Battlecruising: Universal Combat CE Is Free

Pew pew!

We couldn’t have a revival of ambitious and possibly-over-promising space sims without Derek Smart. Yes, yes, I’m sure you are enjoying Elite: Dangerous and your Star Citizen, but how many pages of documents did you have to read to make your ship go? Aren’t they, y’know, for babies? How many keys on your keyboard aren’t even used? To test whether you’re a baby, Smart has released a free version of Universal Combat, the follow-up to his Battlecruiser 3000AD series. Warming folks up for a made-over version later this year, Universal Combat CE is free on Steam and contains oodles of missions from all UC and BC3K games.

Universal Combat’s thing is capital ships, roaming around the galaxy with deep control of all your ship’s systems and crew. Oh, and you can land and roam around planets. It’s the sort of detail which takes 93 pages of documents and a 97-page tutorial. It’s awfully ambitious and it suffers from trying to do so much, but my, doesn’t it dream big!

Derek Smart’s studio 3000AD plan to release a jazzed-up verison of this later this year as Universal Combat Advanced. It’ll bring an engine overhaul, and borrow bits from their MMO Line of Defense to replace models and other art bits.

I’ve even maybe missed Derek Smart’s grand statements:

“Like them or hate them, my games have come a long way. In an industry where most of the guys and games have come and gone, making it this far is testament to my vision of catering to and being focused on an exclusive and dedicated audience of like-minded gamers. I never set out to win them all; just the select few who liked these sort of high-end complex games. By releasing this compendium for free, now that space combat games are apparently making a comeback, my goal is to introduce a new generation to these highly advanced capital ship combat games which still have no equal. My games did it first; and they’re still doing it”


  1. UKPartisan says:

    “Like them or hate them, my games have come a long way. In an industry where most of the guys and games have come and gone, making it this far is testament to my vision of catering to and being focused on an exclusive and dedicated audience of like-minded gamers. I never set out to win them all; just the select few who liked these sort of high-end complex games. By releasing this compendium for free, now that space combat games are apparently making a comeback, my goal is to introduce a new generation to these highly advanced capital ship combat games which still have no equal. My games did it first; and they’re still doing it”

    Still a self assured, arrogant tit I see Derek.

    • aldo_14 says:

      Ah, I remember when he dropped by an old forum I frequented, boasting about his intention to buy the Freespace license*, whilst simultaneously displaying a complete lack of knowledge of even the most basic facts about the game. Then he declared himself an ‘alpha male’, obliquely threatened to sue anyone making mods that he didn’t like, and subsequently ran away.

      *which, as it turned out, he could in now way afford

      • SuicideKing says:

        Oh he’s that guy! I remember reading about this on HLP forums.

        • aldo_14 says:

          Just search; they should still have massive thread on the boards where he asserts he’s an alpha male and/or pack leader. It’s a tad immature, but on the other hand he does bring it upon himself.

      • Urthman says:

        Back in 2000, Old Man Murray reported that he also had claimed to have licensed the Serious Sam engine:

        In other interview news, the normally reclusive Dr. Derek Smart, PhD has taken time out from working on fifteen different games all about operating a spreadsheet in space to announce that he has licensed Croteam’s Serious Engine. What’s he going to use it for? Beats him. It appears to have been an impulse buy.

        link to

    • Artist says:

      Oh, not only that. Hes also as trigger happy as always and has still issues with proper critizism. He banned me from the steam forum when I pointed out that the games AI is by far not as good as he thinks it is.
      A few years ago he deleted my threads when I reported the same AI issues as bugs and immersion breakers. Old dogs and new tricks…

      • aldo_14 says:

        It uses a neural net, dontchaknow.

        Despite a neural net being arguably the worst possible way to define AI behaviour for a game (what the hell would you train it on, for one thing), and sounding like he just picked the only/smartest sounding AI term he knew to go alongside his magical unpublished PhD.

      • morbiusnl says:

        be frank, you were hoping for that.

    • ffordesoon says:

      Oh, absolutely.

      And yet, I can’t entirely disagree with his statement. Yes, it’s self-aggrandizing bullshit, but there is a grain of truth to it. He has outlasted so many people and publications who laughed at him over the years, and he has done so without abandoning his mad dream, or even putting it on hold. I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone that hilariously stubborn.

      • Thrippy says:

        Anybody who outlasted ISP usenet feeds, a world wide web where every page was black text on a blue background, and expounded in organized paragraphs is kindred in a way.

        I miss* and* sometimes. Mr. Smart was hands down the most impassioned contrarian even then.

