Computer Games: Modern Space Simulations

Star Citizen isn't even past the alpha stage yet, but it already looks incredible.
Star Citizen isn’t even past the alpha stage yet, but it already looks incredible.

As I said in my last post, space simulation games, such as X Wing, Wing Commander, and Freelancer, have basically been a thing of the past.  RPGs such as Mass Effect or MMORPGs like Eve Online or Star Wars The Old Republic dabble a bit in this area, but these oftentimes come back to character skills rather than a player’s ability to fly.  Up until fairly recently, big developers like EA didn’t want to produce games for what was seen as a ‘niche market.’

That all changed with Kickstarter, which has changed the paradigm for a lot of things.  Chris Roberts, creator of the Wing Commander and Freelancer games, posted that he wanted to get a few million dollars and produce a modern space fighter sim game.  The overwhelming response brought in over 17 million dollars.  At this point, they are nearing seventy million dollars of funding from around half a million people, many of whom have access to the game as it currently exists in development.  Other games, like Elite Dangerous, have been similarly funded and are going live.

What this means, in a lot of ways, is that the big developers were wrong… or at least, not entirely right.  Star Citizen is an incredibly ambitious game design, which will feature First Person Shooting, Space Exploration, Mining, Combat, and a fully interactive in-game economy.  All of this will be controlled by players, not their characters, but through actual player skill.  The physics are, while not one hundred percent accurate, include inertia, acceleration and G-forces.  A player in this game could fly up next to another ship, jump out an airlock, board the other vessel, and fight in first person mode, while a space combat occurs outside.  The game isn’t even out yet and many of its detractors say that it never will be… yet I think it’s a sign that we want more, demand more, than the slow, incremental improvement (such as World of Warcraft getting new character make-overs… yay) of the same games and types of games that have been popular.

I think it’s also a sign that we humans still dream of travel into space and we want to be as close to the action as possible.  If we can’t go out, we want as accurate a simulation of that as we can get.  The great thing about games like Star Citizen and Elite Dangerous, is that they’ll inspire a next generation, not just with the excitement of ‘being there’ and doing things themselves, but with the idea that getting into space is something that we should put a bit more effort into… if only so that their children can experience it first-hand rather than through a computer game.

Advertisements

Computer Games: Retro Mode: X Wing, Tie Fighter, and X Wing Alliance

Going up against a Star Destroyer in a snub fighter, what's not to like about X Wing?
Going up against a Star Destroyer in a snub fighter, what’s not to like about X Wing?

I still remember the first time I bought X wing.  I was in high school at the time.  I spent $40 at the time, was so excited by the idea, couldn’t wait to get it home and hop in the cockpit of my very own spaceship.

Of course, I didn’t know much about computers and discovered I’d bought a mac version of the software, which I couldn’t then exchange (store wouldn’t allow exchanges of computer software).  Money wasted, in a lot of ways.

But the dream lived on, and when I saved up, I got a version of Tie Fighter that worked, complete with a joystick and I settled down to play.  Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t a very good simulation for actual space combat.  Ships moved at WWII aircraft speeds (sometimes WWI), the graphics were great for their time (but very dated now), the physics were completely inaccurate, and the overall gameplay was relatively simple and linear compared to modern games.

What the game did do, however, was tell a great story, give challenging scenarios that required skills, thought, and even tactics.  This further evolved with the follow on game a few years later with X Wing Alliance, which updated the graphics and allowed the player to play through a fun campaign, as well as evolving the multiplayer a bit more and allow crafting of scenarios.

What did I get from these games?  Well, they let you live out some of the most exciting aspects of the Star Wars universe, putting yourself in the pilot of a tiny ship and pitting your skills against not only the computer, but other people.  They were tremendously fun, but they also were a key aspect of inspiration to me.  They opened up a section of the Star Wars universe that was, until then, sort of vague and abstract.  You could not only see what it was like to be in a military unit in this universe, but you could see how the flight mechanics, technology, and tactics could unfold.  You could witness the awesome firepower of a Star Destroyer and also work together as a team to take one down using outdated snub fighters and hot-shot piloting.

I still maintain that a lot of modern games lack that same spark.  Games like Mass Effect and Eve Online are RPGs, where it is the skill of the character rather than the player that determines an outcome.  This is fine, in many ways, but it also somewhat distances the player from his accomplishments.  With an RPG, you can ‘build’ a character to accomplish tasks.  While you might take some pride in taking down a ship or discovering some new planet, you aren’t the one doing it… your character is.  At most, you have skill in using the character’s abilities… which isn’t the same thing at all.

