Six people, six computers, and six positions on the bridge crew. Can your Captain guide you to victory?
By Jason Imms on January 21, 2013 at 5:05 pm
>>>> BEGIN TRANSMISSION
Official Report – USFP Artemis
During a standard patrol around the Sector A12 training array, Science Officer-in-Training Ensign Imms of the USFP Light Cruiser Artemis reported multiple unknown ship signatures appearing on long-range scopes, approaching from all directions. Scans confirmed that a united alien force was attacking, likely in an attempt to glean the location of [REDACTED].
Captain Boyd, in the face of an overwhelming force, quickly and calmly began to issue commands to his fledgling bridge crew. Ensign Imms was to relay the bearing and range of the nearest enemy battlegroup to Helmsman Bain. Weapons Officer Dibley was ordered to load Mk1 Homing Torpedos into tubes 1 and 2, and to prepare to raise shields upon contact with the enemy. Engineering Officer Eaves was under direction to provide power to warp and impulse thrusters while in transit, and to shift that power to shields, manoeuvring, and primary beam weapons upon enemy contact. Comms Officer Cook was ordered to instruct the four starbases making up the Sector A12 training array to being production of Type 4 LR nuclear torpedos, as “this could get messy.”
Given the number of lives lost, the exchange between the Artemis and the enemy Skalien Cruiser was unceremoniously short. Two homing torpedo blasts made short work of the cruiser’s shields, making way for Artemis’ close-range automated beam weapons to cut through their hull, venting atmosphere and sending an indistinguishable mess of crew and scrap floating through space. With a newfound confidence, the crew of the Artemis made short work of each individual enemy ship approaching the training array.
Some mistakes were made by the crew-in-training, but none that caused irreparable damage to the Artemis, though the same couldn’t be said for the few enemy ships torn apart by inadvertently-launched post-surrender torpedos. The cheers of the crew were broken by Ensign Imms’ voice straining to be heard.
“Captain, six, no SEVEN new enemy contacts. Bearing zero-six-seven, less than 10k from our current location. They seem to be massed around a — *gulp* — Torgoth Behemoth.”
Silence gripped the bridge. Captain Boyd set his jaw and ordered an immediate attack. “Helm: Set a course on that bearing, warp 2. Bring us to within 5k. Engineering: Full power to warp. Science: Scan the smaller ships for carriers. Weapons: We don’t have time to unload the Mk1s. Fire tubes 1 and 2 into space. Reload with one ECM and one Nuke. Comms: Taunt that behemoth. Make ‘em angry, get them to chase us instead of going after the station.”
One metric flurry of activity later, and the USFP Light Cruiser Artemis stood dwarfed, directly in the path of an enemy heavy battlegroup. A torpedo streaked out from the mass of the Behemoth, as fighters launched from the two flanking Arvonian Carriers. The homing torpedo reoriented and flew straight toward the Artemis’ main viewport. A blue streak passed the torpedo travelling in the opposite direction, closely followed by a much larger torpedo. The Type 9 ECM Torpedo detonated, frying the shields and electronics of the entire enemy battlegroup. The blue haze had barely cleared before the trailing nuke detonated against the now-unprotected hull of the Behemoth, shredding the once-formidable force into a completely non-threatening mist of metal flotsam and jetsam.
A red beam lanced out from the Artemis. What remained of the incoming torpedo pinged harmlessly against her forward-facing shield.
So complete was their victory, that during shore leave celebrations Captain Boyd became involved in an unfortunate barfight and was severely incapacitated. In his injured, inebriated state, Boyd was easily coerced into signing the paperwork necessary to promote Ensign Imms to Acting Captain of the brand-new and formidable USFP Dreadnought Fury. Acting Captain Imms ordered his newfound crew to their stations for an immediate launch, to participate in what he called “an imminent, glorious, and totally rad series of space explosions.”
There were no survivors.
>>>> END TRANSMISSION
Artemis is a story generator, a game that makes its own story in the minds of the people playing it. There are many other games that fit this description, most of them games that include multiple interlocking, AI-driven systems. Usually it is the interaction between these automated systems that generates the stories, but in the case of Artemis the players themselves are the systems, and the interactions occur in the real world.
We reached out to Thom Robertson, the lone-wolf developer of Artemis, who describes it as “a multiplayer, multi-computer networked game for Windows computers (and now IOS devices too!) that simulates a spaceship bridge”. Ideally six players will share the same space, and each man a computer running the Artemis client. Five of these machines act as workstations, simulating one of the five roles that could be required by a ship’s bridge officer, such as Helm, Weapons Control, Communications, and Engineering. The sixth player takes on the role of Captain, and is the connective tissue between these disparate responsibilities.
The player on the Helm is responsible for the movement of the ship. They are able to control the bearing and thrust of the ship, and can switch shields on and off. On their own, a Helmsman can do little more than fly the ship through space, but only have the benefit of what is visible out of the front viewport. Without a Science officer, they are essentially flying blind. The Science officer’s primary view is a multi-sector map, covered in blips representing friendly and enemy ships, asteroids, minefields, nebulae, and starbases. It is their job to report relative range, heading, and obstacle information to the Helm, so that they can quickly and safely navigate.
Weapons Control handles the targeting enemy ships, loading, unloading, and firing torpedo tubes, shield control, and beam weapon management. Comms has the ability to request the status of starbases and give them production orders, taunt or threaten enemy ships, request help from friendly ships, and monitor communications from all of the above. Engineering controls energy distribution, cooling, damage control, and system status reporting. A series of sliders allow the Engineering Officer to provide more energy to specific systems, thus boosting their performance, and can also reroute coolant to ensure that the ship isn’t going to blow under the requested load. They also have the ability to order damage control crews to work on specific systems, as needed.
The Captain’s screen is a basic exterior view of the ship, and a cut-down version of the Science officer’s map. There is little functionality there, as the Captain’s role is to ensure that the other stations are working together toward a single goal, a goal best achieved through real-world communication.
The result is a tense experience. Players shout across the room as events get heated, frustrated cries as the Weapons Officer inadvertently begins the process of unloading a torpedo tube instead of firing, the shrill reports of an overwhelmed Science Officer. The most impressive aspect of Artemis isn’t the UI, visuals, or sound design. It is the social engineering, the ability to create situations in which players need to physically work together to achieve a goal that really sets Artemis apart from… well, almost everything else.
It is the kind of design that would be really exciting to see publishers get behind for inclusion in a triple-A game, but Thom doesn’t seem hopeful. “Artemis has been very successful as my indie project, but the big companies are very risk-averse. Also, my years as a game developer (both in and out of the industry) have made me quite cynical. I’ve come to understand that money doesn’t just fall into my lap, and the big companies never return my calls. It’s up to me, and I don’t expect any help from the guys with money.”
Artemis is far from perfect. Defects and stability issues exist in the latest version, and the controls and UI could do with some optimisation. The good news is that Thom is aware of them, “I intend to keep growing Artemis and listening to my fans. I don’t really have a better plan than that. I’m more used to making lots of small games that don’t catch on, so I’m not so good at long-term planning. But I’m getting better, and I have plenty of help.”
Artemis is DRM-free, and a single purchase is good for a full crew, so start conscripting your friends now. These ships don’t fly themselves.