GDC 2011: First look at MMO Blackstar for iPhone, iPad, and Android

One small handset for a MMO, one big follow up for Spacetime Studios

GDC 2011: First look at MMO Blackstar for iPhone, iPad, and Android

Despite the leagues of self-proclaimed massively multiplayer games on iPhone and iPad, few actually deliver the scale of truly massive online games.

Blackstar is among those rare exceptions, coming from storied developer Spacetime Studios whose previous title Pocket Legends established them as on the cutting edge of mobile massively multiplayer game design.

This new space age epic addresses many of the criticisms we had with Pocket Legends, while at the same time promising new gameplay mechanics and expanded features to better represent the massively multiplayer experience on handsets and tablets.

Take a dip in the star ocean

The game begins after humanity discovers fast gate technology that enables travel throughout the galaxy. At first, there are no encounters with strange alien races or hostile foes; instead, much of interstellar travel is uneventful as humanity colonises the Milky Way.

Yet, the uncovering of unhatched eggs in a remote planet triggers a series of deadly events that results in the birthing of aggressive reptilian aliens. Naturally, it's your job to clean the mess.

Mirroring the Pocket Legends setup, you play as one of three classes: brute force Commando, stealthy Operative, or machine-savvy Engineer. Building up your character with equipment, new weapons, and special abilities is the game's primary focus.

Puzzling combat

A new combat system differentiates Blackstar from Pocket Legends too. While the game disappointingly retains bland tap combat system - a more engaging real-time battle mechanic would be preferrable - there's an emphasis on tactics that ups the challenge.

For instance, destroying a powerful turret in one of the game's opening stages requires a smart tactical approach rather than simply running in to attack. First, you need to eliminate a nearby guard, then break the adjacent terminal, and finally bust up the turret to proceed.

Spacetime Studios wants to infuse the gameplay with variety rather than loading the game down purely with combat, so expect puzzles to pop up frequently.

Updates on the way

Like Pocket Legends, Spacetime Studios plans on releasing a lengthy core game playable to approximately level 25. Modules introduced every few weeks will expand on the game, adding new plot twists, levels, equipment, and character classes.

You can expect all of the communication and community features from the latter to make their way into Blackstar: in-game messaging, real-time chat, item consignment, secure item trading, and more.

The lack of a more robust, entertaining combat system is a point of concern, although there are plenty of reasons to remain interested in Blackstar. Years of pre-production work (the game was originally conceived for PC) ensure a fully realised universe with an in-depth back story, not to mention a fantastic sense of style.

Blackstar will be available this spring for iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Android devices; it will be free with in-app purchases for content modules to be released at later dates.
Tracy Erickson
Tracy Erickson
Manning our editorial outpost in America, Tracy comes with years of expertise at mashing a keyboard. When he's not out painting the town red, he jets across the home of the brave, covering press events under the Pocket Gamer banner.