      • sinister agent says:

        Yep, but he also alienated many people who would be interested in his games by being an insufferable prick.

        Plus “niche” is great, but when you confuse “court a niche audience” with “actively and deliberately repulse anyone else”, you make a stupid mistake that benefits nobody.

      • Beelzebud says:

        His trust fund outlasted many companies and publications that had to work for a living to keep going.

      • Bart Stewart says:

        Somewhere, on a hard drive in an antique PC in my equally antique garage, I’ll bet I have preserved copies of conversations in the GAMDEV forum of CompuServe in which a youthful Derek Smart boasted of the awesome space combat game he was going to make.

        1. BC3000 was not a perfect game.
        2. Unlike many of us who talked big (including me), he actually made that game, and others.

        Minus points for style, maybe, but he’s been the man in the arena.

        • aldo_14 says:

          True, he does deserve credit for actually sticking with the whole game thing. Just a shame he lacks introspection.

  2. Harlander says:

    I feel like I’ll have to give this a try, even though I probably won’t mess with it for long. I’m a sucker for overly-detailed simulations

  3. ariaster says:

    Derek Smart stories. Who here has one? Man, there are some good ones out there.

    I’m going to try and play the heck out of this. I fully expect my computer to do things it should not be doing and working in ways it probably should not.

    At the very least, I’m looking forward to some good Steam forum drama, because all this has happened before, and all this will happen again.


    • Artist says:

      Thats DOCTOR Derek Smart for you…!

      • ariaster says:

        I included the phd even though I probably shouldn’t have.

        I spent the last half hour catching up on the few or so years of SmartDrama I’ve missed out on. Quality stuff.

        I like how he’s become an Internet Boogeyman, one a younger generation can appreciate and indulge, sending out their most brazen upstarts to knock upon his virtual(?) Florida manor frontdoor.

        It would bring me great joy to see Sir Pewdiepie, if we’re using honorifics, attempt a play-through of one of his recent outputs and unleash a great swarm of new let’s play proteges attempting to bring meaning to NameChange 3000-5000 of WarCombat Ultimate Play to Win.

      • LionsPhil says:

        No, it’s Mister.

    • RobF says:

      My favourite one is where he came into a number of RPS threads and worked on bugs as they were brought up in the comments sections.

      Am I doing this right?

    • Kempston Wiggler says:

      My favourite one is the one where he sends free copies of his games out to people going through tough times, heartless, money-grubbing tyrant that he is.

      …Am I doing this right?

  4. Chris says:

    Derek Smart, the biggest misnomer since Posh Spice!

  5. gschmidl says:


  6. udat says:

    I remember buying the first version of this that was “released” back in about 1998 or something, when I lived in America. It was completely unfinished and almost entirely unplayable, but I still quite liked the idea of it all. And Smart did continue to release patches and updates and even entire re-implementations for years, I just didn’t bother to keep up with it.

    The game almost puts me in mind of Dwarf Fortress in Space, in the way it tried to do everything emergently with simulation. It was about as obtuse as well :)

    Anyone here ever actually put the time in to mine some fun out of the game?

  7. SomeDuder says:

    Yo Derek, your games are bad. Please reply. I wish to have a Smart experience of my own.

    There, I have summoned the beast.

  8. HopperUK says:

    I’m weirded out that he’s not here already.

  9. SuicideKing says:

    No doesn’t look like a good game.

  10. lowprices says:

    97 page tutorial? Wow. I mean, good luck to Smart & Co, but I imagine there aren’t many people who are looking for a game that requires the player to earn a degree in the games controls in order to play it.

    • peterako1989 says:

      well you can always count on the simulator community for that. DCS A-10c has a 600 page manual same goes for Falcon 4.0.

      • UKPartisan says:

        Falcon 4.0’s substantial manual is a genuinely interesting read. I wish they still made manuals like that, I have to copy PDF manuals to my Ipad now…doesn’t feel right.

    • sinister agent says:

      I’m generally opposed to games being opaque and abstruse for the sake of some idiotic “old school/hardcore!!!” delusion, but honestly, 97 pages really wasn’t that remarkable for a strategy game in the early-mid 90s. And if you consider the modern equivalent, the wiki, it’s unremarkable even now for a sim/strategy game.

      • aldo_14 says:

        Ah, old games manuals. I remember the one for Tornado in the early 90s, which I’m pretty was just the manual for the aircraft with some button icons pasted on top.

      • Flatley says:

        Concur, 97 pages is nothing. These darn kids should try a Jane’s game on for size.

