54: Lost in the Void

The Unfortunate Trajectory of the Space Sim Game"I was raised on science-fiction as much as science fact. My imagination populated the cold, sterile universe depicted by that poster on my bedroom wall with exotic alien races and epic conflicts. Yet I look at the science-fiction games of today and I can't help but feel saddened." Adam LaMosca's Lost in the Void traces the decline of the space sim.

Lost in the Void

It seems that Bioware is attempting to tap into some of that space sim mystique in the upcoming RPG Mass Effect. I have no idea what the mechanics of space exploration will be like--probably nothing like the old school sims--but it's at least an indication that glimmerings of this genre are still alive in the mainstream.

There actually is a new Space Sim that was recently released in Germany.
It's name is "Darkstar One" and i think it will soon be released in the USA, too.
Its quite a nice game and also offers Joystick-support - but sadly without Force-Feedback.
They call it "Space Action Adventure with Roleplaying Elements" on their official website (darkstarone.com) but actually in terms of gameplay its a space-sim.

Nice article, but completely emits the greatest current space sim and arguably the best MMORPG ever - Eve Online. Surely the spiritual successor to Elite.

Agreed, forgetting to mention Eve Online in this article is forgetting to mention the Halflife series when talking about FPS's... Eve Online is a beautiful blending of all that has come before, the perfection of its craft.

Why mention EVE when the whole structure of the magazine leads up to EVE anyway? Whether it was implied or not, EVE is the pretty much the sole champion for the genre, and doing wery well because of it.

- Z

Eve wasn't mentioned because it is not a space sim in the classical sense.
You can't compare Oblivion's gameplay to WoW. In one you have to aim with your mouse and then click with the right timing to attack, in the other you click on the enemy WITH YOUR CURSOR and everything happens automatically. Same thing with X-Wing and Eve. Can't compare them in terms of Gameplay. One is about hand-eye coordination, the other is about tactically using and skilling the right things.
But there actually is one (quite popular) game the author forgot:
Starlancer.

ulix:
Eve wasn't mentioned because it is not a space sim in the classical sense.
You can't compare Oblivion's gameplay to WoW. In one you have to aim with your mouse and then click with the right timing to attack, in the other you click on the enemy WITH YOUR CURSOR and everything happens automatically. Same thing with X-Wing and Eve. Can't compare them in terms of Gameplay. One is about hand-eye coordination, the other is about tactically using and skilling the right things.
But there actually is one (quite popular) game the author forgot:
Starlancer.

There are all sorts of games that could have been mentioned, but I think the article is asking where the genre is heading - if anywhere. The answer is perhaps being provided by EVE. It needn't have been mentioned though since it bookends the magazine. The answer is therefore implied, imho.

- Z

In response to "Lost in the Void";
Elite was great and I clearly remember how "Wing Commander" impressed me: The scale, the details (shield impacts anyone?) and the cutscenes and .. and ...

The Starwars games was a similar winner set in a very familiar setting and it too was great, but I cant believe that "Freespace" and its sequel didnt get mentioned! Shame on you Adam!

These games seized me like very, VERY few other games have. Absolutely MASSIVE capital ships, beautiful models, astonishing graphics, both simple and efficient controls - plus a great story with a lot of raw nerve in it! Not to mention smooth and efficient multiplayer options. And the sequel followed up so smoothly with more of everything! I bought an expensive DVD-ROM for the single purpose of playing this game!

Why there isnt more fans of this game out there still amazes me. Until EVE Online came along, there really was just one Ace out there - Freespace.

EDIT: Aaahh - shame on me instead! :) You _did_ mention them! I guess it just shows how the article really grabbed for me not to notice that.

A comprehensive history of the space sim was beyond the scope of this article, and there's no shortage of titles that could have been included here but weren't, for various reasons. I elected not to discuss Eve Online, for example, because its gameplay elements and flight controls are arguably those of an MMORPG, rather than a space sim proper.

I did mention Freespace and Freespace II, though--both classic space sim games, the latter being one of the most critically acclaimed examples of the genre. Check the article. ;-)

Thanks for your comments!

