As astute readers may have guessed, The Bygone Bureau is a big fan of the space epic Battlestar Galactica (the re-imagined series, duh). Science fiction has always been connected to themes of survival, destruction, and human achievement. Apparently in the future, everything is bigger and meaner. Battlestar Galactica draws its power from the basic struggle of continued existence—which we thought we escaped from 2,000 years ago, reified into something significant again. Nothing else is important except the fight, because everything is on the line.
Books have always been science fiction’s most important asset, but computer gaming has also taken a liking to science fiction’s imaginative constructions of future. The marriage of the two seems natural.
Scouring the internet far and wide, I have found my favorite representations of science fiction through independent computer games. Because of the nature of indie games, they are often simplistic in depth, but extremely creative. Some games are immensely complex despite their exterior; some of these games are the most difficult I’ve ever played; and they are all, of course, extraordinarily fun.
Battleships Forever (Free)
Highly Recommended. Battleships Forever is a top down, 2D space battle game with ships that break off like LEGO pieces. The single-player mode gives you command of a fleet that must bravely defend against a strange pirate/alien force threatening humanity. I don’t think I’ve heard that plot line before. Otherwise, the game itself is as clever as it is entertaining. When you are promoted for your derring-do, you also get to pick new ships to fight with. Eventually you’ll end up with a palate of vessels with various strengths and weaknesses. Even at the most basic level, Battleships Forever is incredibly involved. Ship weapons are fired at particular arcs, making your positioning particularly important. In addition, the ship’s core—the part you have to protect—is buried between various parts: firing at a particular angle or section will help you break of blocks to quickly destroy an opponent’s core.
The game’s story line is partially finished, but if you complete that there is a skirmish mode allowing for some other options. And if you’re a genuine fan boy, there’s even a ship creator.
Armada Online (Free)
Armada Online is a MMORPG that lets you to take command of a vessel and travel the known galaxy. The game emphasizes combat, so you’ll often find yourself involved in missions against monstrous, crab-like space creatures. You can go off and venture alone, but the game emphasizes a region-based mission system where the entire sector is dedicated to particular goals. Achievement of those goals will reward you with credit and experience points.
As with any online RPG, Armada Online demands a significant time investment with little reward. You level up slowly, and it takes forever to get a new ship; but the game is still in testing, so its final form remains to be seen. The game is still undergoing development, but the content that is available is free to play. The number of strange ships and creatures already implemented in the game is impressive.
Darkside (Demo Only)
It’s hard to find indie games that can match the graphical beauty of larger development teams. While all of the games in this article are particularly good-looking, Darkside is a stand out. Not only are the graphics smooth and beautiful, Darkside has a perfect interface that is elegant and simple, while the controls are natural and intuitive.
The game itself is fairly simple: Protect bases on small asteroids from other ships or rocks floating by. There’s not a lot to it. Like other games of its genre, you go further to obtain bigger weapons to fight bigger enemies. It may not groundbreaking, but it’s a space fighting simulation done very well.
Outpost Kaloki (Demo Only)
Outpost Kaloki is a simulation game where you must build up a space station to fit the needs of the ships that come to dock. Whether newspapers, laboratories, or single’s dating bars, space travelers have a lot of demands. The game is attractive and lighthearted in appearance, and the objectives are fairly simple, though the game does get more complicated as you progress. Eventually you will run out of space, forcing you to judge the benefits of one addition over another. If you’re not careful, your operating costs will overtake your profits. Outpost Kaloki has a trial period of 60 minutes, which gave me enough time to enjoy the game’s dynamics without being bored.
Galcon (Demo Only)
Galcon is a fantastically simple strategy game that I would highly recommend. It is fast, addicting, and relies heavily on a spontaneous sense of strategy. The screen and controls are extremely spare. You are in control of a large planet bent on conquering the opposing force a ways away. You send your army away by right clicking on another planet. They’ll fight, and whoever has the larger force wins. The planets slowly build armies over time, so it’s essentially a race for planets. The interactions are simple, allowing a player to know exactly what is happening at all times. The game becomes incredibly tense once you confront another player: Where are they invading? How many troops are they going to use? If you’re not careful, the enemy will often send a massive attack against one of your planets. If you react quickly enough, you’ll be able to reinforce it. Of course, that leaves your other planets undefended—the dilemma never ends! Galcon has a trial period of three days, after which you must pay.
Mountain of Faith (Free)
Mountain of Faith is part of a series called the Touhou Project in Japan, developed by Team Shanghai Alice. Touhou is a group of games with a similar “bullet hell” format that is reminiscent of the old Raiden shooters. But this game is Raiden on psychedelic drugs. Instead of piloting a space ship, you are a flying anime girl. Your enemies are not helicopters or missiles; they’re fairies. The Asian electronic soundtrack throughout is strangely satisfying.
But don’t be fooled by the lighthearted tone. This is one of the most difficult games you’ll ever play. Carefully maneuvering between the crazy multicolored bullets that cover most of the screen is a challenge for even the most dextrous gamers. Mountain of Faith is the latest installment of the Touhou Project series and carries the tradition on in similar fashion. You can select from a couple different anime girls with varying shooting styles, which makes a huge difference in how you approach the game. The game itself can be completed within fifteen minutes, provided you don’t die first. I’ve managed to make it through hard mode, though there is a lunatic mode that I’m afraid to touch.
My only beef is that it’s in Japanese, but I guess I can’t really fault them for that. That said, it took me a while before I figured out that the Shift, Z and W keys all did something. If you’d rather just look at the game, YouTube has a zillion videos of insane fan boys showing their skills.
The site is also in Japanese. Just hover over the link until you find a setup.exe file.
Defcon (Demo Only)
Unfortunately, Defcon isn’t free, but the demo allows you to play the entire game sans a couple options. The game isn’t about space fighting, but it is about mass destruction. The entire game takes place on simulated neon board resembling those huge Pentagon maps common in disaster movies. In Defcon, you have a huge swath of territory to protect from impending nuclear attacks whilst you nuke cities of your opponents. You have a set number of silos, radars, aircraft, and fleets at your disposal.
The game is extremely difficult. I fiddled around with it for a while, but eventually realized that I had to invest considerable time into understanding it. The gameplay is similar to that of a traditional wargaming: You place all of your units first, movement is abominably slow (there’s a fast forward button), and any loss is a game-ending blow. It’s hard to actually hit with nukes, so there’s a twisted sense of victory when a sign flashes “5 million dead” after you strike an opponent’s city.