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[PlayByMail.Net Review] Far Horizons: The Awakening (Turns 1 through 5)
#1
Far Horizons: The Awakening hearkens back unto the PBM days of old, for all of the good and ill that such entails.

Like many play by mail games from yesteryear, this game teases the imagination, even as the documentation that accompanies the game tends to add to the confusion of the experience.

This review focuses only upon the first five turns, and as such, my experience with both the game and its moderator is relatively limited. All things considered, at this juncture in time, I rate the game moderator much higher than I do the game.

That's not to say that I am prepared to abandon the game, for nothing could be further from the truth. Rather, I commend the game moderator for the energy, competence, and interest that he brings to the game that he has chosen to resurrect from the ashes of PBM's past.

One of the worst aspects about the game, in its current design stage, is that it is a pain in the ass trying to sift through all of the documentation, just in order for me to try and figure out how to accomplish tasks that I, personally, consider to be basic and fundamental in nature. To the game moderator's credit, he tries to continually flesh his website's documentation out, in an attempt to illuminate for the player how to issue orders correctly that the player wants to issue for his empire.

In the introduction section of the game manual for Far Horizons: The Awakening, it states: Still, those who enjoy a more aggressive game, or those who wish to role-play an "evil" or warlike species will not be disappointed. However, in the earliest stage of the game, the role playing aspect associated with the game remains relegated to being a future possibility. There has been no manifestation of role playing through the in-game mechanisms for the first five turns of my empire's progress. Your mileage may differ, however, assuming that you encounter - and communicate with - other species, in your respective bids to expand the scope of your empires.

Some things remain a mystery, at the current stage of things. For example, why the player needs to issue a SCAN order, in order for their starships that they move from location to location to generate a Scan Report, rather than each starship's crew handling that task of their own initiative, is beyond me. I don't understand why the player has to issue the SCAN order, for that task to be accomplished. Is the player limited to either scanning or doing something else, in the same turn with the same starship in question? It just seems that the game presently punishes the player unnecessarily, if the player forgets to issue a SCAN order for each starship, each turn.

Using the JUMP command, starships can move from star system to star system, within the game's setting. There are a total of 90 stars in the galaxy of the game that I am playing in, one titled by the game moderator as Galaxy Alpha. To move a starship from one star system to another star system, an X, Y, Z system of movement is utilized by the game. Thus, rather than just trying to move my starship to star # 46, a much more cumbersome process is utilized. Thus, the chances for human error increase, I think, where players are compelled to utilize a multi-digit system (X - Y - Z), instead of a single digit system (star # 35).

Issuing even a relatively short set of turn orders has invariably proven to be a time consuming exercise, to date. For the uninitiated, Far Horizons: The Awakening is definitely not the game that you want to play, if you only want to invest five or ten minutes of time in issuing turn orders for your empire. The worst part of it is that I spend far more time trying to track down exactly what format my turn orders need to be in, than I do in imagining my empire's place in the overall scheme of the galaxy, relative to other player positions in the game with me. In a nutshell, the work factor outweighs the fun factor, so far. Perhaps that will change for the better, over time, but nonetheless, this remains my opinion of the two (work factor and fun factor), at this stage of the game's progress.

After five turns of turn results and five turns of progress, I question what the whole point was of going through the initial allocation of tech points, where the design phase of my empire was concerned. Watching some of my tech levels increase over the last few turns, I am left with a very jaded feeling about the whole design stage of the game. This is a problem that is traceable to the original design of the game, and is not the fault of the current game moderator, Casey. Five turns in, and I am now dumping the bulk of what I spend each turn into increasing my empire's Mining tech level.

Why? Because, it very noticeably impacts how much I will have available to spend, the following turn. Basically, I am milking my homeworld's ability to be mined, each turn, now, with no end in sight. This approach to mining conjures up memories from my days as designer and game moderator for Starforce Battles. There's a reason that I rejected this approach towards mining in that game, all those many years ago.

Far Horizons: The Awakening holds much potential, however, for the very fact that it is automated. But, so far, at least, it has also been a very dry game, generating very little excitement within me, and doing nothing of note to ignite my imagination. To endure the rigor of deciphering the orders scheme for issuing turn orders, each turn, I wish that the game would do a much better job of firing the engines of my imagination.

The cost of playing the game is right - it's free! Hey, that's always a plus, and especially in an era of a tight economy. But, as the saying goes, time is money, and if I measure Far Horizons: The Awakening in terms of how much excitement that I have gotten, thus far, for the amount of time that I have spent trying to figure out how to accomplish even the most basic and fundamental of orders, then in my considered opinion, I'm losing money.

Even so, I also believe that the vast bulk of this game's potential remains untapped.

In a new galaxy configuration, one where players begin the game in control of empires that reflect empires not all starting relatively equal, one where empires have clearly existed over a great span of time, as reflected by their respective and different assets and advantages held, I think that the role playing aspect might actually have some meat on its bones at game start - rather than players having to wait until they make first contact.

The current approach to the game is that no real history exists for any of the empires, as they start the game. The empires all end up feeling all the more dull and boring for it, too - unfortunately.

