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About the Story
Two astronauts set out to settle America's first lunar base in the year 2080. You are one of them.
14th Place - 18th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition (2012)
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Number of Reviews: 4
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(I originally published this review on 5 October 2012 as part of my blog of IFComp 2012. This was the 8th of 26 games I reviewed.)
After the last few games I played, all of them CYOA and none of them spectacular, I was glad of the arrival of Lunar Base 1, a parser-based adventure of more voluble quality. Coincidentally, the last IF game I tried before this competition began was Hallow Eve, also by Michael Wayne Phipps Jr. who wrote Lunar Base 1. LB1 casts the player in the role of Captain Stan Rogers, one of two astronauts commencing a mission in 2080 to inhabit earth's moon for the long term. The game could benefit from more proofreading, more nuanced writing, and probably from the use of a bigger canvas (the base only has a couple of rooms). What it has going for it are the qualities of suspense, earnestness and some mystery, though I really wish it didn't take an average of four commands to get in or out of the airlock every time.
The physical setup on the moon is relatively simple, and the two heroes, yourself and Dr John Klose, are good-natured types strongly connected to their family and their past. This is reinforced all through the game in the dialogue, your own character's recollections and a nostalgic photo which Klose brandishes. The presiding feeling is a likeable one of respect for the history of space travel and the human desire to explore the unknown. That said, I wish there had been more detail about the mission. How were the two men going to exist on the moon? What were they going to do there? My personal hope is that we will have tried to send people to Mars by 2080 (if you're reading this after 2079 - are we there yet?) so for me to get into this game's mythology more plausibly, I would need some reasons and details to be given for the mission, whether real or fictional.
These issues get sidelined almost immediately in the game due to Klose (Spoiler - click to show)entering a state of delirium after seeing something out the base window on the first night. This also made me think that I would expect the people selected for this mission to have demonstrated a sturdy psychological constitution. It's not implausible that a supernatural(?) occurrence would rattle Klose to this extent, but again, it's the lack of detail in the game that doesn't help to fortify plausibility. As in many films, the characters here don't communicate sufficiently when significant things happen. You are only able to try three conversation ploys on the clammed up Klose before giving up, assessing him as thoroughly disturbed and contacting Mission Control.
Accepting the flow of the game's events, the puzzles weren't that difficult and they moved the action forward in a satisfying fashion. I only had to look at the walkthrough once; when I felt adamant that I should be able to give Klose's spacesuit to him at the time when it was crucial that we both leave the base. The game was adamant that his space suit should never be removed from its hook in the airlock. Thus the spacesuit was a source of persistent annoyance throughout LB1. Removing it and putting it on the hook to go through the airlock was fun the first time, alright the second time and a nuisance every time after that. This sequence should have become automated.
On the finale: (Spoiler - click to show)I found the extra terrestrial revelations towards the end of the game exciting as they approached, but somehow mishandled after their apex. Following the captain's amazing Mission to Mars / 2001 / Stargate-ish vision, would he really not speak of it to the other man for the whole trip back to earth? Or rather, if he decided not to, and was able to will himself not to, shouldn't we, in playing him, be privy to the inner struggle that led to this decision? These are the kinds of dramatic details that the game could use to beef it up.
Back on earth, I found the "best" ending to be strange. I didn't clearly understand the import of either of the significant things the debriefing guy said, and one of them was outrageously significant, that bit about us being the first man on the moon. If most humans are actually the descendants of the aliens seen in the vision, how is it that we are a "man", or human, instead? Or maybe I got the wrong end of the Space Food Stick entirely?
Overall I had a lot of logic, plausibility and drama questions about the events of LB1, but it's a smooth playing game for the most part and an enjoyable experience, especially if you're also into the noble pursuit of space exploration.
I loved the beginning of this game. The year is 2080 and you're headed to a base on the moon with a German colleague. You are experiencing strange flashes of light attributed to cosmic rays.
The writing is very descriptive and the setting is believable. The game is polished at first, but near the end I was picking up items that shouldn't be takable, room descriptions conflicted with npc descriptions, etc.
Overall, I would still play this again, but watch out for some bugs.
Cons: I'm not into science fiction.
Pros: We like the moon. (Well, I like the real moon, not that song.)
Anyway, yeah, I'm not too into scifi, but I have always been particularly fond of the moon and am slightly sad that I was talked out of being an astronaut by someone I looked up to as a small child, so I decided to give the game a try.
