Space flight simulation

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Vega Strike , a current, free 3D space simulation: a Llama class spaceship docks at a mine base (as of 2008)

The space flight simulation is a computer game genre and a special form of flight simulation in which the player controls a spaceship . In addition to action-packed combat simulations and those that also contain trading and exploration aspects, there are programs that are more realistic and do not require combat. Space flight simulations are to be distinguished from space-based shoot 'em ups , which use a side-scrolling or bird's eye view .


Combat simulation

Space combat simulations include a futuristic simulation of space flight including space battles, as opposed to current and realism space flight simulations of other computer simulations. In such games, the player usually takes control of a small space fighter or a smaller spaceship belonging to a military group. Well-known series and games like Wing Commander , X-Wing , Freespace, and Tachyon: The Fringe all use this approach. Exceptions to this rule, such as the first Independence War and Star Trek: Bridge Commander , rely on larger standards and / or a more strategic orientation of the game principle.

Space combat simulations tend to be mission-based, in contrast to the more open- minded gameplay of trade & combat simulations.

Trade & combat simulation

Screenshot of Oolite , a representative elite clone, graphics and textures, however, higher resolution than the original

The gameplay of space trading & combat simulations , which has changed little since its inception, usually puts the player in the role of a pilot of low rank, with little money and a small armed transport spaceship. The aim of the player is to build a reputation and better equipment through trading, exploration, space battles and other game options. Well-known examples are Elite , Wing Commander: Privateer and Freelancer .

In some games, the plot only plays a subordinate role and at most a loose plot framework is given, as in some games in the X series . Players can ignore or even disable the plot and play in a sandbox mode instead. Many games in this genre place an emphasis on large-scale, multi-party conflict, resulting in many smaller, mission-driven subplots that reveal the tension within the galaxy.

Games of this type often allow the player to choose between several approaches and how they want to play their role. It's a particularly popular aspect of the game. A low or overly restricted freedom of choice, for example due to pre-scripted events, or a freedom of choice that is only superficially implemented are considered points of criticism. Thus, at Freelancer complained that it was in its narrative structure too rigid in one case even negative with Grand Theft Auto compared an acclaimed also for its open gameplay action series.

The core element of all trading and combat simulations is the direct control of a usually armed spaceship, which is navigated from one point in the game world to another for various reasons. Advances in technology made it possible to expand the game principle more and more, for example through a dynamic economic system, cooperative multiplayer mode and realistic flight behavior based on physical specifications, but the core principle remained unchanged over the years. Younger games such as EVE Online have been able to convey the impression of a “living universe” through the simultaneous involvement of thousands of online players - a long-cherished dream since the genre's early days.

Representatives of a special sub-genre of space trading simulations have removed all combat elements and instead concentrate exclusively on trade and economic activities.

Realistic simulations

In addition to the games in the categories mentioned above, there are programs that are more focused on realism and that do without fights. Examples include Orbiter , Microsoft Space Simulator, and the Kerbal Space Program .


Most space flight sims on the PC allow the player to use a combination of WASD - keyboard - and mouse control . Games like Microsoft's Freelancer even use this control system exclusively. The respective game controller is used on game consoles . However, the most popular input device by far among genre lovers has long been the joystick . Although many fans still prefer this input method, its cost and convenience forced many gamers to use a keyboard and mouse combo or, depending on the platform and if supported, a gamepad. The lack of support from the majority of today's games are making the joystick increasingly an anachronism, although some controller designs and simplified control methods give rise to the hope that space simulations could be playable on game consoles at their full capacity again in the future. In fact, X³: Reunion , which is often counted as one of the more bulky and difficult to master space flight simulations, was originally planned for the Xbox , but was later discontinued in favor of the PC version.


