Space Waif: Solar 2 Is What I Like

By Brendan Caldwell on June 23rd, 2011 at 4:00 pm.

My foreign policy is always war.
Three wise men once said, “Intergalactic, planetary. Planetary, intergalactic.” I think we all take solace from those words at some points in our life. For are we not all made of star stuff? Solar 2 is built on this species of Saganian wisdom. Coupled with some delightful planetary physics and a dash of good humour, it’s probably the best time you can have alone with a heavenly body. Um. That’s not what I mean. Um. Um.

Firstly, does anybody remember Encarta 96? Pre-wiki there was somehow a demand for encyclopaedias on CD-Rom. Ah, but they were competing with a slightly more entertaining medium. Namely, games wot let you blow stuff up, innit.

To its credit, Encarta 96 took the interactive form and ran with it, including a quiz game called Mindmaze which kept me and the rest of my ma’s brood entertained for hours. More relevantly, it also included an orbit simulator that allowed you to alter the orbit of the moon around the earth. If you were so inclined (and I was) you could alter it so that the bodies collided and the moon exploded. This also kept me entertained for hours.

Solar 2 is what would happen if the tiniest, gameiest bits of the Orbit section of Encarta 96 were allowed to fester and grow, in a dark corner of Microsoft HQ. If by some gravitational phenomenon they clung together in a ball and began to collect mass. Only motes of dust at first, then small insects, then mid-sized rodents, then waste paper bins, then the entire programming staff of Microsoft Games Studios until finally, in a terrifying and awesome rumble of physics, it spun out the doors and freed itself, colliding full smack into Jay Watts of Murudai, who exclaimed aloud: “Fucking why not YES PLEASE.”

In 18 years precisely, the planets will align (ever so nicely).

But ah. I havenae even explained what Solar 2 is all about yet. Basically, you play as a planet. Well, in the beginning you are just a tiny asteroid, adrift in the vast not-quite-emptiness of space. By colliding with other asteroids you grow in size and eventually you become a small planet. Now sallying up beside asteroids will cause them to go into orbit around you, which you can absorb to grow even bigger. Keep going and you’ll become a small star, able to have several planets orbit you at once, each with their own field of tiny satellites and each with the potential for life.

Life is a funny thing. When life develops on your planets it this causes miniscule spaceships to launch out and patrol your solar system, sometimes being a nuisance by destroying useful asteroids and sometimes being helpful by protecting your planet from neighbouring systems that are likewise crowded with life. That’s right, there’s other systems floating about, competing with you for resources. It’s all a bit reminiscent of Osmos, in that it has that dog-eat-dog feel to it. I mean, the entire game is made of circles which for all intents and purposes are trying to eat each other. That’s very Osmos.

The most striking moments come when you have a system full of planets with life, spaceships weaving and swarming all around you like so many cheeky oxpeckers on a rhino. Introduce this system to another and a huge pan-universe war breaks out between your civilisations. Well, huge to them. To you it just looks like a few fleas jumping about and getting all up in each other’s grill. Ha ha, silly wee space fleas. Oh, what are ye like? And other such patronising phrases.

A lot of the time nobody wins these wars until you get the planets and stars involved by bashing straight into your enemy, sending some class M zooming off into the nether. This is a delicate process, mind. Misjudge the size and weight of your target and all your planets will break orbit and scatter, leaving you naked and defenceless. As we all know, space is the second worst place to be naked and defenceless, next to Pamplona during the encierro.

I see things in binary stars.

In short: you grow. You grow and grow and grow and grow. I was very impressed when I saw a binary star system floating by me in a cosmic waltz. So impressed that I went, “OooooOOOOO.” That’s right, I raised my ooooo into capitals at the end. It was that pretty. But then I was talking to That Bloody Phill Cameron last night and he said he had a system with eight stars. Eight. Stars. “At any moment,” he said, “it feels like it will collapse into a black hole.”

