Smart Moves: Galactic Command Echo Squad SE

The last mention of Galactic Command on RPS was so long ago that I thought the special edition that appeared on Steam at the beginning of the week was a new game with a cumbersome name. Not so. It is, in fact, a remastered release of 3000AD’s 2009 space combat sim and a demo is available for those seeking an alternative to Elite. Any mention of 3000AD president and lead developer Derek Smart risks diverting attention away from the company’s games – he is to the online spat what Molyneux is to the overblown promise – but the re-emergence of Galactic Command is timely and makes Kieron’s 2009 interview with Smart a fascinating piece to revisit. Details on the game and interview follow.

First of all, here’s a list of what has been changed for this Steam edition of Galactic Command:

Updated the demo (uses v2.11.02 engine build) to use the game’s full tutorial (with voice-over audio)
Added keyboard command PNG files suitable for printing (two pages to a single 8″x11″ sheet)
Added a new galaxy map suitable for printing. Shows all available jump links (jumpgate, wormhole, fluxfield)
Added all new space skyboxes
Added 27 new music tracks from our internal audio library
Added optimized versions of previously released DLC scenarios
Added four (for a total of five fighters in the game) new playable fighters (single player only)
Added ability to play the sandbox scenario with any of the five fighters
Added ability to play RISE OF THE INSURGENTS campaign with any of the five fighters
Added Instant Action scenario, THE INSURGENT INCURSION playable with any of the five fighters

As for the game itself, it continues to be what it always was – heavy on detail and simulation, and light on immediate gratification. This is spaceship simulation with the stabilisers taken off and it makes TIE Fighter seem more like Little TIKE Fighter. Be warned that the link contains an image of a terrifying dogfight, as two TIKE Fighters battle for supremacy.


My advice? If you’re at all interested, try the demo. That’s what a demo is for.

As for that 2009 interview, it’s fascinating to revisit. With Star Citizen’s megabuck haul ($40 million and counting) and Elite: Dangerous looking in fine fettle, it’s easy to dismiss Smart’s comments about the death of the genre, but in 2009, pre-Kickstarter and the growing era of publisher-free empowerment, it was hard to imagine Braben and Roberts returning to space in this fashion.

Even so, Smart does perhaps overstate his case at times – “…by the time we released our last space combat game, Echo Squad SE, the days of space sims – as a viable business – were pretty much over. The genre is as dead as a doornail; and anyone who says any different, has maybe one or two other day jobs, lives on Ramen noodles and their monthly bills amount to a monthly grocery trip.”

At other times, the comments remind me that the world of game publishing and digital retail has changed beyond recognition in such a short space of time. The Smart of 2009 is (rightly) excited by the potential of GoG but hesitant when considering the possibility of Steam becoming a dominant force. It’s when discussing space sims in particular that the comments become intriguing though and the release of Galactic Command on Valve’s storefront, at this time, starts to seem like it might be a toe dipped into the water.

Here’s 2009 Smart again:

So the way I see it, space games may be on the out, but they can be revitalized in the online distribution space. If the game is good and there are gamers out there who would rather buy than pirate (bastards) it, you can probably made a decent return on investment. But given the thinned out popularity of the genre, I wouldn’t quit my day job to develop and sell a space sim. Especially one that didn’t already have an incubated fan base.

Just look around and see how many mainstream space combat developer from the old days are still in business today. I’m sure that if you approached Larry Holland [Totally Games, of X-Wing series fame – Ed] today about doing a space game, he’d probably (depending on the size of his bank account at the time) just laugh and saunter off in mild amusement. The same thing could be said for Egosoft. I’m sure they’re hurting – but my guess is you won’t see another X3 game for a long time because there is a point (the point I reached with the last niche space game) where you have to say enough is enough to derivative works.

There is a good reason why, for example, David Braben has been threatening to unleash Elite IV since Nixon was president and why you still haven’t seen it – and probably never will. At least not until you grow Grey hairs in places you didn’t realize could actually sprout hairs.

The times have changed and the grey hairs are sprouting on the palm of my left hand. What does it all mean?


  1. J Arcane says:

    I’m rather disappointed by the lack of mention of the way he’s been attempting to silence negative reviews of the game …

    • Love Albatross says:

      Ah, up to his old tricks again! He’ll never change.

      Shine on Derek, you crazy diamond.

    • derbefrier says:

      lol guy doesn’t seem to understand that the internet never forgets…or forgives for that matter. still i love some space games and i have never heard of this till now i will try the demo.

    • Stardreamer says:

      Really? Must we do this again?

    • Darth Gangrel says:

      Trying to silence negative reviews? Smart Moves – you’re doing it wrong.

