The combat space sim: Finally dead?

Like probably a lot of the posters on this forum, I’m a huge fan of the PC space sim-their combination of dynamic science fiction storytelling, exotic weaponry, and balls-to-the-wall action have captivated ever since I got my grubby young hands on copies of X-Wing and Wing Commander. Even though the genre has experienced somewhat of a decline since they heyday of the early 1990s, there’s always been a few reasonbly-old efforts on the shelves and a few more on the horizon that are worth paying attention to, as a fan of the genre.

I’ve been looking for both lately. And outside of a couple ‘Elite’ style trader-games and some sure-to-dissapoint MMORPGs, there’s simply nothing to be found in the genre. I concede the fact that the last crop of combat space sims (Starlancer, XWA, and Freespace 2) sold fairly poorly, but that seemed more out of the games being either mediocre (Starlancer, XWA) or not marketed at all (FS2). That hasn’t stopped other genres from pumping out games, though-there are plenty of dismally-selling CRPGs and niche RTS games out there, produced despite the fact that they aren’t going to see a fraction the kind of sales that their big name coutnerparts (Westwood,Blizzard,Bioware, etc.) are seeing.

Is it safe to call the combat space sim (as defined by the X-Wing/Tie Fighter/Wing Commander games) dead? Or is the genre just taking an extended hiatus, waiting for the right time to re-emerge (like the CRPG genre did back in '97 and '98)?

God I hope it’s the latter. One can only replay Freepsace 2 so many times. :(

What? Where’s the love for Derek Smart? You’re not a Coke machine, are you?

I-War 2 was alright, but it really felt like work sometimes.

The new CGM has a preview of some Elite-alike that looks promising. I’d kill for a good fixed-campaign Freespace 2 clone, though.

It certainly looks like big budget space sims are dead.

Derek Smart is still working in that genre. Freelancer is yet to arrive.

But I haven’t heard of any new space sim games getting the green light in the last year or so.

Elite might be coming out for the GBA:

The new CGM has a preview of some Elite-alike that looks promising. I’d kill for a good fixed-campaign Freespace 2 clone, though.

You might be talking about John DiCamillo’s Starshatter, which looks promising, but isn’t really an Elite-alike. John posts here occasionally, so maybe he’ll drop in and plug it.

You can download a demo from www.starshatter,com, but it just gives you a look at the basic mechanics. I’m particularly interested in how it implements the dynamic campaign. I also like the idea of incorporating some traditionally harder core elements like sensor management.


No, I think he’s talking about Eve Online, which is basically an online Elite. It looks much better than Earth and Beyond, at least.

Starshatter is also pretty neat. I’ve always thought that it would be neat to have a space sim designed from a “real world” sim angle; the Falcon 4.0 of the sci-fi world, so to speak. Starshatter is a bit like that.

I can’t remember where, but I read that the genre was coming back again, meaning there was going to be another round of attempts to make money. Console space sims sell pretty well (such as Rogue Squadron), and some of them are quite good, if you are interested. As for PC games, they may do well if games like Lock On and Project One sell well and revitalize the sim genre in general (which needs it desperately). The problem is that it is such a niche genre. The last crop of great games didn’t sell well, though you could argue that sales were hurt by releasing all of them (I-War, Freelancer 2, X, and the one with Bruce Cambell) at the same time, roughly.

I just bought Colony Wars: Vengeance for the PSOne. If you like space sims, you ought to play it. The original Colony Wars was a top title and the sequel is better. It’s heavy on the action, but it’s got some great gameplay and visuals. Haven’t played Colony Wars III: Red Sun but I don’t think it’s quite as good as the other two.


Egad, Dave, a space sim on the PS1? I don’t think I could stomach it, even if it is as good as the second Colony Wars (which was pretty good).

If we’re talking console space sims, then I’ll say it again: Jedi Starfighter ain’t bad. It’s no Rogue Leader, but it ain’t bad.


I enjoyed the original Star Wars: Starfighter on the PS2 to some degree. It wasn’t as deep as the PC space sims I’m used to (no energy management, no real targeting systems, barebones wingmen commands), but it wasn’t that bad for what it was trying to do.

Rogue Leader, OTOH, was pretty mind-numbing. The game had state of the art tech, but it also sported some pretty obvious 1980’s-era rail-shooter gameplay. Considering how smiliar the two games are, I can’t figure out why I dislike RL so much, but can tolerate Starfighter.

Colony Wars 3 is quite a bit better than 2 (which I thought stunk) CW3 has a bit more an an “Elite” feel to it, but it has much better ground missions than 2 and a much smoother difficulty progression.

