Gratuitous Space Battles: I’m Sorry Dave, I Can’t Give You That Information.

Would you like to play a game?

Curtis: All right, Gratuitous Space Battles. I like spaceships, and you’re a game about spaceships fighting each other. Let’s play, shall we?

GSB: Excellent, Curtis. Would you like to play a brief tutorial first?

Curtis: Sure, that would be great. Tutor me!

GSB: Click on ships to place them in the battlefield. When ships are placed in the battlefield, you can give them orders to determine their behavior. Press “Start” to begin the battle.

Curtis: All right, I’ve got some ships set up. Let’s start!

GSB: Battle commencing.

Curtis: Can I control my ships?

GSB:

Curtis: Uhmmm…I guess not? Well, my big ships are making mincemeat of the smaller enemy ships. I think they’re almost done taking down that big enemy ship. Is that enemy ship almost dead?

GSB:

Curtis: Can you tell me how many hit points that ship has?

GSB:

Curtis: Can you show me at least vaguely how much damage the enemy ship has taken?

GSB:

Curtis: Okay,well it’s dead now. There’s only two more big ships, and a bunch of tiny little fighters. If my big ships just gang up on the enemy big ships–

GSB:

Curtis: WHY ARE MY BIG SHIPS FOCUSING ON THE TINY FIGHTERS??? THEY SHOULD BE ATTACKING THE BIG ENEMY SHIPS THAT ARE ATTACKING THEM!!!

GSB: No need to get emotional, Curtis. You should set your priorities differently before battle. You can choose specific behaviors for your ships.

Curtis: Okay, let’s do that. So let’s start over, and set up the ships better.

GSB: Would you like to design a ship?

Curtis: Sure, let’s do that.

GSB: Welcome to the Ship Design Screen. Would you like to add a Cruiser Engine II?

Curtis: Sure, what’s that?

GSB: You have to purchase the Cruiser Engine II from the Fleet HQ screen.

Curtis: Okay, bring me to the Fleet HQ screen.

GSB: Welcome to the Fleet HQ Screen. Here you can use Honor Points, won in successful battles, to purchase new technology for your ships.

Curtis: I’ve been hearing good things about this Cruiser Engine II. Can you explain that to me?

GSB: The Cruiser Engine II is a sturdy, medium-weight engine, good for it’s price–

Curtis: Wait, you mean “its price.” “It’s price” would mean “It is price.” Well, whatever, let’s get a Point Defense Scanner. That sounds important. What’s it do?

GSB: The Point Defense Scanner enables your Point Defense system to tell a missile from it’s decoys–

Curtis: AGAIN? Do you not have spell check in the future?

[10 minutes later]

Curtis: Okay, I’ve designed a ship. It’s a Cruiser, so it’s big. I used the same body as the tutorial Cruiser, but I gave it different weapons and such. I’ve named it “Good Space Ship,” because I couldn’t think of a name. You don’t take off points for uninteresting names, do you?

GSB:

Curtis: All right then. Let’s go back to the deployment screen. I only have 20,000 credits to spend, so let’s see, I think I want to use Good Space Ship, but I can’t remember how much it costs. Is there any way to see what it costs?

GSB: You can return to the Ship Design Screen, which shows the current price of each ship. Would you like to return to the Ship Design Screen?

Curtis: NO. I’m done with that. I want to deploy my ship, and I just want to know ONE number: how much it costs.

GSB: Good Space Ship comes equipped with a Plasma Gun, Shields I, Cruiser Armor II–

Curtis: I DON’T CARE. HOW MUCH DOES IT COST???

GSB: Medium Crew Quarters, Fusion–

Curtis: Fine. I’ll just deploy it. Wait, which one was the Good Space Ship? It has the same body as the tutorial Cruiser.

GSB: Mouse over the ship to see it’s name.

Curtis: First off, “its name.” Done. No apostrophe. Easy, right? Second, can’t you just overlay the name over the ship body? The icon for the ship body is gigantic! Why should I have to mouse over every single identical icon just to get information that should already be printed?

GSB: To deploy a ship, click on it.

Curtis: Okay, fine. Good Space Ship, it’s time to live up to your name.

GSB: You now have 17,213 credits left.

Curtis: So that means that the Good Space Ship cost around 3,000 credits? Why couldn’t you tell me that earlier?

GSB: Good Space Ship comes equipped with a Plasma Gun, Shields I, Cruiser Armor II–

Curtis: To quote Oprah: “Shut the fuck up, before I kill you.”

GSB: Would you like to set Orders?

Curtis: Sure. What are my options?

GSB: You have several options of behaviors to specify.

