Archive for the ‘star-trek-25th-anniversary’ Tag

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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Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Ship Combat   3 comments

I made it through the first two episodes. The game is nice enough to tell you your score upon finishing an episode, and both were in the 90s, so I’m valiantly trudging through episode 3 now.

I’ll lay out more about each individual episode in detail on my next post, but I wanted to get ship combat out of the way first.

Every episode so far has had one scene where the Enterprise battles another ship in real time; you aim and fire phasers / photon torpedoes with the mouse, and use a radar display to detect where the enemy is when it is off the main screen.

It’s been decent as far as adventure action mini-games go, but to give the short explanation: it plays a lot like Wing Commander, and I always tended more to the X-Wing end of the space combat game spectrum.

Wing Commander was an early 90s game that used bitmapped sprites for ship display. For the technology at the time, this looked rather good.

X-Wing, on the other hand, used just polygons.

There are some gameplay ramifications between the approaches. Wing Commander tended to have a “neutral” dogfighting area, where in every direction there was the same type of space, so a lot of combat involved jockeying to get the superior position on an enemy ship. There were “capital ships” and “escort missions” and so forth, but because of the sprite-based technology, the locations of various ships didn’t provide a “topology” to space as much as “more things to shoot at”.

X-Wing’s polygons allowed things like capital ships being literal architecture in space, where you might need to fly around in a specific way to hit the shield generators on a destroyer. It also enabled flying through gates of an obstacle course or past turrets on the Death Star. The general effect was to give a stronger “geography” to each map. (Some of this wasn’t technology at all, but game design approach — Wing Commander could still have pulled off a lot of the same types of missions as X-Wing.)

I enjoy X-Wing more because just a small change in the geography of space can have a large impact on each level, whereas the dogfights in Wing Commander often feel (to me) the same.

So far, each Star Trek dogfight has been the same setup: two ships facing off where you try to get your ship pointed at the other one before it points at you. The actual combat in the Star Trek TV show has always been omnidirectional, so already the game’s setup feels a bit off; the fact space all around is essentially the same means there isn’t much variety as a game like X-Wing.

I shouldn’t rag on this too much, certainly when most adventure game action sequences fall between “annoying” and “abysmal”; the ship combat in Star Trek: 25th Anniversary feels legitimately game-y, at least.

Posted April 23, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Demon World / Hijacked   Leave a comment

The first episode, Demon World, starts with the Enterprise in a mock-battle against another Federation ship (essentially a warm-up exercise to demonstrate ship combat, which I wrote about in my last post). After the combat is over the Enterprise is summoned to a colony where “demons” are appearing and scaring the colonists.

The colonists are part of a religious sect known as The Acolytes of the Stars. (They seem to be, more or less, Christians; while Christianity isn’t that prominent in Star Trek, there are a fair number of references.)

I met with the prelate (shown above) who explained the colonists had found a door at local “Idyll Mountain” and shortly after demons began appearing, and one of their colonists went missing. Heading north, I ran into some Klingons who just started shooting; after downing them with phaser fire, it turned out they were some manner of robot.

Further in, there were some rocks blocking a door. As long as I shot the rocks with phaser fire in the right order, I was able to free a trapped colonist.

There was a *wrong* order to shooting the rocks that caused one of them to tumble and crush my red-shirted companion. It seems like “is the redshirt alive?” is a pretty good metric to if you’re playing well or not.

After some extra shenanigans, I was able to get inside the door and wake an alien (a “Naurian”) from stasis. Apparently, the demons and Klingons had been part of a security mechanism to chase people away; they used people’s owns fears to create foes (which is why the Acolytes saw demons, whereas Kirk and friends saw Klingons).

You can choose to be kind of a jerk to the alien.

The aliens had seen a meteor impact coming, and to preserve their race and designed a machine to put them in stasis until the next solar eclipse. However, the meteor impact also destroyed the moon, so the machine never had an eclipse to wake them up.

After some friendly conversation, the Naurians agreed to look into an application to join the Federation.

. . .

The second episode, Hijacked, starts with the Enterprise heading to the Beta Myamid system to investigate the disappearance of a federation ship: the U.S.S. Masada.

