In the year ninteen hundred and fifty nine something very hard, moving very fast impacted with the moon. It crumpled like a tin can, assuming anything was left of it at all. But if you were to rewind and freeze time for long enough to read the writings emblazoned on it's side, the letters "CCCP" would most likely make an impression upon you.
It was seven years later before a ship flying under the banner of NASA and the USA dropped a small craft that made a significantly softer landing. A man exited the craft, and humanity stood, for the first time in the sea in the sky, the place which they had so long studied and worshipped. A footprint and a flag were left to commemorate the occaision.
It was ninteen hundred and seventy seven when the first copy of traveller hit the shelves. The Third Imperium invaded the homes of sci-fi fans, and role players. It lit a spark, though small at first, bright all the same. So bright in fact that it held it's light for ten years to set our stage, the opening night in ninteen hundred and eighty six.
There in the corner of a room far apart from the busle of everyday life sat a BBC Micro. Not so different from any other computer of it's type, though perhaps shinier as it was only bought in the last several days. The father gives his daughter a tape and stands over her shoulder pointing out all the little gadgets and woodads that still mystify the young girl. She inserts the tape and loads the thing on it, program was it, waiting patiently for it to load, or else jump out of the screen and bite her. But then it comes up, and the splash screen plays, proudly proclaiming the title ELITE!
Elite was a mammoth unto itself, though perhaps we wouldn't think of it as such today. It's gameplay was open, fighting and trading, together in a single title. A huge universe to explore and so much to see, on top of that... it was in three dimensions, and allowed you to move in relation to all three dimensions.
Soon after spawned Wing Commander, the brain child of one Chris Roberts at Origin studios. World War II in space he called it, and in the opinion of this author, he well delivered. Three years later X-Wing was released by Lucasarts, though in the annals of video game history it was soon overshadowed by it's sequel Tie Fighter.
Two distinct styles began to emerge, that of the open ended world in which players could trade and fight often attempting to acquire bigger or better ships and fleets, and that of the space combat sim built around close and hard dogfighting with capital ships often merely tactical tools or backdrops.
In the first category the torch of Elite was used to light a myriad of fires. Privateer, a Wing Commander spin-off, Escape Velocity, a mac game developed by Ambrosia Software which, though 2dimensional, had all other hallmarks of elite play, X, by German developer Egosoft, and Freelancer, Chris Roberts return to space simulation.
The second was kept alive by Wing Commander's sequels until a new competitor entered the game, Freespace. Freespace was a sequel of sorts in it's own right, originally intended to be built off the Descent engine which powered the popular shooter Descent. The first Freespace game was perhaps the most successful, while the second was set on an incredibly tight schedule of one year, and even released a month early to little in the way of marketing despite being met with critical acclaim. Star lancer closed out the genre, the last new ip to see release, and in many ways the last true single player space combat sim to hit shelves.
In the MMO Realm, three titles hit shelves in this order, Jumpgate ('01), Earth and Beyond ('02), and EVE Online ('03). All of these titles faced hard times, though only one was kept on by it's publishers and developers, EVE. Perhaps it was CCP's relative size, and their dependance on the success of their title that helped them through the lean years. Whatever it was, the rest of the industry walked away with the concept that it was somehow an untennable concept for games.
When EVE upsurged in recent times, building a player base that others had considered lost, it caught some few people's attention. At first it was simply a shot in the arm for those patiently waiting for the inevitability of Elite Online, but then Space Cowboy was given a second go under the name FlySIS. Now Jumpgate, the first of the three brothers to hit shelves, is seeing it's own revival. Built again and billed as the fast paced pulse pounder to EVE's, at best, ponderous pace, perhaps it will build it's own empire in the Niche.
Perhaps this time the entire team behind it will have learned what has been true of deep sci-fi games all along. No matter how bad it seems, have faith in your product and tend it well, the players will come.