Friday, June 7, 2024

Game 517: Whale's Voyage (1993)

I'm pretty sure that's not supposed to be the Whale.
Whale's Voyage
Neo Software Producktions (developer); Flair Software Ltd. (European publisher); Pro One Software (U.S. publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS, Amiga, and Amiga CD32
Re-released in 1994 on same platforms on CD with extra cinematics/dialogue
Date Started: 2 June 2024
Whale's Voyage is an odd 3D "blobber" with horrible controls from Neo Software. It is the first game from the developer, which still exists today as Rockstar Vienna. [Edit. Apparently, Rockstar Vienna was shuttered over 15 years ago.] I knew nothing about the game before firing it up, and thus went into this session completely blind.

I believe I am playing the DOS version distributed on floppy disk to the United Kingdom in 1993. I am aware of the CD version released a year later. I had a look at it, and like most CD versions of earlier games in the mid-1990s, it seems to add nothing but unnecessary music and horrible voiced dialogue. The floppy version ran faster and with fewer emulation problems, and I decided to stick with it. Let me know if you're aware of any major differences, though. The manual is pretty awful no matter what version you use. It leaves out obvious questions from the backstory (How many alien races did we meet? What were they like?), character creation (What is that alien doing in there?) and especially combat.
From the CD version intro. That looks more like a whale.
The game is set in the late 2300s. Humanity has developed interstellar flight capabilities and has met alien races. In 2291, Earth won a war against the Iradian Empire, freeing a slave race called the Sanxons in the process, and was instrumental in the creation of a Cosmic League to regulate interstellar trade. Over time, this League has grown into a de facto interstellar government, headquartered on a planet called Z-1.

Within this universe, you play a party of four characters who recently scraped together enough money to buy an interstellar transport called SS Whale. Unfortunately, Whale is a bit of a lemon. It sucks up all the characters' time and money, until at last they find themselves broke and stranded in orbit around a planet called Castra, unable to even afford the price of fuel to get out of here. According to the manual, Castra used to have a thriving economy, but it collapsed from competition and is now a corrupt, crime-ridden slum.

The game has the weirdest character creation process that I can remember in a CRPG. It begins with a selection of the character's parents, from five male options and five female options. All you get to choose are their portraits; the game doesn't tell you anything about their relative strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, one of the male portraits is clearly alien, like a human-sized Cthulhu. The others look like digitized portraits of actual people. The manual has nothing to say about this selection process.
The parental options. At least one of these portraits is going to seem unfortunate a year later.
The game selects a sex for the baby at random. You give the baby a name, and then you're shown a baby portrait and his or her relative (eventual, I assume) levels in strength, intelligence, speed, mental energy, skilfulness, and health. A "DNA synthesizer" spins to the right, but it's non-interactive. You get a pool of bonus points ("Mutation Ratio") to allocate to the attributes, but the manual warns that actually using them leaves the character susceptible to genetic diseases.
My bounty hunter has no mental energy.
Once you accept the character, the game gives you a few lines of a backstory drawn at random from a database. Some of them are very sad ("Even in her first years of life, she changed her foster parents like clothes. She never felt the power of an intact family"), and all assume that the real parents (the ones you selected) died somehow. You then choose his or her primary school from six options: General Primary School, Space Education Camp, Basic Military Training, Streetkid Childhood (not a school at all, but life on the street without school), Cybertech Mental School, and Nagikamura Gakko (a chemistry-focused school). Most of these schools orient a player towards a particular class. Some of them aren't available to certain characters depending on attributes.
Choosing the character's education. Note the little story at the top.
Finally, you choose your character's secondary education from another six options: Battle Academy, Hoodson Medicine School, Aranian Monastic School, Psi Science Institute, Chemistry University, and Bounty Hunter Society. As you scroll among these options, the image in the upper-left changes to show the institution, which is a cute touch. We were just talking about a lot of effort put into unnecessary graphics in the context of Loremaster.
I started to try to analyze the effects of the different matings of men and women, but they weren't always consistent and I ultimately gave up. Relying partly on randomness, I went with the following 

