Sunday, February 8, 2015

Hard Nova: Won* (with Final Rating)

It was sad to genocide the Typhons. They look kind of cute.
Hard Nova
United States
Spaceport Malibu (developer); Electronic Arts (publisher)
Released 1990 for DOS; 1991 for Amiga, Atari ST
Date Started: 24 January 2015
Date Ended: 7 February 2015
Total Hours: 19
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 36
Ranking at Time of Posting: 70% (118/169)
Ranking at Game #458: 349/458 (76%)
The main quest of the game turned out to be the defeat of the Typhon invasion. The Typhon are introduced in the prologue as denizens of a planet orbiting a dying star. They don't actually show up in the game until after the halfway point, though before that, the player encounters their probes wandering around the Four Systems and centering on the planet Rouyn. Eventually, one of your quests involves finding out where the probes are coming from (the miners on Rouyn incorrectly believe they were sent by "Desiree" scientists on the planet Tikkor). In the midst of that quest, the invasion begins in earnest, with probes replaced by battleships.

Every yellow (?) dot on the mini-map is a Typhon battleship.

It took  me a long time to figure that I needed to board one of the battleships to figure out their plans. I fought through three levels of the ship to find two data disks, unhelpfully written in the Typhon language.

Fighting Typhons on their own ship.

The Typhons turned out to be working with Damien Altron, the computer dictator of Ariel, whom I defeated by bringing a Lanta computer scientist to his main base. Once Altron's program was destroyed, I used his computer to decrypt the disks and figure out the Typhons' plan. It basically involved the Typhons taking over Rouyn while Altron took over the rest of the Four Systems to ensure their safety.

The Typhon gambit is spelled out in the translated data disks.

With the disks decrypted, the Desiree scientists helped me hatch a plan. The Bremer navigators, headquartered on an asteroid-ship near Rouyn, could use their skills with navigation and gravity to move one of the wormholes near a planet and send it hurtling into Typhon space. I could position this in such a way so as to ignite a gas cloud and give the Typhons a new sun (I was confused about the physics of this one), or in such a way as to accelerate the destruction of their existing sun. Feeling ugly about the game and not really liking the Nova character, I chose the "evil" option.

Nova picks up the "kill ROM" instead of the "save ROM."

The Bremer weren't anxious to assist me until, in the last and most inane quest of the game, I brought them some old lounge lizard and made them believe she was some "chosen one"--a prophesied human who could sing like the Bremer--that they had been looking for.

The galaxy's real hero.

Meanwhile, my boss, Gerard Kendall, convinced the Typhon invasion force that I was pursuing option one, which sent them all excitedly home. They arrived just in time to see their sun go supernova and destroy the entire race.

The game lets you keep playing after the ending, and you can have conversations with various NPCs about the morality of your actions. This is admittedly a nice feature, given that the standard of the era (and even today) is to head right for the DOS prompt once the end scenes conclude.

The mercenary leader questions my morality.

I also give the game credit for the choice of endings, another rarity. A YouTube series from "The Obscure Title LP's" let me see the "good" ending, which really only varies by one screen...

...and a couple of post-ending dialogues.

I'm skipping over a lot of stuff in the middle, including one sequence in which I needed to recruit a droid into my party and use the "scout" ability (in which a droid or Darcator separates from the main party) and take on a bunch of robots solo. I'm also skipping a bunch of NPCs that I recruited for absolutely no reason because they were redundant to both my ship crew and ground party.

I'm also skipping over a maze I had to navigate in which the barriers didn't appear until you tried to walk into them.
Hard Nova isn't actually very long in quest steps. The length is artificially padded by three factors. The first is the need to backtrack a lot to figure out what to do next. The next stage of a quest isn't always clear, so you find yourself flying around from planet to planet, re-talking to every NPC. For instance, after I had the data disks, it wasn't really obvious that I needed to return to Altron (who I thought I'd already defeated) to decode them. It also was pretty obscure that, at that point, I needed to go find the Desiree scientists to tell me what to do next. The last bit, where I had to bring the chain-smoking Orai Volamar to the Bremer, I might have never figured out. I barely remembered her from the first conversation I had with her. I confess I used a walkthrough to help me at that point; hence, the asterisk.

