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Review: "Starship Titanic" doesn't sink, but it's no blockbuster either

By Brad Morris

May 22, 1998
Web posted at: 2:17 PM EDT (1417 GMT)

Your very super Super Galactic Traveler accomodations   
(CNN) -- With a name like Titanic, this game has big shoes to fill. You would expect it to either sink like a rock, or be a wildly successful big budget extravaganza. Expectations and hype for this game were high, considering that it is a collaboration between British comedy greats Douglas Adams and members of "Monty Python." Douglas Adams' "Starship Titanic" shares little with its namesake; it neither completely fails on its maiden voyage, nor completely succeeds in creating a new form of interactive adventure game.

CNN Interactive talked to Douglas Adams, the famous science fiction author and humorist, about the making of "Starship Titanic." He said that he missed the early days of adventure playing when you were "locked in a virtual kind of conversation with the computer."

"Nowadays, you have games that give you sort of beautiful environments to wander around, but nothing very much happens in them." He adds, "My idea was that you take this conversation technology and bring it way, way, way up to date because you know the technology can do that much more these days. You then put it in the heart of a graphics game so that all the characters you encounter in this graphics game you can have conversations with."

"Starship Titanic" by Simon & Schuster Interactive
Available for PC (Macintosh version being developed)

Requires 100 MHz Pentium (133 recommended) and 16 Meg RAM

Mr. Adams is correct -- many adventure games these days are hollow gigantic beautiful worlds. But I am not sure that "Starship Titanic" quite solves this problem.

The premise is that a gigantic, huge budget, unsinkable (can you sink in space?) starship has problems and crash-lands into your house. You are recruited to fix the sabotage because there are no passengers and the artificial intelligence robots are all malfunctioning. Even so, don't expect any free lunches here. You start in third class (euphemistically called Super Galactic Traveler class) and have to work your way up to better accommodations. Along the way, you discover a funny and fantastic set of characters, including a hilarious talking parrot, a dismembered Gaelic waiter robot itching for a fight, and a front desk clerk robot named Marsinta that has mood swings from rude to sugary sweet.

The graphics are good, but not on the same level as "Riven" or "Zork Nemesis." The sound effects are first rate and use stereo well. The music is nice, but does get a bit repetitive. The digitized voices are super, even though the lips don't quite sync. They include the vocal talents of some Monty Python alums, including Terry Jones as the parrot and an explosive uncredited cameo by John Cleese. One major game play problem is there is no way to skip the cut scenes. You will see the view out the elevator over and over and over.

Terry Jones provides the voice of the parrot   
The primary interface is called a PET (Personal Electronic Thing) and is more complicated than most of the other graphical interfaces out there. It includes a panel to chat to the artificial intelligence robots, an unlimited inventory, a room control panel, a panel with saved room markers and a real world panel (save, load, settings and quit).

The unique part of the setup is the chat panel, which allows you to chat in English sentences with the AI's. This harkens back to the early days of adventure games, but unfortunately, the characters do not understand many things you might type, and they don't ever seem to have the information you are looking for. It would be nice if the AI's gave you more clues and remembered previous conversations.

The puzzles in "Starship Titanic" are a mixed bag. Some are relatively easy. Others will drive you crazy with obscure comic solutions. They're fairly well integrated into the story line. "Starship Titanic" comes on three CD's, and be prepared to flip them often.

There are two major problems with today's adventure games. The first is the "go everywhere and click every place on the screen" scenario, where the game contains a huge map, and hidden in certain places are key items that you need to find. The second is the "try every item with every other item" problem, in which you end up having to try every piece of inventory in every location to solve a particularly thorny problem. Titanic avoids the first problem by having a relatively small map and well-defined items you interact with. It still suffers from the second problem.

Overall, "Starship Titanic" is a zany, fun ride. It is not a revolution in this genre. It requires Windows 95, a Pentium 100 (a 133 is recommended), 16 megs of ram, 160 megs of free hard drive space, a 4x CD-ROM drive, a dollop of patience and a sense of humor.

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