Infinite Space Preview: Seems Vast And Charty

Platinum Games has made a video game that's really sexy. Before that, one that's really violent. Next: A game that's really... spaceship?

Infinite Space is set for March release in the U.S., a Nintendo DS game from the Platinum label behind Bayonetta and Madworld but developed primarily by Nude Maker, creators of erotic games. Oh, and before that, Nude Maker's chief, Hifumi Kouno, made Steel Battalion.

Like the infinity of outer space itself, the essence of Infinite Space is hard to grasp. In New York, last week, what I saw on the DS was hard to appreciate. The story seems good. In this science-fiction role-playing game future, the player will control a boy who grows up to become a space pirate. He will command an armada of up to 12 ships, traveling from system to system, similar to the exploration of the galaxies of Mass Effect. But from that set-up you'd expect to see action: Gun battles and starship clashes, perhaps?

Infinite Space Preview: Seems Vast And Charty

What I was shown was our boy-hero landing on a few planets, prompting the player to tap through some dialogue choices to start recruiting characters. That, it seems, might be the real core of the gameplay, the relationship-building and recruitment of people from around the universe. Recruiting those people is part of the effort to shape the ships in the armada. A Sega rep showed me a ship-remodeling screen and tapped around to demonstrate how different bridges and medical bays might be placed within the framework of a spacecraft. Within those sections you would place the people you recruit. The game is supposed to have a couple hundred characters and more than 100 spaceship parts.

We briefly checked out the bridge of our main starship. We got a behind-the-back view of a captain standing on his deck, specialists surrounding him and the cosmos outside outside the windows around them. We flew at high speeds to the next planet and clicked an option to take a space elevator down to a bar where we could tap text options to chat with a scantily-clad lady who wanted us to run an errand for her. I asked the Sega rep showing me the game to get us into a space battle, but we couldn't make one happen during our brief demo.

There also appeared to be an option, from the bridge, to access local wireless multiplayer battles. I was told these might be like spontaneous Pokemon-battling encounters that real people can engage in. It didn't seem to be its own mode but rather one you'd access on the fly while playing the game's lengthy solo campaign.

The game is anything but a visual stunner. It seems to mostly be dense menus, charts and tap-able conversation choices. All of which is to say, that this game isn't going to make much sense — let alone impress — during a 10 minute demo, but could have the kind of information density that can make even some spreadsheets fascinating.

And, really, what keeps me most interested in what Nude Maker's Kuono told me way back in the spring of 2008 when he was announcing the game as part of the first Platinum Games showcase. Quoting from the story I filed then, back when the game was being called Infinite Line:

Infinite Space Preview: Seems Vast And Charty

The game is inspired by the hard science fiction of authors Arthur C. Clarke and Greg Egan, Kouno told me: "If you look at [their work] there's an idea that perhaps humanity is the only intellectual force in the universe and maybe their intellect is driving the formation and physical laws of the universe." It's a philosophical idea, Kouno acknowledged and one that, didn't make it in the official press release that emphasized "the ability to control, build, outfit and customize more than 150 spaceships" as well as the game's more than 200 characters.

"I wanted to explore the idea in science fiction of what happens if the intellect is driving the formation of space." Kouno told me. "In the game, there are different humanoids in space and they are sort of aware of each other and start to observe each other." Some of these ideas will be explored through the interactions of characters on the various spaceships. He hopes those ideas and the role-playing game design of "Infinite Line" can have far-reaching appeal. "Just like with 'Steel Battalion,' I'm not making just this for Japan but making this for geeks who are into this stuff all over the world.

Infinite Space will be out in March. For a game this vast and this detailed, don't be surprised if things stay murky until then.