Hyperspace Delivery Service – A Game That Works

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Recently my gaming attention has been taken up by Hyperspace Delivery Service by Zotnip Games. This is one of those games worth analysis – and not just in game design.

At it’s core, Hyperspace Delivery Service is about a crew and it’s commander (that’s you) delivering important cargo to a distant world. It’s done in a retro-DOS style that hearkens back to games that realized they could “fuse” genres together. Thus several game modes are linked together to form a space adventure game that’s sort of “Oregon Trail” in space – travel and survive. Well, travel, survive, deliver.

Your ship travels from world to world in linear fashion. Managing resources is paramount, from buying them to harvesting them in various ways. Some missions and events may result in space adventures, zooming through asteroid fields or battling pirates arcade-style. Other jobs and events may lead you to FPS adventures fighting robot pirates. Events and options may appear, leading to accidents, benefits, or Choose Your Own Adventure type choices.

These different elements are tied together so they influence each other. A mission may let you get resources you need to travel to another world. The choice of who to send on a mission may yield useful parts or have a special ability that lets them survive the challenge. You can push your crew, but prepared to take time for them to relax before they stress out. Every choice has results, some of which will impact you later in the game.

This is all done in an almost too-close-to-history DOS style, down to the text styles and sound effects. There’s a commitment to an aesthetic that carries through the entire venture – as well as a fantastically spacey soundtrack.

The game itself is therefore a tight fusion, where everything comes together, and not just stylistically. Everything you do matters, every action has consequences, and you’re constantly engaged moment by moment.

In many ways, it’s a spiritual brother to Star Traders: Frontiers. ST: F is a modern-style game where multiple games and rules and modes create a galaxy-spanning space adventure where you manage a huge and diverse crew. Hyperspace Delivery Service takes past styles and setups, but also fuses game elements together, to create its own space adventure and its own feel.

The simple retro elements of the game play well to this – because none is overly complex, their interactions are understandable and clear. This doesn’t mean the game is easy – it’s quite challenging. It’s just understandable (which might lure you into a false sense of security). There’s a lovely sense of precision to it.

On top of this, the game’s developer is incredibly responsive to fans in Early Access. As of this post I’ve seen the game go through multiple updates, the developer listening carefully to feedback while asking questions. Thus the game isn’t just fun to play, there’s an additional level of enjoyment as playing it lets you connect with your fellow fans and the creator.

If you work in any form of media, this is another game to pay attention to because you’ll learn a lot about combining elements and engaging fans.

Oh, and it’s fun!

Steven Savage

Psycho Mobs 100: Fandom Is Neutral

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Serdar and I have been having an on-again, off-again discussion on fandom and it’s value.  I offered that it could be limited, and he responded with a deeper analysis of fandom that included speculation on pathological fandoms and our inabilities to identify them.

Eventually I found out pretty much any fandom you could name was rife with this sort of insularity. Many folks cared more about the label, about what belonged inside it or not inside it, than they did about the possibilities that could be awakened by whatever was tagged with the label. I know now, full well, that a lot of circles of fandom are not like this. But I find the best way to defend against that is to start with the person rather than the interests.

No fandoms are perfect.  I can pretty much find a wank battle anywhere in fandom with a bit of surfing, and between reddit and Tumblr it’s probably easy for anyone to do so.  But I think we still consider fandom a good thing overall.

After Serdar’s comments, I began thinking of my own fandoms and interests.  I realized that I treat a fandom as a good thing by default, as long as it’s not a fandom of something obviously bad.  I did this due to my own positive experiences in fandom, often ignoring my own experiences that were negative.  Sure my experiences were on the whole positive – but not entirely.

Thus, I think we should consider fandom a phenomena.  It is something that happens, and it is not necessarily good or bad.  Often it has been a good thing – I think it’s been more a good thing or bad – but that’s because we made it into something good, often without thinking of it.  It can easily be misused and messed up as we’ve also seen.

This may seem a bit sad to say as many of us have had positive experiences, and because it reinforces the cynciism we often see about enthusiasm.  But it’s more a reminder to be responsible for what we do and take this pheomena and make it into something good.

Fandom can be a good thing.  It often is because we’ve made it such.

It’s up to us to figure out how to make it good, keep it good, and make it better.  It’s up to us to take this human phenomena and make it work for us.  There’s no magic to fandom – just what we make.

