Starship Titanic

Developer:  The Digital Village
Publisher:  Simon and Schuster Interactive
Year Released:  1998

Review by Gordon Aplin (May, 1998)

sst.jpgTo quote Fentible, a rather endearing DoorBot, "Oh dear! Oh dear, oh dear ..." I did so much want to enjoy this game, but it didn't quite manage to live up to expectations. From my perspective it had everything going for it; Douglas Adams, a text parser and a deranged parrot doing a fair impersonation of Terry Jones. Perhaps it's just me. Perhaps I was simply expecting too much, or maybe I just missed something crucial in the game, because I didn't always feel as though I was on the right wavelength. If anything I felt much as I imagined Arthur Dent must feel on a Thursday. (Sorry, obscure reference to The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. It won't happen again. I promise.)

You see, I am a fan of Douglas Adams, I've got all of his books (well, most of them) and I've even got the LP records (large, flat, round, black vinyl thingies) of the BBC radio production of The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. I've watched the BBC TV series three times. Darn! Why didn't I video tape it when I had the chance? And I've played and thoroughly enjoyed the Infocom text adventure of the same name. I'm not saying this to make you envious, nor to elicit sympathy, but merely to establish my credentials (large, flat, round, black vinyl thingies) so that I can speak authoritatively (or, at least, dogmatically) on the subject of Starship Titanic, parrots and technological accomplishments that are designed to make life easier, but don't.

Not the Book
There is a book called Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic that was written by Monty Python's Terry Jones and published around six months ago. You don't need to read the book to play the game, but it does help to fill in much of the background which is hardly fleshed-out at all here. I'm pointing this out, not as a criticism, but only to set the matter straight. Starship Titanic is more about puzzles and conversation than telling a story.

So here is the idea (from the game, not the book). You are in your lounge room. You switch on the TV and Douglas Adams implores you to "get on with it". You look around and notice a computer, you insert a CD (small, flat, round, shiny thingie) into it and the keel of a large, intergalactic starship parks itself in your lounge room. This is where Fentible first appears and asks for your help. How can you refuse? Actually, you can't. You are soon ushered aboard and zapped away into space. Fentible explains that the ship has "lost its mind and so have most of the crew". He gives you a PET (Personal Electronic Thingie) so that you can interact with the game. The rest is up to you. Your mission is to search the ship and find objects to repair Titania, the ship's central intelligence core, so that you can return home.

That's it. During the course of the game you can, eventually, learn who sabotaged the ship through a series of e-mails if you solve a particular puzzle, although it's not that important to know all this, and it is possible to finish the game without completing this bit.

The situation
Hence, the game simply places you in a tricky situation and challenges you to get out of it. Fine, and I repeat, I'm not complaining. After all, many of the early text adventures simply involved overcoming obstacles to collect 'treasures' or achieve other goals. Indeed, many of the impediments to progress in this game are reminiscent of those earlier, and much-loved, adventures and some of them are great fun whilst others are simply frustrating due to the conversational elements.

Serving up the chicken, for instance, was solid, text-game inspired adventuring and finding the ingredients for a super cocktail would have been too, if it wasn't for an elusive hotspot and some crucial conversational input missed by me that contrived to slow my progress. Still, I must admit the puzzles were the element I most enjoyed (I only wish there were more of them) and my guess is that it will appeal largely to those gamers who were similarly weaned on text games. Less experienced adventurers may well find some of the puzzles to be a little 'obscure'. There were certainly one or two where I failed to make the connection, though I am prepared to concede that this may have been because I never really came to terms with the text parser.

The parser
Your PET contains a way of communicating with the various 'Bots' on the ship by typing in whatever you like. Depending on the Bot's demeanour, which you can influence once you upgrade your lowly passenger status, you will elicit various responses. Conversation is an integral part of this 'Titanic' experience and you can have some fun here and while away the time, you might even get a clue or two. But there's a lot of conversation for conversation's sake and when it comes down to the 'real stuff' of solving problems the parser isn't that sophisticated. By this I mean that the relevant vocabulary for getting things done (rather than just chatting) is rather limited, hence I wasn't overly successful at communicating at this level.

The actual conversations with the Bots are humorous but, sadly, they ceased to be fun for me because of my frustration with the limited nature of the parser. Those who are not carrying the extraneous baggage of expectation may have a different view here. I should also point out that the game doesn't have text throughout, but only when you are 'talking' with a Bot or the parrot. There are a couple of aural cues too, that are very helpful, to the point of being crucial, for solving certain problems.

The interface
In addition to the text parser, your PET contains your inventory, a remote control for televisions, elevators, etc., a panel for room locations (chevrons) and your standard save, load and quit functions.

Apart from typing in your conversational input, Starship Titanic is mouse controlled and, once you get used to it, it is simple to navigate your way around the ship via animated movement sequences. Most of these transitional sequences can be skipped by pressing the 'Esc' button on your keyboard except for the rather tedious travelling on the elevators and pellerator. As there is a lot of running around to do a good deal of your time aboard the ship is spent in these contraptions so you too will probably be wishing that the 'chevrons' (room identifiers) could have been used for instant travel.

The graphics, sound, voice acting, and music are all excellent and the game is played from a first-person perspective with no character identifiers. It comprises three CDs and, incidentally, providing you have sufficient hard drive space (1.3GB) you can install the whole game and so avoid disk swapping.

Given its pedigree, Starship Titanic is the game "that cannot possibly go wrong ..." yet, for me, it did. Still, despite my disappointment with the game as a whole I quite enjoyed solving the puzzles and opening up new locations to explore. It does have some quite humorous moments, but it may not appeal to everyone. rating:  

Copyright © Gordon Aplin 1998. All rights reserved.

System requirements:
Windows 95, 100MHz Pentium-class processor required, 133MHz or greater recommended. 16 MB RAM, 160 MB available hard disk space, 16-bit colour capable video card and monitor, 4X speed CD-ROM drive, Video and sound cards 100% compatible with DirectX 5.0
Installation options:
Standard - installs 160 MB to your hard drive
Medium - installs 500 MB to your hard drive (you only need to use one CD for the majority of the game)
Maximum - installs 1.3 Gig to your hard drive (you don't need to use any CDs)