Simulations in Spaaaaace

A recent conversation with a co-worker got me thinking about space exploration sims. I found a few good ones. All of the programs mentioned below are freeware. If only there was a way to combine them all…

OrbiterOrbiter is a space flight simulator. If you want to actually learn to fly an Apollo rocket or the space shuttle, this is the one for you. It is obviously quite technical (JPL’s Basics of Space Flight is recommended reading) but there are some good tutorials out there to get you going. It has quite an active mod community so new missions and craft are always available.

CelestiaCelestia is a planetarium type sim that lets you fly around the galaxy, and has by far the best graphics of the programs I’ve found. Celestia has a mod community also, with add-ons for both real and fictional objects. When you get bored of orbiting Mars and watching the sunrise over Venus, after a few downloads you can visit the Star Trek universe, Star Wars universe, and so on.

NoctisNoctis IV is an incredibly detailed space exploration sim, and the closest to what I wanted when I started searching. It has a (fictional) universe of thousands of stars that you can fly to, and you can land on every planet of every star. You can take photographs of the planet’s surfaces as you explore, and maybe even discover life. There is also a huge community aspect – every player shares the same database, and if you fly to a system that hasn’t been named yet you can name it and record items of interest.

Sadly, the problem with Noctis is that the graphics are absolutely awful. Even with the Noctis IV CE mod it only runs at 320 x 200 resolution. I want to love this game, I really do, because the feature set is just outstanding – but I’m having a real hard time getting past the graphics. Noctis V is supposedly in development, but since the developer is apparently writing his own language for the game, I’m not holding my breath. The FAQ is being updated though, so there is still hope.

If anyone out there has found more space exploration sims, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Supreme Power

Another comic party I’ve come late to, I’m currently devouring back issues of Supreme Power.

Written by JMS of Babylon 5 fame, it’s a retelling of the Squadron Supreme story. It’s a Marvel Max title so it is for mature readers, and in the first few pages you know we’re not in the Silver Age anymore: Hyperion’s ship crashes to Earth and is discovered by a kindly couple… who are immediately eliminated by government agents in a black helicopter.

I was never a huge Squadron Supreme fan, but you don’t really need to know anything about them to follow the story, same way you didn’t need to know anything about the Charlton heroes to enjoy Watchmen. There’s probably stuff going over my head but I’m not aware of it.

I think JMS can be a great writer, and it makes me think about how awesome Babylon 5 could have been if it had been done in comic form, which would’ve freed it from the constraits of actors’ schedules, threat of network cancellation and so on.

Perfect Dark Zero – First Impressions

OK, I am going to be a man (err, robot) and admit my suspicions were wrong: I really like Perfect Dark Zero so far.

The graphics are very good but not spectacular, some of the character models are weird, and yes there is no jump button – but the fun factor is definitely there.

I only played through the first single player mission last night. I tried to play through it on Perfect Agent (the highest difficulty initially available) but on that setting instead of it making the enemy AI (such as it is on that level) smarter, what it does is make the scientists you are escorting dumber so they will leap in front of any gunfire possible. I restarted the level a bunch of times, hoping to successfully get all the scientists to the elevator, but it was not to be. I wanted to move on, so I kicked it back to middle difficulty and finished the mission perfectly. I will go back later tio the higher difficulty.

Then I jumped on to some multiplayer games. That was a ton of fun. I played a couple games of Killcount, 1 of Capture the Flag, and 1 of, err Territory something. I like the pace of the game. It’s not UT or Quake III hyperspeed, so you can be at least a little bit strategic. Sometimes you get in these situations where there’s a roomfull of people all dive-rolling at the same time and it looks kind of dumb, but I guess no dumber than a roomful of people all hopping like in other games.

I need to learn all the weapons and their secondary functions but I had a great time and I really liked what I saw so far of the maps. Oh yeah, and must learn to fly the jetpack.

December 6, 2005 | Posted in: Video Games | Comments Closed

GUN review

Yes, I got an Xbox 360. No, I didn’t line up all night in the pouring rain like some people – I preordered it back in May. But this isn’t a story about that – this is a story about a great game. I hadn’t intended to buy it – it was an impulse buy when I cancelled my Oblivion pre-order (since it got pushed back to the Spring), but I am so glad I did.

GUN is published by NeverSoft, the folks who did the Tony Hawk series of skateboard games. Set in the old West, GUNtells the story of Colton White (insert White Man jokes here), a trapper who stumbles from his everyday life into an epic story. You’ll see mountains, deserts, Apache camps, renegades’ forts, ranches, villages, and everything in between.

The music, sound effects, and voice acting are all top-notch and really get you absorbed in the story. Actually, I’m surprised that they are not making a big deal out of the game’s all-star voice cast: Tom Skerritt, Kris Kristofferson, Brad Dourif, Ron Perlman, and Lance Henriksen take some of the lead roles.

The game is played almost entirely from a third-person perspective, except when you go into “quickdraw” mode. This is the “bullet-time” type mode that seems to be becoming a requirement in action games these days. When you enter this mode, the view shifts from third- to first-person and time slows down, allowing you to pull of spectacular shots like shooting the gun from an adversary’s hand.

Any fan of Westerns will appreciate the detail put into the character models and scenery. The version of GUN was not souped-up for the Xbox 360 (you can see some repeating textures in long shots for example), but everything still looks very good. The animations are smooth, and even the dialogue lip-sync is good.

A favorite feature of mine is the smooth integration of horses. Unlike other games that give you horseback “sequences” that are basically rail shooters, you can jump on or off your horse at any time in GUN. This gives you plenty of flexibility in how you handle the missions – do you ride out to meet your enemies, take cover and shoot it out, or just head for the hills? The riding controls feel great – the way the horse moves and turns is very well done. You can jump over obstacles, make your horse trample an enemy, or rear up if you feel like yelling “Yeee ha!” You can “spur” your horse to get more speed out of it, but ride it too hard and you’re going to be looking for a new one.

The story moves along at a good pace, and there are always plenty of side missions to do as well, from bounty hunting and herding cattle to poker playing. These missions will bring in cash (used to buy weapon, health, and horse upgrades) and increase your stats, so you’ll definitely want to do at least some of them.

If I had to mention a negative about GUN, the only thing I would say is that the game is a bit short, and a bit easy on Normal difficulty. The nice thing is that once the story ends, you can still keep playing and do the side missions and so on.

There aren’t many Western video games, and there’s no good ones that I can think of. GUN seems to have finally broken the curse, and in a big way. I’m already looking forward to a sequel.

I give GUN a hearty
4.5 YeeHas out of 5.