It was Galaxy Quest that first codified for me the sad fate of supporting characters in the original Star Trek, the “… guy in the episode who dies to prove how serious the situation is.”, in the words of Guy Fleegman. Last year, SF author John Scalzi wrote the story of a starship crew that was terrified of the inevitable deaths that awaited them on away missions — if you weren’t part of the main crew, you were worse than expendable.
That story was called “Redshirts”, and so is the new game from Tiny Shark, published by Positech Games and available this week from Steam and other places.
In Redshirts, the game, you’re not on a ship, flying through space. You’re stuck on a doomed space station deep in a contested territory, and you soon find out that Something Bad is going to happen to the station and you are highly advised to plan your vacations for about 160 days after the game begins. Also, all vacations and trips off the station have been cancelled for any except for senior staff.
You have 160 days to figure out how to get off the station or share its fate. If the away missions don’t get you first. Or the growing sense of dread and ennui that infect the station as the end date approaches. Or the repurposed farm machinery control software they use as holographic medical crew.
You’re gonna see your friends and lovers die all around you. And then you’re gonna post about it on Spacebook.
You and a couple thousand other expendables are dropped on the station to do the menial chores of running the place while the senior staff fight for spots on the rare shuttles out. Your new job as a transporter accident cleanup technician doesn’t give you much of a chance of getting one of those spots, and how much can you trust your fellow minions, anyway?
You’ll get to know them through Spacebook, where you can build the connections that will allow you to advance your career, find the love of your life (until they are inevitably killed in an away mission), meet up with others and get alerted by the comings and goings of various traders and ambassadors who might have a spot on their ships for you.
You’ll be seeing a lot of your Spacebook page.
Each day is split into six “actions”. On weekdays, you have time for a quick action before work — enough time for a status update, a friend request, or a flirt with a senior officer. Two actions are swallowed by your work shift (source of money, skill increases and relationship updates from your boss and co-workers). The remaining three actions are yours. You’ll need to meet up with friends for food and fun while also spending time improving your skills to become qualified for better positions. On weekends, you have no work shift and can spend all six actions as you like.
You’re never going to get ahead by keeping your head down and pushing your mop around the transporter room. Your career tree tells the qualifications for more senior positions, and who the hiring manager is.
Friending them on Spacebook is a good idea. If they’re compatible or at least interested, they might enjoy some alone time with you, and maybe when your resume lands on their desk, they’ll overlook the fact that your main qualification for the newly vacated position of Emergency Warp Reactor Overflow Technician is an 8″x10″ glossy photo of you cuddling a robo-cat.
There are, according to the possible achievements, five ways of escaping the station and winning the game. Romance — get in a relationship with a certain someone who has a secret way out. Bribery — paying a visitor enough money to take you out. Career — gaining a spot with the senior staff by becoming a captain’s assistant. Wealth — buying a ticket. Schmooze — becoming friends with the right people. (Schmoozing is a skill at which you can become better. Toadying up to your senior officers builds that quickly. As does hosting successful parties).
Social networking via Spacebook can help you, by allowing you to fake interest in things that might endear you to someone who can help you, or hurt you, as by finding out your best friend has just insulted half the shift and now nobody will talk to you, either. It will also allow you to “accidentally” bump into people you need to schmooze and in all ways, keep your thumb (or tentacle) on the pulse of the station.
There’s only room for one.
Even with all this, the game would be fairly routine except for the away missions and the holo doctor torture chamber. Setting the frequency of away missions, which typically kill several people you know (and possibly you yourself), determines the difficulty of the game. Seeing someone you know die is traumatic enough to your character; seeing someone you’d been grooming into a romantic relationship so that they could give you a promotion you so richly don’t deserve die is soooo much worse.
The holo doctor setting adjusts the chance you’ll be forced off duty in sickbay when you become too unwell or too unhappy. Since the penalties against health and happiness increase as the game wears on (even as you buy increasingly desperate countermeasures in the station S.H.O.P. to balance), the chance you’ll find yourself with both stats at the most negative increases with time.
A day off work is bad enough. A day off work where they decide to send you on an away mission — is fatal.
A complete run takes two to three hours, depending on how you play. There’s limited customization available; you can play as one of a few humanoid races or one tentacled one. You level up your rank by getting better positions and building friendships — the higher your rank, the more willing strangers will be to talk to you.
It’s a fun little game, but its launch price of US$19.99 is a little high for a game which you’ll only play a couple of times (unless you’re an achievement hound). When it inevitably drops its price a little — buy it.
But before you do, read the Scalzi book and watch Galaxy Quest to get in the mood :)
Don’t form a romantic relationship with a senior officer and then the very next morning, ask for a promotion. They’ll be upset. Give it a couple days.
If your romantic partner is bugging you for some two time, bring up group events and click the left arrow a couple of times. You’ll get to the romantic dinner event they’re hinting at.
Astra is a loose cannon. She will never amount to anything. Ignore her pathetic whining and live your own life. Do not let your Spacebook timeline become crowded with scared people who are panicking over nothing. Build relationships with those who can help you the most. You don’t win the game by having a nice group hug in the cargo hold while the station explodes around you.
Pay careful attention to the game messages. They are almost always hints on stuff you can do to get off the leaky tub before it sinks, or you get sent into a parallel death universe on an away mission.