Hands On: Redshirt

By Adam Smith on July 29th, 2013 at 3:05 pm.

Redshirt is the upcoming sci-fi, social network satire, in which the only way to avoid a bitter end is to earn promotion, either through talent or tact. Following an enlightening conversation with designer Mitu Khandaker, I was keen to try the game. And now I have. I’ve spent a few days attempting to survive in the world of friend requests, status ‘likes’ and careful time management. I’ve made friends, I’ve romanced lovers and I’ve met my maker. Several times.

After a few days, desperation consumed me. It begins with the promise of adventure, a dream harboured since childhood – epic occurrences of galactic scale require the attention of a Federation of cultures and you, YES YOU, are preparing to start a new job on board a super-advanced space station. Thrilling adventures surely await? Well, yes, sort of. Mostly you’ll be glued to your Spacebook account, attempting to win friends and promotions, so as to AVOID thrilling adventures. For a redshirt, the lowest of the low, fodder for flesh-eating beast, thrilling adventures are almost certain to end in the gut of a monster, or swirling between the stars, a handful of space-dust.

Socialise to survive. The game’s interface is the Spacebook interface – as with Uplink, the player and character have the same fundamental means of interacting with their world. At first, I was overwhelmed. Turns out I can deal with managing a nation’s destiny or the fate of multiple world, but I buckle as soon as I’m required to juggle my workload and social time while handling conflicting relationships. If I go to the bar with my good chum Merlin Esperon, Shrilenth Th’Dila, on whom I have romantic designs, may be miffed that I didn’t spend the evening in a Jane Austen simulation with her.

On that note, let us hope that future-people do not base their hologram interpretation of Mr Darcy on this unfortunate creation. Adventures in Austen would be more frightening than the astonishing success of Pride and Prejudice With Zombies.

I used the phrase ‘romantic designs’ in regards to Shrilenth. It’s always sounded a bit creepy to me. ‘Designs’ suggests some sort of plot, bringing forth images of a man in a basement, long-lens photographs tacked to the wall, connected by string to menus from optimal date venues, like a police investigation into a murder in reverse. It’s the right word to describe interactions in Redshirt though. It’s a game full of pleasant, light-hearted and amusing text, from ship names to status updates, but the core of the experience is a finely poised and unexpectedly intense resource management experience.

The resources are time and money. Credits are earned by working and are used to buy various items that enhance interests/skills/happiness. The also pay for food. That’s right – you’re stuck in space, tasked with cleaning up the remnants of crewmates whenever there’s a transporter accident, and the powers that be expect you to buy your own meals. On the lowest wage, that grisly starting job, there’s barely enough in the pay packet to purchase a healthy diet, let alone life’s luxuries. Money is tight and time, it transpires, is similarly rationed.

Activities are severely restricted due to a law that only allows a certain number of social network interactions per day. The law was passed to prevent procrastination. Good call, Confederate Starlords, but procrastination is a minnow compared to the thrashing great tuna that is anonymous unpleasantries – fry that sucker first. As a game mechanic, the restriction divides each day into discrete actions. Larger social activities consume several action points, while liking somebody’s status or sending a friend request will only cost one.

Time constraints create pressure. It’s hard to enjoy even the finest Geldar gateau when the chronometer is ticking like a Doomsday Clock. “I’ve got to get to my next appointment”, I found myself thinking more often than not. “I have designs on my own survival. A romantic attachment to my own continued existence.” The panic begins when a friend in a higher place snubs an invite to the burger bar – the social structure of the station is a complex web of friendships, flings and interest groups, but it’s possible to simplify the whole mess into a ladder. Suck up to the right people and promotions will follow, allowing even the most cack-handed of gut-moppers to rise through the ranks and avoid a potentially fatal reassignment.

