Space has a strange position in modern gaming. Sure, many games are based on science-fiction settings, featuring spaceships blasting each other with lasers. SpaceQ featured Canada’s own Mass Effect series, where players jet from planet to planet in a growing war against ancient alien robots, as only one of countless examples.
Yet games featuring realistic spaceflight are quite rare. There are some, like the long-running Elite series, that do feature realistic momentum and thrust, but gravity is rarely part of the equation. And one of the very first video games, “Spacewar!” for the DEC PDP-1 minicomputer, featured two ships dogfighting in the gravity well of a star. Most, though, don’t really involve anything even resembling celestial and orbital mechanics; often, like in Star Wars, they fly more like planes than like actual rockets.
Games about a recognizable modern space program featuring realistic rocketry and orbital mechanics, though? They are vanishingly rare. There are a few exceptions, like Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space, the old C64 game Project: Space Station, the Atari’s Space Shuttle: A Journey Into Space and Microsoft’s flight sim spinoff Microsoft Space Simulator. It’s hard to find a balance between overly simplistic mechanics, like those seen in the recent No Man’s Sky, or incredibly dry simulations like in the recent Orbiter.