from Ybarra Productions, Inc., released in 1994.
The player takes on the role of The Captain
of the UNS Calypso
, a colony ship sent from Earth to the Beta Caeli system in the wake of a Hopeless War
between humanity and the Centaurians as a last-ditch effort to ensure that humans survive in some parts of the galaxy. Upon waking up from a Human Popsicle
state, you receive messages from Earth sent decades (centuries? millennia?) prior, which inform you of another colony ship, UNS Tantalus
, sent to Beta Caeli 16 years later but, thanks to a more efficient engine, set to arrive 21 years prior to the Calypso
. Upon arriving to the system, you see that it is remarkably similar to the Solar System. There are also remains of the Tantalus
colonists' presence but no colonists themselves.
The game involves colonizing the system and figuring out what happened to the Tantalus
and her colonists. This involves sending shuttles to scout planets for resources and viable colony sites, building new colonies, populating them, and constructing buildings necessary to make them self-sufficient. Some colonies cannot be self-sufficient by definition, which includes space stations (which can't mine natural resources) and the Calypso
herself, which is a giant, albeit mobile, space station. While only two planets (Rhea and Gaea) can support life, all planets short of gas giants can be colonized. The player can build habitats, power plants, factories, and labs for the colonies. Habitats house and "produce" colonists, power plants allow other buildings to function and produce the "energy" resource. Factories can be set to mining (produces the "industry" resource) or production (builds robots, shuttles, or missiles). Labs generate scientific resources, depending on what each lab is set to produce (mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, astronomy, electronics, and geology). The main resources in the game are "people", "industry", "energy", and "robots". Scientific resources are used to research new technologies. All but "people" can also be found while exploring planets with shuttles.
The player has several advisors to help you get started and keep you informed about new developments. You also have a PDA that allows you to look up information and keep notes.
The more clues you find as to the fate of the previous colonists, the more you begin to realize you're not alone in this system.
Tropes present in the game:
- Absent Aliens: Despite the backstory mentioning the Centaurians, you spend much of the game with no aliens in sight. Then you find the Empiants and the H'riak sporeship.
- Abusive Precursors: The H'riak, who program all their creations with an overriding urge to destroy all non-H'riak-created organisms. This explains the Centaurians' hate towards humans. Empiants lack their hate because they were created unintentionally — from waste.
- All Planets Are Earth-Like: Averted, as only two planets in the Beta Caeli system are habitable. All planets, moons, and asteroids can be colonized, though.
- Artistic License – Astronomy: Beta Caeli is described as F0 yellow-green dwarf 55 light years from Sun and 2.5 times more luminous. Actually it is 90 light years away, and 6 times brighter (even though it's F2, which are cooler than F0). According to Word of God, the creators of the game knew that Beta Caeli is too bright and short-lived to have habitable planets but chose it due to its relative proximity and easily-remembered name. In reality, colony ships would most likely be sent to G-type yellow dwarfs, which would also have to be far enough away for the Centaurians not to find them and would, therefore, likely have a Henry Draper Catalog designation (e.g. HD 154345).
- Artistic License – Biology: Despite having never encountered humans before, the Centaurians somehow manage to come up with a deadly virus that kills millions of Sudanese.
- Bittersweet Ending: The H'riak sporeship is destroyed and there is peace with the Empiants. Several colonists (both human and Empiant) manage to leave the system using the new FTL drive. However, all first-generation colonists are doomed to die soon thanks to the flawed process of turning people into Human Popsicles.
- This doesn't seem to be mandatory; a technology available early in the game should leave you with only sweetness.
