If you’ve ever enjoyed Master of Orion, then you probably know part of what to expect from a game like Star Supremacy. Developed by the long-winded Suzhou Barbily Information Technology Co., Ltd. This game is a free-to-play, browser-based, science fiction themed MMORTS that relies primarily on sprite-based display and time-sink. Many elements of the game provide for a great deal of colony management (micromanagement, a la MOO 3) and even ship-to-ship combat.
The managing publisher says that the MMO version is based on their single-player game The Light of Altair.
If you’re at home micromanaging civilizations, building resources, developing infrastructure, and preparing your base for either defense or assault, you’ll probably have a good time in this game. In fact, most of the game is developed for those-who-wait. While there’s a great deal of tokens and buffs that give assistance in combat, most of them are developed around accelerating development of buildings, ships, and the like.
As a result, this can feel like an extremely casual game.
It also means that after the first few days, I spent a lot more time thinking analytically and planning for the future growth of my colony.
This game is currently in beta, so I’ll be covering how the game runs and not glitches or other issues that don’t stand out. I’m sure they’ll be clearing most of those up before the beta expires.
Graphics and Sound: A little bit in the middle of the curve here
The graphics of Star Supremacy aren’t anything to write home about at first glance. This is where it reminds me of games of the 1990s like Master of Orion. The star colonies are basically flat parcels of land with buildings inset in tiles; I spent a lot of time on that screen, trying to figure out what I needed to get my colony going. In fact, anyone playing this game will probably become intimately familiar with the colony screen. Little fluffy clouds float over the colony screen (as well as the overland map.)
There’s also others such as the planetary screen which is a satellite view landscape dotted with icons representing nodes—positions of radiable/capturable resources and other players. This is where fleets come in: it’s possible to fly out of the colony and ambush a node for resources or attack another player in order to show them who’s boss.
Then there’s a solar-system map with beautiful planets—they’re the same planets in each galaxy, but we’ll ignore that—each of the planets has its own planetary map as well. Some of the planets in each galaxy aren’t open yet. The background art here is fairly nice, but totally generic for the science fiction motif.
Finally, there’s the galactic map which is a space-scape filled with galaxies. Only two galaxies are currently open (suggesting future game expansion.)
Sound in this game is extremely primitive and pretty much underscored. There’s a few beeps and other noises that represent the completion of buildings or the start of combat; but that’s pretty much the extent of it.
The game has one song that is played on repeat. It’s a little bit catchy and it’s also rather loud compared to the rest of what’s playing on my computer at any one point. After listening to it for hours of gameplay—building my colony to the galaxy-stomping monster that I desired—I looked for a way to turn it off.
The sound mute is hidden away in the logout menu (upper-right corner of the chat interface) under the unexpected title “Open sound.” Just hit the checkbox next to those words and all sound goes away. Perhaps it closes? I suspect this is a translation issue more than anything.
Gameplay: Micromanaging a colony and flying through space
As games go, Star Supremacy plays a little bit slower than others of its genre—but a lot faster than the turn-by-turn concept that it grew out of—I haven’t reviewed many that function like it; but as you may guess, it has a strong separation between the players who get into this causally and those who actually want to get in and micromanage a colony. Fortunately, the time-to-build, fly, and research really prevented me from becoming too OCD but it also frustrated me a little bit that I had to wait for things to happen.
This occurs to me that it’s the basis of a lot of the tactical thinking that’s required for this game. As I sat online a small treasure chest would dole out B-creds and with this B-creds I could purchase a number of items. Among them, the most important to me: accelerators. These items could speed up building time by 1hr (in the beginning this is a big deal because level 3-5 buildings take just over an hour) or flight time or research time.
In fact, one could encapsulate the entire game into deciding what to wait for.
Other limiters to building and overtaking the entire universe happen to be resource generation. All dependent on your colony makeup, what buildings you’re using, and how you’re using them. Just like other colonial games you’ve got a set of resources such as population and energy for day-to-day and then ore, food, goods, heavy metals, crystals, and nebula gas for construction needs. Ore, food, and goods happen to be ordinary resources (used in normal buildings) and heavy metal, crystals, and nebula gas are required for advanced construction (and need advanced gathering as well.)
Once you’ve established a solid infrastructure you can reach for more infrastructure or you can spend a lot of time sallying forth to capture and raid nodes near you. Some of them actually yield quite a bit of resources when you do that. A much more active play-style is required for the go-forth-and-conquer; but a casual player could sit down, entrench, and slowly build up behind their base defenses.
Fleets and colonies require commanders and each commander has their own set of stats (including experience level.) The leader of a given colony gives it particular bonuses and her boons affect how the colony runs—it also affects how well the leader fights in combat. They can also purchase and wear artifacts and equipment bought with credits or B-creds. The different attributes that commanders have are charisma, efficiency, ingenuity, tactics, and finance. Each of these attributes directly affects some portion of the game and all of them can be buffed by equipment and artifacts.
Combat is fought turn-by-turn between fleets—fleets of ships constructed at colony shipyards—through an extremely simple sprite-based interface. You pick your champion, she’ll come with a fleet, you shoot, they shoot, someone explodes. Fleets can have multiple commanders with lots of ships at their beck-and-call and garrisoning the defense could be quite a few as well. After a few salvos back and forth a winner is decided.
New ship types can weapons can be researched at the colony (with the proper buildings) and constructed at the shipyard. A little bit of rock-paper-scissors can be had here when it comes to ship-to-ship combat tactics because certain weapons are stronger against certain defensive modules (e.g. missiles vs. shields; lasers vs. missile-defense-turrets, etc.) So you might want to build different types of ships for different commanders and field them together to beat down the ruffians (and other players) throughout the universe.
Freemium: None right now
Currently, it looks like Star Supremacy will be a straight up free-to-play game—however, it has all the hallmarks of permitting players to partake in a credit system. For example, Barbily could sell B-creds to players allowing them a gigantic and vast capability to gather resources and accelerate growth.
Barbily will probably have to examine how they’d like their B-cred economy to work with buying things from the in-game store (such as acellerators and artifacts) as there may be balance issues between very casual and paying customers that will come into play.
Currently B-creds are awarded for time-played through a time-lock gift system.
Conclusion: It’s cute, but unless you’re the MMO3 micromanager type it won’t be that fun
I am instantly reminded of games like Picaroon which make the RTS make-and-wait style seem pretty active and fun—however, Picaroon is not a browser-based game and so it’s not restricted to a low technology level, CSS3, and Flash. As a result, RTS games in browsers can be a lot slower than their arcade-style counterparts.
Star Supremacy has an acceptable gameplay mechanism. Although it does come down to the make-and-wait (sometimes waiting 14 hours for some research) it will drive a very casual community who will micromanage right before they go to sleep and probably raid and fight in between other projects or work.
I found myself repeatedly setting plans in motion, then running off to cook lunch or do the dishes while I was waiting for my ships to build, or battles to commence.
Overall, Star Supremacy runs middle-of-the-road when it comes to a game. It’s not heavy on the arcade and it doesn’t make me wait an entire day to see the outcome of many of my efforts. Granted, much more advanced efforts will probably make me wait a day or so—but the game provides plenty of stuff to do while I wait as well.
So far, Barbily has created an acceptable game with a broad appeal, especially for browser-based RTS players looking for a casual experience.