Thursday, June 20, 2024

Whale's Voyage: Money in My Purse

 
I switched to a new version during this session, which replaces the image of the titular ship with an image of a CD-ROM.
       
This session started with trying to re-do everything I'd accomplished since arriving on Lapis: beaming down, visiting Jack Nock, giving him the heart and CD, killing Greg Morgan, waiting around until I found Jack Nock dead, and looting his body for the piece of paper with a phone number. Doing this took almost two hours and about seven reloads. Complications included:
     
  • Getting away from Morgan (after he was de-digitized from the disk) before he killed everyone, then managing to make my way back and kill him, which is hard enough without . . .
  • The game kept freezing after I successfully killed Morgan.
        
I still got a kick out of this. Poor Jack Nock.
      
  • My credits kept disappearing again. It seemed to happen reliably every time I read the note on his body, so eventually I just wrote down the number, reloaded, and refused to read it again.
  • The game kept deciding that something was blocking from beaming back to the ship, thus preventing me from leaving the planet or saving what I had accomplished.
      
Eventually, by beaming up and saving after every tiny success, I was able to get through the process. Back on the ship, I called the number on the piece of paper. This was the conversation:

YOU: "Jack Nock gave us this number. He is dead. The heart has been stolen."
VOICE: "Damned! The only place the heart can be is Inoid! You have to fetch it and then call again."
          
I don't have to do anything but pay taxes and die.
      
Inoid is the furthest planet in the system--so cold, the game says, that people live in special domed cities. It requires more fuel to get there than the Whale is capable of carrying, so I realized I'd have to stop somewhere on the way. After noting the value of trade goods on Lapis, I set course for some intermediate planet in the system.
   
I was attacked by pirates on the way. This time, I tried moving right and was instantly destroyed.
         
All they have to do is look at me.
     
After reloading, my priorities changed. I decided I needed to equip the Whale with arms and armor. But the cheapest items cost hundreds of thousands of credits, way more than I had at the time. Clearly, the solution is to trade. With data from only two planets, that was still enough to identify some lucrative possibilities. Some experimentation showed that planets buy items for between 87% and 88% of what they sell them for. Taking that into consideration, I determined that I could make 3,770 credits for every ton of "opticals" bought on Castra and sold on Lapis and $3,270 on every ton of bauxite bought on Lapis and solid on Castra. With my starting dollar value of around $140,000, I could make a profit of over $60,000 on my first trip, accounting for fuel, a number that would increase as I made more money. As we'll see, I should have spent less time calculating trade profits and more time worrying about other things.
     
I bought as much bauxite as I could afford, saved, and then blasted off for Castra. Naturally, I was attacked by pirates. This time, I tried going forward and was instantly killed. I reloaded and tried again. I was attacked and destroyed again. A third time. A fourth time. A fifth. I tried other planets to no avail--I got attacked every time.

Surrendering does nothing for us.
         
Pretty soon, it became clear that the game had decided that I was going to be attacked by pirates on my next trip, and nothing I could do would stop it. I tried surrendering and they stole all my cargo. Since you can't really "grind" for money in this game, I figured that was an irrecoverable situation. I tried selling all my cargo on Lapis (at a loss), and the pirates just stole all my credits. I sold all my cargo, beamed down to Lapis, bought a bunch of random stuff at the stores (personal items, not cargo), beamed back up, and tried again. This time, since I had no cargo and no money, the pirates stole nothing. I made it to Castra, beamed down, and sold the items at a $40,000 loss. But if it broke the cycle, I knew I'd be able to make it up again in trade goods. I loaded up the cargo hold with opticals, blasted off for Castra--and got attacked by pirates again. For whatever reason, the game had decided that I was going to get pirated on every single trip.
       
That's just cruel for cruelty's sake.
       
