Space 1889 logo

Imagine that the Victorian era saw the first space exploration. Imagine also that late 19th century Britain, France, Belgium and Japan have established colonies on Mars and Venus. And finally, imagine that Thomas Edison was responsible. Still with me? You must have one hell of an imagination.

Space 1889 is a computer version of a paper-and-pencil role-playing game. The background is different to any other game - it's reminiscent of Jules Verne meets Edgar Rice Burroughs, complete with Martians, Selenites, Moonmen and Venusian dragons.

The first thing you do is invent some characters on a separate save-game floppy. These can have a variety of skills and backgrounds. The most limiting factor in a character's development is social status, hence the Victorian flavour of the game. The character design is easy enough. There are five different options, and you just work down them. You only control what a character turns out like in general terms, with the computer doing the legwork.

Once you have a party of five or less characters, the game begins. The plot starts relatively innocently during an exhibition to the British Museum in London. A team of German explorers have discovered the whereabouts of Tutankemen's tomb. You overhear and decide to fund an expedition of your own, together with some friends who club in with you (that is the character party you've just designed).

And that's it. The game starts with you have nothing but a pocket of cash (having a career as a master criminal helps enormously) and you have to get an expedition together. Once that quest is completed, others follow: to the moon, Mars and Venus - eventually.

There's plenty of equipment to buy, information to obtain and people to meet before that happens. This is a good idea, as it gives you a chance to get used to icons and menu systems before the party gets into trouble.

Window with a view
Most of the action takes place in a small view window, which gives an overhead look at the character's surroundings. Everything that appears in this view window looks awful - everything else looks pretty good.

Movement is easy but long winded. You put the mouse pointer where you want to go, and then click the button. Easy, except that moving around to any distance takes thousands of button clicks. It would be OK if the game worked fast enough to keep up, but most of the time you're waiting for the party just to get from A to B.

The menuing systems are frustrating. It's very odd that a game will use the mouse for most things, and then insist that you use the cursor and the Return key for specifics (buying and selling items you find in the game are the worst culprits).

Another failing is that the design of the game lets you do virtually everything on one screen. There is nothing wrong with this, but the game gives you a variety of different options, couple this with the ever-present title, and you find the actual playing area looks small and pathetic.

Walk like Egyptians
There are plenty of places to go on planet Earth alone, with various modes of transport available. Everything is based on steam power with the exception of horses, which adds nicely to the atmosphere. It's very odd, though, walking from London to Egypt without ill effect. Even more weird is that it's very difficult once you've hired a steam ship or Zeppelin to actually land anywhere again, apart from the place that you hired it from.

Most of the game play is handled through simple interaction with the different characters you meet in the game. The combat system is simple to use and fairly comprehensive on weapons covered and how they are used.

Most people though will be totally unmoved by Space 1889. The manual contains background information rather than playing guides, the protection system is a code sheet printed in black on midnight blue (unreadable) and playing it will bore you to tears. There might be a real game in there, but it will take days for you to unravel, and the tedium is too much for all but the most hardened role player. A great mythos, but not much fun.

Fantastic Voyage
Placed in a strange land, with strange laws you have to survive! That's the challenge of a fantasy role-play game. You have to understand the concepts, learn the rules and use them to your advantage. FRP games work well on computer because the Amiga takes all the work out of dice rolling and rule book reading. All you do is observe the actions, determine the results and then modify your behaviour accordingly.

Space 1889 logo

Wer hat die Glühbirne erfunden? Thomas Edison, sehr gut. Und wer hat sich den Ätherflieger ausgedacht? Auch der alte Edison, das wußtet Ihr gar nicht? Wir eigentlich auch nicht, aber Empires Rollenspiel weiß es besser!