Redshirt’s take on science fiction clichés is amusing, telling short stories in the form of status updates and messages, but the activity of playing the game is rather intense, even though it’s a turn-based life management sim. As if accidentally snubbing friends and causing heartbreak wasn’t enough, a short while into your misadventure, a disturbing message arrives. A calamity is coming. The station is doomed. People will die.

The pressure rises. Schmooze or lose (your life). A countdown clock appears on the display and cryptic messages occasionally interrupt day-to-day activities, threatening calamity and a grim end. Redshirt increasingly comes across as a cunning and cruel metaphor, about manipulation and the management of people as well as time. I found myself browsing my friend list, checking on mutual acquaintances and strangers, working out optimal groups for each activity that I enjoyed. It’s cold, like a Sim who talks to a life partner to top up a ‘social’ bar after work, but goes to bed as soon as the need is fulfilled. Social interaction as masturbation. An itch to scratch.

There’s an interesting dilemma beating beneath Redshirt’s shirt, at the heart of the matter. The tactical management aspect, which has short- and long-term effects on the survival of the player character, is complex and involving. This does mean that the inhabitants of the ship can start to feel like tools for us rather than distinct personalities, even though the different races and their quirks are well-presented.

Redshirt does play like Kudos, Positech’s modern day life management game, although the developer is new and only the publisher is shared. Its great advantage is that the science fiction theme and threat of impending doom add an urgency to proceedings. The setting justifies, at least to an extent, the intellectual, devious approach to relationship and time management. It’s a game to be approached tactically rather than as a player of roles, although that’s not to say I didn’t become attached to heroic Terrence Chin.

I spent the first half hour meandering around the interface but it makes sense to me now. I do wish there were browser-like back and forward buttons, making exploring friends of friends less of a dead-end, but otherwise interaction is impressively slick. And I fell in love with a gelatinous cube. In fact, I might head back to the ship now and try to smooth things over.

Redshirt will be available very soon.

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57 Comments »

  1. TCM says:

    How many people in the comments do you think will mistake it for an actual Facebook game without reading the article?

    • Mitu Khandaker says:

      I can confirm that this is a thing which happens often. :D

      • IanWharton says:

        Are people who are good at this game also good at Facebook and Twitter?

        Omg, does it tell you that? Have you created some kind of online sociopathy personality test?!

        Not sure if I should play this, now.

        • sadtowel says:

          Games as stealth personality tests!

          Wait, isn’t that a Cory Doctorow short story?

          • Jim Rossignol says:

            I actually pitched “RPG as personality test” idea to Channel 4. The didn’t go for it, but I think the idea stood up.

          • Anthile says:

            Silent Hill 5 did this already, I think.

          • Kaira- says:

            Yeah, Shattered Memories (not Homecoming) did something like personality tests. Then again, you might argue 2 did too, considering the endings being dependant on what you did (or rather, how you acted) during game.

          • TechnicalBen says:

            The “RPG for a personality test” would go wrong when 100s of people are murdered, and in the game.

    • TechnicalBen says:

      Argh… the artwork looks unpolished, and to make it worse “Redshirt is the upcoming sci-fi, social network…” You lost me…

      “… satire” you got a purchase! :D “in which the only way to avoid a bitter end is to earn promotion, either through talent or tact. “

  2. zachforrest says:

    The background ad for Prime World has a lady in a bra and tiny shorts, Think she’s keen to rumble. Man is in full beard and full plate. Well RPS?

    *wags finger, adopts first position ballet feet*

    edit: redshirt sounds like excellent fun also

    • padger says:

      Isn’t that the advertisers problem?

      But oh yeah, good job on the irrelevant thread derailment. Who fancies a cup of tea?

      • zachforrest says:

        Actually *continues finger wagging* , RPS asked people to supply a heads-up regarding dubious ads on their site

        • darkChozo says:

          IIRC you’re just supposed to email Jim about it. Comment clutter and such. Would get in the way of important discussion and/or endless pun threads.

