Category Archives: Space Combat Simulator

#81: Elite

Format: BBC Micro Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1984 Developer: David Braben/Ian Bell

Our criteria for including games on this list have always been fairly relaxed – the sole thing we insist on is that the game must have made our lives slightly better in some way. In light of this tradition, I’m going to talk about a game that made my life slightly better DESPITE THE FACT THAT I’VE NEVER PLAYED IT.

Of course, Ian has already pushed the boundaries of legitimacy by including a game that he only ever saw advertised in a pub toilet, so perhaps writing about a game I’ve never played won’t boggle your astonishment glands all that much. Although I’m sure the die-hard video game fans among you will be rolling your eyes and shaking your head in disbelief at the fact that I haven’t sampled the delights of a game that’s been variously described as a “milestone in gaming history” (Ian Livingstone, Eidos) and “the first great example of British innovation in video gaming” (Michael Moran, Times Online).

Many’s the time that I’ve thought about scouring t’interweb for some sort of Elite emulator and finally basking in the glory of one of gaming’s great triumphs. But every time I’m about to do it, I’m held back by one incapaciting thought: “What if I think it’s shit?”

I mean, what if I find the game unendurably simple and dull? Surely, in the intervening 26 years since Elite‘s release, the gaming juggernaut has rumbled so far down the highway of progress that I could never hope to be as enthralled or impressed by this seminal game as BBC Micro owners were when it was first unleashed upon the world. Yes, it was one of the first 3D games (if not the first ever 3D game), but that’s not really enough to impress nowadays. I mean, nowdays we can play games by leaping up and down in front of the telly and acting like a tit (you can tell I’ve yet to be won over by Kinect).

But still, Elite has made my life better by the very fact that it exists at all. I’m glad to know that there once existed a race of British bedroom coders who performed astonishing feats of coding inbetween their university studies (the entire 3D world of Elite was made to fit into 22k of memory – about the size of a short email). I’m ecstatic to know that Elite pushed the boundaries of gaming and directly led to open-ended games like Sim City and Grand Theft Auto. I’m positively thrilled that noted historian Benjamin Woolley saw fit to include Elite in his BBC4 programme Games Britannia, thereby placing this humble BBC Micro classic in a direct lineage that began with Medieval dice games.

I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t really need to play Elite to appreciate it – and in fact playing it might actually make me appreciate it less. But I still love hearing about how it altered the perception of computer games forever, showing the world that there was more to games than simple ‘three lives and you’re dead’ arcade shooters.

Elite, we salute you.

And perhaps if David Braben ever gets round to releasing Elite 4, I might actually play it.

Lewis

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Filed under 1984, BBC Micro, David Braben, Ian Bell, Space Combat Simulator

#58: Star Wars Arcade

Format: Coin-Op Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1993 Developer: Sega

For a long time I thought I’d just imagined this game. Whenever I asked people whether they’d played Star Wars Arcade, they always thought I meant the 1983 version, then they’d start going on about how the vector graphics were way ahead of their time and how the digitized voices were amazing, yadda yadda yadda. And I’d just sit there going “No! No! The other one, the one set during Return of the Jedi…” and they’d look at me like I had a screw loose.

But look carefully upon the picture above all ye doubters – it does exist! Thanks to The Internet(TM) I’ve unearthed proof that in 1993, ten years after Atari released the insanely popular Star Wars Arcade, Sega released… Star Wars Arcade. Thus proving that although the game may have been erased from the collective memory of everyone else on the planet, I AM NOT GOING MAD. Phew.

A slightly dark screenshot from the arcade version.

Presumably the game was a massive flop – partly because no-one seems to have ever heard of it and partly because I only ever saw it in one arcade (in Barcelona of all places, seven years after it was released). I only have very vague memories of playing the game, although I remember being impressed by the graphics (considering it was a seven-year-old game) and disappointed about how difficult and expensive it was. It kept me coming back though and, along with Time Crisis 2 and Jambo! Safari (another brilliant but obscure Sega arcade game), it sucked up a goodly percentage of my pesetas.

The Sega 32X version of Star Wars Arcade. Or is it the arcade version? Er...

Apparently Star Wars Arcade was converted to the Sega 32X in 1994, although seeing as only around ten people actually bought a 32X, I’m not surprised that the game has had such little impact on the popular consciousness. I’m almost tempted to get hold of a 32X just to have another go on it, although inevitably I think I’d be disappointed.

Perhaps it’s better just to keep the memory of a frustrating, fleeting and above all fun arcade game that’s been – for better or worse – lost to the world…

Lewis

(Images from The Killer List Of Video Games.)

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Filed under 1993, Coin-Op, Sega, Space Combat Simulator

#50: Colony Wars

Format: Playstation Genre: Space Combat Simulator Released: 1997 Developer: Psygnosis

Plot or story seems to be seen by many developers as the most unimportant aspect of a video game. How many games can you think of with a well thought out, interesting and gripping plot? Cut scenes that you don’t skip but actually enjoy watching? Characters that act in a believable and convincing way considering the environment they are in? Not many is it? Even games which I love like, well, the C&C series or the Resident Evil games… You may enjoy them but the stories don’t really make sense.

Colony Wars Box Art

I’m sure there are others but right now the only game plots I can remember actually enjoying are the first Spider-Man game on the Playstation (a story which could have come straight out of the comics) and the game I’m here to talk about today – Colony Wars.

Now I’m not suggesting Colony Wars had the most original of plots. Indeed the ‘Colonies breaking away from the despotic Earth Empire – it’s like the American War of Independence, but in space’ thing has been done a thousand times. But what Colony Wars did do was invest time in building it’s universe.

The developers had obviously sat down and carefully thought about the look, feel and history of the universe they had created. There was an in game database which went into detail about the Earth Empire, the League of Free Worlds, the spacecraft in the game and the various star systems and worlds that you come across while playing. In fact there were even histories of worlds you didn’t come into contact with. You didn’t need to know any of this information to play, but just having it there helped sell the story. References to the ‘Battle of Bennay’, the colonisation of Alpha Centauri and so on really enriched the playing experience.

She cannae take much more o' this cap'n!

The story also changed depending on how well you did in the game. There wasn’t one path to victory and there were multiple endings, everything from the League being totally crushed by the Earth Empire, to an uneasy truce, to the League conquering Earth. Not only did this offer lots of opportunity for replay, but you felt that your actions were having a tangible impact on this universe.

In terms of game play it was good fun, though could get a bit samey. This is why a good plot helped so much. I was willing to plow through the occasional dull level as I was eager to see the next cut scene! Imagine that.

While playing you would receive various radio transmissions and updates which made you feel part of a larger force.

Colony Wars had two sequels, the first being Colony Wars Vengeance, with player as a pilot for the defeated Earth Empire. Again, a great, a very dark plot with a similar ‘multiple paths/endings’ structure. The last game, Colony Wars Red Sun, was ok. It had some good ideas but it illustrated how important the stories were to the previous games, as Red Sun’s story didn’t work as well (I certainly can’t remember it now).

So yes, an underrated classic in my opinion. And the Emperor of Earth called himself the Tsar. How cool is that?

Ian

P.S. Apologies for the German video below, it’s the only one I could find of in game footage.

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Filed under 1997, Playstation, Psygnosis, Space Combat Simulator