Monday, 23 July 2007

Oh, are we gonna fly

More to follow on Star Wars Galaxies as a whole, today I'll be particularly focusing on its space combat and digressing wildly and indulging in shameless nostalgia...

As mentioned in the last post, on finding the space flight tutorial in SWG I'd dusted off an old joystick I had stashed in a cupboard (it's not just in games that I'm a terrible pack rat) only to find I had no joystick port to plug it in to.

I used to love flight simulators and space games; Elite, Microprose's F-19 Stealth Fighter (in glorious EGA, before the F-117 was officially designated), Gunship 2000, Chuck Yeager's Air Combat, LHX Attack Chopper, Aces Over The Pacific/Europe, Wing Commander 1 and 2, all that lot. A friend and I played a bit of head-to-head Falcon, for the few brief moments two PCs would deign to talk to each other over a null modem cable, and Air Warrior (which I'd totally forgotten until this post) introduced me to the concept of MMOGs before anyone called them that. Not that I actually played it online, lacking firstly a modem and secondly the vast stacks of used fivers it would've needed to pay for both the phone bill and game subscription; I think there might have been some sort of shareware-type offline single player training option (incredibly dull, there being no AI opponents), just the *idea* of squadrons of player-controlled aircraft was mind-blowing at the time. As "proper" flight sims became more realistic and complex I started to lose interest, not being particularly keen on spending three hours in a tutorial just to be able to take off, especially as around that time the space combat game probably reached its apogee in the magnificent Tie Fighter around 1994. Things seemed to tail off after that, though, and the joystick was consigned to the depths of the cupboard several years ago after finishing (I think) a budget purchase of Tachyon: The Fringe (most notable for being voiced by the legendary Bruce Campbell, though it was a decent enough game as I recall).

Launching into space in Star Wars Galaxies was just like old times, but a gamepad couldn't cut it for flying, particularly as I couldn't find an easy way to use the right thumbstick for flight control. It sufficed for a couple of training missions, but while out and about over the weekend I decided to grab a new USB joystick. Weighing up the pros and cons of a variety of alternatives, I picked up a Saitek ST290, on the grounds that (i) it was the only one in PC World (apart from a similar looking wireless model for twice the price), and... um... no, that was it actually. (Yeah, yeah, I know, PC World... but I couldn't be bothered to wait for an online order, and it meant I finally got to use a PC World voucher I had since Christmas. Plus there was a clearance sale on stationery with 12 sticks of Pritt Stick for about 77p, who could say no to that?) Plugging in and launching into space again was pure joy (if you'll forgive the pun), I'd forgotten just how much I enjoyed dogfighting. After finishing the tutorial missions and moving on to Tatooine, about the first thing I did was sign up with a Rebel squadron and start blasting TIE fighters (it was a tough choice, but at the end of the day there's just something *right* about shooting TIE fighters that narrowly edged out flying them).

The SWG trial (and new joystick) have rekindled my interesting in flight/space sims, and a bit of digging around revealed the Freespace 2 source code has been released, leading to the Freespace Source Code Project, which I'll definitely investigate. NetDevil are developing Jumpgate: Evolution, so I've stuck my e-mail address in there for a shot at the beta. Also, by a strange coindidence, an idle browse of Slashdot this morning turned up a review of Project Sylpheed, which Zonk starts "Space shooters are beyond a dying breed", and ends "... once again, I find myself really wanting a next generation version of Tie Fighter", the latter sentiment echoed in many comments. It seems a little strange that nobody mentioned Star Wars Galaxies in response, though, it seems the Jump to Lightspeed/space combat side of it doesn't get much, if any, attention. Maybe it is a dead genre after all.


Dragon said...

All I can say is that for once, Slashdot are not on the money. X3: Reunion is a pretty good space sim (and the nearest direct relation to Elite that's around) and there have been a couple of space shooters released over the last couple of years but you're right, no-one ever thinks of the JtL part of SWG which is the only bit which has more or less remained untouched since it was released.

Zoso said...

Looks like the death of the space shooter may have been greatly exaggerated, seems "Spaceforce: Rogue Universe" has just come out too, which looks interesting if a bit steep to get into. And I just found my Freespace 2 disks again, huzzah!

heather said...

Oh my. Maybe I'd better not tell my husband about this. He loves the flight simulators. Ahh, who'm I kidding---off to mail this entry to him. :)