  • Ishmael: Fourth guy/first woman. Game tells me that he was rejected by his foster parents and grew up in a monastery, which taught him law, order, and obedience. That put a paladin sort of character in my mind, so I sent him to Basic Military Training and then the Aranian Monastic School. The game tells me he's an Aranian, whatever that is. He has a lot of health, strength, and mental energy, but he's slow and not very skillful.
  • Starbuck: Third guy/first woman. Results in a strong, smart, skillful, female character with low health, alas. She had an even sadder childhood: her adoptive parents were just looking for a "kitchen maid." They threw her out when they came into some money. Nonetheless, she went to Space Education Camp and then (because it was the only option available), the Bounty Hunter Society. The game unsurprisingly made her a bounty hunter. Her education made her health a lot better, but she's a bit slow.
  • Mapple: Fourth guy/fourth woman. Resulted in a strong, fast, skillful character who was really dumb. "A working class family cared for the little boy," the game tells me, "who was educated to become a miner since his adoption." I sent him to Basic Military Training and then Battle Academy, and he became a soldier. Still dumb as a box of rocks.
  • Rachel: I spent some time engineering this one, as I figured I'd need someone with a good science background. A combination of General Tagge and Captain Janeway did the job. I sent her to General Primary School and Hoodson Medical School, and she became a doctor.
I avoided the Cthulhu option in all cases, though I assume it confers some advantages. I would just need to know more about what the alien is, and what the implications are to such inter-breeding.

