Sunday, December 23, 2012

Game 81: Space (1978) and Space II (1979)

Don't ask me why the original had a color intro screen and the latter didn't.

A few weeks ago, in an attempt to fill in some holes in my CRPG history, I played Beneath Apple Manor, the first commercial CRPG, released for the Apple II in 1978. It was a pre-Rogue roguelike with a randomly-generated dungeon and an icongraphic display.

A very different approach was taken with Space, probably the second commercial CRPG, released in either 1978 or 1979 (sources differ). Space II followed within a year, and it's more of an expansion pack than a sequel; the gameplay is identical between the two versions.
 
Space was an evolutionary dead-end: an entirely text-based game that focuses more on character attributes and development than any game we've seen since then. You begin by giving your character a name, at which point you are immediately drafted into military service.

Most games at least pretend like it's your choice to save the world.

At the outset, you choose among the navy, army, marines, scouts, merchant marines, "other services," or a random draft.


After service assignment, the game makes a series of behind-the-scenes rolls to determine your attributes, strengths, and weaknesses. These include strength, dexterity, intelligence, education, and "social standing" as attributes; various health variables; and a psychological evaluation. It's entirely possible--probable, even--to get an unplayable character at the outset. My first version of Chester had an IQ of 40 and "severe heart problems" that led the examiner to recommend "immediate discharge."

Well, it was nice playing...

Following the creation, you spend a number of terms in training, with options for personal development (increases in attributes and also some skills like brawling and gambling), service skills (blade combat, gun combat), advanced education (ATV operation, mechanics, electronics, tactics), and professional education (medical, computer, leadership, administrative). For each development option that you choose, the game makes a roll as to whether you pass a psych evaluation (!) first.


And you can die during training:

I like that the memo is addressed to me, the "characters [sic] player."

It takes a long time to get a playable character. My second attempt was "legally blind" and "totally deaf." My third was too high-strung for combat and had a moderate heart problem. My fourth also had heart problems and was "prone to extreme violence" (the game recommended a military police assignment). Another....well, you really have to read it.

It's like the game knows me!

Occasionally, the character doesn't die, but the game warns you that he'll be an "inferior product" and gives you the chance to start over.

Each "term" consists of 3 training segments. The number of terms you spend in service seems to be random. My various characters were anywhere from 1 to 8. After every term, you have the option to leave the service with a monetary accrual, at other times you get discharged for various reasons (bad conduct, service needs to save money, and so on), and at still others you get killed during the service. Sometimes, you choose to leave, but the game won't let you because of a "state of war." The ultimate goal of the training period, I think, is to leave service honorably, while still in good health, with a decent selection of skills.

My eighth or ninth character, a marine, had pretty good stats and no severe physical or psychological problems. I developed him in tactics, blade combat, gun combat, gambling, and leadership, then mustered him out after two years.


The game really "begins" when you're discharged and "enter civilian life," whether by your choice or the game's. At that point, the game saves the character, and you can choose to "play through his adventures."

The five original Space missions.

The "adventures" consist of five scenarios: First Blood, Defend, Explore, Trader, and High Finance, each calling upon a different selection of skills, and with a different selection of game options and outcomes. In "First Blood," for instance, you choose your weapon and armor, your mode of attack, your attack range (close combat or ranged), and your attack speed. The game takes you through a series of "battle rounds," part random, part based on your skills and attributes.


My first attempt at "First Blood" went fairly well; I defeated the enemy and got all his money and equipment. The game didn't bother to tell me who it was. But I gather from the input screens that you can fight other characters on the server or computer-controlled characters. I think I made the mistake of specifying "Chester" as both the attacker and defender, because even though I won, my character was deleted.

I tried another character who was said to be unfit for combat, so I trained him in computer, electronics, gambling, and administrative skills, left service after one year, and tried the "High Finance" scenario. Your character has to manage a series of stock market investments after first reviewing a number of company prospectuses.


Time passes in quarters, during which you can buy and sell stock, take loans, and repay loans. Occasionally, you get news about galactic happenings that will affect stock prices (diseases, alien attacks, wars, corruption investigations, radiation alerts, blights). Companies can split or merge, and your character can go through periods of ill health that cause him to miss quarters.


It takes a long time to build up enough cash reserves to make initial investments, but after a number of successful quarters go by, you have more options. Over time, you watch your net worth grow or shrink.

A galactic war has been good for munitions investments.

I was doing great for a while--up to $323 million net worth--but then I got a sudden notice that Chester had died.

That seems a little unfair.

