Pew pew pew! ZAP! Whoosh! Ka-BOOM!

You know when you read a review of a game that says that one part of the game, say the battles between spaceships, looks great and is tons of fun, but the rest of the game is kind of boring?

Gratuitous Space Battles is that part of that game, without anything else.

(And before I say anything else, note that there's a free demo.)

You pick a fighter, frigate or cruiser hull for each of your vessels...

Gratuitous Space Battles ship design kit them out with weapons and shields and engines and so on, you deploy an armada of ships of different sorts (or all of the same sort, if you like), and then you give them all orders. Concentrate all fire, prefer to shoot enemies that're already wounded, shoot this kind of ship over that kind, protect this ship of ours, protect any ship of ours that's damaged, stop at this range from the enemy and plink with your long-range missiles rather than charging into beam range, et cetera et cetera.

And then you click the "Fight" button, and sit back and watch.

For the actual battle - which is fought on a 2D battlefield, though ships can go over and under each other - you're a pure spectator. GSB is like a tower defense game, in that regard. (Many tower-defense games let you build new towers during a battle, though; GSB does not.)

You can speed up and slow down the battle, and you can zoom in and out. From a distance, the action looks like this:

Gratuitous Space Battles wide view

(In this battle, I'm employing the Unsporting Crowd of Torpedo Frigates strategy. I'm also playing at full resolution on my huge monitor, so the full-sized screenshot is 2560 by 1600 pixels and rather a lot of kilobytes.)

Zoom in, and you can see...

Gratuitous Space Battles zoomed in

...each individual weapon shot, repair drones patching flaming holes in hulls, and fighters weaving around the capital ships. (Full-sized screenshot here.)

When you win a battle you earn "honor" with which to unlock new hulls, equipment and the three whole alien races besides the one you start with, the Federation. (The big Federation ships, rather delightfully, all look like a hybrid of a Starfleet vessel and a Battlestar.)

It's all a lot of fun, and should become even more fun as the game expands. Cliff Harris, the indie developer of GSB and a few other games, is actively patching bugs and adding stuff, and GSB is also very moddable. Fans have already, according to the ancient tradition of the first few mods for any game, created a few rough-and-ready super-battleships by just adding more module mounting points to existing hulls. Some proper high-quality mods with all-new graphics, like unto the Babylon Project mod for Weird Worlds, should be arriving soon.

So try the free demo and see what you think. The full game takes into account what you've done in the demo, by the way, so you won't have to play the tutorial level again if you don't want to, and get to keep whatever honor you earned.

(GSB is Windows-only at this point, but because it's not a very demanding game it generally works fine on other OSes if you play it in an emulator.)

Gratuitous Space Battles is $US22.99 from the developer, or only $US20.69 on Steam.

Note that there's a graphical glitch in GSB that affects people who're using an unusually high horizontal screen resolution (so, one giant monitor, or a row of smaller ones). It...

Gratuitous Space Battles screen glitch

...turns a column of screen to the right into stripey repeats of the last correctly-drawn column of pixels.

I think this was meant to be fixed in the recent patch, but it doesn't seem to have been. No problem, though; just go to the options and disable "Gratuitous Shaders", and with very little eye-candy reduction, the whole screen will draw properly again.

42 Responses to “Pew pew pew! ZAP! Whoosh! Ka-BOOM!”

  1. pompomtom Says:

    Hi Dan,

    What OS are you using for this? I really wanted to try this out, but only have (virtualised) Win7, and couldn't get the demo to run.

  2. Daniel Rutter Says:

    This is still my old computer, so I'm using WinXP; I don't have a Win7 box here.

    I think it should work fine on Win7, though; presumably it's some virtualisation oddity that's causing the problem.

    a forum-search that may help.

  3. Ziggyinc Says:

    I was wondering why my screen was doing that on the demo, now I know thanks.

  4. corinoco Says:

    Must resist urge to buy... must resist...

    oh bugger.

    Since I read modding is fairly simple, I've already got some ideas:

    Blake's 7


    original Space Lego.