Rest assured, I want to like this game. For that matter, I want to love this game. For now, though, I am merely playing this game. At this early stage of things, it largely just feels as if I am going through the motions. There is no love story to report, only a brush with mediocrity. I wouldn't even describe it as friendship, at this point. The game is still largely a stranger to me. By the time that I write my next review of it, perhaps this game of Far Horizons: The Awakening will have grown on me, a bit.
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#2
Thank you for the candid and informative review. I'm pleased that the deficiencies of the game that you mentioned have occurred to me as well, that is nothing was surprising and I readily agree with your findings. Likely, many of the planned fixes/enhancements won't be seen in GA, aside from fixing the game documentation. In many ways GA is a test game to see first hand how the original game was played. Luckily I've a mix of new and veteran GA players who've helped me fix many bugs already.
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#3
(04-04-2011, 05:01 AM)Ramblurr Wrote: Thank you for the candid and informative review. I'm pleased that the deficiencies of the game that you mentioned have occurred to me as well, that is nothing was surprising and I readily agree with your findings. Likely, many of the planned fixes/enhancements won't be seen in GA, aside from fixing the game documentation. In many ways GA is a test game to see first hand how the original game was played. Luckily I've a mix of new and veteran GA players who've helped me fix many bugs already.

I really had not even pondered writing a review for the game, even as late as when I got back home, tonight. But, the notion struck me, and I decided to attempt my hand at writing an off-the-cuff review.

This review sets the stage for future reviews of the game, by me. I think that by breaking it into a span of turns, then what I ultimately think of the game may or may not differ widely from my initial impression of the game, now, after only a relative handful of turns have been experienced by myself.
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#4
I generally agree with your review, Grim. The one redeeming quality I would point out is the "default order set" appended to every turn result. This sets up the initial order code framework, so all you have to do is put in the actual orders. In some cases there are default orders. My three scout ships, for example, have SCAN orders included in this default order set already. All I have to do is leave them in there. They keep getting jump orders to neighboring stars, but I have started overriding them by deleting them. I want these scouts to stay in place for the time being.

In terms of "dryness", yes - there's that. It is a purely computer-moderated game. Any role-playing or storytelling is up to the players. I only just made contact with another player, and we will see how that turns out. I never played Starweb, but I imagine there's some of the same dryness there as well. In the giant Empyrean Challenge games of yore, 25 players were crammed together on a single homeworld, forcing a social network (and an immediate mandate to expand, due to overpopulation) right from turn 1. So that might be a way to improve FH - start with players in contact already (the way you suggested.)

This game has a poorly written manual, but relatively simple game mechanics. I am working on a 4-page guide to offer the game master, as my contribution to the community. However, one of the problems I have is with the way production is handled. Everything is highly abstracted, but you still need two elements in your production pipeline -- mining and manufacturing. You want to have your mining capacity produce as much Raw Material and your manufacturing capacity can handle. On your home planet this means you have equal focus on both. But on other planets, some are easier to mine than others, so you will need more or less mining capacity to stay "in balance".

I would much rather see mines produce RMs, and factories turn RMs into something like "production points". Then you can manage mining and manufacturing independently. Having them sort of correlated just seems like a kludge.

It is also odd that some aspects of the game are highly specific (eg. listing the atmospheric gases that are safe/poisonous for you), yet end up being abstracted away (eg. set your Biology tech above this number and you can colonize.)

I guess I want more specific control over every part of the game, but I acknowledge that that would make it a different game. This is meant to be more of a space opera and less of an exercise in supply chain management. So I'm good. But then I'd like to see more space opera in it, as it seems Grim does.

In a way, this game is sort of a baseline for space empire games. I can see many ways to expand it (in different directions). If this were the '80s, I might have seen paying money for it, but definitely not today. But I could quite easily see myself playing a prettied-up version of it on facebook.
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#5
And yet, the story that you guys were telling was really compelling from an external viewpoint.

I wonder if the solution is really to find a way to impose the creation of personal journals as a part of creating your turn actions, and then publishing them at certain points?

Just thinking aloud, but the story dynamic of first contact is pretty awesome and when written from a convincing viewpoint, even moreso.
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#6
(05-10-2011, 03:47 AM)Cortrah Wrote: And yet, the story that you guys were telling was really compelling from an external viewpoint.

I wonder if the solution is really to find a way to impose the creation of personal journals as a part of creating your turn actions, and then publishing them at certain points?

Just thinking aloud, but the story dynamic of first contact is pretty awesome and when written from a convincing viewpoint, even moreso.

I think that Ixnay started writing his, because I was writing mine. I started writing mine, as a tool for feedback, of a sort, for Casey, the game's moderator. It sort of turned into dual player journals, for Ixnay and I, as things progressed.

For me, this game is a test game. I have no idea how my empire is doing, compared to others. In that regard, the test is pretty much a failure, from my standpoint. In other regards, there are some successes, I think.
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#7
I was partly inspired by Grim, partly by the "Kigal Game Example" written by Peter (though sadly no recent updates!), and partly by this thing they do on CivFanatics (for fans of the civilization computer games) where they post screen-shots of games for discussion and commentary. (I have found these game threads nearly as enjoyable as the game itself!)

I do think that having ALL players post an update each turn would multiply everyone's enjoyment, though I don't think you could do that on a commercial game. Unless, perhaps, you give players a discount for game-logging? Or some other positive reward? Perhaps even let readers vote for their favorite loggers? I remember back in college, playing role-playing games, we had one game-master who would not bestow experience points until you wrote up some sort of account of the day's adventures for his amusement and archive.

I am desperate to see what is going on in the mind of the Tilkatian overlord, and am quite intrigued by The Mold, the NeoHumans, and the mysterious "Leader Rukh" who have all posted once or twice.
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