    • catmorbid says:

      I think I’ve tried nearly everything this dude has ever produced, and without exception, they’ve all been such disgusting buggy piles of turd, I never though turd could be that disgusting. This latest fiasco is no exception. 5 minutes into the demo and the list of what is wrong with it has reached so long it’d take days to recite it all here. Ok, slight exaggeration involved here. But seriously… Why stick on some piece of shit proprietary game engine that NEVER worked, when you’ve got lots of awesome engines that do most of the simple shit they never got working like PROPER FUCKING RESOLUTIONS without any trouble? Is it really that hard to add a menu option for music volume so i can hear the fucking voiceover of the fucking tutorial, or since you were smart enough to use text-to-speech, why not include the text, so we’d have fucking subtitles? The lack of any talent here is so incredible, it keeps me amazed every fucking time… Silence that Smart!

  2. Philopoemen says:

    Is it sad I remember more about BC3K UseNet flame wars than I do the game itself?

    Good golly, that was entertaining

  3. Chalk says:

    “What does it mean?”

    That people incessantly talk rubbish.

    Years from now people will look back at this year and last year and see BS comments such as:

    Oculus Rift is just another peripheral accessory.
    Sony VR will outshine Oculus Rift.
    Kickstarter / Crowd Funding is a con. (remember this one from end of 2012)?
    Crowd Funding is just a fad!!
    Early Access is a con!! (The irony is that PC gamers demand change, so change comes along and PC gamers still bitch).

    So what does it mean? Well, that people are dicks and have their heads up their arses.

    • prian says:

      I was thinking that it means that this person has no intuitive “feel” for the industry and has really bad market research.

      He was flat out wrong about the large trends in the gaming sector. To me, it is no surprise that someone that far off the mark for the broad trends of an industry has had challenges with selling his game.

      Apparently, the gameplay of this title isn’t really good. As in, the controls aren’t good, the gameplay isn’t enjoyable, etc. These observations are taken from fan reviews of the game.

      This is probably one of those cases where Derek Smart should just program and leave everything else to others – up to and including user interface, marketing, sales, public relations….

    • bhauck says:

      There’s at least a chance that some of those “BS comments” you list will turn out true, and it’ll be all the ones disagreeing with them that look like idiots. Here are my personal predictions, for future mocking’s sake:

      Oculus Rift will probably not revolutionize gaming but also won’t be terrible!
      Sony VR will probably better than Oculus Rift in some ways and worse in others!
      Sometimes Kickstarter / Crowd Funding is a con but usually it’s not!
      Crowd Funding will decline in popularity but still be important!
      Early Access will probably have some bumps with games that are never finished, but it will also help more games be created than could be funded otherwise!

  4. Chris says:

    Derek Smart is the biggest misnomer since Posh Spice.

  5. BobsLawnService says:

    I have a grudging respect for the man. He has singlehandedly made the game that he wanted to. It is deeply flawed but highly ambitious and it has largely delivered on that ambition. One can’t fault his passion because I suspect that without that passion he would not have released the games he has.

    So yeah, just one man’s opinion.

    • geldonyetich says:

      I’m with you on this one.

      If Derek Smart could nail making intuitive interfaces and stable engines, it’d be really interesting to see what happens when his vision reaches the masses.

      • Harlander says:

        I don’t so much have grudging respect for him as a grudging sense of where respect could be if he had any degree of self-awareness whatsoever.

        If he just released his hyper-ambitious, broken, buggy games and never talked to anyone, he’d be one of the heroes of gaming.

        Is this the right place to talk about how I think he’s basically Tarn Adams’ evil twin?

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          That’s a… really terrifying mental image right there.

    • Sharlie Shaplin says:

      I do admire his tenacity.

  6. peterako1989 says:

    Derek Stupid on the go again

  7. Stardreamer says:

    The primary failure of thinking such as that above is the clear lack of ability to find the market for your games, or to be bold enough to (re)create one. I can’t count the number of people I’ve met on-line over the years lamenting the death of the space genre. The market was there – it’s just the industry decided it was no longer what it wanted to make.

    In Derek’s case his games were always going to be the nichest of niche due to the high demands his games make on players, coupled to the relatively low rewards (poor implementation, etc) for doing so.

    Thank god for Kickstarter. As soon as gamers got the ability to decide what we wanted to see…OH LOOK: LOTS of space games!

    • sinister agent says:

      You say that, but in 2009, he was actually pretty right about it. Look at the consoles (which are ideal for at least a space combat game) – I asked around at the time and nobody could name more than literally two or three space combat games, let alone elite-like ones. And the PC wasn’t much better, as gog was barely off the ground, and other sites like steam hadn’t followed its lead with releasing old games or games that the mainstream industry had abandoned.

      It’s only in the last five years, almost exactly, that it’s become really viable for developers to “create” their own market. Distribution just wasn’t that simple, let alone social media and funding models and other means of getting the word out to your niche that you actually existed.

