Why space-sims need to be revived


 There's nothing like space camaraderie.
  If there’s something in the gaming world to get all riled up about it should be, without question, the total abandonment of the space-sim genre. Taking a look back, Freespace, Wing Commander, and TIE Fighter are all notable, successful titles that did their fair share to optimize contemporary gaming. Why then, has no one successfully sought a return to this glorious form? 
 

In a world where gunmetal grey and post-apocalyptic settings are taken and reused without a second thought, it apparently hasn’t occurred to anyone that reviving this genre could lead to a much needed creative burst throughout the industry. Sure, there’ve been games here and there that employ space exploration and combat, but it’s been nothing too serious. The Colony Wars trilogy created a successful feel on the Playstation, but the wind was quickly taken out of its sails in Red Sun. EVE online remains successful, but it’s a highly involved MMO and not something as accessible as any of the aforementioned games. Honestly it’s quite baffling when you think about it.

 Playing on the side of the Imperials was awesome.

There have been plenty of titles that take place in space, but it’s not the same as playing in it. Mass Effect does an excellent job at exploratory devices in the black, but you’re not actually piloting a hunk of expensive, sleek looking material; and that’s a big difference. Having your own personal fighter means you’ve got the ability to cut and mold it to your liking with the magical properties of space-travel to boot. For example, being able to turn 360 degrees in any direction allows for free-form maneuverability, thus allowing you to shake bogies and missiles in a plethora of ways.  Altering speed, hitting a turn just at the right moment to get that perfect missile trajectory, your fighter is a piece of you and it’s all in how you utilize it. The closest you can probably get to a quality space-sim, believe it or not, is located in the vast skies of Ace Combat. Impossibly over-sized bosses, intense dog-fights, and more missiles than any third-world country could amass make it feel exciting, albeit for a game taking place within the confines of gravity.

 There was a time when this was revolutionary.

Customization isn’t a new thing, but aerial/space combat games are the only ones that allow total freedom in movement. So allowing you the opportunity to customize individual play styles furthers my bewilderment as to why these games are so few and far between. More so than that, combat scenarios, such as in Wing Commander, ramp up to insane levels and allow you to go about it in your own way. The feeling you get as your convoy is ambushed is absolutely nothing like the emotion you’d receive in present day games. Do you take down the capital ship and in turn leave your freighters open to attack? Or perhaps you take its engines offline and simply move away from the assault as you and your wingmen mop up the surrounding fighters. Present day games treat these scenarios as trivial and forgettable, which is what sets games like Wing Commander apart from the rest.


Constant use of a setting that’s churned out successful games isn’t going to disappear, but the industry must explore different settings if it’s to become more of an exciting place. Space-sims are definitely one of the most neglected genres and that’s probably because developers/publishers feel the market isn’t grasping for them. They’d be right, but with a single break-out hit a forgotten genre can bloom into a successful one. Just look at what Red Dead Redemption did for the western. It’s just further proof that unique, compelling, and absurdly fun games are waiting beneath the dusty shelves of the past. What just a little polish could bestow unto unsuspecting gamers.
 

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38 Comments
39 Comments
Posted by infestedandy

 There's nothing like space camaraderie.
  If there’s something in the gaming world to get all riled up about it should be, without question, the total abandonment of the space-sim genre. Taking a look back, Freespace, Wing Commander, and TIE Fighter are all notable, successful titles that did their fair share to optimize contemporary gaming. Why then, has no one successfully sought a return to this glorious form? 
 

In a world where gunmetal grey and post-apocalyptic settings are taken and reused without a second thought, it apparently hasn’t occurred to anyone that reviving this genre could lead to a much needed creative burst throughout the industry. Sure, there’ve been games here and there that employ space exploration and combat, but it’s been nothing too serious. The Colony Wars trilogy created a successful feel on the Playstation, but the wind was quickly taken out of its sails in Red Sun. EVE online remains successful, but it’s a highly involved MMO and not something as accessible as any of the aforementioned games. Honestly it’s quite baffling when you think about it.

