

My miner ship is a single-pilot craft that looks like a cross between an Harrier jet and a submersible, armed with two gatling guns on either side, a giant drill in the front, and a missile launcher pod. You know, for mining. Needless to say I have more than enough tools at my disposal to start the first objective, which is to fly inside a nearby enemy station. Who the enemy is isn’t made clear (they were only referred to as “enemy”) but their ships and weapons are on par with mine.

So many asteroids to draw happy faces on.

My mission is to locate and destroy three generators inside this station, and I rely more on the memory of the station’s layout than using the on-screen radar, which doesn’t seem completely functional at this point. Then a whole new issue crops up: my starship burns fuel like it’s going out of style. It seems technological advances haven’t made their way to space-fuel efficiency in the distant future. I have roughly 10 to 15 minutes of flight before I’m forced to retreat back to the nearby mothership to refuel. On a few occasions I actually run out of fuel inside the enemy station, leaving my ship stranded and forcing me to restart the demo. (Note: the final version will support a save-point system).

A Modern Day Descent

Retrying the mission multiple times gives me a chance to become comfortable with weaving my ship in and out of the large passageways of the space station, and in combat with enemy ships — circle-strafing techniques seem to work the best. It dawns on me that I’m playing a modern-day Descent, and it’s awesome. And the way my ship floats through the station’s corridors felt right — Miner Wars 2081 totally nails the physics of inertia.

Whoever built green arrows into the enemy space station deserves a gold star.

Eventually I get around to destroying the three generators and make my way out of the station before it blows apart (because that’s what happens when you destroy space station generators). My next task is to defend my mothership from enemy fighter attack. Two by two the enemy ships arrive, and just like the inside the space station, the wide-open space combat involves a lot of strafing attacks. The weapons feel grounded in reality and physical, since the gatling guns attached to the sides of my starship fire bullets (like in Battlestar Galactica) instead of lasers.

Harvest Moon

With the battle over, it’s time to try out one of the other features available for the demo: the sandbox mode. As Rosa had mentioned before, Miner Wars has destructible environments — an exciting prospect in any game. I’m a little disappointed that the destruction seems mostly limited to the asteroids, but they are fully destructible — I carve a happy face into an asteroid using bullets and missiles, and then dig a tunnel using the handy giant drill attached to the front of my ship. The point to all of this asteroid destructibility is to mine the minerals, and sell them for credits in order to purchase upgrades for the ship, like more weapons or a better drill.

Clearly, the best use of my time was to create this happy face.

Waiting to see how all of this harvesting meets combat will play out in the long run will have to wait a little longer. Just a few weeks ago Miner Wars announced that it will miss its intended Spring release, and now it’s planned for release sometime later this year. But for something as ambitious as Miner Wars 2081, I hope Keen takes as much time as it needs.


looking for something?