The second prolonging factor is the need to constantly return to shops to buy ammunition. Each character has an individual inventory and the party has a collective inventory, but both have a maximum and ammo goes quickly. I routinely had to leave an enemy base to go restock. I don't mind games that make you buy ammunition, but I hate games that make you buy ammunition and then give you a limited carrying capacity. I especially don't like that only certain stores stock certain ammo, meaning that you have to travel across entire star systems to find reloads.
The final problem was something I didn't experience until after the last posting: respawning. A few bases respawn every time you enter the SAVE screen, so you have to wipe them out all in one shot. But even if you manage that, the base will respawn when you switch levels or exit and re-enter, and some bases have to be traversed multiple times. Hard Nova's analog to the interminable raider base in Sentinel Worlds is Damien Altron's base, which I had to traverse four times, back and forth, wiping out a ridiculous horde of soldiers each time.

The length of the game (which isn't really that long in total) wouldn't bother me if I liked the mechanics better. The interface, with a confusing blend of numbers, letters, and F-keys, some annotated on the screen, some not, was a constant annoyance. The combat mechanics aren't just sophomoric (basically, you repeatedly hit ENTER) but actively evil, with the SPACE bar taking forever to cycle through dozens of enemies on screen, whether they're actually in range or not.
Of all the enemies on screen, the game targets one in a room I can't reach.
Most of these problems were also present in Sentinel Worlds. Hard Nova has a better plot, but it doesn't do any better than its predecessor in dialogue. This is particularly disappointing because I love dialogue choices in RPGs, and it's distressing when a game offers them but then makes them obnoxious and stupid. I don't want to roleplay a rude, loudmouthed idiot.

Let's see how this comes together in the GIMLET.

1. Game world. Perhaps the best part of the game. Hard Nova offers an interesting universe with a variety of races. They're broadly written but still fun. The plot developments aren't as good as Starflight but not nearly as amateurish as Sentinel Worlds. The world responds to the characters' actions, right through the post-main-quest period. Dialogue options change as the plot progresses, and the types of encounters and enemy ships vary depending on the world state. Score: 6.
Mercenary quests are sensibly suspended while the Typhons invade the sector.
2. Character Creation and Development. There's no "creation" in the game--just a selection between two characters, with no real consequences later on. Development consists of fairly frequent level-ups, which give you the ability to channel points into a variety of skills. There isn't much strategy associated with leveling, just your own preferences for weapons and ship positions, but leveling is rapid and the rewards are instantly palpable, making this a satisfying, if unsophisticated, system. Score: 4.

3. NPC Interaction. I have high praise for the mechanics but criticism for the content. I like full-sentence dialogue options, and this and Sentinel Worlds are two of less than five games to offer such options so far in my chronology. However, just as Bioware's dialogue choices are often criticized as boiling down to "angelically good" and "psychotically evil," the choices here often boil down to "needlessly obnoxious" and "boorishly idiotic."

You do learn a lot about the world from NPCs, and there are an interesting variety. I just wish the interaction had been less cartoonish. Score: 4.
One defining characteristic of Darcators is that they like to fly around and defecate on other races. Ho ho.
4. Encounters and Foes. There really aren't any puzzles in the game, and the enemies are just little interchangeable icons with no particular strengths or weaknesses. Their AI is ridiculous, essentially causing them to bumble around in a drunkard's walk during combat. There's plenty of respawning if you want to grind. Score: 2.

