Retro Tour: Moonbase Commander

I’ve been taking some time to play through some of the games that really did it for me back when I played then on a regular basis, and this series will be about those experiences from a indie game developer point of view.

Just got done bludgeoning way through the Challenge Mode of the Humongous Entertainment Classic Moonbase Commander. This game has one of the slickest, high-tech-looking, fully integrated feels of any I’ve ever played. All the artwork is clearly of a piece, with super-clean lines all derived from the same simple, colorful, iconographic 3-D models. It looks like a bunch of original iMacs shooting at each other!

Everything about this game is fantastic, which is why it still generally rates a 4 out of 5 stars from most reviewers ten years after it was launched. It was only ever available for Windows, though I did manage to get a Python version running briefly before technical difficulties motivated me to fire up my old Crusoe-powered Samsung notebook just to play it again. I’m going to leave the original reviews to those who’ve already done them. The thing I’m interested in here is what great things this game has I can include in my own work.

This slickness of integration is really some of the best I’ve seen. The gameplay, sound, music, voice acting, etc., all points in exactly the same direction. Although the technical capabilities of all four sides are identical, the different graphics, color palettes, and voice acting make them *feel* different, which is a neat trick. This is of the best simple, fast turn-based strategy games I’ve played. It’s easy to learn, fun to play, but hard to master. The AI is pretty decent at keeping the player on his toes, and multi-player is an option, though at this point one would probably have do some crazy customization to get it to work.

The thing that stood out most for me in this experience was the motivating power of achievements. I got stuck on a late mission, and played it maybe ten times a day trying to beat it at the Gold level. I finally, shamefully resorted to a strategy guide, because I just *could* let it go and only win at the silver level! I spent many hours, absolutely *not* enjoying myself, feeling extremely angry, frustrated, and cheated before I broke down. I was routinely yelling at the screen, making bitingly sarcastic comments about the game, myself, and Reality in General while doing so. When I finally beat the last level (on the first try, we’ll note) at the Gold level, some clicking snafu denied me the final credits and again, I was *PISSED* *OFF*! I then went back and hacked the game, re-won the final level (which took at least 10 tries or more), just to watch the final credits.

All of this was completely irrational and stupid, but felt 100% necessary. GameSalad supports GameCenter Leaderboards and Achievements, and, up until now, I hadn’t taken the time to integrate them. After this experience, I will.

The few things I didn’t like include how impossible getting a Gold on some of the Challenge Missions was without a strategy guide. Many players would have given up in frustration long before I did. Especially on missions with many other players, it was *very* slow, fostering an unpleasant hurry-up-and-wait situation where the player can’t leave, because once his turn comes there’s a shot clock that will penalize inaction, but can’t take much action until his turn arrives.

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