Oh my gosh, one of my favorite Macintosh games when I was growing up was Escape Velocity. For me, this was the definition of a space opera. And with only subtitles instead of well-designed cutscenes and voice acting, the story of the Escape Velocity universe kept me searching for additional plot hooks and side quests for hours at a time. I’m not sure if the story or the gameplay kept me around for so long. When I learned one fateful day that the original Escape Velocity had several sequels, including the incredible Escape Velocity Nova, I knew I had to jump into it. I think I was high school when I first picked up Nova, and I played it on the very first computer I’d ever owned.
According to the wiki, “Escape Velocity is a single-player role-playing space trading and combat video game series first introduced in 1996 by Ambrosia Software for the Apple Macintosh. Two other similar games based on the original, EV Override and EV Nova, followed in 1998 and 2002 respectively, the latter of which is also available on Microsoft Windows.” On the surface, Escape Velocity might seem like a dated game, and in some respects to the UI, it might be. But if you give it a chance, you’ll find it’s a rich space adventure game with many different ways to play.
You begin as a know-nothing captain of a small shuttlecraft, picking up and trading small stores of cargo or passengers to pay the fuel and operating costs of your vehicle. Then, by chance (or on purpose, if you know what you’re doing), you’ll run into the various quest lines that lead you into owning bigger and better ships, running with or against the various governments and factions, and in some storylines, discovering who or what you truly are. You’ll pilot everything from small shuttlecraft and cargo vessels to enormous battleships and everything in between, with each faction offering their unique ships to you as you progress.
Once you’re powerful enough, you can even demand planets surrender themselves to the might of your fleet, and after a spectacular space battle, will pay you tribute every day. It’s one of the hardest things to accomplish in the game, but you can eventually bend the entire galaxy to your will.
One aspect I love about Escape Velocity is the ability of its storylines to reach into so many aspects of sci-fi and futuristic speculation.
One storyline introduces you to the Vell-os, a group of telepaths that can materialize their ships around them (with the more powerful telepaths creating sleek battleship-sized vessels) and take the fight to much larger spacecraft. And somewhere in the galaxy, there exists an immense, ancient intelligence that even they fear…
Another group, the Polaris, are a group of isolationists who left Earth in the early days of space colonization, and developed a powerful nation with equally powerful sentient biomechanical ships as the backbone of their military and economy (one of the first ships you’re able to pilot in their storyline is described as a fighter-sized craft with the intelligence of a smart dog).
There are the Aurorans, another colonization group from the early days, that turned into a warrior and honor-centric society. They own the most territory in the galaxy as well as the largest population, to the point that their most populous planets are city-worlds in which billions and billions live a tightly-packed existence.
And there’s the rebellion, a militant group dedicated to the freedom of humanity from the tight grip of the Federation based on Earth. Then the Federation itself, of course, determined to set humanity on the right course (as they determine it, of course). And a whole smattering of pirate factions, all determined to steal your money, your ship, and anything else they can shoot out of the sky.
Each of these civilizations have different goals and many of them clash with the others, especially the different groups looking to get out from under the thumb of the Federation. While choosing a particular faction locks out access to the others, you can always restart the game aiming for one of the others.
But trust me, once you pick up a Raven from the Polaris faction, you’ll never go back. 😀
Another fascinating aspect of this game is the ability to edit and mod the game through its various files. Want access to a different type of ship, or want to make a completely original ship yourself? You can totally do that. Think it’d be fun to create your own mini-faction and collection of owned worlds? Edit the galaxy map and add in a few planets with their own flavor text and set of programmed missions. You can even give your pilot a million-billion space bucks, and never have to fly another escort mission again (though where’s the fun in that).
The original Escape Velocity was one of the first games I ever played where I realized I could play the game any way I wanted to. “Modding a game is a THING?!” Where today a game mod is just a click away online, this blew my eight-year old mind.
While the modding scene around Escape Velocity Nova has died down in the recent years, I’ve recently discovered a spiritual successor to this most esteemed game. Endless Sky is a game created by Michael Zahniser. Seriously, this game plays almost identical to Escape Velocity complete with updated graphics, an incredible amount of ships and weapons, and a few long storylines so far, with more planned to be released as the game continues in development. And (the best part) it’s TOTALLY free.
The game includes a full-fledged editor capable of the same kinds of fun upgrades and mods that Escape Velocity Nova had — with the right combination of time, graphics, and sounds, you could add anything from star systems to powerful ships. Even complete conversions are possible, and I wouldn’t be surprised if someone had a Star Wars-themed mod in the works right now.
So whether you’re looking to experience Escape Velocity Nova for $30 or a more modern version still in the works (for TOTALLY FREE), I would totally recommend it. They’re games that you can play at your own pace, and feature a large galaxy beneath fairly-simple top-down gameplay. Give it a try, you won’t be disappointed.