Affordable Space Adventures

The following is a series of excerpts and clippings from the creation and downfall of Uexplore. Note that these details weren't provided to me by the developer or publisher, but is just something I came up with to give the review a little flavor.

Uexplore: Bringing Space Travel To The Masses!

First published in Space Exploration Monthly

For decades, space travel has been relegated to those select few with the smarts, physical capability, and impossible-to-define "right stuff"' that has kept you and I from leaving our planet to explore the cosmos. Alien planets and distant galaxies were locked away and all we could do was gaze at the stars like our space faring ancestors.

But not anymore!

A company known as Uexplore announced plans to create a line of vacations to the planet Spectaculon, a world described as beautiful and untouched by man. The vast planet is so unexplored that Uexplore allows its vacationers to stake claims on land if they are the first person to discover it. You can explore freely and after 72 hours, you're picked up and safely returned to Earth!

While other companies attempted to set up space tourism programs in the past, Uexplore's selling point is that they are considerably more affordable than any other option. The company also revealed its line of ships, and we're greatly looking forward to getting the chance to look them over.

Are you ready, Spectaculon? Mankind is coming for you!

The Small Craft - Detailing the next big step in space exploration vessels!

First published in Advanced Vehicular Mechanics

What do you think of when you hear the phrase "space travel"? The three-stage rocket? Bulky boosters and and chunky architecture? Whatever you imagine, I'm betting the compact, powerful and self-contained Small Craft from Uexplore is as far away from it as possible.

Boasting a friendly design and OS, the Small Craft is the next step in space exploration: easy to control, with two engine types and more exploration tools than you'd think its compact frame can hold.

"Space is difficult," one of the engineers was quoted as saying. "We designed the Small Craft to be as easy to use and have as many useful tools in it as humanly possible. From a dual-engine setup to an ash tray and glove box, if it'll make your time in space easier, we have it!"

One of the things we were most interested in from our time with the ship was the Heads Down Display (HDD).

From the HDD, displayed in a screen embedded within the ship's controls, the engineer can monitor everything: steering, active engines, system power, and lights and sensors. This gives the engineer unprecedented control over everything going on with their Small Craft. But that's not all!

"Obviously piloting an entire space ship on your own is difficult, so we've designed the ship to split the controls among three people," our interviewed engineer said. "You can split off the piloting or the control of the lights and sensors, as well as having someone manning the engineering operations, giving a good multi-user experience and allowing for greater cooperation."

Said cooperation must be very important, especially since the engineer can control so much. Piloting alone is difficult in regards to how much of your attention needs to be split, while piloting together requires teamwork to avoid catastrophe. Since they have control of everything from thrust, stability, and even the amount of deceleration, the pilot and navigator are at the whim of the engineer.

"We've definitely had moments where the engineers shift something to avoid an obstacle without telling the pilot and they've had a pretty bad crash," the engineer said with a wince. "That's why we've reinforced it so that  just bumping around isn't going to destroy you, it'll take something with much more energy to take your craft down!"

We were lucky enough to get a chance to take the Small Craft for a ride, and it was definitely a blast! It was me and one engineer and while the ride was a little short, we got to explore everything in a small course that would simulate the experience of being on another planet. They'd take us through areas of extreme temperature and we had to use the heat shields to make sure the ship didn't explode, for example, or they'd take us into areas that turned off our electric engine so we'd have to use the fuel-based one. While the fuel engine was a little less reliably stable, you could still just turn up the stability and you'll be fine.

It was a blast to maneuver through all of the obstacles and slip past the sensors they'd put in place to test us, and while working with the pilot was a little difficult at times, the way we had to constantly be in contact about what we were doing was a lot of fun. They let me control the ship's systems, and sometimes I'd forget to tell them what was going on. Like I was told, though, the ship was very reliable, and would bounce back from anything!

Everyone who gets to pilot one of these can consider themselves very lucky -- we considered ourselves that way after spending time with it!

The following is a transcript from Earth Nightly News in reaction to the downed alien craft found on Spectaculon.

Are we alone in the universe? In the vast and infinite cosmos that stretches on for billions of light-years, is mankind the only creature to crawl forth from the primodial ooze to reach towards the heavens in search of adventure?

Unless it's a marketing ploy of some sort, the good folks at Uexplore have announced today the answer to that question is no, as they have discovered the remains of a downed alien vessel on Spectaculon, the beautiful planet that has become a tourist destination for so many.

Within the downed vessel, explorers can find themselves face-to-face with robotic forms that scan for their vessels and react defensively should something set them off. But don't worry, would-be adventurers, Uexplore has assured us that using the HDD in your ship will control noise, heat, and electricity to slip by their sensors  -- just use your scanners to pick up what they're looking for and proceed with caution!