Did it collapse into a black hole? I don’t know. I haven’t heard from Phill in a while. But the game definitely does allow for that to happen and I’m quite interested to see what it’s like, so I’m going to stop chatting about it and go and have another play. I think you should too. Like another wise man once said, “If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” What Solar 2 does, in it’s own small way, is allow you to make some apple pie.

God, I hope that metaphor makes sense to somebody else but me.

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45 Comments »

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  1. johnpeat says:

    The idea looks nice, but the demo has almost no content (you get to fly around and that’s about it – no missions, strictly limited progress etc.)

    • LionsPhil says:

      Yeah. I made myself a small star, watched the large star float about and zap things with its life, tried to wage war from a lower foot only to find that, despite a loudout of veteran life, it’s just not really possible to compete at the numbers, smashed it about a bit until it had no planets and I had none, then quit from boredom since apparently becoming that large myself is locked out and ultimately this is just Progress Quest. The only driving force is gathering things and pressing a key until I unlock the next size of thing. Longevity: zilch.

    • RockyMM says:

      @LionsPhil My thoguhts exactly. Since there is no multiplayer (imagine multiplayer with this premise) and no urge to play now “while the community is young) I decided to wait for discount.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Luringen says:

    Bought it, it is actually very good. It’s fun to drift around and maybe engage in some interplanetary wars. Or just get loads of stars in a system, and laugh as it all collapses into a supermassive black hole.

  3. Howling Techie says:

    I bought the game as soon as it was available as I loved the first one. This is one of the most relaxing games I have played in a long time, and starting from a small rock and eventually cultivating your own solar system is an enjoyable way to pass the time, although it can be a bit tense when you have two large systems battling it out, knowing that only one will survive (or at least get severe casualties). It is a bit like fl0w in space, with the way you need to get bigger and be able to defend your self before you can take on bigger systems. I also found stealing planets from other systems, especially high level ones, to be very satisfying.

    • Premium User Badge

      Luringen says:

      How do you steal planets without bumping another planet into one, knocking it out of orbit?

    • Howling Techie says:

      I just have one or two no life planets around my system to knock an enemy’s planet with enough force in the opposite direction of its rotation. It should then join your system, or at least send it floating off somewhere.

    • LionsPhil says:

      One of the huge problems with the demo was the sheer fiddlyness of having a high-tech planet floating through the cosmos after you freed it from another star, trying to sneak up and make it orbit you, only for the blasted thing to instead accellerate wildly and incinerate itself in your celestial fires.

      Or smash, apparently. Whichever. It also seems to be an oddly useful tactic to just slam carelessly into other things about your size or even bigger at maximum speed, and somehow respawn with much more mass.

  4. Howling Techie says:

    Apart from being in space, there are practically no similarities between the two products.

  5. Gnoupi says:

    Encarta’s simulator, one of my first games, when my only access to a computer was at school :’)

    Oh, the memories.

    (Including of course the “let’s see how the astronaut would fall with Jupiter’s gravity!” “Splotch”)

  6. G says:

    Bloody hell, Encarta. Earlier versions allowed you to bounce the moon off the earth, creating pleasing patterns. I was gutted when the new one just blew the moon up.

  7. somini says:

    Another dimension, another dimension…

    This and that autotuned Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson and other scientists are making me want to buy this game…

    • innociv says:

      I love Syphony of Science. They should have had it for the music to their trailer.

      I think i’ll wait for a 50% sale, though.

      I’ll probably wait for holiday season sales to buy my games except for the day1 buys like RO:HoS and BF3.

    • Premium User Badge

      jrodman says:

      A still more glorious dawn awaits / not a sunrise but a galaxy rise
      a dawning of 400 billion suns / the rising of the milky way

  8. McDan says:

    I did like, the look of this. I’ll probably get it now that I know about the stuff that goes on in it, thanks brendy!

  9. Dachannien says:

    That’s like comparing Tom Clancy’s HAWX to Microsoft Flight Simulator.

  10. Premium User Badge

    TeraTelnet says:

    Blimey, I was just thinking about Encarta the other day. Apparently the only thing left of the brand is an online dictionary.

