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Star Tripper

by Sam Ursu

2022

Web Site

(based on 8 ratings)
6 reviews

About the Story

Inspired by the Palm Pilot game "Space Trader"

Content warning: There are some story elements that involve the consumption of alcohol, but gameplay allows it to be easily avoided


Game Details

Language: English (en)
First Publication Date: October 1, 2022
Current Version: Unknown
License: Freeware
Development System: ChoiceScript
IFID: Unknown
TUID: 4dviyv4vvg1caghw

Awards

Entrant - 28th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2022)

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Number of Reviews: 6
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
Rescue your sibling and dominate as starship captain, October 23, 2022

You are blissfully working in your home lab when an urgent message from your older sibling arrives. They have been kidnapped by pirates through an elaborate plot and need rescue from Sector Zero. Unfortunately, Sector Zero is just a myth. But that should not stop you. Command a ship, embark on the life of a trader, and do what it takes to be reunited with your sibling.

Quick note
I have already reviewed two other ChoiceScript games by the same author. One game was successful, the other less so, but they were both novel pieces. Star Tripper blows them out of the water in terms of creativity and innovation. It is one of the most ambitious ChoiceScript games I have seen. Not the cream of the crop in terms of quality, but I find its ambition to be remarkable. However, this is dulled by rocky implementation. I spent a long time on this game, far longer than any game I have played so far for this yearís IFComp. It has been idling on my computer for days. I have been utterly unable to reach an ending and have exhausted every lead. But I want to finish it. This will be a long review simply because I want to share my experience so far.

Gameplay
The intro is mostly exposition, but the player chooses their siblingís attributes and other logistical details. The main gameplay begins once you reach space. Travel is straightforward. The setting is broken into quadrants and sectors, with each quadrant being divided up into four sectors. You manage your fuel and battery levels as you travel while also conducting trading and buying. If you are a fan of resource management, this game may interest you.

At first glance, this game is an open world dream. So many places to visit, including banks, churches, bookstores, bars, coffee shops, casinos, you name it. A big part is trading and selling items, but there are other ways of earning income. There are also all sorts of adventurous encounters. Avoid black holes, fight off pirates, claim your own asteroid, upgrade your ship, and more. When they gameplay begins after the intro, the possibilities seemed endless. I had the same feeling when I first tried Skybreak! Unfortunately, none of this fully comes to fruition.

The player must micromanage just to get ahead. As I was busy puttering around the galaxy, trying to maintain my fuel levels and finding planets willing to buy the excess cereal grains I had in my cargo hold, I totally forgot about my quest to find my sibling. Plus, the game sometimes gives mixed messages. Some activities are blanked out and only available in Arcade Mode which is unlocked once you complete the game. Fair enough. But there is inconsistency with Story Mode. For instance, the game will let you attack this trade ship but not that trade ship even though nothing about your shipís status has changed. Planning is difficult when you are not sure of the gameís reasoning. Also, there is only one save slot, but I am grateful that it is available. Cling to it like a life raft when you are uncertain.

As I struggled to make long-term progress, my mind would wander to Superluminal Vagrant Twin. I want to be careful about comparing the gameplay between the two because they are made with different formats (Inform and ChoiceScript) that provide unique experiences. Nonetheless, their stories touch on a similar theme: Overcoming obstacles to save a sibling. They are also both sci-fi trading games.

Superluminal Vagrant Twin is not about finding your twin. The game does not go too deep into backstory but in a nutshell, your twin is frozen in a cryo tube, and you need to pay off your debt to get them back. A lofty objective, especially you are essentially broke. As a trading game, trading and buying goods is the core mechanic. But the game does not just toss the player out and say, ďoff you go, trade and buy until you make enough credits.Ē The gameplay is structured to point the player in the right direction by helping them identify smaller goals that lead to the master objective of getting your twin back. Having sub-objectives in Star Tripper would have been infinitely helpful, or at least an objectives list to remind the player of what to look for.

