Space combat simulators, or space combat games, are a genre of space flight simulator games which feature spaceship combat. They often feature an arcade-like simulation of space flight, as opposed to the realistic simulation of space flight in space flight simulators.
Such games generally place the player into the controls of small, one-person dogfighting craft and bombers in a military force of similar and larger spaceships. The prominent Wing Commander, X-Wing and Freespace series all use this approach. Exceptions include the first Independence War and the Star Trek: Bridge Commander series, which models the larger craft of Star Trek in a more tactical fashion.
Space simulation video games, at one time popular, have been referred to as a "dead" genre.
Games of this type often allow the player to choose among multiple roles to play and multiple paths to victory. This aspect of the genre is very popular, and some people have complained that, in some titles, the leeway given to the player too often is only superficial, and that, in reality, the roles offered to players are very similar, and open-ended play too frequently restricted by scripted sequences. As an example, Freelancer has been criticised for being too rigid in its narrative structure, being in one case compared negatively with Grand Theft Auto, another series heralded for its open-ended play.
All space trading and combat games feature the core gameplay elements of directly controlling the flight of some sort of space vessel, generally armed, and of navigating from one area to another for a variety of reasons. As technology has improved it has been possible to implement a number of extensions to gameplay, such as dynamic economies, cooperative online play and realistic flight models based on Newtonian physics, but the core gameplay has changed little over the years. Some recent games have expanded the scope of the experience by including thousands of simultaneous online players in what is commonly referred to as a "living universe". This is a dream some have held since the genre's early beginnings.
The modern space trading and combat simulation genre emerged at the point when home computers became sufficiently powerful to draw basic wireframe graphics in real-time. The game Elite is widely considered to be the breakthrough game of the genre (it has been cited as the initial title/inventor/definer of the genre), although it did have some precursors. Elite was so highly influential upon later games of its type (not to mention its effect upon gaming as a whole) that they are frequently called Elite-clones. Elite is also one of the most popularly requested games to be remade, and some argue that it is still the best example of the genre to date, with more recent titles (including its sequel) not rising up to its level. Elite to this day is one of the most ambitous games ever made, and yet resides in only 22 kilobytes of memory and on a single floppy disk.
Elite has made a lasting impression on developers, worldwide, even into different genres. In interviews, senior producers of CCP Games cited Elite as one of the inspirations for their acclaimed EVE Online MMORPG. Both Thorolfur Beck and Reynir Petursson have said that it was the prime motivator behind the game, and Thorolfur Beck credits Elite as the game that impacted him most on the Commodore 64. Developers of Jumpgate Evolution, Battlecruiser 3000AD, Infinity: The Quest for Earth, Hard Truck: Apocalyptic Wars and Flatspace all claim Elite as a source of inspiration. Elite was named one of the sixteen most influential games in history at Telespiele, a German technology and games trade show, and was exhibited as one of the twenty-five best video games ever at the Science Museum in London. Elite was also named #12 on IGN's 2000 "Top 25 PC Games of All Time" list, the #3 most influential video game ever by the Times Online in 2007, and "best game ever" for the BBC Micro by Beebug Magazine in 1984. Elite's sequel, Frontier: Elite II, was named #77 on PC Zone's "101 Best PC Games Ever" list in 2007. Elite has been credited as opening the door for future online persistent worlds, such as Second Life and World of Warcraft, and as being the first truly open-ended game. Similar praise has been bestowed elsewhere in the media from time to time.
Some tabletop and board games, such as Traveller or Merchant of Venus, also feature themes of space combat and trade. Traveller influenced the development of Elite (the main character in Traveller is named "Jamison"; the main character in Elite is named "Jameson") and Jumpgate Evolution. Trade Wars and TradeWars 2002 were early BBS door games that featured trading and combat set in outer space, and were influential in their own right.
The seeming decline of the space trading and combat simulator in the late '90s coincided with the rise of the RTS, FPS and RPG game genres, with such examples as Doom, Warcraft and Diablo. The very things that made these games classics, such as their lack of a directed plot, powerful controls and attention to detail, have been cited as reasons for this decline. Some recent franchises such as the X series and EVE Online, however, appear to have broken this mold. The open source community has also been active, with recent projects such as FS2 Open and Vega Strike serving as platforms for nonprofessional efforts. In an odd twist of fate, remakes of Elite and Privateer are being made using the Vega Strike engine.