Physics based survival games aren't exactly a new concept. However, there's a joy in growing your own eco system. While wandering the floors of Play NYC 2018, Starflower caught my eye because I saw a stick figure jump into space. Naturally I decided I wanted a go at jumping into space as well, so I found the time to try the game.
You start off as little more than a stick figure on a round world with a tree growing out the middle of it. Right away I got to mess around with some goofy physics, including a hilarious jump that let me fly all the way out into space and just orbit the planet like a satellite. While the tree was growing as I messed around, I did notice there was a fast forward button that sped things up. This is a convenient feature that I am extremely thankful for.
Once the tree grew, I could collect the seeds it was dropping and use those to plant a different kind of smaller tree. These trees attracted butterflies, which began to eat the trees and caused them to drop a different kind of seed that grew a different kind of tree. Soon I had my own little ecosystem going. Sadly, it wasn't to last.
Soon Starflower decided I had too many butterflies and that it was time to take them out. To do so I was given a flamethrower and a laser. The downside? Using these tools caused my plants to burst into flames as well. Before long I had managed to light the whole planet on fire. Thankfully my big tree survived and I could once again grow plants. Obviously, I needed a more elegant solution to the butterflies, and the game handed me one: introduce wasps to the ecosystem. So I did, and my planet was full of butterfly killing wasps!
... My planet was full of butterfly killing wasps. I genuinely couldn't think of a worse place to be. It was time to erase everything again, this time with nukes. So I jumped into space, orbited the planet, and dropped nukes on it until absolutely everything was dead. Everything. I want no chance at all of a single wasp surviving. Finally I planted three of the big trees from the start and my demo ended, because I didn't want to touch that planet anymore.
After playing Starflower I got a chance to talk to Arthur Danskin, the one man team behind Starflower. We had an interesting chat about ecosystems, wasps, and player manipulation.
TechRaptor: Alright Arthur, I just played Starflower. Can you give me a quick rundown on the game?
Arthur Danskin: So it’s like a physics-ey sandbox game where you plant plants. Then there’s a little eco stuff simulation, where there’s insects that eat the plants, and the plants make more plants, and the insects make more insects. You can also light things on fire.
TechRaptor: Yes, you can light things on fire! When I was playing Starflower things would get out of hand really quickly. I had plants which made different plants which made butterflies which at the plants, so we had to make wasps to get rid of the butterflies, and before I knew it I had a flamethrower. Is this supposed to be chaotic like this? Is everything supposed to go wrong every time you get something new?
Arthur: Yeah, yes. So I’m really interested in real ecosystems, and in real ecosystems things tend to happen exponentially, which to people seems like uncontrollably quickly. So I’m trying to simulate that in the game. Also it’s really hard to make ecosystems stable. The things like the rainforest are really amazing, because they have literally millions of different creatures and they all are not going extinct all the time, which is really quite remarkable. In small sandbox types of things, things tend to go extinct rapidly.
TechRaptor: So what work did you do personally on Starflower?
Arthur: All of it.
TechRaptor: All of it? Like all the art, all the physics, all that?
Arthur: Right. Yeah, it’s a custom engine. So I wrote all the physics too.
TechRaptor: Nice. Why would you ever think introducing wasps is a good idea?
Arthur: [Laughter.] Well it’s remarkable what players will do if you make a little check-box thing they have to accomplish. They pretty much will do anything.
TechRaptor: Well you got me to nuke a planet, so…
Arthur: [Laughter.] More rationally though, I wanted to have predators. I wanted to have, like, food chains where you have plants, and then something eats the plants, and then something eats the other things.
TechRaptor: So is your goal for Starflower, in the future, to start adding more animals and have the ecosystem do more crazy things?
Arthur: Yeah I’d like to build up more complex ecosystems gradually. I plan to add a plant editor and an insect editor fairly quickly so you can, it’s probably the next thing I’ll work on, so you can genetically engineer custom made insects and custom plants and build up very complicated custom ecosystems.
TechRaptor: Awesome. So Starflower. When can I play it?
Arthur: Uh, ha… when it’s done.
TechRaptor: Fair enough, a lot of people have been telling me that.
Arthur: Yeah, it’s probably going to be at least six months, I’m planning to… my last game took me two full years of time before it was released, and then like another year of iteration before I was happy with it. So this game I’ve only been working on for a couple of months.
TechRaptor: And what was your last game?
Arthur: It’s called Reassembly and it came out in 2015, and I’ve been kind of iterating on it since then.
TechRaptor: So Starflower will come out when it’s done, and what can I play it on?
Arthur: Steam for sure. I’m not sure about other platforms.
TechRaptor: Alright. Well I’d like to thank you for taking the time to speak with me, this was really weird and interesting and I lit a planet on fire then nuked it from orbit, so thanks for that.
Arthur: Yeah, thank you so much for playing.
We'd like to once again thank Arthur for taking the time to talk to us.