|This is what happens when no one gives me the advice I seek.|
I've been mulling over the subtitle of Sentinel Worlds I: Future Magic, trying to figure what it is intended to mean. I have three hypotheses:
- It's going to somehow play a role in the game; as in, the game will take a turn towards fantasy the way that Might & Magic takes a turn towards science fiction.
- It's a play on Arthur C. Clarke's third law: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
- It's essentially meaningless and I'm an idiot to spend any serious time thinking about it.
#2 seems like the most obvious answer, but #1 became more plausible during gameplay today. I'll cover that in a minute.
I've written before about how I have less of an affinity for science fiction than fantasy. In a comment on BattleTech, I wrote:
It probably goes back to the whole probable impossibility vs. improbable possibility thing. Sci-fi is often manifestly set in the "real" world, but in the future, so that you're supposed to accept the technology as probable. To me, things like teleporters and food replicators and giant robots create too many problems for me to accept them. Fantasy, on the other hand, is explicitly set in worlds where "magic" exists, and you just go with it as part of the world.
But this doesn't quite explain my ability to accept fantasy RPGs on the surface. Even in worlds full of magic, it requires a certain suspension of disbelief that your characters are able to navigate an unlit dungeon; that the monsters sealed in there are somehow able to survive in plentiful bands despite the lack of any kind of ecosystem; that indeed a 10-story dungeon built into the earth exists in the first place. And yet I happily ignore these problems and descend into the Proving Grounds. When playing Sentinel Worlds, on the other hand, I'm constantly thinking thinks like: Why don't my characters have to stockpile food? Is it really that easy to drop an ATV from orbit and get it back up there again? Would a society so advanced that it's capable of interstellar space travel still be raising cattle on ranches? I've killed almost 30 of these raiders--do they just have an unlimited number of ships?
In the midst of all of this, I visit a planet where I find an alien race intent on discovering a source of "evil" in the planet, and suddenly my mind does a 180. "Ah!" I say. "It's not hard sci-fi! It's space fantasy, like Star Wars or Babylon 5." Then, suddenly, based on this very scant evidence, I'm suddenly cool with the game. I don't claim to get it.
As you can see from the screen shot at the top of this entry, my attempts to board a raider didn't go so well. They slaughtered three of my characters in melee combat, and just as my surviving two party members were contemplating the recruitment of a new pilot, communications officer, and navigator, the raider ship self-destructed. Upon reload, I decided I'd spend a little more time making sure I'd mastered ship-to-ship combat, and raising my levels first.
Neither hand-to-hand nor ship-to-ship combat (there's no hand-to-ship combat, but I'd love to see it) is particularly good in Sentinel Worlds. I'm a relatively new player, and I've managed to take on packs of 6 raiders at a time (messing around with the DOSBox CPU speed and game frame rate were key, by the way; thanks to everyone who contributed there) with hardly any damage to my ship. The raiders don't really coordinate their attacks, so it's easy to pick them off on the fringes of the pack. The combat is not at all tactical: You wait for the ship to get into view, hit SPACE to target it, hit ENTER to arm your lasers, and then just keep close to the ship while the computer fires for you. You even have the option to "(S)hadow" the enemy automatically, so you barely have to do anything. You do have the option to program your lasers to target only specific parts of the enemy (shields, lasers, hull), but as far as I can tell this is only necessary when you're trying to board.
|My lead character fights a bear with a mace. It's like I'm still playing Skyrim.|
Melee combat similarly suffers from a lack of tactics. As you move down hallways in caves and buildings, red-dotted enemies come charging at you. You only control the lead party member; everyone else starts attacking automatically. Your control of the lead is limited to movement, targeting (again with the SPACE bar), and hitting ENTER to fire or swing when the weapon is "ready."
Both types of combat are affected by the skills that you've assigned to your characters: the pilot's gunnery skill for ship combat and the various characters' skills in contact weapons, edged weapons, projectile weapons, blasters, and "tactics," the latter of which affects all weapons. I find the process of leveling up (you get fixed experience for ship and melee opponents) satisfying, although I'm not sure whether I'm choosing the right ones. I've yet to see any obvious effects of observation, bribery, or recon, among other things.
|I've put a lot into "edged" weapons for Romom, but the best melee weapon I've been able to find is a sonic mace.|
Some developments occurred on the plot and perhaps side quests (like some other games, I'm not sure if some of the things I've done are side-quests or steps on the main quest). First, I re-read the game manual and noted that William Grager, the yacht owner I mentioned last time, is prominent in the backstory. The manual notes that he's a shipping magnate who has been given trade rights in the Caldorre System and has suffered significantly at the hands of the raiders. It was on his urging, in fact, that this fleet of interceptors (including mine) was dispatched to the system. So it makes sense that he upgraded my weapons.
|Is this a side-quest? Or my first sign that something deeper is at work in the Caldorre System?|
I went to the planet Caldorre, which gives its name to the system, and saw a beacon from orbit that I hadn't noticed before. This took me to a small village where some technologically-stunted natives asked for help dealing with some "monsters" who had taken over some of their land and were uprooting trees. I went to the coordinates provided and found a bunch of non-hostile gorillas. I nearly slaughtered them, assuming that they were the "monsters," but I explored a bit and found the entrance to a network of caves. Battling my way past bears, I found aliens--not just aliens, but Aliens aliens...
...involved in a big excavation project. The leader told me that he'd had a "vision" that there was evil in the planet, and they were trying to get to it. He promised they wouldn't encroach on any more surface territory, which satisfied the leader of the natives. I didn't really get anything for all of this, but it made me wonder if this "evil" is going to have something to do with the main quest.
|"Sensed" how, exactly? Are we talking...magic?|
As I write this posting, I'm in the midst of exploring the three towers of Caldorre to see what clues I can pick up. There are some places here where I can boost my attributes, which might make melee combat against the raiders a bit simpler.
Some other miscellaneous notes:
- My ATV occasionally breaks down on the planet. As far as I can tell, this serves no purpose except to make me wait a few rounds while my character with the "ATV repair" skill fixes it. I haven't been investing a lot into this skill because even at the current level, he fixes it within a few seconds.
- I finally found minerals! I don't know if this is because I raised my "mining" skill to a certain level or because I just started visiting the right planets. Anyway, I've discovered belatedly that this game isn't Starflight: you gain much more money from killing raiders than from mining metals, making mining a dubious use of time.
|And yet still addicting.|
- Related, I was wondering why my income kept going up until I realized that I get paid for every raider I kill.
- The engineer repairs damage taken to the ship automatically. Although the spaceport on Caldorre offers a "dry dock" where you can pay for repairs, they happen so swiftly in the background that I can't imagine needing it.
|It is cheap, though.|
- I've been "hacking" my ship's systems to try to improve them. Generally, it's been successful, but I did have one failure that made my navigation system worse.
- The trick to navigation is not to look at the wireframe part of the map but just the top-down part. Even then, it's still a bit annoying. Rather than just being able to move east and west, north and south, the map rotates when you turn; you always move "forward." It adds unnecessary seconds to each step.
- In the alien caves, I found a "hyperuzi." It sounds pretty cool, although I don't think regular uzis are exactly lethargic.
To help you get a sense of the gameplay elements, I recorded a video. Unlike my previous recordings, this is a proper narrated video, something I've only done once before, with Ultima III. I don't know if this going to be a regular thing on my blog; I don't find it easy to narrate a sensible audio track while simultaneously playing the game.
I feel like I've turned a corner with the game, and I'm starting to enjoy the plot a bit. I don't know how long it normally takes to win, but I hope to do it this week.