Saturday, March 14, 2020

Game 361: Planet's Edge (1992)

Note that the game's title screen does not technically exclude the possibility of returning from this point.
         
Planet's Edge
United States
New World Computing (developer and publisher)
Released 1991 for DOS, 1993 for FM Towns and PC-98
Date Started: 5 March 2020
           
Because it took me so long to get Planet's Edge up and running, I had time to do more background research first--the kind of thing that I usually save for the "Summary and Rating" entry. I learned from Wikipedia that the game grew out of a desire to merge the boardgame Star Fleet Battles with an RPG. I learned from an RPG Codex interview that the developers wanted to put "Might and Magic in space." Nowhere did the authors report a direct influence from any other game, so it was a surprise when I fired it up and found myself looking at . . . Starflight. It has the same type of base where you enter different buildings to accomplish similar tasks, the same type of ship with commands arranged by "station," the same approach to galactic exploration, the same variety of weird alien races to meet, and the same take on combat. Sure, it does some things differently, but the core of the game was clearly cribbed from Starflight. Was it so hard for the developers just to admit "we wanted our own version of Starflight"?
   
There is some confusion about a couple of elements in the header. First, the title. My policy is that a game's "official" title is the best two out of three on the manual cover, box cover, and in-game title screen. If all three conflict, I go with the in-game title screen. In the case of Planet's Edge, the box includes a subtitle (The Point of No Return) that both the manual and in-game screen lack. Second, a while back, commenter shankao made a case for the game being released in 1992 instead of the official copyright date (and MobyGames date) of 1991. His argument is based on the fact that no reviews appeared for the game until comparatively late in 1992. I didn't find any conclusive evidence, but I decided to accept shankao's argument and move the game to 1992.
                 
Judging by the animate intro, the backstory is "some guy escapes a cruiser by shooting a guard and stealing a ship."
              
Planet's Edge is set in 2045. Humanity has colonized the Moon and has seeded Earth's orbit with various space stations, satellites, and other craft. The denizens of these orbiting habitats become humanity's only survivors when the rest of the planet is sucked into a "space-time warp." The warp is the result of an electro-magnetic burst fired from an extraterrestrial craft, although it is unknown whether it was accidental or deliberate (a Chinese space station had disobeyed U.N. orders and fired missiles at the craft just before the event). Either way, Earth's gravitational influence somehow remains, keeping the Moon and satellites in orbit.
             
The Luna Base commander gives orders.
            
Commander Mason Polk of Luna Base takes charge of humanity's remnant. Without Earth's resources, the base will run out of food and life support within a few years, so time is crucial. From the crashed alien spaceship, scientists recover the device that caused the disaster. They call it the "Centauri Device" and identify eight parts that they need to reconstruct it and possibly reverse its effects: a N.I.C.T.U. (but no K.L.A.A.T.U. or B.A.R.A.D.A.), an Algocam, a K-Beam, a Harmonic Resonator, a Mass Converter, a Gravitic Compressor, Krupp Shields, and Algiebian Crystals. How they came up with these names is left a bit vague. A ship dubbed the Ulysses is commissioned to scour the galaxy for these items and otherwise try to find out why the extraterrestrial ship visited and destroyed Earth. It's a little unclear how we suddenly have the ability to travel outside our solar system, or given that we have said ability, why there's a time limit on survival at Luna Base.
           
I wonder if K-beams glitter in the dark.
         
Gameplay begins at Luna Base, where the player can visit the shipyards (build and modify ships), the warehouse (offload cargo), the crew quarters (view and clone crewmembers), the research lab (check on progress with the Centauri Device), and the launchpad (head out into the universe). The items that you can build for your ship or characters depend on the resources that you bring back from other places--resources such as organics, heavy metals, alien isotopes, and rare elements.
           
Luna Base and its various buildings.
         
The crew consists of four fixed characters. The pilot is William Robert Dean from Tulsa, Oklahoma. Osai Lin Tsakafuchi from Tokyo is the ship's physician and chief scientist. Engineering duties are handled by Nelson T. Ngatadatu of Babaishanda, New Gwelo (a fictional place, but "Gwelo" is a place name in Zimbabwe). The combat specialist (both ground and flight) is Katya A. Mershova from Muntenia, Romania. Each character occupies one of the ship's four stations, some doing double duty if anyone dies. Each character has fixed attributes in body, intelligence, agility, and luck, as well as fixed skills like "Leadership," "Light Weapons," "First Aid," and "Computers." I don't know whether these attributes or skills are capable of developing, but I don't see any sign that they are.
             
Attributes for my engineer.
         
Each character has a personal inventory, drawn from the supplies on Luna Base or found in the galaxy. The first thing I did was give them all flak jackets and weapons.

I found the ship modification process confusing enough that I decided to save it for later and just blasted off in the default ship. Once in space, commands are organized among four "consoles": navigation, weapons, engineering, and science. For instance, to communicate with another ship, you select the "Weapons" console (counterintuitively) and then "Communicate." To heal crewmembers, you select "Science" and then "Heal Crew." There are far less than 26 commands, so I don't understand why each couldn't have its own key. However, Planet's Edge does a little better than previous games using this structure by at least allowing you to hit single keys on the submenus rather than arrowing through them. Also, a few very common commands like Navigation | Starmap and Navigation | Enter Orbit can be called from the main view with individual keys, without having to go into the stations first.
           
I couldn't make heads or tails of this screen.
           
