For a while now I’ve been wanting to write something about the PC game Space Engineers. It’s one of my favourite games, and it has huge scope for creativity – something I know will interest those of you who frequent this website.
But rather than write a wordy and boring review of the game, I decided just to go ahead and play the game, and to share with you my experiences, successes, and failures as I complete my own survival challenge.
The challenge I’ve set myself is to survive and flourish on an alien world, using only my own ingenuity and the resources to hand. Eventually, I’ll try to build my own spaceship and to slip the surly bonds of this lonely planet – something that will take a huge amount of time, effort, and probably a little luck.
But before I begin, I should tell you a little something about the game.
About the Game
Space Engineers is essentially Lego in space. It combines the creative free-building and blocky simplicity of Minecraft with the survival and crafting challenges of oh so many currently popular games.
You can build enormous spaceships and space stations, you can mine asteroids for resources, and you can make things explode in very satisfying ways. Now, thanks to a recent update, you can also explore and build outposts on a variety of alien planets in a huge and seamlessly integrated star system map.
Different blocks in the game perform different functions, ranging from simple armour blocks to industrial machinery, mining implements, weapons, and even cleverly customisable ‘programmable blocks’. The challenge, and fun, is in designing and building vehicles and facilities that will better enable you to build even bigger vehicles and facilities. Mining rigs, factories, and ultimately warships. With a dizzying array of blocks at your disposal, the possibilities are endless.
There are two types of gameplay; ‘creative’ and ‘survival’. While in ‘creative’ mode you can build for fun without limitation, ‘survival mode’ requires considerable effort and forward planning. Each block must be individually welded from a range of base components. The components themselves being produced by an ‘assembler’ block using resources that must be mined and processed in a ‘refinery’. Of course, all of this requires electricity, while you yourself require oxygen in order to not die.
Got that? Never mind, I’ll explain as I go
I begin the game adrift in a pre-built ‘atmospheric lander’. Perhaps “adrift” is the wrong word, I’m actually plummeting towards the surface at 104 m/s. The lander’s atmospheric thrusters will only begin to work once I enter the atmosphere, so there’s no way to stop the descent.
My sensors tell me this planet has a breathable atmosphere. So that’s good news!
Eventually the engines kick into gear and my inertial dampeners automatically begin to slow my descent. I can now control the craft (to a limited degree) and begin looking for a good place to set down.
I’ll need to find a good spot – a nice flat surface would be good, but one with lots of resources nearby. I know that the dark spots I can see on the surface are an indication that there is ore underground, but I won’t know what type until I get close enough to scan them with my ore detector block.
Check out that canyon! Doesn’t that look beautiful? I can’t wait to explore!
This looks like a good spot. There’s a large source of iron nearby, and a quick pass over the surface of the frozen lake tells me there’s a valuable deposit underneath.
I like the idea of mining a frozen lake. While drilling into the ground only produces useless gravel as a by-product, ice can be processed into bottled oxygen and hydrogen. Since this planet has a breathable atmosphere I won’t need any oxygen until I launch into space, but the hydrogen can be used to fuel my jetpack and any rocket engines I build.
A textbook landing. No damage. I immediately power down my engines and turn off my reactor to conserve fuel.
Checking out the interior of my atmospheric lander, I can see that I have everything I need to survive here, or on any world. Well, the basics at least: Reactor, assembler, oxygen generator, and a small cargo container containing a handful of building materials.
Neat little ship. But I don’t need a ship right now (and I don’t have enough fuel to fly it very far), what I need is a base.
I construct a small plinth and carefully lower my lander onto it, connecting the two with some ‘merge blocks’. This permanently roots the lander to the ground, which is important for two reasons:
It won’t go anywhere. A warning message when landing said that this is a “temporary craft” and may disappear if I exit the game (these are sometimes used as life rafts when dead characters respawn).
I can begin dismantling the engines and landing gears, which are a surprisingly abundant source of building materials.
Leaving the lander hanging in mid air while I welded this ‘merge block’ was probably a mistake. Just think of all the fuel I wasted!
The lander’s gyroscope is another good source of metal – it’s essentially a big metal weight, after all. After grinding it up, I discover the hatch of a second cargo container. This one contains materials for constructing solar panels. Great! I’ll build me some of those!
It’s not long before I get a stark reminder of the imminent dangers facing me when a falling meteor strikes on of my two main engines, destroying it completely. There’s nothing left of the ‘large atmospheric thruster’, not even any scrap metal. What a waste of resources!
I’d better grind up the remaining engines and put the component parts into storage before any more meteors hit.
It’s been a long and tumultuous night. There was another meteor storm, and this one was much more severe.
Checking for damage, I discovered that the meteors had struck the central (and only) column holding my lander aloft, leaving several large craters directly beneath it. Another hit like that and the whole thing would come toppling down!
I repaired the damage, built some additional supports, and spent the rest of the night cannibalizing the exterior of the craft.
It’s slow, laborious work, but the hardships I’m facing all seem worthwhile when I experience my first sunrise on this world. Stunning!
But the arrival of the sun wakes me to a new concern. My solar panels aren’t generating enough electricity to power my systems. I’ve accessed my control terminal and made sure that all the blocks I’m not currently using are switched off, but it’s not enough to prevent my batteries being completely drained. I can’t figure out what’s causing the power drain.
After doing a little research, I discover that it’s pretty much impossible to power a base on solar power alone. It would take over 100 solar panels to power up my refinery, and I only have enough solar cells to build 6.
Like the climate crisis of 21st Century Earth, it seems that nuclear power is the only solution, but I’m desperately short of uranium. In fact, I only have enough to power my refinery for several seconds! If I run out completely, I won’t be able to convert any ‘uranium ore’ I find into the ‘refined uranium’ my reactor needs. That would mean game over!
Fortunately, there’s a source of uranium nearby. When I flew in over the lake yesterday, my ore detector picked up two uranium signatures; one is on the lake bed, trapped beneath several meters of ice, the other is inside a small boulder on the opposite shore.
I’m going to build myself a simple wheeled vehicle and head on over there as soon as I can.