        • IanWharton says:

          Email them, rather than derailing threads, there’s a good chap.

          I think she looks rather dapper.

          • zachforrest says:

            *stops finger*

            yes…email i’d forgotten that existing outside of work.

            apologies!

          • Baines says:

            She is unleashing hidden talents.

          • hotmaildidntwork says:

            How many could she possibly have?

            Maybe they’re in her stockings…

    • Bull0 says:

      She is at least in a suitably martial pose, and the outfit says more “generic tribal” than “combat lingerie” to me.

      • Echo_Hotel says:

        The total defensive value of that ensemble is still quite a bit less than a simple chain shirt…
        Also she’s wearing thigh high stockings under her knee high boots it’s combat lingerie no doubt.

    • belgand says:

      I think she’s just rather keen on unleashing her hidden talents. We would be remiss not to sample them.

      • Bull0 says:

        The chap is hiding his a little better. Unless his talent is for hair growth.

    • Swanny says:

      I know, right! It just makes me sick- that the old guy looks just like God in The Creation of Adam. Why can’t God have a bikini, too?

  3. PsychoWedge says:

    I liked the concept idea from the getgo and it seems that the game itself is good too. Awesome! xD

  4. QuaidX says:

    I’m looking forward to this. It’s a shame that so few game designers try their hand at satire. I’d almost rather they failed to be funny than failed to be grimdark etc.

    • BooleanBob says:

      The problem with writing satire is that most attempts end up a mixture of: 1) the genuinely good stuff that made the creators enthusiastic about doing the project in the first place, 2) topical puns that work quite well and compliment the gist of the thing, 3) puns that feel horribly crow-barred in to bulk up the joke content.

      The numbers vary with the quality of the product. Golden-era Discworld is 90%, 5%, 5% (nb: all Discworld is golden-era Discworld). Season 2 Futurama is 70%, 15%, 15%. Season 5 Futurama is 40%, 25%, 35%. The Baconing is 15%, 30%, 55%. Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude is 9%, 31%, 60%. No, don’t ask me how I know that last one. And so on.

  5. P-Dazzle says:

    Is this just a Facebook game then?

    • IanWharton says:

      Not sure if joking.

      Although it begs the question of whether it *could* be a Facebook game, for some kind of double meta Cow Clicker satirisings.

  6. cpt_freakout says:

    “This does mean that the inhabitants of the ship can start to feel like tools for us rather than distinct personalities…” well, it does seem to be the point, I think. No satire of Facebook can make without the objectifying going on between users and between the data companies / FB itself and its users.

    Anyway, this looks cool, looking forward to it!

  7. lowprices says:

    This is about the only non-Space Hulk game I’m looking forward to in the near future. I can’t wait to be as socially inept with make-believe space people as I am with real-life Earth people.

  8. robot99 says:

    How long does this take for a game? Is the sort of thing that would work on tablet etc for my train journey?

    Related: what’s it being published on? Steam?

    • padger says:

      I think Cliffski said it would be on Steam and iPad later.

    • Mitu Khandaker says:

      It’s still in alpha right now, so things like length and balancing are being worked on. It will certainly be available for iPad later, though, so it can totally be the kind of thing you can play on a train journey.

      We haven’t yet confirmed anything regarding distribution platforms, but we’ll be opening up pre-orders and beta access via the website very soon!

  9. sadtowel says:

    Played this at Rezzed and was amazed how compelling it is. You honestly can’t judge it from the screens or even from Adam’s text, as eloquent as he may be, because it’s one of those games that generates insta-narrative, and it only matters because it is your narrative.

    It’s banal, I guess, like real people’s lives are, but in the same way you care about your own banal life… Not selling it, am I? Hope there’s a demo………..

  10. Lady says:

    Yay, a new Kudos! I am not really sold on Star Trek, but this could be funny. My husband won’t find it funny. :F

  11. Tangler says:

    I have a question for Mitu, I guess: does the fact you made a game based around social networking mean that you love social networking? Or is the satire you taking apart the trend?

