A couple of days ago I was rummaging through my attic, when I stumbled upon my copy of Masters of Orion, what joy! I instantly remembered the time when this type of games could nail you to a chair and keep you addicted for weeks, even months in some cases. This reminiscence got me digging for more material to remind ourselves how much graphics might have changed, but the cores of game and story design stayed the same. Come with us for a short walk through antique pieces which represent landmarks in gaming history. Onward to 8-bit heaven!
The epic Starglider 2 hails from 1988, released by Argonaut Games (authors of BRender engine which was implemented in Carmageddon, most famously) on Amiga, with the soundtrack done by Dave Lowe. This game had a whole star system to explore, and without levels or boring loading screens. The sheer joy of having a universe to explore, enter planets’ atmospheres and look for goals deep beneath the planet surface were all part of the experience.
The ultimate goal of the game was to drop a neutron bomb on your enemy’s space station (obviously), but it had to be built from parts you needed to find in different parts of the game universe. Rock out with the official game soundtrack that was featured on a separate cassette with the game, and make sure to check out the skies-go-red-when-you-shoot gameplay (Freelancer,anyone?)
FTL: Advanced Edition came out last year to much praise by indie reviewers all around the net. One of its’ spiritual forefathers is Psi-5 Trading Company, released by the then-fledgling Accolade (the same guys who would later on go to create Activision) in 1986 on Spectrum, Amiga, Commodore, Apple II and even Amstrad. The concept of the game was very much similar to its’ heir, with the player picking a crew for their space ship and travelling across the galaxy to deliver precious cargo to a target planet, all the while delegating tasks to the crew and monitoring the crucial ship systems.
Moving back in time to 1984, we come to one of the greats of gaming history – Elite. Envisaged as a space trading video game, this creation managed to fit into it 8 galaxies with up to 256 completely different, random planets and cram everything onto a 5¼ in. floppy disk. Impressive, right? This was done by so-called procedural generation, which ensured that every play through was different. This model was later on used by many MMO designers, such as EVE Online or World of Warcraft – hell, even Grand Theft Auto.
The gameplay consisted of starting on the Lave Station with 100 creds, your own spaceship and a universe to explore. The creds were collected by piracy, trading, bounty hunting or asteroid mining (sounds familiar?). When the game was published, it was published with a corresponding novella called The Dark Wheel, which was the first time someone brought together a video game with a strong narrative backing(as was later done with Homeworld, for example).
This ambitious project was so successful that it became an inspiration to anyone who ever dared make a space trading sim, and its’ fourth iteration, Elite: Dangerous, released in December 2014has managed to, at least a point, translate the original breadth of the game to gamers everywhere.
As we go further into the past, so do the games become seemingly more rudimentary, but still having an awesome capacity to pwn. Y’know those top-down perspective games where you can fly around and shoot things? This is their granddaddy and the ultimate asteroid arcade space shooter, released in 1979 by Atari. By simply controlling a cursor-looking triangle spaceship, the goal of the game was to fly around space and take down those nasty asteroids and flying saucers trying to get a shot (?) at you. The game was immensely successful, Atari sold 70,000 arcade cabinets of the game, and at the end this game became imitated by many, but there was, and still is only one original.
…and before all of them cometh the One – Space Invaders. Released in 1978, this game represents one of the earliest shoot-’em-up games ever designed, and the first killer app for video game consoles (Atari 2600 console, which licensed the game was sold in over 2 million copies in 1980). This simple two dimensional fixed shooter game became more than “just a game”, it became an expression of an entire generation, making it’s’ pixelated alien a pop culture icon in the process. By popularizing a more interactive style of gameplay, the game sold over 100,000 cabinets in the first year in Japan alone, and over 60,000 in the US.
The game was so popular, that there is a legend that Japan had at one point in 1980 a problem with the lack of 100 yen coins, given how much money people spent on Space Invaders arcades.
With this, we finish our list of epic space games that come from a time well before our own. We’ve added nice links to the titles of the games which will allow you to access them through your browser, as the majority of these games won’t use a shred of your machine’s capacities. While you browse through, imagine what it must have been to be faced for the first time with game concepts so rad. Now imagine something like that happening today.
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