Once you manage to get your foot in the door you have more mobility. There is just a steep learning curve. I floundered for a while. Letís see what I looked like as I floundered.

For such a vast and dynamic setting, I was overly hesitant to experiment due to the outcome of my first playthrough. I had to start over because I was stuck on a planet with not enough fuel to leave, which is not as tragic as it sounds. Every planet has a bar or drinking establishment where there is always a customer who will sell you fuel pods and other items if you buy them two drinks. The downside: I had almost no credits, not enough to buy two drinks, let alone fuel pods. I had no cargo to sell. The only option was to work a few shifts at the cafť. However, you get about 22 credits per order you complete during your shift. When you need hundreds of credits just to get off the dang planet this is not practical (and to seal the deal, I saved the game when I landed on the planet). Starting over seemed like the best option. I approached my next playthrough much more cautiously and was more mindful of when I saved the game.

As I mentioned earlier, it is hard to get ahead. Buying a ship to travel to Sector Zero is a distant dream. The most hopeful opportunity for my floundering self was mining on Class 1 planets. Filling a sack full of ore brings in 1000 credits plus a bonus. Sounds great. You decide how deep you want to go down a mineshaft. The deeper you go the better chance at finding ore (the max is 50 meters). However, if you decide on 50 meters you must click on a link- tap, tap, tap- 50 times in a row to reach the bottom of the shaft. If you find ore, you click on a link a few dozen times to fill your bucket. Then you click 50 more times to reach the surface. It takes about eight of those trips to fill up a sack, and that is assuming you find ore when you go down the mine. Progress was so slow.

But that can change.

The following is the rest of my semi-successful adventure. I found a strategy that made a million credits become a realistic goal, and even learned a few more details about saving my sibling. I am just going to hide it under one big spoiler tag. Hopefully this may give you some ideas.

My experience
(Spoiler - click to show) Fortunately, I did not flounder forever. The key is to establish a colony factory on an asteroid. But this is far, far, easier said than done. If you stumble across an asteroid, you can claim it for your own without fees or legal tape. Then, you hire colonists, and supply them with building materials such as iron or lumber. If you bring enough of these to your asteroid, you can upgrade its production level to increase your profit. The downside is that every time you upgrade your asteroid the game decides to reduce your cargo hold limits, which is unreasonable if your shipís cargo hold only has five storage slots to begin with (as is the case with the Pigeon class ship you have at the start of the game). The game does not even explain why. Furthermore, each upgrade requires more materials that will need to fit into a rapidly shrinking cargo hold. Because of this, industrializing an asteroid was not something I could do for quite a while.

I finally managed to hammer out a strategy for buying and selling goods on planets, and I reached the point where I was doing pretty well. The days of mining were gone. I went from a mere Pigeon class ship to a Firefly, and then a Gila. Making 100,000 credits became an unexpected reality, and this allowed me to buy a Clipper class ship with 100 cargo hold spaces. This whole process, however, was slow and repetitive, so I decided to take a whack at colonizing an asteroid. Even if my cargo load were reduced there would hopefully be some left to continue trading. It did not take long for my shipís cargo hold to go from 100 to 0, but by then things were looking up. I was making enough that I could simply buy another Clipper class ship to replace the old one. I burned through THREE Clipper class ships as I industrialized my asteroid, but by the time I had my production level reach level 16, the cost of a Clipper ship was practically pocket money. I could now buy the million-credit ship that my sibling mentioned in their message.

Oddly enough, that is where everything stagnated. Now that I had millions of credits at my disposal, I was relying on several scraps of information to carry me through, but none have brought me any closer to finding my sibling. I have tried everything. I will share them in case you have any input.

ONE: At the start of the game, your sibling says that the ship you need to buy costs a million dollars. There are two ships that fit this description. I bought both, but nothing happened.

TWO: Your siblingís friend tells you that they may send you information on Sector Zero if they found anything in their research. That never happens. I did get one, and only one, message from my sibling after the intro, and all it said was that I needed to find the Golden Key to reach Sector Zero.

