The first thing strategy gamers will notice is that Startopia doesn't have different maps. Startopia is played entirely within the same environment: your classic, ring shaped Space Station. Its a majestic spinning torus with three circular decks subdivided into sixteen equal sections. This donut motif is central to Startopia's concept and humour. The cute thing about the playing area is that it is truly circular - scrolling around the curve will get you back at where you started. Your strategies aren't going to be revolving (har har) around different terrain types or wondering where the opposition is.
Each player starts with their own segment in an otherwise empty and derelict station. As Station Administrators, you are all charged with its renovation and reconstruction, opening new sections and annexing unclaimed territory. Those who survive bankruptcy or the skulduggery of their peers gets to claim the whole station and with it victory.
The next thing control freaks and micromanagers will find is that while there's a considerable amount of detail lurking in Startopia, there's hardly a health bar or stats table anywhere in sight. You get a couple of vague looking overviews, and that's pretty much it. Like all good management sims, control of your characters is indirect. Actually, they're not even yours to control: all you do is hire or fire them and make sure you've employed enough to ensure all your facilities are fully manned. Whether they decide to hang around, leave, work or piss about is entirely up to them.
There's considerable overlap in Startopia, and usually about three ways to do or get anything. To attract more of one species, you generally deck out your Station with the stuff that it likes, often installing more than one version of a facility or a Bio-Deck environment if you need to attract lots for some reason. They each have their favourites, but this by no means they won't use anything else. Rich species will use low rent facilities sometimes and vice versa. If you miss anything, its not likely to kill you off in the game as it would in a typical RTS, or completely stall everything. About the only thing you have to watch out for is power failures - which will screw you monumentally. Oh, and Skrashers - big, black scary space monsters that can wreck a fledgling Station Administrator's career very quickly.
Keeping everyone happy and healthy boils down to making sure that everything they need is readily available and just leaving them to it. Your role is mostly hands off: the Peeps and droids do all the rest, automatically working and using the Station. Direct micromanagement only comes in trading, arranging rooms and decks, defusing the odd bomb or two and and directing the action in a fire fight. With competitive netgames, Startopia can be a violent affair of forcible take-overs or a friendly (but serious) economic war where the winner achieves an economic goal or merely avoids going bankrupt before everyone else. It all depends on what victory conditions are set. Since its possible to have up to four victory conditions from a pool of choices, you can determine what kind of game you want to play beforehand.
The Station is subdivided into three major decks:
The Engineering Deck is the lowest, or rather, the outermost deck of the Station. It's the garage level or "body" of the station. Here, all your Station's mechanical, industrial, power and supply requirements are met, as are the bare bones essentials that cater for the physical needs of your Peeps. Lose all your Engineering segments and its Game Over for you. You can just run a station with only this deck, but it will be strictly utilitarian and most of the more interesting features of the game simply won't be available to you. Utility alone is never enough: most of the population will get restless and want to leave such drab surroundings, and rich clients won't stay for long, if at all.
This deck provides access to your station via docking elevators called Ports, and parks passing trading ships in the big Starports. You process and store cargo and energy, basic sleeping quarters, recycle waste and litter, manufacture goods, provide medical facilities, run security and hold criminals in custody. The Engineering Deck is the business level of the Station - this is where all your work is done, and without it you cannot function.
The lower deck might be a haven for Morlocks, but the mid-deck is where it's at. It's also known as the Pleasure Deck, containing all the fun stuff of Station life: Love Nests, luxury accommodation, shops, casinos, discos, public bars and other tourist traps. This is the "mind" of the Station, catering to the population's mental and comfort needs, alleviating boredom and offering a nicer environment to socialise in. The Entertainment Deck, as its name implies, provides most of the pleasures of the Station and is the reason why most travelers stop off in the first place. Building the right buildings will attract the right types of customers. For example, Rough Bars, General Stores, and basic Star Motels will attract cheaper customers like the Salt Hogs; while the fussy Gem Slugs expect expensive accommodation and upmarket facilities like the Cocktail Bar and Slug Apartments. Building the same item several times over will pull in more of the species that's attracted to it.
What's cute about this deck is that you can adjust the Station's "flavour" by changing how you lay it out. By emphasising some types of entertainment over others, you can change the character of the Station and the sorts of people that inhabit it. Whether you go for sleazy, refined upmarket, cheap'n'nasty, quietly urbane or a mix of everything is entirely up to you.
While the Engineering Deck is essential to everyone and everything's good health, its the Entertainment Deck that actually attracts custom to your door and generates the most revenue for you. Building up this deck properly allows you to attract more lucrative visitors to your Station and enhance your reputation as a desirable tourist destination in outer space.
The uppermost deck is a giant glasshouse containing artificial soils and climate control to reproduce alien ecosystems. This is the "soul" of your Station, and caters to those non-material and spiritual things that money and the nasty old material world just cannot provide. Here, the homesick population's spiritual and aesthetic needs are met within a deck that mimics the natural conditions of their homeworlds. It is home to the Zedem Temple, a magnet for space pilgrims and Zedem Monks. You can see across the Station through the panoramic windows, and even truck outside in outer space to take in the whole Station. You can grow whole forests up here, either to cultivate for cargo or just for the sheer hell of it! Every plant yields most kinds of essential supplies for your Station's needs.
The Bio-Deck is free of the mad bustle of the rest of the Station: no rooms or structures can be built on the Bio-Deck, although you can place public art and deck furniture on another deck and them beam it into the Bio-Deck But in order for you to get the most out of it for your population, you need to reproduce the right conditions for each alien species. Bio-Decks are extremely popular for Peeps; a really good one can occasionally empty an Entertainment Deck. Building mountain ranges to climb, deep waterhole's to swim in and lush forests and wilderness to trek through can sometimes attract more patrons than lines of Love Nests and Hotels. Peep's Souls are placated in this lush environment. More Details.