Project: Space Station

Moby ID: 23319
Commodore 64 Specs

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Project: Space Station casts the player into the role of a NASA Administrator, charged with the task of designing and building a space station. The project will span 15 years, during which time the player must plan shuttle launches, recruit personnel, manage the budget, conduct research and development and, of course, design and build the station. A very deep and involved game for such an early effort.

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Average score: 3.9 out of 5 (based on 9 ratings with 1 reviews)

Addictive NASA management/sim hybrid

The Good
This was quite possibly the first game that I got hopelessly addicted to. I had played the C64 version at school with my friend. Seeing a DOS version at a computer show was a dream come true.

You are in charge of what was the Space Station Freedom project for NASA. Your first task is to come up with a plan for how your station program is going to be run: the design of the station itself, the crew members you will be using (each with their own skills and personality quirks), the launch schedule, and how the money will be allocated within the budget. You have unlimited time to do this, and the game guides you - it won't approve your program without meeting certain requirements, ensuring that you can't softlock yourself before you even start.

The station is built from modules, and you need to ensure you balance the needs of power (and to radiate excess heat) with the number of crew modules (living quarters), R&D modules (money-making labs), communications modules, and hangars (for storing and repairing EVA pods, more on that later). This is all done with a fun drag-and-drop building screen.

Once your plan is approved, stuff starts for real, with the in-game clock pauseable at any time so you can work. You need to begin buying modules and loading them into one of the two space shuttles at your disposal (Columbia and Atlantis in the DOS version, I think it was Challenger and Discovery in the C64 version). By default, shuttle launches happen every few weeks, and you can view the launch conditions at the Kennedy Space Centre. Bad weather could result in the launch being scrubbed, even in the last few seconds, so you can opt to reschedule yourself to save time.

The actual launch sequence is a mini-simulator, where you "fly" the shuttle through the optimal path on a computer display, with an external camera showing the SRBs and fuel tank being jettisoned as the shuttle rolls onto its back and enters orbit. The better you follow the path, the closer to the station's location you'll arrive. Once in orbit, any cargo carried is automatically jettisoned, and it's time for EVA.

Spacesuits and MMUs (man-maneuvering units, jetpacks) are available, but you only directly control 2001-style EVA pods. Now, the station builder mode is done for real, with a side-scrolling sequence where you fly the EVA pod around, grabbing and maneuvering the various modules into place. You can also transfer crew members to the station at this point, provided it's habitable (i.e. has sufficient power and living space). When you're done, you can either return the pod to the shuttle or to a hangar module on the station. Don't dally, both the pod and the shuttle have limited life support, and astronauts can die if this runs out. This includes a pod running out of fuel, and the need for a rescue mission to bring them back inside with another pod.

You can again view conditions at Edwards Air Force Base prior to choosing to land. The landing sequence is much like the launch, except the second phase is a fun side-scrolling final approach glide to the runway. How well you followed the path down determines where you end up relative to the runway, and then you have to set her down as gentle as possible and not burn up the brakes stopping too fast. Your overall flight performance is then evaluated, with worse re-entry or touchdowns resulting in longer repair times to replace heat tiles or landing gear components before the shuttle can be used again.

Once the station is up and running, you can pick scientific projects to be run in the lab modules, and keep them supplied with material packs. This, along with launching satellites when requested, is how you earn money to keep your program running.

A few other issues can crop up, like space debris (small chunks of detritus that can damage the station and need to be pushed out of orbit with an EVA pod) or solar flares (there needs to be sufficient shielded emergency module space or else station staff might be killed).

There's always something that needs doing, whether it's flying the shuttles, doing EVAs or managing the station, and that's what made the game so damned compulsive. When I said I was addicted, I wasn't kidding: I'd get up in the morning, eat breakfast, play 20 minutes, go to school, home for lunch, play 20 minutes, back to school, home, play as much as I could with only dinner and bedtime interrupting me.

The Bad
Until you know what you're doing, it's very easy to screw yourself up: I managed to get the only two scientists in a particular field killed right at the beginning, which locked me out of a number of research projects. You also need to monitor the R&D page closely, and dread the vague "a key scientist is needed to progress further", which seemed to amount to "send everyone who has those skills up to visit until it starts moving again".

It can be very difficult to make money at first: the profit margins for launching satellites never seemed to be enough, considering you had to pay for the satellite (and a payload assistance booster to get it into geosynchronous orbit if that was the request) yourself.

The shuttle launch schedule was also far too intense and expensive once the initial construction phase was over. Having to constantly edit the schedule to space them further out became so wearing that I eventually just abandoned the Atlantis in orbit, moving all its crew to safety aboard the station before returning them to Earth. The Columbia alone was sufficient to keep my labs supplied and to bring extra satellites and payload modules up to have them ready in orbit when another request came in.

Eventually you could get softlocked this way - you needed a shuttle launch or satellite launch, but couldn't afford to send a shuttle up or even to deploy a pod from the station, and would end up just letting the clock run, waiting for one of your research projects to earn some money (which seemed to be random).

The Bottom Line
A compulsive, enjoyable, varied look at the space program that could have been. The variety of activities and surprising depth behind it all holds your interest for a long time.

I should note there was an NES game in 1991 with a very similar premise called "Space Shuttle Project" - while the presentation was much nicer, and some of the gameplay and depictions of operations similar, the depth just wasn't there: it was six linear missions comprised of a series of minigames, no station or project management needed.

DOS · by Stephen Webber (5) · 2022

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Game added by Halmanator.

Game added July 28, 2006. Last modified August 30, 2023.