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Starship Volant: Stowaway Reviews

Author: C Henshaw
Date: 2007

Reviewed by Emily Boegheim 

It's just an ordinary night shift for the crew of the Volant, until they are confronted by two Techthon ships. The Techthons claim there is a fugitive onboard the Volant, and if the crew doesn't give him up, they will board and hunt him out themselves. Knowing the Techthons, this would
be a bad thing.

Starship Volant: Stowaway is a short, linear game, and what puzzles it has aren't difficult. There are CYOA-like decision points here and there, but (if it even matters which one you choose) these don't usually lead to alternative storylines; there's one correct choice, and if you get it wrong, you lose. (Fortunately, it tends to be pretty obvious which choice you should make.) A lot of the time, you can get through a scene just by WAITing and TALKing TO everyone you come into contact with. If there's something specific you have to do before you can go on to the next scene, it's made clear.

Starship Volant, intriguingly, begins by allowing you to select any of five characters and explore the spaceship. During the prologue, you can switch between these characters as often as you like. But the game never really does anything interesting with this. There's nothing to do during the prologue but wander about, look at things and talk to people; when you think you've exhausted these possibilities, you SKIP to the real game. I'd have preferred to see the prologue more integrated with the rest of the game, with a few introductory puzzles just to keep things moving. There really isn't much information in the prologue that you need later in the game, and nothing you can't discover later. And while the player character does change regularly (dizzying often at times), you don't get any say in this after the prologue.

Talking of characters, there are a lot of people on the Starship Volant, and the game (especially during the prologue) gives a host of little details about their personalities and relationships. But these details don't go anywhere; when the emergency comes, most of the crew members go about their jobs calmly and efficiently, with minimal interaction. You don't need to know any of it to finish the game.

The writing is good, but there are a lot of typos ("thier" is particularly prevalent). A few input-related annoyances, mostly Adrift- related; for instance, "look under/behind bed" gets Adriftified to "look bed".

Starship Volant: Stowaway is a pleasant enough way to spend an hour or so, but don't expect anything more.

Score: 6

Reviewed by J. D. Clemens

This game has a lot of backstory and character descriptions, and takes the novel approach of letting you explore in the personae of several different characters before beginning the main game. Unfortunately, I didn't find this exploration particularly directed, since it wasn't at all clear which of this information was going to be useful to me later, or if I should be *doing* anything at this point (in fact, it wasn't really possible to do anything significant at this point).

And once the main game starts, most of the backstory is irrelevant to the main plot. The main plot is a fairly generic space story (rhymes with "car wreck"), although vaguely interesting. But I felt a bit let down that I didn't really need to use the information I found while exploring.

The gameplay also was not that exciting. It mainly involved waiting repeatedly until a few points where you could take action or make choices; trying to do anything except at these points was futile. Your perspective changes among the various characters during this sequence, which is fairly well done (but there are several points where this is not handled properly, such as one point where, as Danny, I am told "The pilot, Danny, is gazing out at space.").

My overall impression of the game was that there were too many long text dumps with very few places to take initiative; the story could have been more interesting

Score 4

Reviewed by Dan Shiovitz

There's that joke about the kid who comes to a rich guy looking for work, and the rich guy recognizes the same go-getter spirit he himself had as a kid, so he says "Fine, I'm going to take a nap, go paint my porch." He comes out later and the kid's just putting the lid back on the paint can. "I got it all painted, sir! But I have to tell you, it's not a Porsche, it's a Ferrari."

I feel kinda the same way about this game. Like, it's great the author went to the trouble of creating a bunch of characters, of writing multi-paragraph descriptions for each room, of making a complicated introductory sequence to introduce us to everyone, of having a crazy cross-cut narrative to present the plot .. but is all this effort actually in support of the underlying game concept and does it add to the play experience? In short, is the author painting the right thing?

If you hack away all the stuff I mentioned that the author worked really hard on, what you end up with is basically a Star Trek episode. This isn't a bad thing! But just so we're clear, that's what it is — you got this crew on a starship, there's a stowaway, there's a bad guy threatening to blow them up, there's a tense negotiation as they try to decide on a clever way out, then the credits roll and we see clips from next week's episode starring a six-breasted alien.

