Friday, February 27, 2015

Space 1889: Roleplaying Belloq

The five-member party bravely takes on the single member of a German archaeological team.

Space 1889 is turning into a giant treasure hunt in which one clue leads to another, and that one to another, ultimately to some distant goal that's left nebulous given that the party solves the instigating adventure within the first few hours.
When we last left the game, my party was in New York, which had an Army office, an inn, a pawn shop, a tavern, and a weapon shop. I found Hans Ogleby at the inn and gave him the "London Report." He told me that he was the wrong person to speak to, that Nathaniel Johanssan in San Francisco was the guy funding the expedition to King Tut's tomb. He suggested I speak to Johanssan to see if he would "permit me to join the excursion," which is not what I was after at all, but whatever. Ogleby gave me a letter of introduction to give to Johanssan.

In the Army office, I found a "Doctor Vincent Buembats," who offered to train me in medicine if I brought him a new doctor's bag. Since I had just purchased one from a pawn shop a few moments earlier, I gave it to him and was rewarded with a 1-point skill increase in medicine. This type of character development is probably all I can expect from the game, as you don't get any experience from combat or otherwise employing your skills.

Time to go to San Francisco! Let's check out the journey:

I just walked across the country in 10 seconds. Even in the game's internal clock, it only took 5 days to walk from New York to San Francisco. The entire North American continent is about 15 squares wide and consists of New York, San Francisco, Teotihuacan, and some random shops. At last, folks, we have a game that's less realistic in its geography than Ultima II.

San Francisco was indistinguishable from New York or London except that there were numerous entrances to caves. There, the game simulated the famous Gold Rush (of like four decades prior) by allowing me to interact with other miners (sample dialogue: "We don't need another gold-digger around here. Why don't you beat it?") and dig at random places on the floor for a cash reward.

Ah, the famous caves of San Francisco.
Nathaniel Johanssan said I was too late; he'd already funded the German expedition. But he gave me a map of the excavations and told me to head to Egypt.

Blowing open a wall with dynamite--the way real archaeologists do.
The "City of Egypt" contained a few buildings and an expanse of desert. At the far south of the desert, I found an entry into a tomb. I couldn't get very far into the tomb--just a couple of corridors--until it occurred to me to try using my dynamite on one of the walls. Even then, I kept blowing up my own characters with the dynamite, until I realized that a character with a high "Engineering" skill needed to be the one to set it off.

On the other side of the wall, I met some unhappy Germans.

I guess he's evil because he's a "henchman."
I had to kill about three of them in combat. Ultimately, one of them had a note indicating that we were in a "false tomb" and the real tomb was 14 paces south from "the Eye of the Desert." (Why were the Germans still in the false tomb, then?) Returning to the desert, I found a sand formation that could reasonably be called the "eye," walked 14 paces south, dug, and found the entrance to another tomb. (Given that there were people in it, why did I have to dig for it?)

What is this supposed to be? A hatch? A manhole cover?
Inside, I killed maybe 5 more Germans, including the leader of the expedition. Johanssan's map led me to dig at the location of a secret stairway to King Tut's real tomb.

There, I was rewarded with a pile of "King Tut's jewels" plus a stone tablet with a map of the solar system. This was a bit of a mystery.

Anyway, my party basically just ambushed and killed a legitimate archaeological expedition, blasted through ancient walls with dynamite, and stole priceless treasures that ought to be in a museum. We also stole a priceless mask from a museum and gave it to Heinrich Schliemann for $240,000. I don't think we're the good guys of this universe.

Heinrich, if you ever get to Troy, here's some advice: dynamite!

The treasure hunt continued. In Egypt, a woman named Mary needed a "fever serum" that I finally found at a doctor's office in London. She gave me a message to bring to Alfred Hobbs in New York. He, in turn, gave me a set of lockpicks that he had crafted to open a tomb in "one of the pyramids in Mexico." Off to Teotihuacan we went, where we solved a puzzle that would take longer to describe than it's worth in order to reveal the lost location of Atlantis, behind a wall that I needed to, you guessed it, blow open with dynamite. Yes, in this game, finding Atlantis is a small step in the main quest path.

My favorite part about this process was the "map of the Latin America shore." Unless I misunderstand the term, I'm pretty sure the "Latin America shore" includes both coasts of Mexico, Central America, and South America, not to mention several Caribbean islands. Of course, in this game, that's about seven tiles.
Preparing to blast a hole in a fairly obvious place.

It took me a while to figure out that we all needed to be equipped with "water-breathers" to reach Altantis. Once I arrived, I was greeted in the most boring manner possible by the Atlantians.

I can't understand a German without a bunch of gibberish on the screen, but ancient Atlantians speak perfect English.

Somewhere in Atlantis, I found the tomb of Captain Alonzo Quinton, one of the "five legendary Red Captains," who must be a big deal in the tabletop game setting but aren't mentioned at all in the manual for the CRPG.

That's a lot of decomposition for two months.

The tomb wasn't ancient: the Atlantians releated that Quinton had visited them just a couple of months ago, looking for "a set of sacred manuscripts written by our remote ancestors" that "existed long before Poseidon punished [the Atlantians] for their arrogance and betrayal." Unfortunately, the captain died when he was unable to survive in the highly-pressurized oxygen atmosphere of the city, something that didn't seem to bother my characters at all. Quinton's notes said that if he could find the scrolls, "the mystery in Angkor will be solved."

The Atlantian scrolls, recovered from Quinton's tomb, translated the stone tablet I had found with King Tut. The translation refers to Tutankhamen as "God King of the Stars, sent to rule Egypt by an immortal race of supreme beings whose kinship to the Earth and its people is everlasting." It went on to say that since his job on Earth was finished, his spirit could journey to the stars and "once again drink from the Fountain of Immortality and Ultimate Wisdom" or some nonsense.

You don't suppose that the Fountain of Immortality and Ultimate Wisdom is the main quest of the game, do you?

The Atlantians turned hostile on the way out--they wanted us to stay and teach them about Earth or something. After a few pointless battles (all battles are pointless with no experience or character leveling), I just started walking past them and managed to reach the exit alive. They shot at me, but it doesn't really matter, since healing is so trivial in the game. You just enter the "Cure" screen, select a character to perform the doctoring, and select the patient. Sometimes, the action doesn't restore the character to full health, but you can immediately do it again.

Off, then, to Angkor, where the scrolls translated the carvings on a stone altar: "For the valiant in mind, body, and spirit, the secrets of life, wisdom, and immortality lie hidden in the bowels of the sacred companion of the Red Cyclops." I don't know what that means, but red is generally associated with Mars, and I've already explored everything on Earth. I guess it's time for the game to live up to its title.

Translating a stone tablet in Angkor. If you were going to pick only 6 cities to exist on Earth in 1889, one would certainly be the capital of Cambodia.

During this process, it became clear, in a kind of ex post facto way, that perhaps my merciless slaughter of the German archaeological expedition was somewhat justified. According to one NPC, the Germans "are out to conquer the universe." Look, I'm all aboard with making the Nazis villains of films and games, but I'm not sure it makes sense to demonize "the Germans," especially in a game set in 1889. Granted, the Second Reich was a bit imperialistic, but so was almost every European power of the time.

The funny thing is that the setting has some natural villains. Reader BronzeBob wrote with some additional information about the Space 1889 setting, including that the Confederacy won the Civil War after Lincoln died of an illness in 1862, so slavery was never abolished. The game's villains could have easily been CSA expansionists looking to extend the slave system off-world.

Using the water-breather lets us walk on the water.

In content, Space 1889 feels much more like an adventure game than an RPG, and not a particularly good one. Only a few puzzles have required more than a moment's thought, and almost all of them have been solved with dynamite. So far, I've seen little need for the various skills that the game assigns to the characters, but maybe that will change when I finally get to space.

Time so far:  7 hours
Reload count: 2*
*Only 2, but one was a whopper. I had just blown open the wall to Atlantis and didn't realize that one of my characters had been caught and killed in the explosion (I guess "detonite" is a lot more powerful than dynamite). It was several saves later before I realized I was toting around a dead guy, and the only other saves I had were from before visiting Egypt. I ended up replaying a huge part of the game. That's why I finished up in Angkor at 308 days when some of the earlier shots from Teotihuacan show me in the 400s.


  1. "Translating a stone tablet in Angkor. If you were going to pick only 6 cities to exist on Earth in 1889, one would certainly be the capital of Cambodia."

    Well, Angkor, or Angkor Wat, is not most famous for being a capital...

    1. Nor being a city. It's huge, yes, with a moniker of "Temple City" but it's no bigger than a small town, really. Then again, I'll bet it's bigger than in-game London. XD

  2. "Only a few puzzles have required more than a moment's thought, and almost all of them have been solved with dynamite." Really, though, how many problems are there that *can't* be solved with dynamite?

    If at first you don't succeed, you need a bigger bomb.

    1. The video story of the Crazy Horse memorial in South Dakota is titled "Dynamite and Dreams" and is gratuitously filled with explosions. As a film it's informative but not terribly exciting, but the title is one of my favorites of all time. Can't go wrong with dynamite.

    2. The Canadian band "The Arrogant Worms" has a song I feel is relevant:

    3. Very typical of the period in Canadian music; they were from the same period as The Barenaked Ladies and a few others, doing silly, fun, comedy music.

    4. Ahh, the M:tG card was named for the band, not the other way around.

  3. Solving problems with high explosives has to get a couple extra bonus points on the GIMLET.

    Oh, and historically? The Second Reich was viewed as a competitor and disruptor that was going to start a major war. Besides, I'm sure the designers weren't too picky. Antagonists? Germans. "But they're not Nazis!" "Meh, we're doing the Indiana Jones thing, kill them and players won't even frown, Nazi shmatzi."

    One of the things that utterly ticks me off about cool-looking games like this is how they offer all these skills - and then the game never uses them. It's the same thing every time, they start off with grand ideas and surprise surprise, it turns out to be a lot of hard work. Then they start cutting corners until the they ship the damn game. It happens again and again.

    1. By "was viewed" you mean in 1990, when the game was released? This is so depressing. Not too picky indeed. At some point I will be shot by people not too picky.

    2. Yeah, There's definitely a problem with making any nationality the enemy.

  4. At least it seems to have a quick pace.

  5. "and stole priceless treasures that ought to be in a museum"

    They 'ought' to be wherever Egyptians preferred them to be, you cultural imperialist!

    "If you were going to pick only 6 cities to exist on Earth in 1889, one would certainly be the capital of Cambodia."

    In 1889, Angkor had been abandoned for 450 years and was covered in forest. Cambodia was a French protectorate and it's capital was Phnom Penh (as it remains today).

    This game is really really bad, which makes for entertaining posts. Is there a redeemable feature of any kind?

    1. The full name of Cambodia then was "Francais Union Colonie Kampuchea".

    2. Take your ribald misinformation elsewhere! It was Protectorat fran├žais du Cambodge!

      In high school we had fun with the Thai city/island/province of Phuket

  6. This game is not good, I hope you can wrap it up quickly.
    Also I think a game without combat experience doesn't have a real character development. Fixed skill or level increases are nothing else than finding a new weapon in some FPS like Doom. I kinda regret preordering Pillars of Eternity because of that btw.
    If you enforce rule 1 stricter, you don't have to play such games. Your postings are exciting and well-written nonetheless, but I rather see you progress to games I either know or which add something to the CRPG-world in general. This game is just bland.

    1. I hope he doesn't enforce too strictly. This game is clearly based on a tabletop RPG and is much closer to a full CRPG than many of the 1980s era games. The fact that its back story and implementation are weak just means that it should not receive a good rating. Having played into the game for hours he should see it through and make a judgment at the end whether it was more adventure than CRPG game. In general though I think a game should provide variable (not totally fixed) XP or should provide meaningful choices about how to spend XP. Ideally both!

    2. Sucinum, could you clarify your issue with Pillars of Eternity, I'm interested to understand your negativity towards it.

    3. It would be absurd not to call this game an RPG despite what my core rules say. Anyway, the side quests provide just enough character development to qualify.

    4. Without combat experience, every fight is a nuisance instead of progress. For me, combat is an important part of crpgs, but not THAT important to be a simple distraction from the story.

      This even leads me to creating a pure fighting character to get rid of all fights quickly, even though the game has a focus on story by design. That's exactly the opposite of what the designer intended... In NWN on the other side, I always played talky characters like Bards, Paladins, Rogues or Sorcerers instead of some cookie-cutting everythingslayer.

    5. Dead State contains no combat experience. You fight humans for their loot, and try to avoid fighting zombies altogether.

      Exp, which isn't explicitly tracked, comes from successfully stocking your shelter with food and amenities.

      Lack of combat exp wasn't an issue for me. I like that creatively avoiding fights doesn't make you feel like you're missing out. Fighting just for xp is a grind.

  7. Since the Confederates won the war it could mean that the Germans of this universe aren't really the Germans of our history. In fact they could be "bad guys" similar to Nazis or other world-conquerers.

    The games seems to have some interesting ideas but the team probably lacked a lot of funds and time to put the rich game world to justice. And they were probably lacking in gamedesign, too (unfinite healing etc.).

    Is the combat turnbased or real-time with pause or completely realtime?

    1. Real-time with pause. I talk more about that in the next one.

  8. I think they were trying to create their own version of LucasArts' Zak McKracken, but they probably thought that this game would have worked better without the jokes and with less realism.

  9. In fairness, while it's not really a CRPG thing, solving every problem with explosives is traditionnal in tabletop RPGs... :)

    1. Too true... Reminds me of an epic AD&D adventure we had that started with the plan of "We charm the mayor and improvise" and ended with a fully burned down town and Wanted! posters across the realm looking for the assassin disguising himself as a paladin (ours of course).

  10. I'm a big fan of underdeveloped United States. In Uncharted Waters, our country's represented by two colonies: Eureka and Virginia.

    Hope to see you cover this with all the other 1991 stuff. Maybe too un-RPG like, but it's sort of like Pirates and you covered that game, so yeah.

  11. Lack of puzzles in adventure\RPG game is disappointing. Currently I'm playing a recently translated to english "Rent A Hero", an adventure\action\JRPG hybrid from 1991, made for Sega Mega Drive. And it had a cryptogram for a puzzle. Easy one, but a nice touch, nonetheless. And surprising for a console game.

    -VladimIr V Y

  12. I don't know if that was part of the joke, but Heinrich Schliemann DID use dynamite in the excavation of Troy. He's been roundly criticized for it.

    1. Yes, the caption was supposed to be funny for that very reason.

  13. "I had just blown open the wall to Atlantis."

    By blowing up wall, shouldn't that undermine the structural integrity of the wall, causing sea water to rush in and destroying the civilization?

    1. It was more like a wall that lead to a grotto that, in turn, led to Atlantis. Nothing load-bearing.

    2. Well, it's not like we miss their presence or anything.

  14. Keep in mind that Prussia had just come out and crushed France and Austria in wars in the 1860s and 1870s, and THEN got a lot more powerful after the formation of the German Empire. So they were seen as very scary by the older and more established Empires, who used propaganda passing this along to their citizens.

  15. Actually, at 1889, Germany was actively persecuting Polish people - Otto von Bismarck was in power for the last fifteen years, and we was known for being about as nice to occupied Poles as colonists were to Native Americans - that is to say, not very. See: So as far as I'm concerned, Germans are as good villains as any. ;)


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