Space Trading, on iPad, is in a Recession.
Iâ€™ve been on the prowl for Space Trading games on the iPad. Why? Because I spent far too many hours playing Elite on my Atari as a kid, and am now trying to relive my childhood? Maybe. Iâ€™m sure that has something to do with it. But whatâ€™s really going on is this...I had a bit of an epiphany. Iâ€™ve been thinking about the best way to teach Financial Literacy to kids. How to run a business, look after their money, find new ways to make cash and all that. Pretty dry stuff if presented the wrong way.
Then I remembered Elite and Privateer 2, and how I kept logbooks on commodity prices at various ports. How Iâ€™d weigh up the profit of a trip against how long the trip would take and how much itâ€™d cost to upgrade my ship to the point where Iâ€™d be sure to survive the mission. Yes, I was a geek-entrepreneur of the spaceways. No wonder I did surprisingly well later on in Sixth Form Accounting and Economics. Surprising for an Arts student, that is.
So I returned to the spaceways in search of games that might work some entrepreneurial magic into its players. That might teach the basics of financial and business management. And what did I discover? That the Space Trading genre, at least on the iPad, is in a bit of a recession.
Letâ€™s get the bankrupt outfits out of the way first, and then work our way up from there. Galaxy Trader ($1.29 from C-Apps), Dark Nova HD ($6.49 from Dead Jim Studios), and Star Shipping HD ($4.19 from Corbomite Games) all looked like they had warped in directly from the same historical period as the original Elite... well, the colourized Elite that I played on the Atari ST at any rate. Low-grade graphics and even lower-grade interfaces.
Dark Nova and Star Shipping have very few commodities to trade, and the prices of these commodities seem to have nothing to do with any attempt at an economy. Theyâ€™re arbitrary. It wouldnâ€™t matter what sort of planet you traded to or from, what sort of civilisation or political situation you dealt with...the prices remained aloof and unaffected. Much like me when I experienced the combat systems of these two games. Nothing hands on...simply â€˜roll-the-dice-and-see-what-happensâ€™ stuff. Canâ€™t I even shake my iPad and skillfully alter the dice roll like in the Tin Man gamebooks? No?
At least Galaxy Trader makes an attempt at having an economy. The prices change constantly, depending on Supply and Demand. Itâ€™s quite nice as you see ships coming and going around you, and know that theyâ€™re affecting the price that youâ€™re going to get for the haul of Ore youâ€™re carrying. Itâ€™s a shame that Galaxy Trader has next to nothing else going for it.
Right, enough of the dregs. Letâ€™s get into slightly less disappointing territory. Ultraviolet Dawn HD ($5.29 from Sad Cat Software) and Galaxy on Fire 2 HD ($13.99 from Fishlabs). Ultraviolet Dawn is cute, and I initially liked its top-down gameplay. Reminded me of an arcade game from the early 90s. But as far as a space trading game goes, it simply doesnâ€™t cut it. Thereâ€™s seemingly no variety in the destinations, so exploration is on the dull side. And again, thereâ€™s no attempt at any semblance of an economy. Itâ€™s Space Station Arbitrary.
Galaxy on Fire 2 is far more promising, if one has the time and inclination to explore its rather beautiful depiction of deep space. The first person space-flight and combat is nothing to be sneezed at. Up there with Privateer 2... beyond, even.
But Iâ€™m NOT on the hunt for a space shootâ€™em up. Iâ€™m looking for something with educational potential. Something that will teach the ins and outs of goods trading and small business management. Thatâ€™s what a space trader is, after all. A one-person business with stock, sales, overheads, and risks to manage.
Unfortunately for Galaxy on Fire 2, it seems that all of the money and talent got spent on the action, leaving petty cash for the wheeling and dealing interface. The commodity market was nearly incomprehensible. Not to mention the verbose, clumsy, and tiny-fonted dialogues. Information overload!
Iâ€™m doing a lot of griping here. Wasnâ€™t there anything out there is Space Trading Appland that I liked? Yes, there was. The lucky last...Warpgate HD ($10.99 from Freeverse). A top-down space-flight interface with simple yet fetching graphics. It was an absolute pleasure to give my young daughters a fly-through of Sol System to show them what Jupiter and Saturn look like. Thereâ€™s a strong narrative push right through the game...political intrigue and mystery abounds.
The trading system is smooth and simple, and reasonably dynamic. I found a great little trading route between two planets where I was able to make around 230% on G5 Processors. I was able to do four of those trades before the prices rose and dropped accordingly, blowing any further chance for profit. I guess Iâ€™d tapped the surplus dry at the first planet and satisfied demand at the other. Finally, a whiff of real economy!
In addition, you can plant mining drones on viable asteroids and draw a passive income stream off them indefinitely. This is the first instance of passive income that Iâ€™ve encountered in a space trader. Impressed! If only I could now buy a cargo ship and set up a remote trade route that earns me more passive cash. Or buy a G5 processor plant. No? Oh well.
Warpgateâ€™s not perfect. Not by a long shot. The spacecraft are fairly ugly, the commodities are too limited (only six at a time), and the universe doesnâ€™t really make any sense. The planet descriptions try to be funny and informative...and generally fail at both. And there seems to be little in common between the planet types and the commodities on offer, or their prices for that matter. Hopes of a â€˜realâ€™ economy dashed again.
So, Iâ€™m sorry to say, that I didnâ€™t find what I was looking for. A space trading game that could effectively teach the basics of commodity trading and business management. A game that has a universe and economy that makes sense. A game that has commodities and prices that are tied to planet types, civilisation types, and political situations. A game that has a strong narrative drive to keep you engaged. A game that lets you build a financial empire, brimful of passive income. A game that lets you make a bid for financial freedom in the virtual spaceways.
Warpgate comes close, but no cigar, Iâ€™m afraid.
The search will have to continue.