Instead of quitting the whole thing and doing something more sensible with my life, I installed the CD version of the game. I figured I'd see if it would accept the save game from the floppy version and, if so, whether it would make any difference. The answer to both questions was yes. I reloaded from Lapis and tried to go to Castra again, and I was predictably attacked by pirates again. But this time, the game indicated that the Whale had 8 hit points instead of the 0 that it had before. Apparently, the floppy version of the game had started the ship with no hit points, and thus it was deciding that I was dead every time I moved.
       
8 hits make all the difference.
       
With 8 hits available, I was able to reach the edge of the map and escape before the enemy ship got me. I made it to Castra, sold my trade goods, and began to amass my fortune.
   
The manual, incidentally, has nothing to say about ship's hit points or how they are restored. There is no obvious selection or place to do it in the ship menu, no way to pay for repairs in port to the ship as a whole (just individual pieces of equipment).
           
Let's talk a little more about the CD version of the game versus the floppy version. Most of the difference is with sound, and a lot of that is with music, which as my regular readers know, I don't prize as much as most players. I have to say, though, they put some serious effort to this soundtrack. As the game begins, a slight spoken prologue (a guy in a German accent counting down) precedes the main techno theme which features both original lyrics ("Get wave / for a voyage / get a wave for the trip to the stars") as well as a lot of dialogue and sound effect mixing; I particularly enjoyed the two voices doing a call-and-response of "You'd better cut out the sonic absorber for docking" (or something like that) and "shut up." You can listen to it here. The soundtrack was apparently released separately as a regular CD.
    
The title sequence also has a quick recap of the backstory showing two people who look like Dolph Lundgren and Rachel Ticotin (and nothing like any of the characters in the game) deciding to buy their own spaceship, taking a look at a board titled "Ships for Sale," and seeing that the SS Whale is a real bargain.
       
Surely, we could come up with a better name than "cybor-brick-board."
         
In-game, there are a couple of new features. Most welcome is the ability to save among eight save slots instead of just one. Less necessary are voice clips that say things like "Have a look at my wares" and "What can we do for you?" when you select the various planetary menu options. The authors astonishingly did absolutely nothing about the horrid interface, which must have been the subject of numerous complaints in the intervening year. 
     
Now that I could reliably get away from pirate attacks--which continued to happen every time I traveled--I focused on making money at trading. Because I'm basically just insane at this point, I took the time to make a grid of the entire solar system and the costs of goods on every planet, which required me to take goods to the planets that didn't sell them just to find out what they'd pay for them. I also had to buy a refrigerated compartment because some of the goods spoil in transit if you don't have one.
         
My complete waste-of-time trading matrix.
       
It turns out that the most lucrative gig is buying gold on Inoid (1,078,210) and selling it on Nedax (1,373,456), I didn't have enough money at this point for even a single load of that. Plus, Inoid is way out there and requires a lot of fuel. The second most lucrative was buying heavy weapons on Sky Boulevard (168,753) and selling them on Lapis (256,485). In both cases, the profit was so high that the amount of fuel consumed wasn't a factor. With every successful trade, I could buy more for the next trade, never coming close to filling the 5,000 tons that the Whale could hold.
         
This planet has more of the game's 30 commodities for sale than most.
     
After I made about $8 million this way, I splurged on items for the Whale. From the various planets, I got a flexibility (adds more movement), a front shield, a back shield, something that identifies enemies, a planet glider, a glider locator, a mining device, a top gun, a bottom gun, extra firepower, a war calculator (no idea), a fuel optimizer, an extra engine, an extra tank, a cargo bay, a mineral scanner. I still had over $5 million when I finished. I may have overdone the trading. I was listening to a Dennis Lehane novel while I was doing it, and the plot was getting interesting.
    
Something I bought--I'm not entirely sure what--shows me the buying and selling price of every commodity on every planet. I could have saved myself a lot of travel.

This would have been useful a few hours ago, but then I wouldn't know how Prayers for Rain ended.
       
As you might imagine, all the guns and shields did wonders for my odds in combat. Space combat takes place on a 13 x 27 tactical grid. The Whale always starts in the center, while the enemy might be anywhere (but usually at one of the edges). Moons and planets and stars are in the background but are only decorations.
   
