Planet’s Edge: Two Seasons

From The CRPG Addict

The Moonbase commander congratulates us on retrieving one of the eight artifacts.
As several commenters have noted, Planet’s Edge has shaped up to have a real Star Trek feel, with the quest titles obvious analogues for episode titles. In fact, it’s safe to say that without budget constraints for things like costumes and special effects, Planet’s Edge‘s scenarios are considerably more imaginative and innovative than the typical Star Trek episode (particularly the Original Series). Like their counterparts on Starflight II, the authors here clearly don’t believe in convergent evolution. We’ve seen aliens based on birds and plants and lizards, some with no mouths, some with multiple arms, although all exhibiting fairly human-like personalities and flaws. I just wish the game had given us more portraits for these creatures; there’s only so much you can tell from the icons.

I remarked last time that their stories were “a bit silly and trite,” and I’ll back off a bit now. At the time, I was thinking primarily of the princess looking to escape her arranged marriage, but the subsequent stories have been a little more interesting.

But while I concede that this game could be fun and interesting, I still don’t like it. There’s nothing in it that I particularly like about RPGs. A certain quality of narrative and variety of quests are important to me, yes, but only when accompanied by meaningful character development or tactical combat. Still, I think the thing that bothers me most about Planet’s Edge is not what it lacks but rather a particular quick unique to me: I don’t like to know exactly how long something is going to last, or exactly how much time I have left. When I have to do a long, boring chore, I typically find a way to hide the amount of work I have to do or how much time I have remaining. For instance, when I decide to walk on the treadmill for two hours, I put a magazine over the display so I never know exactly how much time I have left. If I have to clean 200 data records, I’ll write a process that feeds them to me one at a time without showing me my overall count. I prefer the unknown even when making it unknown makes a task longer or require more effort. If I have to drive somewhere, I’ll often take a longer route with an unknown time rather than stick to the empirically shortest route. Yes, I know I have issues. Irene tells me all the time.

Planet Edge’s sin was telling me that I had to recover exactly eight pieces, then giving me a map that shows the galaxy divided into eight roughly-equal sectors with similar numbers of stars, so that I know each part is going to require about the same amount of time–and that means a 40-hour game at least. I want to know I’m facing a 40-hour game at Hour 37, not Hour 10. This is why I always insists that quests that are about assembling n parts of something always vary the length and difficulty of finding each part. Some you should just be able to walk up and grab. Ultima VI did that particularly well.

I had to get rid of all my weapons just to get six cargo units on board.


My final complaint, though, is that I don’t particularly enjoy blogging plot-heavy games. It’s a bit exhausting. If I ran The Adventure Gamer, I probably would have given up already. There’s always a question of how much I should include and how much I should summarize. Challenge of the Five Realms was a recent challenge; in blogging that game, I erred on the side of describing nearly every plot point. Other times, I’ve tried to summarize large sections of plot. My readers don’t seem to have a strong preference either way. I’ll try to take a middle path here.
When I left off last time, my crew was in Sector Algieba, where we managed to get ourselves appointed as emissaries from the Magin to President Ishtao. The president was on Ishtao station, orbiting Algieba, and I couldn’t even scan the planet until I’d paid 6 cargo units to the orbiting platform. I had to go back to Moonbase, remove all weapons from my ship, and load up with cargo.

Upon my return, I donated the units and the crew was able to beam down to an episode titled “Inauguration Day.”

On television, this would have been a two0-parter.

It was the best scenario so far. The Algiebians are a reptilian race fond of extra-long “s” sounds in their speech, which would normally make them evil, but they don’t seem to be here. They were in the midst of a celebration for the second inauguration of their president, Ishtao. The festivities had been infiltrated by the Geal A’nai, the Algiebian faction that had also tried to kill the princess in my previous session. They also plotted to cripple Ishtao’s space yacht and drive it into the sun, killing all of the visitors to the inauguration, and using a body double of Ishtao to give the order. It was a complicated plot. There were signs that the Geal A’nai may not in fact be the “bad guys” of the scenario, and that Ishtao had been mercilessly persecuting them, but it wasn’t fully explored.
I ended up on the yacht almost immediately after entering the palace, owing to my order of exploration, but I think the events could have been done in any order. The inhabitants of the yacht were obsessed with a card game called, probably, “Chasqua.” I say “probably” because the natural speech of the Algiebians put a variable number of letters “a” and “s” in the name. It involves a group of five cards, each aspected to a particular color, which must be inserted into a number of slots in a defined order–specifically, red, yellow, green, orange, and blue. The problem is that there’s no objective way of telling which card goes with which color. They all look the same to humans, I guess. You have to show the cards to other denizens in the station and get their opinions. They look at them and say things like, “I’m pretty sure this #2 card is blue,” but they give no indication how they’re coming up with that information. In any event, they’re often wrong, so you have to take notes to whittle it down and go with the highest probability.