Moving around is a combination of elements seen in Starflight and Star Control II. As you fly away from a planet, the map's scale changes to show a larger area. As you enter a star system, it changes to show a smaller area. When you've locked onto a planet, you O)rbit it, at which point you can S)can it for information or B)eam down if it's appropriate. (There's no landing craft, just a transporter.) Making things a little difficult is that the planets continually whiz around their stars, unrealistically fast, so it's tough to identify which ones you've already approached.
          
Note how the navigator turns and looks at me while waiting for my order.
       
I guess the player is kind of an invisible "fifth" crewmember. I base this on the fact that, according to his mission directives, he's expressly forbidden to beam down with the rest of the crew. Also, when you're activating the consoles in the ship, each of the crewmembers turns and looks at you, as if you're sitting in a central chair. Despite this, you don't get to name yourself or anything.

A map accompanying the game shows Earth's solar system ("Sol") at the center of a galaxy occupying coordinates from -64 to 64 on two axes. Sol is the point of convergence of eight "sectors" which grow outwards from the center like irregular pie wedges: Alnasl, Ankaq, Zaurak, Alhena, Algieba, Caroli, Izar, and Kornephoros. (Most of these are actual stars). There are a handful of systems at the fringes of the map that occupy no sector. It's not really clear at the outset of the game whether the sector designations are geographic or political. Either way, note that the names of the missing parts suggest that we'll find one part per sector.

I had a few false starts as I got used to navigation. Alpha Centauri is so close that it's easy to blow past it on your way out of the solar system. I got killed three times in a row by hostile aliens who either attacked immediately or demanded cargo I didn't have. I haven't even begun to figure out ship combat. Since you can't save in space, I kept restarting on Luna Base and having to try again.
            
Meanwhile, my crew is saying, "Oh my god! It's an alien!"
           
On the fourth try, I took things more slowly and explored the solar system before leaving it, although it appears you cannot land on any of its planets (which makes sense).
       
Mars can be scanned but not visited.
        
I then carefully made my way to Centauri. The first planet, Centauri Prime, was too inhospitable to land. The second wasn't a planet but an "alien outpost." When I scanned it for information, the computer called it the "Omegan Outpost" and said that it was a "contact point for observers who were assisting with the failed Centauri Drive experiment." I guess we know all these things because of data recovered from the crashed alien ship.
            
Orbiting Centauri Prime. It's a nice looking planet, but we can't do anything there. I was hoping we'd meet Londo.
        
The four expendable crewmembers beamed down and were immediately attacked by robots firing laser guns. Combat in the game is turn-based and like nothing that New World has developed before. It is perhaps most like Ultima VI, occurring within the main exploration window and using a targeting cursor to attack particular enemies. In fact, once combat was over, I found that regular exploration was also a lot like Ultima VI. As the leader moves, the other characters kind of organize themselves around him or her. You can switch between lead characters with the number keys (although there's no "solo mode") and do other common things like L)ook, T)alk to NPCs, and do a variety of things with inventory items. You can't manipulate the environment to the same extent as Ultima VI, and (annoyingly) you can't move on the diagonal, but nonetheless, by including this level of ground exploration and combat, New World has definitely gone a step beyond Starflight and Star Control II, even if the rest of the game seems similar.
          
Combat with robots in the outpost.
              
A door led from the surface of the planet to the interior of the "welcome station," where a friendly message invited us to browse various newscasts. As we moved from room to room, we faced several more combats, and I had to use medpacks (which we found strewn around the area) several times. We also found some better armor than we were wearing (kevlar) and some extra weapons.
           
A character inventory.
         
We ran into an android who somewhat explained the situation: the station had been attacked by unknown aggressors who stole "various tactical data about the sectors." Another android offered that the disappearance of Earth was "a tragic accident" and he encouraged us to continue our quest to find the various pieces of the Centauri Device. He specifically recommended going to Algieba Sector since "there's a part that is named after one of that sector's stars, after all."
             
But . . . Earth scientists named that part! They don't know where it really comes from!
            
Beneath a plaque labeled "Sector Izar," we saw an image of a spacecraft that looks a lot like the extraterrestrial ship that visited Earth. A recorded message was saying that "something is malfunctioning with the drive" and "the experiment may have been sabotaged." The overwhelming suggestion is that Earth's disappearance was an accident, but we still don't know what the aliens were trying to accomplish.

There were a couple of alien newscasts to watch. One suggested some kind of war developing in Sector Caroli. Another reported on a "white hole"--a kind of space volcano--forming in Sector Zaurak. Unforutnately, they were just text; they didn't show anything, so we couldn't see what type of alien they were talking about.
    
I was happy to find that you can save while on "away missions" and that you can turn off the relentless soundtrack with ALT-M. The rest of the sound effects are okay, except that when you view inventory, there's an annoying and unnecessary "ding" as you move from one inventory item to another. Scrolling through a lot of them sounds like you're demanding a bride and groom to kiss. On the positive side, every item seems to have a unique description, which I always think is cool.
            
I confess I don't understand this, though. Wouldn't the adjustment have to be on every cartridge?
        
