Infinite Space Preview

Ani-me, get your Wave Motion Gun.

Annual game and tech-industry shows, such as the Electronic Entertainment Expo (or ‘E3’), each have their own individual flow, texture, and ‘footprint’… by which I mean some of them are fun, some are low-key and chill, and some can be a royal—and I mean Grand Imperial—pain in the ass. E3 can sometimes manage to be all three simultaneously. You just never know what you’re gonna get until you sling that media dork-badge around your neck and troop out onto the show floor.

[image1]The one reliable exception, at least for me, has always been the 3-4 days of Tokyo Game Show (which I find so easy, fun, and natural that I routinely do my level best to extend my stay a few weeks on either end). Despite the boots-on-the-ground dispatches I had to produce, I only had one serious instance of what you could call ‘workin’ hard’ at the last Tokyo Game Show… and it was because of this game, right here.

Don’t let its home base on the tiny, friendly Nintendo DS fool you. This long-awaited science fiction RPG battler is out to overwhelm you with its scope and depth. After damn-near a year of PR radio silence on this game here in the States (after one skimpy, teasing sneak-peek about a year ago), I really had to furrow my brow to get a good sense of a Preview with the Japanese-only build on the TGS show floor.

Inspired by Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Childhood’s End, among other works of science fiction, Infinite Space (its title in Japanese can still be parsed as ‘Infinite Course’ or ‘Infinite Line’, which was the original working title in English) lets players design, build, and command a space warship, cobbling together elements of some 200 different designs and models (and the potential crew-members to man them). The two main threads that weave through the storyline give players both the Micro and the Macro, as it were: One chronicles the life of a young man named Yuri as he grows up to become captain of a starship—and later confronts the mystery of a mind-bogglingly ancient artifact; the other focuses on epic, ‘philosophical’ science fiction and tackles nothing less than mankind’s place in the universe.

[image2]Source-material influences aside, Infinite Space is very much a Japanese game in form and function, and it’s easy to see ship and character designs referencing the heraldic style-cues of Space Battleship Yamato (as well as an obvious appreciation for more deadpan, slabby-looking ships evocative of slightly ‘harder’ SF). Characters are presented with 2D art, while the exploration elements, spaceship battles, and spaceships themselves will be rendered in 3D. As players progress through the game, they’ll be able to put together a fleet of ships, as well as setting their own fleet strategies and combat formations.

A key, critical aspect of the game lies in the customization, and the life-or-death results that come from the attention players give to it. A ship’s physical might is ultimately important, of course, but it’s also important early on to improve the environmental conditions onboard for the crew (so yeah, there’s some Star Trek reverence going on here, too).

Attention is needed to crew morale on the dauntingly long hauls between the stars, so ship modifications seemingly as trivial as ‘recreation facilities’ can make for a happier and more alert crew—who will ultimately be more on the ball and responsive when the fighting starts. (I seem to remember a bit from the player manual of the old hex-board wargame Star Fleet Battles, describing service on a fighting starship as “six months of boredom, followed by sixty seconds of stark, screaming terror”.)

[image3]Another promising aspect of the game is that players with a preference for a particular “fleet style” can produce their force to taste. Since I’m a Star Trek guy, I’ll use the Star Fleet Battles analogy, again. Some players of that game always loved to use the Kzinti, because their fleets were essentially composed of spaceborne aircraft-carriers, and could overwhelm the enemy with swarms of fighters and drones. Others preferred the solid, two-fisted heavy cruisers of the Federation, all heavy-damage beam weapons and torpedoes. In the same way, Infinite Space will allow players to design their tactical approach—and not-so-coincidentally, do a little vicarious living in their favorite SF universe of choice. Space battles occur in real time, utilizing a ‘command gauge’ system roughly analogous to those found in more traditional RPG combat schemes.

Accounts of the version already available in Japan seem to echo with familiar choruses of terms and phrases like “overwhelming”, “high learning-curve”, “sheer volume”, “never let your guard down”, and “brutal”—sounds like promising praise for a sci-fi combat game on the tiny little Nintendo DS. Now that I think of it, I’ve heard some of the exact same terms applied to NIS America’s Disgaea DS—substitute exploding starships for demonic penguins, I suppose… Infinite Space is slated to ‘ship’ in March 2010, and we’ll have a live subspace feed for a full review.

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