5. Magic and Combat. Another big F. Combat is simplistic and boring, and Hard Nova doesn't even have the "magic" that gave Sentinel Worlds a few more options. Keeping enemies on the other side of a door isn't my idea of tactical combat. Space combat isn't any more advanced, consisting primarily of hitting the "G" key as enemies zoom past you, and once you have the most advanced laser, even that happens automatically.  Score: 2.
Space combat is basically just flying around and letting the lasers fire automatically.

6. Equipment. Functional but not fantastic. There's a modest selection of weapons, armor, healing liners, and special items. For the ship, there are missiles and weapon upgrades. The book offers tables that explain how much damage they do, or protect against, which makes it relatively easy to evaluate items against each other. Score: 3.
Nova chooses her active weapon.
7. Economy. You need money for ammunition, equipment, fuel, repairs, and occasional plot points. The game makes it far too easy to earn money through smuggling missions, rendering it mostly a non-issue. Normally I'd complain about this, but I wouldn't have wanted to spend a lot of time grinding for cash anyway. Score: 3.
8. Quests. We're getting into "better" territory here. Hard Nova has a main quest that progresses in several stages. Early in the game, I had the impression that it would be an expedition-and-return structure, with Gerard Kendall handing out missions of increasing difficulty. But there are really only about five of these. Instead, each quest spirals into something more elaborate that goes well beyond Kendall's original mission instructions. Some of them aren't even resolvable.
Kendall makes an off-hand inquiry about a long-forgotten side quest.
The main quest has two possible outcomes, though they don't make a huge difference except for a little text. There are a couple of side quests, and more than a few side dungeons. Score: 5.
The party makes a fateful decision.
9. Graphics, Sound, and Interface. Adequate graphics. Sound effects are bare-bones and inseparable from annoying repetitive music every time you enter a new area, meaning I played with the sound off. As I said before, the interface is difficult and inconsistent. Among other things, I didn't even figure out how to use grenades until towards the end of the game. Score: 2.
The graphics arriving at planetary bases aren't so bad.
10. Gameplay. The GIMLET wraps up reasonably well. Although certain plot points have to occur in a specific order, there's a general sense of non-linearity. It's replayable only in the sense that you might want to try Stark or the other ending, but that's more than most games. The difficulty level and pacing are just about right. Score: 5.

This gives us a final score of 36--yet another 1990s game that can't crack the 30s. I'm actually surprised to see it score the same as Sentinel Worlds. I remember that game as being a little worse, though looking over my GIMLET for it, I guess it did have slightly more variety in monsters and a better economy.

Contemporary reviewers seemed to like it a little better. Dragon panned the game with only 5 out of 5 stars, but in the April 1991 Computer Gaming World, Scorpia considered it "much better than Sentinel Worlds," highlighting improved graphics, better story, and more interesting NPCs. She didn't have the same problem I did with the dialogue, which she describes as "on the snappy, wiseguy side," but she did criticize aspects of the interface (in particular, she agrees that targeting is an "aggravation when there are many opponents on screen").
Oddly, Ken St. Andre offered a review in the same issue in which he actually praises the music and, even more astonishingly, praises the way that enemies move about randomly in combat: "The program keeps track of positions of over 100 moving targets at all times, and continues moving them around without missing a beat." Contrasting it with Starflight, he opines that "ideally, a good space opera game should have the Hard Nova game graphics in the Starflight universe." I thought Starflight's graphics were just fine.
Karl Buiter will have one more chance with me: Sierra's Shadow of Yserbius (1993), his last game as designer. The screenshots look very different from Sentinel Worlds or Hard Nova; they actually look quite good--kind of a Might & Magic aesthetic. He has two other games as programmer after 1990--SpellCraft: Aspects of Valor (1992) and Casper: Friends Around the World (2000)--but neither are RPGs.
Fairly soon, we'll see if Space: 1889 can satisfy me in a way that neither MegaTraveller nor Hard Nova could, but in between we have a few other games. You may next see a posting on Moria, or I may postpone it yet again and skip right to Mike Riley's Quest for the Unicorn. Either way, we're one step closer to ending 1990.


