Con of the North 2013 part IX: Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator

Logo of Artemis Spaceship Bridge SimulatorThe last game of the con for me was one of the highlights: the Artemis Spaceship Bridge Simulator. This is an amazing computer-moderated game in which three to six (but ideally six) players take roles of the bridge crew of a very Star Trek-like ship. (It’s just different enough to avoid IP infringement.)

All the players get a computer displaying various sorts of relevant information: the Weapons station gets firing arcs and missile loading tubes, while the Science station gets better-quality scans of distant objects, for example. Well, all the players except one: the captain, who has to command the whole affair and rely on the other players for information and effectiveness.

Every station contributes important abilities, even the communications station: comms can receive missions, command non-Artemis ships and get enemy ships to surrender (thereby avoiding the problem Gwen DeMarco had: “Look, I have one job on this lousy ship — it’s stupid, but I’m going to do it, okay?”). In this, it’s strongly reminiscent of the FASA Star Trek Combat Simulator, which uses similar (albeit paper-based) concepts to allow every player to do something important. That system uses paper dials, skill rolls and a GM, but it’s clearly a progenitor of Artemis.

I tried to take some photos and videos of the game as I was watching it, but my system wasn’t up to the task. Luckily, there are a bunch of videos of Artemis on YouTube, but I think this one illustrates best how the game actually plays. And, because why not, here’s an interview with the creator of the game.

This game wasn’t even listed in the Con of the North event book, or I would’ve registered for it at the drop of a hat. But once I, like a lot of other people, peeked my head into the room and realized what they were playing, I was determined to try it. And so were those other people — tickets were gone very quickly. I couldn’t even get a standby. Sunday night, I stuck around for the last (8-10pm) session. At first, I just watched; if I couldn’t play, I could at least observe. But in the very last game, starting at 9pm, a couple people dropped out and I got to join in. I took communications, because I’ve always been fascinated by Uhura’s position and its potential, at least if Gwen DeMarco’s problems could be avoided.

The game proved to be like a computer-moderated cooperative Star Trek LARP, and it’s brilliant. It could be played sloppily or in an unengaged way (and I saw a little of that in the first games I watched), but it works best when everyone plays the role their station has assigned; if the captain addresses people by station (as in saying “Helm, give us full engines!”) it works way better than when the captain gives vague orders to no one in particular, for example. And if the captain barks orders harshly or micromanages, things can fall off the rails quickly. The ship as a whole works better with calm, clear, direct communication and a diverse range of personalities. It captures the spirit of harmonious cooperation in Star Trek well.

There’s plenty to do for every station, all the time, and if someone slacks off, the ship as a whole suffers. I got a couple compliments on doing the comms position well; I actually got a couple ships to surrender, and tried to keep the mission updates timely and effective. At one point, I got to relay the message “Deep Space 2 reports, ‘Watch who you’re shooting at!'” after we’d accidentally shot at them.

It’s clear that the particular setup we were playing with is something special, too. Michael Mesich, who was running the game, has his own dedicated array of laptops, tablets, tables, projectors and speakers, and they made it something special. In particular, he has a system of lights that project off the ceiling to show when the ship is being attacked, under red alert, etc., and this helps enhance the mood considerably.

Another subtler, but no less important, technique that he uses is the seating arrangements. He set it up so the captain was in a chair facing the main viewscreen, well in front of the comms, science and engineering stations. This makes it less tempting for the captain to hover behind everyone and micromanage, and (of course) also simulates the Enterprise bridge better. In the various videos on YouTube, captains often seem to get up and wander around, but in the games I saw at Con of the North, captains rarely left their chair; this is appropriate, both in mood and in mechanics.

Michael runs Artemis at various places around the Cities. Con of the North was apparently a demo for him; at the other events he runs, there’s a charge of $5/hour to play. It’s not cheap, but for the experience, it’s very reasonable. I’m strongly considering trying to get to one of Michael’s other events to play some more Artemis.

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