Wednesday, January 7, 2015

MegaTraveller: The Journey Re-Begins

A little red splotch denotes my first successful combat.

I'm happiest in an RPG when I can develop some kind of plan. I don't want to be on a linear track--I love open-world RPGs--but I do prefer when I can at least identify a path through the next X hours of the open world. I want to settle into a system and know that I'm making some progress towards a goal. It's easy for me to abandon a game when I can't identify the game's overall structure and thus don't quite know what I'm going to do next.

Usually, after about 2-3 hours, I get a sense of the game's general layout and can then start anticipating my next move. That's the point at which the game becomes addictive. Whether the next move is obvious (such as progressing to the next level in Captive or mapping the next set of squares in Wizardry) or a matter of player choice (such as deciding from among half a dozen quests or leads in Pool of Radiance or Ultima VI) determines my enjoyment of the game, but it's less important to my compulsion to keep playing a game. Ultimately, I suspect I'll decide that MegaTraveller is a better game than Wizardry III or Dragon Sword, but right now I have to summon the willpower to open a session of MegaTraveller when I had no trouble convincing myself to fire up the other two. Right now, several hours into MegaTraveller, I still have no idea what the game wants from me, and every time I open it, I sit there staring at the screen, wondering what I should do.

Rolling a new guy.
           
For whatever reason, I decided to start completely over, though I don't know that I did much better with party creation than the first time. I did end up getting 4/5 of my characters skilled with laser weapons, and 3/5 actually armed with laser pistols (thanks to their post-enlistment benefits). I think I also did better with their careers. Four retired as officers--the highest a Navy lieutenant commander. In terms of skill selection, I think I wound up about the same, perhaps a little worse since the skills aren't ideally grouped by character. For instance, skills like "carousing," "interview," "streetwise," and "trader" are spread out among four characters instead of centralized in one "Face" character. I don't know if this even matters. As before, no one got Travelers' Aid Society membership. I don't know how you get that.

As before, I fled from the first combat and quickly explored the main area of Efate, purchasing vacuum suits and oxygen tanks this time. I followed a suggestion from Gaguum to rent an ATV and plow over the attackers, which worked satisfyingly well for a few of them. Looting their bodies afterwards, I found a laser rifle and gave it to one of my characters with high laser skill.

Equipping a character with a vacuum suit.
    
The ATV did no damage to a few of the guys in the wilderness. One was a bounty hunter I didn't see (or didn't notice) in my first game; he said that Keefer had placed a price on my head. Also, by running over the enemies, I "damaged" the ATV, so when I returned it, I lost my $4,000 security deposit.

I tried fighting the bounty hunter in regular combat. I at least got my characters to fire at him (not sure what the problem was before), but I couldn't kill him without losing at least two of my own people in the process, so I decided to save him for later. Combat remains another huge complaint I have about the game. I rather prefer games that start you off with a couple of easy combats so you can get used to the interface, not games that offer impossible combats right in the starting area. I suppose I could suck up the loss of the two characters and just go roll new ones.

Plowing into an enemy with my ATV.
          
Next, I rented a "grav vehicle" to explore the "gravitic city" part of the planet. This time, no one attacked me in the bar. The bartender gave me a quest to return a stolen pendant, but I'm not sure where to find it.

Near the bar, I found the weapon shop, where I stocked up on ammo. Further along was an "information shop" that sold rumors for $2,000 each.

The information shop.

I didn't want to splurge on all of them just yet, but I bought the first one, which said that "Efrate's atmosphere is tainted with destructive gases and chemicals that are emitted from a strange, explosive plant life that grows in the planet's swampy regions." This seems to refer to an area in the southeast part of the map in which plants do explode and deal damage when I walk on them. I'm not sure if there's anything to actually do with this information.

Am I supposed to kill these plants or something?

Next up: navigation, jump, and take-off programs for the ship. I loaded up on cargo (someone had suggested water, which sold for $100 a unit) and took off. I landed on nearby Stur and sold the water for $240 a unit, which netted me a $2,800 profit. Subtracting the $1000 in fuel that the trip cost me, if I do this 1,111 times, I should have the $2 million I need for the "Jump 2" drive.

Loading up on cargo. Apparently, I can only carry 20 of anything at a time.

In the bar on Stur, an NPC indicated that she'd be amenable to a bribe. I gave her some money and she told a twisted version of what happened in the bar on Efate, in which my party is a "rogue band of pirates" who nearly gunned down Konrad Kiefer. Assassins and bounty hunters are now looking for me. Stur also had an information store.