Early phase

Elite wasn't the first game to take flight simulators into space. Notable predecessors are Star Raiders (1979), Space Shuttle: A Journey into Space (1982), Rendezvous: A Space Shuttle Simulation (1982), Namco's Space Encounters (1980) and various Sega titles, including the arcade game Space Tactics (1980). Its housing was modeled on a cockpit and while the player aligned a crosshair to fire a laser at opponents, the screen kept moving, creating a realistic 3D effect. Astron Belt (1983) was the first laser disc computer game whose background graphics were reproduced using FMV sequences . Star Trek: Strategic Operations Simulator (1982) already included five different control functions, six enemy types and 40 different game levels, making it one of the most comprehensive vector graphics games ever published.

Other early examples include Taitos Space Seeker from 1981, Nasir Gebelli's 1982 Horizon V for the Apple II , which had one of the earliest radar functions, and Zenith , which allowed players to rotate their ship; Furthermore, Bandais Mech games for the MSX home computer from 1984, on the one hand Gundam: Last Shooting , which had an early form of the cockpit view, and Ginga Hyōryū Vifam , which allowed a free exploration of space from the first person perspective , had a radar , which displayed flight targets and the positions of players and opponents, as well as simulated some early physics effects, such as when the gravitational field of a planet attracted the player's ship.

Modern space flight simulations emerged from the point at which home computers could provide enough computing power to be able to reproduce simple wireframe models in real time. The game Elite is widely regarded as the title that helped the genre to breakthrough and at the same time combined “space trading” with flight simulation. Although there were some forerunners, the elite in particular exerted great influence on later games of the same type. Games with parallels to elite were therefore often referred to as " elite clones".


EVE Online , one of Elite -inspired MMORPG : frigate of Rifter class attacking a battleship of Armageddon-Class (2008)

Elite was released in 1984 and was one of the first games that could come up with a full 3D look. It had a far-reaching influence on numerous developers around the world, also across genre boundaries. In several interviews, the senior producers of CCP Games named Elite as one of the sources of inspiration for their MMORPG EVE Online . CCPs Thorolfur Beck described Elite as the game that captivated him the most in his playing days on the Commodore 64. The developers of Jumpgate Evolution , Battlecruiser 3000AD , Infinity: The Quest for Earth , Hard Truck: Apocalyptic Wars and Flatspace also named Elite as their source of inspiration.

Elite was named one of the 16 most influential games in gaming history at the Games Convention 2007 in the context of the exhibition Telespiele 1972-2007 and was part of the exhibition Game on at the London Science Museum , designed and implemented by the Barbican Art Gallery . In 2000, IGN Elite ranked twelfth in its "Top 25 PC Games of All Time", Times Online ranked third most influential game of all time in 2007, and in 1984 Beebug Magazine named the game the best game of all time for the BBC Micro . Elites successor, Frontier: Elite 2 , 77 of the "101 Best PC Games Ever" the magazine PC Zone appeared on court in 2007. Similar statements and evaluations can coverage be taken regularly.

Elite is one of the titles most frequently requested for a remake , and there are voices that to this day consider it the best game in its genre that newer titles - including its immediate successors - cannot match in quality. It was referred to as the door opener for later persistent online worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft , and as the first true open-end game. To this day, the game , which is only 22 kilobytes in size and delivered on a floppy disk , is considered to be one of the most ambitious games of all time.

External influences

Some tabletop and board games such as Traveler or Merchant of Venus also dealt with topics related to space trading or combat. Traveler influenced the development of Elite (for example, the main character in Traveler is "Jamison", the one from Elite is "Jameson") and Jumpgate Evolution . Trade Wars and TradeWars 2002 were early games for the BBS Door that dealt with trade and combat in space and were influential in their own way.

1985 through the early 1990s

The games released after Elite include The Halley Project (1985), Echelon (1987), and Microsoft Space Simulator (1994) , among others . Star Luster , which appeared in 1985 for NES and arcade machines, allows free space exploration via all six flight axes (forwards / backwards - right / left - up / down), had a cockpit view, a radar with the reproduction of space bases and enemy Units, the ability to quickly navigate to any point on an overview star map via warp , and an internal, continuous calendar function. Kidō Senshi Z-Gundam: Hot Scramble (1986) included space battles from the first person perspective and gave the illusion of free movement across all six axes. Arsys Software's Star Cruiser (1988) for the NEC PC-8801 and Sega Mega Drive , included space battles with real freedom of movement over all six flight axes and in a huge, open space that was represented entirely in polygon graphics; also an automap with the representation of the player position and that of enemies. Namco's StarBlade (1991) is another early example of 3D polygon graphics in a space combat simulation .