  5. veronic Says:

    It is very good.

  6. kamikrae-z Says:

    Dammit dan, i was hoping for some delicious high-res images but your main site is still inaccessible for us peons on Optus cable.

  7. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Yeah, I was wondering whether that'd be a problem. This very day, I have poked my Web-hosts about it again.

  8. Navillus Says:

    I'm on Optus cable in Ryde and havn't had any issues whatsoever with loading for the 2 months or so i've been here :/

  9. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Fortunately, the problem affects far from ALL Optus (and iiNet, as it turns out) users. This has made things worse for those affected, of course, because it's taken some time to figure out that there was actually a real overarching problem at all.

    More about this in this post.

  10. SlowDog Says:

    "Unsporting Crowd of Torpedo Frigates"

    A favourite of mine, working well and cheaply with Rebels. Then came the online challenges... The "Torpedos just bounce off my armoured carapace" cruisers were a blow, but "These fighters kill five frigates a second" transforming my crowd into a continuous wave of explosions was awesome.

  11. Daniel Rutter Says:

    You can still beat pretty much everything with frigates-plus-fighters (which is actually what I was using in the screenshots :-). And, in a development that'd entertain Goonswarmers, ships that aren't even able to move can beat most scenarios handily (which I think is kind of what you're meant to do with the Empire's Weapons Platform "frigate").

    Beefier guns for the bigger ships, and a probable whole new "Battleship" class above the cruisers, may change this.

  12. n17ikh Says:

    This reminds me of the impressive-space-battles part of Sins of a Solar Empire, but without all the enormously tedious micromanagement that comes with playing an RTS. Not that Sins is all that tedious to play - unlike some games (lookin at you, Starcraft) you can let your empire Do Its Own Thing and just generally steer fleets around and set the fighting tactics and let them engage the enemy at will. Also, Sins is a beautiful game that does a whole lot with very little, as far as hardware goes - crank the effects way down and play it on old crappy machines, and it'll still look good. You can zoom out or zoom waaaay out for that All Hail the God-Emperor tactical level of things, or zoom way in to get right in there with Red Leader. It's great fun after you get done going back-and-forth with the enemy and start really winning - whomping on a smaller fleet with five or six great big capital ships and umpteen dozens of aircraft carriers with a bunch of long-range missile frigates is great to watch. The capital ships are really just there for support though, for when you need to pummel a planet into submission after you've destroyed all the ships protecting it (only capital ships and siege frigates can attack a planet) - fighters and bombers from the carriers kick ass in huge quantities, because it takes forever to shift ships across a gravity well, but fighters and bombers can close the distance in seconds - I've seen entire fleets destroyed before even having the chance to engage any of the enemy ships, and the missile frigates are really optional at that point.

    Before all that gets under way though it's pretty boring - explore planets, hope no one kills your pathetically thinly-spread empire before it gets off the ground, that sort of thing. I'll have to take a look at this Gratuitous Space Battles game, it looks like it'd be a lot of fun. All the flavor, none of the fat.

  13. Daniel Rutter Says:

    Yeah - GSB isn't nearly as ambitious as a 4X game or RTS, but the return on time invested is excellent. It doesn't take very long to get through the standard battles, but the "Challenge" system lets you fight a new diabolical armada every time you come back to the game, so you won't be reduced to just fine-tuning the minimum possible price you can pay for a fleet to beat Battle 5 on Hard, or whatever.

    (You get Honor points based on how much less your fleet cost than the "par" budget for the battle. You can't farm Honor, though; if you beat a battle on a given difficulty for 1000 less than the budget you get 1000 Honor, but if you then beat it with a fleet that cost 1500 less than the budget, you only get the 500-point improvement over your last personal best.)

    There's also the odd Challenge that isn't a challenge at all, because the enemy ships all have one weedy gun and no shields or armour. But this makes them very cheap, so there can be dozens and dozens of them for your bemused spacemen to obliterate!