I know I'd definitely love a trip to Spectaculon now! A chance to see alien forms and architecture sounds far too fascinating to pass up. And now on to Claudia for sports!

Selected entries from the journals of a survivor of the Uexplore crash.

Entry 1:

Everything is destroyed and I.... I seem to be the only ship left. Everything seems to be working fine, and as I shine my light around I'm struck by how beautiful this world is. Lush and vibrant, with beautiful caves and waterways... It occurs to me that if I come here under better circumstances I'd actually be able to enjoy the gorgeous vistas.

Instead I find myself worrying for my life.

It's difficult to see far in these dark caves but my flashlight is more than up to the task, and the way the shadows dance over the rest of the environment is very pretty, but always has me on edge. It's so dark outside of my beam and the motions of the shadows keep making me think that there's something else in this cave. I was told there's an alien ship on the planet, but nothing as crazy as a living and moving alien... right?

Entry 5:

The craft's systems seem to be coming back on line slowly. Though I started with just the flashlight, I've since regained the use of the mass generator and the second engine, which is electric and allows me to control the ship underwater.

It's getting strange here. There doesn't seem to be any wildlife, and all I find is strange alien architecture. I'm all alone here, and I need to survive somehow... if I just press on...

Yesterday I found that Uexplore SOS pod and I know there's still another 48 left. Given the crashed mothership I passed I don't exactly have high hopes they'd even hear me but it's important to keep up hope.

Entry 12:

The alien vessels are becoming more difficult to maneuver around, making me have to make ever more daring choices in how I pilot my ship. Sometimes I don't even pilot, merely cutting the power and drifting by, unseen, like a ghost.

Thankfully the ones I have been seen by have only zapped my ship; it cuts the power, but I still live, and just need to turn my ship back on after the power flux ends. I can sometimes use this to boost past shields or barriers of some sort.

Maybe I shouldn't be adventuring further into the alien ship but I see no other way. On we go...

Entry 15:

It's like breaking into a military base or something. So many aliens and so many kinds of sensors. It's a delicate balance to figure out what's needed, but having to do things like get through an underwater maze while also avoiding the sensors... it's really testing all of my abilities as a pilot, all while being in charge of the instruments as well. This has been a very stressful experience and I still don't even have all of the ship's tools back up! The manual mentions a booster. I'm sure I'll get it at some point.

The alien machines are also getting more dangerous. I saw one with what looked like a gatling gun and there are a lot of lasers here now... I wish that I had a weapon of some sort, but all I have is a flare gun. It's been good for hitting buttons and the like but otherwise I'm utterly defenseless. It's not a good position to be in but sometimes the rooms are so packed I'd be dead anyways before I could do anything.

Also interesting is exactly how reliant on their sensors the aliens are. One earlier was looking for my heat signature. I was so busy trying to balance everything on the HDD that I wound up bumping into it, and to my surprise it didn't do anything. Just kept scanning for heat. I fired up the electric engine and got right the hell out of there!

These Nutritubes aren't so bad. Mmmm, lasagna in a tube....

Entry 21:

I can't control my ship - waves of energy keep cutting access to specific parts but I sense I'm close to... to something! Just a little further!

An interview with a survivor about their time on the planet.

Interviewer: So how did you survive?

Survivor: You know they talked a big game about how the Small Craft was designed to keep you safe and ready for anything, and to give Uexplore some credit, they actually did. That ship could take a beating, and the double-engine design let me slip past the robotic sensors with some fiddling.

It was definitely difficult -- the damn fuel engine makes so much noise that anything which had the ability to listen could catch me when I moved around, and so many things generated electricity, but with items like the heat shield and booster, I was able to finally... to finally make it.

I: How did you feel to realize that you were alone in your ship and, as far as you knew, alone on the planet?

S: It was scary at first but I figured Uexplore has to have planned for this, right? My ship was working, my life support was going... I decided to explore just to see if I could find anything that could help me.

And when I found that first SOS pod I thought I was saved, but it didn't work. I guess I shouldn't be surprised. I expected Uexplore to have something in place that worked and they didn't. Not until I finally managed to escape.

Everything was so big and empty... beautiful, but I always felt so alone, while also oppressed by the lack of space in some of the corridors. I often felt hopeless but I told myself if I can just make it past this or that thing I can live!

In fact in those last moments I really don't know what kept me going. All that lay ahead of me was a vast icy expanse, and the only safety I had were small heated caves. It was so cold my ship started freezing as soon as I left them, but I knew it was a matter of dying here or dying out there and I knew I had to give it one last push. The wind was so strong that I could barely move my ship, the cold finally getting to a point where the engine would freeze... And I'd be stuck, alone, on a planet where no one would find me.

The feeling of having escaped... I've never felt such relief and such joy. It was hard earned, but I made it. I made it.