Podcast Question: Which is Your Most Immersive Game?

A Spacey Question
A Simple Question For You All…

Hey guys and gals, I’m trying something new. :) Tonight on the podcast — we typically record on Tuesday evenings, if y’all didn’t know — Jim and I are gonna talk about immersion in space games, and I thought it’d be fun if we got some input from our listeners/readers. :) Therefore, in the comments, please tell us which space game you’ve found most immersive, and why. If you don’t want to leave it in the comments, you can send it to us directly at hail at spacegamejunkie dot com. ;) Looking forward to your submissions guys, and as always, thanks for visiting. :)

Edit: Hey folks, thanks so much for your responses!! They made for a great discussion on the podcast, which will go up later this week. :)

Author: Brian Rubin

22 thoughts on “Podcast Question: Which is Your Most Immersive Game?

  1. That’s a tough question. The Freespace series was great in terms of immersion, and the I-War series was also very good in that, particularly in the first game. However, if I have to choose only one, then my choice would be this:


    Starshatter is not a widely known game, but it was basically Falcon 4 in space. Anyone who has ever played Falcon 4 knows how immersive it can be, and Starshatter was no different. I had many memorable battles in that game, battles that I remember vividly as things *I* experienced, as if I were in the cockpit. It left a strong enough impression on me that it is the only game ever for which I wrote an After Action Report (which reads a bit like fan fiction too). Not that my AAR was very good, but it just shows how much I was immersed in that game.

    It’s a good thing Starshatter is now essentially free (with source code and everything). I may even try to do something with its source code at some point, because very few games are as special to me as Starshatter was. And there still isn’t anything quite like it.

    1. Agree about Starshatter. Especially since, unlike games in which you kill a carrier load of enemies every few missions, Starshatter does not cheat. There’s an Order of Battle for each operation and, discounting reinforcements, that’s that. If you kill enemy carrier, it’s gone for good (along with the fighters it had). If you manage to wreck frigate escorts for a cruiser battlegroup, those cruisers will stay unescorted.
      It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes from the typical lack of persistence between the missions.

      Second would be I-war (the first one), for the unequaled feeling of actually running a small capship (which is not just a very big and slow fighter! How about that). Also, both I-war and Independence War 2 managed to make space feel big.

      Third would be a draw between Freelancer, Hardwar and Frontier.
      Freelancer created a feeling (even if it was cheaty as hell behind the scenes…) of an actual living universe – with convoys running the tradelanes, and talking to stations.
      Hardwar for actual working small scale economy. Yeah, ships still spawn, but the rest actually more or less works – factories are producing wares, traders are, well, trading between factories, pirates are hunting them and actually nabbing cargo, filthy scavengers are lurking around combat zones and cops are doing fuck all ;).
      Frontier for the moment when you go to galaxy map, zoom out to show the whole Milky Way and say to yourself “yeah, I can go anywhere I want”. Oh, and the first time when you appear in the newspapers ;)

      1. Hard question… let me try to contribute on this one.

        For playing a flying game I’d have to mention X3 Reunion, Privateer or Hardwar. (Great to see you play hardwar too Gorkomatic, great little space game even though it’s only on Titan.) I get into the games where I have to develop my spacecraft, interact with the economy and chart my destiny.

        As far as playing a Space Empire type PC game I’d have to say the most immersive would have to include Sword of the Stars (the first one), Sins of a Solar Empire and Endless Space. The old master games of MOO and MOO2 of course are great, the graphics of the newer ones immerse me better. There’s a cool factor there that the old games lack from the graphics… If someone ever just upgraded the oldies graphics I’d be re-buying them constantly!

        And then there’s the ones I just can’t get off my hard drive that resist classification. I still fire up Star Wars Rebellion from time to time as well as Nexus: the Jupiter Incident. Both “get your head in the game” and the hours fly.