THREE: Once you have a million credits, you will eventually stumble across traders who happened to find the Golden Key and are willing to sell it. When you buy it, the game says,

🔑 Now that you've got your hands on the infamous Golden Key, it's time to find someone to help you install it.

I could not find anyone who could help me install it, nor did I know where to look. Furthermore, I had this encounter twice in this game. I would buy the Golden Key a second time and the game would act as if I first laid eyes on it. The stats page does not even mention that you acquired it.

FOUR: A useful tactic is that you can get general hints at coffee shops by buying something and sitting at an empty table to listen to the background chatter. It is possible to catch gossip about Sector Zero. You hear two people talking about a scientist who attached a gold quantum capacitor (which sounds awfully like the Golden Key) to a Zheng He class ship and managed to get it to go Warp 11. So, I bought a Zheng He ship. I am not sure if this was the ship my sibling had in mind since it costed less than a million credits, but none of the other ships had any promise. I already had the Golden Key (see previous), and I knew I needed to find someone to install it. Off I went exploring, but I did not find anyone whom I could talk to about my ship. I even had my ship wired to go Warp 10 (the max speed) in case it helped. No change.

I am out of ideas. I have played this game for endless hours, much of which I enjoyed, but I simply cannot reach an ending. Now I am groveling about in my own review. If anyone has any ideas, please comment.


Story
From the start of the game, we get a sense of the complicated political environment in the gameís universe. It takes place in a galaxy ruled by a Galactic Council that is heavily influenced by the Central Families that dominate the center of attention. Then there are the wealthy Inner Rim families, the working-class Outer Rim, and everything in between. Lurking about is a pirate group called the Syndicate that plunder spaceships and planets. All this sound extremely simplified, a classic version the galaxy being categorized into polarized groups of ďgoodĒ and ďbad,Ē when in fact, these lines are blurred.

What I like best about this game is that it is one big learning experience for the protagonist who is from a Central Family and has always taken these benefits for granted. Now, they must rescue a sibling from a group of pirates that (Spoiler - click to show) turn out to have a closer association with the Central Families than most people, the protagonist included, realize. The protagonist is also unable to make use of their own affluence because the Syndicate is watching every move. The only option is to start from the bottom. No money, no ship, and no leads except the name of potentially sketchy friend who feel from grace mentioned in your siblingís message.

Then again, whether or not the protagonist actually learns anything is technically up to the player. You see this development (or lack of it) with the dialog options where you can choose to respond to people with entitled indifference or with open-mindedness. Because I have been unable to reach an ending, I have no idea if this whole debacle will permanently change the protagonistís view on life. But after weathering public transportation, Class 1 planets, and dingy spaceships, well, who knows.

Characters
Character interactions are shallow but are there if you want to seek them out. They are often quite comical. I think the overall light-heartedness works well in this game.

::: What do you want to do?
🪑 Join Saboson and Star at the table
🏃‍♂️ Turn and run back to the spaceport

For the most part, NPCs are just part of the scenery, but there are ways of initiating more one-on-one interaction. Aside from the characters in the intro (and even then, their names are randomized) there is no single character whose full identity remains the same for every playthrough. I think that adds some spontaneity. The game relies on procedural generation, and it wields it well.

👧 "You know what? Screw you, Saboson. You're a thief and a liar."
👦🏻 "A thief? Because I stole your heart? Give me a break, Star!"

::: How do you want to respond, Captain?
🗣️ "I'm learning a lot by listening to you two."
🗣️ "I don't feel like I'm really being heard."
🗣️ "I hate to be rude, but let's change the subject."

What surprised me was the depth of traveling companions. They travel with you in your ship and add some diverse dialog by commenting on the things you do or even initiating discussions. (Spoiler - click to show) Unfortunately, they are only interested in hitting on you in borderline-creepy manners. For science, I tried to marry one of the NPCs. It resulted in an error that said: wedding_chapel line 951: Non-existent variable 'priest_level' which almost crashed the game. Fortunately, I just loaded my save file and decided not to test it. And to be honest, I did not want to get married. Regardless of how you feel about the NPCs, it is nice to know that the option is there.

