Just Another Day on Space Station 13

by on September 8, 2011

My first day on Space Station 13 was some time back in 2010. I don’t remember it incredibly well overall (this probably being a result of my brain trying to protect me from the subsequent mental trauma), but I do remember getting clubbed to death with a toolbox. Repeatedly. This rather inauspicious start (although admittedly a fairly common one for most new players), combined with server lag and some surprisingly complex controls (they don’t call it Dwarf Fortress in space for nothing), made me give up on my space stationing for the time being. However, I vowed to one day return and, if not be the one braining people with a toolbox, at least be able to escape the same fate.

Sure enough, around a year later and after reading thread upon thread of awesome Space Station 13 stories, I came crawling back.

Space Station 13 is a strange beast, especially when you consider how it has become somewhat of a cult success in an industry that arguably reels in many people with appearances alone (gamers, fickle? NEVER). The game was written in BYOND (this the chief cause of a big part of its general clunkiness), and at its core is a top down 2D role-playing game set on the titular space station. While it has one up on Dwarf Fortress in that it has a GUI, the latter can still take a little getting used to (it’s quite easy to start smacking yourself in the face with an item before properly learning to pick it up, for example) and lag, while seeming to be less of a problem than it used to be, can still flare up when servers are under stress. I’m not exactly selling this to you very well, am I? Let’s change tack.

While BYOND and Space Station 13 do have their undeniable flaws, the experience of playing on a decent server (specifically one without too much griefing and fair to moderate RP leanings) is an incredibly rewarding experience. Indeed, you can quite happily waste hours at a time once you’ve found your feet (hours that you should have been spending doing something useful like writing a dissertation). By way of illustration, here follow a few of my favourite Space Station 13 adventures.

I was the quartermaster, and spent a pleasant fifteen minutes or so working in harmony with my small crew of cargo technicians. The supply shuttle came and went without incident, and pretty much all of the crew members who wanted things took the time to come and fill out the relevant forms (go go bureaucracy!). About half way through this period of time, one of my cargo technicians let in a doctor who seemed strangely insistent about getting into the cargo bay. My subordinates collapsed to the floor suddenly before getting back up as if nothing had happened, the doctor somewhat hurriedly taking his leave after I refused to remove the stylish shades issued to all quartermasters.

A little while later he returned, claiming he wanted to use the cargo bay’s autolathe. Suspicious, I refused. He then asked the same cargo technician from before to let him in, and he obediently did so. The last words I heard before everything went black and bloody were the doctor’s: “Sorry it had to be like this. Get him.” The doctor was a revolutionary, my shades having protected me from the Men in Black-style memory wiping device he’d used to convert my fellows. I could only watch in amusement as they spaced my body via the supply shuttle dock, a fitting end for a foolish quartermaster.

Another time I was a botanist, and having grown bored of cultivating hallucinogenic mushrooms and attempting to resurrect deceased crew members via replica pods (the last one didn’t seem too happy at being brought back as a half man, half plant abomination) I decided to go on an adventure around the station. This adventure led to me accidentally teleporting to an obscure part of the station, where I managed to get sucked out of an airlock into space (although fortunately I had got my hands on a decent spacesuit just beforehand). Floating for miles with a rapidly dwindling air supply, I eventually came to rest on another, long since abandoned space station, where I managed to refill my air tank just in time. After asking for help via the ship radio (which, fortunately, still worked where I was) a kindly crew member arrived via a portal to rescue me, whereupon I wandered round the ship doing odd jobs (such as mopping up the almost ever-present blood stains around the station; the janitor was conspicuously absent) until the emergency rescue shuttled arrived. I think I actually escaped alive this time…

Yet another time, as a fresh faced young assistant with nothing better to do, I reported to genetics when staff requested volunteers for testing (they also promised super powers, which sounded like a fair trade). After a long, gruelling period of time spent inside genetic manipulation machinery (during which side effects included my hair changing from black to blue and then back again, blindness, deafness, epilepsy and Tourette’s syndrome) – and none of the promised superpowers manifesting as the apparently telekinetic geneticist promised – I was faced with something I hadn’t expected: a perfect clone of myself. He caused a fair amount of collateral damage, throwing equipment around, attacking medical staff and even trying to strangle me. Eventually however, he quietened down, so much so that he became seemingly completely unresponsive. Having been told he was my responsibility shortly beforehand (and responding less than favourably), the geneticist asked me what I wanted to do with him, before subtly mentioning that, considering the fact that he appeared to have lost all mental function, it might be best to put him down. Reluctantly agreeing (after agonising over the decision for some time, mind), he was taken to another room, strapped to a table and injected with a fatal – but, I was assured, painless – substance.

Returning to the lab with the geneticist, I offered my services as a general dogsbody before going for a short jaunt around the station to see if there was anything else I could do. When I returned, things were not quite as I expected. A second me climbed out of the cloner just as I arrived, another following me into the lab from the medbay. Imploring me to join them (as well as attempting to get my all important station ID so that they could “become real”), they eventually gave up and started causing havoc aboard the rest of the ship in my name. I spent the rest of the round curled up next to the cloner in the genetics lab and crying; needless to say, I didn’t make it to the escape shuttle this time.

You will observe that the majority of these stories involve terrible things happening to my character. Once again, I can’t help but fall back on yet another Dwarf Fortress reference, specifically the game’s overarching motto: “Losing is fun!” These quite extensively detailed (and perhaps somewhat rambling; suppressing froth was never a strong point of mine) tales hopefully serve to show just how good the game is when you get sucked in. Appearances aside, Space Station 13 is nothing short of awesome once you get the hang of it (although, of course, the griefers clause still stands). As with any role-playing game, provided your fellows play ball you’ll soon find yourself feeling part of the crew, even if half of that crew are now aliens and the AI has sealed you off with them in order to protect the others.

However, in order to avoid being dismissed as a rabid fan I will once again point out that it’ll probably take you a little while to get used to the game and its eccentricities, and while perseverance pays off it’s certainly not everyone’s cup of space tea. As such, here are a few basic tips for your first voyage on Space Station 13 :

  • Start off as an assistant – This way no one will care if you mess up as nobody is relying on you to do an important job correctly.
  • Always wear your internals – These are found in a box in your backpack. Be sure your oxygen mask is on your face and your emergency oxygen tank is somewhere accessible but out of the way (so typically your belt or a pocket).
  • Try not to linger in isolated places for too long – Aside from making yourself look suspicious (the AI sees all and knows all usually), you’re at a high risk of being beaten up and/or dragged to your doom.
  • Try and keep IC and OOC separate – This means choosing a decent character name (either a realistic one or perhaps a witty pun), not metagaming and at least attempting to do your job for the brief period of time before the station inevitably goes tits up.
  • Don’t be a dick – Arguably rule zero in any multiplayer game. If you constantly grief and repeatedly and intentionally ignore the rules then you’re likely to get kickbanned very quickly.

If you can learn to judge Space Station 13 on its personality rather than its looks (and it’s certainly not short on the former), it’s definitely worth giving it a try. Both it and BYOND are free, and all it takes is for you to download the client, make an account and connect to a Space Station 13 server.

I mean, who doesn’t want to be part of a science fiction disaster story that can go horribly wrong in a nigh on unlimited number of ways over and over again?

One more word of advice, however: if you ever see anyone dressed as a wizard, just run. It’s safer that way.

Space Station 13 is available on PC now, right here.