This game has some strong things going for it, but a lot of issues.
What's really great about this piece from the start is that it has some humanity to it: I'm given a bit of a feel for who the player character is, first as a scientist and astronaut, then as a person who has lived a life. And the game also has some decent pacing: you're introduced to the setting, your role, the environment, your partner, and then you begin to wonder to yourself, "Gee, I wonder when there's going to be some crazy malfunction or other issue that suddenly breaks the tranquility of exploration and me settling into my new home on the moon base..." and then, sure enough, BAM! TURN 34! SOMETHING HAPPENS. The way it was all set up made me think this was going to be a really great game, but just about the time it gets rolling, issues start popping up.
I suppose that those issues can be summed up this way: the game has a really strong start, then you start to encounter things that should be implemented more fully — conversations that should be available given what's happened but aren't available to you, that sort of thing — then suddenly the game is on rails, and then it just flies completely off the rails into one great big long giant cut-scene. It's as if the author ran out of time before the deadline but decided to submit to the comp anyway, and found short-cuts to rush things along. This is rather too bad, because the game's got this quirky-endearing plot that feels like it came out of an old Edward Packard CYOA, something that really could have been explored in an IF Comp-sized game... but it instead comes off feeling like a quickly wrapped-up IntroComp entry: short, with all the attention on the front end.
For the author's benefit, I'd like to discuss some of the implementation issues that struck me pretty hard.
For starters, (Spoiler - click to show)you're unable to speak to your partner when you're in a different location than he is. You're on the moon, which is sort of remote as work environments go, and there's just two of you up there, yet if you're outside the base and he's inside the base you can't speak to anyone — not John, not 'the base', and not ground control. Seems like a bit of a safety issue. (So you'd better hope nothing happens to you while you're separated from John! Which of course promptly happens the second you're separated from him.) As I went along, I realized that this was probably an oversight on the part of the author, because some of the cut-scenes do involve John speaking to you through the headset in your helmet, and you're eventually nudged to speak to ground control from the lunar module. There are also some minor things like wearing and removing your space suit, and opening and closing airlocks, which are kinda sorta handled, but could be slightly more elegant (i.e. done for you, instead of getting in the way of the action or killing you because you skipped a routine step that has to happen every. single. time. you exit the base — and there's a lot of coming and going, far more than I think is realistic, given what a pain in the rear it'd be to keep donning and removing a space suit).
Conversation-wise, after you see a flash of light on the surface of the moon that takes you off-guard, there's no real way to investigate it, which is annoying, so then you then come back in to the base and it's not a conversation option you can discuss with John (who is from Germany, by the way, but maybe he's adopted the name 'John' because people have trouble pronouncing 'Johann' at the space agency, or perhaps the United States finally achieves world domination by 2050 and everyone adopts English first names... but I digress). The only really obvious thing I can do after having this startling experience alone outside on the moon is have a conversation with John in which he gets excited about his lab samples, but even that doesn't trigger a conversation option to speak to him about the experiment in more detail (which is too bad, since it ends up having an effect on the plot). Ultimately, despite this unsettling experience I had, I have no option but to suggest we turn in for the evening without discussing it or looking into it further. Because that's what you'd naturally do if you were on an otherwise uninhabited chunk of rock and saw something that might lead you to believe you're not alone.
When I wake up, things have turned worse, and there's this crazy light in the distance that's intriguing enough to make me hear about it every turn, but I can't do anything about it until the game decides I can — which, okay, fair enough, but then don't torment me with it until you're going to let me investigate it, or else give me a better reason why I can't go check it out. I also found it kind of funny that the map was so limited, which I understand from the author's perspective, but... c'mon... it's the moon! It's pretty wide-open in every direction but I can only go somewhere if the plot needs me to do so. Some of the nicest touches in the game were the detail of the surface, the joy I got from jumping, things like that... so if you're not going to let me explore (which is the number one reason I kept playing the game), then give me a good reason that I can't go anywhere, as opposed to just saying, "You can't go that way."
So anyway, yeah, I feel like this just got released before it was ready. Extra props, though, for the line, "Your lightning-quick reflex has left him lying limp on the floor, snoring." That I enjoyed a great deal.
This review was previously published on a blog in connection with IFComp 2012.