Visuals
The game is extremely sleek looking. The text boxes are dark grey outlined with glowing borders that add a pop of colour. All of this is set against a lighter grey background. There are also little emoji icons that I have seen in the author's other games. They add an excellent visual. A whole variety of emojis are found in this game and are used strategically by the author to illustrate a point while avoiding emoji overload. That is one thing I noticed about the author's games that I have played: regardless of their content at least they look spiffy.

Final thoughts
With the author, no subject is off limits. Zombie apocalypses, farming simulations, and now a sci-fi trading a game, and I genuinely love the creativity and innovative usage of ChoiceScript. For a while, I never perceived ChoiceScript as a format that uses visual effects in storytelling. Now I am seeing how flexible it can be with not only visuals, but also with puzzle types and gameplay mechanics.

Star Tripper is a tough and confusing game, but it also has humor and adventure. Even if you do not manage to find your sibling you will still have a memorable experience with making a name for yourself and formulating strategies. It does need more polish, hence the low rating. There are some clunky bugs, but the biggest issues are, A, it is difficult to make progress, and B, long-term objectives are murky. But underlying it all is a solid foundation. If you have more than a few minutes, play this game. It has a lot of fun sci-fi and resource management themes. Just requires a little extra patience.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
The universe: big, cold, hostile, random and ... strategically interesting, December 25, 2022
by Andrew Schultz (Chicago)
Related reviews: IFComp 2022

There's a lot to explore in Star Tripper, a homage to a sophisticated old phone game, and I don't think two hours was enough to explore it fully. The author knew this, too, but all the same, I was immediately intimidated by starting at sector 99. With a two-hour judging time, my immediate reaction was "oh no, 20 minutes to get acclimated, then maybe one minute to explore each sector?"

That said, it's a well-constructed trading game with a lot of neat bells and whistles, and the procedural generation works. You start with a small ship and look to boost it by learning which planets are where, etc. I found it neat how you could visit a bar and buy drinks and the prices of goods would change, which leads to a lot of game theory based on tracking prices. But the problem from an IFComp setting is that it takes a long time, way more than two hours, to nail things down, and you've already guessed at the strategy, and I was faced with the prospect of, okay, how many sectors do I need to explore before continuing, and how many bars do I need to buy people drinks at? The thing is: you want the game to have surprises, so it doesn't get boring, but with a time limit on playing and an inability to save, you realize you're going to get blindsided. It's fun to get blindsided a bit, of course, but with only two hours, it's impractical.

So I'd like the opportunity to cut out the bit at the start, as the choices don't seem to matter. That might not sit well with the author. The player can just keep rolling for favorable scenarios, e.g. ones with places near the starbase where you start where you can run quick trading routes that don't waste fuelĖbut on the other hand, you need several tries to really look into things, and it's possible to get bad luck early on, and restarting is frustrating. That and other keyboard shortcuts (beyond being able to hit tab end enter) might go a long way to help people who need to get their feet wet. Also, saving would be nice, especially for a long game. Again, closing a tab inadvertently and not being able to recover was frustrating for me, which on the whole seems more important than preventing save-scumming. I also have some worries, after several replays, that there's a lot of luck involved in finding a good trade route. Getting hit with the same RNG on replay loses a lot of excitement.

So I see there's a lot there, and I'd like to see more, but some of the less important and absorbing features were pushed to the forefront. I'd like to be able to enjoy even more of the cool coding and world-building the author did, but more in the overview sense. Stuff like just being able to buy information quickly after you did so the first time would be a big help (noteĖsometimes you waste money on beer, because you get thrown out after ordering one drink. I'm okay with that. It's just that sometimes the repetition caused my eyes to glaze over, and I missed vital information.) And then there was the mining sub-game, which was pretty painful on a desktop, even being able to hit TAB a lot.

