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Overview 

A spaceship can be of nearly any construction, shape or purpose. Depending on the type of game, spaceships can be the central quest hub for players or just function as a classy way to get around. Space Simulation games go a step further and make the ship the central part of the gameplay experience.

Gameplay

Exploration 

Freelancing in space
In the words of Douglas Adams, Space is big. And you'll need a fast spaceship to get around. However, the way you navigate varies drastically from one genre to another. Games like Knights of the Old Republic let players browse through a galaxy mini-map while on the ship and directly jump from planet to planet with absolutely no real time control of the actual vehicle. Simulation games like FreeSpace 2 let players take direct control of the ship with full yaw, pitch and roll rotations. Strategy games like Sins of the Solar Empire achieve something like a middle ground by providing real time control of spaceships with a more accessible  point and click control scheme.
 

Space Combat

Another common use of spaceships is in space battles. Action oriented games like the Star Wars: X-Wing series put players directly in control of smaller, more maneuverable space fighters like the titular X-Wing in a full 3D space. Real time strategy games approach combat on a much larger scale and give players control over several ships at the same time and the gameplay emphasis is more on the proper management of resources and tactical play. 
 
The Galaga model restricts ship movement to only the X-axis in a top-down 2D space. Another classic 2D system is seen in Ikaruga where players can move their ship along both the X and Y axis and the gameplay combines fast paced action with puzzle solving elements. The key mechanic here is that players can switch the polarity of their ship to either absorb incoming fire or deal extra damage to the enemies.
 

As a Location

A place to call home
Some games let you explore the insides of your ship and make it a location in itself. In the Mass Effect series, the Normandy serves as the central quest hub and lets the player interact with it's crew. In addition, it also functions as a research lab and a way to upgrade your playable character. In Star Trek Online, players have access to just the bridge section of their ship. System Shock 2 went the full distance and set the entire game inside the Von Braun. Dead Space follows a similar trend, as players explore the derelict USG Ishimura.

Notable Spaceships & their Science

Given the size of space, most science fiction franchises explain space travel using technology that allows faster-than-light travel. The following list provides a brief explanation of how this is achieved within each franchise with a few notable examples.
 

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