The Maiden Voyage Of The USS Mutiny
As promised, we took a spin with the demo of Space Cruiser Artemis last night. We recorded it, sent it to the developer, and scored a full copy. Here’s the recording we made. Further impressions follow after the video.
SCA is certainly ambitious. It really does something that other PC games haven’t really tried to do, as far as I know, which is synchronous management of a single experience through different roles. It’s a fine distinction; APB allowed one person to drive a car while others rode inside, but everyone “saw” the same thing. With SCA, each player technically sees his or her own station, which has different functionality that affects everyone’s experience.
The basic premise is that your lone starship Artemis is tasked with keeping the various space stations safe from the marauding enemies. The Captain must track these enemies on long range and tactical scanners. He then gives a heading and speed (impulse or warp) to the helm to intercept. As the ship closes on the targets, the order must be given to raise shields and arm the phasers, while the helm is now involved in keeping the ship in a good tactical position. Engineering must maintain power levels and assign repair crews to damaged systems while Science monitors the state of the enemies in battle. It’s basically everything you’ve ever wanted and expected in a starship bridge simulator, and that’s a great thing.
Despite the decidedly older-gen look and feel, the game could get surprisingly tense. At one point, we inadvertently aggro’d five ships, including two battlecruisers. Quick thinking by the captain, expert piloting by the helmsman, and the watchful eye of the engineer allowed us to draw the enemies away from the station and into a more manageable formation that allowed us to take them all down.
One interesting side-effect of the experience was how easy it was to slip into full-on geek mode with this. The captain has a lot of responsibility to make the important decisions, and it was a responsibility that the acting captain took quite seriously. It was also amusing to find ourselves jumping into unabashed Star Trek roles, complete with the “aye Captain” and “bring us about to heading three-seven-zero” lingo.
There are some aspects that we’d like to see improve, however. The UI could use a polish. Some stations don’t scale well, even as low as 1025×768. To be honest, though, this is not a game that would benefit from a super-slick UI. Each station presents only a sub-set of the overall picture, and the minimalistic design works amazingly well. I’d like to see stations like helm and tactical fill more of the screen, though, as it’s sometimes hard to differentiate enemies at the current resolution. I’m also not sure about the wisdom of allowing stations to alter the main viewport. We had a few instances of “fat fingering” the buttons when it was least desirable. The main view is really for the Captain, but the Captain isn’t supposed to interact with the system, so it’s an uncomfortable Catch-22, in my opinion. Also, some of the stations (comms and science, for example) have very limited usage, and would leave those players sitting around with little to do.
Is SCA a fun game? Heck yes. It’s unique enough to draw attention, and it’s something that I think a lot of people have been clamoring for since computers gained the ability to network. Is it worth $60? I’d have to say no, with an asterisk. The game is still in it’s infancy; it has that “tech demo” feel to it, so at this point, the sky’s the limit for what it could become. This game has huge potential, and it would be sad to see it fade into the night. I would understand if the author wanted to make a go of this through funding provided through sales, but personally, I think he would receive a lot more attention after some polish and feature additions (to his credit the official site has a requested features forum, and the author does seem dedicated to the project).
One final note for those who may consider giving this a try: this really is a same-room game. Some people have claimed to have had success over the Internet with VLAN solutions like Hamachi or LANBridger, but it’s such a geeky experience that the only way to experience this in it’s full glory is to hook a PC to a widescreen TV and arm the crew with laptops around it.