Given how ineptly I've been bumbling about, the assassins and bounty hunters must not be very good if they haven't found me.

I next visited Solon, in the same system, where I got to use my new vacuum suits to survive in the atmosphere. Outside, I immediately got into a gun battle with an alien representative of SMIRK, "the most powerful criminal society in the area." After some effort, I was able to kill him, but there were a bunch of other guys wandering around, so I eventually backed off.

By "the area," do you mean just this little corner of the spaceport? Or an entire planetary system? It's a pretty vague term when you have faster-than-light travel.
    
Next up was a visit to the small planet called San, which had virtually no services in the spaceport. I explored the planet and wandered into a facility where one NPC told me that it was a restricted area and another told me that because of something I had done (walked in?) "this whole place is going to blow!" Despite the alarm, nothing happened and it didn't seem like there was anything to do on the planet.

This NPC was apparently just messing with me.

Kra had a cave that I couldn't explore because I didn't have any source of light. On Llun, I encountered another bounty hunter and managed to kill him, but for my troubles I just got his ID and a medkit. I also found a "power pick" lying on the ground. There were some mines that I couldn't enter because I wasn't "company personnel."

Trading shots with the bounty hunter. I'll blog  more about combat when I understand it better.

At this point, in summary, I'm just flying from planet to planet, logging what I find. The problem is that I'm going backwards in development. Fuel, oxygen, and ammo cost money, and I'm just expending all three with no real payoff. (I suppose if I eventually just run out of everything, I can start a new party and outfit it with this party's notes.) At the same time, I'm not getting anywhere with character development, since the MegaTraveller system doesn't have experience points or levels. All I can do is hope that I'll occasionally increase a level in "laser pistols" or my other various skills.

The tone of this review probably conveys how lackluster I feel about the game. Unfortunately, Hard Nova doesn't strike me as any better, so I might reach further down the list to find something more addictive to play in between MegaTraveller sessions.


55 comments:

  1. I have boxed copies of MegaTraveller 1 and 2 and was hoping to sell them on eBay, but your review of the first game seems to indicate I'm not going to be finding many interested buyers.

    This game sounds as if it could have borrowed some Starflight game mechanics and been better off for it.

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  2. You can get travellers guild membership on character creation it's one of the perks given to you.

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    1. I never see it anywhere. Do you mean it's one of the "skills" or one of the retirement benefits?

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    2. It's a benefit. Probably listed as "TAS" in the tables.

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  3. I'd be a shame to miss Hard Nova, it's a much tighter game than MegaTraveller 1 or 2. I played it around 2003 and I found it to be a bit clunky in some areas, but overall it was well made compared to other titles from that era. I'll just say that it actually has a tutorial(ish) area, so it is much less frustrating to learn ground combat and there is a pretty simple quasi-exploit to grind for levels in the early game if you are finding you don't have the skill points to compete.

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    1. I've been looking forward to Hard Nova. It's been a terribly long time, but I distinctly recall enjoying the game until I managed to kill an "unkillable" NPC and thereby completely broke the game. Couldn't proceed without that NPC. Developers commented they never expected someone to try killing him in the way I managed it. That ended it there for me but I enjoyed it up to that point. Need to find it and get it running again, I think.

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    2. I have fond memories of Hard Nova as well. I recall it was not a particularly hard game, but I also recall I never completed it. I played it on the Amiga and recall getting very close to the end, on an enemy ship, but then not knowing what to do from there, or trying to do something that the game wasn't allowing because it was not working correctly... I forget which it was.

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  4. Since this uses the Traveller rules, it probably uses the same combat system. All skills are basically challenges against 2d6 rolls.

    Shooting Attack = 2d6 + Gun Combat (appropriate specialty) or Heavy Weapons (appropriate specialty) + Dexterity DM

    Default success should be making an 8 or better. Skills can be improved multiple times (Lasers - 2 would add 2 points to the chance to hit).

    There should also be an option to aim for a round (+1 bonus per round, maximum 6). Distance is potentially a penalty, as would be cover. You can also try to drop prone (smaller target for them shooting back).

    http://www.travellersrd.com/content/official/mongoose_traveller_srd/combat.html

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    1. This is MEGATraveller and not Traveller. If this uses the MEGATraveller rules it will use the Simple(3+), Routine(7+), Difficult(11+), Formidable(15+) on 2D6 + dexterity modifier + weapon skill. The actual task is:

      (Difficulty), Weapon , Dex, Movement DM, 1 combat round (absolute)

      Difficulty is based on weapon type and distance.
      I don't know how close to the table top rules the computer version follows.

      Sandy.