  11. Ergates_Antius says:

    I hope that should our solar system ever get invaded by aliens, our sun Sun will step in and smash them with a planet.

    • aDemandingPersona says:

      Just hope it’s not our planet our sun uses… eek..

  12. Koozer says:

    I enjoyed the demo quite a lot, but I’ve a feeling that that is over half the game, making it less cost-efficient than the pictures – handing my cash over to Mr. Tickets makes me cringe in agony as it is.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Shakermaker says:

    I have been playing this for the last couple of days. It is a great way to while away half an hour, just floating around in space, building up your solar system. Didn’t someone call this kind of casual games ‘palate cleansers’ recently?

  14. magnus says:

    It’s O.K. but it’s a bit of misnomer to call it a sandbox game, it’s more sandbox light than anything.

  15. Tei says:

    Is a bit too expensive. Is more a $5 or $3 game than a $6 or $9 game.

    Don’t ask why I know that.

  16. Premium User Badge

    shaydeeadi says:

    If any of you can stomach the pad, it’s 400 msp on XBL Indie. Which is a lot less than on steam.

  17. Danny252 says:

    The game got insanely more interesting for me once I hit the black hole stage – rather than having the planets, at ~1/10 your mass, stuck in circles, you were 10^4x more massive and they weren’t constrained, and so orbitted in proper ellipses.

    That kept the astrophysicists in me entertained for a good hour.

  18. Shazbut says:

    Becoming a black hole and doing what comes next is very exciting. It’s a good game in general I think, but a bit fiddly and sometimes frustrating. Or maybe I haven’t settled into it’s slow pace properly

  19. Peter Radiator Full Pig says:

    “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe”
    -Carl Sagan.

    A great man. Sagan and Osmos combined? Those four words would of sold it to me.

  20. Frostbeard says:

    YES! Finally another MindMaze affictionado. As others have remarked I too played it in the library at school when that was the access place to the wonders of the…well..some kind of internet. I loved that game. There should be a Wikipedia game of some sort..

    • Cable says:

      man i loved mindmaze, probably one of the first things that made me interested in learning “stuff”

  21. Jinnigan says:

    Can I just say that the first couple of sentences here made me literally laugh out loud? Yes.

  22. Armante says:

    Played the demo. Liked it. Found myself playing the demo again, and again. Decided to get it, and have now sunk many happy hours into it. It’s not cheap on Steam at the moment, but I don’t regret buying it. This is perfect for a quiet 30-60 mins of chill time. Great audio track too.

    I’m sure there are a lot of people that won’t like it, but if you liked Osmos (similar feel for sure) and have a little bit of patience to sneak up on planets and asteroids to sling them into orbit rather than smash them, you won’t regret it. Hell, I haven’t even started any missions yet. But I have a binary sun system with 8 battle-ready planets :)

    Try the demo. It won’t hurt.

  23. iWHUT says:

    MINDMAZE!

    Mindmaze was what gaming was about :P

    That and NOMAD.

    And if you never played NOMAD, you are no allowed to cry…

    All done? Cheers.

  24. MadTinkerer says:

    Perhaps, but which one is Hawx and which one is Flight Sim? As someone else who has seen both games and is considering them both but doesn’t know the difference yet, I’d like to know.

  25. Torgen says:

    Ok, played the demo, and a couple of questions: You can’t catch asteroids as a small star? I was thinking that you might be able to catch a bunch of asteroids, then have rogue asteroids pulled into the system to crash into the ones already orbiting to grow them bigger, thereby making planets?

    Is there a “screensaver” mode, where I can impart a small constant velocity to my planet, and watch it wander the galaxy, attracting asteroids, growing into a star, then attracting planets? If there is, I’ll buy the full game immediately.

