Electron Dance
27Apr/189

Dabbling with… Staxel

The twelfth episode of a short series on games I discovered at EGX Rezzed 2018.

This isn’t really about Staxel.

I had a late, intense romance with Minecraft. I came to it after everybody else had left and its creator sold it to the Man and transformed himself from Mr. Blocks to Mr. Blocked Him On Twitter. Eventually I found my limit with Minecraft. Halfway through a Nether Express train link from one end of my explored territory to the other, halfway through building a sky city, I lost the will to go on. I never found a mesa or icy biome but somehow it was no longer enough to keep building for the sake of building. The combat update then delivered the worst Minecraft session I’d ever experienced and that was completely that.

All that Minecraft time, though, left memories so deep they were etched in bone. There's an enduring, unsatisfied hunger for another Minecraft. Of course, there are Minecraft mods and I could check any one of those out. There were also open source versions which just felt like duplicates of Minecraft with the names changed. I didn’t want a complete repeat of Minecraft again, I wanted… something else?

My conditioned reflex to blocky 3D worlds kicks in all the time. I couldn’t help myself over Rogue Islands but that’s a roguelite, blocks without the Minecraft. Over time, I came to resent the Minecraft glint, like it was a switch-and-bait. Looks like Minecraft but is actually some free-to-play MMO.

Staxel, a Minecrafty game overflowing with bright colours and cutesy looks from developer Plukit, had a row of open PCs available in the Indie Room and I planned to avoid it because chasing that Minecraft dragon always ends in the same, disappointing way. But I was hovering around the area and I was free. Like I said earlier in the week – take the chance, take the opportunity.

Of course Staxel didn’t fill that Minecraft-shaped hole in my soul. It’s an online multiplayer game channelling Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon. Some readers may recall I abhor Stardew Valley so you can imagine how this went. The demo started in your a farm and an NPC wanted to show me around the village. After a few scripted stops around the village, I abandoned the NPC and marched off into the surrounding forest.

I don’t know. It was the last game I played at Rezzed and I was already tired but I had this feeling I was leaving “the real game” behind. The forest continued and I didn’t see much variety in the flat forest; maybe I just needed to go further. At this point, Staxel wanted me to focus on the village, but it is always the wilderness that I hear calling to me. I returned to the village and the NPC wanted me to plant some seeds and water them. If I do not water them every day, they will not grow.

I put down the headphones and walked away. I couldn’t tell you if Staxel was a good game or a bad game. All I can tell you is that it was not what I was looking for. If only I knew what I was looking for.

Staxel is from Plukit and available as an early access title on Steam and Humble.

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Comments (9) Trackbacks (0)
  1. OOf, hope you find your game ;)

  2. Hi Bartwe, best of luck with Staxel! I did some digging around Staxel (my children have already expressed their interest!) to find out how much exploring there is in the game. I never quite came to a conclusion – there did seem to be some but the island is finite and the game’s primary focus which is managing your farm? It seems to have really changed since its early releases…

  3. I know how you feel because I had a “Minecraft-shaped hole in my soul” ever since I had discovered it. I think Fract OSC and Rain World have taken over some of that but they’re not at all “Minecraft-shaped”. Nom Nom Galaxy feels a lot like minecraft but it has this very bitter taste that ruins it all; not a good soup.
    I think I know precisely what could suplement that part of the hole that hasn’t been filled with others but the problem is… such game doesn’t exist yet. I dream of making such a game but I can’t find the motivation nor experience nor budget for it, even though I kind of know how I would do it.
    Long story short, what I want is that feeling of finding an environment that needs fixing, terraforming, refurbishing, reconnecting and doing exactly that to the environment. And I want it to matter to me because I did so myself with my own interpretation, with my own touch.
    Many survival genre games about industrial machinery just allow you to build a blueprint on top of what’s wrong, replacing it fully with a flick of a few buttons and a stock of required resources. Might as well have a “fix-beam” if you’re at it that does ALL the interesting work for you…

  4. The island is finite, the focus of the game is on the village (and/or farming depending on your preference/priorities).
    The engine supports a (very) large world but getting lost would ruin the experience for some players in testing so we decided to add limits.
    There is some exploration and there are a few secrets and hidden bits of progression but that is more of a midgame thing and the villagers will hint to some of these.

  5. Searching for “Stardew” returns only 3 posts with no negative comments (beyond those in this post). I guess it must have been in the newsletter?

  6. That Scar: I get why the “automation” aspect is attractive to many players but it is a fine line. Too much monkey work and it becomes a chore; too little and the illusion evaporates. Just the right amount of friction though… Depends on what the player is trying to do, of course. Minecraft, most of the time, players are trying to build stuff and it’s usually friction to having cool decorative blocks. I’m heavily generalising here. I wish you like in creating your vision one day…

    Bartwe: Thanks for clarifying, may help some folks decide whether Staxel is for them.

    Sean: As I answered on Twitter, I think I alluded to it on twitter once and in a newsletter. I have More Thoughts so will write something up formally soon.

  7. Actually, I’d like to minimize the monkey work part. The real work is making decisions where to position or how to arrange something, this is exactly what the blueprint thing erases. However, having a set of decisions such that you have to work on them every time without resorting to general forms is really hard so some amount of monkey work is inevitable, I think.
    About Stardew Valley: I really want to hear your thoughts on this because everyone says it’s good but I’ve played an hour of it (was fishing like a quarter of the time) and it felt like the most boring experience ever (hyperbole)

  8. What do you think happened to the seeds you didn’t water?

  9. That Scar

    It certainly sounds like a hard problem to solve: making actual interesting decisions + giving players something potentially complicated to do + not frustrating them.

    I’ll be putting up my Stardew Valley piece once I get back to writing in a couple of weeks. The funny thing is I’ve not played it at all, but I have all I need to know.

    Josh

    My guess is that they just didn’t grow on that day but I suppose it’s possible they could wither. I didn’t even try :(


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