Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Love’s Labor Jeopardized   2 comments

The next episode gave me a lot of headaches with interface issues, so I want to spend a moment going over how the interface for this game works. These kind of adventure games often get lumped together as “point-and-click” but there’s a lot of variety in what that means: pointing at what, exactly, and clicking how many times, and how exact a command is it possible to give?

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary falls squarely in the era of click-on-verb-then-click-on-object. The issues pop up most clearly with a compare-and-contrast, so let me first go over the opening screen of an entirely different game from roughly the same time, Space Quest IV.

If you move the mouse cursor to the top of the screen, the list of verbs appears as in the screenshot. You can then click on the verb you want and it becomes active. You can right click to switch between verbs (in the order they appear on the screen) and you can also click directly on the inventory if you want to use an inventory object. The last inventory object used also shows up directly on the bar.

You only need to click once to access a verb (and it’s very easy to remember where to find the verb) and at most twice to access an inventory object.

Here is the Star Trek interface:

Right-clicking brings up the “body” menu as shown above. Different parts of the body correspond to different verbs.

If you want the inventory, you click the verb you want to apply, then on a “bag” that appears which is your inventory, then pick the inventory item that you want to use.

Notice that:

1. Using the mouse to select a regular verb takes two clicks.

2. There is no right-click-to-swap-verbs feature, because the right click is already used to pull up the menu.

3. The verbs are arranged in an unusual way that makes it take a little fiddling to move to the right position. It’s also very easy to confuse “use” with “pick up”; during the first episode, I got confused which was which.

4. Inventory takes three clicks, even though the majority of the time you’re wanting “use” as the verb. The Sierra interface does require an extra click if you want to “look” at an inventory item…

…but that’s not nearly as common, so it’s sensible to “default” to use.

Note also the Sierra default makes it fairly straightforward to use one inventory item on another; click on the inventory item so the cursor “becomes” that item, then click on what you want to use it on (and the game will always give you feedback if what you’re attempting even if it doesn’t work).

In Star Trek, the pattern is (click use)-(click inventory bag)-(click the new item you want to use the first item on), so one extra click.

Now we approach the absolute worst thing about the interface.

You see, if the combination of items doesn’t work, the game simply switches what item is active to the new item. In other words, it gives no feedback whatsoever that combining items is even possible in the game! (I didn’t know it was possible until I checked the cluebook during the episode Hijacked.)

This lack of feedback carries to the regular verbs-on-objects part of the game; doing something “wrong” sometimes gets no response at all from the game, suggesting that the pixel that you’re clicking on isn’t even recognized. (Maybe you need to be holding a specific object but you’re just doing the verb “use” on its own.)

There is a saving grace: keyboard commands. I’m pressing “T” for talk and “U” for use and so forth rather than adding the extra click.

I’m still leaving one complaint out which keyboard commands do nothing to alleviate, but let me get to it in context–

Episode 3, Love’s Labor Jeopardized, starts with a message from the space station ARK7, which is being raided by Romulans past the neutral zone. ARK7 also happens to be the residence of Dr. Carol Marcus, who has an old history with Kirk.

After setting a course, the Enterprise is pounced upon by a Romulan vessel.

This leads, predictably, to ship combat (I’m guessing every episode starts with ship combat). There’s a little variety here because the Romulan ship can use its cloaking device to disappear, but I was often able to suss out which direction to shoot anyway and get some hits in.

After the combat, the Romulan ship self-destructs to avoid capture, and the Enterprise makes it to ARK7.

Upon opening hailing frequencies, we find the Romulans think the Federation is developing a bio-weapon to kill Romulans (and kind of did, by accident).

Specifically, Dr. Carol Marcus and her team were working on an experiment on the origins of life, and inadvertently made a virus in the process. (Trying to echo the plot of the movies Star Trek 2-4, I guess, and how the Klingons thought the Genesis device was designed for genocide when it was just an inadvertent side effect.)

In any case, the Romulans aren’t in good enough shape to stop the Enterprise from transporting over an away team. We don’t get any choice in the matter as to who is going: it’s still Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and a redshirt.

In the first room, there’s a computer which mentions the Oroborus Virus being harmful to Romulans … and Vulcans. Whoops! (It’s funny, with the amount of choices elsewhere, how the game forces you to put Spock into danger here.)

