A short post on the Frontier Forums, by Dante80, woke me up to just how rich a vein of space-sim games we have coming over the horizon. Aside from Elite: Dangerous (ED), which I clearly love, and the much vaunted and eagerly-awaited Space Citizen, there are at least 5 other great prospects to engage sci-fi, space-sim, and gaming fans.
I thought I’d take a quick spin through the 6 mentioned by Dante80, giving a brief summary of each, and some links for those who might wish to research further. It’s been great fun following these fruitful leads, and I feel I’m likely to add more detail to this post, or write more detailed posts on each title, as I learn more about each. I would like to represent each game accurately and fairly, so if you think I’ve missed something, or made errors, please let me know and I’ll edit as appropriate.
1. Star Citizen
Genre: First person combat and space trading
The much anticipated space-sim from Chris Roberts and his Roberts Space Industries team. Using a modified version of CryEngine 3, this game is expected to be heavy on both realistic physics and high-end graphics.
No doubt with an eye on marketing and attracting a new, younger cohort to space gaming, and perhaps also to enable a modular launch, the game is really going to be two in one: A ‘branching’ single player game, Squadron 42, and a drop-in multi-player universe.
Squadron 42 is billed as a period of military service, where one first learns the basics of space-flight and combat, and then earns ‘a reputation’ before venturing out into the multi-player game. This single-player game will be released in ‘chapters’ before the launch of the persistent universe.
Few details are know of the persistent Star Citizen universe, other than a plethora of beautiful artwork, perhaps because it does not ‘exist’ as such yet. It is likely that players will not be separated by sharding, and that a complex instancing mechanic will allow for the appearance of involvement in huge battles.
The project is still in Alpha testing, with the Dogfighting (Commander Arena) Module launched on the 4th June. Early backers of the Kickstarter project have been able to buy particular ships, and it has to be said, they do look good!
Roberts has stated a commitment to high-polygon count, fully destructible models, and a hand-crafted world. The few ships that have been glimpsed as functional in-game objects look impressively detailed and skillfully designed. They also look very, very cool. Set against the number of contemporary titles that are leaning heavily on procedural generation he has set the bar high, and many remain unconvinced he will deliver. I and many others, however, are pretty sure he will, and are frankly salivating at the prospect of what could just be one of the most graphically gorgeous games ever made. Whether the narrative(s) and back-story is to taste is a far more personal reaction, and as yet hard to predict.
Known for his previous outstanding works, which include Wing Commander, Starlancer and Freelancer, Roberts broke all Kickstarter records by raising over $6m, and, including further funding, he now has more than $44 invested in the development of Star Citizen.
Roberts and David Braben (of the Elite series and Frontier Developments) clearly have a lot of mutual respect, and a keen interest in each other’s works. Indeed Roberts played the original Elite, back in the 80’s on a BBC micro, whilst living in the UK, and Braben states his aim to play Star Citizen in a 5-part interview involving both ‘fathers of the space-sim.’
- Star Citizen Official Website
- Star Citizen Official Trailer
- Star Citizen Kickstarter Campaign
- Star Citizen Official Forums
- Star Citizen Wiki (Unofficial)
- The 300 Series Ship Advert (Director’s Cut)
2. Limit Theory
Genre: First or third person space exploration and combat
A purely procedurally generated work, that revels in the vast permutations this can bring. It may be much smaller in budget than the bigger names in the space-sim game, but it has very high ambitions.
In many ways it looks like your bog-standard open-world sandbox RPG set in space, and yet it isn’t. The emphasis seems to be more on the rich variety of planets, other celestial bodies, and ships that procedural generation can offer. It’s hard to be too sure of the direction of this game, since really it’s still in Alpha stage, with a version 1.0 and 1.1 patch available to download. From the videos I’ve seen, it also appears to be much more of a third-person experience, akin to the classic EvE Online model, though first person is promised.
Players will also be able to own space stations and planets, once they have amassed enough in-game wealth and power. This, perhaps, offers the opportunity of a kind of large-scale, highly complex, 3-D ‘tower defense style’ game-play element, though I suspect even this description does not really do justice to the potential. Part of the difficulty in predicting the game-play experience is also due to the game’s aim to allow the player to create a personal story in his or her Limit Theory universe(s).
The hard-core procedural ethic carries through into NPC behaviour too, with them being persistent and having to develop their own wealth and power over time. It is said that players will be able to ‘friend’ individual NPC’s, if, one assumes, the NPC agrees!
Development seems to be pretty much a ‘one man show’, with the man in question being Josh Parnell. He refers to ‘we’ on his website, however, so clearly he is not doing everything himself. His original Kickstarter Campaign, launched in December 2012, aimed for $50k, but ended at $188k pledged. Clearly, there is more space for more space in the games industry! Josh has stated that raising $200k would mean planetary landings, walking in ship interiors and multi-player, so these appear to be on the cards too.
