Games for the Weekend is a weekly feature aimed at helping you avoid doing something constructive with your downtime. Each Friday we’ll be recommending a game for Mac, iPhone or iPad that we think is awesome. Here is one cool enough to keep you busy during this weekend.
SimpleRockets ($0.99 Universal) is a physics simulation game where you get to design your own rocket ship, launch it into orbit, and land anywhere in the solar system you like. While playing games on your iOS device isn’t exactly rocket science, in a way, this game is.
It’s not the sort of game that you can just dive right into and start mastering from the very first moment; creating your own space program will require a little bit of learning. There are a series of tutorials that go over the basics of each different aspect of the game without going into too much boring detail. While you do not have to learn any advanced physics or higher math, you do need to learn the basic controls of the game. Once you feel you have absorbed enough knowledge to bolt some rocket fuel and an engine to a command pod, you can set off exploring outer space. To help get you there, you begin by mastering three basic challenges of space travel, the takeoff, maintaining orbit and landing.
On the first challenge, you use the design system of the game to construct your first rocket ship. The two main parts you will need to break through the atmosphere are fuel tanks and engines. Choose too small of a fuel tank, and you will run out of fuel shortly after take off, fall to the ground and crash. Choose too small of an engine and you will not have enough thrust to get off the ground. You can also add landing gear, wheels, and a parachute to your spaceship. More complex designs even allow for the creation of a multistage space craft. A multistage craft make the smaller fuel tanks and engines more useful later on in the game.
After you complete building your first rocket ship, you can attempt to launch it into space. On the launch pad you need to maximize your thrust just before take off and hit the launch button. Counting down from ten is optional. While seeing your creation burst through the atmosphere does have its own satisfaction, it is not nearly as difficult as getting your rocket into orbit. To do so you will need to learn how to maneuver your rocket in the zero gravity of space. There are three colored arrows, orange, green and white, that you need to bring into alignment after you reach your the height of your orbit. So there is a little bit of science that you can learn in the game. Apply too much thrust and turn your rocket too far in either direction and you will begin to spin out of control.
The last of the three basic skills you need to master is landing. Reminiscent of early arcade classics like Lunar Lander, you need will need to extend your landing gear and control your approach to the object you are landing upon. You may think that controlling the rate of your decent is challenging, but the real difficult part is controlling your vertical drift. Moving vertically can cause your craft to topple over when the rocket does finally reach the ground.
Once you learn the basic three skills, there are nine additional challenges which are more competitive. In the Optimum Trajectory challenge, for example, you are given a very small amount of fuel and must fly your rocket as far as you can. Ultimately your rocket ship will crash-land, but the challenge is to remain airborne for as long as possible. How far you go will be compared to the distances other players have traveled.
The fun part is when you get to create your own space missions. In Sandbox mode, you can fly your rocket ship around a miniature version of our solar system. You build your own rocket and choose which planet you take off from. Taking off from Mars and landing on the Earth is an example of a mission you could choose to undertake.
When you do create a rocket that you are particularly fond of, you can save it for future missions, or even email it to a friend and let them take a ride in your creation. You can create and trade a fleet of rockets if you like. So don’t let the Voyager 1 Spacecraft be the only man-made rocket to leave our solar system this weekend. Build your own SimpleRocket and put NASA to shame.