The Big Freaking Podcast

  By Shamus   Jan 20, 2010   42 comments

I recently appeared on the Big Freaking Podcast to talk with hosts Shamrock and Ivan about old game franchises that deserve new life. It was a fun conversation, and we went pretty far back to find some long-long treasures.

We were talking about space sim games at one point, and I said I couldn’t think of any that had come out since Battlecruiser 3000AD. And then later I remembered Freelancer, which everyone insists on putting in the same genre. But I have a hard time seeing that. In my own view, Freelancer is to Elite as Fable is to Fallout. It gets shoehorned into the same category, and it can still be fun, but it trades looks and production values for a game which is smaller, shallower, and more linear.

You can read about Starflight on Wikipedia or this fansite. It’s a game from 1986. I was 17 when I played it, although it came out when I was 15. In my memories I have this idealized, perfect experience, and if that’s simply nostalgic whitewash then I really rather not know the truth.

Thanks to the Big Freaks for having me on. It was a fun discussion. You might want to give it a listen if you’re into the whole podcast thing.

2020242 comments. (Insert played-out "meaning of life, the universe and everything" joke here.)


  1. Jan says:

    Ah… BC3000AD, the game that almost put me off gaming, and definitely put me off gaming magazines.
    The first release was incredibly buggy, but so much potential…
    I really wanted to love this, but it sadly never worked for me, or for most people who tried it. It didn’t help that the developer was constantly involved in a big flamewar on Usenet about the game.

  2. Sean says:

    Ah, Starflight. I played it on the Sega Genesis oh-so long ago. The captain’s journal was a nice touch, and I remember spending a good deal of time just reading the journal.

    You know, if you liked Starflight, you might also love Star Control II. It’s a similar concept – space exploration, gradually expanding plotline, various races and territories, but is a little less hard sci-fi and a little more tongue-in-cheek space opera. The writing is fantastic, interesting and often funny and the combat has a fun, classic arcade sort of feel.

    SC2 is one of my all-time favorite games, and if you get a chance to play it, it’s been released to the open source community as “The Ur-Quan Masters” here: http://sc2.sourceforge.net/
    EDIT: I haven’t played the 3D0 port, which has voices and other sound effects. I can’t remark on the quality. I played the old PC version, so to me the races will always be silent. :)

    Well worth playing, and I would love to see you do a Let’s Play of this classic. (Or just get your thoughts on it!)

  3. Nobody particular says:

    I think the X series (google for X3) is somewhat of a successor to Freelancer, if not Elite. They’re not quite perfect games, but the freeform space trading, pirating and fleet building does strike a chord for me.

  4. I played Starflight and really enjoyed it. For the tools and the material available, it was great. My first serious PC game.

    Freelancer is downright different, down to adding the concept of levels into a space sim and other things they did to force the game, not to mention, the scenarios they cut out to force it to fit on the media rather than just burning another disk.

    Lots of code that should have been available for hacking, lost … (e.g. the autopilot, the alternate interfaces, etc.).

    When you get to the way they cut joystick control out of the game to hide that it wasn’t truly 3D.

    Still, a pretty game.

  5. LintMan says:

    They say if you say “Battlecruiser 3000AD” three times in a dark forum, Derek Smart will appear.

    @Sean – SC2 is one of my all-time favorite games also. I somehow missed out on Starflight, but from that wiki page, it sounds like SC2 is pretty similar. I had always thought Starflight was a flight-sim type space shooter with trading. (ie: like Freelancer).

  6. Burning says:

    I loved Starflight. I too don’t know how it would stand up out of the rosy light of nostalgia. I never got very far into the story despite hours of play time.

  7. Robyrt says:

    For me, that magical haze has descended over a 1994 gem called One Must Fall 2097, which was basically Street Fighter 2 with a single-player campaign and experience points. To this day I am contacted by people who share the nostalgia and want to reminisce.

  8. Kdansky says:

    Oooooh, BC3000AD. What a horrible game. I would buy the remake instantly!!

