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Review: Starship Titanic

By: Kirk Hiner

 

Genre: Adventure/Humor
Format: 3 CDs
Developer: The Digital Village
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Interactive
Minimum Requirements: 120 MHz PowerPC, System 7.5, 32MB RAM, 160MB hard disk space, 640x480 color monitor supporting thousands of colors, 4x CD-ROM
Network Feature: No
3Dfx Support: No
Retail Price: $39.99
Availability: Out now

 

I made Douglas Adams laugh. It's true, him and Terry Jones both. Aside from the time when Brian May called me "clever," it may be the greatest achievement of my life.

It happened while I was living in New York City, and it happened at the Gap. This was before the Gap started selling khakis, and instead focused on...books? Okay, I'm not quite sure I understand that dynamic, but here's what I think was going on. This particular Gap on 5th Avenue (if I remember correctly, it may have been 6th) was once the Charles Scribner's Sons bookstore, or something like that. I guess that, because of its legacy, they still brought in authors from time to time. Or who knows, maybe Douglas and Terry were simply in the market for some nice fitting jeans.

Anyway, at that time, Douglas and Terry were there pushing Terry's novel "adaptation," Starship Titanic. The game wasn't due for release for another five months, and, of course, wouldn't actually be released for another year and a half...for the Mac, anyway. But on that day, I made two of the funniest men in history laugh. Terry Jones played straight man to me, and what's better than that?

The game Starship Titanic. That's what's better than that.

I almost feel guilty writing this review. Douglas Adams, after all, is a dedicated Apple user, and it was the original "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" that convinced me not only that writing can be fun, but that maybe I should give it a try myself. I guess you all have Douglas to blame for that, but first thank him for giving us Starship Titanic.

The Starship Titanic is just that, a titanic starship. It's also "the ship that cannot possibly go wrong." But of course it does, suffering SMEF (spontaneous massive existence failure) immediately after leaving the construction dock. The net result of this is that it eventually crashes into "your lovely home." The DoorBot then appears, subtly insults what was your house, then coerces you into climbing aboard to help get the Startship Titanic working again. That's pretty much all you get up front, but you'll learn more as the game progresses...and I can't remember learning ever being this fun.

There are no humans aboard the Starship Titanic, but it's not devoid of life. Still on board trying to perform their assigned functions are a wealth of robots and one extremely obnoxious parrot. Your interaction with these characters not only provides you with the clues you need to finish the game, but also its most enjoyable moments. This game is funny...there's just no arguing that point. And what's better is that you get to provide most of the comedy. The more you talk to the bots, the more jokes you uncover. And as long as you're not too obscure, they will have an answer for you. My favorite was G. Nobbington-Froat, or Nobbie the LiftBot. He's sort of an old-school Royal Navy admiral type, and it was always a pleasure to ride in his elevator.

When you first board the ship, you're given a room in Super Galactic Traveller Class (read, third). The first thing you'll want to do is upgrade to second and ultimately first class, as it's not until then that you'll have access to many of the areas required to finish the game. The more areas you explore and the more bots to whom you speak, the more you learn of the ship's construction and what went wrong with "the ship that cannot possibly go wrong." The story is an amazingly sharp satire on greed and corporate beaurocracy, but I've grown to expect nothing less from Douglas. Beneath the tide of all his jokes, there's always a strong undertoe of satire that sweeps you furiously to his point...as absurd as that point most often is.

But the wonders of Starship Titanic go well beyond the language parsing engine and the comedy it provides. The graphics, which were designed by the Oscar winning team of Isabel Molina and Oscar Chichoni, are simply the most stunning I have ever seen in a video game. This game is simply attractive to look at, almost as if you're in a virtual museum. And unlike other such games that get their depth by making you take four or five steps to walk down a hallway, Starship Titanic gets its dept from...well, it's depth. The drawback to this is that it's easy to get discombobulated aboard the ship. The interface is tricky, but hey! If you get confused, it's just another excuse to summon and chat with the DoorBot. The conversation is so good that you may want to put the kettle on before booting up Starship Titanic.

The sound and music, both ambiant and otherwise, are also very well done. I got a kick out of the changes in music quality between SGT class and first class, and the music room puzzle was one of the most enjoyable (Douglas wrote the music for that section himself).

A big bonus for Mac users is that our version ships with Neil Richards' official strategy guide. Aside from offering some much needed hints (anyone who has played the other Douglas Adams computer game, the Infocom classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, will understand what I mean), it's nearly as entertaining as the game itself. I mean, I had no idea that Atlanic puffins were so literate. The book also details much of the work that went into the creation of Starship Titanic, including explanations of VelociText and SpookiTalk.

Another good read is the "Lovely Special Inaugural Commemorative Heirloom First Class In-Flight Magazine," which is the publication that actual first class passengers would have received had the ship made it to its maiden voyage. Aside from being entertaining, there are also many hints hidden in there. Legal hints. Not the kind of hints that make you feel dirty in the morning.

Now looking back on this review, I'm somewhat embarrassed. I don't want to sound like I'm sucking up to Douglas Adams or anyone at The Digital Village, which would garner me about as many benefits as offering a Marilyn Manson CD to Tom Delay. The good news, if bad news can be good news, is that there's bad news.

First, don't even think of playing Starship Titanic with Indeo Video 5 installed. After getting through the opening scene once, this extension crashed the game every time the DoorBot tried to speak. What more can you expect from an extension created by Intel? Second, the video stutters a lot throughout the game. I was constantly plagued with frame stalls on my 604e/200, despite being well above the minimum system requirements. Also, the dialogue rarely ever matches the movement of the characters' lips. Luckily, most of the characters don't have lips, so this really isn't much of an issue.

And that, my friends, is pretty much it for the negatives. I'm actually surprised by how much I like this game. After I'd been looking forward to it for so long, and having such high expectations because it was coming from Douglas, I honestly expected to be disappointed. But no. This game was well worth the wait, and can even be considered one of Douglas's best works. Despite all the eye and ear candy, it's the game's sense of humor that makes it stand out above other adventure games. Starship Titanic not only sets a new standard for computer gaming, but for the whole of computer entertainment as well.

Oh, and the novel from Terry Jones is pretty good too.

Did I mention to you that I once made them laugh?

 

Applelinks Rating

Raised on Intellivision and "Tron," Kirk Hiner has been an avid gamer ever since he was tall enough to look through the viewfinder on the Battlezone upright. Although he makes a living using a PC (not by choice) to design websites for Dynamics Online, Inc., Kirk never strays from his 9600/200 or 3400c for computer gaming. When he's not playing the latest Logicware release, he can either be found working on his next "never to be published" novel, rereading anything by Kurt Vonnegut or watching RAW is WAR.

 

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April 23, 2014

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