Tuesday, December 11, 2012

#15 Subspace

I first saw Justin in the hallway when one of the guidance counselors was showing him around our high school on his first day there in the winter of our junior year. A few minutes later he came into my chemistry class and ended up sitting next to me. Justin and I were also in world history together and over the first couple of days working on chemistry problems and answering questions about the Ancient Greeks, we became friends and started sitting together at lunch.

One of the first things I found out about Justin was that he was not entirely happy with moving to Raleigh away from all his friends in Texas, so his parents had agreed to buy him upgrades for his computer. When I would go over to his house, we would usually partake of a selection of the Mr. Reed stash of Doritos and Cokes and then head upstairs to Justin’s room in the attic. The first games he showed me on one of my first visits over to his house was Fallout II (which almost made the list, but, after many days of intense mental struggle while in isolation in the west wing meditating to prepare this list, didn’t). Shortly afterward, he showed me Subspace which he had played since the beta version with his friends in Texas. My first reaction to the game was, “wow you can play asteroids against other people from all over the world. What an awesome idea!”

Subspace, originally released by Virgin Interactive in 1997 and later abandoned to be resurrected by the fan community as Subspace Continuum, is a massive multiplayer online game where, at its most basic, players navigate a spaceship around collecting powerups (represented as tiny green boxes) and fighting with other players in combat for points and rankings in different zones. Players can choose from 8 different ships to pilot, each with its own unique strengths, although the warbird with its unparalleled maneuverability was widely considered the superior ship. Your weapons included regular bullets, bombs and occasional thor’s hammers which were glowing purple and could travel through walls. Later fan modifications to the game changed or rebalanced all the ships to fit the unique design of each zone.

One of the most unique and ingenious elements of Subspace, was the fact that your life meter went down, not only when you took a hit from enemy fire, but also whenever you fired a shot. Unlike countless other shooters where it is correct to just hold down the fire button and spray bullets all over the screen, this mechanic made mastering the game quite difficult as you figured out how to be conservative with your bullets, only taking shots that had a good chance of hitting your opponent. Being aggressive and pursuing your weak opponents as they fled attempting to regenerate their health was critical to get kills, but being too aggressive would get you killed quickly and repeatedly. It was often easy to spot a newer player because they would spray bullets everywhere and it would take only a shot or two to bring them down.

The original version of the game designed by Virgin had only chaos zones where you were competing against most of the other players on the board, attempting to kill as many of them as you could to raise your rating. One of the most annoying parts of this zone was that you had to collect those little green boxes for a few minutes every time you died for your ship to be powerful enough to fight other ships. However, not to mention how boring this was when you were someone who died as much as I did, there always seemed to be people coming after you after you had just spawned attempting to get a cheap kill. People would go for other kinds of cheap kills like vultcing where you waited until someone was weak from fighting another opponent and then you moved in for the kill while you were at full health. After having fought an intense and epic battle against another players of comparable skill for many minutes (one of the biggest joys of Subspace), it was incredible frustrating to end up being taken out by someone who uncloaked and shot you a few times.

Subspace really shone with the alternate formats like my favorite: capture the flag, involving working together with half of the other players on the board to collect flags, bring them to bases, protect them from enemy capture and attempt to capture the enemies’ flags. My best memories of playing Subspace involved intense fights over flags that would last for many minutes where you would be frantically moving your ship around attempting to dodge enemy bullets within the confined area of the bases. Coordinating your attack with your teammates was essentially since sending in volleys of a few individuals at a time would be futile against a well-defended base.  

It was in these capture the flag zones that I started to get to know other players and even formed my own squad called the Puritans, since for some reason I was especially impressed with their philosophy after learning about them in U.S. History class. I frequently attempted to recruit new members in the chat and ended up getting members into double digits. One of our members designed us a logo which was a yellow lightning bolt (what that had to do with Puritans, I’m not sure). Most of the other squads were composed of skilled and experienced players who competed to top the leader boards and we didn’t have any of the top players in the Puritans and were sometimes mocked by other squads. However, I was happy just to have brought a squad together and on a few occasions we even had a team of mostly Puritans win a game of capture the flag.

Subspace is the only massive multiplayer online game I have ever gotten very deep into (I played World of Warcraft for about an hour and a half and got bored with just killing boars for gold pieces) and, since I am afraid of getting too suck in, I don’t know that I will ever get into another MMO game. With its simplicity, Subspace is fun but doesn’t have that insanely addictive nature of most MMO games nowadays that sucks hours of your life away. It stands as a remarkable testament to the lasting of subspace that, despite it unimpressive graphics and sound even by 1997 standards, now 15 years after its initial release Subspace still has an active community posting on its forums and playing the game.

You can download Subspace Continuum for free at: http://www.subspace.co/index.


  1. First, everything you said is true. Period.
    Second, do you still play subspace from time to time? I don't think I've touched it since 2007 (at the latest). I remember meeting Joey for the first time while we were playing subspace. I think I made fun of him and he told your mom. In all honesty, I was probably being an ass and deserved whatever I got.
    Third, man I miss that room I had in the attic. It was completely bad ass. So large and oddly shaped. It felt kind of isolated from the rest of the house, being on the 3rd floor. It was pretty cool to be up there on winter nights and to look out on the world below (pine trees).
    Forth, I was introduced to subspace by a friend of mine named James in Texas. We would play a lot together and also had our own squad, FBS the Federal Bureau of Stupidity. Looking back, it was a weird name. I'm not sure we ever had more than 20ish members and I remember being more interested in assigning titles/roles to people than actually being that good. This was more during the free-for-all period, so it was about showing up with your squad and racking up the most kills.

  2. I'm glad that we started things off on the right foot. I'm sure this was all Mynock's fault for some reason though. He was known to act highly illogical from time to time. I may have to fire Mynock and recast a new actor for my role in the Boulder Creek Movie.

    Also, I think I joined FBS back then but for some reason I'm pretty sure Phil told me it stood for Ferris Bueller Squad. Weird...

  3. Yes, I remember the FBS. It always struck me as a bit confusing like it sounded like the Bureau was full of stupid people, when really it was out to punish stupidity. I don't think I was very highly involved in that squad. I got more into Subspace later when you weren't playing it as much.

    You did have a really badass attic room. I think I like our attic room for some of the same reasons. You feel like an all-powerful wizard at the top of a tower looking down on all the squirrels and wondering if you should use some of your spell points to cast magic missile on their acorns.

    Also, I would like to suggest Bobcat Goldthwait wearing a gorilla suit for the role of Joey in the Boulder Creek Movie.