  1. Dragon panned the game with only 5 out of 5 stars

    Hardy har har!

  2. You're not supposed to actually select the obnoxious dialogue options. They're just there for a laugh. Also, to parody other games of the times that offered earnest dialogue options.

    It would be nice to have some links to the Sentinel Worlds review because I'm too lazy to go to the search box. Or maybe the magazine reviews. ;) One says "Dragon panned the game with only 5 out of 5 stars" which would seem to be a good rating?

    1. I disagree on dialogue. There are plenty of cases in which BOTH selections are obnoxious, or in which the obnoxious one is the only way to take the dialogue in the direction that you want.

      The Dragon statement was a joke. While they didn't give 5/5 on every CRPG review, it definitely seems to be their modal rating, so there's no way, using the rating, to tell a good game from a bad one.

  3. The Magic and Combat item seems to trail off midsentence.

    1. Sorry about that. It was a late interpolation and I forgot to finish it.

  4. Why couldn't the Typhon have peacefully evacuated and settled upon other inhabitable worlds in the galaxy? Does every single planet have a strict anti-immigration policy?

    Congratulations on winning yet another questionable CRPG. I hope your future players aren't all as evil as this one was... :)

    1. Essentially, Damien Altron the evil AI leader of Ariel tricked them.

      He made first contact and told them the other planets would not help them. An then he told them they need to conquer the four systems for him.

      And because of the dying sun they were in a hurry.

    2. I don't think that theory is quite supported by in-game text. The translated bit of the Typhon plans says:

      "The only solution is to colonize a new planet in a new solar system. A number of unmanned probes were sent through the stargate, and they found a suitable wold in the system that lies beyond. It is inhabited, and it is connected via stargates to three other systems. To secure the planet we need, we must conquer all four systems. Our initial encounter led us to communicate with an alien called Damien Altron. If we help him conquer the adjoining three systems, he will insure our isolation and safety in the system we require."

      The wording IS a bit vague as to whether the probe met Altron before or after deciding that they needed to conquer all four systems, but the message doesn't say anything about Altron telling them that the other systems wouldn't help. Nor does it express any regret that the only suitable planet is already inhabited, nor any consideration of peaceful co-existence.

    3. Only such a short time and I couldn't tell what was in the game and what was my interpretation. While I still think my interpretation is one way how it could have happened, I must admit that the Typhons may be nastier than I thought.

      In the last paragraph of their plans they regret that they have to fight the war, but it possible that they only dislike the their own casualties.

    4. They seem pretty civilised, anyway, I think you went pretty far to the dark side this time...

    5. Yes, there's no way to morally justify that decision except to say that I decided Nova was an immoral character.

    6. Considering your character kills people for money, probably not that far off. But then again - nearly everyone seemed to be on each others throats at that setting.

  5. Odd just a few more gaming years and we get 92-94 and the last days of amiga and games start to get bigger, remember ultima underworld taking a whopping 8 megabytes of HD space and requiring a hefty 2megs of RAM. :)

    1. Looking forward to 1992 with Darklands, which CRPG Addict has never played. I suspect it will be another Uukrul moment, and may redefine the upper limits of Game World, Economy, and a couple other GIMLET categories. Not a perfect game, but very deep especially for its time.

    2. I wonder if he can produce a "WON!" posting for that game. XD

    3. I predict a "Screw it, this is the third time I've tried playing this damn game, but another save just corrupted itself. GIMLET to follow tomorrow."

  6. You probably "finished" the Lanta mission.
    In the second base there were two blue (non fighting) NPCs. They were the leaders of the two Lanta factions. When you talk to your client you learn that you were hired to keep the religious war going, not to end it as was originally claimed.

    You can decide to kill the two leaders or not. But as your client is not willing to pay for your services, the game railroads you to killing option.

