The Cosmos Is MINE! Preview

Mine for the taking!

It has taken two hard years for Playcorp, a five-man indie studio based in Australia, to release its debut real-time strategy title entitled The Cosmos is MINE!. In a phone interview, lead developer Eamon Logue expressed how indie video game development is thriving and deeply collaborative in Australia and may actually be the main direction for game development in general in the country, particularly with the closing of the triple-A studio 2K Australia. Armed with several programmers and an artist, he hopes that this self-funded project will see success and receive feedback from the public as it's revealed for the first time on Friday by way of Steam Early Access.

Developing a real-time strategy title is quite ambitious for a small studio, but as Eamon took me through an early build of the game, The Cosmos Is MINE! already looks ready to rumble. The core objective of this hex-based title is to mine the exotic mineral Animus on distant planets as quickly as you can by ordering all manner of units around the board.

The local megacorporation, TransOrbital, has given you a prospector's license to extract as much Animus as you want, so long as you satisfy their ever-growing quotas. If you fail to meet the quota, you'll be booted off the planet. So it falls to you to collect as much Animus as possible faster than all the other players, whether that means reaching Animus nodes quickly or stealing your rival's Animus by blasting their mining crew to smithereens.

Settling on the forested mid-sized planet in the build, I began with an engineer and an operative in a zone ready for capture. All land masses are broken into zones, not far from the board game Risk, and must be captured before units can perform anything of note. Once my operative captured the territory, my engineer rushed to the sole Animus node for quick extraction to meet the early quota, which must be met every three minutes. As any real-time strategy game, it's important to click as fast as you can and to be as efficient as possible with unit selection and direction so that not a second is wasted.

From there, I moved the operative to neighboring territories for further control while my engineer worked to digistruct titles for credits. Gathered Animus and cash can be spent on additional units and upgrades in the tech tree, which unlocks the ability to construct more engineers and operatives, as well as assault and artillery units for both offensive and defensive play. Where engineers can construct walls and towers that can eventually fire long-range lasers, assault units make up the bulk of the army and can watch over an area for protection or perhaps sneak into an enemy-controlled zone for scouting and light destruction. The high-cost artillery has long-range power, though, that's better for destroying defenses from afar and within your territory.

Terrain is a vital part of combat too, as having the high ground will give units more visibility over the area. Building vision towers will clear the fog of war as well, while controlling chokepoints and bottlenecks is important for defense and can thwart enemies from attempting to advance without having a sizeable army. Altogether, I was able to lead my team to victory over the lead developer, though just barely by one measly point of Animus and with Eamon obviously distracted by explaining me how the game works. (But I'll take it!)

That said, the existing 1v1 content is just the tip of the iceberg for what Playcorp hopes to deliver by the time The COSMOS is Mine! is ready for a full release. Along with various planet sizes that can range from 1,000 tiles to a gigantic 20,000 tiles (five times larger than the planet in the build), the developers plan to bring ice planets and desert planets to the fold that have different minerals, terrain, and visibility. Aside from winning through Animus, victory conditions based on territorial control and enemy base annihilation will be added as well.

Once the 1v1 matchmaking is polished off in a few weeks (with Eagon noting that "Networking is a bitch!"), Playcorp will release private lobbies as well as 2v2, 3v3, and 4v4 variants. Down the line, they also hope to bring an unranked free-for-all match type and a co-op mode with four players who must destroy Animus-hogging mafia units who control the planet. By then, the controls will be polished with multi-unit group control, better team play mechanics, and the ability to shift-queue commands.

While the developers will be bringing more units to expand the roster variety, the roles for the existing four units will given much more depth in the coming months. Where the operative will be able to designate zones as economic, security, or logistics (similar to SimCity's zoning mechanics) for minor buffs, the engineer will be given additional structures and tower upgrades to build in addition to a weaponized digitizer that can turn enemy units into credits. (How nasty!) Assault and artillery will become more customizable too, with you being able to tailor each individual unit for specific roles instead of having blanket upgrades for all units of a single type.

The Cosmos is Mine! launches tomorrow on Steam Early Access for $9.99, with Playcorp looking to push major updates once every two weeks. At that pace, with luck, they are scheduling a full release by the end of year and will be incorporating features as voted by the player community.