Space flight simulator game

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For simulating the outer space environment, see Space simulator.
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Simulation video games

A space flight simulator game is a genre of flight simulator video games that lets players experience space flight. Examples of true simulators which aim at piloting a space craft in a manner that conforms with the laws of nature include Orbiter and Microsoft Space Simulator.

Other games involving space flight in 3D space, without restricting movement to a physics system and realistic behaviour, are also commonly called "space flight simulators". They aren't simulators in the strictest sense of the word. These games do differ from space-based arcade oriented shoot 'em up games that use side-scrolling or top-down perspectives. When the genre appeared in the early 1980s, the use of 3D graphics and 1st person perspective, with the player viewing out of the cockpit, gave a sense of realism. This the designation of space flight simulators, even though a better name for these games would be "pseudo simulators" or "space flight games". Most space combat simulators and space trading simulators can be placed in the "pseudo space flight simulator" category.

Space flight games and simulators, at one time popular, had for most of the new millennium been considered a "dead" genre.[1][2][3][4][5] However, open-source and enthusiast communities managed to produce some working, modern titles (see the free Orbiter Spaceflight Simulator), and 2011's commercially releasedKerbal Space Program was notably well-received, even by the aerospace community.[6]

Some games in the genre have the aim of recreating a realistic portrayal of space flight, involving the calculation of orbits within a more complete physics simulation than pseudo space flight simulators. Others focus on gameplay rather than simulating space flight in all its facets. The realism of the latter games is limited to what the game designer deems to be appropriate for the gameplay, instead of focusing on the realism of moving the spacecraft in space. Some "flight models" use a physics system based on Newtonian physics, but these are usually limited to manoeuvring the craft in its direct environment, and do not take into consideration the orbital calculations that would make such a game a simulator. Most of the pseudo simulators feature faster than light travel, a feat not possible according to the physics we know of today.

Sub-genres[edit]

Realistic simulation[edit]

Orbiter recreation of a launch using an add-on that recreates the Mercury-Atlas 6 mission.

Realistic space simulators seek to represent a vessel's behaviour under the influence of the Laws of Physics.

As such, the player normally concentrates on following checklists or planning tasks. Piloting is generally limited to dockings, landings or orbital maneuvers. The reward for the player is on mastering real or realistic spacecraft, celestial mechanics and astronautics.

Classical games with this approach include Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space (1982), Rendezvous: A Space Shuttle Simulation (1982),[7] The Halley Project (1985), Shuttle (1992) and Microsoft Space Simulator (1994).

If we include the simulation criteria to include decision making and planning, then Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space (1992) is also notable for historical accuracy and detail. On this game the player takes the role of Administrator of NASA or Head of the Soviet Space Program with the ultimate goal of being the first side to conduct a successful manned moon landing.

Most recently Orbiter and Space Shuttle Mission 2007 provide more elaborate simulations, with realistic 3D virtual cockpits and external views.

Kerbal Space Program can be considered a space simulator, even though it portrays an imaginary universe with tweaked physics, masses and distances to enhance gameplay. Nevertheless, the physics and rocked design principles are much more realistic than on the space combat or trading sub-genres.

Space combat game[edit]

Strike Suit Zero is a space flight combat game released in 2013.

Most games in the space combat[8] genre feature futuristic scenarios involving space flight and extra planetary combat. Such games generally place the player into the controls of a small starfighter or smaller starship in a military force of similar and larger spaceships and don't take into account the physics of space flight, usually often citing some technological advancement to explain the lack thereof. The prominent Wing Commander, Tachyon: The Fringe, X-Wing and Freespace series all use this approach. Exceptions include the first Independence War and the Star Trek: Bridge Commander series, which model craft at a larger scale and/or in a more strategic fashion. It should be noted that I-War also features Newtonian style physics for the behaviour of the space craft, but not orbital mechanics.

Space combat games tend to be mission-based, as opposed to the more open-ended nature of space trading and combat games.

Space trading and combat game[edit]

The general formula for the space trading and combat game,[9][10][11][12] which has changed little since its genesis, is for the player to begin in a relatively small, outdated ship (that said, the ship the player controls is generally larger than that in pure space combat simulator) with little money or status and for the player to work his way up, gaining in status and power through trading, exploration, combat or a mix of different methods.[13][14][15] Notable examples include Elite, Wing Commander: Privateer, and Freelancer.

In some instances, plot plays only a limited role and only a loose narrative framework tends to be provided (in certain titles of the X series, for instance, players may ignore the plot for as long as they wish and are even given the option to disable the plot completely and instead play in "sandbox" mode[13]) -- but many games of this genre place a strong emphasis on factional conflict, leading to many small mission-driven subplots that unravel the tensions of the galaxy.