I kept this group but played around with other combinations. It appears that your class depends exclusively on your secondary schooling, so the only options are soldier, doctor, Aranian, psionician, biochemist, and bounty hunter. If you've played the game and think I'll be crippled for not having a psionician or biochemist, please let me know.
I otherwise enjoyed the backstory and character creation process. It seems impossible that it wasn't influenced by the Traveller tabletop RPG or either of the two MegaTraveller CRPGs based on it, although it's a bit simplified. The universe feels quite similar, with the PCs making up a group that's just struggling to get by.
The game begins with a planetary menu. The party can buy or sell personal wares, buy equipment for the Whale, fly off to another destination, beam or glide down to the planet, or call someone on a standard nine-key telephone dial. We have no money to buy anything for ourselves or the ship, nothing to sell, no fuel to fly to another planet, and no one to call, so it seems the only option is to visit Castra and see what we can uncover.
Options from the ship.
Once on the planet, the game switches to a standard three-dimensional, tiled, "blobber" screen. The interface for this screen is odd. It seems to assume the player will be using a joystick, so inputs are minimal. You can use the arrow keys to turn, but to access character information or any of the other icons on the screen, you have to do a weird combination of the SPACE bar and the down arrow, at which point you can arrow around the various buttons and options and hit ENTER to activate them. It's one of the worst systems that I've ever encountered. No other key on the keyboard does anything, not even obvious stuff like 1-4 or F1-F4 to activate the character sheets of the characters. In times like this, I'd normally sigh and use the mouse--but the mouse isn't supported in this game, either. 
If there's any way to view a character sheet and the items the characters have equipped, I can't find it. You can see each character's statistics. The game tells me they're all "sleepy" and will become "more awake" with 2,048 experience points. 
One of the bottom buttons gives you information about the character.
There are no sound options, so you can't turn off the incessant music. Since there don't seem to be any other sound effects, I just turn off sound on my computer entirely. 
Within the bottom controls, each character can be assigned a role. There are eight potential roles: the leader, the scout (looks for traps), the closer (closes doors behind the party), the targeter (starts combat with an enemy already targeted), the joker (keeps up crew morale), the merchant (manages money), the weigher (causes each character's carry weight to be displayed), and the user (causes current temperature and oxygen content to be displayed). 
That sounds sarcastic.
I see an NPC walking around. It takes so long to get into the bottom control panel and choose the option to talk to him that he's a few steps away before I can make it work. He's apparently named "George McMil." We have nothing useful to say anyway. Other wandering NPCs mostly tell me to get lost.
As we explore, a small automap keeps track of our progress in the upper-left, although I don't think there's any way to expand this to see the whole area, so I eventually break down and map it manually. Castra occupies a 20 x 20 area, although at least half of it is unexplorable because of locked doors. I annotated them all, but I don't know if there's a way later to open them. I also annotate garbage bins and fire hydrants, though I can find no way to interact with them, and store counters with nobody standing behind them. Despite the planet's rough-and-ready-to-rumble reputation, we don't get attacked or hassled as we wander. There are a few wandering NPCs who have nothing to say. We find two staffed stores. They sell interesting-sounding equipment, like compasses, a "Roomscanner," and different types of traps, but we still have no money. A room in the northeast corner seems to offer free healing from a glowing orb.
My map of Castra.
On the western side of the map, tucked in an alcove created by a cloverleaf configuration of walls, we find a man named Greg Morgan brandishing a weapon. He says he's hiding from someone chasing and persecuting him, and he wants us to smuggle him off world by shrinking him using a Shrinking Device. Dialogue is with full-sentence options, but I haven't been impressed with the depth of choice so far.
Either people talk weirdly in the future or the translation was a little off.
We start taking another lap around the area, and to the south of Morgan, in a dead-end alleyway, we find two people accosting George McMil. I try talking to them, and him, but they have nothing to say. One does briefly wander off, but he returns, and they both continue to block my access to George.
Talking to these guys does nothing.
I fiddle with the controls and finally find a way for one character to attack the targeted person. I can also "Hypnotize" him, which I try first, to no avail. They both die with a few hits from my fist, however. The hardest part is switching the targeted opponent in the middle of battle, as you have to back out of the combat menu to reselect someone. I guess that's where having a "targeter" comes in handy. Several of my characters are wounded in the battle, but their health regenerates afterwards.
After the battle, we help George McMil to his feet. He gives us $1,500 and in subsequent dialogue, his phone number. He says he's a trader in "high-tech tools." Unfortunately, the game doesn't give us any way to ask him about a shrink ray right now. I note with some amusement that his number has only nine digits and seems to have a Medford, Massachusetts exchange.
I included this screenshot so I didn't have to write down the number elsewhere.
We head to one merchant, then the other, looking for a shrinking device. One has high-tech stuff, but nothing that sounds like it shrinks. The other, named Walter Wim, has weapons, but my $1,500 won't go far. The cheapest weapon, a hunting knife, is $201. A 9mm pistol costs $10,500.
We need to go save another six guys from mugging, I guess.
While talking to him, he happens to mention: "I am so in sorrow. I cannot find my daughter Winnie!" We do another loop around the city and find the girl huddling in an eastern corner. While trying to help her, we accidentally beam up to the Whale, but that's not a bad thing, as you can only save the game on the ship, and as we're about to see, it's good that we saved.
That looks like it could be a lost girl.
Returning to the surface, we find the girl and pick her up. On the way back to her father, an NPC blocks our way, and I incorrectly assume that he's hostile. We attack him, and moments later, a squad of soldiers shows up and kills us instantly.
I guess the planet isn't as lawless as the manual portrays it.
Reloading, we pick up Winnie again and return her to Walter Wimm. He thanks us and gives us some weapons. We apparently also gained experience points because the game says we leveled up, and it asks us to choose a skill for each character. (Again, the manual had nothing to say about this.) I do my best. The options vary per character, but some common ones are "Heal Wounds of Member," "Disarm Selected Opponent," "Check Honesty of Selected Opponent," and "Automatic Reload." I quit and reload at this point because it's the only way I can check what skills the characters already have. It turns out the characters already have "Hypnotize Opponent," "Take Up Trail," "Identify Weapon," and "Heal Wounds of Member," in that order. So after I return Winnie again, I pick different options: "Check Honesty of Selected Opponent," "Manipulate Computer," "Search for Traps," and "Identify Essence." Afterwards, all of my characters are wounded--I guess the game doesn't raise current health with maximum health--but they begin slowly healing.
What's the worst possible word that could come next?
Walter left us a shotgun, a 9mm ceramics pistol, an Apollo grenade, and two generic magazines of "ammunition." I hope they're universal. I give the shotgun and one magazine to my bounty hunter, the pistol and one magazine to my soldier, and the grenade to my Aranian. I figure out how to equip the two guns. 
It turns out that the guns came unloaded, as I discover moments later, as I walk outside the shop and am immediately attacked by a mugger. Fortunately, he only brought his fists to a gunfight. Unfortunately, my guns are unloaded, so I have to figure out how to do that while getting punched. Eventually, I have my soldier fumble the magazine into his 9mm and kill the mugger in a couple of shots. "The police scanned us $3000 for killing a thief," the game says. I hope that means that the police gave it to us.
This guy looks a little like Hitler.
If it's not clear from my description, it appears that only one character can fight at a time. I don't see any way to involve multiple characters in battles, although this interface is such a nightmare that it's possible I'm missing something.
It takes me a while to find anything after that. Eventually, I return to the other merchant, Max Flesh, who says that he heard we killed a thief. He offers us a job: take a heart to Lapis, to his contact Jack Nock. He will pay $100,000 for it. That sounds like enough to get us out of hock. 
Are we talking about an actual heart here?
We go to pick up the item, which indeed looks like a heart. It's called an "instant heart." The moment we have our hands on it, three guys appear and start blasting us, saying "Give us the heart!" I try to return fire, but they blast me to death in seconds. I'm going to have to reload and do everything again from the missing child quest. In the meantime, I'm going to check if the Amiga version does anything better with the interface, because this borders on absolutely unusable.
Time so far: 3 hours
Playing out of: Duty, with a little curiosity.


