Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Glorious Time Wasters: Star Traders (a rant, a rememberance, a rave)

This is a rant, a rememberance, and a rave review

A long time ago (1984), on a Fidonet far, far away (Dallas) a computer game appeared that members embraced so enthusiastically that members donated cash so that equipment could be upgraded and we could play the latest version.  It was a "space traders" game where you visited planets, avoided bad guys, and moved around cash and goods and tried to make enough money to retire.  The graphics were simple, but that didn't stop us from playing it for hours on end. 

Then the game market changed and the Internet arrived, and the little game we loved was long gone.

I'm not sure what I was looking for a few months ago in Android Marketplace, but I tripped across a game called "Star Traders" in my search for -- something other than a game where you blew stuff up or threw things at other things.  The ad for Star Traders said that it was a "role playing game" for the Android; a phrase that intrigued me.   I like games that engage the brain.  I downloaded it on a whim and opened it -- and I was swept back to that wonderful time where an imaginative simulation game kept us all fascinated for hours.

It also avoided one of my biggest gripes with Android games -- developers who believe that only three types of people who play Android games:  Games For Children who need to be amused with sweetly fluffy games, Games For Guys with hot wimmin and bodily functions and rampaging things that must be blasted or squashed until until the screen bleeds red, and Games For Women With An IQ Slightly Higher Than Breakfast Toast who obsess over their looks when they're not doing word puzzles or trying to manage beauty shops or restaurants or farms (why do no games for women ever have us managing a dive team or an archaeological dig or a science lab?) 

As a player, I have an issue with some of the developers' philosophies.  Many release two versions of a game -- a free and a paid one, which is fine because I like to try before I buy.  However, some of the developers create games where the player must use in-game currency to acquire things and deliberately set the amount you can win at a very low figure.  If you want to progress in the game, you keep having to run back to the developing company and buy in-game currency through PayPal or other sources (Aquapets has recently become a worst case example of them and although I loved the game, I have joined the crowd of other folks who have erased it after becoming disgusted with their greedy manipulations.)

But occasionally you get an Android game like Star Traders, which is turn based, playable by anyone who can read English, isn't trying to suck your wallet dry, and treats the players like intelligent adults.  This particular review is of the free version of this Android game, but honestly, I liked it enough to fork over the $2 and buy the full version.   I'll add right now that the free version is satisfyingly complete -- you don't feel as though you were somehow tricked into buying a game you can only play for five levels before you have either solved it or it starts demanding money from you.  And (thank you, Cory and Andrew Trese) they don't have any way of buying currency.

The graphics are clean and readable even on a phone.  It doesn't require  a lot of finger dexterity or screen accuracy to play the game -- AND -- it's easy to turn off the soundtrack and game sounds.  I like my games quiet, thank you.

The scenario is interesting -- in a galaxy sector full of political conflicts, you become the captain of a star ship and take on assignments on behalf of your faction (or just for yourself.)  You can choose from a variety of roles (my favorite is Explorer, though military officer is interesting as well.)  Your job is to run errands for your faction, explore, trade, fight, spy, and survive as your faction brawls with other ruling factions or forms sudden alliances.  You may be headed for a port, only to have your clan decide to war with the planet you're approaching and end up being captured or searched for contraband or declared an "undesirable."

There's a nice variety of game levels, from "basic" to "impossible."  It IS possible to survive for at least 60 turns on "Impossible" -- you just have to be very good at understanding the game mechanics.

For someone who loves roleplaying, this game is ideal.  It's beautifully written, with text that deftly paints (without overpainting) the planets and star ports, from the misery of some of the overrun and conquered planets to the opulence of the clan centers.  Without a wall of text, you are free to imagine the glittering lights of Javat Prime from space, with ascending and descending ships trailing thin wires of fire as they come and go.

The naming choices are particularly charming (the planet, Notlach, and the ruler "Drewacious the Wide" along with "Prince Fire Clay" are some of my favorites) and the titles of the leaders (such as High Counsel) suggest a range of governments.  There's a nod to some familiar themes -- spice as a recreational drug (shades of Dune!) and to Star Wars, which makes the game even more fun.

Highly Recommended

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