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Journey to the Stars

Journey to the Stars

  10:36:04 am, by   , 839 words  
Viewed 11475 times since 08/11/10
Categories: Games

I briefly mentioned X3: Terran Conflict in an earlier post but given the amount of time I've spent on it in the last few weeks, I think I ought to say a little more about it.

My love affair with space-based games started in 1984 when I first played Elite on a friend's BBC Model B. You began the game with 100 credits and a spaceship armed with a laser roughly as useful as a pea-shooter. You had to go from system to system trading resources to make money to upgrade your ship, avoiding the pirates that infested some places until you became strong enough to take them on. That's... about it. There were some special missions that came up from time to time, but trading and shooting things was about 99% of the game. To keep track of how well you were doing, you had a combat rank: starting at "Harmless", you moved through "Mostly Harmless" - a nod to Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy to "Poor", "Average", "Above Average", "Competent", "Dangerous", "Deadly" and finally "Elite" - a sequence I can still quote from memory. Reaching the final rank meant shooting about 5,000 enemy ships, a process that took a very long time.

Of course I didn't own a BBC, I had a ZX Spectrum and we didn't get our own version of Elite for a couple of years. Instead, we had a game called Codename MAT and another named Starion. These haven't left the same impression on me, but I recall them being simple space-based shoot-'em-ups rather than trading games.

There things sat for a number of years, during which I basically stopped gaming. Then in 2003, I saw a review of a game called X2: The Threat that called the game the closest thing to Elite they had ever seen. I wasn't going to let a comment like that past, so I bought a copy straight away. It really was Elite updated for the new millennium. Set in the "X" universe, cut off from Earth for various reasons I'm not going to bother relating, there were humans, friendly aliens, hostile aliens and even a hostile AI race. It turned out X2 was the sequel to "X: Beyond the Frontier", but I never played that game. The "X Universe" is a series of sectors, many of which are joined together using jump gates. Most sectors are owned by one of the alien races: Argon, Boron, Split, Paranid and Teladi, by the AI-like Xenon or by pirates.

One minor gripe with Elite was that you were stuck with your original ship. You could upgrade it, but you could never buy a different type. In X2 you had a choice of about 60 different types, from the tiny but superfast Paranid Pegasus to vast trading ships like the Boron Dolphin and huge battleships like the Argon Titan. Not only could you trade with existing space stations, you could build your own and fashion an immense trading empire - some players had thousands of stations. The main plot involved an invasion by an alien race called the Kha'ak that you had to fight off, while trying to find your father. You didn't have to bother doing the missions unless you wanted, as the game was entirely open-ended, although you got some nice rewards if you did. The usual ship-to-ship combat was very well done, with a large range of weaponry to choose from, and even had the added joy of being able to capture your enemies' ships if you were lucky. I spent a huge amount of time playing that game. I smoked at the time, and cigarette breaks at work were often spent contemplating what factory I would build next or planning which enemy sector I would attack to boost my combat rating. Once I reached the top level (X-treme) in both trading and combat, I moved on.

In 2005 came X3: Reunion. The main change was a massive upgrade to the graphics engine and redesigns of the various ships to make them more plausible. The "Reunion" part comes from the main quest, which ends with the opening of a jump gate back to Earth.

At this point, it's worth mentioning that the X games have a modding community nearly as large as TES. Egosoft, the publisher, even let modders into the inner circles and participate in beta testing and development. One absolutely massive modding effort, called Xtended, was so good that Egosoft bought the rights, hired most of the modders and used their efforts to create the next game in the series: X3: Terran Conflict. In this version the number of flyable ships has gone through the roof, there are loads of new missions but otherwise it's basically the same as Reunion.

The reason I mention all this is to give you some background into why I love this game so much. It's not just a game, it's the culmination of a quarter century's gaming for me. If you're looking to start in a new genre, you could do much worse than start with this.

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