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About the StoryWhat a trotting krip! Since your incredible heroics in Planetfall, where you risked life and limb to save the planet Resida, things have hardly changed at all. Sure, you were promoted to Lieutenant First Class, but this only meant that your dull life of cleaning grotch cages was replaced by an equally dull life of paperwork. Now you've got another assignment tailor-made for a grotchbrain: pilot a spacetruck to a nearby station to pick up a load of trivial forms. Trot and doublt trot!
But all is not lost. By a happy twist of fate, your companion for the journey is your old pal Floyd! That's right, it's the same mischievous little robot, crayons and paddleball at the ready, who was your helpful buddy in Planetfall.
Getting to the space station is easy. But once there, you find it strangely deserted. Even the seedy space village surrounding the station is missing its ragtag tenants. A spooky alien ship carrying only an empty pedestal rests in a docking bay. An ostrich and an Arcturian balloon creature are found, abandoned but in perfect health. The commander's log describes the mysterious breakdown of machiner, demonstrated by a roving hull-welder who seems bent on your destruction. And finally even Floyd begins acting oddly...
Steve Meretzky, whose interactive fiction successes include The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Leather Goddesses of Phobos, won a Best Computer Software Designer award for Planetfall. Infocom fans, consistently rating Planetfall among their favorite computer games, have been begging for a sequel. Even if you've never played Planetfall, you will enjoy Stationfall: the puzzles will challenge your intellect, the humor will keep you laughing, and Floyd will win your heart.
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Stationfall. Things are tidy and efficient and, for the most part, logical and logically clued, and the writing has some snap to it. The game creates a really nice atmosphere of arriving somewhere strange, poking around, and slowly discovering what's going on.
What bothers me about the design has more to do with the story of the game. There is a story, and its bare bones are thus: you arrive on a station with a mission, discover mysteries, become aware of danger, and (hopefully) escape alive. The problem is, this story cannot possibly play out unless the PC, within the game world, has some sort of preternatural instinct for charging around to exactly the right places in the most efficient order, somehow knowing where to go and what to search to find items he needs, somehow not bothering to even take the time to listen to the tape spools that tell him information he needs to know. A transcript of me playing the game efficiently wouldn't look like a story, and won't feel like one to play it!
Planetfall had the ongoing problems of making sure you had enough food and rest, but you were ill, and it made sense, and other than that, the path was fairly straightforward, and playing the game was satisfying. This just feels like there's a couple of layers of obstacles too many, in addition to the now-much-less-motivated hunger and sleep puzzles, which are compounded by this game's stricter overall time limit. You eventually keel over from sickness when playing Planetfall, but when I played it recently, I found that I had ample time to make it through the game. In Stationfall, there's too many fiddly things to do that require huffing back and forth all over the map in the amount of time you have before something kills you. I'm not sure that the solution would really be to have the game have fewer puzzles -- I can imagine that Meretzsky kept packing them in to give the player the feeling that they got their money's worth. A smaller map isn't necessarily right, either, or a more compact distribution of the various items.
Sometimes, it is all too easy for an author to think of obstacles to trip up the player. The player will try to do A, but it won't work, leading the player to realize that they first have to do B. Oh, but wait, I didn't let you know this earlier, but you also have to do C and D. Ha ha. (Just wait until the player realizes E is in the way. Heh heh.) That's sort of what Stationfall feels like to me. I guess it all goes back to what I said earlier about just allowing the player more time to bump around. However, today, in my cranky mood, it does feel like there's too many puzzles; at the same time, I feel like a dope for criticizing an Infocom for having too many puzzles. And I like puzzles!
I'm reminded of Graham Nelson's famous remark about IF being a novel at war with a crossword puzzle. In this case, the crossword is victorious.
Stationfall has you flying with Floyd to a space station to pick up some forms. When you arrive, the station is deserted... mostly.
The map is interesting. There is a main sphere with 8 or 9 levels. The top and bottom levels are one room each, while the middle level has fifteen or so. In addition, there are three sub-modules attached to the middle level, two of which are joined together in a big space village.
This all reminded me a lot of Starcross with its huge cylindrical map and space village. But Stationfall's map had more flavor, I feel. Meretzky has plenty of references to Planetfall, including leaving bedistors and other computer equipment laying about, as well as similarities in recorded equipment about. There is an alien code whose solution reminds me a bit of HitchHikers' Guide to the Galaxy, which is explicitly mentioned several times in the game through footnotes.
The story starts slowly, but picks up. I really enjoyed the ending sequence, and felt it provided a little more closure than most Infocom endings.
The hunger/thirst and sleep timers seemed a little easier than in the original Planetfall, although many have mentioned the tight time constraints in the game.
If you enjoyed Stationfall...
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