Because it takes so long to create a viable character, I haven't explored all of the scenarios, and probably won't. But from other sources, I get the impression that "Explore" is about finding food and minerals on planets, "Trader" has the character buying and selling cargo and transporting passengers, and "Defend" casts the player managing the defense against an alien invasion. The two new scenarios with Space II are very bizarre: "Shaman" has you collecting followers to a religious cult, and "Psychodelia" is about experimenting with magic mushrooms to boost attributes. All of the scenarios are menu-driven; in that sense, you don't really "play" the game.

Space is not really a CRPG in a classic sense. Of my three core criteria, it has only two: character development--and even then, only during training--and statistics-driven combat. But it does represent one direction that CRPGs could have gone. The type of gameplay introduced by Space would find its way into simulation games, albeit rarely with character attributes and skills. Pirates!, for instance, had a dynamic world in which randomly-generated bits of "news" would affect buying and selling prices as well as the political and martial situation in various ports. The only influence I can detect in later CRPGs is the opening of Star Command, where the characters go through a series of training segments (though far less lethal) before the game begins.

Neither Space nor Space II was around long enough to have much of an influence. The game was so obviously stolen from the Traveller role-playing game series that Traveller's creator, Game Designers Workshop, successfully sued Space's creator, Edu-Ware. The game was pulled from the market. A licensed version of Traveller, MegaTraveller, was released in 1990 (I'll play it in the next year). The chastened Edu-Ware came back with an original trilogy called Empire between 1981 and 1984. They were all Apple II games, but MobyGames calls them CRPGs, and I might get around to trying them.

Let me know if you detect any other influences of Space, or if you have an interesting experiences playing the game on your own. If you want to try, check out Virtual Apple II, which boasts that it has "almost every Apple II and Apple IIgs game every made, ready to play in your browser." I did have some crashing problems, so ultimately I downloaded the game to play in an emulator--but Virtual Apple II makes it easy to download the disc images, too.

I'm moving on to Dragons of Flame now, as promised, but I do have one more early Apple II CRPG to check out at some point: a game called Dungeon Campaign, which also claims a 1978 release.

32 comments:

  1. The character development process (including being able to die before it's over) sounds a lot like the pen-and-paper SF RPG Traveller.

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    1. SOMEbody didn't read the entire post, as Chet here posted "The game was so obviously stolen from the Traveller role-playing game series that Traveller's creator, Game Designers Workshop, successfully sued Space's creator, Edu-Ware."

      Whoopsie!

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    2. Yeah, I was reading it through waiting to stun everyone by recognizing that fact; I hadn't heard of this game before, but I have one of the older Traveller sets (2nd edition I think) and the character creation system is just about identical (less brutal though, they toned it down after 1st)

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    3. Character generation that mostly spits out unviable ones reminds me of the worst tabletop RPG of all time. At least Space seems to check - that may make all the difference.

      Could this chargen have an element of skill? The player might learn to find the best training for their characters, and avoid the deathtraps. Though in practice that might just lead to much more arduous min-maxing.

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    4. Don't leave me in suspense, man. What's the worst tabletop RPG of all time?

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    5. I think it is RaHoWa. Racial Holy War, first edition. Basically the RPG for Skinheads. The quality of the rules also is a statement about the intelligence of skinheads as the rules are unusable as they forget to tell you how to complete an attack roll.

      However, Kizor was likely referring to FATAL, full name (2nd edition): From Another Time, Another Land. However, that was the sanitized title; the original title was Fantasy Adventure to Adult Lechery. I am not making this up. It had a lot of problems, including the fact the average age of a random character was something like 12, the fact it had rules for every bodyparts size, (including the famous [Rot13]nany[/Rot13] circumference table, and the fact it was blatantly sexist and spent a lot of time talking about rape, and had some rather racist items in its first edition.

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    6. FATAL indeed. Apparently its character generation can result in just about any kind of person in the game's whole world - so in the only FATAL campaign log I've seen, the party rolled a soapmaker, an elderly baron, an infant bugbear and a light elf herbalist/schoolteacher. One player had to roll half a dozen times to get a race that wouldn't attack the other characters on sight. Three of the four were near-sighted and none of them could afford adventuring gear. Add the fact that the character sheet is 11 pages long, and has a number of circumferences that I can't describe here, and you have a recipe for PAIN.

      FATAL is not worth a closer look, not even out of that morbid fascination that drives bad movie fans or MST3K. For one thing, it's well over 500 pages long. Yeah, bringing it up and then warning people away from it makes no sense, but chalk it up to me being a bit dim. The parallel was interesting, though.