  14. Erik T Says:

    Dan, your main site is now dead to those of us on top of the world. Dying at securewebs/bla again.

    For your amusement.

    $ traceroute
    traceroute to (, 64 hops max, 40 byte packets
    1 ( 0.800 ms 0.204 ms 0.238 ms
    2 ( 0.838 ms 0.879 ms 0.711 ms
    3 ( 0.776 ms 0.862 ms 1.638 ms
    4 ( 0.812 ms 0.766 ms 0.919 ms
    5 ( 0.997 ms 0.820 ms 0.776 ms
    6 ( 0.686 ms 0.725 ms 0.754 ms
    7 ( 10.113 ms 9.853 ms 9.591 ms
    8 ( 10.284 ms 10.356 ms 11.587 ms
    9 ( 9.812 ms 37.028 ms 10.063 ms
    10 ( 23.064 ms 24.348 ms 35.744 ms
    11 ( 56.051 ms 49.618 ms 52.584 ms
    12 ( 50.312 ms 49.564 ms 49.464 ms
    13 ( 49.218 ms 49.707 ms 49.828 ms
    14 ( 63.884 ms 63.693 ms 63.324 ms
    15 ( 63.448 ms 63.714 ms 63.683 ms
    16 ( 66.837 ms 67.484 ms 66.775 ms
    17 * * *

  15. Gomisan Says:

    In this price bracket purchase was a no brainer. I actually bought this before the official release, just for a bit of fun.

    The price of games is so high these days that I can really see a big market for sub $30 games. Torchlight is another example that springs to mind, and World of Goo.

    That said though, this has actually inspired me to go pull out Sins of a Solar Empire again.

  16. Rick Says:


    For your second amusement. This time from TPG.


    Tracing route to []
    over a maximum of 30 hops:
    4 115 ms 94 ms 119 ms [
    5 152 ms 189 ms 242 ms
    6 50 ms 25 ms 48 ms [
    7 164 ms 164 ms 151 ms [202.7.171
    8 381 ms 443 ms 383 ms [
    9 355 ms * 202 ms [216.6.30
    10 331 ms 325 ms 334 ms [209.58.116
    11 356 ms 358 ms 378 ms []
    12 398 ms 194 ms 178 ms []

    13 203 ms 197 ms 197 ms []
    14 195 ms 197 ms 194 ms []
    15 201 ms 213 ms 211 ms []
    16 234 ms 227 ms 200 ms []
    17 213 ms 201 ms 201 ms []
    18 204 ms 208 ms 204 ms []
    19 * * * Request timed out.
    20 * * * Request timed out.
    21 * * * Request timed out.
    22 ^C

  17. Erik T Says:

    I tried again from home (different ISP obviously) and got the same final steps.

  18. Daniel Rutter Says:

    I'm continuing to poke my Web hosts about this - I've had a couple more reports like the above ones just today, from people in far-flung locations (like Italy...), and I believe my hosts are starting to realise that this actually really does look like being their fault :-).

    NOTE that I'm thinking about transplanting the connectivity comments from this page to the one that's actually about this problem, because I don't think poor Gratuitous Space Battles necessarily deserves to have this conversation cluttering its comments :-).

  19. ZorglubZ Says:

    OK, let me add a further-flung location:
    I'm in northern Norway (ten ' away from 69°N) and I get:

    14 194 ms 194 ms 195 ms []
    15 204 ms 204 ms 204 ms []
    16 204 ms 205 ms 204 ms []
    17 207 ms 206 ms 206 ms []
    18 * * * Request timed out.
    19 * * * Request timed out.
    20 * * * Request timed out.
    21 * * * Request timed out.
    22 * * * Request timed out.
    23 * * * Request timed out.
    24 * * * Request timed out.
    25 * * * Request timed out.
    26 * * * Request timed out.
    27 * * * Request timed out.
    28 * * * Request timed out.
    29 * * * Request timed out.
    30 * * * Request timed out.

    Trace complete.
    when I tracert .

