Introversion just kept trying and failing to make a space game


A screenshot of Spacebots, an abandoned prototype space game by Introversion, depicting a 2D planet in space with some pixel buildings on its surface.

At the beginning of December, the developers of Prison Architect started a “Fail Masterclass”. It’s a monthly video series in which Introversion’s Chris Delay and Mark Morris show a game they tried to make and explain the reasons why that project was cancelled. You can then donate money to the charity War Child in order to play all the abandoned prototypes for yourself.

Last month’s game was Order Of Magnitude, a space game about building a interplanetary colony. This month’s game is Spacebots, a, uh, space game about building things – only this time you do it using programmable robots.

Left to their own devices, all programmers will eventually try to create a game about programming. Spacebots is yet another example: it let you design your units and then give them instructions via a drag-and-drop code interface. The video above shows an example whereby a bot is programmed with an if-else command to fetch resources from an asteroid belt and bring them back to the player’s mothership. It’s a task that other games let you do by left and right-clicking.

What looks much cooler to me is the scale the game eventually operates at. About 30 minutes in, Delay skips ahead to demoing a mission about terraforming a planet, which takes place on a map the size of an entire solar system. I love the look of all the little bots scurrying around, and the expansive network of machinery on the planet’s surface tickles something in my brain in the same way as looking at bases in Factorio.

Delay explains that one of the main hurdles to ongoing development was that Morris and Introversion alum Tom Arundel didn’t like the idea of the game. “I’m not going to go so far as to say it’s all your fault and always been,” Delay jokes to Morris, “But you couldn’t care less about this game, and I could tell all the way through development that this game didn’t work on you on any level.”

Morris and Delay agree that the game had similar issues to Order Of Magnitude, in that a lack of friction meant the process of building and terraforming was too similar every time. Delay still loves the programming and robot design interface though, and argues that was the core of the game rather than the terraforming and alien combat that followed.

You can buy the prototype bundle now with a $5 minimum donation to War Child. That’ll get you access to the Spacebots and Order Of Magnitude prototypes, and at least a handful more prototypes still to come in future months.

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