 Playing on the side of the Imperials was awesome.

There have been plenty of titles that take place in space, but it’s not the same as playing in it. Mass Effect does an excellent job at exploratory devices in the black, but you’re not actually piloting a hunk of expensive, sleek looking material; and that’s a big difference. Having your own personal fighter means you’ve got the ability to cut and mold it to your liking with the magical properties of space-travel to boot. For example, being able to turn 360 degrees in any direction allows for free-form maneuverability, thus allowing you to shake bogies and missiles in a plethora of ways.  Altering speed, hitting a turn just at the right moment to get that perfect missile trajectory, your fighter is a piece of you and it’s all in how you utilize it. The closest you can probably get to a quality space-sim, believe it or not, is located in the vast skies of Ace Combat. Impossibly over-sized bosses, intense dog-fights, and more missiles than any third-world country could amass make it feel exciting, albeit for a game taking place within the confines of gravity.

 There was a time when this was revolutionary.

Customization isn’t a new thing, but aerial/space combat games are the only ones that allow total freedom in movement. So allowing you the opportunity to customize individual play styles furthers my bewilderment as to why these games are so few and far between. More so than that, combat scenarios, such as in Wing Commander, ramp up to insane levels and allow you to go about it in your own way. The feeling you get as your convoy is ambushed is absolutely nothing like the emotion you’d receive in present day games. Do you take down the capital ship and in turn leave your freighters open to attack? Or perhaps you take its engines offline and simply move away from the assault as you and your wingmen mop up the surrounding fighters. Present day games treat these scenarios as trivial and forgettable, which is what sets games like Wing Commander apart from the rest.


Constant use of a setting that’s churned out successful games isn’t going to disappear, but the industry must explore different settings if it’s to become more of an exciting place. Space-sims are definitely one of the most neglected genres and that’s probably because developers/publishers feel the market isn’t grasping for them. They’d be right, but with a single break-out hit a forgotten genre can bloom into a successful one. Just look at what Red Dead Redemption did for the western. It’s just further proof that unique, compelling, and absurdly fun games are waiting beneath the dusty shelves of the past. What just a little polish could bestow unto unsuspecting gamers.
 

Enjoyed the article? Follow me on Twitter!

Posted by Godzilla_Sushi

So what are your thoughts on Sins of a Solar Empire?
 
Not a space sim, but an opinion I'd like to hear!

Posted by AgentJ

Huh, you're right. There hasn't really been much like that for quite a while, even if you consider the Rogue Squadron Franchise.

Posted by KamiDaHobo

Have you checked out the X series? X3: Terran Conflict and X2: Gold are fantastic, "hard sci-fi" sims. Trading, piloting, piracy, politics, the works. They're a very acquired taste, but it's a great alternative to the classics you already listed.

Posted by ryanwho
@Godzilla_Sushi said:
" So what are your thoughts on Sins of a Solar Empire?  Not a space sim, but an opinion I'd like to hear! "
My brain couldn't handle that game.
Posted by Jadeskye
@KamiDaHobo: I tried SOOO hard to get into X3, even bought X3:TC when it came out and tried another 20 or 30 hours of that. 
 
There is something incredible there but i just can't get over the learning curve.
Posted by KamiDaHobo
@jadeskye:  Yeah, the curve is crazy-steep, but I'll never forget how I felt when I chased down my first successful bounty without much assistance. For my more casual play, though, thank god GoG has Freespace 1 and 2: I love those games to death.
Edited by Jadeskye
@KamiDaHobo: i just never figured out how i'm supposed to take on a whole fleet of dudes alone. 
 
oh and how to build stations :p
Posted by Ferginator4k

Id be up for more Space Sims.