  20. Anne Says:

    For those (few) who are interested, the demo appears to run fairly well on an aging pentium-M laptop with Intel graphics running Ubuntu Jaunty and wine. For some reason every time the screen is cleared it is first flipped top-to-bottom, and there's a rather nasty quirk with ships that can cloak (a big chunk of the top-left corner of the screen is some sort of area that's supposed to be off-screen). But the game is playable (although a 1280x768 screen is a little cramped - I couldn't zoom out enough to see the whole battlefield) in spite of being "Windows-only".

    [I get garbage when it changes from one screen to another too. GSB by default uses Star-Wars-style (which is to say, vintage sci-fi-TV style) diagonal wipes between screens, and there's something wrong with how it buffers the first screen image, or something. This problem (which might, once again, be a result of Cliff not having as big a monitor as all of his users :-) is curable: Turn off "Screen Transitions" in the options and GSB won't try to use the fancy wipes any more. -Dan]

  21. rodenti Says:

    Same problem here in Canada

    Tracing route to []
    over a maximum of 30 hops:

    1 1 ms 1 ms 1 ms
    2 11 ms 12 ms 19 ms
    3 10 ms 10 ms 19 ms []
    4 11 ms 10 ms 10 ms []
    5 16 ms 16 ms 18 ms []
    6 18 ms 19 ms 15 ms []
    7 82 ms 34 ms 32 ms
    8 58 ms 60 ms 58 ms []
    9 62 ms 65 ms 63 ms []
    10 63 ms 64 ms 61 ms []
    11 64 ms 64 ms 63 ms []
    12 63 ms 62 ms 63 ms []
    13 63 ms 62 ms 62 ms []
    14 75 ms 89 ms 72 ms []
    15 63 ms 67 ms 75 ms []
    16 57 ms 74 ms 67 ms []
    17 56 ms 58 ms 59 ms []
    18 98 ms 89 ms 90 ms []
    19 119 ms 125 ms 125 ms []
    20 122 ms 134 ms 120 ms []
    21 119 ms 129 ms 119 ms []
    22 128 ms 127 ms 128 ms []
    23 127 ms 128 ms 126 ms []
    24 131 ms 136 ms 137 ms []
    25 * * * Request timed out.
    26 * * * Request timed out.
    27 * * * Request timed out.
    28 * * * Request timed out.
    29 * * * Request timed out.
    30 * * * Request timed out.

    Trace complete.

  22. OrgAdam Says: - Still no love accessing

    This game reminds me of a very old Star Trek TOS game, creatively entitled 'battle.exe' and, as all fine games are, DOS based.

    I have searched the net high and low to find a copy of it. The concept seems similar to GSB here. Input instructions such as distance to travel, which weapons to fire and hit go.

    Any help tracking this gem down would be greatly appreciated!

  23. OrgAdam Says:


    Pinging [] with 32 bytes of data:
    Request timed out.
    Request timed out.
    Request timed out.
    Request timed out.

    Ping statistics for
    Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 0, Lost = 4 (100% loss)

    *100% LOSER!*


    Tracing route to []
    over a maximum of 30 hops:

    1 1 ms 1 ms 1 ms
    2 51 ms 51 ms 51 ms
    3 52 ms 51 ms 51 ms []
    4 52 ms 51 ms 52 ms []

    5 211 ms 211 ms 212 ms []
    6 223 ms 216 ms 215 ms []
    7 223 ms 217 ms 231 ms []

    8 235 ms 234 ms 235 ms []
    9 335 ms 235 ms 235 ms []
    10 230 ms 229 ms 229 ms []
    11 241 ms 241 ms 241 ms []
    12 243 ms 243 ms 243 ms []
    13 246 ms 246 ms 246 ms []
    14 * * * Request timed out.
    15 * * * Request timed out.
    16 * * * Request timed out.
    17 * * * Request timed out.
    18 * * * Request timed out.
    19 * * * Request timed out.
    20 * * * Request timed out.
    21 * * * Request timed out.
    22 * * * Request timed out.
    23 * * * Request timed out.
    24 * * * Request timed out.
    25 * * * Request timed out.
    26 * * * Request timed out.
    27 * * * Request timed out.
    28 * * * Request timed out.
    29 * * * Request timed out.
    30 * * * Request timed out.