I’m going to get a second opinion.

In the midst of this exploration, a bomb went off on the ship, crippling the engines and the electrical system. The engineer explained that to fix the doors and teleporters, he needed a “gravity bar,” which happens to be the prize for winning Chasqua. President Ishtao’s doppelganger came over the P.A. and announced that he had ordered the yacht to plunge into the sun so that the Geal A’nai saboteurs would die, trusting everyone else would be willing to sacrifice themselves for such a noble end. The ship’s captain, shaking his head at such an out-of-character moment for Ishtao, begged us to get the ship’s engines back online and return with the command code so he could override the order. Meanwhile, the fake president demanded the command code for himself.

In due order, I figured out the Chasqua sequence, gave the gravity bar to the engineer, used the now-functioning teleporters to move around the otherwise-inaccessible parts of the yacht, and got the engines back online. Re-starting the engines involved inserting Chasqua cards in a particular sequence; one of the NPCs remarked that the game had been “designed by engineers as a mnemonic for complicated tasks.”
Although a bit more of an adventure game than an RPG, at least Planet’s Edge doesn’t put you in a lot of “walking dead” moments. There’s a lot of backtracking, sure, but I’ve found that if I simply stick to an exploration pattern, talk to everyone, and search everything, I’ll eventually get what I need.
There were several battles with Geal A’nai during the exploration, and combat isn’t any more exciting than it was last time. A lot depends on luck. So far, I haven’t found a battle that wasn’t easy enough to win by reloading. I’ve found a few weapon and armor upgrades, which I’ve been distributing according to skill. It also makes sense to keep a couple of different types of armor on you because certain armors defend better against certain weapons. Each item comes with a detailed item description, incidentally, which is something that few RPGs have done thusfar in my chronology.

A description of Reflec Armor.

Once I had the command codes, I tried both potential endings. If I gave them to the fake president, he continued the ship’s course into the sun, rejoicing that, “News will soon reach Algieba IV that a ship full of innocents were killed and they will believe that Ishtao was responsible!” Giving the codes to the commander saved the ship. Either way, my party was allowed to escape in a pod. I decided to go with the “good” outcome (save the ship) because it’s my natural tendency, but it occurred to me while writing this entry that 90% of players probably do that. Since I’m not really that excited about the game anyway, why not spice things up by taking the evil path? Maybe you’ll see that reflected in the next entries.

The party gets the command codes after inserting more cards in those slots.

Anyway, the Geal A’nai weren’t done. They had also infiltrated the kitchen staff and other key positions in the presidential palace and had plotted to kill Ishtao through a mechanism I completely didn’t understand. It somehow just involved pulling a lever. I found a Geal A’nai in a prison cell, and when I showed him one of the amulets I’d looted from a corpse, he thought we were part of his faction and told us where we could find the “sixth key” in a crate in the kitchen. Using it on the lever somehow resulted in the president’s death–which I tried, then reloaded.

The causal mechanism escapes me here.

The “good” path involved getting to see Ishtao by pretending to be reporters (one of his minions assumed we were and gave us a press pass). He wanted proof that the Geal A’nai had infiltrated the palace, which we provided in the form of the amulet. He then wanted us to find the sixth key, which apparently isn’t just a key, but the “holiest of relics from the ages of darkness!” Fortunately, we already had that. He rewarded us with an amulet that would grant us passage to the depository on Koo-She Prime.

The party enables the president’s self-destructive war.

I had originally thought I would finally find the sector’s quest item–Algiebian Crystals–at Koo-She Prime, but they actually turned up as the result of an innocuous side quest in the presidential palace. One of the rooms housed a museum of Algiebian history–each of the exhibits making that history sound all the more brutal. The curator hinted that she was thirsty, so we bribed her with a bottle of wine we’d received from a bartender. She wandered away from her post, allowing us to throw the switch that controlled the force fields over the exhibits. By now accustomed to searching everything, I searched each exhibit and serendipitously found the crystals in one of them. To solve this quest if you already knew where the crystals were, you’d just need to beam down, get into the palace, and kill the curator.

