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Copyright 1991 TidBITS Electronic Publishing. All rights reserved.
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Delta Tao Software, Inc.
760 Harvard St.
Sunnyvale, CA 94087
9 Penguins out of a possible 10
Summary: -- Spaceward Ho! is a "conquer the universe" game by Delta Tao Software, the small company that challenged the graphics software powers-that-be with Color MacCheese. It is simple to learn and play, but retains its appeal even after you've mastered the nuances of the game. Most of the people responding to our survey used the word "addicted" at some point or another. One feature that endears Spaceward Ho! to players is its ability to be played by multiple people over a network, thus vastly increasing the complexity and interest of the game. Respondents did mention a few primarily cosmetic bugs, but the company has already promised a free upgrade.
User Evaluation: (on a scale of 0 to 10)
Number of responses: 11
Ease of installation: 10
Ease of learning: 8
Ease of use: 9
Power & usefulness: 9
Technical support: 8
Overall evaluation: 9
Price and Availability: -- Being a new program from a small company, Spaceward Ho! is not yet readily available at many dealers and mail order vendors. Spaceward Ho! is available from Mac's Place, a relative newcomer to the mail order market for a nominal $35. As far as retail price goes, who knows? Nobody pays retail anymore, except people who go to authorized Apple dealers.
Ken Hancock -- firstname.lastname@example.org -- khancock on AOL
Everyone always talks about how the Macintosh increases productivity. Well, sometimes it's nice to find something that will significantly (and temporarily, your boss hopes) decrease your productivity, namely a good game. Good games are harder to come by for the Macintosh than for other computers, but fortunately, every so often, some enterprising company comes out with a masterpiece. Spaceward Ho! from Delta Tao Software is such a game.
The first thing that struck me about Spaceward Ho! is its excellent manual. I actually read a good part of it because it's funny. I like manuals that carry on a conversation instead of talking at you. Delta Tao, in my opinion, is a first-class operation. Good, inexpensive products and no fluff. The one time I called them to report a bug, the phone was answered by a real live person on the first ring - a noticeable difference from the standard messages of "Press 1 to talk to someone who knows nothing, press 2 to talk to someone who knows a little, and press 3 to wait on hold for a week to talk to someone who can solve your problem." (This, of course, is always on your dime.)
The second thing that struck me about Spaceward Ho! is how polished it is - the first couple minutes of play show how much time and thought Delta Tao put into the interface. The main window that gives you a view of the galaxy offers three magnification modes (very useful for large games). Smaller windoids (a la MacPaint or HyperCard) offer other functions: The report windoid gives a text report of ships built, planets explored, battles fought, and economic and budget warnings - everything that has happened in the last turn. The budget windoid gives you a bar graph of the spending on each colonized planet. The planet windoid gives you information on the currently selected planet, Income, Population, Temperature, Gravity, Metal (yet to be mined), and its individual budget (see below). Finally, the tech spending window allows you to adjust the relative spending levels of the five aspects of technology (keep looking below). If you have multiple monitors or a large-screen display, Spaceward Ho! will allow you to take full advantage of it - none of these gross IBM/Amiga/Atari ports which look ugly and feel worse!
As with many good games, the idea behind Spaceward Ho! is simple (but vaguely megalomaniacal): rule the galaxy. In order to do this, one must build fleets and colonize planets. There are a few obstacles standing in your way - metal, money, and opponents.
Just like in the real world, every planet has finite resources (I hope that's not news to anyone, except maybe the government). These resources have been grouped into one category, metal. The larger the ship, the more metal it needs. If you run out of metal, well, you're in trouble. That's a reasonable premise, eh?
This brings us the second obstacle, money. Building ships takes money. So does mining. So does supporting infant colonies. Colonies that have large populations create money. Colonies with small populations that haven't been terraformed eat money for breakfast.
This, for lack of a better transition, brings us to the third obstacle, opponents. Opponents can be either computer players or real-live-human-beings on a network. Currently, Spaceward Ho! supports up to 10 opponents - computer opponents can be either Novice, Normal, Smart, or Ingenious. This usually holds true for human players as well. Opponents tend to get in your way when you're colonizing. Everyone's an enemy. Try to colonize one of his planets (either by mistake or on purpose) and he'll defend it to the death.
To help overcome these obstacles, Spaceward Ho! allows you to control how you want to play by letting you budget individual percentages of the gross income to research and colonies. You can divide research into five sub-categories: range (how far a ship can travel without refueling), speed (how fast it can travel), shields (how much damage it can sustain before it goes to the big shipyard in the sky - or in this case becomes a dead hulk floating in space), weapons (I'll bet you can guess), and miniaturization (how little metal a ship can be built with). Similarly, you can split each colony's allocation between terraforming, mining, and shipbuilding. After a planet has been completely terraformed, no more money can be spend on terraforming. Likewise, after a planet has been depleted of all natural resources, no more mining takes place. Hence, eventually all planets will allocate all their resources to ship building, and your imperial nature starts to appear.
