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Space conflict done right
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Author name #1
Member since Oct 2007 · 316 posts
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Subject: Colony Wars
There's a stereotype that the majority of video games are space combat simulations. It's a misconception that frightens parents and confuses journalists, and it is based on an outdated but certain kernel of truth. From the incessant rhythmic pressure of Space Invaders, to the clean lines and unending labor of Asteroids, to the hazardous homeward journey of Gyruss, some of the most memorable games came from programmers and artists who were inspired by advances in rocketry and space exploration, in aeronautics and astronomy. These creative minds imagined what travel to the stars would be like, and like the science fiction authors of the time they imagined great rewards tied to great risks and huge conflicts.

We know better now. Simple physics tells us that any space-based combat would be very still, and not at all like the dogfighting George Lucas emulated. Materials scarcity and the cube/square law keeps us from being able to construct spacecraft of a certain size, to say nothing of the energy costs of escape velocity. And new mathematics is starting to indicate that faster-than-light travel is further out of our reach than we ever thought. But like legends of the American western plains or the medieval European knight, this implausible fiction is now the standard and not the exception. Our expectations of what it would be like to be a hotshot space pilot are embodied perfectly in the Colony Wars series for the original Playstation.

[Image: http://www.prismnet.com/~kkc/img/410201-colony-wars-playstation-screenshot-taking-on-a-navy-frigate.jpg]

That image is shamelessly stolen from Moby Games.

Have a look in the lower center of the screen there. That radar is the thing that won me over, that makes me consider Colony Wars the best of its genre. With a few simple wireframes, the X, Y, and Z axis positions of each of your allies and enemies is clearly and elegantly displayed. This one tiny detail, executed so well, makes the war-torn 31st century world of Colony Wars much more believable and full of life than any other space combat game before or since. Other games may have more convincing realism in their graphics or their premise, but all of them (from Elite all the way through to Project Sylpheed) feel empty and barren. And certainly real space travel is going to be full of long stretches of silence, but there's no reason to simulate that in a game. And so many others address the issue by constraining you to rails, or otherwise guiding you by the nose to a specific place. Colony Wars and its two sequels always give you friend and foe right around the corner, without withholding the full expanse of space to fly through. It's a nearly perfect balance.

Those of you who owned an Atari 2600 may be reminded fondly of Star Raiders, with its complex targeting and compelling mix of tactics and strategy. You not only had to shoot straight, but you had to plan ahead and conserve your fuel. I loved that game to death, and news that a PSN and XBLA version is in development is cause for impatient optimism. Until I get to see what that's like, Colony Wars is the closest thing I have to a modern Star Raiders.
Author name #2
Member since Mar 2010 · 52 posts
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I remember playing this when it was released, and it really impressed me with its use of light and colour to compensate for the Playstation's weak polygon performance.  They tried hard to make a modern space combat game, and succeeded. 

I confess it's been a very long time since I played it, but I seem to remember enjoying the crap out of it until some particularly difficult missions sapped the joy from me. 

In my mind it was always conflated a bit with G-Police, another Psygnosis game with a similar aesthetic.

Damn, now I want to play these again.  =D
Just like NFG, but x 9!
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Member since May 2011 · 2475 posts · Location: Brisbane
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Gamasutra has a weak and wandering article about the series, which might be worth a read.  How Colony Wars Came To Be.
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