  1. 'Heal wounds of member' is an awfully specific skill.

  2. As a way of saying thank you, let me give you these three...

    ...Baby Yodas.

    [Do me one better.]

    1. ... timeshare presentation pamphlets.

    2. orifices?
      ...insect swarms?
      ...middle eastern nations?
      ...barrels of nuclear waste?

      I can do this all day!

  3. I tried to play Whale's Voyage several times in the past 25 years. I always gave up because of the horrible interface.

  4. Star Trek: Whale's Voyage was one of the better movies :D

    1. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 7, 2024 at 5:09 PM

      It might be my favorite of them all (between that and Wrath of Khan, anyway). I think I have a soft spot for it from multiple childhood visits to the movie's "Cetacean Institute" (i.e., the Monterey Bay Aquarium).

    2. Personally, I think Wrath Of Kahn is a (slightly) better movie, but Voyage Home is a better Star Trek, if that makes any sense.

    3. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 7, 2024 at 9:26 PM

      @Gnoman: Yes, I could certainly agree with that sentiment.

  5. Yet another SF CRPG I'm not the least tempted to play.
    It seems to me the quality to crap ratio is much lower for SF games than for Fantasy games (I don't think I have a bias against SF).

    1. I agree with you, but I wonder if that's party because fantasy games are so common--and the generic Tolkien or D&D universe so lodged in our minds--that fantasy developers can do more with a few quick sketches than sci-fi developers can.

    2. Part of the problem is the same one that comes up a lot in the articles on Centauri Alliance and the Buck Rogers Gold Box games. Many sci-fi CRPGs are really thinly-reskinned fantasy ones, either simply using the same tropes and paradigms (the Darths And Droids joke about "you just went through the equipment list and put "laser" in front of everything" applies here) or outright trying to force it into an existing engine that is poorly suited to the different setting.

      The other issue is that sci-fi is usually more "grounded" in-setting. Not universally so, but most sci-fi games are set in our future instead of a wholly unique setting, so there's a greater need to set up the universe - the player is more likely to want to know "how did we get from here to there?" than they are to really care from the get-go why Elfland is feuding with Dwarfland. It is just easier to take a fantasy setting at face value, even when the creator does something unusual with it that doesn't fall into the usual bad Tolkien imitation or D&D derivative. This either costs dev time (potentially at the expense of the actual game), leads to the player asking questions like "How many alien races did we meet?" or "What were they like?" or "What is that alien doing in there?" and starting off overwhelmed. I don't think it is a coincidence that the highest-rated sci-fi games on this blog (Starflight and Star Control II) also do an extremely good job of introducing the setting. It really helps the player get off on the right foot.

    3. So far the biggest issue with the game is the control scheme, which hasn't got much to do with the setting. Not that this game doesn't have a lot of issues. I guess a unique setting invites you to try unique things, but making them work as a game is difficult.

      I also think you have to distinguish between SciFi and Space RPGs. There are a few good to great SciFi RPGs (Deus Ex, Shadowrun, possibly Elex (haven't played it yet), one could argue if the Fallout games count), and given how few there are in general the ratio might not be so bad. As for Space RPGs, I don't think Space is a setting that generally works well for an RPG. Space is pretty empty and not that interesting. You've got a spaceship and planet-side economy that work on different scales. Also, the fantasy tropes that steer exploration don't really work that well in space. The best bet would probably to cut out the space and planet-side exploration part, but then you risk ending up with something that looks like a fantasy re-skin.

    4. I don't think a space opera RPG will fail based on those aspects. Most of those seem to be pretty reaching, really, complaining that there's only so much you can do with space when fantasy tends to always have "get ye wolfe pelts" and "get ye bandit pelts" and "explore yonder ruins". If your writer can't find good reasons to explore the galaxy, the game was going to be crap anyway, because he's clearly a talentless hack who shouldn't be writing text messages, let alone a game. Which is fairer than I give credit, considering the caliber of writers games seem to have these days.

      I think the big problem, aside from writers who shouldn't be writing, is that we want our cake and to eat it too. We want space battles, and we want to explore planets, which requires building two combat systems where one would otherwise exist. If we look at most of the space RPGs that people look back fondly on, most of them only have one kind of combat, ship or ground. Perhaps someone should find a system that could be used for both and that would fix the problem.

