Lots of space flight sims out there such as Freespace 2, Independence War 2, Freelancer, Elite, and, more recently, X3 and Darkstar One. There’s even a MMOG, Eve Online (and Earth and Beyond before it)…
Why are there so many competing franchises? Well, none of them get it right, IMHO.
They pretty much all feature the player as a ship captain sitting in a cockpit of a space ship shooting pirates or playing pirate, transporting goods between planets or space stations, completing missions or contracts, and following a main storyline of some sort. Some of them are very freeform, letting players choose how to earn money and upgrade their ships and letting them choose whether to follow the main storyline. Others are relatively linear where the trading, pirating, etc. is just a backdrop to the main story.
But none of them do all of those things right. X3 is pretty good and very ambitious, but it is totally riddled with bugs. At one point, I pretty much had to quit trying to follow the story (the story for me is extremely important (take *that* Raph Koster!)) due to a bug. Darkstar One is the opposite in that the story is pretty much ALL there is to the game such that I didn’t actually care and felt too restricted into following a specfic path. That’s too bad.
What I’d like to see is some game that gets it all right… but actually, I want more than that. I’ve been spoiled by really good RPGs such as Oblivion and Gothic 2 and Knights of the Old Republic. Now, I’d like to see a space flight sim rpg.
Take everything that a good space flight sim should be. Now on top of upgrading ships and equipment and a huge galaxy to explore, add character skills which improve over time. Most importantly, throw in some side-quests and make all the quests “solvable” using different methods. Let players decide whether to help one faction over another. Have quests that conflict with each other. Tempt players with greed vs. honor. Throw in some moral and ethical choices.
Am I asking too much? Nah… might as well also make it so that all the NPCs don’t all look and sound alike, and make it so all the space stations are different. Throw in derelicts and alien artifacts and anomalies and other unique things to explore.
PS. Doing web searches for some of these games has made me realize something interesting. Games like Freespace 2 and Independence War 2 still have active websites YEARS after they were on store shelves since people can still get ahold of them through ebay or download (when they become either abandonware or officially released to the public) and fans can still make mods that other players can check out. Doing a search on Earth and Beyond, however, was rather sad. The news sections of fansites devoted to E and B featured messages from 3 years ago, basically announcing that the sites would no longer be maintained since the game no longer exists. Will most MMOGs (minus those with fans who hack them and run pirate servers) exist only in our memories?