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  5. I'm kinda bummed this is turning out to be such a lacklustre game. Traveller is one of my favorite tabletop RPG systems, and it always seemed to be a natural fit for computer implementation.

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    1. The sequel is better made, but it wasn't until Twilight:2000 that Paragon got a decent handle on converting P&P RPGs to CRPGs?

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    2. I remember trying Twilight 2000 back in the day and not being able to figure out how to do anything. I just recall some kinda infinite driving screen and getting shelled from across the map.

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    3. Vehicular was one of the weaknesses in the game. During fast travel, you could be interrupted by a random encounter with an enemy tank. You might be able to take two hits before blowing up. Typically, you would try to hit them first, fail and take a hit, then pile out of the tank onto the ground combat map well out of range of the tanks MG then call in an anti-tank character and then dispatch the tank with a TOW or such. Then you'd have to repair the tank and repeat two or three times if you are driving across the map.

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  6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. According to the hintbook the best way to make money is bounty hunting.

    Also according to the hintbook if you add up all the bounties in the game it comes up to 1.3 million credits.

    You might want to quite while you're ahead.

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    Replies
    1. WTF? So, even after eradicating every single hardened criminal with a price on their head in the game, Chet will still come short of 0.7 million credits to get where he wants?

      What kind of trash is this?

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    2. And you need the "Jump 2" drive for half of the bounties.

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    3. Sigh...I guess I'm settling in for a series of cargo trading missions, then. I'll be happy to take any Netflix binge-watching suggestions while I do so.

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    4. If you want gritty police/crime (my genre of choice): The Wire, The Shield, Southland, Fargo.

      If you want something a bit lighter/funnier: Elementary, Community, Psych

      If you want something awesome and Australian: 'Rake'

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    5. Of that list, only Psych and Rake are actually on Netflix.

      I'd recommend Breaking Bad, Peaky Blinders, Arrow, Twin Peaks, Sherlock, The Fall, etc.

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    6. huh. I thought Netflix was more magical than that.

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    7. If you go to Netflix with the idea that you want to watch television or maybe a movie and just kind of browse through what happens to be available, they're great. I have a queue of a couple hundred items I've the vague intent of someday watching assembled in just such a fashion. If you go to Netflix with the intent of watching something specific (especially if it's an HBO or Cinemax show, since they have their own streaming service instead), 9 times out of 10 you'll be out of luck.

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    8. It may be a little spoillerish, so I coded it :) (ROT-13):

      Univat orngra gur Nzvtn irefvba, n pbhcyr bs qrpnqrf ntb, V erzrore perngvat n arj zrepunag punenpgre. Vs zl punenpgre fheivirq nyy gur grezf, naq ergverq nsgre n fhpprfshyy pnerre, bar bs gur orarsvgf jnf n fpbhg fgnefuvc, jbegu arneyl 1.000.000 perqvgf. V znantrq gb perngr n pbhcyr bs gurz :).

      The Amiga version has better interface than the PC. There is also a handy "Active Pause" button, when your team brakes, not unlike the Infinite Engine games. (You can give fire & move orders to your teammembers, while the game is paused).


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  8. I bought and played this game as a teen. I was suckered by the box art that seemed to promise a stat and ability driven sci-fi rpg. My memories of the game are vague after more than two decades but I remember how stupid the combat was. It was a realtime button mashing mess. My guess was the developer tried to produce a game based on the tabletop and realized it neither had the skills or vision to pull it off.

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  9. The game might be a mess but your review is really entertaining once you imagine the game as being a piece of existentialist or dadaist art. Especially the latter part of this post which basically repeats "I went to [place] and did [something which led to nothing]" reminds me of Camus.

    P.S. Sorry you have to endure this game. I'm a big fan of Traveller the Pen and Paper RPG and it is disappointing to see them mess up this franchise so badly.

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  10. This description reminds me of the 'good' old days, when I was around 12 years old or so, only knew basic school english, and played tons of pirated games on my Amiga. These games obviously came without manual so I didn't know what to do, I didn't know all I could do, or how to do it (which buttons to press). So I pushed all buttons and clicked on everything and either I got a sense of what this all was about, or I put the game away.

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  11. Oh yeah...those were the days...

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  12. The manual was the best part of the game. I googled it and it brought back memories. Spiral bound manual over 100 pages. Just google megatraveller 1 manual and you can see a off example. Imagine the disappointment after reading the manual and playing the actual game.

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    1. If thick manuals are your thing; Koei's war/history simulations (100+ pages), Civilization (200+ pages) and Jane's Fighters Anthology (300+ pages) will slake your thirst.

