IFComp ’09: Grounded in Space

Grounded in Space by Matt Wigdahl is a competent game with some decent writing but it ultimately left me frustrated and bored and I didn’t end up finishing it.

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The PC a boy living in an asteroid mining colony in the near future. While testing out the rocket engine he built by himselfhe accidently torches his mother’s vegetable garden. As punishment his father has sentenced him to three weeks in the depth of space, mining an asteroid with the family’s spaceship, thus proving himself a responcible adult. This silly premise might work in a different game but Grounded in Space strives towards hard sci-fi and the premise is at odds with the tone and setting. The punishment doesn’t make sense. Why would dad send out his son alone into a hostile and dangerous enviroment with a (presumably) very valuble spaceship? He’s already shown no responsibility for other people’s positions, so why trust him with the tool that provides the family’s very livelihood? Looking at the walkthrough reveals that most of the endings do involve destroying the ship in some way and sothe idiocy of the punishment is confirmed.

Regardless, Matt Wigdahl is a competent writer and his locations are well described and throughly implemented. His dialogue does stumble a bit. especially during dad’s inital reaction and punishment.

“If you can keep yourself alive and your ship intact for a few weeks, you can come back and help put this damage right.  I guarantee you’ll have a healthier respect for the dangers of Belt life after a few weeks alone in a thin metal shell.”

If I don’t die I can come back but if I do I’m banished forever? Also, I could die?! Great punishment, dad. The intro also presents us with the narmiest moment in the Comp so far:

“Mom and Dad are there to see you off, looking at you with a strange mixture of fear, determination, and… respect.”

Hahaha. I’ll prove to you that I can be a tough space man yet, mom and dad. Of course as soon as the PC steps abord the ship he starts to sulk. And seeing has he’s being sent off to certain death this is the only apropriate reaction so far.

This whole intro section is very linear with little interaction. The game doesn’t recognize “apologize to dad” and you can’t go anywhere or interact with anything besides the engine’s remote control. The walkthrough for this section reads:

z

z

z

z

z

I can’t help feeling it would have worked better as a non-playable flashback. The game does opens up once on the ship but things aren’t much approved.

The first task is to get the ship to fire a probe at an asteroid where it will do the actual mining. After physically putting the probe in the launching device the rest of the sequece has you telling the ship’s computer to perform certain actions. This involves the computer stating what the next step is (e.g., “The probe is now in the launch tube. The fusion bottle must now be primed.”), and then you telling the computer to perform that step (“computer, prime bottle”). This boils down to a series of guess-the-verb commands as the computer is very specific in what it will accept as an order. For example, at one point the computer tells you to select a target for the probe. On the screen there is oneastroid. It should be more than obvious this is the only target available. “Select asteroid” doesn’t work and nothing else I could think of did either. Nor did pointing at the asteroid or touching it on the screen. Finally I resulted to the walkthrough. The correct phrase is “target asteroid with probe.” “Select asteroid” should work. And if the computer knows what to do next, and I know what to do next, then why make me input very specific phrases at all?

This whole section left me very frustrated and I was afraid the whole game was going to be a string verb guessing “puzzles.” Just then a pirate ship showed up and dismantled my engines and computer. Now, I thought , at least I’ll have something real to do and seeing as the PC built a rocket engine by himselfrepairing one shouldn’t be so hard. I wasn’t intimidated when the engine room was described as a series of lasers at different angles pointing at reflectors. Window dressing, I thought. But then, when examining the engine’s repair console, I was hit with this block of text:

>x console
The console reads:

Ignition Mode

Engine Status:  Offline
Emitter:  Status — Online, Fixed Orientation (0 mm, 8000 mm) at angle 0 tenths of a degree.
Reflector 1:  Status — Online, Orientation (12000 mm, 8000 mm) at angle 450 tenths of a degree.
Reflector 2:  Status — Online, Orientation (12000 mm, 10000 mm) at angle 1350 tenths of a degree.
Reflector 3:  Status — Online, Orientation (8000 mm, 10000 mm) at angle 1350 tenths of a degree.
Reflector 4:  Status — Offline, Orientation (8000 mm, 12000 mm) at angle 450 tenths of a degree.

The console presents several virtual controls in this mode — four buttons and three dials.  The entire group of buttons is labeled “Reflector Selection”.  The four buttons are also individually labeled “Reflector 1” through “Reflector 4”.  The first dial is labeled “X”, the second “Y”, and the third “Ø”.  The reflector 1 button is currently selected.  The dials indicate that it is set to (12000, 8000) at angle 450.

There are also nine indicator lights arranged in a 3 by 3 grid, representing the ignition zones of the engine.  The ignition indicators read as follows:

             .     .     .  

             .     .     .  

E–>  @   @   @  

Finally, a note at the bottom of the console flashes insistently:  “Attention!  Reflector fields are one-way!  If the beam fails to reflect, try rotating to the other face of the reflector field!

Ow-ouch! My brain! But Mr. Wigdahl was kind enough to put in a graphical representation of the grid in the game and I figured I could play around with the dials and get the whole thing lit up by trail and error. I punched the reflector 4 button (the game indicated that reflector 4 had been selected) went to adjust a dial and was told that I had to select a reflector before I could change a dial. Gah! This was the straw that broke my back. I quit the game.

I suppose there are some players who will appriciate Grounded in Space. It’s competently written and has a polish other comp entires I’ve played so far have lacked. But this hardcore space stuff isn’t for me. It was much more fun in Rover’s Day Out piloting a ship by frying an egg and manipulating a plunger. Grounded in Space was frustrating and tedious and despite an interesting (if silly) premise it couldn’t hold my attention.

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1 Comment

Filed under Games

One response to “IFComp ’09: Grounded in Space

  1. newlin

    Agree, this was a ‘do exactly what the computer tells you and then read the walkthrough’ game.

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