GSW%20CF%201.jpg['Alt Space' is a GameSetWatch-first column by critic and writer Phill Cameron, discussing the relationship between the personal computer and gaming. Lying awake at night searching for the perfect design, he's been playing PC browser-based indie game Captain Forever, which he's terrible at. Doesn't stop him loving it.]

In the times between getting in bed and going to sleep, all I've been thinking about are colored blocks, and their potential for both defense and attack. I've got to figure out the perfect blueprint for space based death.

This is Australian indie developer Farbs' Captain Forever, a free, browser based game that has you drive a small spaceship, shoot others and harvest their corpses for parts to then make yourself larger and more deadly.

In space no one can hear you build, etc.

So do I make a ship that's long and thing, maximizing broadsides so that I don't have to worry too much about a turning circle? Or perhaps it should just be wide to create a huge forward force. One of the most successful ships I've used had a set of long blocks defending each gun, effectively creating barrels for them that stopped them getting picked off by enemy fire.

The problem is, really, that no matter how you're wanting to craft your creation, no plan survives contact with the enemy; you can't hit a pause button while you weld each piece in place, and instead have to just hope that there aren't enough enemies in the area that you can glue together something serviceable without drawing fire. The longer you spend, the higher the risk goes up.

I was going to draw an analogy of building a Lego house in the middle of a warzone, but then I realised that that isn't an analogy at all; it's exactly what you're doing. What makes it worse is that if your ship isn't symmetrical, it's going to veer one way or another; beyond even that, if your thrusters aren't the same on both sides, in model and arrangement, you just aren't going to fly straight, and in a fight that's exactly what you need to do.

GSW%20CF%202.jpgEvoking the aesthetics of Geometry Wars or any number of recent 'retro' arcade games, evoking a visual style that is pleasant without becoming stripped down an uninteresting, Captain Forever takes away everything unimportant.

If it didn't look quite so simple, I doubt the concept behind it would shine through nearly so well. There's just something about those blocks, and the way one end of them juts out that little bit extra, that makes you want to lock them onto your ship.

It's difficult to pin down what makes it so compelling to play. There is no actual end to the game; it's merely trying to survive and become as big and terrible as you possibly can, before your eventual demise. The name perhaps gives a hint of this. Captain Forever it may be, but your ships inevitable death is unavoidable. Each ship you kill forces another, more powerful one into existence. It's impossible to become complacent, because you're never the biggest fish in the sea.

If I was going to draw a comparison to it, it would be those simple 'bigger fish eats smaller fish' games, where you're always on the look out for the smaller to gobble, while avoiding anything remotely larger than you. Spore did it with its Cell Stage, and Osmos put a cunning twist on it by forcing you to expel mass to travel. Neither, however, take it to quite the stage that Captain Forever does.

You aren't simply taking on anything smaller than yourself so that you can reap a fine harvest of blocks and weapons; you're trying desperately to cause as little damage to your enemies equipment as possible, because anything you destroy you can't build with. So quite often I've found myself in an absurd position where I've found a vastly superior enemy, stripped away every single module attached to my core, and then used my sudden drop in size to slip inside the enemy ship and attack at its core, and then take every single part of it. It's the ultimate risk/reward; take away everything you have to get everything back and more.

I think that's what keeps bringing me back to Captain Forever. There's a whole range of different touches that make it an interesting space to inhabit, from the garbled messages bouncing off your hull informing you of your incoming death, only for you to turn around and track the source, wiping the guy off the map and stealing all his stuff. Perhaps it's the adrenaline rush that is constantly a moment away as you desperately fumble your way through attaching various parts onto your ship. As you grow larger and more complicated, it takes longer and longer to fix yourself up, and it's never how you want it to be.

All of this is effectively a demo, though. Captain Successor is the true product, charging $20 for a much wider range of items and experiences, ready to step in the second you get bored of Captain Forever, or in the unlikely circumstance of your quasi-victory. Should you get far enough in Forever, you suddenly face these huge incandescent ships made of rainbow material, the highest in the games hierarchy, and should you take one down, a huge explosion of colour washes over the scene. They're essentially the end-boss, and a good marker that you're ready to move on.

GSW%20CF%203.jpgThe colour system is another that's brilliantly clever. Moving through green to yellow to orange to red and all the way through the blues and purples until ending up with white and then technicolour, each part in Captain Forever follows a hierarchy that tells you instantly how powerful and how good a ship is.

If it's mostly dark blues and purples, you need to be at the very least red to be taking him on. It makes instant sense, and it allows you to assess your chances against an opponent near immediately. Of course gun placement and the like makes a difference, but that's secondary; colour is what counts.

It's free. That's what really matters here. You can play it right now. Just by going here. You can see what I'm going on about, and enjoy it to the full extent, because it's right there. Which is brilliant.