Posted by Diamond

I've been saying it on forums for years but yea we definitely need space sims to make a return.  And I don't mean janky, half broken Eastern European developed ones.  We need to get some top tier developers working on them.  And why not?  It's one of the most ignored gaming genres today.  The sheer originality of making a quality space sim / shooter would guarantee major sales.
 
I'm not in favor of any super complicated ones though.  Tie Fighter was complex enough, but even a game that recreated the quality of Wing Commander with up to date visuals would be wildly welcome to me.

Posted by yani

   I think the last space sim I played was Freelancer(?).  Really love the genre but EVE seems to be all that is left.  While I'm sure EVE is cool, I don't have the time for some insanely deep MMO with a massive learning curve.  I've thought about checking out X3, but that seems to be a little heavy on the economy side for me, I like to shoot stuff.

Posted by infestedandy

Technology is definitely one of the factors that, I think, have been holding something like this back. Yes, TIE Fighter and Wing Commander did a great job with limited tech, but if you're talking about online, competitive play where milliseconds count, that's a tough one to do. Ace Combat did a pretty lackluster job with its online play, but they had the right idea. I just hope we get more games in this genre instead of the MMO projects like Jumpgate Evolution and Black Prophecy. They look great but they're MMOs and that's NOT the same.
 
@Godzilla_Sushi:
A friend of mine actually just gave this to me. I have yet to fire it up since time doesn't seem to be on my side lately. I've heard nothing but great things about it though. I have played Homeworld and Homeworld 2 if that helps any. Both were pretty great games, very involving, but as a three-dimensional RTS it's not the same as controlling your own ship.

Posted by Shirogane

For now, the X games are the closest you'll get. They're pretty good, after you've learnt how to do stuff. Saving often is also a good idea, cause death is permanent, and lots of weird random stuff that results in your death, or loss of heaps of money, happens often. 
 
Wonder if Rockstar will ever get around to making a space-sim? They've done open world in the present with GTA, a western open world game with RDR, maybe next they'll look to the future? I doubt it though.
Edited by august

Games used to cost a lot less to make, pc gaming was mainstream and a significant portion of the public was willing to invest in a flightstick to get the full experience. 
 
I don't see those days or the space sim ever coming back, unfortunately.

Edited by masterpaperlink

This makes me depressed about freelancer 2. One thing i have noticed is that space sim's age surprisingly well.

Dammit i just ruined my morning by looking up some pre-rendered footage of freelancer 2. 

Posted by crusader8463

I don't like twitch fighting Space Sims, but give me a space sim with ship controls like in Sins of a Solar Empire, Nexus: The Jupiter Incident or even EVE Online, and I will play it for years. I would love to have seen the space battles in Empire At War be extracted into a larger scale game, with more upgradeable space stations and tech trees. Those are the kinds of Space Sims I LOVE!

Posted by Khann

Mass Effect + X3 = *orgasm*

Posted by c1337us

I haven't even thought about a space sim in ages. I could play one.

Posted by PenguinDust

I found this on the web.  It's a PC game released in 2008 (well, an updated version of a 2006 game actually).    I don't know anything about the game, but it shows that someone somewhere is still looking at the genre.  I wonder how terrestrial flight sims are doing these days.  I know that Tom Clancy's HAWX did well enough to warrant a sequel, but I'm not sure if games like IL-2 Sturmovik and Blazing Angels broke even.  If there is no money in flight sims then developers might be hesitant to create space flight sims unless they are attached to recognizable properties and LucasArts hasn't done anything with the X-Wing/Tie Fighter series in a decade.
Galactic Command – Echo Squad SE    

Posted by FirePrince

I want FreeSpace 3."Sadface"
Posted by JB16

I could never get into space sims because I always had two pet peeves.
 
1: I couldn't walk around inside my ship and see the crew, parts, etc.
 
2: I couldn't get out and walk around any of the planets or space-stations I visited.