    5. I agree with MK. One of the standard failures of space RPGs is to bolt RPG mechanics onto a half-assed copy of Elite, including a "huge procedurally generated galaxy", which for an RPG typically means "light years of pointless filler". The best SF RPGs find ways to keep.the number of distinct mechanics under control.

    6. Agreed with MK too. The huge emptiness of space even seems like it works well with a typical RPG mechanic of sharp separation between movement and battles, like in FTL with its rhythm of "Jump to new star/have a battle or Event or both/repeat."

    7. From the walkthrough linked below, one of the psion's potential skills is "Create Fireball," which really isn't going to help them beat the rap for slapping fantasy RPG mechanics into a space setting.

  6. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 7, 2024 at 5:07 PM

    This one does indeed seem strongly reminiscent of the MegaTraveller games -- not just career generation, but also the big towns with lots of random uninteresting people, guns & knives in a futuristic universe, weird (side/main) quests with rewards that can be extremely high or extremely low. It makes me wonder whether any of the Paragon staff were somehow involved in this one.

    Also, two minor points:
    "Dialogue in the is with" -- missing word?

    "eight digits" --> I think I see nine digits there...

    1. Please try to avoid mixing substantive comments and corrections in the future. Yes, of course I meant only nine digits as opposed to (in the U.S.) the standard 10. I just looked it up and apparently telephone numbers in Austria don't have a fixed length.

    2. And Paragon probably wasn't involved given the physical distance, but that doesn't mean they weren't inspired by MT. There's a weird aesthetic that I would normally ascribe to French games, too.

  7. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 7, 2024 at 5:12 PM

    Speaking of clunky interfaces (though it doesn't hold a candle to this Whale's Voyage) -- I finally broke down and started "Pool of Radiance" for the first time. It seems interesting (and the reviews hosted here make a compelling case), but the game definitely feels like it's deserving of a more modern interface (yes, of course we'd keep all the keyboard shortcuts!). If Ambermoon can be pulled into the modern era in this way, why not the Gold Box games?

    (I know, I know -- why mess with perfection?)

    1. There's a contemporary program called "gold box companion". It fixes a LOT of the issues with those games. Give it a whirl if you're about to play any of the goldbox titles.

    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousJune 8, 2024 at 7:45 AM

      @Nagy -- wow, sounds like I spoke too soon. That looks like what I'm looking for. Thanks for the tip!

    3. Especially because Pool of Radiance doesn't have the FIX option in camp, it makes re-memorisng spells torture.

  8. Err, Rockstar Vienna was shut down in 2006, relatively shortly after Rockstar acquired it.
    The people who worked there one morning came to work at their office and security guards were outside who told them they weren't allowed to enter and they had all been fired.

    1. Classy. About as you'd expect in the game development industry...

    2. From Wilipedia, they had been working on Manhunt 2 for a couple of years when they were closed, the game was completed by another Rockstar branch and the original team was not even credited. That is low even by game industry standards.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. I remember Whale's Voyage. I liked it when I was younger, but I'm sure the interface would drive me crazy today. At the time, I generally blamed myself for confusion in games. I just tried harder to make it work, if the game looked cool enough. Aesthetically, the Whale's Voyage games looked kind of awesome.

  11. You mentioned there only being an alien among the male parents, but if you look at the female row of portraits you'll see the last one is an alien, too. Same race.

    Also, the second male portrait looks like Bruce Dickinson. I guess they're digitized photographs of famous people.

    1. Eh, that seems to be a stretch, and most of them have vague "I know that guy" kind of face that makes me think it was made up. The last guy looks like Tony Shaloub, which is unlikely.

    2. I absolutely did notice the female alien, and I don't have any idea why I worded that to only call attention to the male one.

      I thought the last guy looked like Robert Blake.

      Women are Sarah

    3. Surely male #3 is McCartney. Female #2 might be Debbie Harry.

    4. The strange wording about "one alien" made me wonder if this is a color-divergent vision thing, like the second alien looked... like human... somehow?

    5. Looking at my own comment several days later, what could I possibly have meant by "women are Sarah"?

  12. > It seems impossible that it wasn't influenced by the Traveller tabletop RPG or either of the two MegaTraveller CRPGs based on it,

    Impossible! You can obtain new skills after all!

  13. I've put a link below from someone who has played this and gives some more info on the character creation.

    NB Section IV explains about trade but you might want to figure this out for yourself as it's part of the GIMLET.

    NB Section V onwards is the walkthrough and other stats which obviously contain spoilers

    1. Nice to see that walkthrough is also very much unimpressed by the control scheme, nf jryy nf ol rirelguvat ryfr va gur tnzr.