These are some harsh technical quibbles but I think the author showed they've grown a lot as a game designer and programmer since last IFComp, and shoehorning the game into ChoiceScript is impressive, but ChoiceScript's limitations come through a bit, so it's not as streamlined as it should be. But Ė in the big picture, I think I see it, and I get it, but I'm too exhausted to look into details. I do, however, wish I'd enjoyed ST's predecessor many years ago, and I feel a sense of loss over that as well as the author requesting ST to be removed from IFComp. ST definitely felt like a bad fit if it wanted to place well, but I'm glad it was there. It does a lot for me technically if not emotionally, though I really would find it most ideal if someone else hacked through to find a win.


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Make That Space Money, November 26, 2022

Iím definitely being challenged with what even is IF. There is a good half hour setup narrative here, that adheres to conversational IF conventions. Iím not exactly sure what story effect the choices have, but they do allow you to establish the protagonistís character. After a good amount of light but amusing table setting, the main goal is revealed: make enough money to rescue your relative via space exploration, trade and hustling.

If I were being maximally uncharitable, I would call it Space Grind! Thatís way too facile, and actually ends up being wrong. Here comes a digression: sit down kids and let gramps tell ya how it used to be.

Back in the 80ís there were things called Microgames - just bigger than pocket sized boardgames that mixed complicated rule sets with small maps and mini cardboard counters. There was one called Trailblazer whose very small font book was mostly tables and tables of d6 planet randomization: goods produced, goods demanded, and market sensitivity. The game itself was explore, and set up trade routes to make space money. Lord was it a chore to generate a planet on the fly (and maintain its markets!) as players explored empty space. A few years later, the personal computer was powerful enough to offload that work. 35-40 years after that, we have Star Tripper. (I understand there was a relevant Palm Pilot event in between, not in my syllabus.)

The genius of every iteration of this idea is that 1) humans love exploring and 2) humans love the smug feeling they get from buying low and selling high. Just love it! We poured hours into that tiny square of cardboard cackling over our pretend space money and trade routes, shuffling page after page of pretend planet markets looking to eke out a better buy/sell chain. Never mind that it was Grind before we had a word for it. Most especially never mind that once you seemed to establish an optimal route, notwithstanding marginal market variations, the most effective thing to do was just repeat it endlessly. Make that Space Money!

Thereís a ton of game theory explanations of micro-endorphins that drive engagement, currently being used to let social media turn us into addled ad-slaves. Watching pretend money grow incrementally higher is one of those tools. Here its used for good! Or at least not evil. Which leaves this reviewer in a weird place: the central mechanism is a grind, no doubt. But while I berated myself repeatedly for submitting to the grind, I couldnít stop milking that sweet, sweet meat->cube->truffle run I found. It is simultaneously Mechanical and Engaging! Right before the 2hr mark, the game does something ingenious. Because the profitability of some trade runs are so obvious, exploration becomes disincentivized. But what if planets revolt with new trader-unfriendly laws? Or they suspect you are scamming their poor population? Or you run afoul of new pretend licensing requirements? The game shuts down your carefully cultivated money runs. No choice but to explore again! I actually laughed out loud at the audacity of this move, and equally recognized it as crucial.

I shouldnít close out without a word about the graphical presentation. It is attractive, slick and functional, making maximum use of icons, data organization and snarky glue dialogue. There is also generous sound effects integrated which are funny the first few times, but after an hour or so, have run their amusement course. The user interface though, there was friction there. You repeatedly have to click through select-enter sequences to do anything. Meaning it is 10+ clicks to get to a market, 6+ to make transactions, then another 10+ to get to the next when you are trying to accomplish maybe 4 things. Something as simple as single click selects would cut that in half, and often save you intrusive scrolling to boot. Ability to define trade route macros and ďsell allĒ options would make that even smoother.