In the final room we explored, an android gave us a key that would unlock the various "android heads" strewn around the base. There were eight heads, each offering information on one or more of the galaxy's eight sectors. Some of them were explicit about the technology and military level of these sectors, I guess suggesting a rough order of exploration. From lowest to highest, these are:
               
  • Sector Algieba, where the Algiebian Empire has a low level of technology. This is the second explicit suggestion to go there first.
  • Sector Zaurak, ruled by the "Rana Collective," which controls the resources and means of production and thus has kept development at a minimum.
  • Sector Kornephoros, settled by refugees fleeing oppressive governments in Sectors Izar and Ankaq. Their technology is mostly good, but inconsistent because it is based on scavenging.
  • Sector Caroli. The android says that at the end of something called the Grand Survey, Sector Caroli was reserved for "recreation and housing for lower tech societies." There, I'll find Oortizam Labs and the Life Gallery. The only native species is the Eldarin.
  • Sector Alhena has no government. Two races called the Evian and the Scroe are in a war for its resources, while a race called the Dhoven tries to negotiate. It is a mix of mid- and high-tech ships and weapons.
  • Sector Ankaq, ruled by a planet called Shadowside, has a high level of technology.
          
The android head's rundown on Ankaq.
        
  • Sector Izar is where Centauri and the station itself are located. The android warns against penetrating further into the sector because the OMEGA (unsure whether this is the race or the name of an organization) is capable of easily destroying everyone but the Ominar.
  • Sector Alnasl, ruled by the Ominar. Lately, they have been reporting bouts of insanity and mass violence, and other races are advised to keep away. "These developments," the head noted, "may well be connected to the disaster of the Sol Experiment."
            
If this really is an exploration order, it's too bad that the developers included it instead of encouraging the more open-exploration approach of both Starflight and Star Control II, not to mention previous New World games. Thus, I decided to defy it by heading direclty for Alnasl, one of the farthest stars in Sector Alnasl. I made it there with no problem, but when I arrived, a scaled alien told me that I was in violation of some "space conducts mandate" and refused to allow me to contact the single space station orbiting the star. I never figured out how this resolved because I had to take a break to reconcile my bank statement with Quicken, and Quicken decided it needed to update and took over my screen with its request for administrative rights, and whatever I did to make my DOSBox sessions survive such screen changes was undone when I restored the default configuration to play Planet's Edge. (In its default configuration, DOSBox always crashes for me any time anything causes a major screen change, including unplugging or plugging in an extra monitor, opening or closing the laptop, and getting a demand for administrative privileges.) Thus, when I reloaded, I was back on the Centauri outpost. I guess this is a good place to end for now.
        
If I'm "irrelevant," why don't you let me land?
         
So far, it's a decent game that evokes the best of Starflight and Star Control II, although I suspect the alien interactions are going to be less interesting and I worry that the blatantly suggested exploration order will be essentially required. I also think it's too bad that New World, which has a lot of experience in more traditional RPGs, didn't bring more of their mechanics to character development and space combat. But it's early. We'll see how it goes.

*****

Time so far: 3 hours

107 comments:

  1. From what I recall, the characters do not develop or change. If you don't like a characters numbers you can always clone a new one, but they won't get better at anything once they're cloned, afaik

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    1. Notice how the game never actually explains what happens if you clone a character that's still alive?

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    2. I usually clone characters at the start until I get got stats on them, then try to keep them alive through the game. You can clone as often as you want with no drawbacks.

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    3. To be honest, after a dozen deaths in ground combat, I hex edited the hell out of them!!! Then I also tried to keep them alive through the game.

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  2. This one's one of my favorites (and one of the very first computer games I ever bought, back at the Raritan Expo Center back in '92.)

    To answer a couple questions you had: You're the captain of the Ulysses (or whatever you decided to rename the ship.) Officially, you're the *backup* captain; the original captain who was supposed to go with William, Katya, Nelson, and Osai died of radiation poisoning about a month before the game started. (That's why you give the orders, and why the crew looks at you when you use their stations.)

    You can't leave the ship because your orders forbid it-- if the entire crew dies, someone has to bring the Ulysses back to Luna and get fresh clones of the crew. (And you're that someone.)

    The Ulysses can leave the solar system and explore space thanks to reverse-engineering the FTL engine and parts from the ETS (the ship that caused this whole mess in the first place.) There's implications in the backstory that some of the ship weapons are also reverse-engineered.

    You mentioned that ship customization was confusing. It's simple, so don't worry! Clicking the left and right arrows on the assembly pad switch between part categories (Cannons, Lasers, Missiles, Plasma Bolts, Engines) and the up/down arrows cycle between various parts in the selected category. The three blank spaces to the right are storage bays for spare ships (you can build more in the Warehouse) and you can rename your ship with the N key or clicking "ULYSSES" in the upper right corner. (Hopefully you will be more mature than I was when I was eight years old and not name your ship the Useless.) Clicking on a weapon or engine removes it from the ship, freeing up room for cargo.

    Cannons are the weakest ship weapon, but have the fastest cooldown. Their accuracy is based on the Ship Proj. Weapons skill and decreases with distance to target.

    Lasers are more powerful, but have a longer cooldown. Their accuracy is based on the Ship Beam Weapons skill; their damage decreases once you're a certain distance from your target.

    Missiles are more powerful, longer cooldown, based on Ship Proj. Weapons.

    Plasma bolt weapons... ugh. They're powerful, but don't use them. They take FOREVER to cooldown and _they target a random shield facing._ (Accuracy is based on Ship Bolt Weapons, but Katya has better skills she should be using.)

    If you want to go a little faster in space, keep recloning William until he has an Astrogation skill of 90+. This boosts your maximum Speed by 1 in space.

    Irahf unf n fhccyl bs Urnil Zrgny lbh pna uneirfg ol univat Aryfba "Gnxr Pnetb" sebz uvf zrah; fryrpg Urnil Zrgny naq hfr gur yrsg neebj xrl gb oevat vg nobneq.

