There really is a lot to say so let’s just get right to it. I’d like to start with gameplay and overall presentation first since this release has executed something I don’t believe any one has before it. Most mods, much like the retail game, use the briefing and command briefings as more of a tool to deliver story elements and flavor before sending the player into the frey. However, what generally happens is that super-killer Alpha 1 need only press the H button and let his/her hud guide them to inevitable greatness. So really, the briefing does not serve its purpose, which is to give the player instructions for what to do when they enter the mission space. This is why I have said that I think briefings are generally too long or outright unnecessary.
Extraordinarily, given the complexity of these missions, a complex briefing is necessary. The briefing serves the gameplay and thus becomes much more relevant and easy to read. You aren’t just Alpha 1 the super powerful entity, you are more like a front line captain, making strategic decisions and completing specific tasks which impact the progress of the mission. Rather than testing how fast I could corkscrew or how well I can tap on my afterburner, the missions presented themselves much like a puzzle or a spindle, testing how eloquently you can solve or unravel it. For example, in the mission her finest hour, there were many different ways to go about completing your objectives. The crude way to do it is to just call the bombers on the Carthage, and then charge. After multiple iterations my execution became more sophisticated and precise. Get the AWACS, win the artillery duel, clear the sentries, call the fighters, call the bombers etc. I played most of the missions multiple times, each time honing my understanding of the situation and better unraveling the puzzle. This was a pretty fun way to play freespace and it’s a way I don’t believe I have before.
The missions are complicated and the missions are hard, but there is a reason why they are complicated and hard: you’re Fedayeen damnit! You’re what the special forces call the special forces. I remember the first time I failed the Custos mission and let the Earth burn. I threw my hand up and said “****! I’m not cut out for this ****!” Just before beginning a later mission I was told “Don’t **** up Laporte!”. That was a pretty good laugh. I got a sense from this mod, more than perhaps any game I have played, of that special forces mentality. Understand your objectives, understand your assets, strategize, execute.
Another thing I liked was how to the point the command briefings generally were. E.g. Steel’s coming to kill us in 14 days and we want you to go on a mission to hunt down an Elder who betrayed you. We hope you’re up for it. Sometimes command briefings were no more than 3 pages long. I really got the impression that the command briefings and the briefings were genuinely there to help you complete your mission and no more. The designer tried to be a nice as possible about it too by having an in mission priority marker and task specific in mission dialogue. There was also a custom failure briefing detailing why exactly you screwed up. All very good things meant to catch every type of player and give them the tools they need to complete the game. I very much approve.
So where’s the flavor? Where’s that world-building spice? How to I get a greater sense of the story world? Well for that, you link up with the Nagari network. The Nagari network, a completely separate mission arc, interspersed in between each gameplay mission. Explained beautifully by the story and completely justified, the Nagari network gives you the opportunity to get to know characters and plot points about the Hammer of Light’s involvement or why Falconer hates you so much. What’s more it’s completely optional, leaving story and flavor to those who want it and sectioning out the gameplay information for the briefing. It is a well designed layout.
Alright now story, an obviously large component of this release.
Points of interest (themes):
Can technology rob us of our humanity, or help us discover it?
The Fedayeen’s self exile from Ubuntu and general society.
Only evil people think might makes right.
There were some plot points that radiated high amounts of Battuta signature. The idea of incorporating technology with the mind and the resulting psychological effects. I remember such exploration with the immaculate conception of Private Ritter. Those bad guys I forgot what they were called, they were a computer network of zombie slaves or something like that. The danger of being infected by them was as dangerous as fighting them, so Private Ritter and her squad got their memory reset to how it was before they began fighting the war every few weeks. It’s not magic, it’s technology run amok, and it causes you to question what exactly makes you human. So you plug yourself into a technological interface and share thoughts with others like yourself. Download your mind and enrich your soul. I’ll give you the answer you’re looking for with all your exploration-by-fiction. We’re creatures man! We’re biological robots with a bad attitude!
