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Starr Mazer Is a Retro Point-and-Click Shoot-Em-up Melting Pot

Imagos Software is trying to develop a game that's just a little bit different.

Preview by Mike Williams, .

Starr Mazer is a passion project. The team at Imagos Softworks calls Starr Mazer a "retro-sexy Point-and-Click Adventure Shoot 'em Up." That's a fancy way of saying it's part point-and-click adventure, part side-scrolling shoot-em-up, and part 80's cartoon. I've never seen anything quite like Starr Mazer before, which is why I'm talking with designer Don Thacker about the concept. Thacker is a man who loves what's he's selling; the words tumble out of his mouth as he thinks them. His answers are animated and fast, full of a unique enthusiasm.

"Shoot-em-ups are really cool; when I was 9, I used to play TurboGrafx-16 a bunch and I really liked it," explains Thacker when I ask where the concept came from. "Turbo chips are mostly shoot-em-ups because the system pretended to be a 16-bit system, but it really wasn't. It was two 8-bit processors: a regular processor and a graphics processor. It was crap at doing complicated things, but it was really good at doing lots of things at once. So scrolling shooters found a good home on the system."

"I used to be a big fan of those, but there's no story," he continues. "Eventually I got a computer and had point-and-click adventure games. Gabriel Knight, Space Quest, the SCUMM VM stuff, all of that. I was super into them, but they weren't super actiony! It was just a lot of clicking and a lot of listening to people talk. Which is really cool for 40 minutes. When I was a young little pup, I imagined both together, so I'm building it now."

Starr Mazer drops you in the flight suit of Brick M. Stonewood (the 'M' stands for 'metal'), a hotshot pilot who finds himself frozen in a space pod for 130 years. He wakes up in the future and heads off to adventure. The premise reminds me of Buck Rogers in the 25th century, an old pulp adventure series that inspired an 80's TV show, but Thacker tells me he's never seen it before.

"People keep saying that," he shrugs. "I've never actually seen Buck Rogers. People are saying it's like Space Dandy and Cowboy Bebop; I've never seen any of those. This is like Silverhawks and Thundercats to me. I love that weird hybrid; taking a bunch of Japanese animators and making them draw cowboys."

Thacker calls Brick "Han Solo, only prettier." Brick's home base is the Holloway-Exeter space station, which was nothing but a seedy dive in his original time. The station is where your supporting cast - like Bunny Bitshift, a waitress with a secret past - lives. It's also where you pick up new missions, talk to NPCs (the game will be fully-voiced, according to Thacker), and upgrade your ship. Where you're ready to ride off in your ship, the Starr Wolf, you just hop in the cockpit and go.

"Getting into your ship is entirely seamless," says Thacker. "You walk from the bay to your ship and pilot the ship out into space. The camera zooms out into the SHMUP and back in for the point-and-click adventure. It's an integrated and infinitely replayable experience."

Starr Mazer is "infinitely replayable" because it doesn't tell a straight-forward story. Instead the point-and-click and shoot-em-up elements are remixed and changed each time you play. The adventure game is based on modular story elements and the shooter randomly glues chunks of hand-crafted gameplay sections together.

"The point-and-click elements are modular," he tells me. "Everytime I drop a new module in it exponentially changes the target of the story. The main character plays through similar story elements, but they're always different. The SHMUP sections are also procedurally generated. They're not random. They're procedurally chunked and it matches what you've done in the PNC section."

If you insult and kill a pirate in the adventure game, his buddies will be out for your blood in the shooter. Take down a mega-sized starship in the SHMUP? The survivors may find you later in the adventure. Don't worry, just because there's some action-packed shooter segments doesn't mean the adventure will be dry and boring. Brick is still an action hero.

"I want to keep it fun and actiony," says Thacker. "I never want to get bored playing the point-and-click adventure. It's not a pixel hunt. It's very clear what you can do in the game. Brick can shoot anything. The arc of your story will change dramatically, but you can shoot anything. It doesn't spawn new dudes; you kill 'em, they're gone. Although, we don't want you to shoot a bunch of people."