With simulator games like X Wing and it’s follow-ons, the player has a direct connection to their accomplishments.  I think that brings a whole new level of excitement to the game.  In many ways, getting into space behind a joystick is the pinnacle of my dreams… and doing so as me versus a character is far better.  Other games, like Freelancer also explored and expanded on the groundwork, adding more options, entire worlds, star systems, and other mythologies as well as a bit more accuracy in physics and technology.  They still have a WWII fighter feel, but they have entire star systems to explore and discover, with options to trade, explore, defend, and pirate.

These games, in many ways, allowed their player base to live out their dreams of reaching the stars, if only in a limited sense, in a way that RPGs can’t do, in a physical, exciting fashion that brings the risks and rewards of space to the player.  I’ll gladly admit that those old space simulation games inspired me with ideas and possibilities, and in many ways were responsible for keeping my excitement over space travel alive.  I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for the excitement that these games gave me in my youth.  Unfortunately, these types of games became less and less common in the last decade, with most of the focus going to First Person Shooter games, sports games, or RPGs/MMORPGs.  Space fighter simulations basically vanished, especially as big developers, like EA, consolidated a lot of the gaming companies and set about producing incrementally improved games based off their big sellers.

Check back soon for my next post: Computer Games: Modern Space Simulations.

Happy Holidays 2014

Happy holidays to all my readers.  Hopefully you can spend them with friends and family.  If you can’t get that, hopefully you at least get some time to yourself.  If you are enjoying the holidays at home with your family, take a moment to think about those who cannot, both those serving in the military at home and abroad and those who have gone to their final rest.    Best wishes to all and a Happy New Year.

Books for the Holidays

If you’re looking for some books to read over the holidays, here’s some recommendations, either books I’ll be reading or books I think are definitely worth the read.  If you’re like me and you already have a huge backlog of books to read (and stuff to write as well), then you can add these to the pile.

Up first is one that I’ll be reading to my son:

David and the Phoenix, Edward Ormondroyd

When young David moves into his new home, he decided that it would be more fun to go exploring the mountains around him, rather than unpack. When he reaches the summit of the mountain, he is met by a phoenix. After getting over their initial fright, they become good friends, and the phoenix decides to show him the magical wonders of his world. During their adventures there are many narrow escapes!

 

The next one is another fun book that I’m looking forward to reading:

Castaway Planet, by Ryk Spoor and Eric Flint

NEW ENTRY IN THE BEST-SELLING BOUNDARY SERIES. Stranded humans must adapt alien technology to survive on a dangerous planet.

Lost in the dark, half a year into their journey to the colony world of Tantalus, Sakura Kimei, her family, and her best friend, the alien “Bemmie” nicknamed Whips, are torn from the safety of their colony ship. In a crippled lifeboat, they had one chance to find a habitable world. But even then, they would find that their apparent salvation was a world of a thousand secrets

 

If you’re not feeling the holiday spirit or else you just feel like the holiday shoppers are hordes of mindless zombies, this book (and series) is probably for you:

Strands of Sorrow, John Ringo

BOOK 4 AND CONCLUSION OF THE BLACK TIDE RISING SERIES FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHOR. Sequel to Islands of Rage and Hope, To Sail a Darkling Sea, and Under a Graveyard Sky. A hardened group of survivors fights back against a zombie plague that has brought down civilization.

With the world consumed by a devastating plague that drives humans violently insane, what was once a band of desperate survivors bobbing on a dark Atlantic ocean has now become Wolf Squadron, the only hope for the salvation of the human race. Banding together with what remains of the U.S. Navy, Wolf Squadron, and its leader Steve Smith, not only plans to survive—he plans to retake the mainland from the infected, starting with North America.

Smith’s teenage daughters have become zombie hunters of unparalleled skill, both at land and on the sea, and they may hold the key to the rebirth of civilization on a devastated plane

 

And if you’re looking for something big to keep you occupied, I recommend my book Echo of the High Kings:

Echo of the High Kings, by Kal Spriggs

In Eoriel, the High Kings are legend: rulers who once stood against the darkness and ruled the world for two thousand turns of peace and prosperity. In the long turns since their fall during the Sundering, Eoriel’s civilization has faded. Dark men and darker beings have torn down and destroyed the old works. While some have held out against the grind of history, other places have been reduced to primitive tribes of savages, worshiping dark spirits and demons as their gods.
Yet a spark of hope remains. Some still believe in the old legends, some still fight to restore the old ways, and some will stand against the darkness, in an echo of the High Kings.

