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Review by: Chris Harding
Published: August 26, 2000
Gamers are a finicky group, prone to infatuation, hot tempers and short attention spans. We make it hard on developers and publishers, not knowing what we want from season to season, embracing a technology or design technique one minute and crucifying it the next. Take full motion video for example. When it first burst onto the scene it was all the rage; we couldn’t get enough of it in Wing Commander 3. But by the time Phantasmogoria strolled into town, FMV was considered a death sentence. Another, more ambiguous example is linearity. For years linear design was thought to be the only means by which a developer could incorporate good stories and well thought out puzzles. The idea of dynamic, open-ended, user defined gameplay progression didn’t really catch on until Bethesda’s Arena in 1993. Much earlier, however, there was a space combat game called Elite that realistically deserves the credit for establishing non-linear gameplay as a foundation of quality design. It’s been an interesting turn of events since those days, and a number of attempts to recreate its magic have failed.
Origin’s original Privateer did the best job of capturing the essence of Elite, but even it was more story-based and “linear” than what true Elite fans remember. More recently titles like Tachyon: The Fringe and X: Beyond the Frontier have expanded the open ended experience, but even with their success they’ve not been able to replicate the magic. Back in March of 1998 we featured an aggressive design aimed at this market called Terminus, a potentially ground breaking game in development at Vicarious Visions. Over two years later, it is finally finished and has been released simultaneously for the PC, Linux, and Macintosh. While releasing a product for multiple operating systems isn’t a new idea, a simultaneous hybrid supporting these platforms is rather unique and does in part explain the overly long development cycle. Terminus, like Privateer and Elite is an open-ended space combat simulation, combining the elements of role playing and adventure-like exploration with space combat.
Terminus takes place within the familiarity of the Sol solar system. Set over two hundred years in the future, the colonization of other moons and planets has been taking place ever since the first successful manned mission to Mars, which occurred in 2019. History records that after that famed expedition, a race for controlling land, natural resources, and colonizing consumed the people of earth. Fighting over industries on Earth’s moon and the asteroid mining corporations scattered through the galaxy, the countries of the Earth erupted in war. It wasn’t until the formation of the United Earth League, a United Nations of sorts, in 2076 that peace and balance returned to the solar system.
Colonization and economic growth continued under the UEL’s watchful eye and in 2167 alien technology was discovered. This technology introduced the concept of vortex (jump) gates and the solar system hasn’t been the same since. Colonization is ongoing, but with travel no longer being an issue, the life lines and ties to Earth are growing weaker and weaker. The United Earth League, which once controlled all the colonies, is being challenged by a rival in the Mars Consortium. Both seek overall control and that struggle is the future’s cold war. Each faction’s growth and prosperity, however, is hampered by a third secretive faction — affectionally know as the pirates. They inhabit the asteroid belts, sabotaging, stealing, and destroying supply convoys. The tensions between the UEL and Mars Consortium are at an all time high and fighting seems inevitable, all it needs is a spark.
The options for gameplay in Terminus are varied and many. Despite the fact that its primary realm is similar to an online persistent world, Terminus gives players the opportunity to play the story offline in a single player mode. Moreover it provides flight training, which regardless of your mode of play, is definitely needed and helpful. Spaceflight in Terminus differs from most other space combat sims as it incorporates Newtonian physics. You may not know them as such but you’ve heard of them. Remember physics class? Objects at rest, stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force, objects in motion, stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force, etc. The training will familiarize you with the Terminus interface, Newtonian physics model and overall flight control. In an environment without gravity Newton’s laws are integral to how the game plays and especially what tactics will best serve you in battle. Vicarious Visions took great care and diligence in illustrating all the physical laws that can and do apply to outer space travel including them in Terminus. In terms of gameplay these physical laws, or inertia, have an large effect on the player’s fighting style — their aggressiveness or tentativeness in battle. Once learned in flight training, the laws are integral to the game and allow you to experience all that it has to offer in both multiplayer and single player. The addition of Newtonian physics is a small part of Vicarious’ adherence to realism. Using data from the U.S. Geographical Survey they’ve replicated the topography of the moons and planets in the solar system. In addition, time in Terminus is equal to time here on Earth. If a minute goes by in the game it has on your watch as well.
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