Recommending the Space Game

Let’s begin this series of browser game reviews!

The Space Game is a real-time strategy game in the vein of Command & Conquer, set in space. Specifically typical of the genre is the attention slathered upon resource-gathering (space ore mining), which needs to be balanced with military concerns. Typical of browser games, on the other hand, is the tower defence -like military model: the player is a semi-passive party in the military conflict, situation defensive structures and waiting for the computer enemy to attack in “waves” that must be destroyed for the ore to flow. I’m not a particular fan of real-time strategy (as far as I can see, the only reason to do it instead of turn-based is so you get to try out wacky game mechanics that work better in a non-discrete environment), but I definitely can enjoy it when done well and provided with a pause button.

I especially like two things about this game:

  • It is very pretty in the minimal sort of way that browser games do so well. The only elements of the game board are space rocks that contain the ores to be mined, and the network of production and defence structures the player creates. The latter resembles (by intent, it has to be) graphical constellations you’d see in star maps with angular lines against the stylized space background. As the enemy attacks in the form of variously colored, simple space-craft sprites, the player’s constellations flicker and lasers criss-cross the screen as battle is joined. It is very satisfying to create efficient logistics and defensive arrangements when the results are displayed as abstract art like this. The seamless zoom function is icing on the already pretty cake in this case, as well as being a beautifully simple tool for handling larger logistical systems; the graphical representation makes it easy to see how your system of production works at a glance.
  • The game’s resource control model rivals similar games on traditional platforms in terms of depth and intricacy. There are just two resources – ore and energy – but their interactions are cause for satisfying emergent strategies. As just an example, ores need to be mined to create structures, such as solar plants that create energy, and energy stores that store that energy. Energy on the other hand is needed to make structures, such as mining platforms, function. Most significant energy drain comes from defensive lasers, which is why storing energy is good for getting through the spikes of consumption during enemy attacks. These sorts of logistical concerns control the game.

Perhaps, if I had to find something to criticize, I’d say that my focus in playing a game isn’t best preserved by high score modes, especially when there are so many different ones as to dissuade my goal-seeking and confuse me. The game has a respectable campaign (of a bit over half a dozen increasingly difficult scenarios) that takes one night of intensive play to play through, after which the game sort of presumes that the player would be satisfied to go into an endless grind of time attack modes and such. I have a feeling that I could have enjoyed even more content – more different structures, enemies and perhaps space objects aside from the ore. Or scenario goals other than “mine enough to finish the scenario” and “survive to a set time limit”. But complaining about what’s not there is not very sensible when what the game has is so good. The game’s a bit narrower than the aforementioned Command & Conquer in many ways, but that also means that it does not tire the player out.

Of high scores

Thinking about it now, I probably should say another word or two about play modes and high scores: in my opinion high scores work best as a game-directing device when they are the only measure of success. I’ve never managed to get into high scores in games that proffer a real arc of play-through accomplishment, while in something like Tetris I can take the high score relatively seriously. I find that the direction of attention in designing the Space Game is a bit misplaced in how much it focuses on the idea of high score play instead of specific scenario play. I’d have much rather seen a larger campaign mode instead of an exhortation to go and micro-manage the game obsessively for weeks without still being able to be the best player of the game in the world (and why I’d want to be the best in this particular game, that’s beyond me anyway).

The above is probably not that uncommon for long-term gamers, actually: I can’t be the only one who finds himself refusing high scoring challenges because he knows that the payoffs are long away and dependent on obsessive, compulsive micromanaging of game play. You can do it in a culturally deprived environment or when the activity really clicks with you, but being the absolute best I ever can be in Space Game or Donkey Kong isn’t on my personal list of passions.

Not that this has anything much to do with the Space Game, mind you – I recommend it fully, you can always ignore the high scoring modes after playing through the campaign like I did. I might even consider playing the “mining” modes, actually, as they’re technically not high scoring – they’re just generic scenario play, which suits for this game just fine with its long (for a tower defense game) scenarios.

An important addition

After tooling around a bit at Kongregate after writing the above, I came to notice that the Space Game actually has a sequel. In The Space Game: Missions we get a large campaign with essentially the same system as the original game, except this time it’s full of strategic objectives and such instead of just “survive as long as you can”. Seems that the designer was thinking in the same direction I did, above. Most excellent, this – now I have more rocks to mine instead of doing something productive.

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