I-War is a space simulation action game developed by Particle Systems Ltd. and published in Europe in 1997 by Infogrames. The game was released a year later in North America under the name "Independence War" because of a trademark conflict with an Atari Jaguar game. The game was lauded for its deep and engrossing gameplay and story but suffered from sluggish pacing and punishing difficulty.
Players in command a large corvette class ship called the Dreadnought through a series of branching missions. Early missions highlight the simulation aspects of the game by assigning players mundane piloting, like docking and scanning. The majority of the missions involve navigating to a waypoint, engaging in combat, and returning to base.
The Dreadnought is larger and more complex then the fighters featured in most space sim games. Players must jump between four bridge stations to access all the ship's functions, although basic navigation and combat controls are always available. The command station provides access to missions, as well as remote control of other ships or remote controlled missiles (REMS). The weapons station gives the player an external camera view and enables a rapid fire mode. The engineering station allows players to redistribute power and enables emergency venting of overheated coolant into space (this is a last resort, as the ship quickly overheats without coolant). The navigation station is for piloting the ship when precision is required, such as manually docking.
Unlike most space sims, Independence War uses a realistic model for inertia and acceleration. Thrust is only required to accelerate; when the thrust is turned off, the ship will retain its velocity in a straight line indefinitely. Simply rotating the ship (via small thrusters) does not affect speed or direction, thurst must be applied to change course.
The physics model creates two major consequences for the combat:
- Because there is no drag, ships can have very high velocities, relative to one another.
- Without aerodynamics, traditional Dog fighting is impossible. Ships my freely rotate regardless of velocity.
Combat in Independence War is demanding, requiring the players to balance location, momentum, shield orientation, ship energy, and heat.
- The Dreadnought has two "shields", one on the top and one on the bottom. Each shield can block the fire of a single enemy ship, but they do not cover the main thrusters at rear of the vessel. When engaging multiple enemies, the player should attempt to orient the Dreadnought so that both shields are used.
- There are two types of armaments: particle weapons and missiles. Firing Particle weapons drains the ships energy (which quickly regenerates) and creates heat, but are otherwise limitless. Particle weapons are the only practical way to drain enemy shields. Once an enemy's shields are down, missiles will quickly destroy them.
- Due to the limitations of the shields, taking damage is inevitable. The auto repair system can handle minor damage, given time, but cannot repair destroyed subsystems. Players must either win encounters quickly or retreat to give their systems a chance to recover.
- Firing particle weapons generates heat, which is difficult to expel in a vacuum. Continuously firing will lead to a system shutdown, leaving the ship defenseless. It is not uncommon for all ships in an encounter be disabled at the same time, some from damage, some from heat.
In-game Science and Technology
Independence War's use of realistic physics for its flight model raises several issues. How is interplanetary, let alone interstellar, travel possible? Even at velocities near the speed of light, intersteller travel would be impractical. The energy required to accelerate to near light speeds would require a ship made almost entirely out of fuel. At those speeds, the effects of special relativity would become apparent, resulting in less time to passing for travelers than those who remain on planets and bases.
Independence War addresses these issues by with two fictional phenomena:
The first phenomena is the basis for the LDS drive: Ships can cause their location to shift a tiny amount (millimeters) without accelerating. By running this drive at a high frequency ships can traverse interplanetary distances without speeding up or slowing down, removing the need for large amounts of fuel and preventing the side effects of special relativity. Ships can approach the speed of light using the LDS drive, but can not pass it. This makes travel within, but not between, solar systems practical.
The second phenomena is the basis interstellar travel: A ship can leave our universe, forming a small bubble universe around itself, and re-emerge at a difference point. In this way, faster than light travel is possible without violating special relativity's restriction on accelerating an object beyond the speed of light. The exit and entry points from out universe must be Lagrange Points, points in space where local gravity is balanced out. These points become important intersection for both trade and conflict within the game's universe. The range of travel is not infinite, but the range is not explicitly stated in the game or manual.
A large amount of technical detail was also applied to other aspects of the game's universe:
The player's ship is powered by a particle accelerator ring, leading to the distinct flat, round shape of the craft. The particle stream is used for both thrust and particle weapon systems.
Electricity is generated by impacting the streams unto a fictional, super dense material called neutronium. The name suggests this is a form of neutron based matter, similar to the ultra dense matter found in neutron stars in the real world. In the game's fiction, neutronum is a valuable resource mined from asteroids.
The ship shields work on the same principle as the LDS drive, but instead of displacing matter for transport the shields rip matter into a shower of constituent charged particles. These particles are then deflected around the ship by a magnetic field. These shields are very effective against missiles, but can be overwhelmed by continuous particle weapon fire. The shields can also be used for "ramming" by displacing large sections of the other vessel without actual contact between hulls.