Search everything, kids.

Koo-She Prime kicked off an episode called “Solitaire.” Shortly after we arrived–and got in with the presidential amulet–we tripped a trap that caused three of the party members to get beamed away and held in stasis. William had to solve the area by himself, some of which required referring to clues from random NPCs back on Algieba. There were a lot of traps, hostile beasts, and reloading. After puzzling his way through a series of caves, he arrived in a science facility, where he had to switch bodies with a four-armed creature to operate four levers at once. Ultimately, he released his friends and found some technical plans that allowed for better weapons and ship parts back at home.
Back at Moonbase, Commander Polk congratulated us for getting the Algiebian Crystals and suggested we explore Sector Kornephoros next. I was unhappy with being told where to go, so after I scrapped the Ulysses for an upgraded ship–which the game named Calypso–I headed for Sector Caroli for no other reason that it was clockwise from Algieba.

Outfitting my second ship.

Caroli had a lot more stars than Algieba, most with absolutely nothing to do, not even elements for my higher-capacity starship. One planet–Zavijava Prime–had an orbital platform occupied by those goons again, and it was here that I fought and (badly) lost my only attempt at ship combat this session.
I stumbled on the sector’s quest at Alula IV, in an episode called “Desolation.” It soon transpired that Alula IV was the agricultural planet of a species called the Eldarini. I never found a description of them, but the species apparently goes into hibernation for long periods of time and then awakens ravenous, killing and eating anything nearby if there’s no other obvious source of food. Alula IV and its “Iozam” grain was supposed to be that food, but both the harvester and the transport ship had broken down. The place was also swarming with hostile carnivores that we had to kill.

The alien explains what’s going on with his species.

We had to get the local boss, Agricol, to take us on as field hands before we could explore the place. This involved a puzzle where he put us in a room with seven items and said they could all easily fit into a pack, but I should select the one that he wouldn’t want to take with him. They were an industrial badge, a levitator, a stone, an assault laser, a gold wire, ceramic armor, and a rifle. I chose the stone because it was the only item that had no real utility, and it turned out I was right. I’m just not sure I was right for that reason. As he welcomed us aboard, he gave us tickets for the “life gallery” on Merak I.
Solving the quest required us to go to two other planets–Denebola IV and TK–for the parts for both the vehicles. Denebola IV was the Eldarin homeworld, and its episode was titled “Forsake the Wind.” Exploring the area, we had to be careful not to brush against sleeping Eldarins, or they would wake up and try to kill us. The surface of the planet was filled with hostile sandworms erupting from pools of lava. They occasioned enough reloading that we were definitely here a bit too early. Still, I pushed through.

These worms were no fun at all.

We had to solve a variety of navigation puzzles not worth recounting to get the part for the harvester. Returning to Alula IV, we fixed the harvester, which promptly went out of control when we turned it on and bashed through a fence. This allowed us access to a new area and ultimately the station commander, who gave us the requisition form to take to Oortizam Labs on Cor-Caroli Prime.

The next episode.

Cor-Caroli Prime’s episode was “A Small Matter.” The core part of it involved the party being shrunk to microscopic size and having to navigate our way through the circuit board of some computer while battling hostile nannites. I either missed or didn’t record the encounter text or NPC conversation that explained why or how this happened. We had to switch a couple of computer chips and pull a lever to get out. When we did, one of the items enlarged along with the party was the Gravitic Compressor, needed for the Centauri Device.

Navigating the circuit maze.

Eventually, we were able to get the requisition form notarized, at which point an engineer gave us the “ComNav” needed for the ship on Alula IV. We returned, got that ship repaired (thus saving the Eldarins from famine), and were given a note to give to the supervisor on Denebola IV. He in turn allowed us access to the “rare treasures room” and suggested he’d look the other way if anything went missing. The room held two more sets of technical plans.

Good. My newly-evil party is going to need better weapons.

Overall, Sector Caroli’s quests were the first that didn’t seem to have any “evil” or otherwise alternate options, except I suppose just killing everyone instead of actually solving the quests.
Before I ended this session, I was interested in checking out this “life gallery” on Merak I, also in the Caroli sector. But when I visited, I found it guarded by hostile blue aliens who killed me when I resisted, so we went back to Moonbase with our tail between our legs.

His assessment of our capabilities was, alas, accurate.

Expect a change in tone in future entries as my party loses patience with this increasingly hostile and irrational universe.
Time so far: 15 hours


Original URL: