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Re: Elite and other space games.

by Alex Connolly » Sat Jan 03, 2015 12:50 pm

Red, I salvaged a hideously old post from a defunct blog of mine via the Wayback Machine, just for you. It was on Home Planet, a Russki space dogfighter title. Excuse the lack of formatting, spell-checking and grotesquely purple prose. I was young, eager and obviously hadn't had my brevity injection yet.

Like any Eastern Euro at the time, I snagged a cracked Russian copy from a Tortugan port and muddled my way through, fending off all the bugs and Cyrillic as best I could.

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The space dogfighter genre, whatever people feel comfortable calling it, has been a quiet one on the surface since the turn of the century. From the days of LucasArts and Origin ruling with titles like X-Wing, Tie-Fighter, Wing Commander and Privateer, to the last great bastions of the Descent: Freespace franchise, gamers have often lamented the lack of support the genre has received in recent years. But if one cares to look below the surface, a number of small development studios – primarily European – have been tending the fires of the the space shooter genre in the absence of the aforementioned franchises. One of these development houses was Revolt Games, a now-defunct Moscow-based studio who released a game based on a proprietary space opera of epic proportions known as Home Planet.

It is worth noting before the discussion of Home Planet begins that, while the genre has had less impact than it had during its heyday during the Nineties, it is still undeniably prevalent. The intergalactic commerce and combat massively-multiplayer online game EVE Online is one of the biggest games of its ilk, earning its right as a successful online game next to the fantasy juggernaut World of Warcraft. A more action-oriented approach to the multiplayer space game is in the pipeline, the soon to be released Jumpgate Evolution, a combat-focused title of ship-to-ship battles in hard vacuum. The alleged saviour successor to the revered Elite trader-combat simulator of yore, Freelancer, was one of the last big releases for the genre, with distant cousins of the subset trader-combat games thriving in the niche X trilogy and their expansions.

Since the dawn of the genre, mythology has been paramount in the popularity of specific space simulator franchises. The LucasArts space fighter games had the immense weight and impact of the StarWars license behind them, but in themselves provided a solid atmosphere where the player felt part of a greater story. Unlike the first-person shooter genre, space games rarely place the player in a position of feeling like a one-man army. They excel at putting the odds against the player; the enemy vastly outnumbering friendly forces in battle, or – as was the case in Digital Anvil’s Starlancer – stealing into vast enemy shipyards disguised as a friendly vessel to wreak havoc. At the other end of spectrum, the space simulator can utilise the vast expanse and beauty of the void; simply conducting patrols or flying to the next system amidst the glow of gaseous nebula and the shimmering of celestial phenomenon can be an awe-inspiring experience. In games that offer a simulated real-time environment with non-player characters moving around at their will, such as Freelancer, the X games and the new Evochron Legends, simply being part of and moving within space populated by the bustle of space-lane traffic becomes an ever-increasing reason players enjoy the genre.

What made Home Planet an attractive piece of space fighter entertainment was the style it struck. There was a certain level of forlornness that the title purveyed; a melancholic deep space opera. The story was reminiscent of the Homeworld strategy titles, whereby a group of Troidan exiles sought to find a new planet after being ousted from their former place in the solar system by their Klouto peers. It featured an open environment in which the player could choose who they flew and worked for, comparable to a Freelancer style of game play. Home Planet featured a solid Newtonian physics model for space-flight; an option to switch on and off the inertial stabilisers meant all the joys and hazards of incredible acceleration and skidding turns and manoeuvres over hundreds of kilometres could be experienced.

The game was more technical than most titles in the genre, placing a high priority on the use of electronics and countermeasures, while conveying the massive acceleration fighters travel at in regards to the encounters between combatants. Rather than the blunt-force trauma of overwhelming numbers of fighters, a more tactical approach was taken with the importance of dedicated radio-electronic warfare vessels. These craft were responsible for not only providing relays between capital ships and anti-fighter jamming, but also for the player to command fleet actions via a strategic interface. The player could also command wingmen from the cockpit of their fighter in the more conventional ways seen in a variety of other entries in the genre. The speed at which combat was undertaken was blisteringly fast. Enemy fighters appeared on the heads-up display as mere radar signatures, before rapidly tearing past the player’s field of view. Home Planet featured a thorough zoom toggle, so the player could magnify their sight to kilometres away. The entire experience felt fresh and exciting.

The tragedy of Home Planet is triple-barrelled. The only release outside of Mother Russia was in the form of a beta-phase demo, available here and highly recommended. An international version was planned, but scrapped possibly out of publisher financial instability. Home Planet was released in Russia, along with an expansion pack known as Playing With Fire, combined for a final release as Home Planet Gold. The developer sadly went out of business, with the publisher, Russobit-M, holding the rights to the game with no word of a re-release or international version.

Regardless, the demo is a brilliant taste of the full release, with a mournful soundtrack and all-Russian vocal tracks over an entire English interface. The voice modulation for the wingman increases the feeling of confined cockpits and the cold darkness, mixed with a vast yet tastefully restrained visual aesthetic. There seems to be a brilliant coalescing of the stereotypical despondent nature of Russian science fiction, such as Alexander Zorich’s The Tomorrow War – itself the basis for a game of the same name to be released in March, 2009 – and the dark void of space. Home Planet, while possibly never to be released in full in Western territories – is a perfect case in point.