Posted by mosdl
@JB16 said:
" I could never get into space sims because I always had two pet peeves.  1: I couldn't walk around inside my ship and see the crew, parts, etc.  2: I couldn't get out and walk around any of the planets or space-stations I visited. "
Wing Commander had some of that - you could talk to the crew, etc.
 
It seems Mass Effect-like rpg with space flight is what people want.
 
Someone call Lucas and ask for XWing RPG
Posted by evanbrau

You are right. Freespace 2 is the best game ever. More games like that would be massively appreciated, I find that the X series has the learning curve of running into a brick wall and it doesn't have the same ability to tell a story like the closed off mission structured games such as Freespace or TIE Fighter. If space-sims did make a big return I'd prefer to see something more like Freespace than some modern Elite that's too intimidating for a large number of people to get into.

Posted by JokerSmilez

Unfortunately, the game industry needs to shown that this genre is still viable. Look at adventure games. They stopped being made because they weren't selling anymore and by the hard work of some talented developers, they slowing built up the reputation of the genre again. And with the re-release of old classics like the Secret of Monkey Island SE, it really gave the genre a boost.
 
Same goes for fighting games, which have also seen a recent boost.
 
I think if they did something like re-release X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter for the XBLA, PSN and Steam, or something like that we might see a resurgence. But the reality is the majority of people who buy games nowadays didn't play those classic space sims back in the day, so no realistic amount of the the game buying demographic are asking for it.

Posted by Mono_Listo

Total Annihilation
 
times five

Posted by ShaneDev

I would love to see the return of the space-sim from more well known developers that could make a good and polished one.  
 
If you haven't played it yet I suggest Independence War 2: Edge Of Chaos, its a decent looking single player space combat sim with some trading and weapon creation as well, it was a great game that few people seem to remember. Their was nothing like waiting at ungoverned  L points for freighters to jump through and then steal their cargo and get your pal to lift it and sell it back at your base. It was meant to come to consoles aswell but only ended up on PC, I wonder how well it would have done on consoles.  

Posted by infestedandy
@ShaneDev:  Thank you for the suggestion. I've never heard of this game  and I think I'll check it out!
 
@evanbrau:  What you say is true. If Space-Sims are to make a successful return, they need not be overcomplicated. I love my puzzles and head-scratching moments as much as the other guy, but creating something much like Freespace, TIE Fighter, or Wing Commander Prophecy is the way to go.
 
Saying that, I'd have to say that Wing Commander Prophecy is my favorite space-sim. Sure there's a ton of cheesy live-action scenes, but I loved it. I especially loved the interaction between crew members and the radio chatter on missions. Maestro, he was such a badass.
 
The best though was when I got my copy of Wing Commander Prophecy: Secret Ops. I got it as a bonus disc, but I guess they made it available for download before the company died off. The missions took you from fighting with the Midway to the Cerberus, a smaller but still awesome ship. Story-wise it wasn't as great, but I honestly didn't care about that as the gameplay and wingmen made it.
Posted by Astras
@KamiDaHobo said:
" Have you checked out the X series? X3: Terran Conflict and X2: Gold are fantastic, "hard sci-fi" sims. Trading, piloting, piracy, politics, the works. They're a very acquired taste, but it's a great alternative to the classics you already listed. "
exactly what I was thinking, awesome games... if you can get past the learning curve. Or EVE online is immense also
Posted by Dizazter

No mention of Freelancer? My favorite space sim game of all times!

Posted by Schmollian

You should check out Evochron: Mercenary. Very cool downloadable space sim. Its completely free form. You can explore, trade, fight, and everything else you would expect in a space sim. It also takes a pretty interesting (and challenging) approach to combat using its "newtonian physics". Also dynamic planet descents are fun. 
 
Costs $30 but there is also a demo you can check out.

Edited by Pinworm45

No. Space sims are terrible, like X3. I do, however, really want a space game that is more twitch based with a good story. Something like Mass Effect 3 in ships.  
 
