Monday, May 7, 2012

Sentinel Worlds: Foreign Soil

I was just trying to help, man.

A couple of weeks ago, I was reminded about the dangers of combining business with pleasure. While on a trip to Amsterdam, I managed to spill one of my beloved gimlets all over the keyboard of my Dell Precision workstation. The Grey Goose and Rose's lime juice swiftly made their way into everything worth frying, and I was left without a computer for nine days--an event so traumatic that I'm seriously thinking about buying a spare motherboard and SIMMs to carry around with me. Fortunately, my hard drive turned out to be okay.

Let's talk about Amsterdam (there's a CRPG segue in a moment). It was my second visit, but the first time I did typically Amsterdam-y things. Although I thought it was a lovely and fun city, I was once more reminded that although I travel constantly and happily throughout the U.S., I am a horrible international traveler. From the moment I arrive in another country, I feel like I've been abducted by aliens who are testing how a real human reacts to their imperfect simulation of the world. I walk down the street and see someone who looks like me and ought to be able to communicate with me, but when I ask him a question, he starts spouting Martian. I keep saying "dollar" when I mean "Euro." The lights have switches in odd places, the toilet a button instead of a handle, and the shower control actually has a temperature knob on it. An iron and ironing board don't come with the hotel room as a matter of course. My "queen" bed is actually two twin beds pushed together. My plugs don't work. I can't figure out the air conditioning. I leave a tip for the maid, but she just puts it on the bedside table even when I leave it on top of a piece of paper that says "for housekeeping." The ticket machine at the train station ostensibly takes credit cards, but keeps asking me for a PIN. Cocktail names don't translate, and the bars don't have the mixers I'm used to. Instead of things like potato chips, the vending machines feature some weird mix of nuts with this hard not-quite-candy coating. I go abroad about nine times a year, and you'd think I'd be used to it by now, but from the moment I arrive, I usually just want to go home.

This, I think, is the same reason that I'm having trouble with Sentinel Worlds. It seems maddeningly familiar. You can talk to people, almost like in a Bioware game, but they keep abruptly ending conversation on you. The game tells you stuff about the rooms you're exploring, like in Wasteland, but you don't have the same options to interact with the environment. Hand-to-hand combat looks something like a roguelike, but I keep hitting the wrong commands. You land on worlds in an ATV like in Starflight, but the process of navigating and mining is very different. I keep feeling like the game is trying to trick me. In the cases of both Amsterdam and Sentinel Worlds, I realize that the fault is mine, not the city's/game's, but that still doesn't shake my discombobulation.

The tiger is shown as "hostile" in my display, but I'm not sure if it serves any purpose to kill it.
Yesterday, I spent a lot of time reading over the hints that Amy and Canageek offered in my last Sentinel Worlds posting (special thanks to Canageek for compiling all the suggestions from last year). The most important pieces of wisdom I gleaned from them are:

  • I should hack the computer to improve my navigation and combat skills, but after I'm more experienced
  • Spend more time trying to figure out the rancher/farmer thing on Norajeen.
  • The items I couldn't figure out last time have no value and I should sell them.
  • By messing around with the CPU speed in DOSBox and the frame rate in the game, I should have an easier time with ship-to-ship combat. "Shadowing" other ships helps, too.
  • There's this yacht I should find and board early on.
  • Focus on projectile weapon skills rather than blasters because the latter is rare.

As a start, I decided to equip my crew with better weapons than the few melee and edged weapons they started with. Georg advised that I not waste time on science missions, but this seemed the easiest way to make a few bucks (and see a little of the system), so I did a few (a couple were right on Norjaenn, where you get the missions, so they netted me $700 for only a few minutes' work). On one of them, which took me to the planet Ceyjavik, I was in the midst of taking Amy's advice to hail non hostile-ships, and I serendipitously found myself talking to the yacht that everyone keeps mentioning.

The owner invited me to board, so I did, and after an embarrassing episode in which I walked in on a young woman taking a shower...

Why does she have a towel IN the shower?

