|The game takes place in 2261. I'd like to hear from my science-oriented readers on the chances that humanity will be able to colonize Titan in 250 years.|
Here's one thing about playing certain games that might be peculiar to my own personality: I don't like being told who I am. Not defining your own character seems contrary to the whole idea of a role-playing game. Paradoxically contrary, I suppose, as the ultimate test of "playing a role" is to take a character over whom you have no control and successfully internalize his or her background, motivations, and approaches. But most role-playing games are as much about role-creating as role-playing, and I'd prefer to at least have the illusion of creation conferred by the ability to name my character. If I did, I wouldn't name him "Tom Jetland."
Jetland is a down-on-his luck cargo ship captain, stuck on Titan after a disastrous mission forced him to jettison his cargo. His company made him sell his ship to cover the cost of the goods, and he's left waiting for his insurance adjuster to arrive in a couple of years.
Rejecting the offer of the Controller of Primus (one of Titan's cities) to work in the mines, Jetland is given a mission to find out what happened to the city of Proscenium, with whom the Controllers have lost contact. But the job doesn't come with any advance funds, so Jetland is cast into Primus to look for work to buy weapons, supplies, and passage to Proscenium.
The odd thing is that after all this setup, you're perfectly free to dump Jetland. He starts in a bar where you recruit and dismiss other characters. Once you have at least one other character, you can send Jetland packing. I didn't do that, but I did decline to reload the game when my party was killed by muggers, and "I" was sent back to the bar to find new characters. Adding characters to the party is a matter of "interviewing" them in the bars, at which point you can hear about their histories and view their attributes. It feels a little like recruiting party members who have already gone through Space.
|Interviewing potential party members.|
Characters have six attributes--might, agility, stamina, wisdom, education, and charisma--that do about what you'd expect. Health is an average of might, agility, and stamina, and once it's depleted, you lose points in those categories. If they all go to 0, you die. Characters also have a selection of skills: administration, arc gun, automatic weapon, battle armor, blade, cudgel, gambling, golum armor, handgun, medical, melee, mining, programming, rifle, street (wisdom), and throwing. As with most games, I suspect that some of these skills will turn out to be useless. So far, I can't see any advantage to specializing in melee combat skills when you have guns, but perhaps there's a place later where they become important.
You can't control anything about the beginning statistics and skills of the characters you recruit, though you can just keep searching for recruits until you find one who has the stats you want. And you can assign their names. My new party leader is a 42-year-old ex cop named Gideon with skills in handguns, rifles, melee fighting, cudgels, and battle armor. He's strong in agility and stamina, though a little weak in might. In due course, I supplemented him with Richter, an ex-marine with skills in automatic weapons, melee combat, and rifles; Melina, a woman with skills in administration and "street knowledge"; and Cohaagen, an ex-miner with skills in gambling and mining. I wanted to start with someone with medical or programming skills, but I wasn't able to find someone at the outset.
As you adventure, you learn and improve skills at training academies, universities, and hospitals. I haven't found a way to improve weapons skills yet, but I suspect that's done in the "war room" once I find a way to get access.
To train, you have to spend both money and accumulated experience points, but the game hides the specific experience point figure. It just tells you that a character is "eager to learn" whenever he can train. Other than this occasional training, there doesn't seem to be any "leveling up." I suspect this makes it less painful to replace slain party members later.
|Gideon's statistics and gear after a few hours of play. Nice dot-matrix printers they have in the 23rd century.|
It soon became clear that characters get individual experience for combat, and since Gideon and Richter had weapons and Melina and Cohaagen had no skills to use weapons, they were never leveling up (which means I could never train them in weapons skills). I eventually dumped them and replaced them with two characters--Benny and Lori--with existing weapons skills, figuring it would be easier to train them in non-combat skills than for non-combat characters to get enough experience to train in weapons skills.