  11. Baines says:

    For those that want more Derek Smart, he has been replying to Steam reviews for Universal Combat CE. Some nice little bits there, such as when he explains why he doesn’t want to use the Escape key and why you cannot Alt+Tab.

    Well, he was at first, when people were actually playing the game and putting some work into their reviews. He might have stopped now that there are more trolling and/or no effort reviews recorded.

    • Harlander says:

      So why isn’t alt-tab supported?

      • Karuwen says:

        “I deliberately tend not to use ESC for these games because due to the numerous mappings, I didn’t want people accidentally switching out of the game. So I made it a two button command for safety. It’s not rocket science to map the ESC; I just chose not to do it.
        You can’t ALT+TAB out of the game because of how it was designed. It requires fully and dedicated access to the entire display sub-system. You can run it in a Window (/w) if you want.”

        Quote from the Universal Combat Steam group.

        • Harlander says:

          Those aren’t unreasonable justifications per se – although did he really think people were implying that he didn’t use ESC because he wasn’t capable of binding it?

          (Maybe they were.. you can never tell with Steam reviews..)

  12. peterako1989 says:

    maybe we should rename this guy to Derek Stupid, because smart, he aint :/

  13. RipCore says:

    Ooooh the memories of The Adrenaline Vault….

  14. Kempston Wiggler says:

    Well, it’s nice to see the reptiles out for their annual venom-spitting contest. Wait, no, it isn’t.

    Honestly, what’s in this for you guys? And do you know how you sound to everyone else who really isn’t all that bothered by Mr Smart? To us you’re ten times as bad as he is, purely because he can appear on a comments thread and be civil to people. If any of you are the dogged, lifelong Hate-Bridge he seems to have earned, I truly, honestly, and deeply pity you. You must be so very broken for this puerile, pathetic and pointless vendetta to still seems like fun/normal behavior.

    Seriously: get a life.

    • sinister agent says:

      To us you’re ten times as bad as he is,

      Speak for yourself, ta. I only heard of him a few years ago, and it’s pretty clear after little reading that he has a long and colourful history of being an arse to people online. That people describe that persona as they do is largely his own fault. You don’t have to be some kind of lifelong “hate brigade” crusader to call an arse an arse.

      • Kempston Wiggler says:

        You don’t have to be some kind of lifelong “hate brigade” crusader to call an arse an arse

        True. You just have to be a bit of an arse yourself. Way to be better than Derek, people! Sinking down to his (alleged) level and starting fights with him even when he’s not here to defend himself must surely the shining path to heavenly glory!

        I’ve done that reading, too, and I frankly don’t care what he’s like as a person. To write comments like several of the above is bad manners, pure and simple. And if you’ve read widely around the topic, I hardly think you can call the absolute witch hunt from certain individuals to be a fair and balanced response, nor, might I add, is keeping this character assassination alive long past it’s sell-by date!

        If you want to defend people’s right to dredge up ancient history for the sake of the same old, same old circle-jerk, be my guest. Me, I’m tired of reading it. I actually quite like the games, despite their flaws, and am sick of having to see this crap every time I want to see the latest goings on.

  15. bduddy says:

    Isn’t this the guy that’s not just banned, but super-banned from Wikipedia?

  16. strangeloup says:

    I remember buying two copies of this from Game under completely different names — despite the actual games themselves being functionally identical, I think one was BattleCruiser 3000 nope, the word Millenium was definitely involved somewhere… and one was maybe Universal Combat — and returning them a couple of days later (back when you could do that) because as well as being completely incomprehensible they were janky as hell, and rather like our boy Molyneux, promised any number of amazing features which completely failed to exist.

    I’ve downloaded it on Steam though because apparently I don’t bloody learn. Also it was free.

  17. Kempston Wiggler says:

    Back on topic…

    The games are flawed, and yet I have a soft spot for them. I think it’s time for a positive look at the Battlecruiser/UC series.

    They do so much right, which almost never gets a mention. You are given command of a highly complex and frighteningly powerful military asset (by the default choices, anyway). I can’t speak for Battlecruiser 3000 but from Millenium on up the games have always done a fairly convincing job of creating that illusion, albeit if in a rather perfunctory manner in certain aspects.

    It tickled me when people flocked to FTL’s delightful crew management. BC had that back in the 90s! Although you never see them, your crew enjoy life aboard the starship as you’d expect, eating & sleeping when they’re not working. You have full control over their timetable and orders; they do their best to follow. You can deploy them on planetary missions, either by shuttlecraft or teleporter. But they really come into their own when your ship’s shields are breached and enemies board your vessel! What follows then is a kind of sub-game where you order marines to hurry to the afflicted areas and try to keep regular crew out of harm’s way. Meanwhile, the boarders are shooting anything that moves and damaging systems they encounter. I always enjoyed the situations, especially if you managed to take prisoners – dropping the scum off at the nearest starbase was always so satisfying!