The mutli-player dimension is an interesting prospect. If I play Limit Theory alone, my universe will be different to yours, right? That’s the beauty of this implementation of procedural generation. Each time you start a new game, you enter a fresh, and different, universe. If, however, I want you to join me in my universe, that’s no problem. I just tell you the seed, (the number I used to generate my universe), and you can immediately generate the same universe as me, log in and join me.
I really like Josh’s enthusiasm and drive to create a quite ridiculously massive range of parallel universes for exploration by such a small number of sapient animals, living on one planet, in one star system amongst a galaxy composed of billions of stars, itself amongst billions of other galaxies. Yes, that’s us… humans. That one person can create many ‘universes’ to explore, chart, compare and enjoy, is wonderful. That we would want to explore them, seems both utterly natural, and hugely bonkers.
In the end, the success of this game will, in my opinion, rest squarely on the quality of the algorithms, and the base parts/textures/shapes and other components that the algorithms draw together in complex relationships. Can this game deliver a rich and wondrous experience that engages beyond the few hours of ¨ooh that’s amazing!” initial reactions? If mining, trade and combat are to be keystones, will this be at the expense of the, much more difficult to pull off, alien life-forms, technological developments, cityscapes and biodiversity that could also be developed procedurally?
A cult Indie game that has its moment in the sun(s), or an evolving rich, multitude of universes? I, for one, will be watching and playing.
- Limit Theory Kickstarter Campaign
- Limit Theory Official Website
- Limit Theory Wikia
- Limit Theory Development Update # 16
3. No Man’s Sky
Genre: first person exploration and combat
Another title that will try to push the boundaries of procedural generation. Although cockpit view space combat is clearly a key component to this game, the striking differences are the graphical design and the emphasis on biodiversity and terrain through procedural generation. Each world will have its own ecosystem, which may include deep oceans, deserts, forests, and radically different life-forms. The trailer, for example, features under-water scenes, a beautiful beach, and giant snake-like beasts scything through and below a desert, (more than somewhat reminiscent of Herbert’s Dune).
Developed by Hellogames, a 4 person team based in the UK, the emphasis is on exploration. Players will not be able to play together online or interact directly, though their actions will affect the shared-universe. On discovery of a previously unknown planet, for example, a player may choose to keep the discovery secret, or announce it to the universe and try to reap the benefits of trade or suffer invasion, or watch the planet’s biodiversity ruined by mass exploitation. I’m kinda guessing here, and this analysis is largely based on a very funny video from IGN Rewind Theater which riffs on a close inspection of the trailer.
Aside from looking stupendously professional, it also is jaw-droppingly beautiful. This is very definitely a science-fiction work that pays a huge homage to the style and colours of 50’s and 60’s sci-fi graphics, whilst managing to work in many, many other references to later sci-fi. Its animation style is thoughtful and rich, with signs of wear and tear present on ships, subtle fog and cloud effects, and rippling winds stirring vegetation. The trailer shows worlds that look too much like works of art to be procedurally generated, but then again, if the algorithms are beautiful and the base components well designed, perhaps it really could be this good!
Hellogames are aiming at a simple console-style control scheme, to give an easy ‘pick up and play’ experience. There will not, however, be much guidance on how to proceed or what to do, as the player is expected to explore and discover for him or herself. I can see this game being a huge hit, and it makes sense to release it to consoles. It looks like the kind of game both adults and kids will love, and you never know, they might even play it together.
I found it hard to glean much more information about this game, which may not be surprising, considering the game was first shown at VGX in December, last year.
I want this game to happen. It looks like a really cool blend of Buck Rogers, Star Wars, Star Trek, all drawn with a modern take on a Hanna-Barbera-esque aesthetic. That might sound like a really narrow target audience, but really, watch the trailer and tell me you don’t want it too!
- No Man’s Sky Official Website (not much there right now)
- CVG Review of No Man’s Sky
- No Man’s Sky Official Trailer
4. Enemy Starfighter
Genre: first person space combat
Another space combat game, this time with the emphasis fully on the combat. There’s no blurb about procedural generation, (though its in there, for each generation of a ‘mission’), choosing your narrative, or exploration. This is a combat and battle strategy game, pure and simple, with both first person ship piloting and fleet control. Like No Man’s Sky, however, what hits you first is the graphics. This is another game that is so sweet on the eye it almost makes me cry. Starkly minimal, to an almost Bauhausian degree, it still manages to meld a subtle use of rich colours and an intelligently cartoony style.
Many commentators have likened the look to Homeworld, though I think it has something more through its use of less detail. Even more commentators have eulogized about the quality of the dog-fighting in the one playable demo, released to the press a few weeks ago. Particularly, it has been said that combat does not seem repetitive, nor easy to predict. Developer Mike Tipol has designed the game very much with the Oculus Rift in mind, and as such we can expect a very immersive and immediate feel to the combat, (if we can afford an Oculus Rift).