Scanning the enemy ship.
     
The ship has a certain number of movement points, determined by equipment, and every action takes a certain number: move forward (2), turn left or right (1), fire guns (2), and activate shields (3). Identifying an enemy or surrendering doesn't take any. Obviously, some of these options weren't available until I bought the necessary equipment. After you finish your movement, you hit the "end turn" button and the enemy goes. 
   
With my top and bottom guns, enemies pretty much died in a single blast. As far as I can tell, you get absolutely nothing from a successful combat--no experience, no money, no equipment. You just get to continue to your destination, the same as if you hadn't spent three hours trading to buy a bunch of fancy equipment and had just fled every battle instead.
       
Shields active, preparing to fire.
      
Once you've purchased the "glider," every time you choose the option to "use glider or beam down," the game assumes you want to do the former. You appear over the surface of the planet in your glider. If you really just wanted to beam to the city, you then have to choose that option from the glider menu. The glider otherwise offers the ability to scan and mine for metals, which is a waste of time given the trading system, which itself is a waste of time.   
       
The glider interface. I'm sure this will become important later.
        
I went down to the surface of Inoid to try to find the next stage of the quest. The frosted city was small enough that I didn't bother to map it. None of the NPCs had anything interesting to say. Aside from a store, the only place of interest that the city had was a hospital. Of the dialogue options available, the only one that got us anywhere was to say that "We are infected with the Hypo-Coco disease!," whatever that is. 
         
The city has dead snowmen. Cute.
       
The receptionist freaked out and called "Dr. Steinhag," who appeared and escorted us to an adjacent room, where he said we'd be scanned for the disease. "Please wait here until I am back," he said, then left. The 2 x 2 room had two locked doors, a couple of cosmetic trays with scalpels and such, and nothing that I could find to do. Steinhag didn't return. It took me a long time, messing around, before I discovered that I could use my toolkit to open the northern door (but not the southern one). 
         
This is the first time that dialogue has been delivered outside the dialogue interface.
       
A table in the northern room had the heart we were seeking. Everyone leveled up when I grabbed it. (They had leveled up earlier, too, but I forgot to mention it.) I gave my doctor "Resurrect Member" and everyone else "Automatic Reload."
     
In a world where "resurrection" is a skill, why do we need heart transplants?
     
The game wouldn't let us beam up from the hospital, but after we had the heart, Dr. Steinhag returned to tell us that none of us had Hypo-Coco disease and that we could leave. Once outside the hospital, we were able to beam away.
    
Back on the ship, we called the phone number again. The voice told us to fly to Lapis and search for a mine using our glider, at coordinates 33/18. We'll pick up from there next time. 
         
Why are we still working for this guy? We're already rich.
        
Switching to the CD version has at least made the game a bit more stable, but it's still uncomfortably weird and poorly balanced. I'm hoping that the relatively small solar system is a sign of a short plot.
      
Time so far: 10 hours

52 comments:

  1. What a trip. How did people enjoy this so much that they requested a sequel?

    Some ROT13 to delay your descent into madness a little:
    According to a walkthrough, you seem to be about sbegl creprag through the story. That walkthrough also notes that you should make sure to buy the following items during your trading orgy, which I haven't seen on your list:
    PC4 genc (Pnfgen)
    Ebbz Fpnaare (Yncvf)
    Vasen Erq Fpnaare (Yncvf)
    Fbhaq Fhccerffbe (Yncvf)
    Nhgbzngvp Tha (sbe na ACP; Vabvq)

    Oh, and in case you aren't aware: in the spirit of Hungary-Austrian cooperation, the CD version of the game includes an additional planet with a 10-level dungeon designed by the creators of "Abandoned Places 2". Of course, it is absolutely required to finish the storyline.

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    1. In terms of flying a spaceship around with trade goods, how does this compare to the classic Elite? I know that game (from 1984) was very popular, albeit not just for the trade. And it's not an RPG, of course, but it may have been an inspiration for this Whale game.

