Star Trek: 25th Anniversary (1992)   Leave a comment

It’s been a while since I’ve pulled a game from my Innovation 13 list — in fact, I’ve only done it once so far with The Colonel’s Bequest — so I reckon I’m due for another.

The Digital Antiquarian just happened to write about this game, so if you’d like another perspective, there you go. I’m going in totally blind, so I’m avoiding reading that article until I finish.

What I have played is the sequel, Star Trek: Judgment Rites. I’ve always wanted to play the first game since I enjoyed the second, which had a particular innovation I don’t recall being done much elsewhere.

To explain the innovation I’m thinking of, I’m going to make a big digression, back to 75 years ago.

June 14, 1944: an explosion southeast of London marks a new phase in the terror bombings of World War II. Before, bombs had to be dropped by a plane with a human flying it, but now Germany could send the V1 flying bomb, aka “the world’s first guided missile”.

There was a catch: the Nazis had no idea where their flying bombs were landing. They were aimed at the London city center, but most fell a few miles south.

They attempted to gather eyewitness accounts to adjust their aim, but fortunately, the British intelligence game was on point, and the British had the capability to feed false information as to where the V1s were landing.

With this came opportunity, and a dilemma.

Since the Nazis had no idea where the bombs landed, the British could make something up … that sent their aim even farther off. If they were told the bombs were falling too far to the north then the bombs would start falling even farther away from the city center, and away from a major part of the population.

However, south London also had people in it, and by adjusting the Nazi aim from one target to another, it was potentially putting people at risk who wouldn’t have been before.

In other words, it’s close to a real-life equivalent of the famous Trolley Problem.

Original problem by Phillipa Foot, drawing by Jesse Prinz.

It also might be considered a rich and complex game dilemma: one without a good choice or an evil choice, without a clear right answer; instead, potential ambiguity and agony and drama.

However, there’s an aspect that most games seem to miss–

Someone had to think up the plan to redirect the missiles in the first place.

In other words, there wasn’t a prepackaged set of two multiple choice options; doing the “right thing” included needing to know there was an option there to even choose from.

The two Star Trek games by Interplay are divided episodically, where each episode is self-contained enough to avoid combinatorial explosion. You are given a score based on amount-you-followed-Federation-ideals when playing; ex: don’t randomly shoot aliens if you can help it. Sometimes there will be a dilemma where you *can* shoot past aliens to solve a particular puzzle. Maybe there’s another way? But if there is, you have to come up with a plan an enact it, there isn’t a morality button you can just press to do the right thing. Perhaps sometimes there *isn’t* another way.

For example, early in 25th Anniversary there’s a scene where some Klingons appear. After some delay, they start shooting. You can shoot them back to get by. Was there a “peaceful” way? You find out after the scene the “Klingons” aren’t really Klingons at all, but … robots? Does that knowledge mean the earlier action of “just shoot” was correct? I don’t even know yet if this even has an alternate solution, and it’s the first thing that happened to me in the game upon arriving on a planet.

I’ll start giving the play-by-play detail next time on the first episode, “Demon World”.

Oh, to finish the WWII story. The plan did go ahead, although the result was ambiguous. Quoting from the first chapter of Would You Kill the Fat Man?:

The success of the operation is contested by historians. The British intelligence agency, MI5, destroyed the false reports dispatched by Garbo and ZigZag, recognizing that, were they ever to come to light, the residents of south London might not take kindly to being used in this way. However, the Nazis never improved their aim. And a scientific adviser with a stiff upper lip, who promoted the operation even though his parents and his old school were in south London (“I knew that neither my parents nor the school would have had it otherwise”), estimated it may have saved as many as 10,000 lives.

Posted April 15, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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