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