Spaceflight Simulator: The Best Sandbox Game for Space Enthusiasts
A space flight simulation is a genre of flight simulator video games that lets players experience space flight to varying degrees of realism. Common mechanics include space exploration, space trade and space combat.
Some games in the genre aim to recreate a realistic portrayal of space flight, involving the calculation of orbits within a more complete physics simulation than pseudo space flight simulators. Others focus on gameplay rather than simulating space flight in all its facets. The realism of the latter games is limited to what the game designer deems to be appropriate for the gameplay, instead of focusing on the realism of moving the spacecraft in space. Some "flight models" use a physics system based on Newtonian physics, but these are usually limited to maneuvering the craft in its direct environment, and do not take into consideration the orbital calculations that would make such a game a simulator. Many of the pseudo simulators feature faster than light travel.
Examples of true simulators which aim at piloting a space craft in a manner that conforms with the laws of nature include Orbiter, Kerbal Space Program and Microsoft Space Simulator. Examples of more fantastical video games that bend the rules of physics in favor of streamlining and entertainment, include Wing Commander, Star Wars: X-Wing and Freelancer.
Space flight games and simulators, at one time popular, had for much of the new millennium been considered a "dead" genre. However, open-source and enthusiast communities managed to produce some working, modern titles (e.g. Orbiter Spaceflight Simulator); and 2011's commercially released Kerbal Space Program was notably well-received, even by the aerospace community. Some more recent games, most notably Elite: Dangerous, have brought new attention to the space trading and combat game subgenre.
Realistic space simulators seek to represent a vessel's behaviour under the influence of the laws of physics.As such, the player normally concentrates on following checklists or planning tasks. Piloting is generally limited to dockings, landings or orbital maneuvers. The reward for the player is on mastering real or realistic spacecraft, celestial mechanics and astronautics.
FlightGear is used professionally in aerospace engineering and research, with a flight dynamics engine (JSBSim) that is used in a 2015 NASA benchmark to judge new simulation code to the standards of the space industry. FlightGear simulates orbital and atmospheric flight, but as of 2021 does not cover flight between planets (although its flight dynamics engine supports Mars and has been used to model the NASA ARES glider). The simulation has been continually developed into modern times, as FlightGear is free and open-source - the project receives development from people with scientific and engineering backgrounds, and is open to contributions from any source. FlightGear can accurately handle speeds from subsonic, transonic, through to high hypersonic or re-entry regimes with a flight dynamics engine that can incorporate windtunnel data or computational fluid dynamics, and uses a 3d model of gravity used for spaceflight based on spherical harmonics which can simulate the twisting force caused by gravity varying over a craft. It has an accurate celestial simulation that also feeds star tracker instruments for navigation. FlightGear has the ability to accelerate time supported by the fact that the physics simulation runs on a separate clock than the visuals - this is very important to simulate long space missions. Being modern, FlightGear has realistic graphics and an orbital renderer that can handle calculations of light scattering and auroral emission with huge distances involved. Of particular note is FlightGear's Space Shuttle project, whose simulation is backed by NASA windtunnel data and is the most detailed and accurate simulation outside of NASA's internal ones.
Kerbal Space Program can be considered a space simulator, even though it portrays an imaginary universe with tweaked physics, masses and distances to enhance gameplay. Nevertheless, the physics and rocket design principles are much more realistic than in the space combat or trading subgenres. Mods for the game such as Real Solar System, Realism Overhaul and Kerbalism can be installed to add more realism to the game by replacing the standard in-game solar system with a 1:1 replica of the real Solar System as well as adding more realistic rocket engines, radiation, life support and other elements to make the game more realistic.
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The game/program SpaceEngine includes a realistic space flight simulator within its full scale representation of the universe (including both real and procedurally generated astronomical objects), utilizing realistic orbital mechanics and an atmospheric model for certain flyable shuttles. It also includes interstellar travel using the hypothetical Alcubierre drive, but this is implemented in a realistic method to compliment the more realistic elements of the game.
The general formula for the space trading and combat game, which has changed little since its genesis, is for the player to begin in a relatively small, outdated ship with little money or status and for the player to gain in status and power through trading, exploration, combat or a mix of different methods. The ship the player controls is generally larger than that in pure space combat simulator. Notable examples of the genre include Elite, the X series, Wing Commander: Privateer, Freelancer, and No Man's Sky.
Most modern space flight games on the personal computer allow a player to utilise a combination of the WASD keys of the keyboard and mouse as a means of controlling the game (games such as Microsoft's Freelancer use this control system exclusively). By far the most popular control system among genre enthusiasts, however, is the joystick. Most fans prefer to use this input method whenever possible, but expense and practicality mean that many are forced to use the keyboard and mouse combination (or gamepad if such is the case). The lack of uptake among the majority of modern gamers has also made joysticks a sort of anachronism, though some new controller designs and simplification of controls offer the promise that space sims may be playable in their full capacity on gaming consoles at some time in the future. In fact, X3: Reunion, sometimes considered one of the more cumbersome and difficult series to master within the trading and combat genre, was initially planned for the Xbox but later cancelled.Another example of space simulators is an arcade space flight simulation action game called Star Conflict, where the players can fight in both PvE and PvP modes.
Realistic simulators feature spacecraft systems and instrument simulation, using a combination of extensive keyboard shortcuts and mouse clicks on virtual instrument panels. Most of the maneuvers and operations consist of setting certain systems into the desired configuration, or in setting autopilots. Real time hands on piloting can happen, depending on the simulated spacecraft. For example, it is common to use a joystick analog control to land a Space Shuttle (or any other spaceplane) or the Apollo Lunar Module (or similar landers). Dockings can be performed more precisely using the numerical keypad.Overall, the simulations have more complex control systems than game, with the limit being the physical reproduction of the actual simulated spacecraft (see Simulation cockpit).
Early attempts at 3D space simulation date back as far as 1974's Spasim, an online multi-player space simulator in which players attempt to destroy each other's ships. The earliest known space trader dates to 1974's Star Trader, a game where the entire interface was text-only and included a star map with multiple ports buying and selling 6 commodities. It was written in BASIC.
Though not as well known as Elite, Trade Wars is noteworthy as the first multiplayer space trader. A BBS door, Trade Wars was released in 1984 as an entirely different branch of the space trader tree, having been inspired by Hunt the Wumpus, the board game Risk, and the original space trader, Star Trader. As a pure space trader, Trade Wars lacked any space flight simulator elements, instead featuring abstract open world trading and combat set in an outer space populated by both human and NPC opponents. In 2009, it was named the #10 best PC game by PC World Magazine.
The open source community has also been active, with projects such as FS2 Open and Vega Strike serving as platforms for non-professional efforts. Unofficial remakes of Elite and Privateer are being developed using the Vega Strike engine, and the latter has reached the stage where it is offered as a working title to the public. In 2013 a hobbyist space flight simulator project was realized under usage of the open source Pioneer software.
This game allows you to make intriguing rockets that follow the criteria of real physics. In addition, you can also plan launches, deploy shipments and land your spacecraft. Above all, this simulator allows you to explore new worlds. It is easy to start building up the design of your new rocket. However, it is hard to master the design that will not break down in all your missions. As a result, you have to understand the fundamentals of how a rocket works.
In terms of the multiplayer space, few space simulator games could compete with Allegiance, released for PC in 2000. The game mixed two popular PC genres: first-person shooter and real-time strategy. Players work in teams to capture the opponent's bases and force them to surrender.