Qt3 Classic Game Club #38: Startopia

Hope y’all don’t mind a third strategy game in a row, but at least this one is real-time! Well, kinda.


What is Startopia? A light-hearted tycoon/RTS/space station simulator released in 2001 by Mucky Foot, which included devs from Bullfrog (Dungeon Keeper). And unlike the previous two Classic Game choices (Civ IV and Master of Magic), Startopia is one of those games that I have never made the effort to really delve in to, despite its great reputation. Maybe that’s true of others here. Perhaps better described by a fan site as:

Set in a fantasy sci-fi future, you play the part of a space station administrator operating in a galactic civilisation ravaged by a recent space war. The action takes place in a spectacular and unusual game environment - the interior of a huge, torus shaped spinning space station. Inside, you are trying to develop and maintain a utopian environment for nine alien species, each with their own skills, personalities and foibles: a Startopia. The recent war has wrecked planets and destroyed ecosystems; its up to you to help rebuild interstellar civilisation and provide a home for the dispossessed.

Quite simply, Startopia does an excellent impression of a bustling space station. It feels like an actual place.

You can play to win, or you can use it like an ant farm in Sandbox Mode, poking it with a stick and watch it burble away in its own simulated world forever. This is a free wheeling, do-anything-you-like scenario where you can run the default game with whatever conditions and objectives that you like.

You get to stop plagues, reform criminals (as distinct from just summarily executing them - although you get to do that too) provide amusements and remedies from the sacred to the profane, and do the usual expand and conquer.

You create the right rooms, equip them with the necessary equipment and then hire the appropriate aliens from your population who run them with very little direct interaction at all. To keep and maintain your workforce, essential services must be provided: sanitation, food, accommodation, medical facilities, recreation; even a bit of love and religion on the side. The main function of the Station is to accommodate the hordes of passing space travelers and keep them entertained so you can part them with their money. Add space rats, space plagues, errant meteorites, giant killer bugs and, of course, other Station Administrators and this becomes a cool little game.


(GoG version installs to 1.01; I assume Steam version does as well but I don’t own that).

Note: I have not tested either the unofficial patch nor the widescreen mod. Playing just at 1.01.
Unofficial patch 1.02

Widescreen mod

Archive of Mucky Foot FAQs


Post Mortem Feature by Keiron Gillen:

Woooooo, excellent pick. Such a great, fun game. :)

Ohhhh, love it.

Startopia! One of my favourite games.

Last time I played Startopia, around it’s release-time, my computer couldn’t handle the battles too well, and so they were pretty unejoyable. I suspect from the design of them that they’d still be unenjoyable, even at 60fps, but I guess I’ll have to play and find out…

Since Startopia is available on GOG, I don’t know what is going in Squenix’ minds on the Steam store’s front, as the game is unavailable in the two countries I can access it from (as in really unavailable: ‘nope, it doesn’t exist iwhistle’)

Yeah, I’m starting out (after the tutorial) in sandbox mode with combat off. Not playing this to fight.

The campaign mode features the wonderful voice acting and humours quips of the computer. It’s well worth playing, even if there’s some slightly tedious combat happenings in some missions (very few).

Oooh, excellent choice. I reinstall this every couple of years. Too bad I’m so damn busy right now or I’d jump right in.

Thanks, you convinced me to start with the campaign. Hoping to get to it this weekend. Anyone else giving this a go?

I’ve been hearing positive things about this for years, looking forward to diving in over the weekend.

Hmm, looks like I own this on Steam and never played it. I will install it and see if I can figure it out some this weekend.

Do any of the patches/mods make the interface bigger? If I play at 1920x1200, the text is super tiny…

Not that I’m aware.

In fact, based on this thread, it appears not:

I started the first mission after the tutorial and the narration alone is worth the price of admission. Still finding the mouselook a bit cumbersome though. Onward!

Glad you like it! It’s a real gem of theme and narrative. The campaign does a lot with some very barebones tools.

This is giving me a big Theme Park/Hospital vibe.

Just finished the 3rd mission, they’re still feeling like tutorials though. That’s fine though, I still need tutoring. Thought I was cruising through the Hospital mission with 90 cured and no dead when all my doctors decided to take off at the same time. I think they were all bitter about never getting promoted, but I didn’t know to check that at the time. I managed to hire one more grey just in time and finished the mission with a final count of 100 cured, 9 dead.

I’m on this mission but still having trouble with camera controls (using mouse) and getting a grasp of what I need to do to keep track of all the little buggers. I’ll get used to it, I’m sure, just need to give it more time. Glad these early missions are, in fact, extended tutorials.

Started mission 7 this morning, feels like the training wheels are almost off. I had to restart this one two or three times and replay one of the tutorials before I made any headway.

I’m still on training wheels; had a busy RL week and little time to play.

Found a good tips site on an author’s website.


So tell me what you like about this game, guys. This isn’t meant to be a backhanded way of dissing the game. I’m really curious what parts grab you because maybe I’m focusing on the wrong things or I need to play further. City builders and building-based strategy games are my favorite genre. Anything that gets that little ant-farm feeling going usually works for me. Startopia didn’t work for me when I bought it when it came out and for whatever reason it still doesn’t. At least, so far.

I’ll just give my impressions, but I do honestly want to hear what’s cool for all the fans of this game.

It feels like it’s lacking some necessary level of dynamics between the buildings (for lack of a better term). There’s no real relationship between them–like you’d get from roads, trade routes, or zones of influence in other games. There are definitely some solid dynamics in there somewhere, but I also feel like many of them are obscured by lack of feedback and info in the UI. How do I know how many workers a particular building needs (or if it needs any at all)? And what race?

I’m playing the scenarios, so the goal is usually very clear. But how to excel at reaching it really isn’t clear. Is it a game about fulfilling the needs of the visitors for money, primarily? Where’s the feedback that tells me how I’m doing at that? Is it long lines at the facilities? Is it some interface screen somewhere that says “You don’t have enough angel sex shops!”?

I’m definitely going to give it a little longer. The setting’s cool. The sense of humor is… well, it’s trying to be Dungeon Keeper in space, it seems to me, and I don’t know that DK was my favorite thing ever, but Startopia definitely tries hard in that area.

Here’s my impressions:

The game doesn’t offer enough information as to what’s going on with the buildings. How many aliens are using my berth/hotel compared to how many are tired? Do I need to build more? Do I really need my security control? Is it helping me find the bombs that the spies leave lying around or what? Do I need to build the tvs, clocks, and other room accessories? Or are they just there for personality?

Combat in this game is terrible. In Dungeon Keeper, it boiled down to whoever won the first big fight. Here it’s sort of the same thing, except the computer can close it’s own door on you and leave your guys trapped in it’s territory to be picked off. Also, you have to rally your troops to a specific point rather than just dropping them there. Some of them show up to fight, some don’t. You can hire aliens to fight for you during combat, which is difficult to do since hiring aliens takes two clicks and you’re trying to focus on the fight. But the computer does it (I think) so you have to as well. There’s also a capture the flag dynamic going on during the combat involving your security robots which is really frustrating since they get blown up a lot. If you play the skirmish mode, turn the combat off and make it an economic game.

Having said that, the economic part of the game is really fun. Growing trading goods on the bio deck and selling them to the various traders that show up never gets old. The pleasure deck is pretty cool too once you get it up and running and get the more advanced buildings. The game has a ton of personality, and it’s really enjoyable to watch the aliens roam around the station. I feel like most of the missions in the game are basically tutorials to show you how the different aspects of the game work, but once you get to the point where you know how the game works you don’t really want to play it anymore. But overall I’d say it worth sticking with it for the good parts.