  9. Nawyria says:

    Between Starflight and, Freelancer a now-dead developer named Volition created “Descent: Freespace – The Great War” and its sequel “Freespace 2″, which were inspired by the Descent series that preceded it. Although often overlooked, these two games really sold me on the spacesim genre. I believe the sequel is placed 3rd on GoodOldGames’ Highest Rated, just below Fallout 1 and 2.

    While they had little to offer that hadn’t been done yet with respect to little spacefighters flying around pew-pew’ing eachother out of the night sky, they focussed more on larger battles, where you as a pilot were flying around larger military spacecraft either bombing them with torpedoes or preventing the enemy from doing that. The gameplay ultimately works pretty well and the spacecraft controls are intuitive (especially when you use the keypad to navigate :P).

    By today’s standards standards the graphics are pretty bland and the models blocky (if you care for such a thing), but back in 1998/1999 it was visually stunning. Since 2002 there’s been a lively modding community at http://www.hard-light.net that’s continually been working on The FreeSpace Source Code Project, which vastly improved the code and graphics from the original two games.

    If you’re interested in this kind of thing, I suggest you grab a copy off GOG and check out the forums.

  10. Factoid says:

    Sigh…I so love the Space Sim genre. There’ve been a few titles other than Freelancer, but they’ve all tended to be more “arcade action” style games.

    Freelancer was good, but it wasn’t as good as Starlancer, which was a more traditional military mission-based space combat game.

    They need to bring back Wing Commander, the X-Wing/Tie Fighter series, and the little known but absolutely incredible Independence War series.

    Space games have one incredible advantage that I’m surprised the Indy market hasn’t capitalized on…they’re much much much cheaper to make than almost any other kind of game.

    The art assets are minimal because all you need is some procedurally generated starfields and nebulas and such. They can look amazing AND be easy to make. Space ships are easy too and since you won’t be rendering much else besides space ships you can blow your wad on poly-counts and make them incredibly detailed. They’re also one of the easiest things objects to model because they are engineered fictional constructions and don’t have to look like realworld doppelgangers.

    I’ve even designed a control scheme for the xbox controller that would replicate about 90% of the controls for a game like Tie Fighter, still be pretty intuitive and can be supplemented with a voice-control system. Just like how Luke would shout orders to R2-D2, it makes sense that a pilot could shout voice commands to a co-pilot/onboard computer/droid and do things like manage shields, switch weapons, lock on new targets, etc…

    A joystick would still be great, and recent years have proven that people will extra for bundled peripherals, but I think a version with just gamepad controls would still work. Thumbsticks are basically just little joysticks anyway.

  11. Clint Olson says:

    @Robyrt:
    Hear, hear! I, too, loved OMF2097. Too bad their 3D remake was extremely buggy and eventually stopped being supported…

    Jaguar forever!

  12. krellen says:

    I remember Starflight, and having played both it and SC2, I’d say they are less similar than people think.

    Starflight was much better.

  13. Cyndane says:

    @Nawyria
    Since I have a friend that works there currently, I feel the need to correct you on the point that Volition isn’t dead. They’re just not making flight sims anymore. The last two games they’ve released are Saints Row 2 and Red Faction Guerrilla.

    And on a different point, have any good space-flight sims been made recently? It’s a genre I enjoy, and maybe I’m just out of the loop, but I haven’t heard of any recently.

  14. Zombie Pete says:

    What was the one where you’re a space trader, running back and forth between systems getting people things they request? You fight some aliens that begin with V, and the biggest pain is navigating through the wickets of a wormhole every time you want to travel between systems. It was pretty fun, though.

    The first space exploration/empire game I was addicted to was called, strangely enough, Empire (also called “Hemp” — that’s what you typed into the console to play the game from the university mainframe — Geez I’m old).

  15. Rob Maguire says:

    For recent games I can only think of Vega Strike (free and open source) and the X series. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until X3: Terran Conflict that X had a somewhat usable UI, and Vega Strike seems to be stuck at the 0.50 release while they port to a new graphics engine.

    I would describe the X series as ‘awesome graphics, let’s just take a look at the key bindings… holy cow, 127 keyboard shortcuts?!?’, whereas Vega Strike is less polished, but much much MUCH more user friendly.

  16. Nawyria says:

    @Cyndane

    Although I could make a case that Volition without flight/space sims is no longer Volition, it seems I stand corrected.