    Trace complete. Securewebs SO SECURE THAT NOTHING GETS IN OR OUT.

  24. corinoco Says:

    I admit being just a tad disappointed that GSB won't run on my Asus N10 lappy - it is just the thing for mobile lappy gaming, but the minimum 768 screen height is a bummer.

  25. Navillus Says:

    Just bought it and loving it. Using the "swarm with fighters" strategy is good fun :D

    And you can all blame me for the main site not working now - no sooner then I said mine is working fine it dies completely for me too now :(

  26. SlowDog Says:


    I don't think it's possible to zoom out to see the whole battle for anyone; I can't on my windows machine at 1600x1200.


    my only posted challenge, "Monocultural", is ten dozen cheap frigates, 'cos that's fun. I know it beats some styles, and fails badly at others.

    And no-one's yet mentioned the two infinite battles, where you pit your fleet against endless sets of foes with varying approaches and see how long it lasts.

  27. Itsacon Says:

    Thanx for the heads-up on the display bug. I was pretty peeved when it didn't work on my 4800x1200 Eyefinity setup. Now I can try again.

    Interesting lessons i've already learned: Fusion guns are bad in knocking down shields, fighters with torpedos rock (I guess that's why there is a limited amount of pilots).

    The next strategy I'm going to try: Bunch of heavy ships with no engines, but LOADS of missiles (the 1200 long range kind), and a few ships with nothing but armour, shields and a targeting laser. First wing stays all the way at the back, others get up close and try to stay alive till the missiles get there...

    (This is one of the few games you can play pretty well while not at a computer)

    And I can't reach Dan's Data either, both from home and from work, both in the Netherlands

  28. mak_elblotto Says:

    I've just tried out the demo, and I have to say that it's pretty good fun. Just decided to buy it too. I've wanted a game like this for a while - I always pictured something in my head like Homeworld2 but with ship customisation similar to GSB).

    OrgAdam, have you checked ?
    They (or other abandon-ware sites) might have what you're looking for.

    Oh and Dan, Sure you've got it figured already, but I can't access your main site either (ISP is Aunix in VIC).

    Also, I'm still curious: what's the word on your Vista machine and the slow data transfers?

  29. OrgAdam Says:

    Thanks Mak Elblotto, unfortunately... no dice! Clearly this one predates... er... the internet?

  30. Itsacon Says:

    To stay offtopic: is once again reachable from here. (and there was much rejoicing)

  31. SlowDog Says:


    that should work. A similar idea is to have a lead/sacrifice ship, which you escort with most/all your fighters as a way of stopping them zooming off and getting killed while the rest of the fleet is still at the other side of the map. I leave that ship's equipment as an exercise for the reader.

    "Battle" isn't on the list at

    An MS-Dos game that's just possibly actually what you're after called "Begin" is, and if that is it, then will make your day.

  32. RichVR Says:

    I purchased this immediately when it was mentioned on Penny Arcade a while ago. I was all gung-ho to assist in the beta testing and give my valuable input. Instead I just played it a lot until Cliffy released the final version. The beta was a couple of dollars cheaper than the final and that's essentially what the game ended up costing if you bought early.

    I sent Cliff an email essentially saying that I felt bad for just playing and not helping and could I pay full price as a way of saying thanks. He replied that I could certainly buy a friend a copy to make things right. ;-)

    I believe I will do just that. Indie developers deserve all the help they can get. I can think of a few people who would enjoy this game.

    If you read his GSB dev blog (linked from the main page) you'll see that he's still working on adding a lot of new stuff to the game. Well worth the buy.

  33. Daniel Rutter Says:


    (I'll leave the off-topic routing discussion on this page for now, at least until the problem's solved, which I hope will be very soon.)