    1. I think that I missed the fact that two NPCs were flashing blue amidst all the hostile red ones. I probably just fired on them without noticing.

    2. I accidentally shot General Rodgen before I talked to her.
      As I have no problem with cheating it was no major problem, but I would have liked to talk to her.

      The aiming system was really bad.
      And after some space grinding (everybody who is on a ship station [except hover] gets experience) and with the best weapons, the fighting was rather boring.

  7. The corniness of the dialogue could be a product of the time. I mean, Total Recall sounds a bit similar. It is the age of Schwarzenegger and Stallone after all.
    I am a bit surprised how short the games of these years sometimes were, at least the RPGs. Maybe they were able to make more complete games, but then they were short. And the simpler games were longer or something like that. In these years, until about 1994, quantity beat quality.
    I think I understand why it got good reviews. It is innovative, in a constructive way, even though it is still very limited and the length of the game is artificially enhanced. But it suffers greatly when compared to later games.

  8. What I played of Shadows of Yserbius I enjoyed, but I do have a piece of advice you should mark own your chart:

    Backup your game regularly. There is a corruption bug. I have no idea when or why it happens. It's very rare, but if it does happen you'll have to start the game over. I hit it at something like the 25 hour mark.

    1. Thanks. I'll find this comment in my pre-game search in a few years.

    2. Maybe since you are playing Quest for Glory and Shadows of Yserbius, you should try some of the other Sierra games, like Gabriel Knight, Police Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest, Freddy Pharkas, etc. They would be a nice change from playing Role Playing Games constantly, and would not reqquire action game skills.

      Police Quest is an odd favorite of mine: Usually I prefer unrealistic, imaginative fantasies, like the works of Nintendo, Taito, Capcom, Warren Spector, ID and Platinum, but somehow Police Quest makes following police procedure and gritty, relatively realistic worlds fun. Nintendo and Police Quest are like Ren and Stimpy and Mike Judge to me.

    3. No, he should not. That is, unless he has caught up with the entire list of CRPGs to play (which is "never").

    4. I'm inclined to agree with Kenny. I played some Sierra adventure games as a kid, so I have a little background in the genre.

    5. If you absolutely have to play a Sierra game, play King's Quest V. The desert will quickly cure you of your desire to play an adventure game, should that desire ever arise.

    6. If you really want to see those games reviewed, there is the Adventure Gamer blog ( ) that was inspired by Chet's blog.

  9. Noticed a couple of errors in your blog today, which is not something I usually see. Must have been in a hurry when you typed this one up, or you're just checking to see if we're paying attention...

    1) Under "Magic and Combat," you end with the sentence: "Space combat isn't any"

    I assume the word "better" was supposed to be at the end.

    2) Loved this one: "This gives us a final score of 36--yet another 1990s game that can't crack the 30s."

    Pretty sure that 36 does crack the 30s.

    3) This one has already been pointed out: "Dragon panned the game with only 5 out of 5 stars"

    Is it supposed to be 5 out of 10?

    1. The first one is a legitimate error and I fixed it.

      I suppose "crack" is a confusing term. Your assessment that it's an error means that to "crack" something means to enter or achieve it, whereas I was using it to mean "exceed" or "get out of."

      The last one was a joke about Dragon's inflated rating system.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thanks for the clarifications. Didn't realize the Dragon thing was a joke. And I can see where "crack" could have two meanings in the context.

      In reality, I guess you really only had one error, then. So, good job.

  10. Dragon gave Wing Commander 1 6/5 stars.

    Not only was that joke necessary, it was long overdue IMO.

    1. Wing Commander deserves a 6/5: Origin gave 110% and earned 120% in that series.

  11. "He has two other games as programmer after 1990--SpellCraft: Aspects of Valor (1992) and Casper: Friends Around the World (2000)--but neither are RPGs."

    Aww... come on, in Spellcraft, you role-play as the nephew of a planewalking archmage in contemporary England! How cool is that? The only thing cooler would be to make a CRPG using Neil Gaiman's American Gods as setting.

