They say every 7 years we undergo some kind of mental-rearrangement. It might be as large a swing as changing jobs or even groups of friends, but it also might be something as minor as the types of music listened to or — remaining relevant to the sometimes subject matter of this site — the games we’re interested in. I’ve already whined incessantly about my current relationship with MMOs, and since New World has kind of sort of not really yet come and gone for me I’m in the market for something new to play. The Backlog is ever-present, and I have been spending time trawling through that (daily, even!), but what I’m looking for is something that I have no good way to describe and no single categorization for. Lacking that, here are a few examples that I’d like to lay down for any recommendations that folks might have.

The best description I can provide at this time is that I’m looking for games which have a certain level of complexity to them, but not necessarily with graphics that will push my video card to pass out. I’m talking systems here, things that will require some hard choices between A, B, and Elephant. I’m also hoping that these games are space or sci-fi based, because that’s my bread and butter.

And before someone jumps right to the comments, super-complex games like Dwarf Fortress or stalwarts like RimWorld are not exactly what I have in mind even though they could both fit the bill in some way here.

Here’s a few examples of games I already own. Some are on the money of what I’m looking for more of, and some are offered as representative of the types of games, systems, and mindset that I’m looking for (but which aren’t necessarily presented in the same milieu as the example).

Cogmind

This is a roguelike, which I am usually not fond of, but I really like this one. You play as a robot who is seeking to escape a facility where all of the other robots have gone insane. You can collect parts and upgrade yourself, and not just weapons: you can upgrade your locomotion, choosing between wheels, hover, and even robotic legs.

As you can see from the screenshot, the presentation is super low fidelity. It’s mostly menus, and some representative icons on the map. I can usually make it to at least one other floor, but only if I don’t spend time looking around for too long. Because then I die. Always.

Duskers

I have spoken about Duskers here on the site before, and I believe that this is an excellent game. You play as a starship captain who finds that all other humans in the galaxy have mysteriously vanished. Using three souped-up Roombas, you explore derelict stations and ships for clues.

Like Cogmind, this is one heavily menu driven. The bots are controlled using keyboard command line input, placing it close to the realm of hacker-sim games (which we’ll talk about soon).

Hacknet

See? I told you. Geezus I hope I chose the right image, because…

Uplink

Both Hacknet and Uplink use the “simulate a hacker’s OS” approach, placing you in the role of an underground keyboard jockey who probably has to clear your name because you got burned somehow. Starting over, you have to issue command-line directives (using the real keyboard but made-up commands) and deploy programs as you wend your way into computer systems that don’t want you there. Stories are played out via emails, mostly, and each one triggers a specific task that you must complete before moving on to the next hack.

Honorable Mention: Midnight Protocol

This is a recent release. I played the demo and really liked it, but I have Hacknet and Uplink, so do I really need another “disgraced hacker seeks revenge via command-line input” simulator? Maybe.

Heat Signature

Heat Signature is an odd duck in this group. As a mercenary/pirate/space pilot, your job is to dock with stations and ships and achieve objectives like rescue or escort a VIP or reach the bridge and shut down the system or something (it’s been a while since I’ve played).

The draw here is that enemies in the ships that you hijack only move when you do, This allows you to position yourself to either attack or defend, if you can constantly think one step ahead and get where you think you’ll need to be the next time you and everyone else moves. It’s not turn based per-se, but there is some turn-based logic that needs to be applied to complete these missions.

Objects in Space

I was really gung-ho about this game when it was originally announced. It promised a more “submarine”-style space flight experience, and since it had been announced around the time The Expanse was airing it’s first TV season (I think), where ships are flown entirely by screen and not by windshield, I was totally sold. Unfortunately in searching for this screenshot I learned that the devs have slapped a “1.0” on the game and have moved on to other things. Apparently the community is upset about this as it means the game will receive no more updates or even bug fixes.

Anyway, keeping the ship running, and piloting the things is all menu-driven, and as the screenshot above represents just one of the screens that you use to keep your boat floating, it’s pretty complex.

Star Traders: Frontiers

Here’s another favorite I have written about. I wasn’t sure I wanted to include this game on this post because it’s far more graphical than I think I’d like, but decided to include it because like many other games on this list, it’s very menu-driven, has a massive amount of details, and can get super in-depth and complicated.

Still, this is an edge case when talking about what I’m looking for.

Star Valor

Now, I have tried to play this game a few times, but I end up bouncing off in part because…I actually don’t remember why. I picked this up about the same time I picked up Astrox Imperium, the “EVE Offline” game I have also written abouttwice, apparently. I was apparently going through a similar phase in the past.

Maybe the gameplay was too simplistic; I remember going out to mine asteroids, and maybe shooting at other ships, but I don’t recall any other game loops that were making my pants dance. I’d suggest that maybe I should install it and try it again, but I suspect I’d end up with the game uninstalled and the same sense of amnesia as a result.

Subspace Continuum

Man! We played the hell out of this game way back when. It was one of the first real good multiplayer arena games I had ever played, where you and everyone else is piloting a small ship around a constructed maze floating in space. You have to shoot other players, collect power-ups, and be the last ship standing.

I’d like to mention that I’ve added this game strictly on the aesthetic value alone; I don’t need or want a multiplayer arena shooter, but I am gravitating towards that simple visual style, apparently.

Project Highrise

Another one I was considering not including, but I have such a love of SimTower and the level of management that is needed to make a project more than the sum of its parts that I think Project Highrise fulfills the spirit of the quest, if not the letter of the quest.