Shortly after arriving, I was confronted by an Elasi pirate ship which started shooting without any prelude. After defeating it in ship combat (the mini-game) the Elasi ship ran away, and the Enterprise was able to find the Masada in orbit around a nearby planet. Getting within hailing frequencies, I found that the pirates and taken over the ship:

The dialogue is an interesting moment here: you can choose to be more or less threatening, and I never did quite work out what the optimal things to say were (or if there even was an optimum). It was quite clear when talking with a friendly alien what the “jerk” options were, but here: was it better to cut to the chase and make an absolute ultimatum right away? Should I have played along and pretended to talk terms?

While the Elasi had shields raised so the transporter wouldn’t work, I was able to use a “command code” to stealthily drop the Masada’s shields long enough to get over an away team (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and … a different redshirt).

I shortly thereafter found the crew in a nearby brig (where I had to stun two Elasi pirates with phaser fire)…

…and at this point the game ground to a giant halt for me. If you try to free the crew, there’s an explosive on the inside that blows them up. I did the thing many point-and-click adventurers are familiar with where I clicked on literally every object I could find and testing every item in my inventory (I found a random morass of stuff in the hallway — more on that in a moment).

I finally gave up and consulted a hint guide (the “official” one for the game in fact) and found out that the wires attached to the brig device can be clicked on as a separate object from the rest of the device.

Grr! To clarify, this wasn’t a pixel hunt: this was just a complete failure of interface. I assumed that actions done to the bomb device would consider the bomb device as a whole, and that the wires wouldn’t be a separate object. In a text game, this wouldn’t be an issue. Even in most graphical games, this wouldn’t be an issue, at least the ones where you have a clear indicator of what your cursor is hovering over (consider in LucasArts games how you could always see the name of what you were hovering over). Here, the only way to know there was something to click on was to do the action straight on the object.

Things kept falling apart, gameplay-wise. After freeing the crew, one of them told me about a special spot I could use a welder on to break into the bridge. (“Two feet to the left of the door and one foot off the ground.”) I made five attempts with no luck, and turned back to the clue book.

Secret pixel! I mean, I think there may have been *two* pixels of leeway. Grargh.

Now, that’s enough to finish the episode: I broke into the bridge and started shooting at Elasi pirates, but I couldn’t keep from losing my redshirt in the ensuing firefight (the pirates were shooting on KILL of course). After a lot of back and forth and another round of try-every-object-in-my-inventory-on-everything I consulted the clue book yet again to find out that a transporter beam that Spock had claimed was unfixable was, in fact, fixable. By Spock. He’ll repair it if you give him some very random items; items that are so random I’m guessing most people who solved the puzzle did it by luck.

Fixing the transporter is followed by an interesting moment: what do you do with it? You can just beam in and start shooting (which isn’t much different from entering by the door). Your security guard suggests beaming in the bomb that got disarmed earlier and catching the pirates as they ran from the bridge (which McCoy calls “inhuman” and someone else points out could damage the bridge). Or … could you do something different?

Well, yes: if you teleport in and “talk” to the captain (just the captain, it doesn’t work on any of the other pirates) you can talk him into surrendering before the shooting starts. Once I found this out, I went back and found the same result was possible when entering via door (so why go through the whole teleporter sequence then?)

(I did test the bomb; the pirates don’t notice it and all die, and not only does the bridge get destroyed but the entire ship as well. Oops. I appreciated having it as an option, even though the characters point out how bad an idea it is.)

So, grump grump. The first episode went smoothly, the second one was essentially plotted well but was let down by major interface issues. Other than the wires being a separate item from the bomb, and the pixel hunt, for the longest time I didn’t even know you could combine personal inventory objects together (trying to do so gets a confused enough response I thought my command wasn’t registering).

One out of two, so the game hasn’t lost my interest, yet. The next episode (Love’s Labor Jeopardized) seems to promise a meeting with Romulans and a certain Carol Marcus of Kirk’s acquaintance.

Posted April 29, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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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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Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Another Fine Mess (partial)   2 comments

The downside of resisting the use of hints is the stalling that accompanies it. Rather than waiting any longer for me to finish this episode, I’ll do a work-in-progress post.

Another Fine Mess sees the Enterprise called to investigate some Elasi pirate activity and starts with the usual ship combat, but against two ships rather than one. I was stuck here for quite a while until I realized: a.) against one ship, even flying head-on, the Enterprise can tank hits better than the other ship can and b.) if you fly around for long enough Scotty will repair the vessel. So my strategy involved what wasn’t exactly a kamikaze dive, but still pretty much laying on maximum firepower on one ship without caring much about damage; then booking it away as far as I could to give the Enterprise time to return to health before taking down ship #2.

