(Check out our interview with the developer here)

Side-scrolling shoot-em-ups. A dime a dozen, right? There’s any number of titles out there to quench one’s thirst for blasting away at endless streams of alien scum, memorizing attack patterns and eventually being able to play these supposed bullet hells with eyes closed and both hands tied behind the back. It’d be nice if there was something that could shake up the formula just a bit.

Well, the good news is that you’re not alone and, even better, the team at Imagos Softworks is currently working on Starr Mazer DSP, their own shmup which helps to resolve these very issues. If the company and game names sound familiar, that may be because you’ve heard of Starr Mazer, a point-and-click adventure set in space in the far-flung future, featuring Brick M. Stonewood and his fight against the G’ell in his trusty steed, a ship known as Starr Wolf.

While the main game does contain its own shmup sequences, the overall play style involves more tactical thinking and strategy. Working on these shmup sections required going through prototype after prototype to get everything right. Not everything makes it into the finished project, but even bits that aren’t used can serve some purpose. Don Thacker explained that the programming teams were having a blast playing with some of the prototypes, even if it didn’t fit the main game.

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So, rather than let all of these extra bits remain trapped without ever seeing the light of day, “we decided we would excise those and make them very arcadey.” Toss in some story elements, throw in hundreds of pilots to serve as cannon fodder, and the seeds of Starr Mazer DSP were formed. What exactly the DSP stands for, so whether it’s Deep Space Patrol or Deadly Serious Pineapple remains to be seen, but it does have a connection to both games.

Still set within the Starr Mazer universe, DSP takes place centuries before Brick’s story in the time of a massive conflict. While in the main game the war is seen as a great tragedy, sending countless pilots to their doom in DSP is all fun and games. Thacker mentioned that one of the main problems he has with most shmups is that players could control “the best pilot in the universe, only if gets hit once his ship explodes and he comes back in the same ship because he collected a letter P or something. That doesn’t make any sense.”

So how to go about changing it? In DSP, players collect SK:ORE from the enemies during a run, which is then used to purchase pilots for further runs. Do exceptionally well and elite pilots can be bought, offering better shielding and stronger weapons, or players might choose to instead go with a ragtag team of nobodies, meaning a greater challenge but more lives and a bit more variety of weapons. Lose one pilot in a run and the next comes flying in. It’s only when all pilots are downed that the run ends.

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Thacker also wants to make sure that the game can be infinitely replayable, citing examples of games he could eventually learn so well he could play them while having a conversation and eating a meal. So in DSP everything changes, from the type of enemies who come in each wave to their flight patterns to the type of boss that shows up and beyond. Each play is different in a way that makes DSP seem like Enter the Gungeon, but in space. And that’s perfectly fine with me.

Starr Mazer DSP is available in Early Access on Steam, and the team is constantly working together with the community to build a better game. For more information, check out the official page here!

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