Controlling a spacecraft is the premise of a huge number of video games. It’s natural that something beyond almost all of our capabilities would be a popular genre. Just like walking to the shops and buying milk isn’t a popular genre, unless you’re a girl. Vast sexism aside, spaceshipping across the video game universe is generally regarded to have begun with Asteroids. Space War WAS around in the ’60s, but that wasn’t available to many people. Atari’s Asteroids had you control a spaceship in a wrap-around map. Blowing up the asteroids that fly through each level is the only way to survive and progress. Moving your ship is done by adding thrust and facing a direction (somewhat like tank controls). I almost never moved when I played it as a youngster as I’d panic and lose control of the ship.
From roughly ’89 to ’94 I hardly touched the Atari and Asteroids remained unplayed. Fair enough really, I had an Amiga to play! I had a good go at Blasteroids, which was something of a sequel to Asteroids. I enjoyed that quite a lot, but I never found myself completely drawn into it. Maybe it was too hard, who knows?
My interest in the Asteroids genre was rekindled with my first sighting of Stardust. The Amiga Power cover disk that gave me my first taste of the game was fantastic, if a little misleading. It’d be nearly TWO years before I’d play the full game, given the release schedule. The bulk of the game involves flying a spaceship around dozens of wrap-around screens, shooting asteroids. Occasionally you’d have to shoot down a flying saucer and collect power ups. Your craft can be powered by different weapons and have its engine power increased. The ‘world’ map was divided into galaxies, each one having six levels. You were able to choose the order that you visited these levels, but it was always best to follow the correct order since you start the game quite weak. Each galaxy had an ‘end boss‘ fight at its conclusion, which featured a variety of huge and intimidating spaceships.
The game’s standout feature was its warp tunnel sequences. The view changed to behind your ship and you had to avoid incoming asteroids, mines and giant blades. The Amiga Power cover disk featured the first of these tunnels, hence giving a slightly misleading view of the game. When I bought the full game, I was initially disappointed that it didn’t have more of these sequences (they probably make up 5-10% of the game at the most) but I’ve since realised they’d be boring if used any more than that. Mixed in with these tunnel sections were underwater ‘multi dimensional shooter’ levels, much like the game Thrust and Sub-Terrainia. These levels posed more of a challenge to navigate, with only the walls and your own carelessness to fight against.
Stardust features a blistering dance/trance soundtrack, which every second Amiga game seemed to have. No complaints here, since it is fantastic (I’m listening to it as I write this).
Stardust was a great version of Asteroids, with its detailed and colourful visuals, combined with some excellent variations in the bonus levels. Bloodhouse (now Housemarque), were the Finnish developer behind Stardust, which have successively remade the game four times. These remakes include the Amiga 1200 enhanced version in ’94 right through to Super Stardust Delta for the PlayStation Vita in 2012. Happily, these versions have been well received. It is comforting to know that a small developer from a small country can continue to do what it did 20 years ago, and still have a market.
I love the Dead Space series. There aren’t many shootery games that feel so chunky and satisfying, yet can still offer a fast pace. Dead Space offers both of these, however one problem here is the horror.
Dead Space is set in a rich science fiction universe with a distinctly industrial feel, very different from say a Star Trek or even a Star Wars. Ridley Scott’s Alien changed science fiction and gave an alternative to the smooth, white and clear corridors with jumpsuits wearing crews. Alien made spaceships and the future feel very riveted and welded together. Dead Space follows this ‘rough’ future look gladly and makes full use of it.
I won’t go into the story of Dead Space, suffice to say I recommend the series to anyone who isn’t a complete coward. I will mention a few things that I find really difficult to deal with in horror games and Dead Space in particular.
The first issue I have is with being surrounded. The game does a great job at NOT just spawning enemies behind you or around corners.
They always come in through vents or other convenient methods. While it doesn’t seem cheap, it means that you’re constantly looking around to avoid being surprised. The monsters in the game are almost always loud and very rarely sneak up on you, but when you’re in the middle of a huge battle, you often won’t know before it is too late.
The horror comes in two forms in this series, the hideous monsters and a dreadful sense of psychological pressure. Not only have people been transformed into hideous zombies, but your main man is seemingly suffering from a mental illness. In both game’s the protagonist (Isaac Clarke) is dealing with some horrible stuff both inside and outside his poor brain. Evil Science/Magic is at work.
The industrial/space setting means you’ll be doing a lot of repairing and activating of large machinery. This gives the monsters plenty of time to come out and cut at you while you attempt to turn on the gravity or restart the engines. Ugh so much horror.
I don’t even want to talk about the vacuum sections. When an airlock blows out, a timer starts ticking before you suffocate. Since you can’t hear much in a vacuüm, enemies just appear. Everything is muted and has a blue shade. I can’t even use full sentences to describe it… blahhhhg.
Finally, since I played the Dead Space through four times, to get all the achievements, I got to know the layout very well. One of the worst decks, the Medical deck features a morgue (lots of dead bodies to stand up and kill you). You then have to revisit this area later in the game and it’s just as horrible. Dead Space 2 STILL forces you to go through this area, with all new horrors waiting for you. I hate returning to old locations in games, I get creeped out that horrible things would have happened in the mean time, with lingering evil still waiting for your return.
Yikes, I shouldn’t play Fatal Frame then.
Anyone else have similar problems?
Hooo boy this is a well trodden subject no doubt about it, but I can’t really be a self respecting video game article man without a stab at this topic. Can I?
I still find myself surprised, disappointed and terrified at the lack of mature treatment that this medium receives at the hands of film and television. This doesn’t end with video games; the whole PC experience is often tainted with a level of super retardation you’d expect from someone who’d never really used one.
The big huge mega hit series CSI is QUITE guilty of perverting the use of computers (not really games) to the point of no return. It certainly wasn’t the first though. Scenes where someone is doing a whole lot of ‘typing’ and manipulating events on a screen with great accuracy have been the bread and butter of ‘traditional’ media computer use. It’s clear that the whole is take from 1982’s Blade Runner. I’d say this movie is not only guilty of this same crime, it may have INVENTED the whole thing.
The television industry, in the earlier days of video games seemed to be much closer to reality, with movies like Tron and of course WarGames, even into the early 90s with the Simpsons. The first season episode ‘Moaning Lisa’ who can forget that awesome boxing game! With fatalities, I mean it even predates Mortal Kombat by two years. Sadly as time has gone on, the gap between what contemporary games are really like and what script writers, directors or even produces think they are has only widened.
Okay enough of this pointlessness, but I hope you’ve found this a little bit interesting. Now I just hope someone out there has made that Simpsons boxing game…