  14. Good thing you played the DOS version and not CD32. Landail, a streamer trying to play all RPGs played the CD32 and it was horrible. Saving didn't work. No music aside from intro. Controls even more broken than here, a password system (in accordance with a save system that was hidden from the player), harder difficulty, etc. The intro music was good though. At least it made full use of CD32's tracks for a nice trance remix of the theme.

    1. There's been quite a run of broken games of late...

    2. It’s the period of gaming where the games were getting more ambitious due to the systems capabilities, but without the management or technical systems in place to actually get these ideas done without bugs. In each case, teams bit off more than they could chew and probably had to release half finished games which barely went through QA. It was an interesting but infuriating time

  15. I've been looking forward to this one!

    "It's one of the worst systems that I've ever encountered."
    That's a significant reason why. ;)

    Some ROT13:

    - V qba'g guvax gurer ner nal trargvp qvfrnfrf va gur tnzr?
    - Or pnershy jvgu lbhe cnegl zrzoref' vairagbevrf: vs n punenpgre vf pneelvat gbb zhpu, gurl'yy fgneg ybfvat urnygu jvgu ab erny jneavat. Lbh unir gb fryrpg rnpu punenpgre'f cbegenvg gb frr vs gurl'er bire-raphzorerq.
    - V'z abg fher gur thlf tbvat nsgre gur urneg pna or qrsrngrq; V guvax jura gurl fubj hc, lbh unir gb jnec onpx gb gur fuvc. Gurl qvfnccrne nsgre gung.
    - "Hasbeghangryl, gur tnzr qbrfa'g tvir hf nal jnl gb nfx uvz nobhg n fuevax enl evtug abj." - Ur QVQ tvir lbh fbzrguvat orfvqrf gung zbarl...

    Fvqr abgr, va zl svefg nggrzcg ng gur tnzr, V qvfzvffrq gur fuevax enl ohfvarff nf n fvqr dhrfg sbe yngre.
    Vg'f abg.

    1. This seems important enough to be un-ROTed

    2. The genetic diseases appear in WV2, on the character sheet. My leader had sight problems, and the screen would occasionally get darker in 3D mode. I did not see them during the short glance I gave WV1, maybe something that didn't get finished in time for the first game.

  16. I find it somewhat odd that the way you're playing it is in the opposite of how I remember it going. I remember not having much trouble with the interface, though I did try and fail to find a good manual at the time, but failed to find much money while wandering around that when I eventually did make progress it was at the cost of permanently stopping my progress. I also think I didn't need to buy weapons, since I started with some, so maybe you've missed something somewhere or screwed up during character creation?

  17. Personally I'd consider terrible voice acting a point in favor of the CD version, although from the sounds of it there's a lot more points against the game in general

  18. I looked up a Let's Play because I was curious to see it in action. I've linked to the last part of a Whale's LP in the URL tag of this comment because one of the artists of the game left a comment on that video, which I thought was nice. There may be other videos in that series where they leave other comments so that might be of interest later.

    1. Well, i tried to but it got mangled by google's uuencoding. The title was 'Let's Play Whale's Voyage 26: Get a Whale'

    2. Thanks. I'll look at the LP when I'm finished.

  19. The first Austrian game on the blog? A shame it's such a terrible one...

  20. I dimly remember reading previews and reviews for this game in German gaming mags back in the day. I vaguely recall being a bit confused about the genre, because there was also supposed to be some kind of economic simulation aspect to it, so it's kind of like a mix between CRPG and trading sim. The Amiga mags liked the game, but the PC reviews tended to review it more harshly.

    1. Yes, I remember the reviews very well. It was indeed marketed as a unique mix of RPG and economic sim. That made me want to play it back then, but it never happened. The reviews were solid but not spectacular. They said that neither part RPG/sim is especially good on its own, but the combination is worth it. Terrible interface apparently wasn't a dealbreaker for Amiga magazines.
      Whale's Voyage 2 then received much better reviews. I suspect though that they rewarded the loyalty to the dying platform.

    2. Wait, the economic element of the game was supposed to have that much focus? Considering I've never seen the game described that way, that suggests it wasn't a very good idea. This is going to be interesting when we see the final rating.

    3. So far the only thing the economic simulation aspect did for me is made me a multimillionaire off the initial investment of 4500, and rendered all the money useless.

  21. It is interesting that you prefer so much tied to keyboard shortcuts (largely because this is the way US RPG's did it for so long) that you don't see some obvious drawbacks to this scheme if the game was developed in a language other than English.

