Back in like 1982 or 1983, when I was a geeky high school freshman, my dad
(a fellow early PC pioneer), sent me my first space game for my Apple II+, a
humble SSI creation called "Cosmic Balance".
This no-frills game started off by allowing you to design a spaceship (or a
handful of them, IIRC) an engrossing process involving managing things like
several differen types of guns (with different FIRE ARCS!!! a narrower arc
took up less structure points but might not be brought to bear enough),
armor and force shields (you could also concentrate these on one part or
another of your ship... depending on how you tended to fight), power
sources, engines for speed and maneuvering (do you put all the engines in
the back for acceleration or more up front where you can turn and maneuver),
ECM and ECCM systems, missiles and mines, fighter drones, security systems,
marines and etc.
The action was turn based, you gave your orders to move, maneuver and / or
fire over the course of a turn, which was broken into something like 16
segments IIRC, then your ships and the enemy ships would move and fight.
At the time I thought it was a pretty cool game, it was quite engrossing and
you could enjoy it for hours on end, the AI was fairly good. It was limited
and kind of hokey in that the ships looped from one side of the screen to
another (no more hokey than a screen with boundaries though) and you were
very limited in the number of ships you could use... and the graphics were
of course quite limited. Eventually as with all my old Apple PC games, the
fragile Disk got too ragged and the game simply wouldn't load any more. All
in all impressive, but i thought of it as a taste of the much greater games
would exist in the future. Little did I know this would remain the best
space game I'd ever played a full 23 years later!!!
Fast forward a bit to Masters of Orion. Here were a couple of pretty good
4X space games, WITH ship design, but the ship design and ship-combat
frankly paled in comparison to what Cosmic Balance did a decade earlier.
It seemed like a step in the right direction, but it was corny and lacked
that realistic detail and added levels of design other than just sitcking
different modular components in. Ultimately it was a lot more about how
high your tech was really than anything you did to manage how your ship was
designed. I hoped this was just the begining.
But rather than getting better in my book, most of the 4X space games that I
tried in the next several years were mediocre, and instead of improving the
ship combat and ship design aspect of their game, always my personal
favorite, (the part that made the rest of the exploration and economy and
warfare really come to life) they either eliminated ship design altogether
or vastly simplified it, and forced you into restrictions of various silly
storyline fantasy races. I dont want to control a fleet of crystaline Heavy
Zyrconian Dreadnaughts, or fuzzy Antaroid Warp Pustules.. I want to make up
my own vessels which are far better than either, something I could recognize
from a space opera..
Bottom line, are there any good 4X space games, or simple tactical games,
either currently available or in development, which do allow you to design
your own ships and fight them against those of your opponent, and have good
space combat that you can actually control?