Scoring this is all kinds of baffling. Do I give the game credit for exploiting human brain vulnerabilities? Penalize it? Do I somehow tease out the narrative portion which feels like endcaps to a massive trading game? Isolate the procedural generation aspects which are kinda impressive? I guess I just have to grade it on what it is, right? Both Mechanical and Engaging; its technical presentation both intrusive and very attractive.


Played: 10/23/22
Playtime: 2hr, 2 ship upgrades
Artistic/Technical rankings: Mechanical+Engaging/Intrusive+Seamless
Would Play Again? My logic says no, but my endorphin addiction says maybe

Artistic scale: Bouncy, Mechanical, Sparks of Joy, Engaging, Transcendent
Technical scale: Unplayable, Intrusive, Notable (Bugginess), Mostly Seamless, Seamless


2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A Space Trading Sim, November 5, 2022

Star Tripper is a game thatís not trying to sell itself very hard. The summary consists of a single sentence, describing itself as inspired by a Palm Pilot game that Iím definitely not familiar with! So I didnít really know what to expect going into this one.

It turns out that Star Tripper is massively underselling itself, because there is A TON to do. After the intro, which establishes you as the scion of a rich and powerful family looking to rescue their kidnapped sibling, it dumps you out in the great wide universe where you can do just about anything. And I do mean anything! The number of quadrants and planets you can visit must number in the hundreds, with activities on each ranging from religious prayer, drinking, visiting bookstores, ferrying passengers, and of course karaoke and gambling (not available yet in my playthrough, but Iím excited about them anyway). Oh, and the resource trading. How could I forget that?

What I Liked

The goods trading is the meat of the game, and it feels very satisfying. It didnít take me long to get a feel for how it worked - buy goods cheaply on planets that produce them, and sell them high on planets that donít. I quickly spun up a burgeoning empire in electrical cables and for a while I was rolling in money. I felt very smug about my early success, and was pushing into deeper and deeper quadrants in the hope of finding a space station to spend my cash on a better ship and start the process all over again.

What I Didnít

Unfortunately, a game like this is hard to balance, especially with one programmer and one tester (based on the credits). So while I thought the trading was fun, fuel management ended up being a pain. In particular, refueling on a planet is a real drag! Instead of the spaceport having a fuel station (why???), you have to go to a bar, buy a patron a drink (at a price that scales with planet difficulty), buy them ANOTHER drink (with a similar price that isnít revealed until youíve bought the first), and then finally unlock the option to pay them even more money to buy fuel. Not only is this tedious, it means that if you land on an expensive planet you can wind up with not enough cash to actually buy fuel, leaving you to do odd jobs until you scrape together the cash to leave. An easy fix for this would be at least to let the player buy as much fuel as they can afford, but when youíre buying it from a shady person outside a bar itís all ten units or nothing.

Thereís a few options of jobs you can do to earn cash - Iíve run into mining ore and making coffee so far, although I suspect there will be more once I get further in. Unfortunately, the mining minigame seems to be designed for players to trade credits for carpal tunnel - you descend a mineshaft for up to 50 meters (requiring one click for each meter), mine until your bag is full (20-30 clicks) and then go back up to the surface (again, one click per meter). Then you do it again. I did this once and then stopped because it gave me wrist strain. The other money-making minigame Iíve encountered (working at a coffee shop) is much more fun, since itís based around remembering customerís orders instead of blind clicking. Still, the payout wasnít enough to justify the 20 or so rounds Iíd need to complete in order to get back off the planet, so with that as my only option I decided my run was over. (The minigame rewards donít seem to scale properly with the planet level either?)

Finally, I had absolutely no idea how to progress the story, and after the first quadrant I didnít encounter a single space station where I could upgrade my ship. In hindsight I really should have written down the number of that first quadrant! (I really should have written down a lot of things. Definitely bringing a notebook for round 2.)


