Back in the days of Windows 3.11 there weren’t all that many decent games; most of the really cool and trendy stuff was still being made for DOS. One shareware game that bucked the trend, however, was Inner Space [link], released in 1994 by Software Dynamics. I would say it’s worth recognising as one of the most innovate shareware games made back then, and as long as you don’t have a 64-bit version of Windows, it’s still quite playable… and rather addictive, too!
The amazing storyline goes like this: a virus has invaded and let loose all of your installed programs. Being the noble hero that you are, it’s your job to enter the mysterious electronic realm known as “inner space” to capture or destroy all the errant program icons before returning home for a nice cup of tea. Careful, though. The terrifying Inner Demon that controls this digital dimension might not let you out so easily…
Inner Space‘s neat trick is that it uses the files on your hard drive – specifically, icons, be they in EXEs, DLLs or otherwise – to create the content you play with and fight for. Before each wave you select a folder on your hard disk to journey into. You can only pick folders that have icons in them; a summary of the currently selected folder is shown on the bottom of the screen to help you decide. After this, you enter a “wave” – the game proper – where a maximum of 8 of the folder’s icons will be waiting. Large folders will need you to play them several times to deal with all of their icons.
The game itself plays like pretty much any top-down space shooter, so you can rotate, brake and thrust your way around with the aim of collecting icons to use them as currency for ship upgrades. Of course, you’re also free to shoot the icons of programs you hate – yeah, I’m looking at you, Powerpoint! Oh, yes, and at this point I should give an Uplink-style disclaimer – nothing you do in Inner Space damages your actual files. It’s not real, folks.
Of course, icons aren’t the only thing you’ll come across. That’d be boring. Making your life more interesting – often in quite humourous ways – are some fairly competent AI ships to play the part of both friend and foe. Upon starting the game, your choice of ship will not only determine your initial equipment but also your teammates and enemies. There are eight teams ranging from the noble Knights to the opportunistic Pirates, and while each start with a general opinion of each other, diplomacy is extremely fluid and can be influenced greatly by your actions.
After playing a few waves your surroundings will get more dangerous as team feuds develop and gun turrets, hazard blocks and viruses appear to put the cat amongst the pigeons. Then there’s the Inner Demon who will occasionally summon you to fight him via a black hole. I won’t say how, but he holds the key to some of the most powerful equipment you can get… and is also the gatemaster for escaping this crazy universe a little bit earlier than usual.
I have fond memories of Inner Space from when I was a little ‘un, but gamers today probably won’t be able to see through the rather dated visuals, let alone the price tag that’s undeniably steep for such a vintage title. It’s a pity; beneath the jaded looks there’s stuff here that I’ve yet to see other games improve on. Go on – try the demo and discover a gem from the past!