The freeware Frontier is an inspiration – if it stops crashing long enough.
When I was young I wanted to be an astronaut. (How many blog posts do you think have ever been written with that opening sentence?) Nowadays it isn’t so much the literal NASA dream – that looks like far too much hard work – but the chance to explore strange new worlds and…sell five tons of carbon ore to make a bit of profit.
Space travel never looked so inspirational to me as it first did on my Amiga 600. That was thanks to Frontier: Elite II which was basically a whole galaxy on a single floppy disk. Floppy disks held a maximum of 1.44MB. Think about that for a second. You’d barely fit a song on it these days, but somehow they managed to fit on a game about the whole galaxy. Awe-inspiring, no?
It’s a shame it was so bloody difficult to play at the age of eleven as I didn’t have a basic grasp of the controls – or science – and wondered why I kept invariably blowing up whenever I went near a planet’s atmosphere.
Along with the sci-fi fixes supplied by my dad’s taste in books and films, this game meant a whole hell of a lot to me – which is why I was amazed to stumble across the Pioneer Space Sim a few weeks back. It’s a game by a rather qualified dev team, one of whom used to work on the X series, who came together to lovingly recreate something which blew them away as much as it did me.
Just like Frontier, Pioneer puts you in the pilot’s seat of a spaceship and allows you to make a living searching the stars. You can ferry passengers between systems or deliver packages; import and export goods. If you prep your ship for battles you can even take on assassination missions or harbour fugitives from the mafia, police or one of the warring galactic governments. It takes a long time and a lot of money to get there – and it’s still something I haven’t achieved – but the idea of going into deep space dogfights is quite an alluring prospect if that’s your thing. I’m content just to travel between space stations and land on exotic planets to deliver goods, parcels and passengers for a fee so that I can work on upgrading my ship’s cargo and cabin facilities.
As the game it’s designed on is twenty years old, it sort of predates the idea of having complex branching storylines – in fact there’s no storyline at all. It’s just you, your ship and the beautiful planets you sail on by. It’s quite brilliant just to sit and admire the view, if you like that sort of thing.
Most frustratingly though, I’ve been having a bit of trouble keeping the game working; for whatever reason the game doesn’t like my computer at the moment. As the game is free though (with Donations welcome) it would be rude of me to complain; a labour of love like this will come together in the end.
All these years later, playing a game that’s as exciting and awe-inspiring as Pioneer is still my favourite form of peace and quiet. And the ambient music is pretty great too actually.