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    2. thing is, at the time (end of the 80s-1992) there were quite a few rpg/adventure games based on space adventures and trading... that always fell a bit short. Whale's Voyage is one of the few that really feels like a crpg.

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    3. Anecdotal, but I know the reason why there were two Galactic Empire games, which are quite obscure FPS games, is because there was a contract to make two, and that's not unique to that series either. Whale's Voyage 2 probably had the same deal going on.

      @Carlos, eh, most of those games weren't really RPGs or adventures, they were just games like Elite. (At least, I don't remember more than a handful from that time) Whale's Voyage is completely different outside of trading and space.

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    4. @Dalinar: According to one of the devs (Peter Baust├Ądter, in the comments section of a Let's play video), the game was indeed quite a bit inspired by the sequel to Elite, Frontier: Elite II, which he used to play a lot back then (it came out that same year, among others on the same platforms, i.e. PC, Amiga and Amiga CD32).

      Having said that, these games combined trading with flying around in real time, including landing, fighting, salvaging/mining, not a turn-based minigame (I've only played the original Elite, but understand the sequel to have basically the same concepts) and did not have any first-person exploration parts with land-based fights or NPCs, which to me gives it a quite different gameplay vibe.

      @Chet: Haven't played it myself, but based on your description I'm not sure I get why "the trading system [...] is a waste of time." or at least that seems a bit harsh. To me it sounds like both a gameplay element in itself and a means to buy fuel and other equipment - similar to the original Elite or Pirates, for example. Perhaps much of it would not be strictly necessary to win the game, but this is also true for many gameplay elements in other games. Some people might enjoy the trading aspect as such without going to the lengths you went to in analysing and documenting all prices.

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    5. The trading reminds me a lot of the Escape Velocity series. It’s similarly “pointless” except to build up a large supply of money at the beginning. You can “role-play” a trader if you really want to, but prices are basically static and the real freighter ships feel like they’re just for color.

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    6. > Oh, and in case you aren't aware: in the spirit of Hungary-Austrian cooperation, the CD version of the game includes an additional planet with a 10-level dungeon designed by the creators of "Abandoned Places 2". Of course, it is absolutely required to finish the storyline.

      Sounds like a troll. Probably isn't

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    7. I feel like it's hard to program a good trading game. In real life, trading is lucrative because you have to put in the work getting things from one place to another. It pays because people have to put sweat and time and gas into it. What's the equivalent in a game? I suppose Pirates! does it well. You have to sail from port to port, which takes time and risk, and there isn't a guaranteed return either way because the price of goods is affected by variables you can't control.

      By making the price of goods fixed and travel nearly instantaneous, WV trivializes the whole process and makes it far too easy.

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    8. Uncharted Waters from KOEI was the best trading game I ever played. It was worth making a trading logbook for me to track prices and sales because large sales would depress the markets for a while. And there was some story or something Princess...I don't know I just liked the trading.

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    9. Both, Uncharted Waters (1990) and its 1993 sequel New Horizons are still on Chet's Master Game List as of now. Even though I'm not sure they'll pass his current criteria for being CRPGs, I still hope he'll play and write a bit about them or at least the first one (maybe even more than a (brief) BRIEF, out of nostalgia for Pirates! ;-)?) - I'd like to read his take on it.

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    10. No Man's Sky has had a trading component for all of its existence, which makes sense for an explorey space ship game, where you have an upgradeable/replaceable ship with cargo slots. But what makes no sense and makes me raise an eyebrow, then the other, then throw up my hands and shrug a lot, is that a few years later another update to the game included an on-foot teleportation machine in all of the space stations in every system which allows instantaneous gratis travel to any star system you've already been to. Your ship and its contents are magically dropped in the hangar of the destination as well, with no fuel cost (if I recall), so making money through commodities trading in NMS is as easy and as tedious as using one of its awkward menus, walking to a portal, waiting for a five minute loading sequence and going to the next menu. You can't be interrupted or attacked while using the portal or while on a space station so there is no risk. There's no penalty for using it over manually flying; like most of NMS' mechanics it's (ho ho!) empty space where it's the player's choice how much they value the immersion of travelling from one location to another.

