Space Station 13 (often abbreviated as SS13) is a free-to-play sandbox game and general role-playing system. It was originally created in 2003 by one person, exadv1, using BYOND, an engine designed for large, multiplayer role-play systems. Since then, development of SS13 has picked up by the community, leading to a variety of servers, each one modifying the base code to suit their needs. Due to this, every server has different features and can vary wildly, with some barely resembling the original game, although most servers have a number of things in common.
Most variants of SS13 take place during an ordinary shift on a space station owned by the fictional mega-corporation Nanotrasen. Each shift, or round, players are tasked with keeping the station operating smoothly as one of many jobs aboard the station, ranging from command, engineering, medical, security, science, and service. To help give each shift a level of uncertainty and variety, a few players each shift are typically chosen to play an antagonist role, wherein they attempt to kill other players or steal valuable objects from around the station. These can be significant threats to the entire crew, such as giant spiders infesting the station, or subtle dangers, such as single crewmembers tasked with assassinating their coworkers.
SS13 began in 2003 as a project by one person, known by the alias "exadv1". Exadv1 originally intended simply to build an atmospherics simulation, with the game's space setting being added as a supporting detail. Eventually, exadv1 stopped development on SS13, distributing the code to a few friends, which led the source code to be uploaded to the internet in 2006.
Soon after the source code was put online, members of the Something Awful forums took notice and began modifying the game, eventually hosting a server of their own, known as "Goonstation" (from "goon", a nickname used by Something Awful users). Due to the features and optimizations introduced by the forum users, Goonstation began attracting more players to SS13, leading the game to gain attention beyond the Something Awful forums.
In 2010, Goonstation's code was released to the public, marking the most significant public code release since the source code first leaked. Since the game's community now had access to the changes introduced by Goonstation, a number of servers were formed, all using Goonstation's code or a variant thereof. A number of noteworthy servers formed during this time, including /tg/station, from 4chan's /tg/ board, and Baystation, from Bay 12 Games' community, the two of which came to share the space with Goonstation. Nowadays, Goonstation remains fairly popular, although not as popular as more recent servers such as CM-SS13, a primarily combat-focused server, and Paradise Station, a server based on /tg/'s code.
Over the years, the SS13 community has made a number of attempts have been made to recreate the game by porting it to an engine other than BYOND, however none have succeeded so far.
The SS13 client is typically split into three parts: a viewer, a chat field, and a command prompt. The viewer shows the player and the environment and players near them, allowing the player to click various things to interact with them. The chat field contains a log of in-game discussions, both near the player and station-wide via departmental communication relays, as well as messages about a player's current status. The command prompt is a small bar in which the player can type commands for things which can not be accomplished through simply clicking on the viewer, such as speaking and emoting.
The viewer's UI has a number of important features, such as an "intent" display, inventory management, a hands display, and a series of status meters. The intent display changes what a player will do when interacting with the environment, from one of four options: help, attack, defend, and grab. This is paired with a targeting system which allows the user to aim for specific limbs on anyone they interact with. The inventory management allows the player to store things in containers, equip different clothing, and activate different functionality of their currently held items. Their hands display shows the items they are currently holding, as well as which hand is currently their "active hand", and thus in-use. Finally, the status meters display important information about the player's character, including their current hunger, the general damage status of their body, and whether or not they are currently suffocating or experiencing zero-gravity.
Every server is operated differently, and this is made most apparent by each server's role-play level. To ensure players know how to behave going in, most servers will clearly define a role-play level in the BYOND client, from either LRP, MRP, or HRP.
- LRP: Short for Low Role-Play, these servers focus on the mechanics of the game above all else, and usually have a relaxed or even joking atmosphere to them.
- MRP: Short for Medium Role-Play, these servers tend to focus on role-play insofar as it enriches a player's experience with the game.
- HRP: Short for High Role-Play, these servers focus solely on role-play, with players being encouraged to develop and play a character over simply engaging with the game-space around them.
Upon entering a round, players are assigned a job aboard the station, which they are expected to perform to the best of their ability. The potential jobs a player can receive are categorized by department, of which there are typically six: command, security, engineering, science, medical, and service. Players who are not assigned a role will instead be civilians, free to roam the station with no job or departmental access.
Command is comprised of the station's captain, as well as the heads of each department. The captain's job is to ensure the safety of the station and crew by directing each of the departmental heads. The job of the departmental heads is to direct their individual department, giving direct orders when needed. Aside from the heads of staff, Command also includes a Head of Personnel, responsible for firing incompetent employees and switching employees to other departments upon request.
Comprised of a Head of Security, multiple security officers, and a detective, Security is tasked with ensuring the station remains safe from threats both external and internal. In the case of crew, Security is to bring them in for questioning before holding them temporarily as outlined by Space Law, however known threats not affiliated with the crew are typically met with immediate force. Whenever suspicious materials such as blood, weaponry, or contraband are found on-station, the detective is tasked with finding out the cause.
Engineering features a Chief Engineer, several engineers, and several atmospheric technicians. The job of Engineering is to repair any damage the station may take during a shift, including fixing hull breaches, repairing broken appliances, and ensuring the engine remain running. While they are counted as part of Engineering, atmospheric techs focus only on the station's atmospheric loop, a series of pipes providing air to every corner of the station.
Science is a research and technology focused department, comprised of a Research Director, scientists, roboticists, and geneticists. The Research Director, alongside the scientists, conduct research to develop new technologies which can assist the other departments of the station. Roboticists build new service cyborgs and repair robotic crewmembers, alongside building mechs when the station needs to defend itself. Geneticists are considered part of both Science and Medical, researching genetic modification and creating replacement bodies for crewmembers whose previous body has become unusable.
Medical encompasses every role related to healing non-robotic crewmembers, including Chief Medical Officer, several medical doctors, a paramedic, and a virologist. A paramedic patrols the station for injured crewmembers to bring to the Medical bay, where doctors tend to their wounds and perform any surgeries a patient might need. Virologists focus solely on the spread of disease, trying to stem potentially dangerous diseases and develop potentially beneficial ones.
The most varied department, Service encompasses any role providing simple, one-person assistance to the station. This can be a bartender serving drinks, a cook keeping the crew fed, a clown or mime providing amusement for the crew, a janitor cleaning up the puddles of blood which inevitably form around the station, and much more.
Alongside standard job roles, a few crewmembers each shift will be assigned as "antags" for the round, requiring them to cause chaos on the station in specific ways, either in conjunction with or instead of their standard job.
Some of the antagonist roles a player can have in conjunction with their standard job include:
- Traitors: Tasked with stealing valuable items from the station and/or assassinating certain crewmembers.
- Cultists: Devout followers of destructive gods, cultists must convert other crewmembers in order to summon their god onto the station.
- Changelings: Shape-shifting creatures who must steal DNA from the crew without arousing suspicion.
However, some roles take a more active role in a player's shift, either explicitly barring them from performing a standard job or making it incredibly difficult. These roles tend to include:
- Blob: An ever-expanding mass of organic matter which uses minions to fight, rather than directly attacking crew itself.
- Nuclear operative: Employees of an enemy corporation looking to set off the station's self-destruct sequence.
- Revolutionaries: Crewmembers who must begin a revolution, overthrowing the captain and Command.
- Wizard: A magic-using visitor, with a bevy of chaotic spells. The wizard is not inherently hostile, but rarely gets along with crew.