Monday, March 29, 2010

Transcendence 1.0

Transcendence reached version 1.0 this past week, so I have been playing some of that. George Moromisato has been developing it in his spare time for the past fifteen years. Transcendence takes the basic flying and shooting action gameplay of the Escape Velocity series and enfolds it in a game that is otherwise heavily indebted to Nethack.

After picking a trader/fighter/balanced ship, you are off on a quest to reach the galactic core or some such. You get there by warping through a series of semi-random solar systems.

Each system has jump gates connecting it to the next and previous systems; exactly like the up/down stairs in Nethack. Instead of rooms forming a dungeon you've got planets which orbit around the central star(s). At the planets you'll find friendly bases with shops and quests, or hostile bases which will deploy a bevy of fighters against you. Looting wreckage supplies you with things to use or sell. There are space analogues for magic potions and scrolls of enchantment. You have a deity to whom you can make sacrifices and from whom you can request aid. You've got tinker bases that will transmute junk into items according to their own recipes. There is a gladiatorial arena for earning money by fighting other spaceships. You can even acquire robotic sidekick ships. And behind it all is the ticking clock of your fuel consumption: run out and it's game over.

Unlike Nethack the universe is not wholly hostile. Trading ships ply the major routes within each solar system, and the friendly bases may have fighters that will launch to defend their allies.

The game's interface has some holes that I wish would be patched up. It's cumbersome to examine your ship's current configuration for comparison while shopping, for instance. When you are submitting items to the tinkers for transmutation it would be nice if the list would only show things they accept; nicer still to see recipes for things so you know what to be on the lookout for when you're collecting loot. Quest management could be improved as well; there isn't currently any way (that I've found) to remind yourself of the details about what you're supposed to be doing.

I wish there were more ability to communicate with other ships in the area. Being able to respond to distress calls or request help would do a lot to make you feel more connected to the world. Also there seem to be quite a few space bases that don't really do anything which just makes the universe seem more boring. I haven't figured out what the pubs and nightclubs are for yet, and since I've never been able to figure it out I've stopped looking into them. If they ever do become useful I won't know, and that's just bad design.

On balance, though, the game does do a fairly good job of encouraging you to play just a little bit more to see what new things you will discover. It's free so give it a try if you are at all a fan of space games or roguelikes.


Andy Korth said...

Ooh, thanks for finding this, James. I think I saw it a while ago, but hadn't bothered booting into Windows to play it, so I forgot.

I've noticed that a lot of space games seem to learn from other games in the genre, but tend not to take lessons from non-space games; so it's nice to see some nethack mixed in here.

From my point of view, I was impressed by how well the nethack-like progression worked. Escape Velocity and it's clones don't really have certain areas that are more difficult than others, and Transcendence has a self-regulating and more or less smooth difficulty ramp. That sort of progression requires a lot less content creation than mission driven progression. We all know good missions are hard to write, possibly a fair bit of work to script, and 90% of players don't read the mission text anyway.

James McNeill said...

Yeah, I played this a few times over the years. I booted up my last copy, which was from about 15 months ago, for comparison and didn't see much difference at first blush. My guess is that most of the work in the last year went into completeness and bug fixes.

Freelancer (PC 3D space game from a few years back) has been described as "Diablo in Space" and once you make the connection it's hard not to see it. (Diablo being inspired by Rogue, of course.) The moment-by-moment gameplay involved very similar actions to Diablo: aiming the mouse cursor at targets and clicking, and periodically banging on hotkeys to administer health potions. They didn't have randomized environments though.

Wing Commander: Privateer is the other big influence in the field.

Yeah, missions are tough to make work well. In Infamous (the last game I worked on) there was a continual struggle between the desire for an open sandbox environment vs. nice, controlled linear experiences for the missions. There are only so many ways you can box people in and we tried them all: tunnels, trains, towers, bridges, and pits, to name a few.

Bokasha said...

The nightclubs and things do have a use, but it's somewhat spoilery. Hint: people who frequent such places might be more willing to trade in certain items than, say, a commonwealth trading post.