...I found the owner of the yacht. In the midst of conversation, got my first references to the "paragraphs" manual that comes with the game, much as in Pool of Radiance.

It's good to know that fashions haven't changed in 984 years.

The owner's name was Grager, and he claimed to own "all trade rights" in the Caldorre system. He explained that the raiders were crippling his business and, to help me defeat them, he had his staff improve my ship's lasers and computers.

 I think that 1 and 2 were at level 4 before.

The big mystery, it turns out, is where the raiders are coming from. There's no sign that they originate in this system, but their ships aren't big enough to have traveled from outside the system. Grager thinks they've been sent by his rival, Lochinvar Avrensis, who owns a similar trade monopoly in a nearby system.

While in the yacht, I kept feeling like I was missing something with the interface. There was a section of Grager's ship that looked like I ought to be able to explore it, but I couldn't find any way in--are there secret doors in this game? My crew also kept commenting on things like wishing they could stay and use the weight room. I thought this seemed like an obvious place to pump up my strength or something, but I couldn't find any way to interact with the rooms. Am I missing something, or is that text just for atmosphere?


Anyway, after I left Grager, I returned to Norajaenn and bought my crew some better weapons and armor, including a few shotguns. I mostly went with Canageek's advice, but I kept my lead character armed with a melee weapon (a "sonic mace") because I'd already invested in her skills there. I ran into a bit of a mystery where my first three characters were unable to equip "steel mesh" (the best armor sold by the store); it doesn't seem to have anything to do with attributes.

Crysprisms power blasters, which apparently don't become available until much, much later.

I determined to explore the town ("Western Town") more thoroughly and see if I could figure out the whole rancher-farmer problem. I briefly toyed with the idea of trying to solve it by blasting all of the cattle I could find with lasers, but I guessed I should hear the rancher's side of the story first.

Or maybe not.

The ranchers were even less friendly than the farmers, but eventually I found one named Robert Kaan that would talk to me. He claimed the farmers like to come in and shoot the place up. He wanted me to deal with it, but the only response option the game gave me was "out of our jurisdiction, sir." He did offer that he thinks the cause of the raids is a trade war aimed at Grager. I wandered down the hall behind him and found myself in a very well-stocked armory, but I figured the place would rise up and attack me if I took anything, so I left it alone.

Even though I was mildly curious about the "knarlybar."

As I explored the other buildings in town, it seemed to me that the unit of exploration is the "room." Once you enter a room, the game occasionally gives you options to take something or otherwise interact with it. These options seem to appear the moment you go through the door, and they don't change as you move from square to square within the room. I'm assuming this means that you don't have to explore every space in every building looking for items. Someone please clue me in if I'm wrong about this. I'd also like to know if I need my character with the highest charisma in front to get the best responses, or if I just need someone with high charisma somewhere in my party.

It's at this point in the game that I'm used to getting some kind of "quest" or something.

I explored the town for a while, going back and forth between the farmers' and rangers' bar and engaging in as many topics of conversation as I could before the NPCs cut me off. But I couldn't get anywhere with the whole feud, enhancing my feeling that I must be missing some key set of commands or some other aspect to the gameplay or interface.

Before I shut down for the night, I loaded up on fuel and headed back into space to try some ship-to-ship combat with my upgraded new weapons. I checked my federation messages and found out about a convoy under attack. Warping into the middle of battle, I found myself with three allied ships and three raiders. I don't mind saying that we kicked their butts. Hard. My crew members went up a level.

I'm so pleased with my success that I think next time I might try boarding one of the raiders, which my manual says is possible if I knock out the engines (accomplished by having my gunner target them specifically). Let me know if I shouldn't do that.

Lots of time to play this week, so I hope to make some progress on this game and get my blog up to speed again. The game is starting to feel a bit familiar, so perhaps in another playing session, I'll shake this alien feeling that I've had since I began.