Games of this type often allow the player to choose among multiple roles to play and multiple paths to victory. This aspect of the genre is very popular, but some people have complained that, in some titles, the leeway given to the player too often is only superficial, and that, in reality, the roles offered to players are very similar, and open-ended play too frequently restricted by scripted sequences.[13] As an example, Freelancer has been criticised for being too rigid in its narrative structure,[14][16] being in one case compared negatively with Grand Theft Auto,[16] another series praised for its open-ended play.[17]

All space trading and combat games feature the core gameplay elements of directly controlling the flight of some sort of space vessel, generally armed, and of navigating from one area to another for a variety of reasons. As technology has improved it has been possible to implement a number of extensions to gameplay, such as dynamic economies, cooperative online play, Overall, the core gameplay mechanics of the genre have changed little over the years.

Some recent games, for instance EVE Online, have expanded the scope of the experience by including thousands of simultaneous online players in what is sometimes referred to as a "living universe"[13][18][19][20]—a dream some have held (though maybe not in EVE's exact format) since the genre's early beginnings.[21] Star Citizen, a title in open, crowd-funded development by Chris Roberts and others involved in Freelancer and Wing Commander, aims to bridge the gap between the EVE-like living universe game and the fast action of other games in the genre. It remains to be seen whether the game will succeed.

An additional sub-class of space trading games eliminate combat entirely, focusing instead entirely on trading and economic manipulation in order to achieve success.

Control systems[edit]

Space flight games[edit]

Most modern space flight games on the personal computer allow a player to utilise a combination of the WASD keys of the keyboard and mouse as a means of controlling the game (games such as Microsoft's Freelancer use this control system exclusively[16]). By far the most popular control system among genre enthusiasts, however, is the joystick.[4] Most fans prefer to use this input method whenever possible,[16] but expense and practicality mean that many are forced to use the keyboard and mouse combination (or gamepad if such is the case). The lack of uptake among the majority of modern gamers has also made joysticks a sort of an anachronism, though some new controller designs[4] and simplification of controls offer the promise that space sims may be playable in their full capacity on gaming consoles at some time in the future.[4] In fact, X3: Reunion, sometimes considered one of the more cumbersome and difficult series of to master within the trading and combat genre,[22][23] was initially planned for the Xbox but later cancelled.[24]

Realistic simulators[edit]

Realistic simulators feature spacecraft systems and instrument simulation, using a combination of extensive keyboard shortcuts and mouse clicks on virtual instrument panels. Most of the maneuvers and operations consist of setting certain systems into the desired configuration, or in setting autopilots. Real time hands on piloting can happen, depending on the simulated spacecraft. For example, it's common to use a joystick analog control to land a space shuttle (or any other spaceplane) or the LEM (or similar landers). Dockings can be performed more precisely using the numerical keypad. Overall, the simulations have more complex control systems than game, with the limit being the phisical reproduction of the actual simulated spacecraft (see SimPit ).

History[edit]

Early attempts at 3D space simulation date back as far as 1974's Spasim, an online multi-player space simulator in which players attempt to destroy each other's ships.

The earliest known true space trader dates to 1974's Star Trader, a BASIC program that included a star map with multiple ports buying and selling 6 commodities.

From the Star Trader documentation:

"IT IS THE FUTURE. Interstellar space ships link the small community of newly discovered worlds. YOU captain two merchant ships with the future of the young, emergent worlds depending upon you and your fellow skippers. You land and you liftoff, you buy local merchandise and sell what you have on board. You trade with the merchants and haggle over prices. Bid too high? Try a little lower. Bid too low? Try again next time!

You buy your raw materials (like Uranium and Metals) on the less developed, newer star systems. With a full ship, you lift off and return to Class I or Class II star systems. There you sell out and load up on goods such as Heavy Equipment, or Medicine. Then out to the periphery for another haul."[25]

The modern space flight game genre emerged at the point when home computers became sufficiently powerful to draw basic wireframe graphics in real-time.[15] The game Elite is widely considered to be the breakthrough game of the genre,[15][19][26][27] and as having successfully melded the "space trading" and flight sim genres.[7] Elite was highly influential upon later games of its type, although it did have some precursors, and games similar to Elite are sometimes called "Elite-clones".[28][29][30][31]

Elite[edit]

Main article: Elite (video game)
Elite, released in 1984, was one of the first home PC titles to feature fully three-dimensional graphics.[32]

Elite has made a lasting impression on developers, worldwide, extending even into different genres. In interviews, senior producers of CCP Games cited Elite as one of the inspirations for their acclaimed MMORPG, EVE Online.[27][33][34] Thorolfur Beck credits Elite as the game that impacted him most on the Commodore 64.[27] Developers of Jumpgate Evolution, Battlecruiser 3000AD, Infinity: The Quest for Earth, Hard Truck: Apocalyptic Wars and Flatspace likewise all claim Elite as a source of inspiration.[26][35][36][37][38]

