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.
Maybe Bioware could take note of this and start brainstorming for the third installment of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Not this MMO junk. I mean the actual game.
I also agree with the sentiment of some of the earlier comments. Give us Star Wars Battlefront 3!!!
That last suggestion sounded like a dream version of Battlefront 3. Oh gosh, I wish that was still coming out...
You basically just summed up my entire list of "**BRAAAHHHH**! WHY HASN'T THIS HAPPENED!!!!!!?
2 games comes to mind : Mass Effect & Starcraft
A lot of these points. Mass Effect does come the closest to meeting a lot of ideas here, and one of my fav games ever. I crew idea (Star Trek) is something I'd be all for. I'd love a game where I command a starship and it feels like I know the crew and even work on making real choices that effect the whole game, not just the end like ME2. I was hoping Infinte Space was like this, but it comes off too clunky for me.
This article sounds like someone should play Warhammer 40,000. Take your pick, either the table-top army against army, or the much more strategic Battlefleet Gothic. These aren't video games (obviously video games have been made for Warhammer 40,000), but they do provide you with the realism of combating an opponent in a sci-fi element while still utilizing strategy, luck, and skill.
Seriously, look up Battlefleet Gothic - it is the Warhammer 40,000 races, just fought in ships in space. Much more technical. I've been sending an e-mail to THQ about once a month stating that as glad as I was to see them perfect Warhammer 40,000 foot-fights via the Dawn of War series, how awesome would it be in fact to front an entire fleet of ships? And indoctrinating some of your ideas (replacing crew, exploration, personality of ships, etc.), whilst on the tabletop game are no-brainers, made me realize that even though I am a huge sci-fi fan, I've stuck to fantasy video games.
It was refreshing to see that the author of this article shares so many of the same ideas for sci-fi as I did. Everytime he listed an example (failed or successful) I would be thinking the same things right before I read them. Most nerdy thing read today, or best thing read today?
Great article on science fiction in gaming. One thing I can appreciate about successful franchises like Mass Effect is that - common to countless early sci-fi works in literature - while science fiction narratives tend to revolve around some plot device - i.e. a powerful invention, advanced alien race or tech, or other scientific breakthrough - the series Bioware has created also is sustained by a powerful narrative.
I don't feel too strongly about most of these points, but ship battles need to happen. When the only ship combat I've played that isn't Rogue Squadron comes from Master of Orion, something is wrong.
Really cool article.
This is an amazing wishlist, don't get me wrong, but I have serious doubts that any developer would be able to package all this in one game, let alone have it fun and engaging. Nevertheless, I can't wait for when video games get this amazing. It's just a matter of time.
I hope someone from bioware reads this article. Because I've been thinking the same thing. What would strike the experience of actually space traveling is adding more structure to the game. What if Rockstar and Bioware came together on a Mass Effect project(Adding full Customization and Sandbox)-- now that game would be epic
ha minecraft topples all the sci-fi games. It would be wonderful if all those elements could be implemented into a video game. but that probably won't happen for years. But when it does we'll all be waiting.
I Actually like the sci-fi part of spore, where you could discover whole solarsystem, and terra form and land on any of the planets. Played it for many hours but i think i didnt even discover 1/10 of it...
Ofcourse you cant compare that to games like mass effect 2, but i would love to see that kind of exploring in a more mature sci fi game.