So given that, don't tell me how your transporter works, because I don't care. Nor do I care about tips on tactical evasion, how the bathrooms work, or the fact that the ship's engine is a living heart that pumps plasma instead of a magic box that runs on dilithium crystals, because the distinction plays no role in the story. Ok, actually, the ship's engine is a little interesting, but you can have one sentence in the room description about it, and a paragraph when I examine it. You absolutely do not get to devote three full paragraphs in the room description to the engine.

Similarly I don't care about the elaborate backstory of all the characters or their personal histories and little romances, because you just don't get that on a single star trek episode. You get one sentence about each character: "Kirk is a macho captain who plays by his own rules," "Bones is a crotchety doctor who argues with Spock," "Spock is the always-logical Vulcan science officer." If there's something more than that, you get an entire freaking episode about X's crush on Y or whatever, as the B-plot for the Alien of the Week.

And the thing is, once you get rid of the unimportant stuff and look at what's left, you realize it's pretty weak. There are maybe six commands the player actually does in this game beyond moving and talking to people (and that's using >TALK TO X, which we all know means "give me the next piece of plot"). The author's obviously able to work hard and code complicated things, and there are plenty of places where their energy could have spent more effectively. The engine could be more complicated to repair (which might justify the larger description), the stowaway could be more difficult to locate and deal with, and the enemy could necessitate a more elaborate plan that the player must actually carry out. In other words: A for Effort, but I was really hoping for a P for Porch.


Reviewed by Emily Short

“Starship Volant” starts, ambitiously, by allowing the player to choose any one of five characters to play. It’s not easy writing a multiple-viewpoint game, so I suspected what followed would either be daringly cool or a failed mess. I didn’t anticipate that I’d get bored and stop playing after twenty minutes, coming away with an entirely lukewarm opinion of the game; and yet that is what happened.

Why? Two reasons, one to do with design and the other to do with writing.

The design reason is that “Starship Volant” doesn’t give the player a sufficiently clear goal at the outset. Well — that’s not quite true. The prologue hints at the danger and drama that might be in wait for our main characters. But once I’ve moved into my choice of bodies (the captain, as it happens), it’s completely unclear how to make the plot advance. There are no imminent threats. There are no puzzles. There isn’t even that much to manipulate: here I am in a starship, but my character is too bored by any of the controls to play with them or to even to give much description of what they do. It’s possible to explore and hold short chatty conversations with people, but that’s about it. I wandered around for quite a while trying to find the trigger that would make things more exciting, but I never did.

The writing reason… well, “Starship Volant” feels like a lobotomized version of the “Next Generation” Starship Enterprise, if it’s possible to imagine this. Gadgets and locations are all very familiar — food replicators, transporters, a bridge with a familiar sort of layout, briefing rooms and lift tubes, brig and engineering deck, just as on the show, and all described, amazingly, with the perspective of an amateur interior decorator. The captain seems more interested in the color scheme used to decorate the bridge than in the tools and computers that pertain to her work. I went back and replayed a bit in the vain hope that the security officer would focus on different things in his room descriptions, and ran into this, which is just a slight variation on the what the captain has to say:

The command centre of the ship, the colour scheme of the Bridge, like the rest of the ship, is pale grey and navy blue, comfortable, but not luxurious.

This description reminded me quite a bit of amateur hotel reviews on travelocity: slightly misworded, centered on points that aren’t really that interesting, and maximally vague. Now, to be fair, there are some better bits in the game as well, but at no point did I feel the kind of wonder at a new place that I might feel on a real starship; nor did I see the ship convincingly through the eyes of a character who lives and works there, with all the attendant associations and knowledge.

The world-building isn’t much either; where they deviate from Star Trek norms, the details of the invented world seem arbitrary and inconsistent. (Not that Star Trek was any good at this either. Don’t get me started.)

And personal relationships? Okay: the crew on ST:TNG were not exactly the most sprightly and developed set of characters, but imagine that they got beamed out of there and replaced by, oh, the characters of Avonlea. The communications officer is a jolly, sweetly maternal lady. The systems monitor is a shy young thing struggling with a girlish crush on the captain — all right, I don’t know that Avonlea ever explored lesbian themes as such, but still. The most interesting bit of interaction I managed to accomplish was advising one of my subordinates on his lovelife, which belonged squarely in the Avonlea-verse.

So here’s the problem. The character interaction and setting present no conflict. The game design presents no conflict. There’s nothing for me to do as a player, and there’s nothing to hook into in the story. Generally speaking, this did seem competently put together, and I ran into only one bug that revealed the seams of having a multiple-viewpoint game. (If you walk into the security officer’s quarters as the captain, the quarters are described as though they belong to you.) But I just couldn’t find the motivation to keep playing.

