Con of the North 2015, part 4: Artemis

artemis_icon11_0_150Unfortunately, after that disappointing HârnMaster game, this was disappointing, too.

I’ve raved about Artemis plenty of times here before. I still think it’s a completely new kind of game, one that we’re still just beginning to explore. And I still think the game is blessed with amazing possibilities.

However, the game itself seems to have become bloated with poorly implemented features, and the setup this year was (in my opinion) lacking in execution. Hmm, where do I start?

  1. The team running it seems to have assumed that everyone who signed up knew all the ins and outs of the current state of the game. As a result, when I said I knew the basics of how to play, I was given no further instructions. And I do know the general principles of the game, but there were so many new bits and bobs since last year — two starships playing simultaneously, new controls, a headset-based communication system for talking to the other ship including a mute button that I didn’t know how to operate — that I needed significant updates. Rather than asking “Do you know how to play?”, they should’ve asked “When was the last time you played?”
  2. There was simply too much noise and activity in the room. They were, as I mentioned above, running two different starships at the same time, in the same room. There were big dividers between the two sides, but these dividers did little to stop noise spillover. So it quickly became that escalating game where side A projects louder to talk over side B, then side B gets louder to be heard over side A, then A gets louder, then it keeps getting louder until everyone’s eardrums burst. And the game itself has added a bunch of little fiddly things to do within the interface that made it take way too much attention, constantly.
  3. I was the communications officer, because I’d had so much fun with it the first time I played. Well, they have found a way to make it just as pointless and redundant as Gwen Marco complained in GalaxyQuest. There were two teams of us playing in the same room, and the comms officers on the two ships were supposed to keep communications going between the two ships. However, no one introduced us or gave us time to figure out a protocol, so how to do it was pretty murky. Plus, with the inadequate noise blocking, both ships’ crews could just hear each other anyway! As a comms officer, it’s hard to feel useful when it’s your job to relay a message that the captain can just hear directly. So while I think that the comms position could be amazing, and the idea of having two teams working together in the same room is also pretty dang cool, this year’s implementation of it made it a dud.
  4. The program itself seems to be in a “bloat + poor UI” phase. It was hard to visually, instantly tell who had issued a comms order, for example. This could easily have been solved with a “this color for orders you issued, this other distinct color for orders issued by other ships, and different colors for orders from other teams”, but it wasn’t. I had to rely on the name of the issuing ship being given in tiny type — especially hard when many of the NPC ships had inspiring names like “G33” and “X09”, and when there’s all the other noise going on. And the system seems to have suffered from some bandwidth problems, as our screens (main and personal) would sometimes glitch or hang. Not sure if that’s the game or the particular setup that was running at CotN.

There was some fun: I got quite a few enemy ships to surrender, for example. But overall, this game wasn’t nearly as much fun as Artemis has been in the past.

Hopefully, the problems this time are just a passing phase. It’d be easy to both make the comms position useful and make the noise problem nonexistent, for example, by the simple fix of having the two teams in two actually separate rooms. And hopefully as the people developing the game work more on it, they’ll get rid of some bloat and implement better UI design. Overall, I’m still looking forward to my next opportunity to play.

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