    Gur Uloevq Fbyvqf va gur Jnerubhfr ner hfryrff; abguvat lbh pna ohvyq va gur tnzr erdhverf vg. Gurfr ner "hfrshy" bayl sbe genqvat sbe vasbezngvba, ohlvat npprff gb cynargf yvxr Nycun Pragnhev VI, be cnlvat bss cvengrf.

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    1. Thanks for the information, Snorb. I didn't realize that recloning crew members would change their skills.

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    2. Any time!

      Recloning the crew is pretty much equal to hitting "Reroll Stats" in any of the D&D games that were contemporary to Planet's Edge. Checking the manual:

      William tends to be the most average out of the four crew members.

      Katya tends to have the highest Body (Hit Points) and Agility (accuracy and dodge chance) because she was a former gymnast in the USSR.

      Nelson tends to have the highest Luck (I think this is the stat that gets rolled if you DON'T have a trained skill.)

      Osai tends to have the lowest Body but highest Intel (more skills.)

      As far as the skills go, each crew member as three primary skills and a number of secondary skills based on their Intel stat. (The secondary skills aren't as good as the primary skills.)

      William is always trained in Astrogation plus two of Ship Beam Weapons, Ship Bolt Weapons, and Ship Projectile Weapons (chosen at random.)

      Katya is always trained in Hand Weapons, Light Weapons, and Heavy Weapons. (Considering she starts with an Assault Rifle equipped, you would do well to keep rerolling her until she has a 100 in Heavy Weapons.)

      Nelson is always trained in Ship Repair, Item Repair, and Computers. (Ship Repair determines how likely you are to lose weapons/engines in combat, Item Repair only matters for repairing armor, not sure about Computers.)

      Osai is always trained in First Aid, Surgery, and Xenobiology. (Surgery is required to use a Trauma Kit and determines how much HP it restores; I think First Aid just allows for better healing from First Aid Kits.)

      First Aid Kits and Osai's Heal Crew order will only restore a crew member to 50% of their max HP if it's that low. Trauma Kits and returning to Luna will fully heal the crew.

      If a crew member bites it, you'll need to reclone them.

      As an aside, there is some developer foresight where it comes to the Surgery skill which I thought was interesting.

      (As another aside, looking at the backstory manual, Katya is the only crew member who hasn't been born yet!)

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  3. "How they came up with these names is left a bit vague."

    Krupp is a major German company (now merged to form ThyssenKrupp), and K-Beams could be a reference to Buck Rogers (the Gold Box game), which had K-Cannons.

    Anyway, the game looks interesting. Somehow I completely missed it back in the day.

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    1. Or are K-Beams a reference to Blade Runner?

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    2. I meant more in-game, it's a mystery how the scientists came up with the names and whether they actually mean something. Does a mass converter actually covert mass, or is it just a cool-sounding name? That kind of thing.

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  4. Space RPGs seem a subgenre that developer companies never went into much. What a shame space opera books can be fantastic (and let´s not forget Star Wars). Maybe programmers felt the scope of space was too great?

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    1. It's probably just a case of following the same pattern as tabletop roleplaying games.

      It's entirely conceivable that there are more people who have bought, shoplifted, or pirated a Dungeons and Dragons rulebook than all other English-language tabletop RPGs put together.

      Second place probably goes to White Wolf's "World of Darkness" urban fantasy setting.

      I have no idea what the most successful tabletop science-fiction-with-spaceships RPG is. My best guess would be one or other of the licensed Star Wars RPGs.

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    2. Technically, all but the latest M&Ms were set in space!

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    3. I want to say Traveller in all its incarnations was the most successful scifi RPG with ships.

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    4. There's also the Mechwarrior tabletop game; just a pnp rpg version of the Battletech tabletop wargame. Sure most of the fluff etc is about big stompy robots fighting but the big stompy robots get moved from planet to planet on spaceships and spaceships are a very big deal in the setting.

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    5. "Space RPGs seem a subgenre that developer companies never went into much."

      I heard of some obscure series by a small company called Bioware or some such.

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    6. There's about a dozen games like Dragon Age though versus one Mass Effect. Classic spacefaring scifi is a very underserved genre, and Planet's Edge is one of the few that deliver the kind of experience I want from a proper space RPG.

      There's Starflight and Star Control and plenty of indie games nowadays that go for a similar experience, but those don't have planetary exploration.

      There is Mass Effect and Star Wars KOTOR, but neither of those has freeform galaxy exploration and space combat.

      I'd really like more games like Planet's Edge that combine galaxy exploration + space combat with planetary exploration + ground combat + proper dungeon crawling and NPC interaction. Usually it's either or, PE is one of the very few games that give us both of it.

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    7. The problem with both is that it requires a lot of work put in and not a lot of devs want to do that. That's two different kinds of systems that need work put in. If you want the space combat to have any depth, you're going to need to put in a lot of work that isn't going to planets or dialog. I can see why people shy away from that.
      You don't even see any of those with simplified interactions most of the time. You'd think someone would have played one of the Star Trek adventure games and figure that having a stock spaceship wouldn't be too much trouble to add.

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    8. I haven't played it yet, but does No Man's Sky count? Or is that space exploration without any RPG elements?

      Also worth mentioning, even if they're not RPGs, is the Master of Orion series. I played the heck out of that for a few years. It's more empire/strategy, more like Civiliziation in space.