Elite was named one of the sixteen most influential games in history at Telespiele, a German technology and games trade show,[39] and is being exhibited at such places as the London Science Museum in the "Game On" exhibition organized and toured by the Barbican Art Gallery.[40] Elite was also named #12 on IGN's 2000 "Top 25 PC Games of All Time" list,[41] the #3 most influential video game ever by the Times Online in 2007,[42] and "best game ever" for the BBC Micro by Beebug Magazine in 1984.[43] Elite's sequel, Frontier: Elite II, was named #77 on PC Zone's "101 Best PC Games Ever" list in 2007.[44] Similar praise has been bestowed elsewhere in the media from time to time.[45][46][47][48][49]

Elite is one of the most popularly requested games to be remade,[23] and some argue that it is still the best example of the genre to date, with more recent titles—including its sequel—not rising up to its level.[14][15][18][19] It has been credited as opening the door for future online persistent worlds, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft,[42] and as being the first truly open-ended game.[17][50] It is to this day one of the most ambitious games ever made, residing in only 22 kilobytes of memory and on a single floppy disk.[18] The latest incarnation of the franchise, titled Elite: Dangerous is due for release in late 2014, following a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Trade Wars[edit]

Main article: Trade Wars
TradeWars, a descendent of Star Trader (1974), was released in 1984. It was the first multiplayer space trader. Shown is a portion of an ASCII sector map from an early version of TradeWars.

Though not as well known as Elite, Trade Wars is noteworthy as the first multiplayer space trader. A BBS door, Trade Wars was released in 1984[51] as an entirely different branch of the space trader tree, having been inspired by Hunt the Wumpus, the board game Risk, and the original space trader, Star Trader. As a pure space trader, Trade Wars lacked any space flight simulator elements, instead featuring abstract Open World trading and combat set in an outer space populated by both real and NPC opponents. It was influential in its own right,[52] with modern space traders like Star Citizen, Jumpgate, and Earth and Beyond[53] citing it as an inspiration, and other games like EVE Online and Pardus frequently compared to it.[54] In 2009, it was named the #10 best PC game by PC World Magazine.[55]

Trade Wars has shown an extraordinary reach and longevity. As of 2013, nearly 30 years after its original release, multiplayer Trade Wars games have been hosted on over 20,000 sites in 59 different countries, with hundreds of game sites hosting thousands of players in 2012.[56]

Other examples[edit]

Elite was not the first game to take flight game mechanics into outer space. Other notable earlier examples include Star Raiders (1979), Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space (1982), Rendezvous: A Space Shuttle Simulation (1982),[7] and Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator (1982),[57] which featured five different controls to learn, six different enemies, and 40 different simulation levels of play, making it one of the most elaborate vector games ever released.[58] Other early examples include Nasir Gebelli's 1982 Apple II computer games Horizon V which featured an early radar mechanic and Zenith which allowed the player ship to rotate,[59][60] and Ginga Hyoryu Vifam, which allowed first-person open space exploration with a radar displaying the destination and player/enemy positions as well as an early physics engine where approaching a planet's gravitational field pulls the player towards it.[61] Following Elite were games such as The Halley Project (1985), Echelon (1987) and Microsoft Space Simulator (1994). Star Luster, released for the NES console and arcades in 1985, featured a cockpit view, a radar displaying enemy and base locations, the ability to warp anywhere, and a date system keeping track of the current date.[62][63][64]

Some tabletop and board games, such as Traveller or Merchant of Venus, also feature themes of space combat and trade. Traveller influenced the development of Elite (the main character in Traveller is named "Jamison"; the main character in Elite is named "Jameson") and Jumpgate Evolution.[26][65]

Decline[edit]

Vega Strike an actual space flight simulator game: a Llama class ship docks on a mine base (2008)

The seeming decline of the space flight simulators and games in the late '90s coincided with the rise of the RTS, FPS and RPG game genres, with such examples as Warcraft, Doom and Diablo.[4] The very things that made these games classics, such as their open-endedness, complex controls and attention to detail, have been cited as reasons for this decline.[4][5]

Resurgence[edit]

Some recent franchises such as the X series[4] and EVE Online, may end a decade in which no new title of the genre was published. The open source community has also been active, with recent projects such as FS2 Open and Vega Strike serving as platforms for nonprofessional efforts.[5] Remakes of Elite[citation needed] and Privateer[66] are even being made using the Vega Strike engine, and the latter reached the stage it is offered as a working title to the public.

In November 2012 Star Citizen set a new record for crowdfunding. It has managed to raise more than $47 Million as of June 2014.[67] Elite: Dangerous was also successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter in November and December 2012. Born Ready Games also closed a successful Kickstarter campaign at the end of 2012 raising almost $180,000 to assist with the completion of Strike Suit Zero which was released January 2013.

On March 10, 2013, the space flight simulator Kerbal Space Program reached the top 5 best selling games after its release on Steam.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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