Ships have six characteristics: range, speed, shields, weapons, miniaturization (seen these before?), and whether or not it's a colony ship. Colony ships take a lot more metal to build - you can miniaturize ships, but not people, alas. Play as you will - build long distance scouts and explore before you colonize, or build huge colony battleships and colonize and destroy at the same time, or mix and match.
Playing Spaceward Ho! is simple (just like life, right?). Starting a new game gives you a few options: number of stars in the galaxy (i.e. how long the game will take), galaxy shape (can change the difficulty), number of opponents, and opponent skill level. You start out with one planet, fully terraformed, some metal, and more yet to mine. You can either use predefined ship types with various attributes, or create your own, tailoring them to your fondest desires (up to the level of technology that you currently possess). Once you've built your first ship, it's a simple matter to send it to a neighboring planet. Select the fleet that you wish to send out from the "Fleet" windoid, click on the home planet in the starmap window, drag to the destination, and you're off.
Once you've reached a planet, you either set up a colony or simply scout the planet (depending on the type of ship you sent). Colonies serve one very important purpose (besides generating money): they are the only way to refuel ships. More often then not, I'll send a scout ship out to his full range and he'll be stranded there. C'est la vie. Planets with a gravity between .5G and 2.0G will eventually become prospering colonies, given sufficient money. Planets outside that range can be temporarily colonized for strip-mining purposes, but no amount of money will allow it to be terraformed permanently.
As you pour money into your colonies and technology, you build bigger ships, better ships, and even more ships. You colonize more and more planets. Invariably, you'll run into one of your opponents (or they'll run into you). The battle sequences bring up pictures of the opposing fleets and you can sit and watch the damage rack up against each ship (the ship pictures in themselves are amusing - especially at high tech levels). After the first few times, this quickly becomes tedious and you can hit "Skip" or turn off the option. Even if you skip the graphics, though, there will be a lengthy summary in the report windoid telling of the battle, number of ships, relative strengths, etc. Once you've taken a planet, you can then start terraforming your new acquisition to your own needs. If an opponent takes one of your planets, not only will they wipe out the existing population, but they'll also start terraforming it to their needs, reversing all the time that you spent, so you want to take it back quickly.
Another nice feature, though I'm not so sure that it isn't cheating, is that you can monitor the other player's progress via a "Compare Players" menu command. Selecting that will give you the splashdown on where you stand the current relative rankings, i.e., are you 1st in weapons, 3rd in shields, 5th in number of planets owned, etc. So, if you're merrily strolling along and then check your status and find you're dead last in technology, you'd better start devoting money to technology spending. I suppose that "Compare Players" is more or less the same idea as the CIA (though more accurate), when you get right down to it.
I still haven't beaten four computer players on ingenious mode (well, not without cheating), so needless to say, you don't have to have a network to enjoy Spaceward Ho! Nevertheless, there's something so much more enjoyable about bashing your best friend's head instead of a computer's. To play on a network, someone must create a new game and place it on a fileserver, TOPS network, or FolderShare (for those System 7.0 beta folks). Each person playing must then open up the shared game from the server. The game file is where turns are updated, status kept, etc. While this is a bit inconvenient right now, it will be a boon once System 7.0 and its FolderShare features are released.
One of the best features of the network play is the ability to set a time limit for moves. This means that you can set up a game with a 5 minute time limit and play all day at work with your co-workers. (I take no responsibility for this suggestion.) This is especially nice, since you can wait for John to go out to lunch, his turns will expire every five minutes, and you can attack without him mounting any defense. After all, all's fair in war. Other than that, network play is identical to playing versus the computer.
One of the best parts of Spaceward Ho! is that it's well-balanced. Allocating funds doesn't bog down the game - everything is graphically displayed as a bar-chart. If you want to allocate more funds to research, just go up to the bar chart and click on the "Tech" bar and drag. Simple. Likewise, if planet "X" has just run out of metal, has been completely terraformed, and is out in the middle of nowhere so you don't want to build any ships there, just deallocate all funds by clicking on X's bar and dragging it to zero. The same method applies to allocating more money to weapons research and less to miniaturization. Spaceward Ho! gives you just the right amount of control to make the game fun.
Delta Tao hasn't stopped developing Spaceward Ho!, either. Looking back in the manual, many of the screenshots have changed slightly. Pop-up menus have replaced ugly arrays of radio buttons and things have been further refined. As the intro letter that came with my copy says, "We want you early purchasers to get the even-more-fun version when we do get it done, so we're going to give it to you for free." (Now if only my upgrade to Excel 3.0 was closer to free than to $129.)
Where to buy it? Well, the only mail-order house which seems to carry it is Mac's Place. I ordered mine from there and it came promptly, as promised. In a recent Usenet article in comp.sys.mac.games, Peter Commons, the author, recommended you go to the place where you usually buy your software and if they don't have it, ask them why not, and encourage them to contact Delta Tao. Sounds like good advice to me.
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