Sunday, June 20, 2021

BRIEF: Total Eclipse (1985)

 
"Orphanage Road" sounds like a grim place to have a business.
Total Eclipse
United Kingdom
Eclipse-Fenmar Limited (developer); J. Penn Discount Software (publisher)
Released 1985 for Dragon 32
    
Total Eclipse is among a genre of games that goes back to Star Trader (1974) by Dave Kaufman and is probably best exemplified by the Elite series (starting in 1984). The original Elite is clearly the direct inspiration for Total Eclipse. The type of game is often called "space trading." The player starts off with a ship and a limited number of resources, and through exploration, trading, and (in some games) limited combat, he slowly gains wealth and status. Strip the genre of sci-fi elements and put it on the Spanish Main, and you have Pirates!
 
This one has a vague quest to find some ancient alien technology that will allow for unlimited energy or distant exploration or something. It is set in the year 3000. You play a rogue trader, unlicensed by the Federation of Intergalactic Traders, who must try to make his fortune by venturing through 12 galaxies, 720 planets, and countless space stations, abandoned ships, and asteroids. Gameplay is a somewhat repetitive process of scanning the local area for interesting locations, jumping to them, and seeing what they have to offer in the way of trading, services, and salvage. Fuel and ship repairs are a constant concern, and you can get attacked by pirates.
   
Scanning space for prospects.
       
There have been attempts to merge space trading games with RPGs, most notably in Starflight (1986) and its sequels, and to a lesser extent in Star Control II (1992), although the RPG status of both games is debatable. What is not debatable is that Total Eclipse has no RPG elements at all, and gods know why the MobyGames contributor decided to tag it as such. One common feature of such games is that there is no "character" as such, just a ship (or fleet of ships) and resources. The player is an omnipresent captain but rarely with any specific avatar. There are no attributes to improve, let alone to serve as a basis of combat success.
 
Buying low and selling high is at the heart of this genre.
     
Most games released for the Dragon 32 or Dragon 64 were also released for the ZX Spectrum, so I've never had to rely on a Dragon emulator to finish a game. I downloaded one a while ago for some reason, XRoar, but I'm having the worst time getting Total Eclipse to run with it (it's a cassette game, which always poses its own challenges). Thus, this BRIEF is even briefer than usual. There are elements I like about this genre, though, and I wonder if anyone can think of any good games that blend space trading with honest RPG status.
   
Another entry coming later today.
 

28 comments:

  1. I'm only familiar with Elite and Frontier: Elite 2, and I believe have various tiers of ships with different numbers of dedicated hardpoints (equipment slots). F:E2 has (randomised) side-quests - you can elevate in rank and get different types of things to accomplish - but I don't recall it having a main quest that concludes your dealings with a faction. Beyond ascending to Elite (and its equivalent in the other notorieties), that's about as RPGey as those two got.

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    1. Yes, in Frontier, as your rank increased with either of the two main factions, you would unlock different tiers of missions, but there wasn't a "final" mission as such. Once you got to the top rank, you would still get offered one of the eight missions available at that level.

      Sort of like the radial quests in the Bethesda games, I suppose.

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    2. Frontier 2: First Encounters had a main quest of sorts, involving the mysterious Thargoid alien race.

      The later X series have an overarching metaplot along with each game having a main storyline running alongside the space trader backdrop, but no character development.

      I think the closest you'll find to a genuine merge into RPG is the MMO EvE Online.

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  2. I was just thinking (in terms of space trading games) that Wing Commander: Privateer might arguably qualify as an RPG by your definition. You have a flexible inventory. Combat is to some degree based on the underlying stats of your ship, which can be changed by buying new weapons, ships, and other loadout. It has story, quests and NPCs, and allows you to roam freely throughout its world and tackle missions in an order of your choosing (not a criteria, I know, but RPG adjacent).

    It doesn't, so far as I can recall, have meaningful statistical growth of the main character himself - the thing you're upgrading is your ship, not its pilot. And I wouldn't have *intuitively* called in an RPG...

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    1. I think Privateer will not qualify as a RPG. Chet uses 3 criteria :
      - Character development ; the ship is not a character for sure.
      - Combat effectiveness dependent on characters attribute - no character attribute
      - Flexible inventory. This one qualifies.

      If Wing Commander is in (because "the ship is the character"), pretty much all games with upgradable vehicles are in.

      Wing Commander : Privateer is a fantastic game but it is not even an "hybrid" game like Star Control was ; Privateer fits perfectly in its category : Space Trading game.

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    2. This said, if there was a "Space sim" addict, I would read every single of his entries. :)

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  3. Freelancer wasn't too bad of a space trading game from what I remember but can't recall how the leveling system worked.

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    1. As I recall, levels in Freelancer used a hybrid model: some were accessible via the classic EXP/money system, but at certain points the next level was gated by a storyline mission and you couldn't advance until you completed it.

      Kind of weird, really. I liked Freelancer, but it always felt like it was half the game we were supposed to get.

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    2. It was. Freelancer had a notoriously troubled development history.

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  4. The Space Rangers games should count as RPGs they have a very maximalist approach that apart from player stats and exp and ship upgrading includes RTS planetary battles, text adventures and arcade shoot em ups

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  5. Hey, a game from Birmingham (where I live). Tbh Erdington is kind of in the middle - not bad but not great. So orphanage road probably conjures up the right image :p

    It’s interesting to think what the line between these games and RPGs are. The ship can be argued to be a character, levelling up by buying a new ship. Equipment is refitting the ship. The main difference is that the combat is usually more arcade base than the turn based we expect from rpgs.