Reviewed by David Whyld

One of two ADRIFT entries in the Spring Thing 2007 (the other being mine, so don't be expecting a review of that), Starship Volant: Stowaway came a respectable third, trailing Fate and The Reluctant Resurrectee but ahead of The Epic Origins of CamelGirl!

The game is an uneasy mix of regular IF and CYOA (i.e. half of it has you entering commands like you would in any other IF game, the other half has you selecting highlighted commands from a block of text), which is a nice enough idea in itself but the way it's been implemented here leaves a lot to be desired. A good deal of the time you won't be presented with any highlighted commands, making you suspect that this is one of the times when you need to enter regular IF commands to make any progress. Not so. Whatever you try doesn't seem to effect the game one bit and after a few moves have passed, you are presented with a number of highlighted commands. You select one of them and then several moves later, you're presented with some more. A sizeable part of the game is played in this manner and any illusion that you can affect anything aside from the highlighted options is just that: an illusion. Whatever you type (when highlighted options aren't available) you end up with the same thing every time. So in fact the best thing to do when highlighted commands aren't available is bash out WAIT until they are.

Handled better, this could have worked quite well (though I'm not entirely convinced that a IF/CYOA hybrid would ever successfully work). But with too much waiting between the options, it often feels that the game pauses of several moves between choosing commands isn't a good idea. Continually typing WAIT until something finally happens doesn't work; simply presenting the player with whatever the next set of highlighted commands is would have been a better idea.

The layout of the spaceship is confusing. I played with the standard ADRIFT Runner which displays a map of the game in the top right window but I ended up having to disable this due to constant error messages flashing on screen telling me the map was too complex. The map was also problematic in that sometimes it would fail to correctly list exits that were indicated in the room description.

Most of the game isn't very interactive at all. Once it had begun proper, and the starship was being approached by an alien vessel, the main command I used to progress the game was WAIT. I wasn't able to leave the bridge* and while I could speak to some of the people with me, I couldn't seem to make any progress that way. More annoyingly, when I was asked a questioned by Mrs Williamsby and attempted to respond, I couldn't figure out what to tell her. YES and SAY YES didn't produce any response and TALKing to her just informed me that she was doing her job and I had nothing to discuss with her. This despite the fact that she had just asked me a question and was sitting there waiting for my response! Attempts at conversing with other crew members had me issuing them orders that I might not necessarily have wanted to issue. Conversation was handled in the TALK TO {NAME} format but instead of merely talking to people, the game took it upon itself to have you issue orders whether or not you wanted to.

* Or, I should say, I don't think I should have been able to leave the bridge. At least, that's what I was told when I tried to go EAST or DOWN, but when I went UP the game let me leave. I then wandered around for a while, eventually making my way back to the bridge and then being told I couldn't leave again. The EAST and DOWN commands seemed trapped with the appropriate response, yet UP wasn't. I was also able to bypass this restriction by preceding the direction command with GO.

The HELP command came in handy for getting me past the problem of what to do on the bridge (apparently I could TALK to the alien vessel, which I guess made perfect sense seeing as we had communications devices on the ship but for some reason this had never occurred to me to try), but again most of the action in the game seems to involve a lot of WAITing, followed by a list of options in bold and underline for my next action. When I discovered that I could make progress by typing WAIT over and over again until more bold and underlined text was displayed, things went a little smoother, though I would have preferred something more than waiting around for things to happen.

The game often switches perspectives between the various crew members, though I was never sure why for the most part and I spent a while trying to figure out what the reasoning behind this was. I'm guessing that there are certain tasks that only certain crew members can undertake and so the switching is done for that reason. But a lot of the time I was never really sure just why X could do one task yet Y couldn't. Or why the Captain, the highest-ranking member of the crew, didn't have permission to enter certain cabins on the starship.

There's an option to switch between the various crew members, which was a nice touch… if it worked properly. Sometimes it worked fine, other times I was moved to a room called LIMBO and presented with a list of possible crew members I could switch to. None worked. However, I found that selecting the numbers of certain crew members provided me with hints that didn't really seem to related to any of the problems I was currently facing. From LIMBO, there are no directions and so the only way out proves to be liberal use of the UNDO command. As the game switches perspective completely of its own accord, it's possible you don't need to switch perspective on your own, but it's mentioned in the game that you can and so it's a pity that the game's nicest feature doesn't work. It's also not likely to go down well the Spring Thing judges who are probably going to tear the game apart for this kind of thing. From what I could tell, the switching between characters worked fine at the beginning of the game but once the main game had begun (i.e. after the sighting of the alien starship), something goes wrong and attempts to switch strand you in LIMBO.

