Ah, space opera – tragedy, costumes, sweeping orchestral scores mixed with a few aliens, plasma guns and AI constructs. We love it in all its forms -- including video games. Here are ten of our personal favourites across all formats.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1984, PC)
The way Infocom made its text adventures meant that they could be ported almost instantly to any computer of the day, and this game-of-the-book-of-the-radio-show appeared on almost 20 platforms. To further sweeten the deal, it also came with some amusing pamphlets and a "Don't Panic" badge.
Space Quest (1986, Apple II)
The dream of epic games was still distant but Sierra On-Line pushed adventure games in the right direction with this galactic counterpoint to King's Quest. Sure, there was still text entry, but you could also move your chunky character – Roger Wilco, space janitor, around the blocky scenery. An early step towards a glorious future.
Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday (1990, PC)
The grandaddy of Space Opera made its computer game debut in 1990 on PC, Amiga, Sega MegaDrive and Commodore 64. It contained all the hallmarks of the genre, including a battle-weary hero, warring alien factions, top-secret missions and a menagerie of grizzled space pirates.
Wing Commander (1990, PC)
Beneath the gloss lay a simple repetitive 3D shooter, but Wing Commander was dressed up so nicely that it didn't really matter. Drawing on the feel of Star Wars and Cinemaware's movie-style games alike, Wing Commander kept players enthralled with a flow of cutscenes and military medal ceremonies that made little boys feel like big space heroes.
Another World (1991, Amiga)
When you look back at old games it's often with derision, disbelief or patronising nostalgia; not so with Delphine Software's platformer Another World. Its vectorised graphics set it apart from its contemporaries, and it had gameplay to match. Only a few other titles from this era look this good, and Delphine made all of them too.
Phantasy Star Online (2001, Dreamcast)
Sega's ill-fated Dreamcast brought online role-playing to the keyboardless masses with Phantasy Star Online, showing developers the way forward before gallantly stepping aside/ collapsing to let other platforms collect the glory.
We loved Phantasy Star Online for many reasons, but primarily because it let you meet up with your mates and whale away at monsters with a frying pan to a lounge-jazz-electro soundtrack. There's not enough of that nowadays.
Halo: Combat Evolved (2001, Xbox)
An opera? Perhaps not in its own right, but as the opening act of the Halo saga it has to make the cut. It's got all the standard opera tropes: tragedy, costumes, a grand, sweeping orchestral score, AI constructs, 4WD vehicles, plasma guns, stumpy aliens... OK, so it's not a textbook opera, but it's close.
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (2003, Xbox)
And so to the first entry from Mass Effect creators Bioware. The Xbox crew went nuts for this when it came out – along with Jedi Outcast, it was one of the first decent uses of a Star Wars license for decades. Knights of the Old Republic played a vital role in the dawn of the new, less geeky age of the western RPG.
Mass Effect (2007, Xbox 360)
Compressing five years into as many lines allows us to shunt one Bioware hit right into another, and amazingly, nobody can lay claim to making anything nearly as epic and spacey in that period.
Mass Effect took Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, made it look stunning, and then created a whole new universe with new characters and plots. Anyone for a sequel or two?
Galaxy on Fire II HD (2011, iPad and Android)
While the cartoon style of Angry Birds still prevails in tablet gaming, Galaxy on Fire II HD proves that there's a lot more to these biscuit-thin portables than rendering sprites. The game looks fantastic on the iPad and Honeycomb Android tablets and is out on Mac and PC too. Be warned: the main system requirement is a sense of humour. Laughing at the voice acting and pretending it's intentionally atrocious allows you to enjoy it as an interactive, galactic sit-com.