|Buying from the Tandelou Eshvey.|
My most anxiety-filled moments in the last three Elder Scrolls games are not when I'm fighting dragons or dremora, trying to close Oblivion Gates, or trudging through ash storms. No, they are, rather, the moments when I'm overloaded with equipment that I want to sell, and I've exhausted the economy of whatever town I'm in. I've got 300 pounds of excess equipment, and I wipe out the cash reserves of the general store with a single necklace. I mean, seriously, Bethesda: that's what you had to be practical about? I can stop in the middle of combat and eat eleven cheese wheels, but I can't possibly sell all my loot to one shop in one day because that would be "unrealistic."
Starflight II manages to introduce some of this tension through its trading system, which essentially guarantees that you always have goods waiting to sell. On various planets, I've found a huge variety of minerals, lifeforms, and special goods--copper, titanium, tungsten, gold, fruits, vegetables, medicines, silver, cloth, books, lead, iron--and my crew is now engaged in a compulsive and ultimately fruitless quest to once--just once, for god's sake--return to starport with an empty hold.
Unlike the original Starflight, this game's starport has no interest in generic trade goods and metals. Instead, I have to find trading centers on various planets throughout this section of the galaxy. Some of them are run by sophisticated space-faring species, some by primitive stone-age species (Interstel apparently doesn't have an equivalent of the Prime Directive). Each sells, and is willing to buy, different goods, and each has a slightly different position on bargaining.
To get into the thick of the trading dynamic--which seems to occupy a big part of the game--let's take a step back and review what happens when you visit planets, which isn't terribly different from the first game.
Either by using the map or through simple exploration and luck, we come upon a star system:
And flying into the star, we move a level down in scale and are presented with the planets orbiting the system as well as the "spectral class" of the star, which in this game is essentially a seven-step scale from coolest (M) to hottest (O).
K, the class of this particular star, is second-coolest, and the "ecosphere" reading tells me that all four planets have a chance of sustaining life. The planets are color-coded by type, including molten (red), rock (brown), ocean (blue), frozen (white), and gas giants (violet). As you might imagine, I can't distinguish between red and brown or blue and violet, so I end up having to personally check out all of them.
When you maneuver over a planet, you're given the option to orbit it with the SPACE bar, at which point you can switch from the navigator's "maneuver" screen to the science officer's screen to "scan" the planet. The scan tells you the mass of the planet, what portion of it is covered with life, on what portion is found useful minerals, the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere:
This is clearly a gas giant, not a water planet. There's no life--and it can't sustain life--but it's got a good mineral density, and it might be worth landing to do some mining. But wait, let's check out the analysis:
Landing would be a very bad idea. At 15 times normal (Earth) gravity, my ship and crew would be crushed the moment I entered the atmosphere. And even if that wasn't a factor, the "very violent" global weather would mean I'd probably lose a crewmember or two while trying to find minerals.
Moving onto the next planet, I find a small one with a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere and gravity about three-quarters of Earth normal. The hydrosphere is ammonia, so it can't sustain life, but it's got a decent mineral density, including silicon, tin, and gold. And no global weather to endanger my crew. It's definitely worth a mining stop. I switch back to the "captain" menu and order a landing.
The game gives me a set of crosshairs where I select the landing site from a Mercator-projection map. The colors on the map represent the altitude of the terrain, but other than not wanting to land in water (the game will allow it, but there's no point, since there isn't any stuff there), I don't really have a good handle on what type of terrain to choose. It might matter for the availability of minerals and life; I think I've noticed a slight correlation between higher altitudes and availability of minerals and lower altitudes and the proliferation of life forms.
After choosing the location, you "descend" and disembark from the ship in your ATV.
|This sequence is kind-of cool, but it gets old after a while.|
At this point, you tool around the planet in your ATV looking for mining sites, life forms, trading centers, or whatever the planet supposedly offers. As you do, you have to keep an eye on the ATV fuel (which decreases depending on factors like the terrain, the atmospheric thickness, and the gravity) and ensure that you don't get too far away from the ship. Running out of fuel sucks: you have to abandon your ATV, walk back to the ship (risking damage from weather along the way), and go all the way back to starport to buy a new one.