However, gamers should not despair. European developers are keeping the genre alive and well, with many of them available on GamersGate. Titles like Arvoch Conflict, Evochron Renegades and the aforementioned Evochron Legends, along with Paradox-published efforts such as the Tarr Chronicles, can satisfy a longing for the genre. It begs the question of whether the space fighter simulator genre has really been as long-suffering as people make it out to be. With smaller development houses producing space opera as beautiful as Home Planet, there does not seem to be anything amiss.

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This was written well before the return of things like Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen, so all we could do was replay Freespace or tickle fancy with Euro dogfighters. Kinda funny to re-read all these years on.
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Re: Elite and other space games.

by RedSwirl » Sun Jan 04, 2015 1:39 am

To be fair, Eastern Europe is kindling the fire of basically everything North America left behind on PC.

Anyway, in general right now I'm just taken aback by how strategic and cerebral games like these are, including Freespace. I kind of expected like, pew pew, but in space. Sort of like Descent 1, or Fury3, Terminal Velocity, Hellbender, or even Rogue Squadron II on the Gamecube. I didn't expect all these squad tactics and handling your ship's systems like some kind of engineer.
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Re: Elite and other space games.

by A.I Impaired » Tue Jan 20, 2015 11:24 pm

Angry Jedi wrote:I'll throw in a vote for Freelancer, too, which some people described as "the Diablo of space trading games" and I'd actually sort of concur with. It's very arcadey in terms of combat, but it's a lot of fun, has a lot to do and an interesting story (with some great voice actors) to enjoy along the way, too.

Also, an emphatic yes for Freespace 2.


Just for the curio I picked up Freelancer again, and then proceeded to jump into one of its 2 buzzingly active mods. The games multiplayer it seems still has a sizeable dedicated following, though only accessible via said mods. I have heard good things about both the 'discovery mod' and 'crossfire' mod. Went with crossfire, though both seem like very ambitious and awesome additions.

The games original state looks a bit aged. Comparable directly to KOTOR in terms of graphics. Its mainly the low res textures and lack of widescreen support that keep it in the past. Luckily mods have addressed some of these issues, though characters will continue to look a cartoony no matter what.

The gameplay holds up extremely well though. You don't really have to memorize keyboard commands to get things done, alot of the things you need are easily accessible through the interface. Certainly a good entry point for people interested in this specific genre.
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Re: Elite and other space games.

by Bowley » Thu Feb 05, 2015 7:18 pm

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Star Wars: Rebellion, the deepest space strategy game, with the most tedious UI experience, that you never played is now on GoG.com.

Beneath a shitty looking exterior, even moreso now than when it was originally released, lies the heart of Empire Strikes back: The Strategy Game (and Return of the Jedi if you make it that far). Taking place after the destruction of the original Death Star, you play as either the newly confident, but still disparate Rebel Alliance, or the impossibly strong Galactic Empire, licking its wounds, but ready to marshal all of it's resources to stamp down Luke and co. forever.

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As you take stock of your current situation, you will need to quickly consolidate what you have, grow your manufacturing infrastructure and defenses, and recruit a bevy of original trilogy (e.g. Lando, Boba Fett) and extended fiction characters (e.g. Thrawn) to form the backbone of your workforce. Who you send on a mission matters, and who you send to be decoys on that mission also matters. Characters need to be sent away on missions leading your fleets, researching new technologies in the arms race, keeping a system secure, secretly gathering intelligence, performing sabotage, abducting enemy personnel (assassination, if you're the Empire), inciting revolts or gaining popular support on one of a multitude of planets.

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Every planet is a battleground. Support for your cause will sway depending on you and your enemy's actions. Defeat the opposing fleet and you will gain support. Wipe out an occupying force with no collateral damage and you'll gain even more. Everyone loves a winner. Diplomats are your key weapon here. If you lose too often, devote too few diplomats, or show too much brute force, could have you watching an entire system of planets domino into the enemy's hands. This includes too much overt use of the Death Star (yes) to obliterate entire planets. It turns out that nobody in the galaxy will love you for using that, but fear, FEAR will keep systems in line. Its mere presence is often enough, especially when you park it outside a wishy-washy planet. It's also a massive sitting duck that requires a lot of defense, so you better keep your eyes and ears open.

"He who knows when he can fight, and when he cannot, will be victorious." - Sun Tzu

The answer is intelligence. Information is key in Rebellion. Accurate intel will keep your precious Death Star alive. Up to date intel will allow you to put Boba Fett behind bars, or Lord Vader, or Mon Mothma, but you better bring a skilled team, and an army, and you better have the right INTEL. Careful sending Luke against Vader, just sayin'. You will succeed or fail on the amount you can gather and how fast you can refresh it. Always. Be. Espionaging. How will you know where the enemy fleet is, or where it's going, so you can maneuver your own fleet to defeat them? Intel. Anyone building a secret fortress in the outer rim? Intel. How will you know who the Empire has sent to counter your diplomacy on a crucial system, what they are trying to sabotage, or who they are attempting to assassinate? Intel. Where is that DAMN REBEL HQ, they never leave it on Yavin, where did they move it to?! Intel! It takes a long time to travel across the galaxy, you better be damned sure.

