|Okay...I get The Terminator and Star Wars. The one on the right with the two people in space suits looks familiar, but I can't place it.|
You may have read about Solomon Asch's series of conformity experiments in the 1950s. Basically, he sat a bunch of people around a table and told them he was going to give them a vision test. In reality, all but one (the subject) of the participants were his confederates. Asch might show two lines, A and B, and ask the participants which one was longer. If everyone else at the table (at Asch's direction) said that Line B was longer than Line A, the subject was also very likely to say so, even if it was patently absurd. The experiment illustrated the enormous pressure to conform with prevailing opinion. However, if even one of the other participants disagreed with the group's consensus, then the subject was also much more likely to disagree and give the correct response. This same phenomenon is illustrated fictionally in Twelve Angry Men, where the dissent of a single juror causes other jurors who had been wrestling internally to voice their doubts.
What I would like, right now, is for one person who has played Sentinel Worlds I: Future Magic to post a comment opining that the game sucks.
I got into this blog for myself, and yet I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel a certain obligation to my readers. Your comments keep me going. Many of you are very funny, or knowledgeable, or insightful, or all three. I don't want to let you down. So when I get comment after comment, for weeks, telling me how great an upcoming game is, I feel particularly compelled to like it--compelled to conform. Thus, just one of you, confirming my opinion that this game blows goats, would make me feel ever so much better.
Oh, I admit that on the surface, Sentinel Worlds seems to have all the elements of a great game. First, it is a spiritual descendant of Starflight, which I loved. Both were by Electronic Arts, although Worlds is clearly set in a different universe. Many of the gameplay elements from the earlier game are here: space exploration and combat, planetside ATV landings, mining for minerals, dialogue options. The game adds a lot of new features to this mix, including Pool of Radiance-style adventurer's journal entries, ground exploration and hand-to-hand combat, and character-based statistics and inventories that make each of the PCs seem like individuals rather than (in Starflight) just parts of the ship.
My complaint isn't with the gameplay elements, but rather with the interface. I don't know how anyone stood it long enough to get through an entire game. Let's start with the space navigation screen:
You do your flying around in the upper-left-hand corner. See how narrow it is, top to bottom? When you're moving at a decent clip, you're off that screen in a half second. The other ships, which are suspiciously far more maneuverable than you, fly circles around you while you cumbersomely turn and try to see where they're going as they blip off the screen.
Ship-to-ship combat is just as bad as Starflight (it was the worst part of that game). Instead of having to face the enemy and shoot, you simply arm lasers and the computer shoots for you--from any angle. That doesn't sound so bad except that you get about three shots before the enemy has sailed off the edge of the screen and you lose the laser lock. Then you have to go hunt him down, hit SPACE to lock on, hit ENTER to arm the lasers, and--whoops! He's off the screen again!
Now, when the enemy leaves the screen, you should be able to use the little long-range navigation box to find him. Of course, you have to pick him out from a bunch of other ships that might be in the area. Fortunately, the game helpfully distinguishes enemy ships from friendly ships by color. Red ships are enemies, purple ships are other (friendly) interceptors, and maroon ships are cargo transports. That doesn't pose any problem at all for a color-blind person, especially when each ship is about one pixel in size.
Fun with color doesn't stop with ships. You also have to use it to identify the type of terrain in the orbit maps. Irene tells me there are like eight colors represented on this map, and I can see three, maybe four if I squint.
Okay, fine, so Electronic Arts couldn't anticipate the needs of colorblind people. This was before computers got all touchy-feely with accessibility. But that still doesn't excuse the indoor navigation maps, which try to combine 3D wireframes and top-down navigation on the same screen and end up making me seasick.
Nor does it excuse the hand-to-hand combat system, by which you hit ENTER and watch your crewmembers fight, unable to pause or engage in any specific tactics.
