Diaspora is an online space trading game made right here in the UK, but before you get your hopes up this is no Elite for the new millenium...
For a start you view your surroundings in glorious 2D sprite-o-vision, and the sound is decidely lo-fi as well.
Combat consists of clicking on a ship, hitting the "engage" button, and selecting which guns and missiles to fire at it. Then sit back and watch the lasers stabbing back and forth as you (hopefully) reduce your opponent to space debris.
There are no flight controls either. You just wait for your jump engine to charge up and then hit the "jump" button, select a neighbouring jump node from the map, and you're there. Repeat until you reach your destination.
No doubt this all sounds very dull, and certainly this game isn't going to appeal to everyone. But it does have a certain indefinable something, and I've been hooked since I started playing the beta a few weeks ago...
Essentially the game drops you into a (more or less) working game universe and then lets you get on with it. The game has no fixed goal, but most players are in it for the money, earning as many credits as they can by fair means or foul.
It all means that you have a lot of freedom. You can choose to make an honest living as a trader, sign up for the military, or prey on other vessels and steal their cargo.
An easy to use money transfer system allows players to hire each other as mercenaries or bodyguards, and there is also a system for paying and collecting bounties on other players for those of you who fancy yourself as a budding Boba Fett.
What do you do with your money when you've got it? Well as with most space trading games there is a whole range of ships to buy, from short range scout ships to massive freighters and fast long range strike vessels. So far there are 32 different ships to pick from.
Buying the right equipment can boost your hull integrity, shield strength, cargo space, and other statistics, and of course there are also plenty of guns to choose from, including specialist weapons which can temporarily disable a target's jump drive.
In the final version you will even be able to take over entire planets and install your own defence systems to hold them for you. No doubt it will be very difficult and highly expensive, but for the player who has everything a planet all of your own has to be the ultimate luxury...
In Space Everybody Can Hear You Scream
Where Diaspora really wins though is in player interaction. The game has already built up a small and (so far) mostly friendly community, and thanks to a simple IRC-style chat system built into the game it is easy to chat with any other players in your area.
Of course, as with any online RPG, there are a minority of players who seem to have made it their mission in life to attack and kill anybody they see, but generally the players are polite and helpful.
There are three official "Guilds" which you can join - Traders, Militia and Rin. Traders get special discounts on buying and selling cargo, Militia members are paid for blowing up pirates and Rin, and in turn the Rin are paid to blow up Militia and trading vessels.
You can also stay independent, or even set up your own unofficial guild. The system is a bit basic at the moment, but support for new guilds is one thing the developers are concentrating on improving.
Already several player-created guilds have appeared, ranging from mutual protection groups to a bunch of highwaymen who threaten to blow you up if you don't pay them a "tax". Luckily the more anti-social players are soon dealt with one way or another, and the central star systems where newbies start out are usually fairly secure.
Diaspora is far from perfect - it is still fairly buggy in places, and the economy is currently erratic, largely governed by random events. But that is why they call it a beta.
The full version is due by Christmas, and the game will continue to grow after that. There are also plans for a regular newsletter to keep players up to date on events within the game, such as battle reports and business news.
The game is currently free to download and play, and the developers are hoping to keep it that way. And as the entire game weighs in at under 10Mb, it won't even strain your modem.
To give the beta a try, head over to the Diaspora website and download the latest version.