Brain Games

Not everything I have to say is new. (In fact, I imagine that just about everything I’ve written is going to seem old to somebody.) However, a lot of what I write here are significant things in the realm of gaming. Today, I want to talk about an independently-made game I stumbled across awhile ago, an eight-year-old work-in-progress by the name of Cortex Command.

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Cortex Command is made by an independent gaming organization known as Data Realms. This is pretty much one guy, Daniel “Data” Tabar. Sometimes we like to talk about getting our asses in gear and learning how to program something significant, but guy this lives it. He works with a guy named Promster for some of the art assets. The game engine also features easy mod support, so it’s hard to say how many hands are in the cooking pot overall.

Cortex Command’s story is simple but awesome. (And I’m not just saying that because I came up with something similar.) “In the future, people will be able to remove their brains and use them to remotely control bodies.” Hence: Cortex Command. Much havoc ensues as the fight for intergalactic resources gets underway. Hey, I said the story was simple, didn’t I?

The actual game is a very physics-heavy side-shooter. Your goal? Find and destroy the enemy brain while keeping your own meat in tact. To achieve this goal, you’re able to order new bodies and weapons to be dropped by dropships. You can order these bodies to perform simple tasks on their own or directly control them. Digging for gold is the main way to earn money to drop more bodies. Prior to the start of the match, you can build a base to house your own brain in.

Picture caption: Cortex Command in action – an animated picture is worth a thousand words. By the way, the rocket is on the same team as the troops.

What actually unfolds is an exercise in controlled chaos. The physics are very realistically modeled in this 2D world, and that leads to many… unfortunate things happening. Shrapnel wedges into places you never expected, neatly tearing the legs off deployed sentries. Your dropships may accidentally burn the head off a newly dropped body as they attempt to thrust their way back into orbit. Dropships collide in mid air with other dropships, spin out of control, and take out a half dozen troops. Before long, the entire map is literally buried in dropship debris, shell casings, and the meat of hundreds of shattered bodies.

You would think that such chaos would really annoy the player. On the contrary, the events cannot help but amuse, in a “Oh dear [insert divine being name here]. I can’t believe that just happened” sort of way.

Cortex Command is still an unfinished game. According to the wiki, it began development in the year 2000 and has been getting steadily worked in since. The most notable thing missing is an actual campaign. Having a bunch of maps with pre-built bases and patrolling sentries to fight through would really help with completion. Also, the AI also needs improvement. For example a “harvest” mode that actually finds gold instead of sitting there waving an active digger in the air. It’s hard to say how long it’ll be until the vaulted version 1.0 is ready for release, but these are the two major things I see that need doing.

Right now, you can pay for an unfinished game, and this unlocks the time limit on the sandbox mode as well as allows you to use mods. Many people have done this because, even with all its rough faults, Cortex Command is probably better than most anything else you’ll ever play. That’s probably why I felt it was significant enough to get its own Blog entry.

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