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'Steambirds Alliance,' the space shooter about making friends

The latest from mobile puzzle developer Spry Fox is "Steambirds Alliance," a free computer game about spacefaring birds blasting cruel cat bosses and avoiding moving bullets -- and, underneath its feathery exterior, about connecting and cooperating with others.


After six years of development, "Steambirds Alliance" is bringing its endless waves of deadly bullets, secret missions, unlockable dieselpunk aircraft and hundreds of unique enemies to Mac and PC.

Even so, it's intended to be more than just a fun space shooter. "Games can bring people together," developer Spry Fox wrote on the eve of an official August 22 launch.

"The truth of the matter is that in this modern world, there are a lot of people who could use a friend. Or even if they have enough friends, they could use a place to spend more time with them."

"There's a ton of research demonstrating that lonely people often suffer from poor health, depression, and/or anxiety. Friendship is the antidote."

"So it occurred to us: what if we made a game that was all about connecting with and cooperating with others? A game with only two teams, and all the players are together on the same side."

"SBA," as it's known to a community of enthusiastic fans and testing-phase participants, might look like a bit of a swerve from Spry Fox, otherwise known for a series of award-winning, carefully designed, minimalistic puzzle games -- "Triple Town," "Road Not Taken" and "Alphabear" -- which brought a unique sense of creativity and cuteness to the genre.

Yet the Spry Fox team also had a hand in creating manic, massively multiplayer pixelated action adventure "Realm of the Mad God," and the developer wanted to see if it could build on the experience.

Helping to make "Steambirds" a friendly, connecting experience as players fly their bird pilots into battle against robot cats is a system that lets players jump in and out of games as they please, with no penalty to themselves or others. The game also allocates points and rewards across all participants so players can't steal mission prizes from each other, accidentally or on purpose.

In addition, "Steambirds" is set up so that players always benefit from playing with each other, whether intentionally or not.

Friendship is one of three markers for the success of "Steambirds Alliance," says the studio, which wants to earn enough money to fund hosting and ongoing development, and entertain its players for years to come.

"[...w]e've spent a bunch of years learning to make polished, fun games. Games that at this point have been played by tens of millions of people. But that isn't enough," wrote Spry Fox. "We also want to make the world a better place." Blowing up enormous mechanical cats just happens to come with the territory.

"Steambirds Alliance" is available to play now on Mac and PC through the Steam network, with console versions planned for the future.