Wie die Einleitung bereits vermuten läßt, ist die Story von Space 1889 das Produkt einer wahrlich überschäumenden Phantasie - allerdings nicht der der englischen Company. Dort hat man nur das gleichnamige "Papier-und-Bleistift-Rollenspiel" umgesetzt, und zwar erst mal auf dem PC, jetzt auch für den Amiga.

Wir befinden uns also in einer seltsamen Parallelwelt, in der man dank Edisons kuriosem Vehikel die Planeten unseres Sonnensystems bereisen kann. Somit sind Ende des letzten Jahrhunderts schon Merkur, Mars und Venus von Menschen besiedelt, doch treiben sich dort auch allerlei Eingeborene und wilde Tiere herum. Also reichlich Stoff, aus dem die Abenteuer sind...

Aber keine Party ohne Party, hier kann der fünfköpfige Trupp entweder fix und fertig aus der Bytes-Konserve übernommen oder selbst gehäkelt werden. Dazu würfelt der Rechner sechs grundlegende Eigenschaften wie Charisma oder Social Level aus, von denen insgesamt 24 Fähigkeiten abhängen. Diese wiederum legen die in Frage kommenden Karrieren fest, und der daraus gewählte Beruf sorgt dann für regelmäßige Einkünfte. Das bereits vorhandene Vermögen ergibt sich jedoch aus dem Social level, denn ein Blaublütler ist natürlich wohlhabender als ein hergelaufener Prolo.

Die fünf Freunde starten in London, kaufen sich zunächst mal eine vernünftige Grundausrüstung zusammen und haben es sodann auf das Grab von Tut-ench-Amun im ägyptischen Tal der Könige abgesehen. Doch das ist nur der Anfang einer turbulenten Schnitzeljagd mit vielen Knobeleien, noch mehr Hinweisen und vergleichsweise wenigen Kämpfen. Zum Höhepunkt kommt es draußen im All, wo nichts Geringeres als die Unsterblichkeit winkt!

Die Umgebung der vorläufig noch keineswegs unsterblichen Party wird aus der Vogelperspektive dargestellt - ähnlich dürftig wie in "Mega Traveller 1", aber man erkennt recht gut, was Sache ist. Weitere Anzeigen informieren über den Zustand des jeweiligen "Teamchefs", und die Menüliste am unteren Bildschirmrand ermöglicht vielfältige Aktionen oder ruft Sonderscreens wie Combat und Inventory auf. Leider ist diese Steuerungsmethode längst nicht so phantasievoll wie die Story, trotz Maus kommt man nur sehr umständlich im Spiel voran. Ja, manche Stellen wie z.B. die Kämpfe sind fast schon unspielbar, überhaupt ist hier das Keyboard des öfteren die bessere Wahl.

Untermalt wird das antik-futuristische Treiben von durchwachsenem Sound; Zumindest die Titelmusik besticht durch Dramatik und Atmosphäre, die paar FX im Spiel allerdings eher durch konsequenten Minimalismus.

Tja, tolle Story, zähes Gameplay - in dieser Beziehung gleicht der Amiga-Space seinem PC-Vorgänger wie eine Glühbirne der andern. Wer sich nicht daran stört, darf sich auf originelles Rolli-Vergnügen freuen. Aber Hand aufs Herz, wer stört sich nicht daran? (jn)

Space 1889 logo

The HG Wells vision of Victorian sci-fi forms the bizarre basis for an FRP romp.

Cast, if you will, your minds back to issue two, when we reviewed Empire's Mega Traveller 1. Now substitute all the stuff about Elite for a bizarre plot-line (one which will seem strangely familiar to fans of the Nemesis The Warlock stories in top comic 2000AD) concerning an alternative view of the Victorian age, one where the scientists of the era have also mastered the concept of space travel.

Imagine yourself playing a prominent archaeologist of the time, searching for the mythical lost tomb of Tutankhamun, a quest which (for some reason) will take you out into the furthest reaches of the Solar System and beyond. Imagine that you've got the patience to hang around for seven or eight minutes of incessant disk swapping, compulsory formatting of blanks and all the rest of it, just to get started in the first place. Imagine all that, and you've pretty much got a full mental picture of Space 1889.