      Smart had other problems, though, you’re right, and was always going to be niche. I’d never even heard of his games until a year or two ago, and when I did, they were largely overshadowed by complaints that his games were obtuse and needlessly fiddly, and, not unrelatedly, his reputation for being a prick.

  8. Hypocee says:

    Saw nothing in the patch notes about ‘Had someone else make the computer program actually run and maintain causality’; do not care.

    Please don’t blow an offhand remark up into a thesis statement, but I’m irresistably reminded of Idle Thumbs’ Nick Breckon clambering on a ladder during their Kerbal Space Program stream: ‘This is what I wanted every Derek Smart game to be…he always turned it into battlecruisers and missiles, but all I wanted was this.’

  9. jarowdowsky says:

    What the hell even is a ‘banned’ steam review? Anyone got a description of what qualifies for that?

    link to

    • Baines says:

      It apparently means that the review has been completely removed from both the store page and the game’s community page. It still exists on the reviewer’s own profile page, but it isn’t publicly linked anymore where anyone looking at the game’s pages will see it.

      I guess someone at Valve agreed that the review violated the Terms of Service. I don’t know if it was due to the insinuations that Smart was trying to buy positive reviews with free copies, or (perhaps more likely) the reviewer mentioning that they received a forum ban for posting the review text on the forum. Or even the final comment about banning paying customers for writing honest impressions. Companies can get antsy and even more ban-happy when their forum banning policies get questioned, even (or sometimes especially) when the forum mods are in the wrong. (I’m not saying the forum mods were in the wrong this time, but Valve’s forums don’t exactly have a sparkling reputation for even-handed proper oversight.)

  10. strangeloup says:

    Oh, right, it’s by that fella. I bought a couple of this guy’s games years ago — which turned out to be slight variations of the same thing — but ended up taking them back because they make the X-Universe titles look hand-holdy and simplistic by comparison, and not in a remotely good way.

    I can appreciate complexity in games but not when it takes me a hundred years to figure out the basic operations of the system.

    Edit: Just fired up the demo, which consists of an hour long tutorial… which, after about five minutes of nothing at all happening, assumes you have a printed copy of the manual sitting on your lap, and constantly refers to it.

  11. Morcane says:

    Well, he was right in one thing – the space genre can be revitalized by digital distribution. This and a step more (crowdfunding) was what happened.

    The only thing is…he’s not a part of revitalizing the space genre. I thought he left the games business altogether and embraced Coke machine vending.

  12. UpsilonCrux says:

    So, this game and the Evochron series seem waaaay too similar to be coincidental. Can someone throw some light on this for me please?

    As far as I can see, they appear to share a lot of assets at the very, very least.

    • Hogni Gylfason says:

      Aestetic is similar sure, but I can’t see any direct asset sharing? Main difference in the games is that Evochron runs pretty well and offers enjoyable LAN supporting sandbox gameplay, while Smart’s games generally do not do any of those things, aside for a very small fan[atic] base.

  13. Napoleon15 says:

    Does he still appear in random corners of the internet if you summon him by saying his name three times?

  14. hemmingjay says:

    In 2002 I committed a full 11 months to 3000AD as a career. I converted a closet to a large cockpit/small ships bridge and built a command console with flight stick before such things were reasonably popular. 3000AD was a game that could consume you in a million different ways in theory and was ahead of it’s time as well as it’s developing team’s capabilities. Still, my service to the naval fleet was a remarkable achievement in perseverance and commitment.

    Before that, in the late 80s until 2002 I played the text based Space MMO Federation/FED 2 and until Eve came along it was the end all – be all of space epics. Look it up, I believe it’s still running.

    The point is that his games are obtuse but offer an enormous amount of freedom and control for the determined and imaginative gamer. Unfortunately, most of us have lizard brains now and can’t sit for hours paying attention to something that doesn’t flash or change every 12 seconds(of course there are exceptions, Mr Correct everyone internet guy).
    The other thing is that Derek Smart is just as likely to be right or wrong as the next person but he is notorious for being unable to admit his mistakes. I actually like him on some levels and understand his sickness and brilliance.

    I’ll give it a go to support a long time vet who has brought as much joy as he has brought interesting arguments.

  15. SuicideKing says:

    Oh come on RPS, just put up a story about the FreeSpace 2 SCP now. All those waiting for Elite and Star Citizen should be well served by it.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Star Citizen maybe (although there’s typically been this fairly bizarre antipathy from the Wing Commander / Chris Roberts games community towards Freespace), but Elite is an entirely different kettle of fish.

      • SuicideKing says:

        Is it? I mean whatever gameplay i’ve seen so far suggests that Elite is closer to the FreeSpace games than SC…I haven’t played the original Elite though, so this isn’t an informed opinion in that sense…

        Antipathy probably because there’s a WC total conversion for the FreeSpace Open engine. ;)