Let’s talk fans. Not the plug-in kind, but the obsessed kind. There is a level of fanaticism out there that goes beyond fan fiction, beyond long hours spent twiddling away with whatever the focus of the obsession might be. In the world of video games, that level of commitment has a name, and it’s called Modding. Modding is when you take the original code of a game and tweak it, re-write it, add-on to it, and re-release it. This can take weeks, months, years to do, and the bigger the game, the bigger the task.
After 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears (and apparently a consensual, adult relationship with an office coffee-machine), X3: Xtended Terran Conflict 2.0 has been released to the masses. Do you like learning curves served in healthy portions with your Space Combat Simulators? Then this game is for you. XTC is one of the most beautifully built “unofficial” games I have ever seen. From the ground up, it is filled with gorgeous solar systems, gigantic space stations, and absolutely killer ship designs.
The basic premise is, way in the future mankind exists in a universe with many other races. The galaxies are linked by star gates that allow instant travel between solar systems. These gates are always popping up as they were built millions of years ago, and we’re only finding them and turning them on. Now Pandora’s Gate has been found, a new link to an unkown portion of the galaxy, “the expansion zone.” Of course everyone is hot to settle the zone and exploit it for profits and resources. When you load the game you have many options on how to start out, as there are at least a half dozen different playable races in this game, everything from the human Argons or Terrans, to the aquatic-planet based Boron. the profit-based Teladi, holy crusading Paranid, or war-mongering Split… These are just a few of the different species you can start as, or run into the during the course of the game. Either way you cut it, you start out with a ship and a dream. Plopped down in the heart of a newly discovered galaxy, this expansion zone is being swept up by the different races for their own reasons (the strongest of which is always greed).
For the first few days, maybe even weeks of playing, it’s all about learning and exploring. As you fly through different “jump gates” to map different sectors (fully contained solar systems with planets, suns, resources, etc) you come into contact with all manner of pirate, military, and friendlies that want you to go here and shoot down this, haul this over to there, keep pirates off of this transport ship, or give rides to passengers needing to get to other places in the galaxy.
Of course this is all based on your “notoriety” with each race, which can be bad simply based on the color of your skin or the genes in your DNA. The Boron are at war with the Split, the Pirates are at war with your wallet, and the Terrans are at war with everyone else (go humanity!). If you want to get your notoriety up, you’ve got to grind away these missions… Cause the point of this whole thing is to stockpile $ and create an empire..
The economy of the X Universe is all-encompassing and fully functional. There are space stations that need “energy cells’ in order to produce their products, so you need to buy a freighter to go get some energy cells at a low price, and sell them to a factory that is willing to pay higher. Profit, period. This example is repeated throughout the galaxy. Someone ALWAYS needs raw materials, and YOU’RE the one who can bring it to them, or they’ll get it from some computer-controlled “other guy.” This is how the second stage of any X game unfolds, at first it’s all flying around and exploring, then it’s moving on to trading and expanding.
The ultimate goal is to get your notoriety up enough to be able to purchase more items from the different races. Cause at first, if they don’t like you, you’re shut out at the door- they won’t even let you in their solar systems, less dock at their stations. In order to fix this, you’ve got to be crafty.
This is empire building in an elegant, grass-roots kind of way. You have the ability to work away building up a fleet of transport ships, and eventually enough cash to start building space stations of your own. The stations can produce anything from energy to weapons to shields to food for the masses… Or if you’re a crafty space pioneer, you’ll hook a bunch of stations together to keep the intermediate raw materials in-house. For instance to build weapons you need a few things, silicon, energy, and a food source for the workers (simplified of course), and each one of those items needs intermediate products as well (to mine silicon you need energy, to produce “energy cells” you need special crystals that are made from silicon and a food source… See where I’m going with this?)
If you connect enough space stations, you get yourself a self-sustaining space factory pumping out profits. One of the more lucrative business opportunities is the production of more illicit forms of entertainment. Mainly booze and weed. Space Fuel and Space Weed are highly profitable products, but if you’re caught with them in your hold in 90% of the galaxy you’re at least getting your cargo yanked… And possibly getting shot down by pirates who want your goods. If you build a space-still in the wrong race’s territory, they’ll send giant capital ships to blow your station away.
While you’re grinding away at missions and flying materials around the galaxy earning profits, there is a threat hiding out there in the unexplored sectors of the expansion zone. No one knows where the zone goes, exactly, so no one knows what else might be out there, waiting in the dark. You see, thousands of years ago Artificial Intelligence was born, and machines were built to fly out into space on their own to “terraform” found planets, and ready them for colonization. Well as things go, those machines eventually evolved beyond their initial mission, they learned how to build themselves… and disappeared. They are known as the Xenon, a race of terraforming machines that see biological life as an anomaly to be eradicated. That can put a damper on your space-exploring fun if you go through the wrong gate. And who knows… Maybe there’s another threat out there in the darkness of space. Something even more terrifying than a genocidal race of machines. Watching the races, studying them as they expand, colonize, and lay claim to the new areas of space.
This is just some of the complexity of this game. Xtended Terran Conflict is frustrating, it’s buggy, and it’s imperfectly perfect. Made by fans for fans, this is truly the best of the best here. The team behind this re-invention deserves all the kudos, pats-on-the-back, and lots and lots of good booze sent their way… This game is awesome. Dive in and say goodbye to your social life… And do yourself a favor, stay as far “south” as possible. Good hunting!