The game has hints which only become available as and when you need them. A nice idea but the implementation leaves a little to be desired. One of the hints, dealing with the answer to just why I was being switched from one character to another without warning, didn't work whenever I tried it. At other times, I'm given hints as to what I should be trying to do in each of the various characters I play, but as the switching from one character to another seems uncontrollable, it's difficult to do any of these things. A couple of times I received hints pertaining to other characters at a time in the game when I had already played those characters and had no idea how to get back to them. Other times I switched to another character before I had finished what my current character was meant to be doing (as the engineer I was meant to be fixing a hatch but while wandering around trying to figure out how this should be done, the game abruptly switched me to the security officer)

Aside from when I was stuck in the CYOA side of things and simply selecting the options that were presented to me, I found it difficult to make progress. Certain parts of the game become unavailable to certain characters and others become available, though whether anything needs doing in these parts, or if they're there simply for show, I was never sure.

But despite its flaws, there were some parts of Volant I liked. The setting was pure Starship Enterprise, so much so that I expected one of the crew members to sport pointy ears and was mildly when he did not. I also liked the idea of the player viewpoint switching to different people, though can't help but feel that being given the choice over whether this happened, instead of it just happening and me being forced to figure things out as I went along, would have made it much better.

4 out of 10

Reviewed by Lumin

Coming in third place in the Spring Thing 2007, Christy Henshaw's "Starship Volant: Stowaway" is a short sci-fi adventure about...well, a stowaway on the Starship Volant, as you might have guessed from the title. The structure of the game is a bit different from your average work of 
IF, though the characters, plot, and especially the setting all contain elements that might give anyone who's ever seen an episode of Star Trek a sense of deja vu. (To me this is a good thing, but your mileage may vary...) 

One of the unusual things about the game is that there are multiple main characters. Five of them, to be exact: the captain, pilot, security officer, ship's doctor, and chief engineer. Each of them are given some time in the spotlight when it comes to resolving the crisis the ship faces, 
and each have distinctive personality quirks and a bit of history that makes the whole process more interesting. 

Which leads us to the second unusual thing; a prologue was included to let you get to know the different characters by trying them out at your leisure, chat with other crew members, and do a little exploring on the side. The prologue isn't necessary to play the game, but it does give 
some backstory, and I highly recommend at least taking enough time for a tour of the ship, since the detail here is an area where the game really shines (and later you may be too busy to enjoy it).

As I said, at a glance the setting is fairly familiar, so while most people won't have have any trouble figuring out what transporters and replicators and the like are for, there are tons of interesting little details scattered around in people's quarters and elsewhere that really help flesh out the game world. 

Unfortunately that's about it for the prologue; there are no puzzles, nor anything else you can actually DO there, which can make your first impression of SV:S be that it drags a bit much and starts to get tedious, at least until you skip to the game proper. When I first played I suggested to the author that some sort of goal for that part (such as a simple non-pressing task for each person to perform) would improve the pacing, and after a recent replay I still feel that way. 

However once the ACTUAL game begins, things move fast as you are switched from character to character, each with an important job to do. The puzzles themselves could have stood to be more challenging, but I thought the way they were presented was interesting in and of itself; there are a few cases where you do the typical IF thing of searching around and manipulating objects, but most of the time the obstacles you're actually faced with are decisions. The best approach to take with hostile, trigger happy aliens, whether to put moral concerns above the safety of the ship, etc. 

I wound up really enjoying this approach, though as I stated the puzzles were a bit too easy for my tastes. The dilemma the ship faced might have been thought-provoking and suspenseful, rather than just mildly interesting if finding the right solutions had taken more work, with tougher consequences for screwing up. 

Though of course the above paragraph all comes down to taste, and anyway I suspect that my REAL complaint is that I enjoyed the game and wanted more. Sadly, SV:S is rather brief (especially for a Spring Thing entry) and it seems like just when the plot starts heating up, it fastforwards to the end. 

On the bright side, the epilogue left me with the impression that a sequel is in the works, and the setting itself could easily support a nearly infinite number of bite-sized, increasingly improbable adventures for the crew, just like a certain TV show...


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