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    11. Privateer 2 - the darkening has a good trading system. It's another space shooter/simulator, much like Elite.

      The trading works for the same reasons that it works in Pirates!. You have to "work" for it, take risks, and profits are not guaranteed. Most notably, you don't carry trading goods in your own ship, but you hire a cargo ship which you need to protect during the trip. If the ship is blown up by pirates, you can say goodbye to your hard earned cash. Bigger ships are more expensive, but carry more goods and are stronger, so you need to balance the cost for a bigger ship vs the availability of trading goods, prices, and the amount of money you can spend on goods.

      Then there are illegal goods, which can give more profit, but if you come across the military while carrying illegal goods you're in trouble.

      And finally there are certain random events on planets that can cause prices to rise or fall dramatically, even during a trip. Things like a water shortage on a planet, or surplus of luxury goods for whatever reason. That can mess up your plans and profits.

      Of course, eventually you learn what routes are consistently profitable, and you get enough money to always hire the biggest cargo ship, but until you're there, the trading works very well.

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  2. Get a whale, for the voyage, get a whale, for a trip to the stars

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    1. You can listen to the entire OST e.g. here. Quite a few people who heard it seem(ed) to enjoy it both back then and also now, judging by comments on videos featuring it (e.g. Let's plays) - af least it's a subject often commented on positively.

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    2. I don't know. It would make more sense if it were "whale" given the name of the game, but it doesn't sound like "whale" to me.

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    3. Hmm, to me it's clearly "whale" what she's singing. Besides the obvious connection to the game's titular spaceship, maybe it's also an indication I'm not the only one that both a video on YT featuring the song as well as the last video of Kikoskia's "Let's Play" series sport the line "Get a whale" in their title?

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    4. Well, we hear it differently. Make of that what you will.

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    5. Whale, then we hear it differently ;-). [Sorry, couldn't resist.]

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    6. It could be something that's different depending of English as first or second language.

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  3. Sorry if this has been asked already, but did you drop the "playing out of" thingy?

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    1. Playing out of: sunk cost

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    2. Duty, Habit, Spite...

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    3. Yes, I guess. It wasn't working the way I wanted.

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    4. That's interesting, Chet, did you put it up in the first place to motivate yourself, or at least rationalize why you're doing this?

      In what way wasn't it working as intended? Just curious...

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  4. What was preventing you from beaming up?

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    1. A "beaming blocker"

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    2. Scotty was asleep

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    3. "Transporter malfunction", "atmospheric interference", ... take your pick from the plot-convenient ST tropes ;-).

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  5. How could we possibly resolve the middle eastern conflict?

    No biggie, just let me get my war calculator ready...

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  6. Off-topic, as it's not an RPG, but on the theme of 1980s video games with lyrical soundtracks I have to mention Carrier Command from 1988 which had this banger: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUYKauCcutw

    You might be wondering how they fit that on a game that shipped on a single 3.5" floppy? They didn't! They included a free cassette tape with it in the box. (I suppose you were expected to load it in your boombox and hit play as the game was loading...)

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  7. This sector of space must be filled with pirates, or the version you're using has the copy protection tripped up.

    I find it interesting that you don't care for the voice clips, considering how much you used to be in favor of that sort of thing. At least on the soundtrack, I'm not surprised you don't dig the .mod-esque techno it has going on.

    As to heart transplants, I imagine you can't resurrect if you get heart disease or something.

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  8. Glad you were able to find a way past the issue with the pirates. I wonder if the floppy version was patched at some point to resolve the bug. From your experience it seems quite game breaking, so I wonder how players dealt with it originally when the game was first released.

