The lights are on
When it comes to video games, sci-fi fans have always been
blessed. Not only has there always been an abundance of games set in the final
frontier, but select sci-fi franchises have played an important role in the
industry. Shooters like Halo, Resistance, and Killzone have been trumpeted by Microsoft
and Sony as reasons to buy their respective consoles, and there's no shortage
of gamers who would call Mass Effect their favorite current-gen RPG series and
StarCraft II their favorite RTS. But whenever I play a game set "where no man
has gone before," I can't help feeling to the contrary, due to some key sci-fi characteristics
that haven't been fully explored by the industry. Caution: This will be the
nerdiest thing you read today.
Flexing Your Creative
Muscle:To me, the most valuable attribute that a sci-fi story affords
its creators and consumers is the unabashed creativity that the fiction can
support. When you're dealing with outer space, no sci-fi gadget is too
impractical and no alien too ridiculous. The original Star Trek television series reveled in its own absurdity, and was the
better for it, but most sci-fi games are surprisingly practical.
It's not that franchises
like Halo and Resistance lack creativity, but many of their design choices feel
like they're driven by necessity, with aliens broken down into familiar enemy
types, and weapons that conform to common gameplay mechanics. I don't just want
to play a game with creative elements -- I want a game that celebrates its
The Mass Effect series does an admirable job of striking a
Star Trek-esque vibe with its wide array of
sentient species -- you never know what kind of strange creature you'll
encounter at the next space port. Unfortunately, you only interact with most of
these creatures through a dialogue tree, and Mass Effect's gameplay is standard
Making a game that plays well will always be a developer's
top priority, so it's understandable that some concessions need to be made when
crafting an out-of-this-world adventure. However, if you really want to capture
the attention of a sci-fi nerd like me, don't be afraid to have fun with your
fiction. Seemingly impractical design choices can spark interesting histories and
politics for your aliens and worlds. It's better to be campy and interesting
than too serious and boring.
Space Is The Place:Here's the thing: a lot of science fiction may be full of ultra-powerful
weapons and exotic alien babes, but there's really only one fantasy that
defines the genre -- exploring the unknown. When Luke stares wistfully at Tatooine's
setting suns, he's not thinking about how to best conserve his ammo or what ship
upgrades he wants to invest in. He's yearning to experience something beyond the
constraints of his boring life. In a way, that's the same reason many of us
play video games, but somehow sci-fi games always seem to muck up their sense
of exploration and discovery.
Both installments of Mass Effect managed to make exploring
the galaxy a grind. The Mako sequences from the first game let you feel what it
was like to set foot on an alien world, but every planet you went to was
painfully barren. It may have been realistic from a scientific standpoint, but
if exploring a planet is so boring that it feels like a chore, you've missed
In a way, Mass Effect 2 was even worse; it forwent hands-on
exploration for a tedious mineral scanning minigame. Occasionally you could land on a planet for
an impromptu mission, but these were comprised of linear levels that
played out like any other shooter.
Virtually every sci-fi game on the market tasks players with
the same mission: Save the planet/galaxy/universe from certain doom! Compare
that to the mission of the U.S.S. Enterprise,
which most nerds probably have memorized: "To explore strange new worlds, to
seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone
before." Which sounds more fun to you? I've already saved the world more times
than I can count -- let me discover a new one instead.
Exploring Minecraft's blocky worlds is more fun than most sci-fi games
As odd as it may sound, the game that I think best captures the
excitement of discovering a strange new planet isn't a sci-fi game at all -- it's
Minecraft. Every player who starts Mojang's sandbox game is given his or her own
unique world, and gameplay strikes a perfect mix between exploration and
survival. And you can forget mineral scanning -- Minecraft makes gathering
resources fun and rewarding at the same time. Throw in some rudimentary tools
that allow you to create your own structures, and it's no wonder over a million
gamers have already bought the beta.
If a sci-fi game could translate Minecraft's
essence into discovering and colonizing alien worlds, it wouldn't need
action-packed set pieces or a plot that places the universe in peril -- the sense
of spreading humanity's reach through the galaxy would be satisfying enough. Not
that shooting some aliens every now and then would be a bad thing...