    Ship to ship combat was also quite fun, especially if you’d managed to find a few Artifact upgrades or purchase better equipment. The complexity of the systems on hand added to that feeling of commanding a highly complex object. Sometimes you’d fluff it up, pulling the wrong maneuvers or failing to activate certain equipment in time. Or you’d forget about your fighter support, and only remember them in time to watch them get blown to atoms. But when it all came together, when you swooped in like an avenging angel and blew up something twice your size, the feeling was unbeatable.

    It was also a large universe to explore. Often, I’d make my Captain-avatar leave the ship and pilot one of the shuttles or fighters myself and just go explore. While the transition to planets wasn’t seamless, they were properly huge, perhaps the only time EVER in gaming that the true scale of an entire world has been represented digitally. Of course that scale came at the punishing expense of content, and was arguably all the reason you ever needed for not doing it in the first place. You could literally fly for actual hours across the surface of a world and not see anything worthwhile! I never quite found the way to deposit a shuttle into the atmosphere directly over one of the many ‘hot zones’, although I think I managed it once by accident so it was definitely possible!

    My best fun, though, was flying over something like Mars and just marveling at the alien landscape rolling beneath me. Game Tourism, folks. Can it still be called a ‘Walking Sim’ when you’re in a fighter?

    Oh yes, and you could even get out and walk. I can count the number of games that let you do this on the fingers of literally one hand (Hello, Rodina!). And again, it got scale absolutely right. That base you just flew over in ten seconds? It’s going to take you a good 30 minutes real time to walk/run/Jetpack across it!

    This level of the games always suffered a bit by comparison to ultra-budget experiences like the UT franchise. animations and models were clunky. Controls were often confusing and unresponsive. You could fight at this level but it wasn’t exactly fulfilling, perhaps because it tried to provide an ARMA-style experience, when all I wanted was a run-and-gun FPS, but even then…it’s hard to defend.

    To sum up there’s literally no other gaming series out there that has attempted as much, or done so much work to let players feel the enormous scale, the true weight and heft of the the job at hand. 93 page manual, FFS! At times it feels like layers of inexpertly-baked cake, each one tasting not quite right. But at others, the whole product works together to convince you you’re eating the very finest delicacy. Or, at the very least it provides enough food for the imagination to cope with the rough edges and fill in any blanks.

    The gaming world would be poorer for not having seen a game this ambitious, and I’m still waiting for someone to pick up the challenge and do better….

    • Harlander says:

      In some ways it’s better to shoot for the moon and miss than do something solidly that’s merely familiar. For that reason alone it’s an important artifact.

      • hotmaildidntwork says:

        Sadly my personal experience with these games would be better described as shooting for the moon, carving an at best inefficient path through the atmosphere, and exploding on the edge of space. I never did find a fix for that bluescreen, sadly.

  18. communisthamster says:


  19. bill says:

    So, he’s basically Chris Roberts but 15 years before Kickstarter and Early access?

    • Traipse says:

      Kind of. Thing is, Chris Roberts is mostly known for making classic games that people remember fondly; Derek Smart is mostly remembered these days for his negative personal reputation, and there’s not a lot of people around who fondly remember the games that he eventually made — a few, granted, but not a lot. He was legendary for displays of public arrogance, a hair-trigger temper, and Molyneuxish levels of overpromising verging occasionally on outright lies.

      I’m torn about it, to be honest. On the one hand, I do admire anyone who can design and release a game, because it’s a considerable commitment, and his game ideas had a very ambitious scope that tried to do things that hadn’t been done before. Kudos for that. But on the other hand, there’s just no excuse for being an asshole, and he was a very public asshole for a very long time, so it’s hard for me to feel a lot of sympathy about the bollocking that he gets every time someone mentions the name of “Derek Smart, Ph.D”. You reap what you sow.

  20. bill says:

    I think if we separate out his forum personality, he’s the kind of developer we want here on PC.
    Trying ambitious things, often failing in part (or even all), but not giving up.

    This is the kind of crazy ambitious niche game that you’d only find on PC. Similar to a lot of the recent PC darlings such as dwarf fortress or star citizen. He got a lot of stick because of bugs and it being released unfinished, but these days, in the days of early access, he’d probably have gotten a lot less stick and have had more chance to polish it up.

    Even his forum personality is kinda understandable if you think about the amount of snark he’s had to put up with. Though I don’t know which came first.