Although I don’t know whether this game will be joystick friendly, it’s certainly very game-pad friendly, and appears to have a short learning-curve in terms of getting into the first person combat. I particularly like the augmentation of long range battle with a close up view of one’s target on a screen placed in the center of the ship’s dash. This is a neat and simple way to overcome the often met limitation of space-sims, where a lot of time can be spent staring and shooting at nothing more than labelled dots.
The game is being developed for PC, Mac and Linux, though no release date has been announced.
- Enemy Starfighter Official Website
- Enemy Starfighter Trailer (March 2014)
- Game-play video of early release press-demo (by Space Game Junkie)
- PCGamesn review of Enemy Starfighter
Genre: First person real-time strategy
Want to captain a huge deep-space, massively armoured spaceship? Want to command a fleet of ships in grand strategic battles? If so, this is the game for you. Not only can you do all this, but you can do it from a first person perspective, standing on the bridge of your ship, planning tactics on the interactive war-table, or wandering around the huge caverns and rabbit-warren-like corridors of your ship.
This is another game that is still in its very early stages, after only about 18 months of development. Graphics are somewhat crude and place-holders abound, but the vision is clear. Built from the ground up to support the Oculus Rift and using the Unity engine the game is also looking to involve virtual controllers, such as the Sixsense STEM (wireless motion controller), though a more conventional mouse and keyboard control option is likely to be maintained.
The universe will be ‘generated’ using a mix of procedural generation and crafted components. Some star-systems will be tailor made for the game, for example. Crew members will be AI, and the focus will be largely on strategy, despite the first person perspective. Exploration and diplomacy will feature alongside more aggressive approaches. Exploration does not seem likely to occur in an open sand-box type universe, however, with “discrete linear stories” being a key feature.
Though the developers are toying with the idea of being able to ‘jump’ from the command ship into the pilot’s seat of a fighter, they do not see this as the focus of their game. (Source: Spacegamejunkie).
Another game that’s so early on in it’s development that first impressions may not tell the whole story or may lead to mistaken assumptions. Clearly developed by a team that love both their sci-fi and their strategy games, I’m going to be trying my hand at commanding my own inter-planetary warship, for sure!
6. EvE Valkyrie
Genre: First person spaceship arena shooter
Now, EvE is something I know about, and I know this is a major departure from their stock-in-trade. Valkyrie is no point-and-click open sandbox game. This is a World of Tanks in space type affair. OK, slick hype is heavy with this planned release, but information is thin on the ground, however, the official Website’s description of the game as “Intense team-based multi-player dogfights,” pretty much stamps the description on the tin.
There is very little demo game-play available to watch, and I am unclear whether this is because little has been developed, or because the game has recently been announced as an Oculus Rift and Playstation 4 exclusive. Add to this the fact that Facebook are aiming to acquire Oculus Rift and the need to wow the press with early Alpha builds somewhat evaporates. Whether there actually is much of a game as yet is probably moot, as this game will be released. If Facebook have the Oculus Rift, then budgetary worries may also not be much of an issue.
My heart wants to love this game, because I love EvE, but my gut says I won’t. I’m too old to get more than few minutes enjoyment out of online arena style frenetic button-spamming shooters, and this release looks like it will be about as far away from the original ethos of EvE Online as one could get. This is not about the crazy fluctuations of a complex and totally open market, not about huge alliances, small corporations and sole players sneaking their way through alliance owned space. This is not deep skill-tree planning, nor complex loadout balancing. Carefully planning a warp disruption bubble position for half an hour is not where this is at. This is launch your slightly upgraded fighter, all-guns blazing, shout at your buddies on TeamSpeak, die in 2 minutes, probably re-spawn (a guess), and rinse and repeat about every 5 to 10 minutes.
Don’t get me wrong. It could be great! The team at EvE know how to make things look amazing. They know space-sims. This game, if well implemented, could bring a whole new generation of gamers into the rich and fascinating world of space-sims many of us already love. Maybe some will graduate to EvE online. Maybe a few will even get past losing all their money to fraud, ganking, or the many wrong moves EvE Online offers. Some might even go off on their own journey to learn more about space and the universe we all occupy a very small part of. Most will simply enjoy the, probably, gloriously dazzling 3-D light show this game beams through their Oculus Rift to their over-stimulated eyeballs.
I kinda wish I had the energy and the reaction times to join those that will love this game, but then again a cup of tea would be nice. I’ll just park behind this asteroid and put the kettle on, while you watch my ship. No, I can’t? You’ve dropped me from the group ‘cos you needed me to rush the enemy beacon. That’s OK, there’s more than enough wonderful new space-sim games coming into view. We can all find our own universes.
You go your way and I’ll go mine. Chances are, we’ll share the same universe one day, if only for an instant.
- EvE Valkyrie official website
- EvE Valkyrie reveal trailer (August 2013)
- EvE Valkyrie – GDC 2014 Gameplay Trailer
- Polygon review of EvE Valkyrie
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