Now we hit the last interface complaint I’ve been saving. Spock talks about how there’s a file attached that would interest McCoy. I could not for the life of me figure out how to get McCoy to use the computer.

In prior episodes, when I wanted a crew member to do something, I used an appropriate item from the inventory. Using the science tricorder, for example, was equivalent to asking Spock to use the tricorder. Using the medical bag or medical tricorder was equivalent to asking for McCoy’s help. Here, I kept getting a response along the lines of “that doesn’t need a medical officer”. I tried painstakingly clicking every pixel on the computer, assuming there was a specific pane the game was wanting me to use.

Nope, I just had the interface wrong. Usually, Kirk is doing the actions, but if you want to specifically tell a crew member to do an action, you can click on that crew member after “use”, and then click on whatever object you want them to use. This feature wasn’t even necessary until this point in the game. Figuring this one out took me reading the relevant portion of the clue book, being still baffled, and combing through the manual to see if I missed something. This particular bit of interface is, in fact, in the manual, but it might be the first time I’ve ever had to check the manual to use an adventure point-and-click interface.

Most of the rest of the episode involves wrangling with scientific doodads in order to a.) come up with a gas that will knock out the Romulans so the away team can safely enter the lower part of the station and b.) coming up with a cure for the Ouroborus Virus. Here’s a specific moment in the process.

The Oxygen and Hydrogen are hooked up to a machine which can combine the gases together. Using it by default as is generates water. To be able to use it, the gases must first be turned on. Clicking “use” on either tank or what looks like the knob about the tank doesn’t work. I was getting no response at all.

I managed to open the gases once by trying to use the machine repeatedly and having Spock step in and open the gas valves, but then I couldn’t get them closed again afterward. Finally, I realized that a wrench from elsewhere needed to be used on the top of the tank (not the tank itself) and the right action would happen. There was no message at all about “you need a tool, you can’t open the valve by hand” or … really, anything more helpful than nothing.

Things weren’t much better even when I understood what I was doing. I needed to switch in nitrogen for oxygen; I wasn’t sure why, but the game had gone through the trouble of putting a nitrogen tank elsewhere, so I figured it had to go here. The perfectly reasonable route of (use)-(click nitrogen)-(click on oxygen) didn’t work. Eventually, I hit upon picking up the oxygen and leaving an empty gap, but I still wasn’t able to put the nitrogen in. I was clicking the nitrogen on the end of the gas valve with no luck. Roughly an hour later I realized I needed to use the nitrogen on the empty space where the oxygen had been; that is, use the item on a location where there was nothing at the location.

I’m not even going through every step, but this sort of thing happened multiple times through the episode, including with a device for making the cure where Kirk kept picking up and dropping the Ouroborus virus inside because I couldn’t figure out how to interact with it.

After much mouse-throwing and a deep reliance on the hint book (wasn’t even trying to hold back at this point) I finally got to the point where I had a cure, used it on Spock, used a knockout gas on the Romulans, freed the humans (including Carol Marcus), and finally used the cure on all the unconscious Romulans including the commander.

After curing the commander, he was gracious enough to accept that it was all a wacky misunderstanding and call the assault off. (This seems out of character from the Romulans I remember in the actual TV shows, but ok.)

Wrr. At least the episodic structure makes it feel like I have a “reset” button. I’ll try my best to approach the next episode hintless (it involves Harry Mudd, a recurring character from the original TV show).

Posted May 3, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Love’s Labor Jeopardized

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  1. The pre-release demo shows there were icons for “using” individual crew members in the inventory at one point (much like the Max inventory icon in LucasArts’ Sam & Max). I suspect this was changed because it involved the extra step of bringing up the inventory, rather than just clicking “use” and then clicking on the character in question.

    Andrew McCarthy
    • Interesting!

      The issue came up just from having two ways of doing things — if it was only one or only the other it would work (since during the “learning the interface” stage I would have been forced to realize how the character-switching worked).

      My ultimate preference would be to drop the tricorder – medical kit -etc. altogether and have the characters use their devices when appropriate (if you’re using Bones on a hurt person, there’s no reason you need to actively say you want the medical kit).

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