    As for new games within the genre, I’ve only just picked up X3: Terran Conflict and Nexus: The Jupiter Incident, so I haven’t seen a lot of them yet. X3:TC, as Rob Maguire says, has a rather steep learning curve due to its slightly clogged interface, but might be worth it in the long run. N:TJI is more reminiscient of Eve Online than any of the good old Cockpit space shooters.

    So in between waiting for Starcraft 2 to come out and trying to understand X3’s interface, I’m just playing user-made campaings from Freespace 2.

  17. toasty says:

    I love Freelancer. I played that game a lot. Actually, people still play it. There is still a mod that gets updated from time to time for Freelancer that has added a LOT of content to the game.

  18. Alkey says:

    @Zombie Pete

    Space rangers perhaps? I really enjoyed the sequel. It had that elite and privateer feeling to it. But the rts/arcade/text adventure parts made the world seem more complete and epic.

  19. mousetrap says:

    Isn’t Kerberos coming out with a space sim game sometime soon?
    Northstar, I believe:

    http://northstar.wikia.com/wiki/Northstar_Wiki

  20. Yar Kramer says:

    Hmm. If I was given the Sonic the Hedgehog series to do a reboot with, I’d do things with it — mostly doing the exact opposite of the “SERIOUS STORYLINE” stuff that’s been going on. Like, well, first I’d do a modern-engine remake of Sonic 1-3&K. But then I’d have a sequel which would introduce Professor Gazebo Boobowski, who had the awesomest name in any canned game ever. And Sonic and Robotnik would constantly have witty banter which would, in one scene, cause Shadow to completely crack up.

    Though that’s not quite what the question was asking … hmm. Okay, how about … Zero Wing. *runs*

  21. General Karthos says:

    @Zombie Pete

    Perhaps you are remembering the Vonians (sp) from “Escape Velocity: Override”, the second game in the amazing space sim group of three. “Escape Velocity” was the original, “Escape Velocity: Override” was the second and “Escape Velocity: Nova” was the third. The second was easily the best of all of them, though “Escape Velocity” the original had some of the better expansion packs.

    I’m amazed (or perhaps not, as the first two were mac-only games, and the third was definitely the worst of the three) that nobody has mentioned Escape Velocity. These simple, $20 shareware games were some of the best ever made. They didn’t have great graphics, but they made up for it with long, deep story lines and incredibly addictive fun gameplay. If you wanted to haul cargo from place to place, you could do that. If you wanted to fight against aliens or pirates or the other faction in a galactic civil war, you could do that. Hell, if you wanted to BE a space pirate, you could do that too.

    And the game had so much add-on possibility. I played dozens of different games made with the same base system.

  22. Daktylo says:

    Use the black egg. Return to orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

  23. mark says:

    never go back to replay games like that. The only good ones are the ones that won’t run anymore. If you get them to run, it turns out theyre shite. :(

  24. Zombie Pete says:

    @General Karthos

    Yup. Escape Velocity it was. And yes, I played on a Mac. The same one on which I I was embroiled in SSI’s Pool of Radiance — while aboard a Navy vessel in the midst of the Gulf War. Good times, good times.

  25. LintMan says:

    For those who haven’t played it, X3: Terran Conflict is a massive sandbox space trader sim. You don’t just buy and sell goods: you build space factories, mines, and energy collectors and buy trade ships, combat ships to escort your traders (or you) and hire pilots to fly them. The factories producing high level goods require low level goods and resources, so it’s a pretty complex economy.

    The single player campaign is pretty lacking, but if you want to build a space trading empire (or your own space armada) in a large and complex sandbox universe, it’s pretty cool. It’s also very moddable, and some players have done some pretty cool stuff (like new ships, better trader pilot AI, etc)

  26. WILL says:

    Uh… Homeworld, anyone?

  27. Miral says:

    What about Galactic Civilisations? Or is that some other type of game? (I haven’t really played it myself, but I keep hearing people raving with joy over GalCiv and GalCiv2…)

  28. Chilango2 says:

    Homeworld is more an RTS in space than a space sim, integral to the space sim is actually flying in space.

