Totally Important Games: Operation: Inner Space

Operation: Inner Space

Operation: Inner Space

One of my all time favorite games as a kid was an apparently little known Canadian title called Operation: Inner Space from Software Dynamics. It came in a great little package, a portfolio package with floppy disks and some keyboard mapping cheat sheets in it.

Innerspace was great for a wide number of reasons. First, it was a game that was supposed to take place inside your computer — an idea it took to heart. It allowed you to create your own custom ships, and featured long, ongoing, fully open games where you can build and break down relationships with various factions, including Pirates and Law Enforcement. While most of the concepts it took in to heart were simple, they were very unique and very effective.

First: the game takes place in your computer, in a fairly literal way. You start your game by picking out a hard drive (or disk drive), and the game has you clear directories off your disk. Each directory contains Icons, the game’s currency, which you collect to purchase repairs and upgrades. Icons are actually derived from the files in the directory you’re playing in, and are unique — so currency is limited by the size of the drive. This also means you’ll collect documents and programs you recognize while you play.

This has it’s ups and downs, however. The levels are ‘space-like’ — mostly featureless beyond asteroids, icons, other ships and occasional other hazards; however given the shooter, Asteroids-style play that the game uses, it’s not particularly detrimental. Additionally, back when I played Inner Space for the first time, it was on a computer with a BRAND NEW, AMAZING 2 gig hard drive, and back then the game was unwieldy and enormous. So on newer drives, like the 240 gig drive on my laptop, or the TB library drives that are becoming more frequent — Inner Space would be obscenely large. Also, many icons didn’t have interesting images; often default windows images were used.

Second: The game had a fairly elaborate ship-builder. You actually could draw and animate your own ship, place the basic guns on then, determine the fuselage, set sound effects and the starting special weapon. The software even determined the aerodynamics of your ship, making thicker ships heavier and tougher, and streamlined ships faster and lighter.

Now, it wasn’t exactly the most straight-forward process. You did need to make some particular kinds of bitmaps to make a custom ship, which took a little learning. And there were NO limits on building a ship; a complete square the of the maximum size, or a single pixel ship — both were acceptable, with one being ridiculously tough and the other being physics-bendingly fast. The ship builder didn’t have enough restrictions on it to work very well, meaning that if you wanted, you could turn several dials up and use a particular kind of design to produce something ridiculously fast and tough, with no disadvantages.

Third: The game features a large number of pre-made ships, divided in to teams. Each team had personalities, and interacted with each other in various ways. Some teams were friendly to others, some hostile, and a handful were just paranoid or cautious. Since you also had an allegiance, you could call your teammates for help, or you might be attacked, unprovoked, by another team who just doesn’t like your friends. Moreover, each team has unique members, generated while you played. Other characters could join or leave a directory while you were there. (Amusingly, with the right weapons and tactics, you could force your enemies through the exit.)  When you entered a directory, you’d get a summary of each other character there, including if you had previously met them, what they thought of you, and what they thought of your team.

While this whole allegiance system was simple, it sometimes created very interesting scenarios, like my Enemy’s Enemy is My Friend, where some neutral party helps you out to take down mutual threats. Or where if you consistently helped an enemy or enemy team, you could convert them to allies — and sometimes a friend on an enemy team would produce some usual confused behavior; a rudimentary moral dilemma.

The game also featured two unique teams; law enforcement, who would be summoned when the rules of Inner Space were broken, and could haul you or others off for crimes committed, and the Ambulance, an ever present super ship that  held no allegiances and aided anyone who asked for it, by offering repairs and upgrades — though you could use it to escape your enemies (or in some cases to bludgeon them).

Lots of simple elements that came together in a captivating package. There were multiple ways to win the game, a ton of weapons and tools you could use, and everything came together very well. In fact I would be playing it occasionally still, except that it seems to be increasingly unstable over time — not terribly surprising since it ran originally on Windows 3.x. The concepts it brought forward are ones that can very well be adapted in to the modern generation of games. The idea of build-your-own units we’ve seen many times, such as in Spore, and the generated worlds and dynamic allegiances can be brought back in new and exciting ways.

If you ever get a chance to play it, Operation: Inner Space is an amazing game, even if it is a bit dated — you can still buy it from Software Dynamics, though it’s seems a little steep to pay the $25+ they’re asking for such an old game.

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3 Responses to “Totally Important Games: Operation: Inner Space”

  1. killing games Says:

    who would be summoned when the rules of Inner Space were broken??

  2. Gaming Accessories Says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I finded around your website and found your blog is excellent. There are a lot of info for me to study, thanks for your great share.

  3. e Says:

    I agree, this game was brilliant. Unfortunately it’s glitchy and crashy on Windows XP. (I haven’t tried it on anything later.) I remember how sometimes, if you called the ambulance, it could arrive so fast that it crashed into you and blew you up. It also had this sultry girl’s voice: “let me guide you in!”

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