Up Next: Ships, Squads, and Space Combat...
Email the author Jeff Marchiafava, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.
Battlefield + Alien attack on earth= amazing combo waiting to be developed.
I just want one huge very epic space battle on screen right now!
Very interesting article... thumbs up
hey, battlefront 2 had some interesting space battle stuff, like boarding the ships, but not at a huge level. if this was done, then space battles would be really interesting. i was also thinking about characters all with backstories on a space ship about a year ago. if could just talk to them, and they said, "yeah, after this run im hoping to see my wife and kids", and you see them on the casualty list, then you would feel something for the people on youre ship
What about the Star Wars Battlefront games. The space battles were pretty similar to what you described, although youre not a commander of your own ship. The space battles did prove a good ship-to-foot kind of combat where you can have dog fights or land on one of the battle cruisers and sabotage it. Just wondering on what you think about those space battles other than that I agree with many of the points you made across.
I couldn't agree more with all of these points. I love Mass Effect because it's an absolutely fantastic game, but I was originally drawn to it because of its sci-fi, outer space setting.
I still love the universe you get to explore in the ME series, but I just wish it would go a step further and let you truly explore all that the galaxy has to offer. Add that in and I'm in my own little sci-fi video game heaven.
Nice feature. I agree with you on every point.
A lot of good points in this article. I think the last time I really felt awe and wanted to explore, was in Oblivion. I want that feeling in a sci-fi space game, only even more. I was hoping Star Trek Online would be the answer, but sadly they butchered the idea as well.
if mass effect 3 added in oblivion esc exploration and some of the things u named id play the hell out of it (im gonna play the hell out of it anyway but hey)
A lot of what was mentioned sounds like the perfect Star Trek game. Especially the part about space combat and the need to fix the ship on the fly as well as recruit new people and find new parts in between missions. If only.
You said the exact things i felt when ever i play a scifi game it feels some stuff is missing
I'm always hoping for a Battlefront III that allows integration between space and land battles with many of the ideas you posed for space battles in affect.
Good ideas, for sure.
I feel like Star Wars Battlefront 2 came the closest to the sort of space combat I want to see. It wasn't a spectacular game, but the space battles where you either fought in space, or flew into the enemies capital ship and fought on foot were enjoyable for me. I wish someone would expand on that formula, making the battle more massive and updating it for the current generation. Or perhaps some game already has this sort of combat and I just haven't tried it yet?
I love this article. I don't think that it's possible to put out a game in decent time with all of these elements, I think it would be possible to put out one that has a decent foundation of space/on-foot transitions and add on more stuff with add-ons of some sort.
Also, the very best space exploration game I've ever played was Noctis. The graphics aren't great but there were hundreds, if not thousands, of stars that you cold explore on-foot.
Battlecruiser 3000 AD had some of the elements listed, but failed miserably IMHO. You were a captain of a starship, could pilot fighters, could go planetside in a fighter, and had a free exploration mode. Sounds great, but it was buggy and overly complex.
Bethesda, I wish you had made a Star Trek game more along the lines of Elder Scrolls, even if most of the game was conducted on my starship.
Anyway, I'd also recommend to my fellow neeeeerrrrrdddsssss to check out Infinity-Universe for PC. Still under development, but has a lot of potential...
I have a tough time believing the entire lack of simulations on the market. They where huge back in the mid 90s when the PCs you played them on were barley better then calculators by today's standards. I just cant believe they haven't brought back the X-Wing series. How do we not have a game that pits 32 on 32 or larger of Empire VS Rebels doing escort runs, dog fights, bombing runs, and intercept missions.
We finally have rigs that can run full blown space combat simulations and the bandwidth for some massive battles but the genera is dead. EVE tried to do this combat, but for me it missed the mark. I dont want to watch the AI move the ship to the location I selected, give me a flight stick and I will get myself there. Jumpgate looked promising but it has been in development for so long that I have a gut felling something is wrong.
If a game is going to bother to have a space crew, you might as well get to know them some, even if they don't do much for the story. Xenosaga did a great job of characterizing its ship crew, making you at least curious about what happens to them when things go wrong.