It's great to see that some of the work that our team did when I was just starting out in the game industry is still being remembered and people are still passionate about space sims (and FS2 in particular).

I was lucky enough to have worked on the sequel to Freespace, Freespace 2, as a 3D ship designer/interface artist (some of those massive cap ships were my favorites to create) and I have to say it has to be one of my best experiences being in the industry since then. It was great working from such an inspired mythos and the groundwork that was laid out from the first game.

Believe me, most of my colleages I worked with on that title, who are still at Volition or moved on, would love to see the space-sim revived and maybe the series extended for the next generation in both console or PC.

Here's to hoping that someday Volition (and THQ) can. :)

Oh man. I'm a young'un by many standards (20, bah) but I still got nostalgic from this. So sue me :P I remember watching my best friend's older brother play... Free...space? Freelancer? It was a Freesomething game. There was this absolutely massive ship that jumped into the mission, vaporized all of my (his) allies, and then just jumped out. That was just epic.

I need to find my copy of TIE Fighter...

ulix:
Eve wasn't mentioned because it is not a space sim in the classical sense.
You can't compare Oblivion's gameplay to WoW. In one you have to aim with your mouse and then click with the right timing to attack, in the other you click on the enemy WITH YOUR CURSOR and everything happens automatically. Same thing with X-Wing and Eve. Can't compare them in terms of Gameplay.

Yes! This is the reason I'm 60+ hours into Oblivion right now, but had to set down WOW (in disgust) after 5. Oblivion successfully combines the all the story elements of an RPG with the skill elements of a FPS. A space sim combining the skill requirement of a FreeSpace with the RPG and social elements of Eve would be fantastic. I'm sick to death of games that equate "virtual skill" directly to time investment. Skill is skill.

If I can plot a tactical hyperspace jump directly into the orbit of a small moon better than those AI or player controlled galactic patrol ships, I should reap the delicious smuggler rewards regardless of whether I've been playing the game for a few months or a few hours :)

Nice article! I want to comment on the following:

"In 1998, Volition released Descent: Freespace and followed up with a sequel, Freespace II, in 1999. The Freespace titles featured streamlined interfaces and plenty of eye candy, including the spectacle of capital ships multiple kilometers in length."

The Freespace games were truly great, but they weren't the first to feature enormous capital ships. In 1997 X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter: Balance of Power featured the 8km long Super Star Destroyer, as well as numerous large stations and platforms.

Hi all,

As an absolute spacesims fan since I first inserted the Elite 5'1/4 disk into my father's Apple II, I've played to almost any game in the genre and to me the best still remains Frontier.

On my SpaceSims forum I've got short review of nearly 30 "space-sims", or connected games. I agree with you all in that the perfect successor to Frontier (the best of the Elite series in my opinion) is still to find...

Another recent candidate which might be of interest : Star Wolves 2. It features some RPG elements and an Homeworld-like tactical interface, and focuses on a mercenary squadron, but seems to be less story-oriented than the first Star Wolves, which was already quite free-form.

Also, a gem in the trails of Elite : Hardwar. Same concept but athmospheric in he city of Misplaced Optimism, remnant of a once prosperous mining colony. A great athmosphere and the most faithful to Elite's free-form genre, as you can completely ignore the story if you want. And for those who got a Palm, try Space Trader. It's Elite minus piloting, another gem...

See you soon for other space sim talk ^-^

@+

Benoît 'Mutos' ROBIN
http://spacesims.hoshikaze.net

Good article for the most part, but I have to say I'm appalled and frankly disgusted at the omission of one of the greatest space sims of all time, that being Tachyon: The Fringe. It's relevant for inclusion in this article due to being a recent (post-2000) addition to the space sim genre, having stunningly-rendered visuals including artistic space vistas, and offering a free/open world in which you can take any course through the game you choose, including via combat and/or trade. In my personal opinion, it was a much better game than Freelancer, and definitely merits mention here.

 

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