Regular readers will know that I’m quite fond of roguelikes. Given the genre’s roots of fantasy-themed dungeon crawling, however, it’s unusual to find roguelikes with science fiction settings. This may be why I’m drawn to examples like Xenocide and Caves of Qud, but even these still follow a single character exploring locations on foot. Approaching Infinity takes the roguelike to the stars, casting the player as a ship captain who both explores space in their ship and explores planets and shipwrecks with an away team. The game is on Kickstarter and has met its funding goal already, but there are three days left (at the time of writing) to raise more money for some stretch goals. If you’re interested, the Kickstarter page links to an alpha demo to try, and backers get an updated demo to play with. I’ve taken the public demo for a spin, and even in its unfinished alpha state I liked what I found.
The concept made perfect sense as soon as I played it. My ship flies around two-dimensional space tile by tile, just like in a roguelike, and explores nebulas and asteroid fields. There’s occasional combat with other ships, but there’s also trading and quests reminiscent of open-world space games like Elite or Freelancer (Approaching Infinity developer Bob Saunders, aka IBOL, cites classic spacefaring role-playing game Starflight as an inspiration, a game that I’ve never played but would love to cover in a future History Lessons series). To mine an asteroid, I simply bump my ship into it, and collect the raw ore that may be left behind. If there are planets or shipwrecks scattered around the sector, I can dock there and send down an away team to explore.
Controlling the away team works just like flying the ship, except the map area is now the surface of a planet or the interior of a shipwreck, rather than a vast sector of space. But there are some cool differences. In space, combat feels tactical and tense because weapons take time to recharge or reload after each shot. So a good portion of time is spent positioning one’s ship relative to the enemies so as to launch a precision attack at the right moment. With the away team, combat is faster and more direct, but a limited oxygen supply means the team must be careful not to stray too far from the shuttle and must return often to refill the tanks. Pleasingly, the native creatures on planets are not always hostile, and there’s a surprising variety to the planet surfaces that keeps exploration interesting. Oh, and tons of loot.
One’s ship and one’s away team are equipped separately, so there’s heaps of loot to collect for both, in addition to a plethora of trade goods or other usable items. These goods are strewn liberally across the surface of planets, or explode out of destroyed ships in space. Also, players are paid for the data they discover while exploring, so simply flying around or mapping out planet surfaces generates revenue. This can in turn be spent at space stations to buy repairs and better equipment, or to simply stock up on supplies and hire more crew. Space stations also offer quests, which currently appear to be simple delivery quests, but will surely be fleshed out in the final game. Interestingly, the finished game will allegedly be infinite, with players able to continue exploring for as long as they can survive. There will always be new sectors of space to explore and tougher adversaries to face, but there will also be several ways to win the game if the player chooses.
Given the focus on space exploration, and plans for a variety of factions (some of which are already in the alpha demo), I was expecting to fly through a void stretching endlessly in all directions, shuttling goods between space stations and casting out into unknown areas. Instead, the space in Approaching Infinity is divided into distinct sectors, each only one screen in size, and each containing a warp gate that leads to the next sector. This structure ends up feeling similar to that of Transcendence, where the different factions and their interactions merely acted as a backdrop for the player’s continual forward progress. However, it does sound as if the final game will have the player hop back and forth between sectors (skipping over several at once with a powerful warp drive), solving quests and exploring dangerous planets that were not accessible at first.
I should state that I haven’t gotten very far in the demo, because the save function has not yet been implemented. But it should be included in an updated demo for all Kickstarter backers at the end of the campaign, so I’ll be able to try a longer-lasting game then. But my brief forays definitely piqued my interest, and, importantly, demonstrated the potential of the design. Given that plans for the final game include twelve intelligent alien races with their own quest lines, a randomized crafting system for ship components and other equipment, skilled officers to offer bonuses to one’s ship, a wider array of creatures, planet types and quest types, archaeological finds, and a bunch of special powers to be introduced into the combat system, I can easily see Approaching Infinity being a deep and rewarding game.
If you’re interested, check out the free alpha demo and consider donating to the Kickstarter campaign. Notable stretch goals include a detailed modder’s guide (which is nearly unlocked already), ongoing support for a Mac version of the game, and an achievement system. And of course, a pledge of $10 or more secures a copy of the finished game when it’s released, and every backer gets access to an updated alpha version, which should have the save feature added at the end of the campaign.
Infinite space awaits!