Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

How Long Until a Clone Becomes a “Spiritual Descendant?”

Posted by Rampant Coyote on June 4, 2014

wc1screenshot1Long-time readers will know I’ve got a soft spot for space-combat games. I was kind of a Wing Commander junkie in my much younger years. But hey, I was working for the summer in a strange town, no friends around, my fiance was back at school for the summer, and I had very little entertainment budget. I had to “make do” with Wing Commander 1. Not that I minded this at all.

I lived and breathed the game. It felt like it had been custom-made for me. I was fully immersed. I was 2nd Lieutenant “Blue Hair.” At one point, I could tell you the armor level on the front of a Drayman class transport, or the number of guns on the Venture Corvette… a ship which made one brief appearance in the original WC1 campaign, if I recall correctly. Anyway – yeah. I loved the game. I was a big Origin fanboy back then…

Unfortunately, that style of space combat simulator went the way of the dodo in the late 90s, after a really good run with games like X-Wing, TIE Fighter, and the Freespace series. And some less-great games (I did play Star Crusader and XF5700 Mantis: Experimental Fighter to completion, I’ll have you know…) I guess the genre really had run its course when I found myself  unimpressed with Wing Commander: Prophecy, and I could never manage to get more than a few missions into Chris Roberts’ post-Origin effort Starlancer.

It’s been a long time, though. Sure, there have been a few small entries into the genre since then, especially among the indies. My first commercial indie game, Void War, was inspired by these old games as well, and was an attempt to take space combat in a new, interesting direction. I’ve played a few of these recent space combat games, but I don’t know if it’s possible for anything to grab me the way Wing Commander or X-Wing did. Wing Commander in particular (especially the earlier two games) really straddled that combination of simulation and storytelling, and it was that combo that really sucked me in.

LyotaLaunch640Now that the insanity of the previous three weeks has died down a little bit, I’ve actually found time to play games again. One of these games has been Eterium, a recently-released space combat game from Rogue Earth LLC. I’m not too far into it yet, but it’s got a very, very strong Wing Commander vibe. In fact, swap out just a few details, and the first couple of missions could have been taken right out of Wing Commander 1′s design document (and a few details from Wing Commander 2‘s storyline). In fact, I’d say that Eterium is about as close to a modern remake of Wing Commander 1 & 2 as one can be legally safe without the license. While it certainly pulls in ideas from other games, and uses anime-inspired characters (but then, WC1′s character design was a little anime-inspired, too…), this seems like a very competent fan-made remake.

If there weren’t 20+ years and light-years of technological differences between the two, you could probably call Eterium a clone. Maybe this impression will fade after I’m a few more missions into the game, but as of right now, I feel like I’m settling down into very familiar territory. The fights are a bit harder, even though the old skills still work against the AI. There’s even a simulator in the rec room with a high score list to compare against the other pilots (a feature I loved in WC1).

Eterium1But I feel it’s a disservice to both games to call Eterium a “clone.” I guess after a certain point, it’s really much more of a “spiritual descendant.” But I’m not sure where to draw that line. There are a few things that Eterium adds to the mix – such as a more detailed damage model, and theoretically some dynamic mission creation (which I can’t say if I’ve recognized yet, but I imagine it could make the missions harder to create a walkthrough for). But for the most part, it sticks perhaps too closely to the tried and true.

But here’s the thing: It’s been so long now that a lot of gamers have no experience with the predecessor. So in that respect, Eterium would be kind of a new experience for them.  And honestly – the simplicity can be kind of refreshing.  It’s got enough simulator elements to provide something more than a straight-up action game, but not so much that it gets bogged down or becomes hard to play.  That’s a good thing.

A lot of its success will probably come down to the story. It was that story and context that made the missions interesting in the old days. Otherwise, it just feels like endless waves of bad guys with slight variations in composition and victory conditions. And while the missions are extremely familiar, it is interesting getting to know the capabilities of all the friendly and enemy ships and weapons, and trying to make sense of the cast of characters and what’s going on.

Maybe the difference between “clone” and “spiritual descendant” comes down more to intent and care put into the derivative product. While Rogue Earth is clearly holding fast to the tried and true, sometimes you have to start at a known location before wandering off in new directions. Again, from what I have played so far, it seems like they have really put a great deal of effort building a new universe and game system together into a straightforward but polished title.

So there’s a part of me that really doesn’t care if it is too similar to its predecessor(s). I’m just having fun.


Filed Under: Flight Sims - Comments: 8 Comments to Read

  • Josh Sutphin said,

    Given enough time, preservation becomes a real issue. How many machines out there can easily run WC1 today? (That is, without fiddling with DOSBox configs and what-not.) At that point, a “clone” of WC1 can almost be seen as a public service, a way to enjoy a classic experience on modern hardware in an accessible way.

    For me, time and intent are the litmus tests. 2048 is a clone of Threes, not a spiritual successor, because a) it came out while Threes was still completely new, relevant, and accessible and b) the creator specifically said he wanted the Threes experience to be available for free, so he made a game that would do that.

  • McTeddy said,

    For me, the difference is in whether the developer is willing to give credit. If a developer says or is at least willing to say “This was inspired by X” I consider it an homage and I will treat it as such.

    But when Mobile or AAA developers claim to be creating a new game that’ll change the universe… yet it feels exactly like other games I call it at clone.

    I have absolutely nothing against homages, parodies, inspirations, etc. But unless they warn me “Expect more of the same” my expectations will be set too high. No matter how good a clone it is, I’ll feel let down.

  • Albert1 said,

    You know, I’m a first-person shooter addict – mostly 90s FPSs, though.
    Well, what if the “clone” aged way better than the original? I recently replayed Chasm: The Rift aka “poor man’s Quake”. It’s still fresh – if possible, even more now than in 1997! Quake’s still my favourite game, but Chasm was/is way more than a clone, not to mention a “spiritual descendant”!
    Generally, I don’t like descendants that much: either a game is a nice, honest and polished clone; or it’s a “true” game on its own merit. I find celebrations really boring – especially when they are the from-the-creators-of-xyz kind of thing!

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I recently discovered this potential Wing Commander heir:


    I haven’t tried the alpha yet, but it certainly looks good.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    I think I saw that one, but I’m in the “wait until its released” mode. Hopefully it’ll be awesome!

  • Shaffer Buttars said,

    I like it, thanks for putting me on to it. Very fun. Not important to me if it’s a clone, spiritual descendant, or homage. They pulled it off well and I’m having a brand of fun playing it that I haven’t had in a while.

  • Anon said,

    > Given enough time, preservation becomes a real issue. How many machines out there can easily run WC1 today? (That is, without fiddling with DOSBox configs and what-not.)

    Lots of people actually couldn’t get those hardware-munching games from Origin to run on their machines *back then*. Remember the first Ultima 7 and what anger its memory manager provoked?

    While I had no major problems with U7 I indeed had a few games I *never* could get to run because of the obscene amount of memory they needed and I used every trick in the book. I remember having used several autoexec.bat/config.sys combos, selected by a batch file menu, to cope with several drivers and their various settings (Himem.sys, SmartDrive, mouse driver, CD-driver, soundcard-driver etc.) for example.

    I don’t really miss the old times – as far as *comfortable* gaming is concerned.

    > At that point, a “clone” of WC1 can almost be seen as a public service, a way to enjoy a classic experience on modern hardware in an accessible way.


  • Modran said,

    Anyone has a good multiplayer space-sim under his belt? Not MMO, I don’t want EVE, I just want to be hurtling through space with friends and mak some IA pirates go *silent-boom*.
    An maybe shoot some of those friends :p