  1. Ah Sentinel Worlds... just reading this makes me want to start a game again myself.

  2. Wow, I never knew that the US was so different, I live on the other side of the pond so I'm figuring that if Europe is strange when coming from there, then a place where toilets have handles (really?) must be strange too. Oh yeah and the cleaning lady probably doesn't expect to get a tip. So I guess if I ever visited the US I would have to ask everyone if they take tips, and door knobs instead of handles. Anyway, since the game is set in space, perhaps you're supposed to feel like an alien.

    1. Yeah, I hear they actually pay the staff living wages in Europe, instead of making travellers subsidize it!

      Man, I want to see a blog post where you try and use Linux now, with KDE or Gnome.

    2. Everyone always tells me that I don't need to tip servers as much--maybe 10% tops, if it's really great service--but I can't bring myself to do that even when I know it's the norm in that country.

    3. Well, here in Germany we usually tip at least waiters 10%. That much is expected if the service wasn't abysmal. But in other service professions it's not as universally common.

    4. Thank you CRPG addict for keeping up with these games. I appreciate your constitution, especially after so much travel. Your reviews and commentary are a real treat to read.

    5. The travelers pay the staff one way or another either way... where do you think the hotel gets the revenue it uses to pay its employees from? The people who don't stay there?

    6. However, as decent fixed wage means you don't suffer if there are less visitors and you aren't dependent on others generosity.

    7. I'm pretty sure I've seen plenty of toilets with buttons in the US ... or is that tongue in cheek?

  3. Nice post. Never played this one back in the day. May give it a try now.

  4. Is it fun to play?

    Have you noticed many of the portraits of PC's and NPC's are 'inspired' by movies?

    In your crew there is Ripley, the fighter pilot has a starwars looking helmet, one of the cowboys looks like Eastwood, theres even a Terminator like crew-member.

    1. It's getting more fun. Since I posted this, I think I understand the interface a little better.

      Yes, I noticed. At first I wondered if it was a coincidence, but when I encountered aliens that are clearly Aliens aliens, I realized the creators were paying deliberate homages.

  5. I think the towel was hanging from the bar in front of the shower, but then when you peeked in on her she quickly yanked it to hide herself. Have you played Perry the Perv?

  6. As far as Grager's yacht (and elsewhere): I've never found any secret doors in the game, and I'm usually pretty thorough. There are items that can only be found by walking over one particular "square" in a room. You see nothing, but when you walk in a particular space, you suddenly have the option to pick up an item. It can be very tedious if you're a completist like me.

    Grager's gym can't be interacted with, so yes, flavor text. There is a gym in each of the Caldorre towers though, in which you can pay to have your strength increased. There are also libraries, aerobic centers, and other areas geared towards increasing stats.

    I have no idea why your characters can't wear that armor...?

    You can take the ranchers' and farmers' weapons without fear of retribution.

    I've heard that Charisma can help in certain situations, but I didn't feel like switching my characters around all the time. It didn't prevent me from completing the game successfully.

    You mentioned "silly stuff" going on. I'm wondering if you've found a key yet, that looks nothing like a key?

    1. Thanks, Amy, for the clarifications. Once I had a few more hours under my belt, I figured it was unlikely there were secret doors, or some way to interact with the environment that I was missing, but I appreciate the confirmation.

      The armor thing was me being stupid. I thought that if you were already wearing armor and tried to purchase new armor, it would just replace the existing stuff. It turns out you have to doff your existing armor first.

      Yes, I was referring to the Key of Thor. Big post on that tomorrow.

    2. Wow, a big post, about some major key, I can hardly wait. I'm way too busy to play through all games ever made, so I'm glad I'm able to go along the ride. Only stopping to play the really good games, like Pool of Radiance, myself.

    3. Is this sarcasm? It sounds like sarcasm.

  7. Not to change the subject, but I just found the site and read through it - Any plans to play through "Starflight (1)"? A real miss, if not, since it was one of the three most influential RPG's of '80s.

    1. CRPG Addict did play through Starflight almost two years ago, and it's one of his highest rated games. See the sidebar, or this link:


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