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Unfortunately, this is where the game can induce carpal tunnel syndrome. "It dies the death of a thousand clicks", reviewed Gamespot back in the day. They were right, because you will be continually refreshing espionage missions and doing other tasks constantly. Did I mention Rebellion is real-time? You can slow things down tremendously to a very manageable pace and speed them back up as needed, but you still have to keep on top of things as they happen, and there is a lot to do.

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Despite this huge problem, Star Wars: Rebellion is a surprisingly satisfying and deep game. The space battles may look like pure early 3D butt, and even a little incomprehensible to control, but I assure you there is a legitimate layer of strategy and tactics beyond that ugly veneer. When you intercept a powerful enemy fleet that has been harrying you for 100s of days, stop them from warping out to safety with your shiny new Interdictor class star destroyer, and smash them completely, it'll be worth it.

On top of that, the heart and soul of the original Star Wars trilogy is alive in this game. Luke will leave to train with Yoda, Han can be frozen in carbonite if Boba Fett gets him, sending Luke to the same vicinity as Vader can go wrong for you, especially if they haven't met yet. The planets are there, the characters are there (plus a few more), the events are there, the ships and battles are there, the sounds and the music of Star Wars is all there. Ok, well they kind of got sound-a-like actors for major characters, but they're good enough. You'll probably get annoyed at fake Anthony Daniels constantly telling you that operatives are "reporting in" or Han whining, "It wasn't my fault!" when he fails, but that's the worst of it.

So yeah, Star Wars: Rebellion. Your hand may hurt, the pieces are slow to move, but you will remember what you love about the Original Trilogy within this game. When 200 days worth of planning and espionage comes together and you pluck that fucking smug Palpatine off his throne amidst an army of stormtroopers and defenses, you will fucking love it. Conversely, watching the Rebel HQ burn is quite nice too, but I'll let you decide which way to go.

I also dare you to try multiplayer, it's known as a friendship destroyer.
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Re: Elite and other space games.

by Alex Connolly » Thu Feb 05, 2015 10:12 pm

Fine rundown, Bowls. Spot on.
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Re: Elite and other space games.

by A.I Impaired » Fri Feb 06, 2015 3:25 am

As a teen I didn't have the patience for Rebellion, but I am glad that someone has gone back to plunder it for what its worth. I am curious to see what it would be like replaying it again, as my taste in games has changed dramatically. Regardless, I am glad for this rundown.
I am feeling that all the shame associated with the prequel trilogy is starting to wash out, and star wars fans are feeling the love again. So much hope for episode VII gah!
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Re: Elite and other space games.

by Alex Connolly » Fri Feb 06, 2015 3:43 am

...a new hope, perhaps?

You've been a great audience.
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Re: Elite and other space games.

by Bowley » Fri Feb 06, 2015 5:19 pm

A.I Impaired wrote:As a teen I didn't have the patience for Rebellion, but I am glad that someone has gone back to plunder it for what its worth. I am curious to see what it would be like replaying it again, as my taste in games has changed dramatically. Regardless, I am glad for this rundown.
I am feeling that all the shame associated with the prequel trilogy is starting to wash out, and star wars fans are feeling the love again. So much hope for episode VII gah!


Star Wars: Rebellion lives in the Star Wars universe where Han still shot first and Vader wasn't associated with Hayden Christensen. It makes a difference.

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Re: Elite and other space games.

by meowpow » Fri Feb 06, 2015 10:27 pm

Bowley wrote:As you take stock of your current situation, you will need to quickly consolidate what you have, grow your manufacturing infrastructure and defenses, and recruit a bevy of original trilogy (e.g. Lando, Boba Fett) and extended fiction characters (e.g. Thrawn) to form the backbone of your workforce. Who you send on a mission matters, and who you send to be decoys on that mission also matters. Characters need to be sent away on missions leading your fleets, researching new technologies in the arms race, keeping a system secure, secretly gathering intelligence, performing sabotage, abducting enemy personnel (assassination, if you're the Empire), inciting revolts or gaining popular support on one of a multitude of planets.

Image


Wow does Han Solo look gross in that picture.

Thanks for the rundown! Interesting stuff.
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Re: Elite and other space games.

by Bowley » Sat Feb 07, 2015 1:13 am

meowpow wrote:Wow does Han Solo look gross in that picture.

Thanks for the rundown! Interesting stuff.


Yeah, a lot of people look gross in that game. The art is all over the place, in general. The character/unit portraits are a weird mix of not-so-great movie stills, mixed with CG, mixed with drawn character portraits and backgrounds, and there is no rhyme or reason to some of it. Why is Luke drawn and Leia a movie still? Why is Abe Vigoda an Imperial officer?

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