Both Elasi ships flew away and the Enterprise tracked them to a nearby star system (Harappan) which led to an unpleasant surprise.

Harry Mudd is a recurring character who appeared twice in the original series (Mudd’s Women, and I, Mudd) and described by the writer who invented him as “an interstellar con man hustling whatever he can hustle”.

This time Mr. Mudd seems to be involved in a surprisingly legitimate salvage operation on an alien ship, and has sold numerous items to various parties but, mysteriously, the Elasi pirates are demanding to know Harry’s source. Only the fact the alien ship is near a neutron ship has let Harry escape so far unscathed.

My suspicion is not that Harry tried to scam the pirates, but that he ran across something much more interesting than he realized. (Again, this is work-in-progress, so I don’t know for sure.)

Kirk points out the unfortunate reality that because Harry Mudd is involved in legitimate business under the purview of the Federation, the Enterprise is obligated to protect him. The Enterprise manages to beam the usual away team over (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and a redshirt) but afterward is out of contact due to the neutron star.

Upon arrival, Harry Mudd himself is rummaging through supplies looking for more things to sell. The events that follow are strangely low-pressure. Essentially, you’re given free rein to roam around the ship and learn about the aliens, with minor incidents involving aforementioned intergalactic con man. While I’m sure a pressing crisis will come — probably the pirates will find the location of the alien ship — at least at the start, the gameplay involves wandering around, scanning things with a tricorder, and activating alien machines. (It’s a nice change of pace, but I’m stuck not due to some specific puzzle, but what I assume is a story trigger that hasn’t gone off.)

The fact an entire location is devoted to a special torpedo weapon with higher range than an existing known technology might be considered a tell.

My first hour on the ship consisted of wandering back and forth across the same series of three rooms without much luck. This game is very difficult when it comes to telling where exits are. In the screenshot above, for instance, there’s a door to the left hidden behind the equipment; I only found out it existed when I came the other way.

I finally came across a computer room and managed to activate it via some odd deductions of Spock involving the fact the alien species likes to organize things in sixes.

Because they have six eyes and six fingers, you see. This is one of things that’s totally plausible in reality but in story practice here felt rather goofy.

On a visit back from the computer room through a medical lab, the crew found Mudd trying to take a capsule from a medical cabinet. He was startled, tried to hide the capsule behind his back, and dropped it causing him to go into a paranoid state. Spock used the Vulcan nerve pinch to bring him down, and McCoy fixed the alien medical bed in order to treat Mudd’s condition.

Hm, I just made those events sound almost normal. In game reality, here’s what happened:

The scene with Mudd dropping the capsule happened as described. Then I tried a bunch of actions to subdue Mudd but had no luck; a phaser wouldn’t work for some reason, and McCoy said he wasn’t fast enough to apply a hypo. I ended up having to wander elsewhere without having solved the puzzle, and found a perfectly well and conscious Harry Mudd in the opening room still unloading a box. At the same time he was having a paranoid freak-out two rooms over. It took me a little while to process that this was a bug and not some futuristic twist.

Eventually I did get down to trying (click Use)-(click Spock)-(click Mudd) but Spock just sort of saunters over casually and applies the nerve pinch, so I’m not sure why McCoy or a phaser wouldn’t have worked. Spock then moves Mudd to the medical bed where I had to do a convoluted set of clicks to get to

(use McCoy on patient)
(use Pick Up on the capsules)
(use capsule just Picked up on the console below the capsules)
(then go back and use McCoy on patient)

The “Pick Up” thing threw me awry. The game essentially has 3 ways of reasonably delivering the same command but only wants to recognize one of them.

There was also a very brief scene where a temporary life support system goes awry; a repair tool from elsewhere on the ship fixed it.

Finally, I managed to operate a control panel and open a viewscreen … to see stars.

I’m sure if I go in circles enough the next story trigger will happen, otherwise, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing? Again, there doesn’t seem to be any pressing crisis, the only thing to worry about is the Enterprise can’t get through (so we can’t just beam off the ship at the moment).

Posted May 13, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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