I want to fly around and blow shit up without having to deal with Space Spreadsheets like they all make you. I played 3 simultaneous eve accounts for over a year, I'm done with that. 
 
Edit: Check out Infinity Online as well. It'll never be released, but the tech vids are worth a few orgasmloads of potential. 
   

Posted by KimChi4U

I think that Lucasarts need to take a long hard look at the crap that they've been spewing out labelled with a Star Wars logo and think about reviving their space sim stuff. I remember spending hours playing those games and it makes me sick to think about any of the crap that they've tried to put out recently.  About the only think that I can think of that was good was the lego game. 
 
So, hey, Lucasarts. Here's a freebie. Why not make a Lego Xwing vs Tiefighter game?  You could give players that awesome space sim game with lots of customization options (it's lego, duh) and people might actually give a shit because the Star Wars license alone isn't enough to sell a game anymore.

Posted by Tim_the_Corsair

Hopefully we'll get a reboot by Lucasarts and be playing 'The X-Wing' soon, followed by 'The TIE Fighter', etc.
 
I LIVED for space sims back in the day, particularly the Lucas Arts portfolio. I spent years mucking around with mods for X-Wing: Alliance, using a hex editor to insert my own ships into the game via a tonne of user-created models, and playing turn-based campaigns using an external program that modified the skirmish mode in the game.  Nothing more satisfying than managing to take on a squad of TIE Defenders with my ragtag pirate fleet of R-41 Starchasers, T-Wings, and Z-95 Headhunters.  
 
Fuck it, I'm reinstalling and digging out my old Sidewinder.

Posted by A_Cute_Squirtle

What was the first picture of? That looks awesome to play. 

Edited by onarum

  I would love a Freelancer 2, I know that for most space sim fans it was too much arcadey but still I enjoyed the eff out of that game.
 

@PenguinDust

said:

" I found this on the web.  It's a PC game released in 2008 (well, an updated version of a 2006 game actually).    I don't know anything about the game, but it shows that someone somewhere is still looking at the genre.  I wonder how terrestrial flight sims are doing these days.  I know that Tom Clancy's HAWX did well enough to warrant a sequel, but I'm not sure if games like IL-2 Sturmovik and Blazing Angels broke even.  If there is no money in flight sims then developers might be hesitant to create space flight sims unless they are attached to recognizable properties and LucasArts hasn't done anything with the X-Wing/Tie Fighter series in a decade.
Galactic Command – Echo Squad SE    

"
Oh that's by the same guy that did the Battlecruiser and universal combat games.... believe me it's not worth checking out, they're terrible.
 
Also this thread made me go to GOG and buy freespace 2, never played it before :P
Posted by infestedandy
@A_Cute_Squirtle:  The first picture is a shot from Wing Commander Prophecy and its expansion Secret Ops. Man, was that ever so fun to play. I'm hoping they eventually get a release over on GOG.com or Steam.
Posted by tourgen

I love them but I don't know if we'll ever see a big budget space sim.  Too complex, too difficult for a lot of people to navigate in 3D.  People complained about being disorientated in the zero-G sequences in Dead Space.  That's going to be far worse for them in an open 3D environment with fewer visual cues.
 
I'd personally love to see a Frontier/Elite game made for the modern age.  like Eve Online but with real exploration and you know, fun.

Edited by onarum
@Skar220 said:

" You should check out Evochron: Mercenary. Very cool downloadable space sim. Its completely free form. You can explore, trade, fight, and everything else you would expect in a space sim. It also takes a pretty interesting (and challenging) approach to combat using its "newtonian physics". Also dynamic planet descents are fun.  Costs $30 but there is also a demo you can check out. "

That looks fantastic, downloading the trial now, that's why I love indie devs so much.
Posted by Sin4profit
@PenguinDust: Derek Smart's gonna fuck up yer soda pop machine.