Thursday, September 26, 2013

Space Sims are Not Dead - by Kyle Johannessen

Space Sims Aren't Dead.

I gaze upon my new energy cell factory, orbiting a very remote system that holds only a meat processing plant. The factory is the only one of its kind within five systems, so my cells are going at a premium price to all the other traders and factories in the quadrant. My freighter captains are well paid and well protected, I’m far away from any bounty hunters looking to cash in on the price on my head, and I’ve just traded in my trusty medium freighter for my first capital ship, armed to the teeth. Life is good. Suddenly, one of my freighter captains sends an SOS. Turns out he went off his shipping lane after hearing some news of a better deal for my energy cells at an unscouted trade port. The guy was trying to get his boss a better deal, he ended up getting attacked by a band of pirates. It will take too long for me to get to him using the jump gates so I punch in the coordinates in my hyperdrive and jump to him. When I get there, his fighter escorts have already abandoned him (guess I should have paid them better) and the only thing keeping his cargo safe is a lowly turret on the back of his ship. This is one of the largest pirate squadrons I’ve seen in a very long time, and I would have been no match for them in my medium freighter. My capital ship, however, makes very short work of the brigands, and I escort my freighter to the trade port. As soon as I do THAT, I get another SOS from my factory. They are being attacked by an “unknown force.” I already know what that means, so I jump back to my factory, hoping that the enemy will not be in large numbers. What I see in front of me is far greater than my worst fears. It’s a Kaa’ak mother ship. I swear to myself and go down fighting. My new capital ship, and my factory, is completely destroyed within minutes of the fight starting.
This is what happened the last time I played X3. Which was a while ago, because damn it, it had been forever since I had saved when all that went down and I was just too depressed to pick it back up. I bring it up because a few weeks ago, Ender wrote a love letter to Tie Fighter where he called it the “grand daddy of space sims.” He also said space sims were dead, and I, very respectfully, disagree. First, the grand daddy of space sims was Elite (Vector graphics for the win!), and second, Space Sims aren’t dead. Not only are there still great space sims still out there (if you know where to look) but there are some coming upon the horizon that I think will blow some minds. Let’s start with X3.


The X series has been an amazing little bit of Space Sim that has been going strong for the better part of a decade now. It’s still graphically beautiful, the game play is top notch, and the universe is massive. There is a story mode (the weakest part of the game if you ask me and I still have not completed it), but the real joy of the game comes from exploring uncharted systems, building a vast trading empire, and blowing the hell out of pirates and aliens. X3 has released three expansion packs in the last few years, adding to the depth of the game play and making its HUGE universe even bigger. It can take a really long time to earn enough money for a big ship, big weapons, and a factory of your own, and you can feel really outmatched by just about everything in the beginning of the game, but if you stick with it you can have yourself an amazing space adventure. X4 is coming out late next year, but you can get the whole X3 set for about $30 bucks including the expansion packs on Steam. Go check it out!


Being on this website, I would hope you would know about the wonderful Battlestar Galactica series that Sci-Fi ran for a few years. Diaspora is a free mod for Freespace 2 (a classic space combat game that came LONG after Tie Fighter) with updated HD visuals, a new story mode, and lots of Cylon killing fun. The voice acting is pretty piss poor, and the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense but the graphics are amazing for a fan made mod, and the combat is tight and responsive. And let me tell you that getting shot out of that tube in your very own Viper is really a great experience. You don’t even need Freespace 2 to play, just grab a joystick and join the fight against the toasters and save humanity!

Star Citizen

Here is the big elephant in the room. Star Citizen looks to bring the space combat sim back to the hardcore PC gamer. Which means we’ll all need to update our graphics cards.  It looks like the investment will be worth it, because Star Citizen, even in its test footage, looks AMAZING. Chris Roberts, the guy behind Wing Commander and Privateer, wants to make the most intense and ambitious space sim ever created.  Not only can you play an expansive single player story mode, but you can seamlessly abandon that single player campaign and join the huge online universe. You’ll be able to customize your ships, land on planets (which is amazing) and walk around in cities on these planets or roam the barren wastes of moons and space rocks  (again, seamlessly) in first person mode, and just wander the space between stars and see what kind of trouble you can get into. It’s like a AAA X game, but with a little more focus on combat. And I believe it’s currently broken just about every Kickstarter record there is.

So there you have it. We don’t need a new X-wing or Tie Fighter game (though I complain if one got made) to get our space combat sim fix. There are plenty out there right now or coming soon to satisfy those zero g combat urges. Star Citizen has me very excited, as well as a new entry into the X system. I picked a hell of a time in my life to cut back on the video games! So pick one of these titles up and you’ll see me amongst the stars! Unless I see you first, because then I’m probably going to blow you away and steal all your stuff. Because that’s how I roll.

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