If you have already heard our nostalgia-fueled PWNcast from last week (and if not, go rectify that mistake right now) you will be aware that one of my first proper forays into strategy gaming, and specifically the 4X genre, was K240. It was one of the standout titles from the days when the Amiga 1200 ruled my computing world, not only being one of the better looking games but one of the most challenging experiences to best. For those that have no clue of what I am talking about, the best way to describe it in one sentence would be to say “It’s kind of like SimCity on asteroids, but with aliens that like nuking everything you hold dear.”
Set in the distant future in the titular sector of space, players were tasked with building up a base on an asteroid before constructing fleets to colonise other chunks of space rock in the hope of finding valuable resources. Meanwhile, an alien race of the players choosing would be competing with them in a fight to the death. Peace was not an option in K240 and that meant things got ugly fairly quickly, but with a strong defence, a powerful fleet, and copious amount of missiles, there was always a way to take it to the enemy as long as you had the credits.
Of course, to get to that point you had to purchase new upgrades, and thus the task of micromanagement between credits, ore storage, housing and power began, all the while keeping an eye out for a sneak attack from the enemy. K240 might well have been one of the first games I ever played to include clearly recorded spoken audio cues, with the assistant alerting me to when I had established a new colony, when new technology was ready, or when a new ship had been finished. I remember the sheer joy in my heart when I created my first battleship, looming overhead my main asteroid with a compliment of fighters supporting it… only to hear “Hostile fleet approaching” moments before my pride and joy were decimated by a larger fleet of hostiles on an intercept course.
It’s a memory that still hurts to this day.
Still, further technological improvements such as engines for your asteroid meant you could move your occupied pieces of space rock to friendly locations, or even turning your occupied asteroids into slow moving weapons by aiming them at the enemy in a worst case scenario. Of course, this was providing the blueprints you had just purchased were delivered to you in time on the next supply transport (something I often suffered from.) Failing that, if you had access to uranium you could always go down the extreme route of nuking the threat out of existence, although you would need to hope and pray the enemy didn’t deploy the same tactic against you first.
It may have been due to the fact I was fairly young at the time, but the alien races that filled the role of your adversaries were fairly intimidating in appearance, each with their own style of architecture and ship design. Of course, out of the six options available none were as terrifying as the Swixarians; an intelligent planet-like species that were incredibly powerful and relentless in their pursuit of making my day a miserable one. I only ever managed to best them once without resorting to cheat codes, and it was one of the greatest gaming achievements that in no way scarred my fragile little mind.
What impresses me to this day was how much replayability K240 gave players, with not just the multiple races and different asteroid fields (as well as starting resources) but how random events such as asteroid-shattering comets flying across the sector or solar winds threatening your colonies with increased radiation. Along with a customisable UI which allowed you to bind and remove buttons to the main screen, I can honestly say that I wasted many a day fighting my way across the asteroids of K240. I wasn’t always victorious, but its simplistic layout allowed for easy access into the more complex aspects of the game, such as budget and resource assignments.
Fragile Alliance would emerge years later as its spiritual successor on the PC, but I honestly feel the essence of what made K240 a great game was never truly been repeated (with the exception of Imperiam Galactica, perhaps.) Looking at the game today makes me wonder why a remake for tablets hasn’t been done yet, as the interface would be perfectly adaptable to touchscreen devices, but until then we will have to make do with booting up our old Amigas. That isn’t a bad thing though, as K240 was one of many outstanding games that could be found on the Amiga, but it was certainly one of my personal favourites from my earlier years of gaming.
I will leave you today with the opening sequence from the game, complete with massive explosion (just the one) and curious uniform regulations.