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A Space Fighter Versus the World

Greg Tito | 5 Dec 2011 12:30
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The biggest hurdle that Exodus faces is one of the reasons that space combat sims fell off the galactic map in the first place: Joysticks are just not as common as they used to be. Having played an early build of Exodus at PAX, I felt like all the pieces for a truly awesome game were there, but something was off using an Xbox controller to pilot the ship. Either I missed that feeling of immersion I got from X-Wing as a kid or my sensibilities have shifted along with the rest of the gaming public. I'm worried about the latter, but Stockman's answer to the former is the promise of full keyboard, mouse and joystick support for Sol: Exodus out of the box. "We'd be stupid not to," Stockman said, "but it's important that the game be playable with an Xbox gamepad so that we can get it onto [Xbox] Live."

"Firing weapons and blowing stuff up needs to feel extremely satisfying."

For now, the control scheme limits the amount of user inputs, which influenced Stockman's decision to depart from one of my favorite parts of X-Wing. "We feature ballistic weapons, not lasers, and our armor is based off real plating and not energy-based shield systems," he explains. That may feel like there is less for the player to worry about in the cockpit, but hacking minigames and interactive objects in space draw the player's attention to something more exciting than resource management.

For Stockman, such management was not what the genre was about anyway. "Dogfighting must be fun and engaging," he says when asked what a game must have in order to feel like a true space combat sim. "Firing weapons and blowing stuff up needs to feel extremely satisfying. The AI must be challenging but not overly so. We must have big capital ships and ways to engage them. We must have plenty of wingman chatter."

As long as Sol: Exodus has all of that, I for one will be satisfied because I know there's no way to resurrect the love for the first game you played in the genre. Players will always pine for that first feeling of piloting a small ship through space that Elite or Privateer or Wing Commander provided, but the medium must move on. By challenging some of the conventions of the genre, and providing a more epic experience, perhaps Sol: Exodus will be the game that proves space combat sims can still move copies despite the lack of joysticks on computer desks. Then maybe, in two or three years, after publishers come around, we'll see similar games pop up from more established development houses.

If not, then maybe game executives are right and the mainstream space combat sim is truly dead. I'm glad a game designer like Chris Stockman has the courage to test that theory against the odds stacked against him. Kind of like a tiny starfighter up against an Imperial space station.

For more history on space combat sims, check out our Space Sim Timeline.

Greg Tito will stay on target.

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