        I’m sure there’ll be may posts on this but essentially anything where you have a reasonable fun factor over frustration factor will be a winner. Distant Worlds may have super things you can do but frankly I fell off the mountain I had to climb to enjoy it. Was off my hard drive in a month. The “sweet spot” games that make me feel like I’ve actually accomplished something good in the games draw my vote. Still remember in Wing Command 4 when I revealed what the Admiral had been doing at the Council — wowzers.

  2. Probably one of the XWing series, the original Elite or Star Control 2 for me, but that’ll be as much a function of the amount of free time I have had over the years as anything; it’s the old “money, family, time — pick 2” thing. Back when I was in school I could lose myself in a game for months.

    I imagine when the kids get a little older I’ll get some of that time back, but at the moment I can’t scrape together the time to get really stuck in to a good game, so I tend to play stuff I can walk away from if I need to.

  3. Absolutely, 100% hands-down Elite II : Frontier – though I could certainly agree with Nack that I had a lot more free time to get lost in a game back then. I also sank a lot of time into the original Wing Commander back in college, and obviously Jumpgate, which was the closest experience to Elite or Elite II I’ve had subsequently. First-person piloting I’ve always found far more immersive than 4X strategy, so although I’ve enjoyed several space 4X strategy or RTS (Homeworld) games over the years, piloting my own ship trumps those experiences for sake of the question being asked.

  4. Does X-COM count? I remember being totally engaged playing the original X-COM.

    For Space Sims I recall Wing Commander I/II sucking me in. I was almost distraught when Spirit bought the farm (spoilers).

    For 4x I’d go with, laugh away, Endless Space. I think it’s because that game is simple and clear and allows me to invent a narrative around its simple mechanics and rules.

  5. I’d put my vote in for HomeWorld. I just felt like a space commander with that series. The situations that you were thrown in and the solutions that you sought felt right in the game fiction. An honorable mention to Rules of Engagement, while often frustrating, it had that ‘these are the tools at my disposal, make use of them” gritty-ness that few games could match.

    1. I know it’s the easy answer, but MOO2 still is unequalled in my book. I would always play with the tactical battles, and when you had dozens of ships on your side that you had to move individually – wow, one battle could take over an hour – but it felt like 5 minutes! And I still remember the weapon bay doors opening the first time I fired a Stellar Converter at some unfortunate planet.
      And, as mentioned above, I would include X-Com. It was an edge-of-your-seat hours long experience.

  6. Starflight for me. The universe was so mysterious. Learning how to talk to the aliens, finding strange artifacts. There was so little hand-holding and (for the time) so much customization that it felt like I was in a film.

      1. I read this damn site every week, I figured now was as good a time as any to start commenting. :)

  7. I sort of agree with many of these comments here, and I’d probably choose either Starshatter or Independence War for immersive sims, but at the same time I think I’m also the grump who just hasn’t yet seen the space video game that I’d call immersive yet.

    What I’d like for you to consider adding to your discussion is the ways in which the genre has failed to provide immersion, why this is so, whether it really matters that something is “immersive,” and whether this is linked to techology, a failure of imagination, innovation, or simply technology and manpower. How might even the most popular space game be criticized in this way?

    To put it more positively, what are the ways in which space games can be more immersive, using current technology and manpower limitations?

    1. Can’t resist adding my 2 cents here: No question in my mind that for immersiveness, Independence War and Independence War 2 had me really feeling like I was in space, flying big ships. It sold me like no other game has, on the entire ‘verse they crafted. The physics, the feel of the vessels, the navigation, the combat. I fought many long battles, sweating, pumping out missiles, evading like crazy, agonizing over that decision to start running away just before ‘sploding. I loved those games.

      Even more so after I figured out how to shut Jafs up and give him a Venice-class freighter.

      Some of the other responses above have been great, I can only concur, but hours spent playing, or just plain fun don’t always equal “immersiveness”. I loved MOO2, and spent many many hours exterminating entire planetary populations on that. Freespace: Oh ya! WC games: for sure, especially Privateer. X-Com should have a special place all its own in every true gamer’s heart. But for “Immersiveness” nothing touches the I-War series in my books.