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    7. Well, I looked it up anyway, and I agree: I wish I hadn't. The manual (the one I found is 20 pages shy of 1,000) is a very weird combination of dry role-playing instructions and graphic sexual asides. The appendices alone are worth a look for several WTF moments. I started to list some of them, but...no.

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    8. Well, now we're all a bit wiser, and I should probably come up with something to make up for getting you into this.

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    9. I suddenly realized with horror that perhaps someone tried to make a CRPG out of FATAL, but thankfully nothing came up in my searches. However, I did find this not-a-review that tells you everything that you want to know about the game, for those who later come across these comments and falsely believe you are interested:

      http://www.somethingawful.com/d/dungeons-and-dragons/fatal-worst-rpg.php?page=1

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    10. Yep. They used death metal for the themesong, were pretty creepy and inflammatory in their message board postings, and yeahhhhh...

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    11. Be glad you are not the pen and paper addict!

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  2. These remind me a bit of the modern Choice of Games things.

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  3. Had to check what you were talking about and they turned out to be choose-your-own-adventure gamebooks. If you enjoy that type of gaming there are lot of them in book format also. Project Aon and Fighting Fantasy's website are good places to start.

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    1. link to "seventh sense" series on computer for the lazy:

      http://www.projectaon.org/staff/david/download.php

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  4. By the fourth screenshot I was thinking how similar it sounded to Traveller. Lo and behold!

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    1. And here I thought I'd be the only person to know about traveller. I keep forgetting most of you were alive back in 1977 when it came out. >.>

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    2. I suppose that's pretty strong evidence in support of the lawsuit.

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    3. I'm eagerly waiting for the CRPG addict to take on Megatraveller, of which I have fond memories (but never completed it, I found it too difficult, which might have been because I didn't have the manual)

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  5. BTW, if you occasionally play non-PC games would there be any idea to add additional column for Game Rankings spreadsheet indicating which platform the game was made.

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    1. I suppose I should at least indicate the platform on which I played. I'll add that.

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    2. Once we upload you into a computer, so that you can play 6 games at the same time, I'm sure it won't be a problem.

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  6. It seems like it would have possibilities if it were just a little less hardcore!

    There is a genre like it (I call it the Dictator genre) which is similar in terms of life history, but doesn't bother much with unique character generation, so it falls more in the category of strategy games. In Dictator you play the ruler of a tropical island, playing off various factions such as landowners, unions, the army, the USA and the USSR against each other. To win you must get out alive before or during the inevitable revolution, and your score is the amount you salted away in your Swiss bank account.

    Weird Worlds and similar games also work off this kind of concept. The recent FTL seems to be a cross between it and a roguelike.

    Maybe such games could benefit from a starting character development section (which could be made optional).

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    1. It would be interesting if more RPGs, rather than just starting your character off as an adult with X attributes, allowed you to walk through a character creation process that simulates years of training, strife, and development. I can't think of really any game that does this aside from the aforementioned Star Command.

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    2. I think Fable takes an approach similar to this. You play your character through different ages until the game actually begins.

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    3. Also System Shock 2 (though I'm not sure if that would be counted as a CRPG), with its pre-main-mission training areas.

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    4. Don't forget Darklands! (and the previously mentioned Megatraveller games)

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  7. I think I played the Empire games, but don't remember much about them. If they are the same games, they're played on a grid you move your ship around and need to watch things like fuel and damage while going from dock to dock trading and fending off space pirates.

    Dungeon Campaign is another game my dad had on tape. I'm definitely interested in knowing more about that game.

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  8. Just a little fact I stumbled upon, figured you might be interested: Softalk magazine from May 1981 has a story about Edu-Ware, in which the founders state that the company started in spring 1979, so Space could not have been released in 1978.

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    1. That certainly bears some consideration. On the other hand, the history of the game and the company are so muddled that I'm not sure the first version of Space wasn't published before Edu-Ware was officially a company. There's enough disagreement, in any event, that I'm going to leave this as-is until we get confirmation from a reliable source, if any exists.

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  9. "My first attempt at "First Blood" went fairly well; I defeated the enemy and got all his money and equipment ... I made the mistake of specifying "Chester" as both the attacker and defender, because even though I won, my character was deleted."

    I'm not sure I'd call that "went fairly well". Also, I can't believe years have gone by without anyone calling you on successfully killing yourself in Fight-Club-style solo armed combat. Honestly, this has to be one of your most spectacularly hilarious deaths. "Choked to death while trying to eat a whole dragon while full" doesn't hold a candle to this one.

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    1. Good point, though I'm not 100% sure that's what happened. It might have been some other kind of disk corruption. It's been a while, but I remember the options were very confusing and I wasn't sure WHAT I was selecting.

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