      For a very deep cut, I also found and played a game called Spaceward Ho! in the early 90s. It was simpler than Master of Orion, but not too different. I always assumed it must have had some influence on the latter. Despite being more basic, I think I played more of it. It had just enough to be really compelling, or at least it did back then. I realize I'm going kind of far afield here, but it had a pretty funny easter egg message if you occupied and then tried to abandon a planet system named Hope.

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    9. Of course I played Master of Orion, but it's an entirely different genre. Same with Spaceward Ho. Plenty of psace 4x strategies out there, but not as many space RPGs.

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    10. Along those lines, New World Computing had also released Empire: War Game of the Century! I knew I'd seen that globe and sword logo somewhere else...

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    11. star ocean series has differnt worlds to explore and some outerspace stuff

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    12. Let's not forget the Borderlands series, even if it is an FPS with CRPG elements. It's a shame the WH40K setting doesn't get an actual CRPG, it's a setting with an incredible amount of lore and space to explore.

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    13. There are lots of scifi RPGs set on different planets, but Jarl was specifically talking about ‘spacefaring’ RPGs.

      Very few RPGs combine a space overland with planet towns/dungeons.

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  5. The game sounds interesting, never heard of that before.

    Is that from the same company who made "Heroes of Might and Magic" later?

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    1. Yes, New World Computing started the whole Might and Magic franchise. Eventually it was sold to 3DO and then Ubisoft, who have hived it out to various development companies for recent outings.

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    2. It'd be more accurate to say that 3DO bought all of New World Computing, which was shut down when 3DO went bankrupt, and then Ubisoft picked up Might and Magic from the bankruptcy sales

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    3. "Hived it out"
      Kreegan detected!

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  6. I think we're starting to enter the era where developers realise they can give you a wealth of options WITHOUT explicitly mapping every single action to a single key on the keyboard.

    Unfortunately, user interfaces at this time were still an unexplored science. Nobody knew what would be convenient, intuitive or attractive, so everything is hidden behind lots of menus, or obscure little icons, or whatever made sense to the developer.

    Around Windows 95 is when I think games started combining the best of mouse and keyboard controls in a way that makes sense, but that's probably just my limited personal experience talking.

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  7. "The crew consists of four fixed characters. [...] I don't know whether these attributes or skills are capable of developing, but I don't see any sign that they are." - Haven't you rejected Shadow Sorcerer on those very grounds?

    Also - are you going to adapt the banner to the genre of every currently played game?

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I thought Chet said he'd un-rejected Shadow Sorcerer, and will play it at some point.

      The fact that its an SSI game and also the first real-time isometric engine using AD&D probably helps its case.

      Not that I'm claiming it influenced Baldur's Gate, but who knows.

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    3. Ah, I must have missed that.

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    4. Either way, I'm not going to be held to consistency in what I except. My sidebar outlines what I consider an RPG, and I've never rejected a game that met those criteria. I've excepted plenty of games that DIDN'T meet those criteria, but that's at my discretion.

      As for the banner, I'll change it as often as I have banners to change it TO. So far, Sebastian has only made a fantasy banner and a sci-fi banner, and I'm not going to ask him to do more. But if he proactively decides to send me a post-apocalyptic banner, sure I'll use it.

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  8. A white hole?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TxWN8AhNER0

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  9. Didn't notice the banner change at first that is cool.

    As for this game in particular it always amazes me at how much of an influence that Starflight had on the genre. Even though the game seems to be more linear the android anads remind me of the statues in Sorpigal.

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    1. That's an interesting connection that I didn't make.

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  11. At least the "bling" sound as the ship vanishes and the title appears in the intro is taken from Might & Magic.

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  12. whoohooo finaly game 361 contratulati

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  13. So the American gets a regular name and the other three seem to have made-up names?

    Tsakafuchi sounds enough like Sakaguchi that I wonder if it's an homage.

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    1. Mershova is an existing Russian/Ukrainian last name (although not very common), so it's not impossible for a Molodvan to have. Katya is basically Russian for Cathy, but in Slavic languages it can't be a proper first name, only a pet name for Ekaterina (Catherine). So here the cracks are starting to show. Finally, "A.", according to the manual, stands for Anninina - which is totally not a thing. Although it might be a "mishearing" of Antonina (which is like Anthony, only female).

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    2. I meant Romanian of course, not Moldovan. Same principle - Balkan region, Soviet influence, Slavic names not impossible (though very much not native).

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    3. Well, for the Japanese woman, you've got two parts of the name that are impossible to write in Japanese, Lin and the Tsa part of her last name. Osai isn't a name either, as far as I know. However, Lin might be a nod to China for some reason or a weird angloization of Rin, which is a Japanese name. Same with Tsakafuchi I guess.
      The African fellow is probably just a play off of Criag T. Nelson, the star of Coach.
      That's all assuming they didn't just write gibberish vaguely sounding like words from the nations they're supposed to be from.

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    4. "Nelson" is the first name of probably the most famous Black African (as opposed to African-American or Afro-Caribbean) person of the 20th century, but all google hits for "Ngatadatu" are pages with the words "planet's edge" on them.

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    5. If you're trying to be provocative and start a completely unrelated sociopolitical discussion on a blog about CRPGs, least do it in the body of your comment instead of linking a huge article.

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    6. Particularly a huge article linked via a URL shortener service, so that there's no way of telling where it goes without clicking through.

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    7. It's a good article (though I'm sure many of us have read it before) and not huge in terms of bytes. I guess he figured the sociopolitical discussion had started already...