Curtis: Okay, so let’s write some if..then statements. If the ship’s health is less than 20%, then I’d like for it to retreat and repair itself, unless 50% of my ships are currently retreating. If that happens–

GSB: You can not program your own behavior. You can choose from several pre-programmed behaviors. Would you like to have your ships try to concentrate their fire on one target, or fire uselessly at several targets?

Curtis: Why the hell is the latter option even an option? Of course I want to concentrate fire; the faster I eliminate ships, the less fire my ships receive!

GSB: You may also choose the priority of which ships you want attacked.

Curtis: Let’s set my Good Space Ship to attack other Cruisers.

GSB: What max range to you want to set it at?

Curtis: What do you mean, max range? Is that the range my ships will try to approach before firing, will my ships stop firing if they go beyond that max range, will my ships only approach targets within that range, or is that the max range my ship will stay between it and the opposing ship?

GSB:

Curtis: Fine, whatever. I’m going to just deploy some more Good Space Ships.

GSB:You may not deploy any more Good Space Ships. Check the Spatial Anomalies for more information.

Curtis: Is that why my Plasma Rifle thing is highlighted orange?

GSB: You must go to the Spatial Anomalies Screen.

Curtis: Okay, fine, take me there.

GSB: Welcome to the Spatial Anomalies Screen. You may only use 5 Plasma Rifles on this map and 10 Frigate Armors, and 7 Shield Defense System–

Curtis: Is there any way, either on the the shipbuilding screen or on the deployment screen, to access this information? You know, so I can see how many more doohickeys I have left while I’m designing the ships for this level–

GSB: No. You may return to the Spatial Anomalies Screen to find the–

Curtis: You son of a bitch. Fuck it, let’s battle.

GSB: Welcome to the battle.

Curtis: Okay, let’s zoom out a bit, this is a little claustrophobic–

GSB: You are already at maximum zoom level.

Curtis: Just kill me. Just kill me now. How about this, let’s speed up the battle, since I have no control over the battle anyway.

GSB: Y- o- u- — a- r- e- — n- o- w- — a- t- —  2- x- — s- p–

Curtis: It’s not faster, it’s just jerkier! Fuck this, I’m going to go buy a model rocket. Do they still sell model rockets?

In short:
Gratuitous Space Battles is an interesting idea, but a horrible user interface, nearly non-existent documentation and explanations, and boneheaded AI cripple it. At most, this game has about two hours of playability. Bugs, such as the fact that the “Speed Up Battle” function worked fine half the time, and then other times didn’t work at all, make even those two hours occasionally frustrating. A game like this is about information. Essentially, it’s trying to be one of those old tabletop strategy games, which were basically games based on spreadsheets. Those games work when you have the information readily accessible. This game hides the information at every turn. I bought this game on sale for $10, which was $8 more than it was worth.

Play Sins of a Solar Empire instead.

Curtis Retherford

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5 responses to “Gratuitous Space Battles: I’m Sorry Dave, I Can’t Give You That Information.

  1. if you turn off the ‘pitch shift sounds’ option, the game speeds up without a problem

    • Curtis Retherford

      Ahh, thanks. That would have been nice to know. I figured that, if my PC could run Crysis on full detail, it should be able to run this without a problem. I was wrong.

  2. Welcome to the Cliff Ski World. Would you like to play a frustratingly mediocre game with horrible interface and no depth? [Y/y]

    Seriously, if you so much as look at any of his other games, this is actually slightly better than his other not-self-aware attempts at being a game developing legend.

    He’s right up there with MDickie and the guys behind “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” for making the best games ever.

    • Curtis Retherford

      Ah yes, Left Behind: Eternal Forces. I was reminded heavily of that game while reviewing Homeland Defense: National Security Patrol. Truly, truly awful.

  3. Man, you are really bashing GSB.

    For the sake of playing devils advocate:

    Why would a real space admiral be able to teleport ship to ship, backseat driving each one? It only makes sense that he would have to give orders, and then trust the captain.

    I give you credit for being upset at not being able to see the enemy ships’ hit points (I, too, hate that), but the game really makes you rely on visual information to see whats going on. Try turning on the little tags that popup whenever a ship gets hit (“Hull -7”, or something like that). Those, combined with the fact that ships have more burns and craters when they are broken, should give you a clue.

    Regarding not being able to see what a ship costs … I really don’t see what your frustration is about. You have the thing at the top to tell you how much money is left. If you don’t have the money to buy it, it will stop you from buying it.

    With the zoom frustration… you are not alone.

    And about the “it’s”, I know it can be annoying, bu try not to be a grammer-nazi*.

    And you have to give the guy credit. Try reading the guys story. You can’t help but sympathize with him:

    http://positech.co.uk/gratuitousspacebattles/makingofgsb.html

    *I do NOT mean that in an offensive way. It’s just the only way to describe it.

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