    Does that make sense?

    I suppose you can both like social networks and still see the humour inherent in how fucked up they are I guess. People tend to be walking contradictions.

    Sorry, that sounds super negative! Game looks fascinating. I love that people bother to simulate social interaction, rather than like, cars.

    • Mitu Khandaker says:

      I’m probably that walking contradiction. I think I made this game because I have *been* that social-networking-addicted-person, especially when I first joined Facebook (which was a whole seven years ago! SEVEN.) I’ve been that person sharing oh-god-every-inane-detail-that-no-one-cared-about. But now I am old and grumpy and weary of it all, but I also realise how inextricably linked important parts of my own life have been to social networks. I’m cynical, but lovingly so. I feel like I’ve kind of seen it all. I am a bit like the dying-Roy-Batty-of-social-networking.

      (Also, if I am allowed to link to it, I talked to Gamasutra more in depth about this stuff a couple of weeks ago.)

  12. Hodge says:

    I’ve been following this one for a while and I’m dead keen to get my hands on it. Even though it’s basically Kudos in a TNG skivvie, every preview I’ve seen suggests that she’s knocked it out of the park with every aspect of it, not least the humour which seems to be pitched just right.

    ‘Very soon’ is not soon enough, etc.

  13. Drake Sigar says:

    I didn’t think I’d be into these visually simplistic Facebooky-looking games, but Game Dev Tycoon was tons of fun, and this sounds like a hoot too. I’ll take it.

  14. Traaag says:

    Traaag says: what the fuck is with the sudden boom in Space Station-based games? I am not just imagining it, am I?

    Also: isn’t this game basically one of the games that didn’t get made in that Amnesia Fortnight thing?

    And furthermore, says Traaag: I am not sure if I could get past the menu-only interface, it also seems a bit Crusader Kings. I know that’s a thing that many non-Traaags enjoy, but screw those history guys – if you are going to simulate all that interaction then do it with tiny space dudes, Startopia-style.

    Traaag realises his suggestions may be inappropriate, and knows nothing about how games are made.

    Traaag lonely.

  15. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’ve had a play of this too, and I can confirm it made me laugh. In the good way.

  16. strangeloup says:

    While the idea of this sounds really neat, I’m not sure how much fun it would be as a game. I have absolutely no desire to use actual Facebook, so a game which primarily revolves around pretend Facebook seems like a suboptimal choice, even if it is satirical and such.

    • sadtowel says:

      I thought the same, but it’s very much a gamey game sort of game. When you play it you realise that saying you don’t want to play this because you don’t use facebook is like saying that you don’t want to play Crusader Kings because you don’t like facebook.

      • strangeloup says:

        That’s fair enough then. I do like me some Crusader Kings, even though roughly 90% of the time I have no idea whatsoever what I’m doing.

      • belgand says:

        True enough, but I’m in the same boat. The idea sounded compelling the first time I heard about it, but as soon as they started in on being a parody of Facebook I lost all interest.

        It’s not just the game itself, but the idea that Facebook is such a dominant part of people’s lives that it would be a reasonable extrapolation for the future and a parody that I would appreciate. The authors are coming at it from a bias that I do not share and it will inevitably color the entire production.

  17. Beernut says:

    Looks really interesting, I was intrigued by the interview a little while back and am glad that the idea seems to work out.

  18. Tei says:

    Do this game have a “Friendzone” button?. I ask things Reddit want to know.

  19. The Sombrero Kid says:

    Knowing full well this is the number 1 complaint about my game, i’m going to say – I like the sound of the game but i don’t like the art style. I say it because I rely on hearing every tiny piece of criticism to make the best game i possibly can.

  20. Supahewok says:

    Possibly only topical to the US, but will the government monitor our characters’ use of Spacebook and demand information from Spacebook servers?

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