  26. Torgen says:

    Oh, I did come across a triple star system while bumming around the universe, that had several planets, three of four of which had spacefaring races. Didn’t hang around enough to chat, though. O.O

  27. terry says:

    Yep, the game’s a lot of fun, and very relaxing provided you aren’t too anal about trajectories and whatnot and sort of boogie around like a disturbing space katamari hoovering up debris. I’ve played for a couple of hours and haven’t hit any of the missions yet, so I’d say its worth the bux, especially given that Murudai is very active about getting user suggestions for future updates (which will be free). I certainly enjoy it more than Osmos, which got brainblendingly unforgiving comparatively quickly.

  28. yurusei says:

    HAWX = Solar 2, MFS = Universe Sandbox.

  29. undead dolphin hacker says:

    Not worth $10 by any stretch of the imagination.

  30. Zorn says:

    I stumbled over this gem per chance, and was interested from the beginning.
    I fired up my steam account and got me the demo.

    The soundtrack is relaxing, but not tiresome, that was one of the first things.
    After half an hour, or maybe it was an hour, I don’t know.
    I reckoned, not getting enough of it, I get the full version.

    It’s worth every penny.

    And I like to support independent developers, that care.
    For such intriguing game, made by one man, hell no,
    10 bucks are not too much.

  31. Premium User Badge

    Hypocee says:

    So I’m fairly mission-oriented; I need something to do in order to motivate me to gather stuff, even if as in Osmos the goal is ‘do not die’. I was delighted to see a few missions in there. Has anyone done the ‘philistine lifeforms’ mission, where you have to reduce several planets in a system below life threshold without dislodging or destroying any of them? Approaches that have failed many times:
    1. Cultivate goodlife, hang around forever and ever kiting beam earwigs, rushing missile trucks and waiting in vain for my planetary guns to turn the tide against the system’s material superiority (eventually get fed up or unlucky, get too close, get surrounded, life blasted to zero, ten minutes rebuilding or ‘how droll’)
    2. Get life and a shield and ram them. (dislodge; fail)
    3. Just ram them. (dislodge; fail, or life vaporises me before I can reach)
    4. Get a bunch of asteroids in orbit, dash in and hit them with those (life vaporises them instantly)
    5. Get goodlife to tie up the life defenders and a bunch of asteroids in orbit, hit them with those (goodlife mostly kills itself on the asteroids, badlife vaporises them slightly less instantly. A few hit; minor shield drain recharges in seconds)
    6. Sling planets in (dislodge; fail)
    7. Sling asteroids in (very difficult to keep them from orbiting; life yawns and vaporises them instantly)

    Am I missing something fundamental, or is this just entirely the wrong thing for me?

    • Zorn says:

      You may try to hit them with almost no speed, they won’t be dislodged.
      Asteroids may not seem to hurt them, but it decreases their shields.
      They will take more damage then you on impact.

      When you hit one or two that way, retreat a moment, regenerate
      your shields, maybe collect some asteroids. And go for it again.

      The most important thing is, doing it slow.
      It worked like a charm for me this way,
      after a good hand full of trial and errors. ;)

  32. Dave L. says:

    Dammit. I promised myself I wasn’t going to buy another game until I knocked one off my backlog/DX:HR came out. But I tried the demo and I MUST HAVE MORE. Being constrained to ‘small star’ is just not enough for me. I was also rather disappointed when I carefully cultivated one of my planets up to a small star itself, and that star immediately crashed into me and disintegrated. Apparently small stars can’t orbit each other, even if one of them has substantially more mass than the other. Needs some sort of ‘realism’ mode where the orbits are actually calculated based on mass.

  33. PodX140 says:

    But is that OooooOOOOO on the scale of epic as 1:25 http://vimeo.com/4433312 ?

    I thought not :D

    (That entire video is excellent, advised to watch it all).

    OT: Amazing game while it lasts, but the last stage is a letdown and once you have a 8 star system you’re unstoppable.

    • Zorn says:

      There’s been a update. Now, when you have an 8 star system, be prepared to meet 8 star,
      and more, system. I was just hovering around, when that 15 star system crashed my
      outer planets. ;)