|In fact, mining costs hardly anything to learn.|
Titan is presented as a "frontier" world being developed by an oppressive corporation called Paramount Mining, Inc. The manual, presented as a Visitor's Guide to Titan, reveals that when humans first visited in 2042, they were overjoyed to find a diverse variety of life forms--joy that turned to horror when they were slaughtered by some of them. Paramount Mining established a colony on Titan to mine SOL-R-GARD, a hydrocarbon that absorbs radiation, and populated it largely with ex-convicts. Some of these have escaped to the surface, found some way to survive, and are known as Nomads.
|So far, I've explored the surface only briefly.|
In general, it's a good setup, and one that doesn't hand-wave the difficulties associated with living in on a moon two years from earth, with an average temperature of -180 degrees and a nitrogen/methane atmosphere. There are hints of conspiracies and secrets to discover, and I look forward to seeing how the game's plot unfolds.
Several quests become available immediately in Primus. Someone has broken into the university and stolen a "specimen" and the police are willing to pay 20,000 credits for anyone who can identify the culprits. An escaped convict named Phelos Fletcher has fled Primus to the surface. Cybil Graves, the owner of a munitions shop, is willing to pay 5,000 credits for me to deliver a "micro disk" to the leader of the Nomads and bring back a package. She gave me 1,000 up front, which helped me stock up on weapons. Computer terminals have other "classifieds" from other cities, but it costs at least 5,000 to get out of Praxis.
|My first quest.|
Not that I'll have much trouble getting that 5,000. Either we have another game with a broken gambling system, or I just got really lucky. There are gambling establishments in the city that offer "Cosmic Keno" and "Laser Slots." I haven't had a chance to experiment with keno yet, but when I walked into laser slots and dropped $17, I got three stars and won $8,500 on my first spin. I tried to work out the odds but the symbols seem randomly generated each spin, and in any event the player's "gambling" skill is supposed to come into play. Rather than keep testing things and risk ruining the game again, I decided to be thankful for my good fortune and spend the money on some decent armor. I bought vacuum suits so my characters could survive outside.
|I wish I had the luck in real life that I have in CRPG casinos.|
Navigation is through a 3D view. The city is abundant with shops, bars, gambling halls, computer terminals, hospitals, and other places to visit, though your options in each place of each type are limited to same selections, so there might as well have only been one of each.
|Buying weapons in the munitions store.|
As you wander around, there are random encounters with thugs, muggers, and hit men, as well as police officers and regular citizens, and for all of them you have the option to fight or decline. If you decline and the enemy is hostile, he might attack anyway.
Battle takes place on a top-down tactical map, and it's extremely similar to BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception, another Westwood/Infocom collaboration (more on that in a bit). You line up your attacks or item uses, execute, and watch as your party members duke it out with the enemies. You have the option to let the computer fight the battle, and if you do that, you can either watch or just find out the result. Weapons seem to have unlimited ammunition.
|Watching the computer fight for me. My characters are on the right.|
A few miscellaneous notes:
- The game has a pretty good automap, both on the main screen and in a larger view that you can access from the main menu.
- Characters with medical skills can heal themselves and each other in combat. In between combats, hospitals will heal for a charge.
- The game avoids one of the ways that players often cheat by preventing you from distributing credits until party members have been with the party for a while. You can't just recruit party members, steal their credits, and dump them.
|I found this out while legitimately trying to distribute credits among party members, incidentally.|
- Dead characters remain with the party until dropped off at a police station, bar, barracks, lounge, or restaurant. There is no resurrection, and combat is deadly enough that I suspect I'll go through a whole battalion of characters unless I relax my reloading standards.
Mines of Titan was originally published as Mars Saga for the Commodore 64 in 1988. Online documentation says that when it was released the following year for the Apple II and DOS, not only was the action moved to Titan, but it has more quests and creatures and slightly different details.
The game was developed by Westwood Associates and published by Infocom. Westwood has shown a spotty history with me so far. I thought Questron II and Hillsfar were mediocre, and BattleTech: The Crescent Hawk's Inception still makes me angry, especially having to type that misplaced apostrophe. Right now, Mines could go either way. By the next time I write, I expect I'll have solved some of the initial quests and I'll have a better sense of the game's quality.