The game will also make allowances if you're better at one half of the game. If you're horrible in the SHMUP, there will be ship upgrades you can find in the adventure section. If you're great at the shooter side, you'll get more ore and the game's other consumables: Guts, Bucks, and Smokes. You can then use the consumables to customize Brick and the Starr Wolf to your liking.

What's a good retro shooter without some kickin' tunes? Starr Mazer's soundtrack is a collaborative effort led by Alex Mauer, a chip-tune artist who released Vegavox, an album on an NES game cartridge. Other guest composers include Virt (Shovel Knight), Manami Matsumae (Mega Man), the Protomen, and Danimal Cannon.

There's a lot of the studio's own skin going into this game. As I said in the beginning, Starr Mazer is a passion project for Thacker. The Kickstarter goal is $160,000, less than half of what it'll cost to make the game; the team at Imagos is kicking in the rest. (This is actually rather normal for Kickstarter games.) Right now, the game is within spitting distance of the goal with $152,000 on Kickstarter. Thacker is hoping these last few days push it over the top.

"This is my passion," he says. "This is the dream game. I've finally gotten to the point where I'm good enough at cinema to tell a story and I'm good enough at making games to make the game."

I wish him luck, because Starr Mazer looks like something else.

Starr Mazer is game currently being funded on Kickstarter, with a planned release on PC, Mac, and Linux. It's a Kickstarter, so the normal disclaimer applies: just because a developer promises something, doesn't mean it'll make it into the final product. Starr Mazer is a cool idea, but don't back a project unless you entertain the possibility that you may lose that money.

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  • Avatar for Ralek #1 Ralek 3 years ago
    I'm on the fence about this one, it looks very cool, but neither point'n'click nor shumps are really my genre. I'm not sure I'm willing to back it for the style it certainly oozes and the amazing pixelart alone. I guess, I'll keep my eye on it and make a last minute guts decision ^^
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  • Avatar for manny_c44 #2 manny_c44 3 years ago
    Looks totally awesome, although the modular gameplay seems a bit pointless...an attempt to pad out length maybe. Does someone seriously think they can make a procedurally generated point and click adventure?? That isn't garbage? Still I think I'll back it.
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #3 VotesForCows 3 years ago
    I absolutely love the art style. Sounds like a really fun game too - I like their use of language. Hope it gets funded (and released!).
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  • Avatar for Daikaiju #4 Daikaiju 3 years ago
    Dammit, and now I want a VikingR99.
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  • Avatar for hiptanaka #5 hiptanaka 3 years ago
    @manny_c44 It sounds to me like it's more modular than procedurally generated. I agree a generated adventure game would suck, but he clearly states that actions in the shooter segments can, for example, populate the adventure segments with characters. I doubt the characters themselves and events are all generated.

    Anyway, I think it looks amazing. I hope it reaches the console stretch goals, even though the chance is pretty slim.
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  • Avatar for Damman #6 Damman 3 years ago
    Neither Point and Click Adventure games nor schmups do much for me, but man the art and animation in the gifs on that Kickstarter page are top notch.
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  • Avatar for Bander #7 Bander 3 years ago
    I very much like the look of this, and the TurboGrafx aesthetic here looks far better than many 2D indie games that appear to be blocky simply because there are no real artists involved.

    However, when browsing my game collection I'll usually choose something according to the mood I'm in. If I'm in a graphic adventure mood, I'll be slobbed-out on a comfy chair, with snacks and drink, not wanting to put both hands on the controller and playing something where I die if I blink. And vice versa, for me a shooter is a short sessions thing that I'll fit into windows of being able to concentrate.

    Games trying to be multiple things is part of the reason so many 'AAA' action games feel like a chore to me. In trying to check as many marketing tick-boxes as possible, the pace of these keeps changing when they insist on juggling between reaction/skill based gameplay, exploration, puzzles, item management, story scenes etc..

    I like some of Starr Mazer's ideas on paper, such as meeting the survivors of a downed mega battleship later on. I'm just not sure if I'll manage to get that far if I buy it.
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  • Avatar for feryx #8 feryx 3 years ago
    I wonder if he's played Sigma Star Saga? I never got around to it myself so I can't speak to the quality of the game, but it similarly set out to be a mashup of SHMUP gameplay and RPG storytelling
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