Are Video Games Doing Outer Space Justice?

Are Video Games Doing Outer Space Justice?

This is no video game. This is an image of a gigantic baby star inside a galactic bubble 4300 light years from Earth, captured by Europe’s Herschel space telescope. Has video game space ever been so beautiful?

The small white spot on the bottom edge of the ethereal-looking galactic bubble RCW 120 is actually an infant star, only tens of thousands of years old, before its nuclear furnace ignites. Even as an infant, the star is eight to 10 times the size of our sun.

Interesting statistics, but what drew me to this story was how advances in astronomy help shape the way our games depict out space. Granted, the Herschel space telescope works in the far-infrared and sub-millimetre range, so the picture isn’t an accurate visual representation of what we’re looking at, but it’s pictures like these that shape the way game creators shape their universes.

Here are a few examples of how outer space is depicted in video games.

Wing Commander

We’ve sure come a long way, haven’t we?


Homeworld is one of the first games I played that made outer space look truly appealing. There isn’t much in the way of detail, but the colour palette used brightened up the normally inky depths considerably.

EVE Online

If there’s one thing EVE Online has always done right, it’s gripping, edge-of-your-seat adventure.

No, of course not. It’s the game’s depiction of outer space that lures many unsuspecting future EVE addicts into the fold, promising countless colourful star systems to explore, mine, and eventually die within. Graphic updates in recent years have made the universe of EVE Online more beautiful than ever.

Mass Effect 2

You don’t really spend too much time freely exploring space in the Mass Effect series, but the few free-roaming space faring moments you do enjoy take place on colourful star fields filled with various nebulae and gas pockets. Not bad for what is essentially point and click space exploration.

Star Trek Online

Star Trek Online is another game that nails space, presenting distinctive and colourful spatial phenomenon at every turn. Some would even say it outdoes the television shows and movies in terms of capturing the alien beauty of the airless void.

It’s interesting to see how scientific advances colour the way we experience the final frontier. As telescope technology advances and we push further out beyond the bounds of our tiny solar system, our view of outer space will grow more complete, allowing us to experience more of the beauty of the universe in real life and the games we play.

Herschel space telescope pierces giant star bubble [BBC]


  • Space games can be done a little better i think. I’d love to see a new “open world” sort of space rpg.

    You have select a crew at the start, most importantly make a captain. Then you can build a ship or choose from a large variety of ships and then the rest is up to you. Explore the star systems, take on missions, become a hero, become a villan, become a rogue trader.

    I know EVE online already does alot of this, as do other games – but they are all MMORPG that require montly fees and the such. I want to kick back on a console and just let loose on a big beautiful high def TV.

    Unfortunately i can’t think of the words to convey what i want.. but i want an adventure of my own – i want to become someone in space. EVE Online you are one of countless others, an explorer you may be..but do you really feel like what you do has an impact on your universe?

    What about becoming a warlord at the head of a fleet, that you have assembled yourself, on the way to whatever destiny has in store.

    There are so so many things i want to do in space… it feels like it may be impossible to fit them all in.

    Also, EVE is quite advanced from what i understand… i, like anyone else, want to ease into my adventures and have fun without being held back…

    • Well there has been Freelancer and the X Universe games… but I’ve always felt that none of them ever lived up to my expectations.

  • Star trek online was kinda interesting until you get to a point where alot of them are just a linear corridor of asteroids to fly through

    • I bought STO all and I tell you it no longer is fun. Cryptic will never cut it, don’t tell the truth, not balanced and plays worse than when in beta. and has a god bug that gives u every skill and power – kill or get killed with one shot. don’t wast ur funds – after playing a little while it’s no fun, WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT IT WAS, especially for real Trekkie. It don’t look or play well at all.

  • Freelancer was awesome in its day, but didn’t live up to the expectations the developers had promised…

    I agree, an ‘epic space adventure’!!1 game would be amazing. Or maybe I’m just a sucker for good sci-fi 🙂

  • I actually found Mass Effect 2 to be a big letdown in this area. While the main and cluster levels of the galaxy map were pretty, the in system view was always a bland starfield with a few patches of space dust. The planets didn’t really look like planets either, as they had this shiny 3D-ball sheen. The textures for the planets had little variety either, with only 1-2 patterns per planet type (gas, terrestrial, etc) and just a colour swap to differentiate them.

  • Chuloopa – as an avid science fiction fan myself, I just wanted to share my personal experience with EvE. I know there’s a lot of fanboys out there so I wont waste time gushing about how sweet the battles are or whatever, but I can truly say that what you do in New Eden has major repercussions.

    Whether you betray an alliance and devastate a thousand (literally) player’s hopes and dreams with a single cruel move, or take on the arduous task of documenting EvE’s extensive cartography for the free benefit of the entire 200,000 strong community (Thank you Ombey!) There are myriad opportunities to “make the news”, bring joy, tragedy or simply the lulz to hundreds of corpmates or enemies anywhere you go.

    In EvE, the mechanics are complex enough to always favor the clever, creative, and bold, not the players with the most money, time, or skill points. Rookie pilots with a sharp mind and an imagination can do incredible things that people playing for years are still figuring out.

    With the beginning of the 5th Council of Stellar Management, (a player elected leadership that CCP flies to Iceland to meet with developers to represent player interests and requests) CSM is now officially considered a stakeholder in CCP Games decision-making about the direction the EvE and New Eden, along with CCP executive management and the stockholders.

    I hope to see anyone ever curious enough to try EvE in New Eden someday! (And please dont take anything from the yellow cans outside Rens & Jita…its a trap!)

    And no, I do not work for CCP. I just enlisted in the Minmatar Militia after downloading an EvE trial from Steam on a whim, and fell in love. Its just so refreshing to play in a world where you and your friends end up creating stories and dramas that far surpass the ones you could be spoon-fed in traditional RPG’s.

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