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Space Engine


Hyena-Addicted Antelope
I really should have mentioned it much earlier, as this thing can be a nice time-sink, and quite soothing one, if you have too much time and not much to do. Even more so if you are as interested in astronomy, or space-based sci-fi, as I am. I also hope it's in the right forum section: not being exactly a typical game, it does have some game features. And is available on Steam too.

So, basically Space Engine is a "universe simulator", a 3D planetarium. You can travel to, view and land on practically any space object (wanna land on a black hole? no biggie!). It has pretty impressive graphics, often using it feels like traveling within the Hubble images. What is special about it is its scope: it simulates practically whole universe (within reason). For objects on which real astronomical data is available, it uses that. But for all others, it utilizes sophisticated procedural generation, ensuring realistic, scientifically plausible results - I think this sets Space Engine apart from some other space exploration games. So you can travel from planet to planet, from star to star and from galaxy to galaxy without ever running out of new places to visit. Even better, these objects are permanent, they have coordinates which can be saved and shared. The universe is also dynamic, objects orbit one another etc.

The sense of scale is enormous too. You can smoothly move from viewing a whole galaxy from any angle, to landing on some moon or planet, and admiring the quite-detailed landscape, including land forms (mountains, craters, water/lava if applicable, what have you) and atmosphere with clouds, if it's there.

If traveling as a disembodied camera ever gets too easy, you can spawn a spaceship to fly around, warp drive included. But beware, the ships use realistic orbital movement mechanics and piloting them is not straightforward! There's whole long, detailed tutorial section on the main site, explaining how to do this. There are also shuttles capable of atmospheric flight and landing (also have docking/undocking mechanics), which can be difficult to pull off with a huge starship. So you can have your own sandbox role-playing game about space exploration.

The full basic version of Space Engine is available for free from their website. Until recently it was the only version. Now there's also a commercial Steam edition with significantly enhanced graphics, and it will be the one receiving all future development. Still, the free version is quite capable in its own right, and it's the one I'm using – but if VR goggles weren't above my pay grade, I'd surely invest in that enhanced Steam edition.


Fascist Dictator
Hard for me to really hit a feeling of experiencing the sublime through tech without it feeling hollow, but turning away from a little, crater-stricken rock to have a gargantuan titan of the heavens fill my whole screen, corner-to-corner, with bright, red light hits pretty close.

Would also quickly invest in the Steam version if VR was within my reach. Wouldn't be able to use it too much because of how human it would make me feel, but it would be worth it.

I discover something new about Space Engine each time I hop in and something new in it as well, which is another big plus!