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Rise and Shiny recap: Starjack Online


This week I had the chance to dive into the universe of Starjack Online, a game of 4X strategy. While I have read that the X refers to explore, expand, exploit and exterminate, I say we should include a fifth X called "extreme occasional frustration for a number of reasons." OK, so maybe not... that's a little long. Still, the game does pull a player in for a number of reasons as well.

Want to know those reasons? Good! Click past the cut and we'll get right to exploring this indie free-to-play game based in the harsh, cold realities of space!

Starjack title
Before I begin to discuss what is wrong with the game, I think it would be appropriate to talk about how many neat things the game does feature. For some reason (perhaps the music), I found myself wanting to continue to log in and push a little further through the horrible tutorials. There's a very immersive feeling to the game, one that is fueled by the appearance of massive scale. True, the graphics are mostly representative and use triangles or other basic shapes to stand in for members of your fleet or army, but the planets and stars are done well enough even though they are not animated in any way. Starjack is no EVE Online, that's for sure. For the record, EVE can be just as bland as any other game, despite its wonderful animations.

I kept feeling like I was truly beginning a mighty empire when I logged in each time. I wanted to grow my boundaries and explore space, and it helped that the developers made a safe pocket of space, one that only I could get into, for me to grow in and figure out how to play in. This was a smart move. I would have long ago given up on this game for reasons I am about to list, but the tiny pocket of the universe that I could call my own encouraged me and helped me feel as though the game was not going to get away from me. If I feel rushed in a game, especially in one that is overly complicated like this one, I just won't enjoy myself. Developers are smart to remember that these are games and not everyone is out for the top spot or for the most blood. Some of us enjoy the simulation of a mighty empire more than the competition for a virtual planet or two.

I would like to give a nod to a few members of the community who took the time out to answer my questions. I have to say that without the few wonderful players who helped me figure my way out of the miserable tutorials, I would have left and never looked back, would have written the game off and just started a new one for the week. But help from a fellow player goes a long way. Granted, the bulk of the time, no one answered any of my questions or there was no one in the chat anyway, but it was nice to get a helpful response when I did.

Starjack screenshot
Now, to the bad stuff. You readers know you love this stuff, so here it is in full gory detail.

While it is true that the graphics give the game give a sense of scale and wonder, the UI and font choices the developers have made are downright hideous, to the point of giving me a migraine. I am not kidding. As someone who has suffered with migraines for a long time before finding out that the answer was more or less a pair of "computer glasses," I am very unhappy when one of the monster headaches starts to show its head once again, even in a mild way. Trying to read the ridiculous font in the game, along with concentrating really hard to try and understand exactly what the heck the tutorial was trying to explain to me, simply proved too much for my eyes a lot of the time. My play sessions would be cut short or I would feel like avoiding them altogether. I have heard that upcoming patches will allow for the change of font, but there is a broader point here. In fact, let me emphasize this next part of my writing... just pretend that I am screaming it at the top of my lungs:

"Also, why all the gray? Seriously? Do you think that color does not exist in the future?"

Dear sci-developers. Please stop thinking that, in the distant future, we would have computers and interfaces that are stark white on black writing or feature horribly tiny fonts or are clunky and non-intuitive. For the sake of all that is holy, consider the basic technology we have today. A common netbook hosts a UI that is prettier than your series of gray-on-black-on-bland designs. Computer interfaces of the future would be lovely, flowing works of intuitive art. If you cannot afford to animate such a wonderful UI in your game, at least make it easy to read. Also, why all the gray? Seriously? Do you think that color does not exist in the future? If anything, the designs we humans make would be amazing, animated explosions of color. Starjack, your horrible UI made taking screenshots and streaming the game live impossible. I don't know why, but all that would show was the background images. The UI would simply disappear when I took a shot or streamed it.

Next, those tutorials. While I understand that it is cool to say that a game has a massive "learning curve," it frustrates me to the point of shutting the game off when, after I finally figure out the process, the "learning curve" turns out to be just a very poorly explained tutorial or batch of well-hidden information. Let me clue designers in again: A super complex learning curve doesn't make your game cool; it just usually makes your game boring as snot. I have played games that take all sorts of complicated activities and turn them into wonderful fun. Let's be honest, though. No MMO is going to be literally more complex than driving, paying bills, maintaining a blog, or selling stuff on eBay. Starjack takes basic activities and hides them behind a series of silly explanations and bloated (and sometimes misspelled) walkthroughs. I felt triumphant when I finally figured out a process or achieved some small goal, but not because my empire was growing. I would get excited because I finally moved on from one of the ridiculous tutorials.

Now, don't get me wrong; it's not as though the game is all bad. The problem is that the horrible UI, tiny font, and overly complicated gamplay add up to a game that I was unable to play for long, one that didn't bother me if I avoided playing it. I know there is some fun in the game. I know there is a bunch of intrigue and serious space-drama going on. I just don't know if I care to try to get there.

Next week I will be looking at KULTAN, a neat-looking browser-based pirate game from Bigpoint. Now, go log in!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!

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