Planetoid Pioneers is a massive 2D side-view physics playground with vehicles, weapons, crafting, and exploration. The plot is wacky: in the future, humans live pretty much forever, so when a person gets to be about 200 years old they head out to explore the galaxy and build bases on planetoids in space.
The game was made by Dan Tabár and his team at Data Realms. They worked on Planetoid Pioneers for eight years. This is a pattern for Data Realms: their previous game, the award-winning Cortex Command, was in development between 2001 and 2012.
They made everything in Planetoid Pioneers from scratch. They even built the engine. They’ve generously included that engine in every purchase of the game. You can put yourself in the game. Heck, you can put anything you want in the game. At the press of a button, you can open up professional-grade game development tools and edit the animation joints and collision of any model in the game.
I’ve known Dan Tabár for about eight years. I was at GDC the year his game Cortex Command won an award and he lifted his shirt to reveal his rock-hard six-pack abs right up there on the podium in front of everybody. We later had a conversation in which he told me he liked my YouTube videos. (Wow. I’ve been doing YouTube videos for a while.) We became Facebook friends. At least 20 times in the past eight years I’ve messaged him about moving into his house in Arizona so he can train me for a summer, at the end of which I’ll have six-pack abs. It hasn’t happened.
Tabár recently walked me through the opening section of his game, teaching me how to craft, showing me a vehicle, and showing me how to edit and import my own custom character, and makes me look at my own haircut from 2015. You can watch our half-hour session together in the video in this post. To illustrate the game’s flexible creation tools, he had prepared a character model of me. So, unfortunately, despite my webcam being turned off, my hair finds its way into yet another one of these videos.
Tabár told me to make sure my readers know that the game doesn’t have tight controls. This is a game about struggling. He told me it’s not a Metroidvania. It’s a “physicsvania.” He cited the works of QWOP- and Getting Over It-maker Bennett Foddy as inspiration for the struggle the in-game characters will sometimes face when traversing a planetoid. As my human character flailed his tiny little limbs while clambering up a short incline, I suggested the genre title “Strugglevania.”
I like this game. It’s robust. Every little physical interaction reminds me of the joy of my earliest days playing PC games. My dad would bring floppy disks home from work. There was a sergeant who worked in his office who would give him games “for the kids.” My favorite games were the ones where you play with physics. Me and my brother silently played Scorched Earth for maybe 60 hours one summer. More than once my mom said aloud, to herself, “Those kids have a Nintendo in the other room! What did I even buy youse a Nintendo for!”
When Dan Tabár told me that any content users drag and drop into Planetoid Pioneers ends up immediately uploaded to the Steam Workshop, it recalled vivid memories of those days installing games from floppy disks and tweaking them any way we could.
Planetoid Pioneers is available now on Steam. It’s $19.99.
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