    Imagine that you have, for example, "press Ї to eat". Why "Ї"? Is it even marked on my keyboard layout? No matter, says the dev, there's just a short list of 20 or so commands that are about equally intuitive. Screw that, says the average gamer, give me a mouse and pictograms, because I don't understand a thing, and because I can get through this game with a dictionary only because I took German in my Greek high school (remember, we are talking pre-internet 90es Europe).

    Which is why all European road signs are standardized pictograms. Because nobody is going to go for a dictionary to figure out what that typical American road sign of "Right lane must exit" means while driving 180 on an Autobahn.

    1. That's a nice theory, but (1) in practice that is extremely rare for any game, and (2) even with non-intuitive keys, there is still an advantage to having keyboard shortcuts. A good interface allows multiple input methods, not just one.

    2. 1. Rare? I don't remember any game switching keyboard shortcuts to a different language when a different language is selected. It is *always* if you play not in English.

      2. A good interface should allow at least one good input method, which is something unintuitive shortcuts are not. At least with something pictographic you have a way of figuring out what to do.

    3. I don't think the presence or lack of keyboard commands has anything to do with language, but that the Commodore 64 was much more popular in Europe, and the C64 was generally speaking much more joystick-friendly than the Apple II and IBM PC.

    4. It is utterly bizarre to talk about games having an Ї (I with umlaut) as a keyboard command for anything. I can think of precisely zero games that use that.

    5. OK, let me give a solid example: Diablo II, which had a very polished worldwide release from a company caring about game quality. The shortcut portion of German manual reads as:

      M - Schaltet das Nachrichten-Logbuch ein und aus
      T - Schaltet den Fertigkeitenbaum-Bildschirm ein und aus.
      $ - Schaltet das Fertigkeiten-Menü für die Maustasten ein und aus.

      An equivalent section in English would look as:

      N - Toggles Message Log on and off
      B - Toggles Skill Tree on and off
      F - Toggles mouse button Skill button overlay on and off

      Obviously, above I substituted the button based on English term for an action for an equivalent German term for an action.

      Would it be something a more or less casual gamer would be able to use?

    6. Doesn't Diablo II support key remapping? That's the solution to this problem and it's been standard in games for many years.

    7. The point is not that Diablo II supports key remapping (Diablo didn't, by the way, if we are talking history); the point is that in even best-case scenario game, which had high budget, was 7 years later, and was aimed at global market, didn't bother to create language-specific language shortcuts, even though it would have been really easy, since key remapping was supported out of the box.

      Therefore, if we look at a game that's 7 years older and developed primarily for the German-speaking market, one can see how the designers might have had second thoughts about mnemonic shortcuts as a "good" interface design decision.

    8. As far as I can guess, it's not "intuitive-ness" is what's the point; it's ease to reach for any key on the keyboard, just as a pianist has a very easy time reaching any of the keys on the instrument in a very quick tempo - compare that to dragging a mouse to a specific place, clicking, then dragging it to a slightly different place, clicking again... It's the speed and ease of reaching for a specific key on a keyboard; it's intuitive relation to the action itself is fairly unimportant actually. When you play a game for long enough, you don't have remember what exactly that key was named. Imagine a roguelike where every key on the keyboard has some use, and some of the names are, by neccesity, un-intuitive: it is still more easy, more ergonomic to use, than if it was a horribly bloated mouse-menu where you have to drag mouse here and there every time for an option that you use very often... That being said, having a CHOICE certainly would be a good thing!

    9. Precisely. A game with awkward keyboard commands still gives you a choice (and some players will use them), and a game with NO keyboard commands does not (and by definition, zero players will use them). The former is a drawback, sure, but the latter is a *bigger* drawback.

      And from a development perspective, adding keyboard shortcuts is really easy. The issue is that many developers don't consider that other people want to control the game differently than the devs do. This is why the field of UI/UX design exists, of course.

    10. There are far too many games which don't allow remapping and carefully designed their keyboard controls around the assumption of a right-handed player who is using their left hand for the keyboard and their right hand for the mouse.

    11. Lorigulf, people learn to blind-type, even one they dedicate themselves to the task, for quite a while. It took me personally a couple of months during college break with The Typing of the Dead at hand. As of 1993, the lay of the land was quite different. This is not to mention that a player dedicated to a roguelike has a set of skills that are too unique for the dev to cater to if he wants a broad release.

