Reason No. 2: Outer space is boring to look at
The visually sparse setting of outer space is another possible reason why the space combat sim lost its appeal over time. Gamers today can traverse extremely detailed, realistic planet-side environments, and graphics technology has advanced to the point that re-creations our everyday, mundane world looks more interesting than the vast emptiness beyond it.
"One of the things that makes working in space challenging is making it visually compelling, vibrant and capable of evoking emotion," says Romanyuk. "Space is an empty pallet. If we want a spooky or somber mood, we have to find more subtle game elements to establish one."
To the layperson, a game set in space may not appear difficult to make. After all, outer space is essentially blackness, punctuated with stars and planets. But the planetary bodies and starships themselves can be as detailed, if not more, than objects set on a planet.
"In first-person shooters, you don't have to make detailed models for objects that are far away. There is no need to build backsides of buildings," says Suhr. "In space games, there are no places you can use low-res textures and simple models. You can go everywhere, so everything has to be on a decent-quality level. Take a look at X3. It was released in 2005, and it still looks great."
Reason No. 3: First-person POV isn't as appealing when a game is set in outer space
The original Wing Commander games depicted the play field from a first-person (cockpit) perspective, but the recent revival of the series, Wing Commander Arena for Xbox Live, goes for a third-person perspective of the player's ship. It is an arcade shooter that shares little with its namesake's original gameplay.
"Maybe they thought an arcade game could reach a broader audience. As it is action-based, rather than being a simulation, you lose the feeling of being in the fighter," says Suhr. Although his Shadows of Lylat mainly uses third-person view, it will also have an optional first-person player mode.