Delta V: Rings of Saturn

I have just purchased this one this weekend. I played the demo and liked it well enough, but was waffling because A) it’s early access, and B) there’s not a hell of a lot to do in the game. You play as a miner who is breaking rocks and collecting the minerals in the eponymous rings of Saturn. You bring them back to the station to sell, repair your ship, hire or pay crew, and go out and do it all over again. All. Over. Again. And Again. And Again.

The draw here is also in the name: “delta V” is physics slang for changing velocity of an object, and in this game, you have to battle every neckbeard’s favorite requirement in a space-based game, Newtonian physics (objects in motion stay in motion, yadda yadda yadda). Sure it sounds fun in theory, but it sucks when you lose a rear thruster because you clipped an asteroid as you drifted past, and suddenly you find yourself spinning out of control with no way to stop yourself.

Yes, this is me, spinning out of control. At least I took a screenshot.

I think I’d like this much more if there were more to do than just collect rocks and earn money, but that’s early access for you.

On Deck: Ostranauts

I do not own this, but I keep coming back to it in my wishlist because I think this would do well for what I am looking for. It’s a bit of Delta V, a bit of Objects in Space, a bit of Duskers and a bit of Cogmind, and a bit of Heat Signature. Here, you are a salvager who docks with, boards, and either strips or fixes up derelict ships. Piloting is done via screens, and you interact with your ship using a skeuomorphic UI to add to that “simulation” flavor.

Once you dock with a ship, you have to suit up (literally, or you die of asphyxiation) and walk through the empty hulk, activating power where you are able, patching up holes, collecting salvage, and so on. You can talk to NPCs back at the station and using a click-to-use conversation “intent” system (you don’t really converse, you mainly choose options like “Ask about job” or “Flirt”) you can build relationships with NPCs by moving several different meters based on their reaction to the options you choose.

Like Delta V, though, this is in early access, and has been for some time. Comments on Steam indicate that progress is painfully slow, and that the game is very bare bones with a lot of bugs that get in the way of being able to complete a single game loop effectively or repeatedly. I’ve watched a few developer streams where they talk about the game and field questions from Discord and Twitch, and they seem like solid people, so I hope they light a fire under this game real soon. They also made Neo Scavenger, which is super lo-fi and which a lot of folks speak highly of, so I would like to think these devs have a reputation to maintain with Ostranauts.

I know the original classification of desire is a bit…muddy. I hope that the examples provided here give some kind of blueprint explaining things better. If you have any suggestions, dear reader, please let me know!

7 Comments

  • Nimgimli

    October 18, 2021 - 9:10 AM

    I am not much help. The one title that kept springing up in my mind is FTL but I’m not sure it really fits the bill, and it is old enough and well known enough that you’re probably aware of it.

    However thank you for this list of games because some of them sound really intriguing.

  • Tipa

    October 18, 2021 - 10:00 AM

    Did you not just see my Dungeon Encounters review? 😉

  • Jeromai

    October 18, 2021 - 3:48 PM

    I keep hitting two of three, but possibly not all three of three, since you seem to have the bulk of notable games on the list already.

    I’ve not tried Exapunks, but it’s a Zachtronics game, so how bad can it be? That’s kind of hacking genre, but maybe not as low-fi or menu-driven strategic as you might want.

    Frozen Synapse is a pretty old game, but maybe has some of the flavor of Heat Signature and the dark screen neon aesthetics of the earlier games on your list. Perhaps not as menu spreadsheet-y as you might be craving for, but I vaguely recall quite a complicated right click menu to set all your squad members just right before it’s go time.

    Oxygen Not Included is way more graphical than you might like, but has lots of numbers and stats to balance just right, and is space-themed.

    Back to low-fi and menu, keyboard-driven, Unreal World and Tales of Maj’Eyal are true roguelikes like Cogmind, but just not quite in the right genre. The former is wilderness survival with a Finnish flavor, and the latter is fantasy. Perhaps Cataclysm DDA might come closer to Cogmind, it’s post-apoc flavored. Or maybe Caves of Qud, a science fantasy blend?

    These games I haven’t tried, but they show up on recommendations when people ask about space roguelikes – Prospector, Ascii Sector, Transcendence, Endless Sky. YMMV, and try at own risk.

    • Scopique

      October 19, 2021 - 7:43 AM

      I thought about including Zachtronics games, but they always stress me out XD

      I’ll give some of these others a try. I have Frozen Synapse and ONI; I also have Endless Sky but don’t remember if I gave it a proper chance, so I’ll reinstall and see how well it fits. Thanks!

  • Naithin

    October 19, 2021 - 8:01 AM

    I don’t really have any good suggestions for you either, I’m afraid.

    Space Haven might tick some of your boxes, but it wanders pretty close to the Dwarf Fortress / RimWorld gameplay loop so might not be your cup of tea right now. On the other hand, it is somewhat low-fi, is sci-fi, and has a reasonable amount of depth to it. I personally find it to be more complicated than RimWorld, but I expect that is much to do with relative familiarity rather than any expression of fact. I’ve got 100’s of hours with RW vs. less than 10 with this one so far, as it is in Early Access I’ve left it somewhat on the backburner.

    Blast from the past hearing you talk about Heat Signature though! I remember being quite pumped for that before it came out… And then considerably less so when it did actually come out. xD Steam tells me I only gave it an hour. Mayhaps worth a revisit at some point.

    • Scopique

      October 26, 2021 - 5:20 PM

      I love Space Haven! I haven’t played it recently with the most recent updates, though.

  • Vagrus: The Riven Realms » Scopique's

    October 20, 2021 - 7:18 AM

    […] Recommendations for Lo-Fi, Sci-Fi, and In-Depth Games […]

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