When you find a mining location, you go into the "cargo" menu and pick up the metals. In the case of the image above, I managed to find 9.3 cubic meters of gold within a few kilometers of the ship. As you gather minerals and life forms, you have to watch the cargo capacity of the ATV and make periodic return trips to the ship to unload it.
|I'm going to be on this planet for a while.|
A few other things can happen while you're moving about in the ATV:
- You can encounter life forms which you can try to capture. If they're hostile, you may have to shoot at them a few times with the ATV's weapons first. Some of them will preemptively attack you and injure crew members, though I managed to buy a "shield" against such attacks.
- On inhabited planets, you can encounter groups of natives wandering around on foot or in vehicles. There doesn't seem to be any productive way to interact with them.
- If there's any global weather, you can get stuck in storms and have crew members injured.
- If it's a trading planet, you can come across trading centers, described below.
|On a planet with minerals, plants, and a trading center.|
Occasionally, while exploring planets, you'll get lucky and find an uninhabited one with a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere, a water hydrosphere, temperate weather and climate, and near-Earth gravity. When this happens, you can "log" the planet as one ripe for human colonization, which nets you a hefty reward back at starport, generally exceeding the trade value of minerals and lifeforms acquired over hours of exploration. However, these planets seem few and far between.
So once the ship starts to groan with the weight of its cargo...
...it's time to find a trading center--or, more specifically, a series of trading centers--to offload it. Fortunately, the Humna Humna, the ambassadors from this region of space that humans first encountered, provided us with a map showing planets willing to trade. These planets are orbited by "trade beacons," which transmit "cultural data" about the species that live there, including what special items they'll buy and sell, and their overall approach to trade.
The trading centers themselves are scattered around the planet, and you don't get any data on where they are, so you just have to land and hope you find one. This generally hasn't been a problem for me.
Certain planets want certain special goods. The Lieu Vadish are looking for "sticky fruit" and will sell "delightful fungus chews," for instance. Some of the traders won't sell their more advanced artifacts unless you sell them something they particularly want. But for the standard stuff--metals and generic trade goods--whether a particular planet will buy them seems to be a roll of the dice. The Humna Humna on this planet are interested in my silver, promethium, magnesium, and molybdenum, but none of my other stuff:
The price in the far right column is the default price they'll pay per cubic meter, but there's a lot of room for bargaining. Depending on the culture, I can usually sell for 20-40% more than they originally offer through some bartering. But if you haggle too much, they'll lose patience and cancel the trade. As far as I can tell, you can immediately re-initialize it, with no penalty, but perhaps there's some subtle mathematics going on when you annoy them.
One of the things that surprises me is how many species are willing to buy life forms that live on their own planets. You could do robust trade without even leaving the planet by just driving around in the ATV and collecting native creatures.
So what's the point of all this trading? In a word: money. You need it to fully train the crew; fully equip the ship with cargo pods, weapons, armor, and shields; and most importantly, to purchase Shyneum, the fuel that makes your explorations of the galaxy possible. Through trading, I've managed to train all my crew members in their primary skills and decently (if not completely) outfit the ship. All of this better prepares me to deal with alien species and start on the quests.
|The first species encountered.|
As to those quests, I'm starting to get some clues from the aliens I've encountered during my trading career. The region of space in which Interstel built the starport belongs to a species known as the Tandalou, who are fighting a civil war between two factions: the Eshvey and the Eshvara. They both worship omething called Thdok-Bryg-Ahhh, and amongst their florid pontificating, it's tough to determine the precise cause of their schism. But it appears that something was stolen from them--probably by the Spemin--and they each blame each other. I'll cover aliens and dialogue on my next posting on the game.