Strange Adventures in Infinite Space

Tagged: Game

Videogame (2002). Digital Eel (DE). Designed by Richard Carlson, Iikka Keränen. Platforms: Win (2002); Mac (2003); Phone (2004).

Strange Adventures is an Independent Game of space exploration, much influenced by Voyage of the B.S.M. Pandora (1981) but also suggestive of such early Space Sims as Starflight (1986) and Star Control II (1992) (see Star Control). Unsurprisingly for a game whose effect is that of a whimsical Space Opera, acknowledged sources include Star Trek (1966-1969) and A E van Vogt's novel The Voyage of the Space Beagle (stories July 1939-August 1943 Astounding, May 1950 Other Worlds; fixup 1950). The gameplay is generally simple. Players control a starship with which they explore a randomly created two-dimensional map, travelling to a different solar system each turn. When they reach a star, they are confronted with situations chosen by the game from a menu of predesigned possibilities. This can lead to players making First Contact with Alien races – who may want to trade, to fight, or simply to be left alone – discovering mysterious artefacts (with which it may be possible to enhance the player's ship), collecting exotic lifeforms, falling into Black Holes, recruiting mercenary escorts or even encountering the majestic whales of space. Combat can generally be avoided, but if players do choose to engage the enemy the resulting space battles are uncomplicated, if visually appealing. Every play session terminates after a brief period of real time when the starship's ten year mission time is up, and it must return to its homeworld. In essence, Strange Adventures takes a highly modular approach to Interactive Narrative, making every encounter with the game a self assembling episodic adventure.

Most of the alien species encountered during a mission are amusingly bizarre, whether they are evolved intelligences, Uplifted beasts, incomprehensible AIs or simply oddly formed plants and animals. Many of the star names refer to sf and fantasy authors, including Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke, Gary Gygax and Roger Zelazny. Similarly, the descriptions of discovered artefacts – which run heavily to the kind of technobabble associated with Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) – often quote from the corpus of the written genre, as when they reference the monolith from Arthur C Clarke's short story "The Sentinel" (1951) or Larry Niven's use of Stasis Fields. As this may suggest, the game's science-fictional concepts are not especially original; the interest emerges from the diversity of the ways in which the various elements can be recombined. Notably, the player's ignorance of the current galactic map makes Strange Adventures a game that cannot reasonably be played to win. It is, rather, a magical mystery tour of the universe, full of peculiar juxtapositions and unexpected twists of fate.

Related works: Arguably, the missions players undertake in Strange Adventures can be too brief, and the number of unique elements from which their narratives are assembled too few. Both of these criticisms are addressed in the sequel, Weird Worlds: Return to Infinite Space (2005 DE, Win; 2006 Mac; 2011 iOS) designed by Richard Carlson, Iikka Keränen, which is essentially a much expanded and refined version of the original game. In Weird Worlds the player chooses one of three different types of ship – piratical trader, scientific explorer or military scout – each of which has a different set of goals for its mission, and explores a more detailed galaxy, presented with greater attention to visual detail. [NT]

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