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    2. The Falcon 4.0 manual was pretty beefy, was essential to learning to play the game (just learning how to designate a target with the radar took two or three pages), and the commercial rerelease only gave you a PDF of it. Did I mention that it was expected to be consulted in-flight?

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    3. Jane's flight sims are totally insane. I seriously don't see many people enjoying it unless they are hardcore flight enthusiasts.

      Perhaps it might see some use by actual pilots or terrorists training for some suicide missions.

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    4. I forget the name of it, but there's an A-10 simulator that's just about a realistic as actually flying one. I recall a review stating that it takes the in-game GPS unit 15 real-time minutes to synchronize, because that's how long it takes with the real jet.

      Incredible attention to detail, but a very niche product. I don't have 15 minutes in my life any longer to wait for such a thing.

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    5. My favourite manuals: F-19 stealth fighter; Civ series; Fallout 1&2.

      Honorable mentions: HoMM 3,Warcraft 2, Eye of the Beholder

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    6. Funny part is that civ's don't really need manual, not even for copy protection I was so hooked on that game that I never had any problem with the copy protection.

      I played apache long bow from jane's and that game didn't really need a manual either, it really depends on whether it's a "game" or an actual simulation, though I had picked gunship pretty clean by the time I Jane's lonbow apache came to market so apache's weapon and other systems were pretty familiar by design to me by then.

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    7. The A-10 sim you're thinking of is DCS:A-10.

      Interesting story about it... Eagle Dynamics is the Russian company that makes the DCS titles. DARPA paid a U.S. contractor money that went to Eagle Dynamics to modify one of their existing flight sim games to make a low cost desktop trainer for the U.S. Air Force. How the hell they got the ITAR approval so the Russians could develop such an accurate sim is beyond me. After completing the project, Eagle Dynamics repackaged it as a commercial product to sell to the public. That's why you practically have to be an A-10 pilot to fly it, because it was designed to train them.

      tl;dr U.S. taxpayers gave a Russian company money to make a flight sim that they turned into a commercial game.

      Source: I worked on software that communicated with the A-10 sim.

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    8. I guess sim games, no mater what they're simulating, share one common trait: manuals you can stop a bullet with.

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    9. Personally I like The Magic Candle's manual the best, though I recall Guild of Thieves being pretty funny as well.

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  13. What is wrong with Hard Nova, anyway? You've given rather unflattering image of the game on few occasions but never revealed why it is so.

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    1. Oh, I should have kept my mouth shut. I haven't gotten far enough into it to decide if it's good or bad. For whatever ineffable reason, I'm just having a hard time getting started with it.

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  14. It's possible it's on my end, but this site keeps redirecting to some "consumer news" site automatically.

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    1. Is this happening on a regular browser or a mobile browser?

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    2. Never mind. Started happening to me, too. I turned off the ads; if anyone gets a re-direct after this post, let me know.

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  15. No, it's not just you because the same thing happens to me. I suspect its triggered by one of the ads.

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  16. This is the second CRPG after Knights Of Legend to display equipped garments graphically.

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    1. A small touch that I greatly miss every time it is absent. At least it's a much easier (and cheaper) thing to depict in 3D than with sprites.
      I love the first Diablo, but it's disappointing that your character doesn't really show what they're wearing. Three sprites per character, one per armor type. That's largely what you get for most of the 90's.

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    2. I'm currently replaying Silent Storm. One of the many positives include full and detailed display of equipment. Of course, those neat-looking ammo pouches won't save you when stuff starts exploding. And it will.

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    3. It annoys me to no end that Ultima 7 shows what weapon you're using, but any shield you equip is simply invisible.

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  17. As an undergrad who uses your blog as leisure reading while doing assignments, it kills me when it takes more than 2-3 days for a new post. Awww, Chet, I know you have a life, but the suspense is killing me!
    If only I hadn't read all of the previous posts over the past year...
    - Smash

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. You could check out what those "advgamer.blogspot.com" Adventure Game Addicts have to say in the meantime, if you want.

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    3. I tihnk these next games will be a slog for Chet. He's probably trying to win Moria at the moment.

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    4. Chet is trying to win "catch up on work" at the moment. Unfortunately, 2015 is probably going to be my busiest year EVER professionally, and blog posts are more likely to be once every 5-7 days than once every 2-3 days.

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    5. Cheers to your success and wishing you early financial freedom for our entertainment's sake!

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    6. That's actually the goal: make as much money as possible this year so I can scale back and do more of what I want in subsequent years.

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    7. Yes, that's not bad at all, for you. Congrats!

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