I know exactly why I hate Rogue Leader: the areas are incredibly confining, you spend more time absorbing hits than evading them, the ships lack any sense of inertia, the map sucks, the mission objectives are represented poorly in gameplay, and the enemy AI might as well be the pathing for a 2D shooter.

I’d probably like RL better if it were railed, like the original arcade SW title - most of the flaws I listed could be excused if you didn’t constantly have to grapple with finding where you are and how far you are from an ill-defined objective.

>One can only replay Freepsace 2 so many times

No kidding. My favourite computer game in the past 10 years.

Freelancer (which isn’t exactly a conventional sim because of its control scheme) is basically it right now from major publishers, plus Derek’s projects and stuff from smaller publishers (like X-Beyond the Frontier 2).

I guess you could count Earth and Beyond, but even Westwood is avoiding characterizing it as a sim, probably because they had to slow down the gameplay to make it viable as an online game. Verant is working on a space sim component to SW Galaxies.

I wouldn’t say that the space combat sim is dead the same way I might say text adventures or rail-shooters are dead. The problem as I see it is that developers would have to top Freespace 2. I also wonder if publishers are hesitant to pour resources into a traditionally niche genre, particularly given its recent track record.

  • Alan

Of course, the big difference is that it is easy to point to FPS and RTS and CRPG and MMORPG games that have been very successful recently. So companies are willing to take the gamble and make a game in one of those genres in the blind hope of having a hit, or a near-hit by riding on the genre’s coat-tails. I guess it’s kind of like how more people buy lottery tickets when the payout is $100 million than they do when it is “only” $10 million. Right now, the payout on combat space sims is rather lower than that, and they are generally pretty expensive to make if you want to follow in the footsteps of Chris “But What I Really Want to Do is Direct” Roberts.

If you are looking for a new combat space sim, you are going to have to look pretty hard.

The only new development in the traditional mission-based combat space sim genre that I know of are games by small developers. There is a Russian game studio working on something called “Homeplanet.” I know a guy who has created a whole series of arcade style space combat sims entitled “StarWraith” in DarkBasic. Brian Hook has a couple of space sim projects simmering on back burners, one of which is a traditional shoot-em-up. And then you have my game, Starshatter. And that is about it. Everything else in development is either a Homeworld-style RTS, an online persistent world Elite game, or the Diablo-esque Freelancer.

Starshatter is a bit different from most previous combat space sims. It uses a dynamic campaign engine to generate missions, rather than having everything be scripted out in advance. It allows you to fight in space or in atmosphere, using Newtonian or arcade style physics. It allows you to fly fighters as in Wing Commander, or larger starships as in Starfleet Command. You can even graduate to commanding a carrier battle group and take control of a carrier, a cruiser, two destroyers, and sixty fighters. If I were to compare it to another title, that title would be Babylon 5: Into the Fire.

Starshatter is inching ever closer to beta status. The next demo v3.5 should be ready around the end of July. This was originally going to be the beta release, but I won’t have music or multiplayer done by then. Sigh. Too much work to do.

Well, FS2 does still have a very active mod and campaign community, though most seem to have a hard time actually finishing one occasionally. Now, of course, they’ve got the source code to play with, so they’re going to try some fun stuff with it.

They’re also always looking for help, if you’re into that kind of thing.


Say Co-op Multiplayer and I’ll drive 1000 miles to bring you a beer.

I’m just glad to hear that the genre isn’t entirely dead, which I thought it really was, since I hadn’t really heard of anything in development after I-War 2 was released until I heard about Jumpgate on the old boards a while back (I forgot about Freelancer). I played it for awhile, and although I recently quit, it was fun while it lasted, and I might go back to it someday. My understanding is that Earth and Beyond and Eve Online are really going to be more point and click oriented (if you read the JG boards anyway :)). If that’s really true, count me out.

/me forgot to log in. :roll:

I think the biggest thing preventing the creation of space sims at the major publishers is very simply that Interplay/Volition built it and no one came. Freespace 2 sold like 7,000 copies the last time I saw numbers on it. That’s just pitiful. It was the nails in the coffin, the hole in the ground and almost all the dirt piled on top.

The game only did well critically. It was a huge commercial failure of (IMO anyway) epic proportions.

We had a good discussion about the game on the old board and one thing we pretty much all agreed on is that the joystick game is dying and close to death if it isn’t dead already. No one buys joysticks for games anymore because there are so very few games that need 'em. So when a developer builds something like a space sim, the tools just ain’t there at the PC to play them.


Holy crap, that’s low numbers.