The idea of a breaking point under stress is also a theme I think that Battuta likes to mess around with. The effects of PTSD are becoming more and more common knowledge especially in the past 12 years with the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Also the idea of soldiers who come back from active service and are ‘bored’ with civilian life. These facts sort of lead to a dilemma, soldiers fight, soldiers risk losing themselves and becoming weapons. Do you want to be a person or a weapon? It’s not something someone should wish on anyone, however in times of crisis are we justified in asking people to make that dive? The general sense that I got from the Fedayeen is that in order to win an unwinnable war, you have to be cold, you have to be calculated and sometimes, you have to be willing to lose yourself for the greater good. That is quite a scary proposition. This theme dipped itself into everything down to the feel of the missions.
The last mission, well I’m not sure if that was cool or disturbing. To me it was a series of reactions. The flash of the spider picture in the beginning just to **** with us. “I feel something behind my left eye, ignoring.” Oww! Then there was all the explainations of the shivans which were all very interesting and lucidly presented. The change in skyboxes, the reveling of information in such a deliberate way. Then there was the hud data regarding Laport’s real world mental state. It got harder and harder to read her physical state. Then when the degenerating mental state reverts to Perfectly Fine, I knew things were bad.
I ended up going insane twice: once when first encountering Samuel Bei, the part where you had to find Ken. I didn’t make it in time I thought Ken was inside the shivan capital ship, much in the same way he was inside the shivan capital ship in the first part. The second time I went insane was the first jump where you hear the Bosch Monologue. Too slow I guess, I made the jump just a second after they arrived and ended up going insane anyways on the other end of the jump.
I have to say the debriefings when you go insane are very well written. You really get a sense her mind was destroyed.
I also really like how the Vishnans are evil. It always bugs me in fiction if there’s a person or group who’s purpose is to merely “bring balance” or “set things right”. The necessary question is set things right for who or bring balance to what? The reasoning always devolves into something very petty and ‘human’. I tend to agree with Laporte, something that believes it has all the answers and the right to control others simply because it has all the power is pretty dang evil.
So you got two all powerful races looking on you with great interest. One wants to kill you and one wants to enslave you. Which one do you pick? Maybe I should have checked the “Humanity is doomed” box.
The overall incorporation with volition canon is pretty clever. Using even things such as a gameplay flaw (why do shivan warship anti-fighter systems suck?) to your advantage. Things like: the Freespace 1 Alpha 1’s founding of the Fedayeen, The GTVA post-war military complex, and The Hammer of Light alliance. I really like how Bosch was incorporated into the series. It was a clever way, not him just jumping in with an armada of shivans and a broken bug like face shouting “I’m back *****es!” I get the feeling that Blue Planet makes a fitting sequal to the retail games and goes places the original series was more or less unwilling to go. I really hope some former volition employees play this. I think they would get a real kick out of how far their ideas have been taken. It’s a far cry from Shivan town I’ll tell ya that! Shivan town’s in yo mind dawg!
The last release of Blue Planet was one heck of a cliff hanger, giving us a loss where we expected a win and introducing the Fedayeen just before cutting to credits. I feel like this cliff hanger is even worse than the last one, but at least I know one thing. The Carthage is destroyed. I’m not sure it was the right thing to do from a completely objective standpoint, but I wanted to finish the unfinished job from the last release. The interworked talk of ‘Laporte’s baggage’ was to some extent the sentiments I was feeling because I went through those same events. You bring someone with baggage on a mission and she’s going to bring the baggage. I didn’t hesitate before ordering all wings to finish the Carthage. Gotcha now ***** gotcha now! Take advantage of her kindness and use it against her. Now that’s vengeance!
