Have Spaceship, Will Dogfight

I’ve been a PC gamer since … well, a long time. What follows is a blatant plug for a venture I support very strongly. If you don’t want to hear my reminiscences about how gaming used to be, then please skip to the end.

I had the original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure, all the King’s Quest and Hero Quest games, and even Leisure Suit Larry.

I played a hidden copy of Doom on my church’s office computer. I loved and hated Descent. I built cities in SimCity, and I crashed planes expertly in Flight Simulator. Somewhere in that time period I discovered a game called Lightspeed, and it changed everything for me.

Lightspeed was a space simulator. You had a ship, you flew around in space meeting strange aliens and occasionally dogfighting them. It had bad controls and confusing goals, but it was mostly realistic. Components of your ship could be damaged, and you had to repair them or your ship wouldn’t function properly. I loved it.

Not long after that, LucasArts released the first Star Wars-based space simulator, X-Wing, and then things changed again. I wasn’t just some spaceship, I was an X-wing pilot going up against Star Destroyers. Then there was TIE-fighter, and suddenly I was on the other side.

I forced my parents to buy me a computer just so I could play these games. Sure, I had an NES, a Super NES, Sega Genesis, and various GameBoys in different states of disrepair, but PC gaming was different. I felt challenged more with PC games. They felt more mature.

Ironically, I found my favorite PC game series of all time on a console. I had a Sega CD and one of the first games I rented for it was Wing Commander, a game by Chris Roberts. I was instantly hooked. I immediately went to find the PC version and lo and behold there was Wing Commander II. These weren’t just games, they were separate universes. Your choices mattered, your failures changed the game. You could do your best and fail and the game would continue until your race was wiped out.

The third installment in the series introduced live-action cutscenes with none other than Mark Hamill as the lead role, John Rhys-Davies and that guy that played Biff in Back to the Future as two of your wingmen, some pornstar as a mechanic, the judge from Liar, Liar as your CO, and Malcolm McDowell as the Admiral. The game had loss, betrayal, redemption, victory, and defeat. It felt more like a movie you were in, instead of a game you were playing. It’s this kind of play that inspired and persists in games like Mass Effect.

Roberts went on to pose the question: “Well, what if some one wants a space simulator, but doesn’t just want to dogfight all the time?” His answer was Privateer, and its sequel Privateer II. You didn’t have to join the military and blast spacecats, you could be a trader, or a pirate.

Roberts took that openness in class even further with Freelancer, which is absolutely one of the greatest space games ever made. It wasn’t just an open world, it was an open universe. He took the best of Wing Commander and Privateer, and put the choice of path in the hands of the player. If you wanted to make commodity runs from Fort Bush to Planet Leeds for the rest of the game and never progress the story, you could damn well do it.

And then Chris Roberts disappeared. While the space simulator and space opera genre persisted in both PC games and consoles, with games like Mass Effect, Star Wars Galaxies and Eve Online, the unique voice that mastered the genre was gone.

Well, now he’s back, and like me, he doesn’t think mobile and tablet gaming is the future – and he’s not a fan of consoles either.

Prepare yourself for the return of the PC space simulator and Chris Roberts.


His new game in development, Star Citizen, has the potential to be the best thing to happen to PC gaming since the USB joystick. He’s already met his goal on Kickstarter and is pushing beyond that goal to have more content ready at launch. What does that mean? It means a game built by gamers, not business men; a game built by people like you, the guy who never cheated at Baldur’s Gate or Icewind Dale, and no matter what classes a game has always chooses the class most similar to a ranger. This is a game for immersion not conquest.

I’m not going to detail it here, just go see for yourself and pledge even just $10. If you’re like me and you’re tired of plumbers, ageless pointy-eared kids with swords, blue hedgehogs, angry soldiers fighting ugly aliens/other angry soldiers, orcs, dragons, zombies, mutations, flawed player economies, open-world games with closed doors, sandboxes full of cat shit, bird vs. pig warfare, scrabblish timewasters, and dancing to A-ha, then this could possibly be game you’re looking for.

See you in a couple of years, Space Cowboy?

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