Regular readers, if they indeed exist, will recall our Cupboard of Shame – the area under the stairs where boxes of games purchased in a fit of enthusiasm and later abandoned due to lack of time, or competence, would be laid to rest. As we’ve got older, we haven’t necessarily become wiser, and with a growing collection of hasty and overly optimistic purchases, the CoS has been given a long overdue upgrade. Allow us to introduce our latest acquisition: the Vault of Regret, a huge space which can not only house a collection of dusty CDs and boxes, but also untouched digital libraries as well as the metaphysical concepts of remorse and embarrassment.

In other words, welcome to our new semi-regular feature, in which we plan to talk about our various gaming regrets. It could be a game we bought but didn’t play; a game we did play but wish we hadn’t; something we were frankly rubbish at; or letting an interest in or aptitude for a particular game or genre lapse. Or something else. Today I’ll kick off by talking about a genre that was once synonymous with the most high profile PC gaming releases: the space sim.

Lucasarts’ X-Wing certainly wasn’t the first of its type, but while you could play Wing Commander on the Amiga or the SNES, X-Wing was PC only, because it needed to be. I always thought of it as one of the first games to demand that people bought a PC to play it (yes, yes, I know there was that shooting game as well). Sadly, though, despite being thrilled by that iconic intro, I never made much progress in the game itself, foiled by an embarrassingly early mission (Tour 1, Mission 4: Protect Medical Frigate). When I got around to playing TIE Fighter, progress was much smoother, and I took my eventual completion of it as evidence I could return to X-Wing and have more success (which, it turned out, wasn’t to be the case).

In spite of contemporary reviews which suggested you were either in the X-Wing/TIE Fighter or the Wing Commander camp, I actually enjoyed both series, although I couldn’t really get to grips with the combat in early WC games. The big budget third and fourth Wing titles, however, were significant in my early gaming history (more on which here).

Periodically I think about revisiting games from this era: specific regrets would be never getting past that mission in X-Wing, or not really ever getting into some of the Wing Commander spin-off games like Privateer and The Darkening. My write-ups of my favourite WC titles, meanwhile, are short on detail, symptomatic of my earliest work on FFG, when it was a small fun project for a couple of young men of university age to stick down a few thoughts about their favourite older games (insert your own joke about whatever FFG is these days here). I do wish I could whizz through the WC III and IV campaigns again: perhaps I will one day. Sadly, my humble laptop, which I tend to use for DOSBox stuff, isn’t really set up for the control schemes of old-school space-sims, and recent attempts to return to these DOS-era titles have been short-lived and unsuccessful.

And there have been space sims since the mid 90s, although my experience of them is embarrassingly limited. Tachyon: The Fringe is the only post-2000 review from me on here (an odd choice, considering, although I did quite enjoy it at the time). Starlancer, Freelancer, X: Beyond The Frontier, Darkstar One: they’re all there in the Vault of Regret, tinkered with but not played or enjoyed to any great extent.

It’s possible of course that could change in the future. I’m not sure exactly what it was that caused me to stop playing: a sense that they were becoming complicated, or that they weren’t but my ability and inclination to get to grips with them had diminished. Or possibly the same intangible factors that caused the genre to fall out of fashion more generally.

They’ve come back a bit more recently: we finally got the long-mooted Elite 4 (released as Elite: Dangerous), and there’s the latest project from Wing Commander director Chris Roberts, Star Citizen (although the tale of the game, its budget and state of completion appears to be a rather long and complicated one). And there’s No Man’s Sky, too, of course. Each of these games, though, have managed to elicit no more than a passing interest.

Perhaps there’s a clue there: maybe I wasn’t actually ever such a big fan in the first place. I don’t think I ever played Elite, although we did have it on the Amstrad CPC, and Frontier also passed me by, while I also ignored later efforts highly rated by my friend and colleague such as Conflict: Freespace and I-War. Maybe it was the epic space story that attracted me to Wing Commander; the lure of Star Wars to X-Wing. Either way, my interest in the genre seems to be sort of locked to that particular part of the 90s.

You never say never, but it’s possible that the time for me and space sims has passed. Or maybe I will try and fire up X-Wing once again…