BUZZZZZZZ! Where are you, Buzz Aldrin? I'm playing your old 1993 Interplay game, Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space (BARIS), about the 1960s U.S.-Soviet space race. Things are bad. I've got two Apollo 9 astronauts in a Jupiter rocket on a direct ascent to the Moon, in fall 1968. Looks like they're about to burn up on reentry. This will knock my capsule reliability down to 46% and also - speaking just on general principle - sucks. Why does your Race Into Space keep frying my astronauts, Buzz? Is this supposed to make me want to go into space? You've got me so jumpy I can't drive to the supermarket.
Now that I think on it, Buzz, I don't want help from you. Even though your name is on this game, you were an astronaut, not a NASA engineer. If Buzz Aldrin's Race Into Space were about piloting the Apollo 11 LEM to the lunar surface in July 1969, you and Neil Armstrong would be my go-to guys. But to help me win BARIS, I need someone who can plan a whole space program - some high-profile, fully-empowered Space Czar who is working even now to get America back to the Moon and beyond.
Oh, wait - there isn't one.
Does that help explain why we can't buy Race Into Space any more?
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.
- John F. Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1962
No Space Available
Pop culture defines society's desires. A zillion Wing Commander and X-Wing knockoffs let you zoom around space and zap alien bad guys, but astonishingly few electronic games take a realistic, contemporary approach to space travel, let alone a historical treatise like BARIS. People just don't seem to want them.
You'd think a plausible approach to colonizing the Moon, the Solar system and other stars - the future of humanity - would make a good game. Think of the grandiose goals you could present: constructing orbital habitats, mining asteroids for metals and water, and terraforming Mars! Building a space elevator, which seems tantalizingly possible even today, would present a wonderful challenge. Heck, you can easily spend a day or more just tooling around the Milky Way with Alessandro Ghignola's 1996 space simulator, Noctis, and that's not even a game.
But the vacuum is near perfect. Hardly a dozen electronic games have covered space travel with anything like realism. In 1984, Lawrence Holland created a fine NASA mission simulator for Avantage, Project: Space Station, before moving on to Lucasarts and X-Wing. And in 1987, Electronic Arts published Karl Buiter's odd space business simulation Earth Orbit Stations for the Apple II.
We've also seen a few space shuttle simulators, notably the excellent Virgin Interactive Shuttle from 1992. Microsoft never produced a sequel to its 1994 Space Simulator, though in 2001 we got a superior freeware equivalent, Martin Schweiger's Orbiter. Another worthwhile indie effort is Kai Backman's 2003 space station simulator ShortHike. Legacy Interactive's 2001 Moon Tycoon is OK, but limited god-game about building a lunar colony. Beyond that, we reach conventional real-time strategy games like Humongous Entertainment's 2002 MoonBase Commander (mistakenly marketed as a children's game) and goofy sims, like FireFly Studios' 2003 Space Colony; realism recedes into the blackness.