 

Orion and Getting Back into the Space Race

Orion Space Capsule Concept Image
Orion Space Capsule

The Orion spacecapsule has returned successfully after it’s first real test… and I’m excited.  Yet at the same time, I can’t help but feel it’s a hand-wave.  The Orion is incredible… yet it is still feels like too little, too late.

Paul Bertorelli wrote an excellent article (below) that matches a lot of my feelings on the subject.

http://www.avweb.com/blogs/insider/Orion-Glacial-Pace-Space-Dawns-223201-1.html

The private industry is trying, too, but as seen by the recent setback with Virgin Galactic, they are not quite where we might hope they could be.  The problem, quite simply is money.  Space expansion and exploration requires a lot of money, and even with very wealthy private investors, such as Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson, they have far lower budgets than NASA could have, in theory.  But NASA doesn’t have the money, or focus, to make manned exploration (much less expansion/colonization) a priority.  Part of that is politics.  Space isn’t a priority to the average US citizen, because the media (movies, news, etc) focus on the expense, the danger, and the cost.  The recent movie, Interstellar, garnered a lot of criticism, not because of its plot, but because the theme was stay and die or get out into space and propagate.  A note of how much certain people hate our own race where a message of expand our horizons or die was criticized in that survival was seen as the wrong choice.

Against that measure, Orion is a step in the right direction… a very slow step, but still a step.  But what can you and I do to improve this?  Talk to your friends, your family, have the discussions about the potential and importance of space travel.  Fight the dialogue that says that space is a waste.  Fight the people who think that ‘we need to stay here and not ruin the stars’ and rubbish like that.  Make it a topic of conversation, make it important to other people, light that spark… or else we may never take that next step, we may never go back to the moon, much less to other worlds.  That, I think, would be a great tragedy.

How I Learned To Hate The VAT

My fellow self-published authors have no doubt already been bombarded by emails from Amazon in regards to changes in the VAT, but I thought I’d take a moment to tell my readers why prices are going to suddenly change on a number of books and how this change affects authors.  These changes take place on 1 January, 2015.

You see, the way the VAT used to work, it applied based on the seller’s country. So an author in the UK had a 20% VAT on top of the price of their book, off each sale. Now, however, it is based off the customer’s country. So when I sell a book in, oh, say Ireland, there’s 23% tax on top of the price of the book. This means for a book that is €5, the tax is an additional dollar, making the book €6.15. The way Amazon is resolving this is that the tax comes off the top… and my royalties, therefore are still as if the book sold for €5. What this means, is that either I lower prices (IE, to €4.12) which then should make that same book €5 to the customer or it goes for €6, which pushes me up around where some of the well-established authors are, and makes it less likely for a new reader to buy my book.

Now, since I get roughly €3.42 (70% royalty minus some delivery fees and such) off the sale of a €5 book, the difference, as far as I can tell through my projections, is that I get €3 now for a book that sells for the same price. Basically, a foreign country gets a dollar off each of my book sales while I lose forty cents per sale. Not a lot, individually, but that’s around €200 a month that I won’t get (and  €500 that some other nation does get). Keep in mind, writing is my second job, I still work full time. How would you feel if your boss told you that your pay is getting cut €200 a month to pay taxes in a country you don’t live in?

Kal’s December 2014 Forecast

Well, it’s the final month of 2014, and with it, I’m working hard on multiple fronts. I’m editing some works for submission to a traditional publisher, writing Echo of the High King’s sequel, Wrath of the Usurper, and outlining and preparing to write the next installment of the Renegades and Shadow Space Chronicles books.

In addition, I’m finishing out my last month in active duty in the US Army. As you can imagine, that’s a big change for my family. What it should mean for my readers is that I’ll have more time to write. What it means for me is finding a new day job and all the stress that goes with that.

Wrapping things up, I hope to have Wrath of the Usurper finished by early next month and move on to writing the Renegades and Shadow Space books. Oh, as a side note, if you plan to buy gifts for the holidays on Amazon, please use the links from my page. I get a small amount in advertising fees each time you make a purchase. Thanks for reading and have a happy holiday season!