|We are the winners!|
Paragon Software (developer and publisher)Released 1990 for DOS, Atari ST; 1991 for Amiga
Date Started: 22 February 2015
Date Ended: 28 February 2015
Total Hours: 22
Reload Count: 9Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: 33
Ranking at Time of Posting: 59% (105/177)
I sacrificed most of my Saturday to barrel through to the end of Space 1889, doubling the time I spent on the first two postings in a single long session. This, in turn, is going to create a very long posting, for which I apologize, but I really wanted to just get this one finished and move on.
The "treasure hunt" nature of the game never really changed, except there were several places in which I ran out of clues and wasn't sure what to do next. In a couple of those situations, backtracking and visiting cities randomly helped me out, but in a couple of others, I confess that I gave up and sought out hints. Since the game's official clue book (housed at the always-awesome Museum of Computer Adventure Game History) is the lamest thing ever (seriously, check out the ASCII maps with hand-drawn annotations), I relied in part on Black Cat/Crooked Bee's May 2011 LP of the game on RPGCodex. This would be a good source if you really want to read the blow-by-blow, because I'm going to be summarizing a lot here.
|The cut screen between planets and space.|
The game ended up being a lot more like MegaTraveller 1 than it seemed at first glance, first in the lame combat system, second in the almost non-existent character development, and third in the way that an economic barrier forces you to spend a lot of time on side-quests. The plot is arguably a little better in Space--needlessly elaborate, but not completely pathetic as in MegaTraveller.
As I last posted, I was preparing to leave Earth for Mars. This involved going to the spaceport (there's one on every planet; Earth's is on the Pacific coast of Asia) and purchasing an aether ship. Suddenly, the game's approach to the economy became clear. While my starting characters had plenty of money to buy weapons and equipment--at least 10 times what they seemed to need--they were vastly underfunded when it came to buying a ship. Even choosing the lowest-level specs, I was looking at 2.4 million pence against a pot of around 500K that I was carrying. (Most of the game's transactions are in pence, which are worth 240 to a pound.) I had only about a fifth of the required funds.
I solved it in the short term by selling King Tut's jewels, coincidentally for exactly 2.4 million; they must exist for precisely this purpose. This got me the lowest-level flyer, but it was enough to start exploring the planets.
|My first flyer didn't have much, but cost a bank.|
Space navigation is rather annoying. The solar system is large, you move very slowly, and it's difficult to find planets by just flying around, especially since they're in constant motion. Instead, you have a character with a high science skill (and preferably navigation equipment) identify a (c)ourse to the desired planet. The game gives you the course in terms of the constellation backdrop, which you have to cross-reference with a crude map in the game manual.
|A character plots a route.|
|Unlike the planets, the constellations don't change positions.|
By following the star patterns, you get to the general area of the planet, and then you have to hunt for it. There's no danger during this process: there are no other ships in space (more below on planetary combat), there's no danger of colliding with anything, you have unlimited food on the ship, and the ship is solar-powered so you never run out of fuel. It's just boring.
|From the Earth to Venus.|
The solar system is ringed by an asteroid belt, through which an aether ship cannot pass, the logic being that if you go too far from the sun, the propulsion systems stop working. More on that in a bit.
Eventually, I found my way to Mars, and the rest of the game's story proceeded in four major sections:
1. The German Conspiracy. The action after my last post shifted to Mars, then to Venus, then back to Mars, as I infiltrated a series of German bases, killed their leaders, and acquired the items and intelligence needed for future exploits. The German plot to take over the solar system depended somehow on monopolizing the "liftwood" trade on Mars, using the Martians as pawns. The plot culminated when I killed Baron Hasso von Gruber, the mastermind behind the plot, and his Martian ally, King Hattabranx.
|Baron von Gruber makes the mistake of revealing everything in a villain's exposition.|
This is a good time to mention that I mostly avoided combat throughout the game. Killing random mooks offers no rewards (except occasional weapons that you sell for small cash), no experience, and no character development, so it was easiest just to run past them and head right for the bosses. I made it a policy to fight anyone with a name, as they were the ones carrying needed keys and documents.
|A looted pass gets me through a door.|
I didn't describe the combat system in detail in my other posts, so I'll talk about it briefly here. (It isn't good or complex enough to be worth explaining in detail.) When you want to fight, you hit "F" and your single character icon immediately breaks out into five individual ones, scattered somewhat randomly, which was a frustration throughout the game. Combat begins paused, giving you a chance to cycle through each character and issue orders, including attacking, moving, reloading, and changing weapons.