Add to this an inability to find mineral deposits on any of the planets I visit, a lack of any direction on the main quest, and a game opening that tosses you in the thick of battle with raiders before you've even had a chance to investigate the interface, and you've got a relatively unpleasant introductory posting to get out of the way. My absence over the last week has primarily been because of work, but it has also been because I was hoping that if I kept playing, I would start to like the game enough that I wouldn't write a posting like this.
All right. Let me back up and cover the basics.
The plot isn't bad. Set in 2995, the back story is that a trade route between a group of merchant planets has been beset by mysterious raiders who simply destroy ships without attempting to contact or loot them. My crew of five...
...has recently completed a training program and has been sent to the troubled area to learn what we can about the raiders and destroy them.
Much like Starflight, the crew consists of a pilot, a navigator, a communications officer, an engineer, and a medic. Each has scores for srength, stamina, dexterity, comprehension, and charisma; and each starts with 3 of 12 skills: contact (blunt) weapons, edged weapons, projectile weapons, blasters, tactics, reconnaissance, gunnery, ATV repair, mining, athletics, observation, and bribery. Unlike Starflight, PCs have individual inventories, including weapons and armor. Regrettably, "budget cuts" have meant that the federation depending on the success of my mission could not afford to outfit my crew with basic weapons or anything.
I began the game, as I said, in the middle of combat with raiders. At first, I trusted the game's mercy on a new player and assumed I would be able to defeat them.
After several restarts, I decided discretion was the better part of valor, and I fled the opening fight, only to return and pick off one of the raiders on the fringes of the battle. I can't emphasize enough how tedious space combat is, as you circle around the enemy, desperately trying to keep him on the screen, as the computer fires your lasers at him. Theoretically, you can target certain parts of the ship (e.g., knock out the engines) and try to board it, engaging with the crew in hand-to-hand combat, but I haven't attempted that yet.
It appears that you can get quests from the Federation--ships that need to be escorted, ships that are under attack, and so on.
I tried a few of these, but by the time I got to the coordinates, the ships were gone or the attack was over. So instead, I went to the nearby Norjaenn Spaceport (this involves flying over the planet and activating the navigation menu) and got a mission from the Science Foundation to deliver some equipment to another planet.
There are only four planets in the area of the galaxy I'm in (I'm unclear whether this is the only area of the game or not), so it didn't take long to find the planet, at which point I simply set down at the indicated coordinates, dropped off the equipment, and made a cool 700 gold pieces.
ATV navigation is from a top-down perspective, and is very much like Starflight but with better graphics. You run into animals all over the planet, although you cannot collect them as specimens. The game manual suggests that killing them is bad and healing them (assuming they need it) is good. The ATV breaks down periodically for no reason that I can see except to make you wait while one of your crewmembers fixes it.
Some of the planets have "beacons" which alert you to the presence of towns. One such planet had a sort of western theme going, with farms and a saloon. Conversation with the patrons in the saloon (you can talk to individuals on the surface as well as other ships) suggested there was some tension between farmers and ranchers.
Conversations usually offer two or three dialogue options. Unlike modern games, these options aren't so much about role-playing as prioritizing the information you want to collect. The other person eventually cuts off dialogue after a few questions (the same thing happened in Starflight) so you don't want to waste time asking about the weather.
o far, most people have been yelling at me to go fight the raiders instead of asking questions about them. My conversations haven't produced any useful intelligence yet, but I've only been to one planet.
I eventually made my way to the planet of Caldorre, where I found three towers of dungeon-crawling fun, each with multiple levels. I really can't see why anyone thought this interface was a good idea.
So that's about the thick of it. I took a peek at Baron's review in Dungeons and Desktops, and he says that the game has a "steep learning curve." I really hope that's all it is. I want to like the game, and I've yet to get one of the adventurer's journal entries, so I'm assuming there's a lot of stuff I've yet to explore. Perhaps by the end of my initial six hours, the game and I will have come to some kind of agreement.