    One unmentioned gem that still runs in XP is Tachyon: The Fringe. Good branching storyline. It’s not very sandboxy, you’ve got missions and do a,b,c and its easy to forget that you *can* explore a bit while doing so. But otherwise its very fun.

  29. Jonathan says:

    Freespace & Freespace 2 were very good, although my computer could barely handle them.

    Looking back, they got a lot of their plot from Babylon V…

  30. Groboclown says:

    @LintMan
    I can’t possibly understand why you, of all *campers*, like SC2.

    @Miral
    GalCiv was a good game in its time. GalCiv 2 was much better. Then it was ported over to Windows from OS/2, and it went downhill from there.

  31. brashieel says:

    I feel compelled to mention Darkstar One. It’s basically just an updated Freelancer, but it still counts. And the gameplay is better in my opinion.

  32. Felblood says:

    Don’t forget about ASCII Sector!

    I don’t know when it came out, but a roguelike space sim is something you have to see to believe.

    The default setting is totally cribbed from Wing commander, right down to the races and ship class names, and there isn’t much in the way of plot, but it’s worth the download just to see hoe they tackled the design challenges.

    It’s probably one of the cleanest looking roguelikes out there, because of the special character set, and the excellent use of color.

    Also, I kind of hope that Star Trek Online will fill this niche with actual quality, rather than quirky novelty, but I doubt it.

  33. Tesh says:

    I love Privateer, more than any of the “pure” combat games in the Wing Commander universe. Freelancer was OK for what it was, but just not nearly as good as Privateer. I sometimes wish I’d played Elite back when it was new… I’m afraid of trying it now.

    I love SC2, as well. Now I need to go play Starflight, I guess… but I’m afraid of that one being unfortunately dated, too.

  34. sree says:

    It’s a shame that you guys spent soo little time on mechwarrior, btw i think mechwarrior 4 went free sometime ago.

    The times i spent with mechwarrior on my genesis are dotted with hazy memories of me playing 2 player coop where me and my friend were screaming at one another asking each to move here! or shoot there! ahh that was fun…kids these days with their online multiplayer don’t know what they’re missing.

    i guess what im saying is i want the revival of times where two people to sit in front of a tv split screen or otherwise. i shed a single tear for times where i knew what my gaming friends look like :'(

  35. Neil Polenske says:

    Wow! You SPECIFICALLY talk about a Freespace style Battlestar Galactica and NO ONE here mentions the Beyond the Red Line mod?

    http://www.beyondtheredline.net/

    Looks like it’s dead but…y’know.

    Also: COLONY WARS! THAT was my sh** cause I was a console brat back in the day.

  36. Joel D says:

    I enjoy Freelancer quite a lot, but that’s mainly because it’s so wonderfully moddable.

  37. Jon Ross says:

    I also have fond memories of Starflight. It was the first (and to date only) game that I and my father played together, sort of. We had a couple of journals that we kept in the box (along with the code wheel) and whenever one of us found a clue for the storyline, or a good planet to settle or a wormhole it went into the journals. We must have played it for a good six months straight. Never did save the galaxy, but never got bored either. 500 planets to explore as I recall, specific locations to find on a number of them. A very complex and complete game in the end.

  38. Elzair says:

    You forgot Terminus. It came out around ~1999.

  39. I loved Starfight back when I first played it in the late 80’s. I felt it was soo ahead of its time in those days where gaming, effects and visuals where so much more limited!

  40. Simply Simon says:

    It seems interesting, but I can for some reason only get the first four minutes of the podcast (or about 4mb). Downloading mp3s from elsewhere works fine though, and their other podcasts seems to work properly. I got the same problem the time you did an interview with FTB a few years ago and I’m suspecting myself to be cursed now :P

  41. Eric Meyer says:

    If anyone’s looking for some retrogaming space flight action, Oolite. It’s Elite, basically. Good times.

  42. Ivan says:

    Freelancer of course it had that Elite type of feel plus if I remember correctly. It was a blast having you on the show Samrokk and I had a lot of fun. We hope to have you on again sometime to talk about other subjects that we mentioned before recording.

    Thanks for the support,
    Ivan

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