      Radiant, we are talking historic RPG's here, with "Press Z for Ztats" and the like. Currently, most RPG's don't even use this scheme anymore, with a lot of action buttons mapped to WASD cluster; the Japanese scheme of doing things, where stuff is mapped to joystick buttons in one way or another, won.

    12. The reason this doesn't have keyboard shortcuts is very likely that this wasn't common given the time and milieu it came from (to my best knowledge - I wasn't too deep into the Amiga scene). I'm pretty sure lots of games don't offer choices in particular areas, but if you're not used to having a choice you won't miss it.
      What is more puzzling is the lack of mouse support, given the platform. WV2 added it and it makes the interface much easier to use.
      But the biggest UI issue for me is that every dialog in the "3D" view is cramped into the status display in the lower third of the screen, instead of using the entire screen. This way, you have 2-3 buttons to get all the information about your character, instead of one, and it doesn't even give you all the information.

    13. @RG yes I get that we're talking historic RPGs, and as far as I can tell you're (strongly) arguing against these games having keyboard shortcuts, and I honestly have no idea why.

      Anyway, many old games do have poor UI/UX (in part because UI/UX studies didn't really exist back then), and I find it entirely fair for Chet to comment on those.

    14. Yeah, I just don't find "maybe the developers would be too lazy or incompetent to make a game with good keyboard controls" to be a compelling argument against not wanting good keyboard controls. Is this a "careful what you wish for" thing?

    15. It's true to the era that games using the keyboard used semantic English lettering like C for Camp. It took many years to standardise both on was for movement, and a cluster of easily accessible keys near there.

      I wonder when we'll fully settle on either E or F for Interact

    16. I'm not entirely sure that RandomGamer is against keyboard shortcuts, I believe he tried to explain why keyboard shortcuts don't work well for non-English speaking people, if the interface isn't built with localisation in mind.

      In theory it shouldn't matter what language the game is and what language the user, a well programmed game will give the player options (remapping keys, reconfigured multiple language support,...).

      In practice, most older games aren't so nice. It's not just strange shortcuts (t for "voyager", c'est bizarre), but impractical layouts for anything different than a querty keyboard (WASD makes no sense on my azerty keyboard!).

      It's a lot of work to make a keyboard driven interface that works in any language, on any keyboard layout. Given that, I can understand non-English developers would prefer mouse or joystick. Unfortunately I'm too lazy to investigate the ratio of keyboard support vs no keyboard support, per language category.

      If course, there's no excuse for such a poor interface as this!!

    17. @Radiant, I am NOT against keyboard shortcuts; I was just pointing out that for games developed with multiple languages in mind, they don't work well more often than not, in particular - for the time period in question:

      > It is interesting that you prefer so much tied to keyboard shortcuts (largely because this is the way US RPG's did it for so long) that you don't see some obvious drawbacks to this scheme if the game was developed in a language other than English.

      Again, this game has two languages (German/English); the game was largely aimed at German market; therefore, the lack of the shortcuts can have some logic behind it.

      On a separate note, to me it seems like this blog values keyboard shortcuts too much, in part - for historic reasons, since this is the way things were done in Ultima series.

    18. most people playing on a C64 didn't sit next to the keyboard if you where using a joystick so using both wasn't as natural as it is today

    19. I've been on vacation so I got to this discussion late, but Radiant makes the points I would have made. I have played a number of games in foreign languages in which the keyboard shortcuts were based on the local language. Sure, they took a little extra effort to learn, but I still preferred having them.

    20. RandomGamer, I'll just point out that "E" is neither the first letter for "Interact", nor for "interagir", nor for "interagieren", nor even for "взаимодействовать"...
      Or "X", for exampel, has no relation to either "jump", "springen", "saute", or whatever...
      It's kinda oriented for ease of reach and non-intermingling in the combined use, - not for any meaningful association of letter with the action, as far as I can judge.

  22. This is a game I always heard of as either too cryptic, too janky and kind of unfinished.

    But I'll say that from both the premise (your party stranded on an alien planet trying to turn their fortunes around) and the initial adventures it sounds kind of compelling, I'm definitely interested to see how it plays out.

  23. Peter Baustädter, one of the devs explains (in the comments section of a Let's play video) about the "joker is joking": "Initially, we planned to have the joker make some funny random jokes, but we had to finish the game and all the 'brilliant' jokes turned into 'joker is joking'".

  24. "an interstellar transport called SS Whale". Unless there is another explanation ("space ship"?), it's at least surprising in the 24th century the historical ship abbreviation for "Screw steamer" (no, that's not an insult from a sailship fan) is being applied to spaceships.


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