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Escape Velocity: Override to return (hopefully!)

Fans of the classic Macintosh sandbox-space-RPG game, Escape Velocity: Override are celebrating the news that the game is set to return under a new name: Cosmic Frontier: Override

Escape Velocity was originally launched in 1996. Coded by Matt Burch, and published by the now-defunct Ambrosia Software.

The original Escape Velocity
Ambrosia’s website circa 2000. There’s an interesting story behind the ‘Eats Bugs’ on the lower left of that image, but that’s for another time!

In the game you begin with a small ship, and can travel throughout hundreds of systems, with options to trade, engage in combat, and upgrade your ship. The game features various missions, and the actions you take affect the storyline of the game.

Elite

Burch says the game started off as an Asteroids clone1 but it was expanded to include elements inspired by the classic game, Elite.

However, Burch had never played Elite. He’d lost the Lenslok Copy-Protection dongle. So all he could do was read, and re-read the manual. He says:

“So I was stuck with a copy of Elite, but the thing I did have was the manual. And this was back in the days when manuals were, well, physical manuals, and they were very detailed. They often had a story. If you look up the manual to Elite, not only does it have a detailed backstory of the universe but also has a maybe 3,000 word short story in it about a fictional space pilot who is travelling space lanes and fighting pirates and all this. I read that so many times at age 10 or something. It was right in that zone where it was a very impressionable time. And I thought, wow what a great videogame this must be, if I ever got to play it.”

Escape Velocity had a plug-in system, which meant that users could write new scenarios for the game. Two of these plug-ins became sequels: Escape Velocity: Override and Escape Velocity: Nova.

At the time, EV:Override was described on the Ambrosia website as:

Ambrosia’s huge follow up to the classic Escape Velocity. With an immersive story and universe created by Peter Cartwright, a new conflict begins to unfold. Much like the original game by Matt Burch, you are cast as a pioneering space captain with only a small shuttlecraft, a bit of money, and a strong sense of destiny. But the similarity ends there. Override features a universe five times the size of the original game, and a slew of populated worlds within. Gone are the neverending wars which raged in the original game instead, winning critical battles can change the face of the universe. Or, if you’re happy with the existing balance of power, you can make a living as a humble trader. Just watch out for those pesky renegades, who want nothing more than to swipe the precious cargo from your holds.

Sadly, after EV: Nova, the series came to an end. The first two games were only available for pre Mac OSX systems, and the third game EV: Nova, was made to run natively on original Mac Classic and Mac OSX, as well as a Windows conversion.

The game still has many fans, and the game Endless Sky (available on Steam) was inspired by Escape Velocity.

Peter Cartwright, designer of EV: Override, became concerned after the demise of Ambrosia, that his game was no longer available (even though it would only run on Classic Mac OS). He said in a Reddit post2 last year:

I don’t think I have a copy of my contract (from 20 years ago!) around any longer, but I’m quite sure it would have had a clause regarding reversion of rights if the publishers are no longer carrying out their side of the deal. (Even if it did not contain such a clause, this happening is standard common law on both sides of the Atlantic, afaik.) This would mean that the rights to EV: Override would revert to me and Matt Burch. More specifically, the rights to the scenario content, which were entirely by me and a couple of sub-contractors, would revert to me personally.

I definitely intend to ensure that EV: Override continues to be available to players, new and old, in some form in the future.

Fast forward to the start of 2020, and some good news for EV:Override fans – Andrew Welch of Ambrosia has said they will not contest the game. Matt Burch is unable to help with the new game, but has no objection with it going ahead under a new title.

Cartwright intends to launch a Kickstarter imminently to raise funds and gauge interest for the new game.

You can follow the progress of the game on the r/evnova forums on Reddit.


  1. Rise & Fall of Ambrosia Software, ’90s Mac Legends – PAX Aus 2019 talk ↩︎
  2. https://www.reddit.com/r/evnova/comments/cohegk/evo_keeping_ev_override_in_print/ ↩︎

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