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Universe [game]

Entry updated 22 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1983). Omnitrend Software (OS). Designed by Thomas Carbone, William Leslie III. Platforms: Atari8 (1983); AppleII (1984); DOS (1987).

Universe, a largely text-based game with some outline graphics which is played in turns, is an interesting precursor to the space exploration form of Space Sim, of which the first true example was Elite (1984). As in a space exploration game, players each possess their own spacecraft but must mine, trade, transport cargo and passengers and possibly engage in piracy to keep it running. Universe also shares some elements of its structure with Computer Role Playing Games such as Starflight (1986); the player's ship has a full crew, though their representations are unsophisticated. The design focuses on strategic gameplay in a complex model of a Space Opera universe, including such activities as boarding enemy ships and landing mining probes on hostile worlds. While the wealth of available options can make players feel deeply immersed in their role as starship commander, the level of detail which must be dealt with manually – including such esoterica as calculating optimal orbits around planets – may prove frustrating. Certainly, Universe is of largely historical interest today.

The game is set in a remote area of space which humans have colonized using an alien technology, the Hyperspace booster, which greatly extends the range of their spacecraft. This artefact has apparently stopped working, meaning that vital supplies are no longer arriving from Earth; the player's primary mission is to locate another such device. The milieu includes a remarkable amount of (somewhat generic) fictional detail, much influenced by the Role Playing Game Traveller (1977). This background was reused for the sequel, Universe II (1985 OS, Amiga, AtariST, DOS) designed by William Leslie III. Universe II is similar to its predecessor, but more closely resembles a Computer Role Playing Game set in space than it does a Space Sim; the player character has a clear identity as an undercover operative for an interstellar government, and members of the ship's crew have individual names and professions. This game also includes sequences set in planetary starports which are played in the manner of a text Adventure, though these received mixed reviews. A further sequel, Universe 3 (1989 OS, AtariST, DOS; 1990 Amiga) designed by William Leslie III is essentially a graphical Adventure, with a linear plot (see Interactive Narrative) and many puzzles to be solved, though the display takes the form of a two-dimensional plan view rather than the three-dimensional landscapes commonly seen in such works.

Related works: Breach (1987 OS, Amiga, AtariST, DOS) designed by Thomas Carbone, William Leslie III, Breach 2 (1990 OS, Amiga, AtariST, DOS) designed by Thomas Carbone and Breach 3 (1995 OS, DOS) designed by Chris Bamford, Thomas Carbone, Scott Woodrick are a series of squad-based tactical combat games using the same background as Universe. Breach and Breach 2 reuse much of the design of Universe II's turn-based spaceship boarding system, while Breach 3 is an early Real Time Tactics game. Rules of Engagement (1991 OS, Amiga, DOS) and its sequel Rules of Engagement 2 (1993 OS, Amiga, DOS), both designed by Thomas Carbone and Maurice Molyneaux, are spaceship combat games, also set in the Universe milieu. [NT]

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