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  6. Star Traders: Frontiers is perhaps the game Chet's looking for here. It has Elite style trading, mining, and ship-to-ship combat, but you (the captain) and every member of your crew has an inventory, stats, and experience. There are branching conversations with dialog choices, quests, and factions. It's as much RPG as space trader sim.

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    1. That does sound like it! It's going to be a heck of a long time before I get to it, though.

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    2. This was my immediate thought, too - it is the best of it's type i know.

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    3. I'll also note that Star Traders: Frontiers has completely dice-driven combat. Unfortunately, that dice-driven combat is not well-explained anywhere in game. It's one of those games with a wiki instead of a manual and you really have to read the wiki to have any chance of understanding what's going on.

      Despite all that, I have somehow played hundreds of hours of Star Traders: Frontiers. It has the most immense scope for different kinds of character and party (and also spaceship) builds that I've ever seen. There's very little in the way of story though. It doesn't have a main quest so much as it does a series of quest-vignettes.

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    4. Well, if the wiki isn't actually half-empty, as is often the case for software where a wiki is provided instead of an actual conclusive manual page, then it would be fine with me.

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  7. In the RPG / space-trading genre I've suggested the upcoming Whale's Voyage games before, but in those, you cannot actually fly your own ships. The universe is basically a menu town.
    Maybe we'll get something like that with Starfield? There's certainly a demand for a space opera RPG in "real" space.

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  8. This looks pretty good for such an obscure platform. Most of the space trading games from around this time were worse than the way you're describing this. There's a really stiff learning curve in Elite where you don't know what you should be trading or if that ship that's approaching is hostile or not. And the other big one, Sundog: Frozen Legacy, is just wall-to-wall space pirates if you leave a planet with cargo in your hold.

    As to good games that combine space trading and RPG, well, there's Star Sector, which I don't think is out of early access yet. You have a fleet and starships, but you also have stats, as well as any officers you pick up. Though trading always fell off my radar since you had to deal with so many enemies that buying trade goods could be a waste of money. I also think Ironseed is pretty sweet, but trading is not something that comes up often nor should you rely on it.

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  9. I would count 1995's Ironseed as a space exploration RPG, somewhat akin to Star Control 2 except the RPG elements are stronger. Curiously, that game received a 25th anniversary remake on Steam last year, made by the original developer who took his ancient game and ported it to a more modern engine.

    I love the game's weird setting and backstory, and it has a feeling of desolation and loneliness about it that few other games have.

    You pick a crew at the start of the game, all with their own skill levels. Their skills go up with use, but they also mentally deteriorate when overworked so you gotta balance their tasks to make them gain points in their skills while keeping them from mental breakdowns.

    The mental breakdowns are exacerbated by everyone on your crew being reduced to a sentient jelly plugged into a computer. They discovered that your consciousness can be digitized and moved from your body into a jelly-like biomass, and that's perfect for exploring outer space since the body would decay on such decades-long voyages. But being a pile of jelly in a jar that can only interact with the outside world through the ship computer you're plugged into kinda makes you insane.

    That's why your psychometrist is the most important character on the ship, keeping everyone's morale up.

    I absolutely love that game's atmosphere, and it has enough RPG elements to qualify for Chet's blog imo.

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    1. Just checked and it was released in 94, not 95!

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  10. "What is not debatable is that Total Eclipse has no RPG elements at all, and gods know why the MobyGames contributor decided to tag it as such."

    The new generation of gamers seems to to label nearly everything as an RPG. Racing/vehicular sim games and explicitly action-based games are usually safe. Everything else is a fair game.

    I learned it by participating in the internet forum section dedicated to helping people recall the names of the games they have played or seen, but forgotten. People tell what they do remember: setting, characters, how the game begun, any specific details. Telling the game's genre is encouraged. The problem is - many people tend to guess the genre. RPG is a single most mentioned genre in that case. Despite the games turning out to be strategies, first-person shooters and nearly everything else when the game's name is found and acknowledged by the one who asked for it.

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    1. People have called Link to the Past an RPG since it came out. I don't think this is a new issue.

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    2. It's the logic of "Doom is an RPG because you play the role of Doomguy".

      I think the popularity of JRPGs in the late 90s is at fault here. Final Fantasy VII was hugely popular but it is extremely linear and has little character customization, so people who grew up with that associate "you play as a specific pre-defined character" with RPG.

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    3. I would also blame Covid19 and most other deseases on JRPGs. In fact, every evil in the world can be traced back to have a JRPG origin.

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    4. stepped pyramidsJune 21, 2021 at 2:02 PM

      I would argue that the popularity of FFVII actually reduced confusion over what "RPG" means. In the '80s and much of the '90s, "adventure game" and "role playing game" on covers were virtually interchangeable and applied to nearly anything that wasn't obviously an action game, strategy game, or puzzle game.

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  11. How about "Space Rogue"? It is also known as "Ultima in Space" or "the link between Ultima and Wing Commander.

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    1. Played it in 2013:

      http://crpgaddict.blogspot.com/2013/07/game-105-space-rogue-1989.html

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  12. There are a couple more games that almost fit the bill: Darkstar One, which is more space combat oriented, and somewhat gated by the story. The other is Starpoint Gemini series which is an interesting but the RTS approach is bit awkward. Darkstar One is clearly an RPG, and I think SG also qualifies, even if the RPG elements aren't as central.

    In the space trader genre there's also the 1993 Protostar and the Escape Velocity series (which is great) that both flirt around RPG status, but do not reach it.

    Still, EV, especially EV Nova, is certainly worth playing. Protostar I mostly remember as being weird.

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