      Delete
    8. If you, like me, have read the entire essay, you'll appreciate the part at the end where he says, "The worst thing that could happen to this post is to have it be used as convenient feces to fling at the Blue Tribe whenever feces are necessary." I like that part.

      Delete
    9. "So the American gets a regular name and the other three seem to have made-up names?"

      This is clearly inflammatory and was a deliberate statement to start throwing feces. Bullies don't like it when they get pushback. A bully with a bloody nose is still a bully.

      Delete
    10. Who is Tristan bullying? If he's said anything about anybody, it's that the writers were lazy for not trying harder to think of actual names from those cultures. Or perhaps you feel bullied by the implication that fictional minorities in an obscure 90's DOS game should have been named better?

      Delete
    11. I think you've spent too much time in the trenches of the culture war, Harland, if you perceived my comment to be 'feces throwing'.

      Delete
    12. Agreed. The mood is more 'lazy devs were lazy' than 'grab the pitchforks, bully the devs to issue an apology for a 30 year old game!'

      Delete
    13. It was a comment clearly crafted by a culture war veteran to be divisive, and what do you know it worked.

      Delete
    14. However you feel about the issue, or non- issue, let’s go ahead and tie off this thread right there.

      Delete
    15. Jesus. That escalated fast.
      For what it's worth, Anglophone media have always mangled Slavic names. Always. Pet names get confused with full names, patronymics get confused with last names (and sometimes with first names too), genders swing left and right. We've just come to expect it and it's honestly more funny than anything.

      To be fair, we do have complicated morphology when it comes to names. Here's a hilarious scene on Russian names from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next books:

      "“Welcome to my home, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov.”

      “Oh!” said Raskolnikov, impressed that I knew who he was. “How did you know it was me? Could it have been the subtle way in which I project the dubious moral notion that murder might somehow be rationalized, or was it the way in which I move from denying my guilt to eventually coming to terms with an absolute sense of justice and submitting myself to the rule of law?”

      “Neither,” I said. “It’s because you’re holding an ax covered in blood and human hair.”

      “Yes, it is a bit of a giveaway,” he admitted, staring at the ax, “but how rude am I? Allow me to introduce Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov.”

      “Actually,” said the second man, leaning over to shake my hand, “I’m Dmitri Prokofich Razumikhin, Raskolnikov’s loyal friend.”

      “You are?” said Raskolnikov in surprise. “Then what happened to Svidrigailov?”

      “He’s busy chatting up your sister.”

      He narrowed his eyes.

      “My sister? That’s Pulcheria Alexandrovna Raskolnikova, right?”

      “No,” said Razumikhin in the tone of a long-suffering best friend, “that’s your mother. Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova is your sister.”

      “I always get those two mixed up. So who’s Marfa Petrovna Svidrigailova?”

      Razumikhin frowned and thought for a moment.

      “You’ve got me there.”

      He turned to the third Russian.

      “Tell me, Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin: Who, precisely, is Marfa Petrovna Svidrigailova?”

      “I’m sorry,” said the third Russian, who had been staring at her shoes absently, “but I think there has been some kind of mistake. I’m not Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin. I’m Alyona Ivanovna.”

      Razumikhin turned to Raskolnikov and lowered his voice.

      “Is that your landlady’s servant, the one who decides to marry down to secure her future, or the one who turns to prostitution in order to stop her family from descending into penury?”

      Raskolnikov shrugged. “Listen,” he said, “I’ve been in this book for over a hundred and forty years, and even I can’t figure it out.”

      “It’s very simple,” said the third Russian, indicating who did what on her fingers. “Nastasya Petrovna is Raskolnikov’s landlady’s servant, Avdotya Romanovna Raskolnikova is your sister who threatens to marry down, Sofia Semyonovna Marmeladova is the one who becomes a prostitute, and Marfa Petrovna Svidrigailova—the one you were first asking about—is Arkady Svidrigailov’s murdered first wife.”

      “I knew that,” said Raskolnikov in the manner of someone who didn’t. “So . . . who are you again?”

      “I’m Alyona Ivanovna,” said the third Russian with a trace of annoyance, “the rapacious old pawnbroker whose apparent greed and wealth led you to murder.”

      “Are you sure you’re Ivanovna?” asked Raskolnikov with a worried tone.

      “Absolutely.”

      “And you’re still alive?”

      “So it seems.”

      He stared at the bloody ax. “Then who did I just kill?”
      "

      Delete
  14. Oh wow, space RPG banner, awesome work Sebastian!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't even ask him. He just took to heart a comment someone made about the previous banner being fantasy-focused.

      Delete
  15. I've tried playing this game a lot over the years but always felt it had a bland mix of space stuff and Ultima VI that was just...bland. I feel like they would've been better off just focusing on space combat, since that seems like they put more thought into it.
    I haven't played Star Fleet Battles, but I have played Star Fleet Command and that's the computer version of Star Fleet Battles. They both have light RPG elements and if you're in enemy territory you have to go back to friendly space to repair, but that's about where the similarities end. Combat in SFB is a hex-based simultaneous turn combat, and SFC copies that by having it in real-time with adjustable speed. You have things like mines, spare parts, marines you can use to take over enemy ships. All the ships are pre-built, because Star Trek. The officers increase their experience without cloning, to a certain amount. You have more than one place to go back to, because Star Trek.
    Now, I'm not saying they weren't aware of Starflight and Star Control, but I am saying they could be telling the truth. These could be just the RPG part of making SFB a RPG. Combat has to be simplified for the PC. Part of making it an RPG is adding customization and the officers part makes sense too. Adding ground combat too, because Star Trek as a RPG. Having you talk to the officers to do things.
    On the other hand, the lack of there being a wider human civilization feels more Starflight than Star Trek, so maybe they are just trying to cover themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Ah, a sci-fi banner. Nice! A sincere thanks to you and Sebastian for it.

