Stargazing – Spaceship Simulator @ UK Games Expo

The theory…

I know that when I talk about things like megagames a big portion of my audience (escape game purists) switch off. But this 60 minutes game that involves a small team working together in a room must surely be of interest.

Way back in 2012 I remember hearing about a computer game called Artemis: Spaceship Bridge Simulator, and thinking what a fun idea it was. It’s a LAN game (LAN?!) that you play as a group of up to six people. Each player has a different role on the spaceship; communications, weapons, pilot, engineering, science and captain, very much like a certain TV show/film series. And each player only has that role. What they can see and what they can do is just for them, so communication and coordination is the key to being successful. I was intrigued but never took it further than that.

Fast forward to 2016 and the UK Games Expo. Having no idea what to expect (more on that later) I peruse the list of events and activities you can book on to separate to the main convention, and spot Spaceship Simulator. “Ooh, I wonder if that’s anything like that Artemis game?” I thought as I bought a £6 ticket.

It’s not anything like Artemis. It is Artemis. I was a bit put out when I first discovered this. I can buy the game forever for £4.99 (via Steam) and a six licence bundle is only £26.99. However on further thought I made my peace with this, as they were providing me with a facility, with a few extra bells and whistles (buttons and lights), not to mention the extra players to enjoy this as intended (you can also play via the internet but surely this loses a lot of the magic).

I’m reasonably sure there are lots of different missions you can play which will surely have a wide range of difficulty levels. But as we were all first time players we seemed to be given some pretty straight forward tasks. What they were I wasn’t really sure as the only briefing you get is how your bit of the game works. I guess this was because of the time constraints, but I thought it was a mistake as I really struggled to get into what was happening. They could really learn something from the escape game world here by starting the briefing outside the room and then sitting down for 60 minutes game play.

Speaking of maximising time, the end game was awful. As I said, I was never really sure what was happening, there just seemed to continually be things to do. But then with seven minutes left we were told we had to do something that would take significantly longer than seven minutes otherwise we would explode. To nobody’s surprise we didn’t complete the task so exploded. Game over. I would much rather have had a specific objective to do that should finish around the 50 minute mark, and then either complete it or not, than just play for 60 minutes and then randomly end. Very unsatisfying.

Also unsatisfying was my role throughout the hour. I drew engineering which involved looking at heat gauges for different parts of the ship and reducing power when things got too hot. This may have been exciting if we were doing all kinds of different things and having to balance one priority with another, but as it was it was too simple once I’d come to terms with the controls.

Overall, this particular experience was nothing to write home about. But I am writing to all of you as I think with a bit of tweaking something like this could be the a future for the escape game/live adventure industry. We’re already there with 60 minutes games set in immersive environments. This is just an example of swapping puzzles for a different kind of challenge, which may appeal to a different (or even the same) audience. I’d certainly sign up!

3 Comments:

  1. Tangentially, have you tried _Affordable Space Adventures_ or _Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime_?

    These are both video games (the former Wii U, the latter multiplatform) that, in very different ways, involve multiple people (1-4; 2 may be ideal) in control of a spaceship. They’re not trying to be Star Trek, in fact both are 2-D and cartoon-like. They’re both couch-co-op games (no LAN party needed, just a game system hooked to a TV).

    I think they are both amazing in all the ways that Artemis-based experiences aren’t — good balance between what people are doing, a nice progression of well defined levels, and an overall sense of joy.

  2. Hadn’t heard of either of those, but my heart is always warmed by anything couch co-op (or even couch versus). I don’t need to tell you while playing with friends in the same room is fun.

    I don’t have a Wii U but might have a little go with LiaDS. If you like this sort of thing, have you played the board game Space Alert? It always looked like it would be great if you could commit the time to learn it.

    • Yep, I’ve enjoyed Space Alert a few times. It only takes maybe 30-45 minutes to learn? But it has the similar feel of people moving around a spaceship and taking care of various tasks, and the hybrid tabletop/audio real-time nature is quite innovative.

      In some ways I’d describe LiaDS as the video game equivalent of Space Alert. Not in the sense that it’s a direct translation of the board game (that would be a little dull, I think) but in the sense that it captures the spirit of “crew members running around in a spaceship between all the different stations, trying to get some mission accomplished and dealing with issues that come up”.

      Like good co-op games, all of these games deal well (IMHO) with mixed skill/familiarity levels among players, provide room to let people specialize (“I’ll take engines, you get on blasters”) or not (“let’s all just run around and do what needs doing”) as they see fit, and rewards good constant communication.

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