    My Web hosts say the problem may now be solved, or at least changed. Could those of you who tracerouted and/or pinged, above, try it again, please? (You needn't paste in the whole results, unless isn't the end of your successful traceroute steps any more.)

    Or you can just see if your browser can see now, of course.

  34. Buckermann Says:

    It seems your webhost screwed something up. Last week I could reach from germany without problems; today not so much.
    Routenverfolgung zu [] über maximal 30 Abschnitte:
    1 1 ms 1 ms 1 ms
    2 6 ms 6 ms 6 ms [92.76.2
    3 8 ms 7 ms 7 ms
    4 9 ms 9 ms 18 ms
    5 8 ms 8 ms 8 ms
    6 13 ms 13 ms 13 ms []
    7 19 ms 19 ms 19 ms
    8 23 ms 21 ms 31 ms []
    9 21 ms 21 ms 22 ms [
    10 112 ms 112 ms 112 ms [
    11 129 ms 129 ms 130 ms []
    12 130 ms 139 ms 130 ms []
    13 158 ms 161 ms 161 ms []
    14 190 ms 180 ms 180 ms []
    15 180 ms 180 ms 180 ms []
    16 178 ms 177 ms 178 ms []
    17 184 ms 184 ms 184 ms []
    18 188 ms 266 ms 243 ms []
    19 190 ms 190 ms 190 ms []
    20 192 ms 192 ms 191 ms []
    Ablaufverfolgung beendet.
    Some DNS fubar maybe? I don't think should point to

  35. Daniel Rutter Says:

    No, that's just the shared server is on; if I traceroute from here to I get as the last step as well, and I can see my site just fine.

    I was, however, suspecting that a successful traceroute and being able to see the site were only strongly correlated, not always correlated, and this confirms that. (Can you ping

  36. fizz Says:

    Just for your information, I too decided to go on and buy it. Considering the amount of copies he must have sold thanks to your post, the author shoulld definitely offer you at least a beeer... :-p

  37. OrgAdam Says:

    Cannot ping your site.

    Pinging [] with 32 bytes of data:
    Request eaten by Great Firewall of China.
    Request intercepted and destroyed by Chuck Norris.
    Request has left the building.
    Request timed out, 15 minutes in the sin bin.

    Ping statistics for
    Packets: Sent = 4, Received = 0, Lost = 4 (100% loss)

  38. speedweasel Says:

    Someone should explain to the well-meaning masses that ICMP is a regularly blocked protocol and missed TIME EXCEEDED packets are indicative of nothing more than an over-zealous network administrator.

  39. Buckermann Says:

    Well, since my last comment I can reach your site just fine. No problems at all; ping or otherwise. Maybe it was just a hick-up on my ISPs end.

    Sorry to have bothered you.

  40. kamikrae-z Says:

    to cut a long story short

    5 171 ms 169 ms 171 ms
    6 170 ms 174 ms 171 ms []
    7 172 ms 179 ms 179 ms []
    8 183 ms 195 ms 183 ms []
    9 200 ms 212 ms 201 ms []
    10 201 ms 201 ms 199 ms []
    11 201 ms 201 ms 201 ms []
    12 208 ms 208 ms 210 ms []
    13 209 ms 209 ms 207 ms []
    14 210 ms 211 ms 210 ms []
    15 * * * Request timed out.
    16 * * * Request timed out.

  41. Changes Says:

    I'm giving the game a go, but I'm finding it extremely frustrating that I can't control the ships once the battle's started. It's already happened a good few times that I've screamed "NO! NO! WTF ARE YOU DOING!!!" to one of my ships that was doing exactly the opposite of what I wanted it to, and couldn't do anything about it.

    So far, I feel that great potential for a tactical RTS has been wasted.
    The game isn't bad, mind you, but it could have been so much more.

    Kinda reminds me of Freelancer...

  42. Kagato Says:

    Here's another fun little 2D top-down space sim:

    It's not an RTS, and it's Flash based. You assemble your ship from parts salvaged from your opponents.

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