A lot of people play games for the original worlds and characters. They play it to see the intricate details put into the weapons and armour, the designs of unique creatures, and the atmosphere that comes from all that time and effort. Sometimes, a game will allude to another series, or a pre-existing theme, in order to help ease the process of creating that world entirely from scratch.
Space Station 13 decided to steal everything, and leave the rest to the players.
Okay. Maybe that’s not fair. Let’s backtrack a bit. Space Station 13 is a free to play game created with Byond, a development platform for making 2d online games. It was created back in 2003 as an atmosphere simulator, but went largely overlooked until 2007. This was when an open source community got involved, and servers became more accessible. This, coupled with the Something Awful community discovering the game, led to a boom in its popularity, as well as the in-game content. In 2010, an update was released that allowed for servers to be hosted with ease, spreading its appeal and playability further.
Nowadays, many different websites host their own servers, including 4chan’s /tg/, the Goons from Something Awful, and Baystation. Each offers a different style of gameplay, from mechanics-based to mandatory role playing. The controls remain the same, regardless of server; somewhat clunky but easy enough to get used to.
Being community-driven, many of the items and enemies featured in the game are outright taken from other intellectual properties (IPs). It’s inescapable when playing the game. You’ll encounter engineers in space suits lifted from Dead Space, lightsabers from Star Wars, and aliens from, well…Aliens. What is interesting is that, despite the array of content from various different sources, it all seems to make sense in the context of Space Station 13.
The strength of the game lies with its atmosphere. Admittedly, this is highly dependent on who you are interacting with, but there is a constant, oppressive feeling when playing a round. You are assigned a role, and can create a character. You’re expected to keep to both as much as possible, acting as they would whilst always keeping an eye on those around you. You could be a traitor, ready to stab your fellow crew in the back, or perhaps your peers are all conspiring against you. You can’t trust anyone, but you must for the sake of survival. All of this builds tension, tension that you become scared to break, but break it must.
After all, most rounds on the station do not end well for anyone involved. With Alien invasions, space spiders, Nuke Operatives, and even a Wizards’ Fedoration potentially knocking down the door, anything could happen to lead to the destruction of the station. Considering that the power source for the station itself is a black hole. It is refreshing to have such an oppressive, and yet hilarious, atmosphere. And it is hilarious. Despite everything, the game is home to a ton of laughs. The community at large are quick to make a joke of anything. Black humour is the cornerstone of the player-built lore.
One of the great examples of this in Space Station 13 is Cuban Pete, a player so adept at blowing up the station that he became infamous, regardless of server. His bombs were so elaborate and well-planned that they would not only destroy the station, but crash the servers they were hosted on. This also led to the development of bomb caps in the code itself. The action of destroying the station via bombs is so ingrained into the game’s culture that now, whenever anyone goes on a bombing spree, server admins will often play a midi of the song he was named after.
Those who play often have both chilling and hilarious stories to tell of events. One example was when, playing as a detective, a friend discovered a dead clown, tied to a seat and clearly tortured to death. Following a string of events led to the perpetrator, who, upon their death, blew the entire station to scrap. My first round of the game, as a cargo assistant, had my co-worker and boss be a traitor, assigned to kill me. Luckily, they chose to teach me the basics, in-character of course, over following that command. Our first cargo we had to unload? A corgi. We gave it a hat and set it to work guarding cargo, but soon the station became overrun with spiders and a mysterious disease, leading to the death of everyone on board.
Another time, we played as engineers, in charge of maintaining the power supply to the station. All was going well until a rogue player decided to explore space as we ramped up the power. They were sucked into the black hole, along with the rest of the station a short time later.
By having the little nods to the surrounding culture and player-driven content in the game, the atmosphere becomes almost infallible. It becomes very easy to lapse into character, playing the role and creating scenarios of extreme complexity, or by having as much fun as possible to make people laugh, cry, or fear the oncoming clown mech army. Borrowing from the surrounding IPs that we have interacted with before gives the world a feeling of familiarity, even if it is the first time you have ever stepped foot inside the station.
With a standalone version currently in development by Robust Games (whose team includes staff from from Starbound and Kerbal Space Program), the game looks to be building more and more of an audience for itself. This will, however, mean that the copyrighted content may have to be left behind to the free build of the game. The question as to whether or not this will change the atmosphere has yet to be answered, but the memories forged through the old references won’t be forgotten any time soon.
Taking content from other IPs is bad if you plan to make money from it. This is obvious to everyone. Using those IPs in a non-profit game to help give a touch of the familiar, as well as to allow for quick understanding of how to use them, which can make the difference if the station is collapsing before your very eyes. It really gives the game a unique feeling, one that I personally wish more games would adopt. I highly recommend you give it a shot if anything here appeals to you. Byond is free to download, and you can find many servers for Space Station 13 online.