Space, the Final Frontier

We, as humans, are obsessed with space. We had a race to the moon, we’ve dropped a robot on Mars and we’re trying to abandon some of our own on the Red Planet. We have a multitude of TV shows and movies that build on our want to explore the reaches of the universe. It should come as no surprise that there are plenty of games set in space we can enjoy, I’ve already reviewed Elite: Dangerous on this blog, and we seem to be going through an age of pure exploration games.

The premise of Elite: Dangerous is that you’re given a spaceship and told to go off and make money. This involves blasting from sun to sun, planet to planet, finding missions and completing them. Aside from Elite, you could try Star Citizen, Star Conflict, the behemoth Eve: Online or wait a little longer and get No Man’s Sky when it comes out. They all seem to be focussed on the gameplay of going out there and making your own story and finding your own game.

They can’t really be included in the MMO genre, which tend to drive you through their story in a fairly linear manner. While there is a huge world to go out and explore, you don’t have the freedom to explore it on your journey. Variety in the sort of activities you can get up to is similar, whether you’re heading out to kill something or transport something, but you have the freedom to focus solely on one source if you want, in Elite: Dangerous that is. In one of the mainstream MMO’s, you’ll have to pick up these quests if you want to move through the game.

ED Title

The freedom associated with space and exploration is a good feeling. I can happily give away a few hours to my simple trader in Elite, run a few quick transports to gain some rep for the Federation. There’s no real end game in sight, you’re there to be there and do what you want; if you want to be a pirate, here’s a mission to steal some trinkets from a dude, or if you want to explore, strap this to your ship and look at that planet. It’s a game where you make up your own goals and set out on your own story.

I don’t feel the same way when I’m playing WoW (or was, I haven’t played for a few months now). At the end of the day, your goal in WoW is to get to the level cap, then spend your nights getting gear to raid to get more gear to do more raids. Eventually everyone will be there with you, with the same goals and aspirations, and following the same route to get there.

We’ve seen this open-ended, explore and be rewarded gameplay before, in the exploration game-changer Minecraft. A lot of people do like to be thrown into a world without a goal and told to do something. It’s a brave move and developers need to make sure that they have the game to drive players into trying out new things.

nms

CraigheadproHD / youtube.com

Years ago I tried out Eve: Online, which was a monumental task. Eve is a huge game to understand and be a part of, with many intricate systems to master. It was a stand-out for its time and hasn’t been forgotten now, I’m still seeing articles about massive space battles taking place in Eve and I’ll always remember the huge scandal that took place a few years ago, full of espionage and intrigue.

With new technologies, we’re able to push these boundaries further and give players a lot more to do with their time. Back to Elite for a moment, the additional systems on offer have been stripped back and there isn’t much to say in the way of a trade market or player oriented political system – there is a Galactic Powers activity, but I’ve stayed away from that for now. But, we do have an accurate representation of the galaxy, maybe a few thousand years ahead of time, but we are in the sky that we can see tonight.

I haven’t seen much of what No Man’s Sky or Star Citizen are offering, aside from a couple of short videos. They both seem to be following in the footsteps of Elite Dangerous in offering a huge universe full of new and exciting planets to land on, customisable ships to fly around in and a range of different activities to partake in. The basics of space travel, I suppose.

rust

From Space to a forest…

Another FallFire / youtube.com

My concern with this new wave of space exploration simulators is that we’re going down the route of making so many of these epic universe sandboxes, with limitless personal potential and a range of different activities, that we’ll burned out and the genre will be forgotten or looked down on. Not long ago, survival/exploration (with zombies) games were all the rage and we couldn’t scroll through a page on the Steam store without seeing another version of the same game: DayZ, Rust, H1Z1, Dead State, Dying Light… I’m guilty of owning and playing a few of these briefly and I eventually got bored of them, which I don’t think I’m alone in doing. There’s still a few stragglers, holding on to the hope of getting those big bucks, but in general that whole genre has done it’s job.

In the end, it’s the market that makes the decision. I think the advent of VR systems in the marketplace are really going to put the Space Exploration genre through its paces; a lot of people have already built themselves beastly systems that replicate their cockpit, the ability to be the Commander of a ship will fulfil the fantasy of becoming Picard, if only for an hour.

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