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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.

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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?

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Adam Smith

former Deputy Editor

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