High phase: Wing Commander, X-Wing, Freespace

Iconic logo of the very successful Wing Commander series

With the release of the action combat simulation Wing Commander developed by Chris Roberts for Origin Systems , the popularity of the genre reached a peak from 1990. The game's graphics and sound quality exhausted the existing hardware. The film-like staging of the framework with animated cutscenes and a branched mission design, with which the program responded to the player's performance during the flight missions, conveyed the feeling of an interactive story in a believable way. With the demonstration of its technical possibilities, Wing Commander contributed significantly to the success of the PC as a gaming platform, although the game was also ported to numerous other platforms. As a result, Roberts concentrated more and more on the staging of his plot through cutscenes, but also remained a technical trendsetter. The series peaked with the release of the third and fourth parts in 1994 and 1996, for which Roberts worked with FMV sequences and actors on budgets of five and twelve million US dollars, respectively . He hired Star Wars leading actors Mark Hamill , Malcolm McDowell , John Rhys-Davies and Thomas F. Wilson to star in the game. From its first publication in 1990 until the provisional series end of 1998 were in the main sequence of five full-price title with four add-ons and a download campaign, two series spin-off , the two-part, more on the gameplay of Elite -oriented trading simulation Privateer released an animated series and several book novels. In 1999 there was also a live adaptation made by Chris Roberts with Freddie Prinze junior in the lead role.

There was competition in particular to the X-Wing combat simulation developed by LucasArts , which was followed by three further series offshoots with several extensions by 2000. In 1997 Infogrames released the first part of its two-part I-Wars series for PC and Psygnosis brought out the more arcade-heavy Colony Wars for the PlayStation , which was followed by two more parts in 1998 and 2000. In 1998, Volition gained more attention with Conflict: Freespace , published by Interplay Entertainment , and was able to celebrate a commercial success with the title. The successor Freespace 2 , which was released the following year, was unable to build on this success despite very good reviews. The products of other competitors also did not achieve the same commercial success in the following years as they did towards the beginning and middle of the decade.

Decline of the genre

Vega Strike : Llama class ship demonstrates the use of current technical possibilities: Normal mapping on the outer hull (status 2008)

The apparent decline of space flight simulations towards the end of the 1990s was accompanied by the rise of real-time strategy games , first-person shooters and computer role-playing games , triggered by games like Command & Conquer , Doom or Diablo and their respective successors or imitations. The core elements such as open game worlds, complex controls and a high level of attention to detail, which made up the space simulations, were also cited as the main reasons for their decline.

Chris Roberts was able to celebrate a greater success with his trading simulation Freelancer , published in 2003 after a long delay . However, this could not give the genre any decisive impulses, just as little as the action offshoot Starlancer published three years earlier . Nevertheless, some franchises such as the X series and the MMORPG EVE Online were able to establish themselves permanently - partly outside the mainstream market .

In the open source area, FS2 Open and Vega Strike form platforms for non-commercial projects. There are remakes from Elite ( e.g. Oolite ) and Privateer based on the Vega Strike engine, and for Wing Commander based on the Freespace 2 engine.

New projects from 2013

After the surprising financial success of the adventure project Broken Age through crowdfunding in February / March 2012, several projects for space flight simulations also managed to secure a development budget with the help of private supporters. In particular, genre veterans Chris Roberts and David Braben were able to achieve greater attention and sums of money with their Star Citizen and Elite: Dangerous projects at the end of 2012 / beginning of 2013 . Also in 2013, the Kerbal Space Program , which has been in development since 2011, appeared in Steam's Early Access program, in which the game could already be purchased and played by interested parties in its early development phase, which at the same time financed further development. Version 1.0 of the game has been available since March 2015. In 2016, the game No Man's Sky was released, the universe of which is procedurally generated.

Web links

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