IF Comp 2012 – Lunar Base 1

The opening of Lunar Base 1 sounded promising: a manned mission to the moon in the relatively near future. Instead of teleports and warp drives, these astronauts used recognizable technology and had made the trip in an old-school multistage craft.

All the prosaic elements of space travel were there: space suits and life support equipment, radios to contact mission control, astro-food for astro-nutrition. Even the banter with mission control sounded good: lots of acronyms. This opening establishes some credibility, and I was looking forward to a hard sci-fi story in which the main characters would need to think their way out of some environment-related situations — seeking shelter from a solar storm, dealing with a breakdown of the air handling system, contamination of the water supply, etc.

Unfortunately, after investing in this believable set up, the story takes on fantastic elements. To the story’s credit, resolution of the situation does require manipulating story elements that were adequately foreshadowed.

More specifics after the spoiler breakIn my first play through, things were going swimmingly until my buddy John killed me. I was just a little reluctant to whack him within a turn of him acting odd, knowing that violence usually isn’t the answer, particularly when we’re in a shelter on the moon. After “undoing” myself back to life, I did resort to violence quickly enough to get past this point in the story.

I tried to play realistically on this first pass through — I totally ignored the shiny thing and concentrated on fixing the antenna and then power systems. I did not like trusting my sometimes nutty partner to fix things on his own, but I didn’t seem to have much choice about reviewing his work.

After we came back to Earth, and I learned in my briefing that John was a saboteur. I was left with a long list of questions:

  • Who was the mysterious voice on the radio?
  • Why was the lunar dust so persistant on my suit? The way it was described, it sounded like the lunar dust was abnormal in some way. Red herring?
  • What were the flashes, if not cosmic ray-induced retinal discharges?
  • What did John really see out the window?

Naturally, I figured that I had missed something during the game, so I played again, exploring various permutations. I tried looking for the shiny thing to the NE, but learned that this can’t be done until the ship’s power is adequately restored – okay, restoring the ship power would be a priority, but it would also be nice to have the freedom of action to take a short walk.

In the next game, I grabbed the obelisk and showed it to John. He said it was evil, but didn’t seem to mind me climbing into the return vehicle. I brought it back to Earth and it was never mentioned again in the debriefing. I had to assume that maybe NASA had gotten used to people bringing back mysterious obelisks, sort of the way some people collect snow globes. That, or it was lost in the NASA bureaucracy when I got back. Either way, I still had a lot of unresolved questions.

The major trick in this game is to find the obelisk and then expose it to Earth-like conditions in the IECM, a test chamber on the lunar surface that can either vent samples to space or create an earth-like microenvironment.  Doing the latter causes a giant slab to materialize, and touching the slab results in visions of ancient aliens. Okay, very 2001.

I almost managed to do this on my third play. In fact, this was what I was trying to do, but I think I broke the game. The author takes pains to explain how the IECM works early in the story, and it’s obvious that this foreshadowing will be integral to the story. There are only two controls in the lunar habitat — a button and a dial, so they must be important, right?

I made the mistake of using the “take all”  command in the lunar habitat and I apparently ripped these controls right off the panel and walked around with them for a while. I think this might have something to do with my failure to correctly use the IECM to expose the obelisk to Earthly conditions.

Finally, I played through per the walkthrough, just to be sure I saw everything, and that’s when I experienced the ending involving the slab.

The final debrief throws out a few twists, none of which are really explained within the story: your partner John was a saboteur, men did not land on the moon in the Apollo missions, and apparently, the government knows more about these ancient aliens. The why and how are left a mystery, so the ending opens up more questions than it resolves.

Story: 6

At its heart, this core of this story is “find the obelisk and activate it”. I liked the trappings of space exploration, and appreciate that character actions do alter the story in important ways at several points. There are multiple endings, and these endings hint at a larger, more complicated story that the author must have in mind.

I did not have a strong sense of terror, although I was concerned about having to work around a mentally compromised and potentially untrustworthy (and at one point outright murderous) partner.

Voice: 6

Astronauts are selected for their unflappable nature. The room can be venting to vacuum, but they should keep a cool head and read the dials. This may partially explain the lack of emotion in this story. I’m not sure why it came across so flat. The author does try to provide some emotional cues: Captain Rogers’ memory of his childhood and time spent with his father, the photograph of John’s family. Despite these connections, these characters did not seem animated to me. One issue is their fickle nature: oh, you’re done attacking me? Okay, let me untie you and put our fate in your hands as we work together in hard vacuum and I trust you to check out the power systems that we need to get back to Earth.

This story does make use of dialogue, both through the “talk to” command and turn-driven text. By all rights, this should also expose more of their personalities. If this story is rewritten post-comp, tweaking the dialogue might be a good way to imbue the characters with more personality and to get the player empathy flowing.

Play: 7

The game play itself was fine, no major issues navigating around or manipulating objects.

Polish: 6

There were a number of grammatical issues which were somewhat distracting, but with the amount of text in this game, I’m sure that there was some degree of beta-testing.

Technical: 7

The story made good use of chapter divisions. There are a few programmatic items that need to be shored up, for example making the button and dial fixed-in-place items.

Average:  6.4

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