The tank mission was impressive. First time I saw tanks in a freespace mod that’s for sure, and the deployment interface was so slick and easy to understand. I had to restart the mission because the first wave came a little quick on me while I was trying to figure it out but no big deal there. My deployment pattern was basically gauss, flack, missile on every cluster between the node and the refinery. Some flacks behind the refinery as well for good measure. A very well designed mission that I can’t say enough about. When I was reading the briefing I thought to myself, “No way they pulled this off…”
Other things: Esarai really came through with the reworked models, they look really nice and all UV mapped and everything. The ships are realistic and detailed fitting to the setting of the story. The sun really makes an impact with the crepuscular rays and plays a role to set the mood in some cutscenes. The skyboxes are stunning as usual. The overall art style is crisp, clear, and beautiful. Leaps and bounds from where retail was.
As far as music is concerned, I am glad you made use of Dan Wentz’s remixes. The main menu instrumental remix of unborn child is fitting as well. Who made that? The opera in the dream mission, well that’s just cool. Vishnans are so evil! Get away!
It’s kind of difficult to come up with something I don’t like about this release but, I suppose it would be how long it takes before the player starts getting involved with the game. I didn’t use a stopwatch on it but it was buzzing in the back of my mind “When am I going to do something?” I had thoughts of what the first part would be like when converted into book form.
This minor issue is very forgivable given that this campaign is a continuation of a series which followed a massive cliffhanger. The subsequent missions are also very intense; a dimension a book simply cannot tread.
I’m just going to go ahead and say this, and I’m not trying to be nice here, but this is probably some of the most intense moments I have had playing a game ever. Between the nail biting gameplay and the high stakes psychological drama, the combination is for lack of a better term effective. This release is one intense and intricate lockbox that engages your mind. I had to actually take breaks playing this for no other reason than because it was so intense.
I’m glad you all released this mod at the time you did. It reminded me of the fanatical passion I had working on projects here. When I look back at the topics in hard light, all the computer files containing modding work I and others have done, I can’t help but feel a connection with my existence. [I might get a little weird on you so if you’re not into that then stop reading now.] I’m not sure if the general public understands our fanaticism with the space genre of fiction. I was reminded of it myself only recently. To me, space fiction is like the intrinsic exploration of ourselves: what can be and what should be. To better explain what I mean I am going to tell a story.
I’m not sure if any of you saw youtube space lab. It’s essentially a contest meant to inspire young people to get involved with science and technology. Despite my age, I was interested. They got the winning contestants on a video phone with an astronaut orbiting Earth aboard the international space station. You could see her floating in space, she did some acrobatics and all that, but what struck me as profound is when she started talking about her daily life aboard the space station. The space station orbits the Earth 16 times in a 24 hour span. That’s 16 sun rises and sun sets every day. She talked about how she could be exercising on the space station’s bicycle while the nearby window lets in more and more light from the sun overhead. Keep in mind this is an accelerated sunrise, 16 times faster than you would normally experience on Earth. The merging of the everyday and the extraordinary is what hit me. One day, this might be reality for future generations. The problems we face, the comforts we enjoy, will all sharply change. Much in the same way as looking at the past provides a glimpse into how we were, looking into the future can give us a sense of what we could be. It also prepares us to think about what we should be as a society and as individuals both now and to the future.
It is very possible we evolve into a society with lifestyles like those aboard the international space station, a society closer to the stars. Now I’m not a religious person, but if you have ever seen the stars at night, uninhibited by human generated light it can be quite enlightening. They appear so close you can reach out and touch them, and somehow you feel in doing so their perceived vastness and number will somehow bring you closer to your existence. And it makes you feel hurt and fulfilled all at the same time. Hurt that they are so far away, but fulfilled knowing that you are a part of the universe they inhabit. This is the same feeling I get with really good space fiction, I am hurt I don’t understand much of this universe and probably never will, but I am fulfilled to see myself in a larger context and knowing it is quite possible that something is out there.
So what’s the point? Where are we going? Why do we do things the way we do? These philosophical questions can not only be explored academically, but played with using fiction, characters and themes.
And I once again thank everyone who participated in the making of this release, for reminding me of that.