So about a week ago I found a game on amazon.com that made me turn my head. For a while now I've been trying to find a modern day take on the open world space game, similar in style to games like Privateer, and I had heard good things about this game, so I picked it up. The game is X3: Gold Edition, and even though I haven't, and will probably never touch X3: Reunion (I payed the extra 3 bucks for the soundtrack disc), X3: Terran Conflict has quickly become a newfound joy for me to play, despite it's complexity (the manual being 112 pages of fairly small print English), and after finding a mod to fix the lack of cockpits for all the ships, I found a guilty pleasure in flying around this universe the game set me in, despite running basically on no ideas on what to do. The game got me thinking though...
What features would be in my dream space game? After some thought, I came up with the following things, they are not numbered by any kind of importance, they are just numbered for organization's sake.
1: A large game space that feels connected. Freelancer did this the best so far, having each system have a few points of interest to the player, and having those connected via the trade lanes. Switching systems through the warp gates, even with the 2 second load time of white screen, really felt like you were heading to a new area. I'd like to see that kind of experience in more space games. X3: Terran Conflict gets close, but it's not quite to the degree of connectivity that Freelancer has.
2: A user friendly interface that has enough depth to please most if not all space sim junkies. I understand this is really hard to do, having an interface that is streamlined and easy to access, yet having all the commands of like building a space station to your specifics, or setting up a legion of traders under your command, but it can be done. It would allow new players to feel like they aren't being overwhelmed by the amount of interface options, but can also learn now to send those three wings of fighters to escort your trading ships to the planet Oculous VII. This is X3: Terran Conflict's biggest issue with me (and Reunion even more so), there is a lot that must be learned with just the UI before you can hope to really get anywhere.
3: Open ended mission variety. X3 has this in spades, not all missions need to be hunt this person, destroy these ships. Maybe I want to smuggle contraband to other planets and get payed by the employer to do it. While I have yet to know if X3 does stuff like that, I know there are plenty of mission choices beyond killing.
4: The circle of factions and their radius of power. Freelancer was somewhat on the right track with this. Space is stupidly large, and you can bet that in a game where there is a huge area to explore that not only where there be factions like the military or pirates, but that there will be branches off those those factions, and other third party factions. I'd like to see the radius of power of these factions shift depending on actions taken by the player, like if a player decides to do a mission for pirates, but near the end sends a communication to the military to launch an attack on the pirates to attempt to seize that sector of space, that if the pirates then lose the coming fight, their radius of power shrinks, and they would have to launch a new offensive to take it back. This of course would work the other way too.
5: Let me customize my ship, from weapon load-outs to shields, enhancements and for goodness sakes let me customize the paint job. I want my ship to have hot rod flames for a short time, I don't think custom paint jobs would be hard to put in, would it?
6: Show the current situation on the trade routes. Show me what's the safest or more risky routes at the time, and show me what planets are currently doing good rates on what product, I know this kinda falls into number 2, but I felt it should have it's own thing.
7: When in cockpit view, make me feel like I'm in the cockpit. This is more of a little polish touch thing, but if I'm in a cockpit, and the sun glares on my viewing glass, let there actually be a little graphic touch, like a bit of reflection of the cockpit onto the glass, Evochron Legends does this, and it really adds to the immersion. Also, have it sound like it, let the hum of the instruments sound, the beeps, the various systems check themselves. When the ship is close to going boom, let warning sirens go off, let me hear my mighty (or puny) engine whirr and rumble.
8: I want to see the surface of the planet myself, let me fly into the atmosphere and fly above the surface of the planet, scan some foliage, and maybe find some rare collectibles to be placed in a display room on my HQ space station that I can view at anytime I'm docked there. Evochron Legends did the part of being able to fly yourself down to the surface, but didn't seem to do anything with that.
9: So let me get this straight, in all these space games, we have the technology to self sustain ourselves in space, in a small craft for who knows how long, reaching the farthest stars in a matter of minutes, and have the weapon technology to blow other star ships up... yet we don't have a built in music player in the ships...why? I mean really, this is something that always got me, the tech is so advanced yet in very few if not none of the space games, we can't use our own music selectable from the ship's computer interface. Maybe I WANT to be blasting space pirates to the sound of "Livin' on a Prayer."
So there you have it, 9 features I'd like to see in a space game, of course there's a lot more to it than that, like controls and such, but most space games now have basically the same layout for things like that. If you think of a feature you'd like to see in an open world space game, go ahead and post in the comments.
As for X3: Terran Conflict, if you have a rig that can run it on high settings, and like space games, definitely check it out, it has my seal of approval.