This is a game remarkably similar in more or less every way to its illustrious predecessor, except that it has a rather less friendly feel to it (the fighting system is particularly unwieldy). That doesn't stop it form being a great game, but I'm not so sure that it'll be as successful as Mega Traveller was in appealing to the kind of person who wouldn't normally go for this deep and involved stuff.

Indeed, I'm almost completely certain that it won't, which is a pity - the whole idea of a pop-riveted,steam-powered Victorian view of the future, as seen in Jules Verne et al, I find bizarrely appealing, and it's a shame that this won't find a wider audience. Such is life.

Before you go though, a few moments of your time on a subject that makes me irrationally angry and was touched upon in the review above - if I want to format a blank disk to save my games on, I'll bloody well decide to do it myself! It's phenomenally annoying to fork out a load of money on a game, load it up and be all ready to get right into it, and then to have to stop and rummage around desperately for a blank disk, then wait for it to be formatted before the game will let you proceed. What if you haven't got a blank disk handy? What if you live in the Faroe islands and you've just made your once-yearly flight to the mainland to buy a game, only to fly back and find that you can't play it because you haven't got a sodding blank? I understand, and applaud, the reasoning that allows you to back up your games in this way, but I would appreciate the choice - I'd like to be able to play off my originals if I want to.

And Space 1889 isn't even one of the worst offenders - we've all seen multiple-disk games that won't let you play the thing off the original disks at all, insisting that you make a back-up copy of everything and use that before it'll work. If you're going to do this, it's only fair and courteous to at least mention on the packaging that everything you need to play this game isn't included in the damn box! End of rant.

Space 1889 logo

The Victorian Age is famous of its industrial advances, puritanical morality, and its advanced space flight program. Space Flight? Well, according to Empire, who have adapted the Games Designers Workshop pen-and-paper RPG, Space 1889, to the Amiga with great success.

The plot commences with an overheard rumour about the location of King Tut's tomb. This prompts the party to travel to Egypt, which in turn leads to further adventures and subplots winding on Mars, Mercury and beyond.

The character generation system is marvellous: skills are determined by professions which vary from the mundane to the bizarre. Each profession gives the player a unique set of abilities: actors learn eloquence and theatrics and engineers study mechanics and science. Effective parties contain people with different backgrounds, as a wide range of skills are needed to successfully play the game, with mental and practical skills as important as physical ones.

The Victorian era has been carefully recreated right down to the use of pounds, shillings and pence, although cash figures can be converted to pennies-only for those who find mental calculations tricky. As Great Britain was still the most powerful nation at the time, social standing is fundamental and characters range from the proletarian all the way up to the aristocracy. This determines wealth, and also effects, such as the way other people view the character.

Unusually, the emphasis is firmly on puzzle solving and interaction with personalities in the game world. Wandering around looking for a fight reaps next to no rewards, while talking (and frequently bribing) non-player characters yields information about the job in hand.

The biggest drawback is the graphics - they're competently drawn, but the overhead movement screens are about as clear as British Rail's ticket pricing. Likewise, the sound is poor, but these failings are more than forgivable in the light of the intriguing scenario and novel feel to the game.

Space 1889 is by no means the best RPG I've played, yet I wholeheartedly recommend it for those searching for a game with an original concept and lashings of creamy playability and atmosphere. Tally ho, and God save the Queen!

CLEANSE THE STREETS! While Earth-bound all the important action occurs in the cities, any items discovered during the party's travels can be sold for cash or information if you discover a keen collector. This leads to the next quest, and so on, and the party gradually unearths hints concerning the other planets. In the glorious tradition of the British Empire, it's expected that the party will pay very little regard to the customs and feelings of aliens - be they extra-terrestrial or simply foreigners.