After you've issued the orders, you ESC and watch the characters follow your commands. Attacking characters keep firing until you tell them to stop, and they automatically reload. If you want to pause and issue new commands, you just hit "N." You have to manually control one character--it doesn't matter which one--so I developed the habit of controlling Griffin, who specialized in "fisticuffs" and carried no weapon. I found that the manually-controlled character was able to attack and move far more often than the automatic ones, and Griffin's punches generally won most battles.
|Fighting space pirates. My enemy is the top one closest to the door. Griffin is just south of him, standing on the bones of his defeated comrade, attacking with fists. Right now, only the two frontmost other characters can fire at the foe.|
Most of my reloads are from cases in which one or more characters were killed in combat. I found that just like in MegaTraveller, combat was so random that a simple reload would produce vastly different results. Other than the positioning of the characters (party members won't shoot through each other, so you have to give everyone a clear shot), I never felt that there were any tactics I could exploit to improve my chances. Since equipment and skills generally don't improve throughout the game (every weapon and armor item is available from the beginning, cheaply), combat remained at the same difficulty level from beginning to end, even with the ostensible "boss" enemies.
When you're not in "fight" mode, only the party leader takes damage from enemy shots. It's easy enough to pause after every bit of damage and just have someone skilled in medicine cure wounds repeatedly until the party leader is at full health again. Thus, you could walk (albeit slowly) through a room of attackers, never fire a shot, and suffer no permanent consequences.
2. The Ancient Alien. King Hattabranx thought I had been sent by Baron von Gruber to assassinate him. He revealed contempt for his German allies and said that the "Worm Cult" would crush the German conspiracy. After I killed Hattabranx, I found a "worm cult key."
This was one of the places where I got stuck. I had no idea what to do next. I had to consult the LP to discover that the next step was to talk to a random wandering NPC in the city of Moab (on Mars), who provided me with a map to the Worm Cult's hideout in Boreo Syrtis (also on Mars).
|Directions were vague. I had to do a lot of digging.|
The Worm Cult turned out to be a bunch of lunatics--again, I ran past most of them while exploring the caverns--who worshipped an ancient alien named Kleuht Na Vriss. When I showed him that I had the Scrolls of the Ancients, he told me his story: he was a member of a race that inhabits Europa, Jupiter's moon. His people study human civilization, and he had lived on Earth for a couple hundred years. When he left to return to Europa, he crash-landed on the moon and befriended another cast-away, Professor Tereshkova. Eventually, he was abducted by Martian pirates, leaving his friend behind.
|This game is fond of long monologues.|
Kleuht Na Vriss suggested that we journey to Europa to learn the secret of his people. He suggested I start by seeking out Tereshkova on Luna.
3. Ship Improvements. Some bartender had told me that Thomas Edison had been kidnapped by some pirates aboard a ship called the Whisperdeath, and I noticed the ship hanging around when I went to leave Mars. As I said, there are no enemy ships in space, but there are enemy ships in the atmospheres between each planet and space, and you can engage in a primitive combat with them. The bottom of the screen shows your respective armor levels, and you can reduce the enemy's by hitting ENTER to fire top or bottom guns or by ramming the enemy.
|Blasting an enemy ship in the atmosphere.|
There's also the option to (l)ink with a damaged enemy and then (b)oard the ship. Naturally, this is what I wanted to do to rescue Thomas Edison, but the problem was I couldn't catch the Whisperdeath. It flew off at high speed the moment I approached. It soon became clear that Space 1889's equivalent of the $2 million "Jump 2" drive in MegaTraveller was a set of obscenely-expensive upgrades needed to improve my ship's speed and armaments. My ship had originally cost 2.4 million, and I ended up needing to spend something like 15 million to improve the engines and speed. This, in turn, meant running around to collect treasure and solve the side-quests that I'd been ignoring for most of the game.
|I don't deal in "roughly."|
At some point, I'd discovered that using lockpicks next to a chest causes it to open and dispense cash, so my first solution was to revisit all the castles, keeps, mansions, palaces, and museums and loot them. This got me around 1.5 million, and I solved some side-quests along the way that brought in another 2 million.
This cash allowed me to upgrade the ship a little, and from there I made most of the rest of the money by shooting down pirate vessels on the planets. There's an enemy vessel on every planet every time you take off, and destroying it is good for around 1.5 million in the party account. After seven or eight of those, I was all set.
|Big rewards for a quick combat.|
With a ship able to chase down the Whisperdeath, I linked and boarded it, ran past most of the guards (I had to kill two in front of a door), and found Thomas Edison. He gave me the rest of the clues needed to get to Europa: I would need a special propeller, special fuel (he suggested ammonia), and a huge "glow crystal" from Mercury that would be capable of storing the sun's rays.
|I'll bet Tesla would have just given me some special "space coil" or something.|
The propeller came from Professor Tereshkova on Luna. When I showed him the emerald, he was overjoyed that Kleuht Na Vriss was still alive and happily gave me the propeller from Kleuht's crashed vessel.
The ammonia came from mines in Mercury's only city, Princess Christiana. That left the glow crystal. A bartender suggested I could find one on the banks of the "world river" on Mercury, but no matter how long I traversed the banks, I didn't see anything. Finally, after consulting the LP again, I determined that the counter-intuitive solution was to walk along the banks hitting (t)ake until the game told me that I found something.
|That was lucky.|
With the three items in my possession, the game outfitted my flyer automatically. I was now able to fly past the asteroid belt and to Europa.
|Alas, you hit an artificial barrier shortly after this. You cannot fly to Pluto.|
4. The Endgame. On Europa, I found the ruins of a saurian civilization whose inhabitants had deserted the moon when it became unstable. Evidence suggested that they had moved to Earth, which turns out to be hollow. The notes indicated that the saurians conceal the entrance to the interior of Earth via a hologram at the North Pole.
I returned to Earth and found the entrance to a set of caverns in Greenland. I didn't have to dig for it or anything, but later I confirmed that the entrance is not there at the beginning of the game.
|Entering the "city of Inner Earth."|
A long and pointless maze followed. Within it, a bunch of saurians congratulated me on being the first human to discover their lair:
After a long period of navigation, I reached a spacious chamber in which a member of Kleuht Na Vriss's species greeted me, calling himself Eoger Luirv. He's clearly different from the saurians, but the game didn't seem to explain that.
The endgame text was quite long, and I won't reprint it all. Basically, he congratulated me, saying that he's been waiting a long time for some humans to solve the mystery. When we asked about the power and immortality promised us, he related that his species had been subtly (and, presumably, psychically) influencing key humans throughout history. Some of the "chosen" turned out to be Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, Christopher Columbus, King Tut, Confucuius, and Ludwig van Beethoven.
|Eroica was clearly influenced by aliens.|
He went on to name some of the young people on Earth that they were keeping an eye on, intending to influence with knowledge and inspiration, including Albert Einstein, Mohandas Gandhi, and Franklin Roosevelt.
Our reward was indeed immortality, but of a special type: we would leave the caverns and forget everything we'd found out, but we'd be gifted with perpetual reincarnation, and in each life, we would be "giants of our time."
Perhaps you will be a popular sports figure whose talent and charisma encourages an entire generation of youth. Maybe you will be a small black child, born in poverty, who emerges as a leader of equality and human rights. You might be a noted writer, whose work inspires and entertains mankind for generations to come, or possibly you will become a world leader whose integrity and compassion will save mankind from power-hungry madness and aggression. Your accomplishments will live on forever. Yes, my friend, you will be rewarded with the greatest gift of all. Your spiritual essence will remain immortal, influencing and shaping the destiny of the world for ages to come. You are our chosen people... you are the winners!
Before we could protest that we wanted actual immortality, a little tune played and we were back at the DOS prompt. The final message was a little depressing. There are no actual heroes of human history, just a bunch of individuals influenced by aliens.
|At least one day, we'll get to be Michael Jordan, Martin Luther King Jr., and Barack Obama. Space 1889 is a game in which you must earn the right to role-play a black character.|
Thus, from King Tut's tomb to Atlantis to Mars to the Hollow Earth to spiritual immortality...Paragon didn't really leave much for the sequel, did it? Good thing there wasn't one.
