flight simulator

How I Got to Elite: Dangerous

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Steam informed me recently that a game on my wish list was on sale. I don’t add items to that list often, but there are a few I forget are there. I checked it out and found that it was Elite: Dangerous.

I didn’t know much about it off the top of my head, but investigating the store page reminded me of the appeal. Open world. Milky Way galaxy recreation. Massive scale. MMO. Flight simulator.

So I bought it…

But first, let’s start in the mid-90s. For the record I was unaware until recently that Elite: Dangerous had previous installments during this time period. Had I known this the story would be different.

Anyway, I happened to pick up Lucasarts’ space combat simulator X-Wing when I was a kid. The box art and screenshots entranced me. I too would get to experience the ultimate freedom of space travel and get to blast Tie fighters into sparking fragments along the way.

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After several disks worth of installation (this was the original DOS version), I was ready to play and within minutes I was in the cockpit of the X-Wing, adjusting shield levels, engine speeds, and aiming at various vessels. This was what I was waiting for. True freedom.

This sense was quickly dashed, if only momentarily, when I noticed that those stars and galaxies and planets far off in the background were merely that, background. There would be no interstellar travel for me. Just intense space combat, and the promise of thrills like the films.

This series was quite popular as it turns out, spanning into the next decade with its sequel Tie Fighter offering the best experience in my opinion.

Still, there was that desire to fly among the stars that gnawed at me.

Let’s flashforward several years to the late 2000s. This is when I first tried EVE Online. This, I thought, was it. This was what I had always wanted. An entire galaxy to explore replete with space stations and starships, enemies and allies, and everything in between. Yes, it truly offers all these things.

Here I had my chance to be a renowned star fighter, but I could also be a pilot, a space miner (and perhaps have a daughter who would wrote a song about such things), an industrialist, or even a scheming CEO of a corporation filled with other real people to manipulate and command.

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The options were endless, but so was the path to progress it seemed. Now don’t get me wrong, EVE Online is great at what it offers, but it’s also demanding. And slow. And cutthroat. Eventually everything becomes a point and click affair, even space travel, which is more about navigating menus rather than space itself.

It’s not hard to admit that I enjoyed the game, generally but it is hard to admit that perhaps it’s a little more daunting than I would like for something that I want to truly enjoy.

At the end of the day, EVE Online offered quite a bit, more than I imagined in fact, but it still missed that certain something.

There were other games that came close, like Star Trek Online, with its arcade-ish space combat and the ability to lead away teams on planets. If you’ve wanted to be a Starfleet captain, or even a Romulan or Klingon, this is your chance. It’s a lighter version of EVE Online, to be sure, but its content is still entertaining and the fantastic setting is a bonus.

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After years of playing games, it’s safe to say that some of my earliest wishes have been buried under layers of reality and disappointment, but fortunately they have also been augmented by gaming experiences that have truly been enjoyable in unexpected ways.

So there I was the other day, loading up Elite: Dangerous. I tried the training missions, thinking that this really is a very similar game to EVE. Except that I was sitting in a cockpit. And that I could fly to any available star. And fight. And dock with space stations.

Then it hit me.

No, not that asteroid I collided with because I was still calibrating my controls.

No, it was something else: the realization that this is the game I had been wanting to play for almost twenty years!

Even better is the fact that Elite: Dangerous’ developers have already declared (not speculated as in the case of EVE) the kind of content they will roll out, like planetary landings and such. This is more than thrilling, and I feel like I’ve finally come full circle with those expectations born from the back of the X-Wing box all those years ago.  

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So, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prep my ship for travel to see either the Sol system in way I’ve never been able to or what lies beyond the other side of the galaxy’s core.

Star Wars: TIE Fighter is on GOG.com

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Released by Lucas Arts and Totally Games in 1994, Star Wars: TIE Fighter is the excellent sequel to Star Wars: X-Wing, and one of the best games ever released in the entire Star Wars franchise. It’s combination of story, gameplay, and production values make it a winner to this day, and you can get it now on GOG.com.

I remember playing X-Wing and it was a dream come true. Long had I desired the chance to experience what it would be like in the cockpit of a starfighter, and that game have me that chance to carrry out daring raids and rescue missions to my heart’s content. Then came along TIE Fighter, and I wasn’t too keen on it. It was about the bad guys…  

I was such a good kid.

Once I delved into TIE Fighter, I was entranced. There was more of everything. More variety in the missions and spacecraft, advanced weapons, tractor beams, better graphics, brand new starfighters to test, there was always something new to experience. And my qualms about flying for the enemy quickly dissolved since I got to fight lawless pirates and Imperial traitors just as often as I got to fly against that Rebel scum.
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Superficially, TIE Fighter is a space combat flight simulator. You spend most of the game in a cockpit tweaking your joystick, shield and weapon settings, and blessing target after target out of the stars. However, there is so much more going on than this. While you may spend time flying around outer space shooting things, there is also a larger story going on around you, and you always seem to be in the epicenter.

The story of TIE Fighter is what really makes it shine, and it’s one of the first Star Wars games to draw extensively to the Expanded Universe while also contributing significantly itself. Grand Admiral Thrawn, Lord Vader, and even the Emperor himself have designs and plans that involve you. By the end of the game, not only are you a hot shot pilot to rival the Skywalker clan, but about half of the Empire owes you a favor due to your fancy flying. Whether you are uncovering conspiracies or protecting the Emperor himself, you’re always uncovering more and more story.
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Missions are presented to you in the form of objectives, and most of the primary objectives you face are relatively straightforward and sometimes challenging. It’s the secondary goals, or even the elusive bonus goals that will keep you on the edge of your seat in order to defy the odds to inspect that one container before it gets torpedoed, or trying to keep your craft together through wave after wave fierce opposition so you can identify that mysterious shuttle at the mission’s end.

These things aren’t necessary, but they add a great value to the gameplay, and since most missions rarely replay exactly the same way, you’re bound to get some replay value. Furthermore, there are always tidbits of story presented to you between missions, or even in f un little FMVs that show informing cutscenes. Their quality is rather dubious nowadays, but they’re still well made and worth a view if you want to keep up with the Byzantine inner workings of Imperial intrigue.
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I have one quibble with the version of the game I got from GOG.com.  First, I must say I’ve been a fan of that site for years and they work diligently to bring us updated versions of classic games that run on our modern rigs, and my complaint in no way regards the folks there.

For the price of one, you get two versions, the original 1994, and an updated 1998 release that features updated textures and orchestral music by John Williams as featured in the next installment in the series, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter. At first, these sound like a bonus, and in a way they are.

However, the 1996 CD ROM version of TIE Fighter is the one I grew up with. Though its Gouraud Shading isn’t as accurate as the newer textures when compared to the films, its metallic-ish sheen was sleeker, and in my opinion aged a bit better. Also, the original soundtrack was outstanding as well, and it reacted to events in the game to alter the musical mood accordingly. It’s a shame that the effort invested into those amazing features is overridden by the version we have now, but maybe the Good Old Games team will get that for us sometime down the road.

Overall, it’s been great to revisit one of the best games of my childhood, one of the best games ever. It’s synthesis of features gives one of the most engrossing, satisfying experiences a PC gamer could ever ask to have.  So get out there and clear the galaxy of those filthy pirates, insidious traitors, and that ever irritating Rebel scum.