    As for the game, I tried it out about two years ago, but didn't get very far. It didn't quite spark my interest at that time. I'm eager to see how the game will be like. I like the premise and how it looks, and might give a another try if there will be some solid gameplay and plot to back the graphics.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Londo, I saw what you did there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Chet revealed good taste in sci fi shows there ;)

      Delete
  18. In fact, there is some conclusive evidence about its official release date. That was March 18, 1992. The United States Patent and Trademark Office designates this date as its first commercial use in its registration documents: http://tsdr.uspto.gov/documentviewer?caseId=sn74132054&docId=ORC20051222231213#docIndex=0&page=1.

    Furthermore, this information is corroborated by Eric Hyman, the main designer of Planet's Edge, in a message to Usenet dated on May 23, 1992: https://groups.google.com/d/msg/comp.sys.ibm.pc.games/oWtU4cJEfyY/lKlNNAhi_UMJ

    Thanks for reading.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I guess I'd call those conclusive. I'm glad I went that way with the decision.

      Delete
    2. Mystery solved. Thanks eonfafnir, good research job!

      Delete
    3. You are welcome. If you ever need to find out the release date of any game, I can help you out.

      Delete
    4. EonFafnir has one specific skill, and he does it -very- well :)

      Delete
    5. Those in the government tried to make me the ultimate supersoldier with that experiment, but in the end the only superpower I got was to find the release dates of old games with extreme precision. It’s better than nothing, I guess.

      Delete
    6. Look everyone, it's Captain Esoterica!

      Delete
  19. Is that Michael York, Erin Gray, and Marina Sirtis on your crew or am I just imagining things? Either way, I had no idea New World Computing put out a sci-fi game (besides the first eight Might & Magic games, of course) so I'm looking forward to how this pans out and if they explain how a sphere can have an edge.

    The linear structure, while limiting, might not be such a bad idea if there genuinely is a time limit. I'm wondering if there are shortcuts for those more versed in the game the way there is in Star Control 2 (in that you can prioritize story-vital locations and where best to find resources). If you hit the limit and have to replay the entire game in the exact same order, just faster, that'd be a shame.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. William looks an awful lot like Jon Van Caneghem to me.

      Delete
    2. Linearity has its merits when it comes to balance.

      But it's possible the game is actually so non-linear that they decided it was best to drop a few hints for those who might otherwise be lost.

      Delete
  20. Remember that you can Save and load your game at any time by pressing Ctrl + S and Ctrl + L. That makes things much more comfortable.

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  21. the game grew out of a desire to merge the boardgame Star Fleet Battles with an RPG.

    WHOA. Really! Man, I would have played the shit out of this back in the day. I always wanted to play SFB, but the only players locally were clannish nerd jerks who didn't want anyone else joining. Classic "this is how people have always treated me, so I just assume this is how you're supposed to treat people."

    I was super-excited when Star Fleet Command came out, but it was a disappointment. Fly towards opponent, discharge all weapons at minimum range, pass through, come around for another alpha strike. So much potential wasted. :(

    Sure, it does some things differently, but the core of the game was clearly cribbed from Starflight.

    Now I'm even more sorry I never heard of or played this. Damn, Starflight was the best game ever.

    New World Computing, best logo and did they ever make a bad game?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, it's called Might and Magic 9, and arguably also 8

      Delete
    2. Honestly, Planets Edge isn't a very good game either, from what I remember...

      Delete
    3. Planet's Edge isn't great, but I found it to be pretty good. Especially since it's the only game out there that satisfies my hunger for a Star Trek style game where I command a ship on space exploration missions but also beam down to planets for ground missions.

      Delete
    4. MM8 was pretty solid IMO. The only bad thing I recall about it is that getting through the crystal was a bit of a slog - not terrible, though.

      Delete
    5. There's nothing wrong with MM8. Not even close to being bad. I'd say the real crap game NWC did was Nuclear War, which tried to do some card game rather poorly.

      Delete
    6. I agree. I thought MM8 was a fine game. At the time, of course, everyone criticized NWC for using the same engine for three consecutive games, never mind that they were only two years apart and the engine was still an awesome engine.

      Delete
    7. Since when do people dislike engine reuse? Gold Box and Infinity Engine games are still looked upon fondly today, and Chet's only problem with the later Gold Box games is that their character and plot progression isn't satisfying compared to Pool of Radiance - not their engine reuse.

      Delete
    8. You haven't been paying attention to any Bethesda game release for the past decade. And personally, my general opinion on MM8 is that it's a relatively meh game that's made pretty decent by the reused engine. That's why I said it's arguably bad, because that more or less relies on how much you actually like the MM6 engine

      Delete
    9. Really? I liked Nuclear War. It was completely different from the card game, but it was a decent game in and of itself. Not the most strategic game, but what do you expect from a game about nuclear war. And as a bonus, it's the second game where you can get nuked by Ghandi.

      Actually, take that back. I just played a quick game (it's easy to make the world end) and Ghanji just plays propaganda over and over again. Really annoying opponent. I got nuked off the planet by Jimmy Farmer, who ended up winning the game.