– Steve

How Aggretsuko Tackles Multiple Important Subjects

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

As you may guess, I’ve been analyzing  Aggretsuko lately.  I just ran a marathon of the series for a different group of friends.  This dark office comedy from Sanrio bears multiple viewings because it’s a well-crafted show.  It just happens to look cute until you realize what’s going on.

Having seen it again with another group of people, many more insights came to mind.  These provide good advice to writers, but also are an example of another point – good media is worthy of a repeat performance so you can learn from it.

As the rewatch progressed, several major traits of the show became apparent. Let’s discuss them first.

By the way SPOILERS.

Let’s talk the women of Aggretsuko.

  • First, it’s about the rage and anger women feel – and often sit on.  Though the main character is clearly filled with rage, other women in her sphere have dealt with problems as well.  They all coped with it their own way – while admitting it’s awful.
  • The show is also about strong and positive female friendships and mentorships.  The women help each other out, and there’s little of the stereotypical catty infighting female characters are often saddled with.  The relationships among everyone aren’t always healthy (indeed that’s true of the entire show), but there’s a lot of positive female-female interactions.  It was delightful.
  • Retsuko is a great and flawed main character.  Totally understandable, obviously making mistakes, forging ahead.  We’ve all known people like her and probably been her.
  • Many ways to be female.  Aggretsuko, in the character of Gori (one of my favorite characters), takes on common tropes about women.  Gori is portrayed as a large and strong gorilla – in fact she tries to increase her strength.  However, though there’s humor in how she shows off her muscles, she’s not portrayed as un-femminine but actually very feminine.  Gori in fact seems to delight in being “girly,” fashionable, talking relationships and more – and of course perfecting her perfect walk so she and her friend Washimi appear utterly badass.
  • Washimi, Gori’s partner in adventure, is a supportive mentor figure.  She’s honest about the problems of the world, but is also supportive of her fellow women.  Strong and capable, she’s also very caring – strength does not mean cruelty or ego to her.  Washimi is another character we need more about.
  • Finally, consummate butt-kisser Tsunoda turns out to know exactly what she’s doing, manipulating the ego of her manager.  It may not be admirable, but she knows what she’s doing, she has the power, and she’s making people’s lives easier.

I can’t explain how much of the show is a delight because of these female characters.  This weekend I and my co-author spoke on our book on Sailor Moon, Her Eternal Moonlight – and much like that series, it has a diverse cast of great female characters.  There’s no “designated girl” – there’s just women.

Now let’s talk the male characters.

  • Haida, the Internet’s New Boyfriend, is a great example of a nice guy who doesn’t become a Nice Guy.  He’s a decent person, not perfect, but a reliable person.  He screws up by not being able to express his feelings – and everyone pays for it, as often happens in real life.
  • Retsuke, Retsuko’s love interest is fascinating.  He honestly comes off as autistic or otherwise not neurotypical, and considering the work that went into the show, I assume this is intentional.  He’s clearly kind but also terribly unaware of what he’s doing.  I actually hope we get to understand him more – because as noted, I think his portrayal is more than “spacey” and a lot could be done here to understand people.
  • The Yoga Instructor, a big stereotypical monosyllabic jock – actually cares about his charges and helps advance relationships.  Sure he’s kind of a plot device but he’s a well-meaning one.
  • Manumaru the big, feline bro-buddy to Retsuke is a great example of someone a mix of both good traits and toxic masculinity.  He’s clearly fun to be with, boisterous, likeable, and cares about Retsuke.  He’s also pushy, doesn’t help Retsuke understand emotional issues, and can ignore the feelings of others.  He’s another one I’d like to see more of because such a character with good or bad traits could be fascinating to explore – and clearly hit it off with Fenneko.
  • Mister Ton.  The literal sexist pig of the series could have been a one-shot no personality villain; he’s a stew of toxic masculinity.  As it goes on we find there are different sides to him – and while many of those sides are still “jerk” not all of them are.  Most importantly he does seem to have some respect for Aggretsuko – he thinks SHE will be the boss one day, and its clear he remembers their musical battle when he councils her on her relationship.  Most interesting to me is how he rallies his team to help with a deadline and becomes a different person – I’ve met people like this who’s best sides come out in a crisis and fade when the crisis is gone.

Aggretsuko shows us plenty of positive women, exploring character types and ideas we just don’t get enough of.  On top of that, it even gives us some look at the different men in the character’s lives and their own flaws.  Of course many of the flaws of the male characters make the lives of the women around them worse – and they don’t realize it – which is a good point to remember.

Once again on a second viewing, I found so much in this show.  I’m sure one day I’ll find even more.

– Steve