The story wasn't bad, just a little overdone, but the game mechanics are poor and the limited character development means that it barely qualifies as an RPG. In a GIMLET, I give it:
- 5 points for the game world. The tabletop setting is highly original--kind of a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that beat the comic by a decade. It's rendered somewhat dull and lifeless in the CRPG version, but the the game still gets points for being the first steampunk-ish CRPG, and while the main plot more often than not strays to goofiness, it has enough original and fun ideas to make it work.
|The party rows through the sands of Mars in a special boat.|
- 3 points for character creation and development. The creation process is a lot of fun, but there's hardly any development during the game--just an occasional one-point skill bump (for a single character) for solving a side quest. At least half the skills appear to be useless.
|I think "Bargaining" only affects how much money you need to bribe people.|
- 4 points for NPC interaction. There are quite a lot of them, and interacting with them advances the game plot and imparts information and lore, but there are no dialogue options.
|I'm surprised Jules Verne isn't considered the god of this universe.|
- 2 points for encounters and foes. Foes are distinguished only between humans and animals, and you don't really ever have to fight the animals. Humans all behave the same way. There's no point to fighting. A few inventory-based puzzles are easy.
- 2 points for combat. Boring, trite, tactically-bereft systems for both ground combat and space combat.
- 4 points for equipment. A small selection of weapons and armor and a large selection of adventuring equipment that you mostly use to solve puzzles. The inventory does a decent job evoking the themes of the setting, with miner's helmets, lanterns, ropes, camping gear, and so forth, but the game loses points for not ever offering upgrades after the initial purchases. It gains a point for being one of the only CRPGs so far in my chronology with detailed item descriptions.
|Mid-game, Julian is carrying a medical book, mail, a water-breather, dynamite, detonite, navigation equipment, some other book, and a German uniform.|
- 3 points for the economy. It's very badly-balanced. You have too much money for most of the game, except a brief period when you're trying to afford the first set of flyer upgrades.
- 4 points for quests. The multi-staged main quest is okay, and the game gets credit for its many optional side quests. If they had been more than simple fetch-and-carry missions, this category would rate higher.
- 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The sound is really bad, consisting mostly of a constant rat-a-tat as the party moves, annoying enough that I played the game mostly with the sound off. Graphics are okay, but hampered by some bad contrasts, particularly in the game text. The interface is functional enough.
- 3 points for gameplay. The world is somewhat non-linear. After you have enough money to afford a flyer, you can visit the solar system at your leisure--it's just unclear why you'd want to do so. The plot, on the other hand, is extremely linear, non-replayable, and too long for the game's limited mechanics and content.
This gives us a final rating of 33, yet another 1990s game that hovers in the 30s, not quite crossing my "recommended" line. Paragon didn't create an awful game here, just a soulless one. Although you meet every major historical and literary figure of the period, the game never really evokes the spirit of Victorian science fiction or steampunk aesthetics. Moreover, with both Space and MegaTraveller, it doesn't feel like the developers bothered to do any research into the conventions of the genre. Most of their innovations create a worse gameplay experience than a boilerplate Gold Box title or Ultima clone.
Even in its time, ratings were mediocre. The best is an 87% from the January 1992 issue of CU Amiga. The author, Mat Regan, praised the setting but criticized the graphics and sound. "I wholeheartedly recommend it," he said, "for those searching for a game with an original concept and"--I am not making this next part up--"lashings of creamy playability and atmosphere."
The worst review came from the April 1991 German Power Play, which said that the "illogical and frantic" combat system "no longer corresponds to today's standards" and basically concludes the same way I do: the CRPG developers made a hash of a good tabletop RPG setting and system. Other reviews put it in the 50s-70s. Todd Threadgill's Computer Gaming World review criticizes the combat and wandering nature of the plot but praises the interface and setting.
I covered the history and future of Paragon in my final MegaTraveller posting. The company is going to have three chances to impress me in 1991, with MegaTraveller 2, Twilight: 2000, and X-Men II: The Fall of the Mutants (if indeed this one turns out to be an RPG), but I'm not holding out a lot of hope.
For now, we'll have a brief dip into Caverns of Zoarre (1984) before breaking my nearly year-long hiatus on Tunnels & Trolls. I'm still playing Quest for the Unicorn bit by bit, but I haven't quite amassed enough material for another posting.
One step closer to 1991!