Lunar Base 1 is a short game about an expedition to the Moon being interrupted by mysterious phenomena. The game is reasonably well made, but suffers from a combination of bland writing and design flaws.
(Spoiler - click to show)The game begins with a short info-dump describing the set-up. You are one of two astronauts on a mission to the Moon to the be its first long term inhabitants. Now, I love space and things that are in space, so this is right up my alley. Unfortunately, the writing is rather bland, although functional. You are told what the trip has been like, what you’re currently doing, what your mission is, and how you are feeling. I would have liked to be shown some of these things more indirectly, perhaps even with a modicum of interactivity. In general, the writing seems to have been proofread pretty well, but grammatical errors does occur regularly, and there are some really awkward turns of phrase. Stuff like ” It has a built in microphone and speakers in the event of not talking to through your space suit headset.” really could have used a rewrite.
The depth of the implementation is also somewhat inconsistent. By and large, I found the implementation to be good: Every part of the lunar lander can be examined separately, even though you don’t need to interact with more than a few them. However the actual flight controls, described as a pair of joysticks, can only be referred to in the plural, and only gives standard responses to attempts to interact with them. Even if I am not allowed to fly the thing manually, the controls are a central part of the lander and should at least have custom responses implemented.
Perhaps it’s just me, but the first time you step off the lunar lander, onto the surface of the Moon, was one of my favourite parts of the game. The game does a really good job of capturing that sense of wonder of first stepping onto the Moon itself, describing the landscape around you, the way the dust seems to glow in the light like snow, the vastness of space above, and even interjecting a brief childhood flashback from a visit to a science center. Now, if your first instinct on stepping onto the Moon is not to type “jump” then you have no heart. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that the author had, in fact, implemented the ability to jump high in the air for no other reason than to marvel at the low gravity.
Unfortunately, the sense of wonder soon starts to dissipate as it becomes apparent that the Moon is basically a short corridor leading from the lander to the base (and later on, a longer corridor leading to Mysterious Phenomenon. Also, jumping into the air curiously stops working in other lunar locations, to be replaced with the usual standard reply.) Trying to walk in a direction you are not supposed to results in the usual “You can’t go that way” reply, even though you are in an open environemnt on the Moon. At least implement a custom response so I don’t feel like I am in a Moon themed corridor. I realize that Comp games have to be short, but the tiny environment feels silly in light of the plot. You are supposed to be long term inhabitants on the Moon, but there is just the two of you, and the entire base seems to consist of a single room with two bunks and a scientific workstation. How long-term is this supposed to be, exactly?
The plot of the game is simple, but works pretty well. You start out by doing scientific experiments, involving some simple puzzling, during which you are introduced to the scientific equipment of the base. Later on, Mysterious Events start happening, and you will have to use your knowledge of this equipment to proceed. This is not a bad puzzle structure in itself, but it suffers from the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any way to proceed in the second half of the game, if you don’t remember everything you learned during the first. The objects you need to interact with to use the equipment are not mentioned in the room description, but only described by the NPC during the previous part of the game. I went to bed halfway through the game, and had long since forgotten those details when I returned, so I had to use the walkthrough to finish.
The game doesn’t seem to have any major bugs, but there are some annoying issues with descriptions not being properly updated and the other character sometimes not responding when you talk to him. The conversation menus also seem a bit stiff, since options are never removed once they have been exhausted. It seems like the menus are made by simply printing all the options as a single block of text, and then replacing the menu wholesale in the next scene. If you don’t know how to implement a proper conversation menu yourself, I recommend using an extension like Michael Martin’s Quip-Based Conversation, or similar.
I mentioned earlier that the introduction was just a non-interactive info-dump, and such “cut-scenes”, become even more prevalent later in the game. When you discover the source of the Mysterious Events you are rewarded with a long text-dump, with nothing to do but press space to read the next section. Even worse, the entire ending chapter of the game is taken up by a single long non-interactive cut-scene, where you are moved between several locations, with no opportunities to interact with anything. Now, I am not asking for complex puzzles here, but just being able to walk around and explore things would have done wonders to make this feel more interactive.
In spite of these flaws, I did enjoy the game. The plot is okay, the characters do display some depth after a while, and the implementation and puzzle design is decent. And as I said, it really does do a very good job of evoking the sense of wonder of just being on the Moon. I just wish I had gotten to explore the lunar landscape a bit more. It’s making me want to write a game where all you do is explore the moon, discovering cool stuff along the way.