Fly Me to the Loon

I’m not usually one to stoop to the level of arguing with lazy tabloid journalism. I’ve been playing video games since the mid ’80s and I’ve long since settled into an attitude of weary quasi-indifference upon seeing uninformed articles vomited out by narrow-minded hacks who froth at the mouth with misdirected righteous indignation. Part of me smugly refuses to be annoyed by these ham-fisted articles because they’re so poorly conceived that they scarcely qualify as journalism or, in some cases, even writing. This latest, however, made me facepalm so hard that the echoes of skin on bearded skin could be heard reverberating around the town for hours afterwards.

Microsoft Flight Simulator, the Daily Mail screams with delirious semi-coherent fury, is a training programme for terrorists.

Oh yes. Though the multitudinous previous claims of video games inciting acts of violence were certainly risible (for reasons well worn enough to not need reiteration here) they at least held to some sort of logic. GTA promotes crime, they said. First-person shooters promote shooting sprees, they said. Nonsense but at least a logical sequence. The choices of game made some sort of sense. Here, though, the Mail is linking flight simulator to a bomber who attacked trains. Just stop for a moment, Daily Mail, and ask yourself whether “this terrorist trained for a pedestrian attack on a train by flying a pretend plane” isn’t a bit of a stretch, even for you?

That’s akin to claiming that someone who carried out a horrific shooting in a school trained for the occasion by playing Theme Hospital. There is no longer even a semblance of logical thought to the Mail’s deranged flailing at video games, grabbing whatever comes to hand. A terrorist once bought brussels sprouts? Sprouts cause terrorism! Standing in a Tesco checkout line is training for manufacturing explosive devices!

That’s without even touching on the pathetic lack of journalistic standards in the way this ‘information’ is imparted. See how I indicated my dismissiveness of the information by putting the word in inverted commas? The Mail did exactly the same, referring to Microsoft Flight Simulator as a ‘game’, complete with sarcastic punctuation, as though raising a knowing eyebrow to an audience who are all well aware that this ‘game’ is transparently a malevolent plot by Microsoft to intentionally train terrorists. That seems to be the implication here. The Daily Mail wants us to believe that Microsoft are deliberately causing terrorism. Don’t even get me started on the fact that the Mail grudgingly admits in passing that the investigation never named a specific flight simulator in any case. ‘Many fingers pointed in the direction of Microsoft’, it says, while conveniently neglecting to cite any specific fingers. I suspect that all the fingers in question were Daily Mail fingers.

So there it is. Microsoft Flight Simulator = terrorism, right? Right?

No. It feels like overkill even typing the word ‘no’ to refute this mind-meltingly, bladder-shrivellingly piteous wail of desperate spite from a tabloid that has long since given up caring whether it can even take itself seriously. The Daily Mail is senile. It no longer knows or cares what it’s saying about anything as long as someone politely listens to it and gives it some soup. Just leave it alone to wither and die out as its own bizarre lie-peddling antics make it obsolete.

Oh, and if you play flight simulators and eat sprouts, don’t blow anything up. Ok?

0 Gravity Y3030

Y coverIt’s been difficult to craft a review of 0 Gravity Y3030, partly because the game is itself dishearteningly tough and partly because it’s hard to know what to say about it. The concept sounds, on paper, simultaneously intriguing and dull. ‘Go and pick up junk that’s drifting around in space’ (to paraphrase) might not be the world’s most thrilling blurb, but it reminded me of the generally solid anime series Planetes and that was enough for me to decide right on the spot that I was going to play it.

Well, I say ‘play’ but something like ‘operate’ might be a more apt choice of verb. Y3030 feels less like a game than a shift at work, which is pretty much what it represents – a day in the life of someone who hauls miscellaneous space debris around. As a sort of deep space housekeeper you guide your little one-man rig around the vicinity of a confusingly tangled space station, picking up crates and other miscellany that need retrieval for one reason or another, then using your meagre earnings to splash out on luxuries like breathable air.

The most striking part of the experience is the sensation of being in space. This is something very rarely implemented with much conviction or success, and while I have several years too little NASA employment history to verify whether Y3030 is accurate, to my layman’s senses it does a better job than most of making me feel like I’m moving around in a zero gravity vacuum.


Star Wars: The Parcel Force Years

That’s really the selling point of the game. It doesn’t promise a rollercoaster ride of adrenal highs and despondent lows, or a frenetic scramble to overcome daunting odds. It promises space, and that’s what it delivers.

Unfortunately, space movement is exasperatingly slow and fiddly, so it doesn’t make for the most compelling entertainment. If you’ve ever sat in a doctor’s waiting room and thought the only thing that could improve the dizzying deluge of giddy exhilaration was an impression of weightlessness, then Y3030 is the game you’ve always wanted. I don’t want to be too hard on Y3030 for this, though. I suspect the playing experience here might be too uneventful for some audiences, but if you’re a patient sort or just enjoy a simulation of drifting around in space, Y3030 hits the target. Even so, it’s hard to recommend the game even to those with the patience of a professional paint-drying observer, for an entirely different reason.

The biggest flaw with Y3030 isn’t its slow, deliberate pace or its uneventful proceedings; it’s the difficulty. There are two things keeping you alive out there in the vast, impassive blankness of barely colonised deep space: oxygen and fuel. As the former runs low, your vision clouds over until the claustrophobic end closes around you. If your fuel runs out it’s much the same experience as you drift unable to propel yourself, just watching the O2 gauge gradually tick down to zero and cursing your inability to carry crates fast enough.


Plenty of fuel & O2. Not representative of Y3030.

You see, what will always get you killed is basically shortage of cash. You earn money by retrieving the specified items of debris, then periodically you stop by the local space-7/11 for some oxygen and fuel. Or rather, some oxygen or fuel. You always need both, and always have enough money for just one. However hard you try to make the other resource last until you’ve carried out a few more jobs, it’s just too difficult. Faithful though the weightless vacuum movement might be, it’s frustrating and wearisome to control. This might be only a tiny blemish by itself, but add to it the labyrinthine clutter of identical shafts, cubes and general space station brick-a-brack that constitutes your main environment and suddenly the slightly awkward movement controls become an irritating handicap to navigation. Then factor in the strictly limited resources to create a final unforgiving experience that will penalise you not only for your own errors but also for simply failing to have spent the necessary years training as an astronaut. You will find yourself dying depressingly over and over in the unflinching void as you struggle to complete your intrinsically imprecise and slow-moving tasks with surgical precision and pit-stop rapidity.


Fox McCloud’s self esteem never recovered from his demotion

Maybe with peerless mastery of your craft’s uncooperative motion and a photographic recollection of the ideal route to each pick-up, you might be able to make your supplies last after a few retries, but you’re unlikely to ever reach that level of expertise. The slow and largely uneventful pace of the game means that after a couple of dozen runs through the first five or six missions, you’ll be weary of the whole endeavour. Numerous replays are necessary as you painstakingly make tiny refinements to your approach in an attempt to sustain yourself a little bit longer than last time, but if the very first play is dry then repeats rapidly become tiresome – ironically the only thing Y3030 does rapidly.