1 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
A slow-paced space trading sim with a well-written intro, November 21, 2022
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2022

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review I posted to the IntFiction forums during 2022's IFComp. Star Tripper was an entry in that Comp, but was withdrawn by the author midway through)

After playing a bunch of games in a row that required a fair bit of unpacking, can I confess that it felt nice to sink into one thatís content to be just a game, and a fairly low-key one at that? Donít get me wrong, Star Tripper has a lot going on Ė itís a space trading sim a la Elite or Privateer, with dozens of planets and starbases, a host of commodities with varying levels of supply and demand depending on how developed a world is, an ore mining minigame, as well as an overarching plot, all smoothly implemented in ChoiceScript. But itís fairly slow-paced, quite content to let you tootle around the galaxy buying low and selling high, and despite intermittently-threatening events like losing half your fuel when you need to make an emergency jump away from a black hole or space cops fining you for your forged ship registration, mostly itís an exercise in slowly watching your number of credits tick upwards.

I donít in any way mean this as a criticism. Thereís this game design framework called MDA thatís gained some currency among tabletop gamers over the last decade or two which breaks down the reasons players engage with a game into a list of different ďaestheticsĒ Ė this includes predictable stuff like narrative, discovery, challenge, and expression, which are all intuitively applicable to the IF context. But last on the list is one called ďabnegationĒ, which is all about the joy of shutting off your brain and enjoying the sensation of progress without too many demands being placed upon you. Hardcore people often bristle when this comes up, but in my experience abnegation has a lot to recommend it in the right time and place Ė when I was in law school and spending a lot of time cramming information into my head, for example, I often spent an hour or so in the evening listening to Mountain Goats bootlegs and playing FreeCell over and over.

Star Tripper offers similar pleasures, though again, the modeling here seems reasonably complex Ė you canít just run the same commodity to the same destination over and over, as plants only want a finite number of each, and thereís a sort of primitive supply-chain modeled, with lower-tech planets having a lot of low-cost raw materials and a limited ability to pay for some luxury goods and the fewer high-tech paradises shelling out top dollar for everything but selling at even dearer prices, with intermediate worlds somewhere in the middle. Since youíre not given a map at the outset, this means that every once in a while youíll need to hop to a new quadrant of space and explore to find a new trade route before exhausting it in turn. And at each stage hopefully youíre earning enough to upgrade your ship to increase its cargo bays (and passenger berths Ė youíll find folks on starbases willing to pay passage to particular worlds, though the rewards here are much lower than straight commodity trading) and do it all over again, just at a bigger scale.

While the gameplay is the main draw, there is actually a plot here, too Ė and one I enjoyed. Thereís an extended opening sequence that sees your out-of-touch space aristocrat forced into interstellar mercantilism in order to mount an off-the-grid rescue of a kidnapped sibling. The writing here is wry and enjoyable, and creates an effective narrative framework around the standard interstellar-merchant premise (though once youíve completed the story campaign, it looks like you can unlock a more sandbox experience that drops these elements). Of course, the plot is mostly absent once you get into the game proper Ė though I think I accidentally clicked through at least one random event involving a message from my sibling, oops! Ė but it does what it needs to do.

The main complaint I have about the game is that in the hour and a half or so that I played, it felt very slow and samey, with all the different trading routes and ships failing to shake up the simple basic gameplay Ė though in fairness, it appears some elements, like combat, might be gated behind plot events in the campaign, and I was acutely aware that were I playing on my laptop instead of my phone, Iíd likely have been able to build a spreadsheet that would have allowed me to hoover credits out of the galaxy much faster than my haphazard explorations allowed.

This seems like part of the gameís chilled-out design ethos, though. My life situation is not currently one where I can put on a podcast and play a couple hours of video games each day, but if it were I think Iíd enjoy getting deep into Star Tripper, seeing my ship slowly get bigger and bigger as my bank account swelled towards the million-dollar payday needed to reach the plotís endgame. As it is, the 90 minutes Iíve put in are probably about all Iíll be able to muster, but I canít begrudge the relaxing time I had with the game even in that short interval.


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