      Delete
    10. Ethan:
      Well, that more or less follows through on my opinion of those three MM games. That there aren't enough of them.
      Harland:
      Yeah, I would put Nuclear War in the bad camp. It really feels like a luck-based game. My chances were solely determined by whether or not the AI wanted a piece of me. And the humor fell quite flat.

      Delete
    11. Recently saw that there's some guy working on taking advantage of the shared engine to make a big mod to combine MM6-8 (seen here https://www.celestialheavens.com/forum/10/16657 )

      Wonder how awkward and janly it is. Might be interesting, though.

      Delete
    12. I can see why people would dislike engine reuse (as in the complete game engine - graphics, mechanics, ui, physics if applicable). After all, you're paying the full price for a game that just had its content replaced.

      Plus, some people don't just want more of the same. If you know how MM3 works, you know for the most part how MM4&5 play mechanically. If you like exploring the mechanics of a game, that makes that aspect of the game less fun.

      Reviewers tend to punish games, films, music, whatever, for doing more of the same. Probably because it gives them less to write about.

      Delete
    13. One of these days maybe I should give M&MVI another go. At the time, I felt like the engine was a huge downgrade both visually and functionally from 4 and 5, which still have one of my favorite engines in the genre. In particular, I've never encountered an RPG that tried to be able to switch between real-time and turn-based on the fly that I felt worked well in either mode. But, y'know. Maybe it was just how directly I was coming off the heights of 4 and 5.

      Delete
    14. I had a similar experience when I first tried it. I had just finished IV/V, and I had a new book of graph paper ready for VI. I was confused within minutes and I think maybe I went on a rant to Irene about how developers think they're SO clever introducing new technology all the time when the old stuff works fine. Within a week or so, though, I thought it was one of the best RPGs I've ever played.

      Delete
    15. I guess you never played the Nuclear War card game. It was pretty random, too. New World's adaptation was goofy and didn't take itself seriously, and that's pretty much the only way to approach this depressing subject. It was a good coping method back then, when the actual threat of nuclear war from real-live communists hung over our heads.

      Honestly it's the closest thing to an accurate simulation we've got. A real nuclear war would be clumsy and random, and the most likely outcome is that everyone loses.

      Delete
    16. I played the merged MM 6-8 about a year ago and it worked fine and as a plus you could play acromage in all the taverns in MM 6

      The drawback was that you got overpowered very quickly especially if you had a dragon in your party but it had a difficulty slider in the settings that you could adjust on the fly

      Delete
    17. Engine reuse was heavily disliked by gamers in a time when engines jumped lightyears ahead every couple of years from a technical standpoint. The 90s and the 00s were a time of constant technological improvement and when the latest games featured all the best modern technical jazz, having an outdated engine was considered a drawback by many.

      Nowadays every second game on the market uses either Unity or Unreal 4. Indie devs with their own engines re-use the engine until the point where they feel like they have to develop a new one to implement the features they want. Nowadays, the big licensable AAA engines like Unreal 4 and Cryengine come with all the visual effects and physics you might need, while indies deliberately make retro games that feel like 10, 20 or even 30 year old games. So today, engine reuse is a lot more accepted than it used to be.

      But back in, say, 2000 it was considered cheap. You'd see huge technical leaps within games of the same franchise, so sequels having an improved engine was expected. Sometimes that turned out badly though (anyone remember Simon the Sorcerer 3D? Yeah...), but a large part of the audience wanted progress for progress' sake.

      Delete
    18. Harland:
      Ultimately, I can only comment on my own experiences, those of someone who only lived in an age where the big communist threat was economic, rather than nuclear. I don't really have a problem enjoying things that deeply involve the cold war for the most part, so maybe it is just something you had to be there to enjoy.
      Although, I feel like an actual simulation game of it would be even more unfun. Since it would basically just be a nuke exchange.

      Delete
    19. That was the entire point of the card game. Black humor, showing how even if you won, you still ended up with tens of millions dead. And the game made it likely that all sides would lose. It was more social commentary than a serious game (it included a spinner, for Pete's sake, something regarded as "for kids" by serious gamers) but we certainly had a blast playing it back in the 80s when real live missiles could have come down and interrupted our game. A small possibility, but a possibility nonetheless. It's lost today, that constant nagging fear that the world could end in the next 30 minutes.

      Delete
    20. Luck-based games are a lot more fun with physical components like dice or spinners. The social element is also huge, hence why these games fail when directly translated to digital.

      My crew had tons of fun with Nuclear War back in college, it generated great user stories!

      Delete
    21. Spinners specifically are considered a mechanic for kids games, because they're not reliably random even if you aren't cheating. They're also really easy to cheat with.

      Delete
  22. Cool tidbit - all sectors except Ankaq are named after stars which are within 200 or so light years of Earth. Since Sector Caroli's name is a bit mangled from "Cor Caroli", I suspect Ankaq is a derivative of Ankaa or Ancha.

    ReplyDelete
  23. That ‘A’ in the title screen bugs me every time.

    ReplyDelete
  24. The original Star Trek had a communications officer, but in The Next Generation comms were handled by the guy at the weapons console. That might be why this game puts the function there.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you are right. This game has been influenced a lot by ST:TNG. The bridge crew roles are an example.

      Delete
  25. Definitely be sure to examine stuff in the environment. Iirc they wrote a fair amount of descriptive text that you might otherwise miss

    ReplyDelete
  26. I just loaded this up and gave it a shot, and it gave me a new appreciation of your work... I think you're a saint for working through these user interfaces of yesteryear!

    ReplyDelete

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