    The trading system itself seems relatively simple yet fairly well implemented. At least, there looks like there is a good variety in what can be traded, and the different price points and fuel cost sound like they contribute to some interesting decisions on what to do (before becoming rich).

    Do the prices fluctuate at all based on what you or others trade? If a supply and demand mechanic existed that would add some further depth.

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    1. Ship spawning with zero health is a quite crazy bug indeed

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    2. No, prices don't fluctuate at all.

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    3. @CRPG Addict, the prices can go down if you sell a particular good too many times, but they won't go up if you buy too much of it.

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  9. I have to admit, when you mentioned that you would be attacked by pirates whenever you tried to leave the planet, the first thing I thought was that this was the game's anti-piracy protection. But no, it just seems to be poorly designed.

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    1. If it's "anti-piracy protection" then it's also in quite a state of irony.

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    2. I love that! Pirates getting constantly killed by pirates would be the best DRM ever.

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    3. To some extent you had/have that in Sid Meier's Pirates! (1987) - IIRC, if you did not answer a copy protection question at the beginning correctly, you would not be killed immediately (by the group of - usually - pirates whose leader asks the question), but started your own pirating career in very poor conditions and had to play against overwhelming odds which, even if you were not killed outright early on, basically took the sense and fun out of it. So you were strongly incentivized to have the right answers.

      In the 1993 Pirates! Gold version/remake, from time to time you had to identify flags of pirates showing up on the horizon with a similar effect if you failed, I think.

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  10. Apparently, quickly beaming up and saving at potentially dangerous moments (like when Greg Morgan materializes behind you) is indeed a key to getting ahead, a bit like saving prior to big/difficult battles in some traditional CRPGs - once you know they're ahead, that is... and assuming the game let's you beam up, of course.

    But the zero HP of the ship sound like a bug (unless it really was some kind of copy protection). Haven't seen that mentioned anywhere else, so not sure if that was a problem of the floppy version in general or rather just the specific file you had.

    The combination of an impractical interface, potential bugs and weird mechanics must indeed be frustrating. I assume setting up your own hotkeys would run counter to the spirit of the blog / your rules, even if you already experienced enough of the original interface to judge it for your GIMLET? It might be a way to save you some time and further frustration and may have the side effect of better letting you appreciate other potentially more positive aspects of the game (which currently seems to be difficult given the mood that - understandably - appears to shine through this entry).

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    1. I don't know how you'd set up your own hotkeys for a game like this. There's no keyboard input to begin with, so you can't swap one key for another, and there's no mouse input, so you can't set up a hotkey to click on a particular part of the screen. The way you interact with the interface is by arrowing to the right icon and hitting the SPACE bar, but the specific keys (arrows) that you have to press changes based on context and your starting position in the interface. I don't see any way to automate it.

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    2. Yes, it would rather have to be macros assigning a single key to what otherwise would be a specific combination of space and arrow keystrokes. After having complained about the interface, this was recommended to CrookedBee for her LP and it appears it worked for her. Whether it's worth spending time on (maybe for certain combinations used often) given what you describe, is something I assume only person(s) playing or having played the game can judge.

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  11. Still not sure I get the credits vanishing bug. I thought at first it was gonna be a hostile pickpocket mechanic, but maybe it's more like Red Crystal's bugs.

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  12. I think you got a badly cracked floppy version in the first place; in the one I tried Whale didn't have zero hit points issue.

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  13. Yes, but playing out of ...?

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  14. (sorry, did not see the previous comment)

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  15. Out of curiosity, can anyone learn the "resurrect member" skill, or only doctors with high charisma?

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    1. Aranians (aka, the other psionic class beside psionicians) can learn resurrect member, though they won't be able to use it until they have at least 50 PSI points.

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    2. I know the question was meant to be taken serious (probably)...but oh boy...can't stop laughing

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    3. No, it wasn't meant as a serious question. Apologies to the first anonymous, it was not my intention to fool anyone. I considered adding a smiley, but I thought it would be obvious, all the more after the heal member joke in a previous entry.

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