    1. Also, isn't The Shadow of Yserbius a MUD game? Are you going to include MMORPgs like Meridian 59 (in 1995) and Ultima Online (in 1997) next?

      How do you conclude if you have "Won!" in such cases?

    2. It's a MUD game with a single-player version. I am otherwise not playing persistent universe games.

    3. I wasn't aware you could play Shadows of Yserbius outside of TSN/INN. I recall liking the game. My friend Richard Aronson wrote a sequel using the same engine, Ruins of Cawdor, based loosely on Hamlet.

    4. I don't know either. I was more a Neverwinter Nights guy.

    5. I loved TSN/INN as a kid, I stuck mainly to playing Boogers and Red Baron, but I did play Shadow of Yserbius and its companion game, The Fates of Twinion. I pretty much graduated to Sierra Online's 'The Realm' once AT&T bought INN and stuck with that until 2002.

      There were always good times when you were hanging with Sierra in the 90's.

  12. Congratulations on beating this!
    It does sound gawdawful, I have my deepest respect for your stamina and willpower :)

    Chet: Human Mage
    Int: 18
    Wis: 18
    Con: 18

    Rest TBD :D

    1. He definitely has more willpower than I do. Once again, this blog has saved me the trouble of playing a game that I probably would have hated.

      It takes a lot of energy to push through games, especially if you don't 100% enjoy them. I'm not sure how you do it.

    2. I tell you, it's these mediocre ones that are the toughest. If I truly hate a game, I still have fun posting about it, just as I do if I really like a game. But 1990 has just offers title after title that serves up stale, mediocre nonsense, which is particularly painful after we've seen what's possible with Ultima VI and the Gold Box series.

      I'm actually having quite a bit of fun with Moria now, which was 7 years old in 1990.

  13. I saw a couple of videos of another terrible R.P.G. with laughably childish dialogue and awful characterization: Bound by Flame. Bound by Flame is a ripoff of The Witcher, but instead of the awesomeness of the first game, it is almost as bad as the sequel. Every time a character speaks, he sounds like the Mary Sue of an angry middle schooler. All of the characters might as well be elves, because they just that arrogant and selfish, and the dialogue is so blunt that subtlety is impossible. It might be a trainwreck if the combat did not look so boring.

    1. Were those the Loading Ready Run Graham and Paul Let's Play videos? Or have their been multiple let's plays of that game? It didn't look qiute as bad as you said to me; some of the NPCs were quite interesting. Ok, one of (the undead who hates getting confused with the undead invading the realm.) That ending and those choices though.... those made the ending of ME3 look good.

  14. I'm kinda surprised you managed to win considering you didn't abuse the robomaze to become a god-like killing machine. The trick is that there's multiple levels to it of increasing difficulty (and experience for killing the robots) but you have to find secret walls to get there. By the time I left the robomaze, both Nova and her navigator had maxed out combat skills, which is a tad unbalanced. Also unbalanced is the idea of giving you a skill whose purpose is to give you more skillpoints - pumping that while grinding the robomaze is how I made my ascension happen.

    That said, Hard Nova felt broken to me, neigh unplayable in places due to difficulty in getting the emulation speed right. I know you weren't big into Sentinel Worlds, but the balance there was a lot better.

  15. How in the world DO you use grenades???

  16. >> I could position this in such a way so as to ignite a gas cloud and give the Typhons a new sun (I was confused about the physics of this one).

    Let me put my master degree in astrophysics to use. A star (also known as sun) is born when interstellar dust is compressed by gravity until it becomes extra-hot. Science fiction now: if a wormhole acts as a "vacuum cleaner", you could put it in the middle of an interstellar dust cloud (a nebula) to start the compression. Remove it when the dust got sufficient "falling acceleration" towards the central point, and sooner or later you will get your new star.


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