  8. Starflight. I truly started getting stressed out as the stars started going nova close to Arth. Playing the Sega version the Uhlek had me actually sweating with cramped hands anytime I was in their space.

    1. Oh God that was terrifying as hell, I remember the slow creeping feeling of hopelessness as the stars began going nova. Scary as hell.

    2. Yeah. THE plot twist of the eighties.

      And Starflight 2, though i had problem playing that on my Amiga (amber monitor made discerning star colors somewhat hard). Hell, i even remember a clue that I never solved!
      (Super old spoiler warning!)

      “Round the fallen star of four, there is a world of humming stones. There, where nowhere meets nowhere, the transmitter is awaiting our return”

      Heh. Good times :)

  9. Never tried Starflight, it has dawned on me that it may have been one of THE games I missed out on when I was young, anyway Freescape 2 did the trick for me, Wingcommander 3 was great fun too. As for later age immersion, I guess Eve online did really put you in the spot a times.

  10. Interesting discussion. Immersion is one of those concepts that is completely subjective, and I think is very dependent on time and place in your life. When you’re young, with all the time in the world and a vivid imagination, it’s very easy to get sucked in a world (hence why most of these games I’m seeing are >10-20 years old). When you’re older, you have little time to game, and thousands of distractions — family, Twitter, work –, consistently poke at you, it’s harder to get sucked into a world and a universe. To me, immersion is primarily about *story*. If I’m invested in characters I really care about, a universe that seems alive, and a narrative that is genuinely interesting, that’s what makes me dive into a game. A great flight model is awesome, but if I don’t care about what I’m doing, then I’m not going to be passionate about the game. I think that’s why I feel a bit out of place in the modern Space Game genre… I just haven’t found a game in the past few years that tells a story that isn’t completely non-sensical or horribly executed (like bad voice acting), and why I’m a big fan of spacey games that are Star Trek/Star Wars based, because it comes with a story baked in and the designers can focus on mechanics.

    To me, (and speaking as someone who is a big fan of RPGs), the Mass Effect games are both ripe for spacey games and super-immersive. The mid-00’s Bioware (probably not now) did an excellent job of universe construction.

    The most immersive space-y games:

    1) Wing Commander 3: The high-water mark for space sims? Or maybe that’s the 4th. I still remember where I sat when I played the game, what I had for dinner when I cranked it up. *spoilers* I actually cared when the Kilrathi guy impaled Blair’s love. It was so immersive that they made a horrible movie in that universe! Admiral Tolwyn is one of the most memorial characters I’d say in that time period, helped by a great performance by Malcolm McDowell. We all laugh at the horribly compressed FMV now, but there’s a reason that they were so popular in the mid-90s. They did a great job with that current technology to suck you into a world. Let me ask you this: Did anybody pick the pilot over the mechanic?

    2) Hyperspeed: Anyone else play this game? This is one of those games that I can’t find anywhere on the Internet. Early 90s, lone traveler looking for a habitable world. I remember the sounds being distinctive. I feel like it’s Elite for people who never played Elite. It did a great job of showing the loneliness of the universe.

    One of the interesting things about the X-wing/TIE Fighter games is the IMuse music system that changed the music to the action that you were doing. Seems small, but had a huge effect. When the Imperial March started when a Star Destroyer came in, there was a nice OH SHI- moment that was nice, and the flourish when you finished a mission was nice.

    Interesting question for Veloxi: most memorable CHARACTERS in the Spacey Genre? Something to think about for a further podcast.

    Oh, and Starflight is a Genesis game.

    1. STARFLIGHT WAS A PC GAME FIRST YOU SON OF A BITCH. ;) As for characters? Hmmm, obviously Blue Hair/Blair, Maniac, Angel, Hobbes and so on from the Wing Commander games, er…I loved the computer in Millennia: Altered Destinies. I’ll have to think of some more…

  11. My absolute #1 most “suck you into the story and characters” has to be Mass Effect 2. Nothing else even comes close. I’m shocked and disappointed I didn’t bring it up on the show.

    1. I totally agree, and I think a Space Sim in the Mass Effect universe would be amazing.

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