- Casual Interstellar Travel: Averted, for the most part. Building and sending interstellar ships is a major undertaking, requiring the combined resources of the entire world. Since humanity is engaged in a war for its very survival in the backstory, humans have to build interstellar warships, even though most get destroyed in the Oort Cloud. Some make it to Alpha Centauri and proceed to Tau Ceti. This takes decades, though. The Odessa-class colony ships, like the Tantalus and the Calypso, are equally funded by the entire world, as they represent the last vestiges of humanity. It is also mentioned that, while the Calypso is launched 16 years before the Tantalus, the latter arrives 21 years before the former due to a better fusion engine. Given that Beta Caeli is about 90 light years away, it would take at least 180 years to get there at half the speed of light (even that is pushing it). This explains how a marginally-better drive allows the Tantalus to overtake her sister ship and arrive first despite the late launch.
- The Calypso travelled for more than 90000 years to reach Beta Caeli. Sounds like a lot, but keep in mind that the Tantalus took about 37 years less while only being 0.04% faster.
- Even the creation of FTL travel at the end of the game only allows for one ship to be fitted with it. The game also doesn't reveal what happened to the ship that jumped. Additionally, this FTL method requires the presence of Empiants to punch through space-time.
- Cryonics Failure: A possibility (read: Random Event) for a large number of as-yet unopened pods to fail if you don't act fast enough to provide a lot of living space in your colonies. Furthermore, if many colonists die this way, your science advisor will grant him/herself a Klingon Promotion (read:Non-Standard Game Over).
- Death World: Once the biota wake up, the formerly peaceful, Earth-like worlds of Gaea and Rhea quickly become these.
- Earth-Shattering Kaboom: If a certain Timed Mission is not completed successfully, the Beta Caeli star will go nova, destroying the system. If the mission is successful, there is still an Earth-Shattering Kaboom but on a much smaller scale.
- Earth That Was: Given that centuries (if not milllennia) have passed since the launch of the Calypso, the fate of Earth remains unknown, especially since the most recent messages were erased or badly corrupted by a Negative Space Wedgie. The implication, though, is that the Centaurians have finally broken through Earth's defenses and wiped out everyone on the planet.
- Everything Sensor: The "transcendental radiation" research allows shuttles to scan for things of interest on planets, moons, and asteroids.
- First Contact: In the backstory, first contact with the Centaurians in 2043 involved their probe destroying a scout ship and bombarding Earth with plague missiles. It's not even clear if humans even met a live Centaurian. They do have Centaurian gene samples to compare to life on Rhea and Gaea, possibly collected in the Oort Cloud after one of the many battles there.
- The first contact with the Empiants also results in a war. However, this is due to a misunderstanding, as human brainwaves hurt the psychic aliens. Some players report that attacks get much bigger if the player previously syphoned hydrogen from gas giants.
- What may count as the first contact with H'Riak, or at least their machinery, was Tantalus colonists finding an ancient pylon on Gaia and trying to break it. After that biota started attacking humans.
- Frickin' Laser Beams: All shuttles are armed with lasers. During the conflict with the Empiants, shuttles can also be armed with missiles that increase their firepower.
- FTL Travel: Averted at the beginning, when it takes the Calypso over a century to reach Beta Caeli on sublight. Even the Centaurians and the H'riak don't have FTL drives. At the end, though, the humans and Empiants manage to build psychic amplifyiers that complement the Empiants' natural Psychic Powers that, in conjunction with the Calypso's fusion reactor, tear open a hole in space-time.
- Gaia's Vengeance: Once the biota are triggered and attack the colonies, this initially appears to be the case, especially since one of the habitable worlds is named Gaea.
- Harmless Freezing: Initially played straight, then subverted at the end. Apparently, there are negative side effects to being turned into a Human Popsicle for decades (all first-generation colonists are doomed to die soon, but their children born after will survive).
- Hopeless War: The war between Earth and the Centaurians began when a Centaurian probe entered the Solar System, destroyed a ship sent to scan it, and launched a volley of missiles filled with a deadly plague at Earth, killing millions. Since then, both sides constantly sent warships at one another, usually meeting up and fighting it out in the Oort Cloud. No human warships have ever returned, although some have managed to get to the Centaurian colonies in Tau Ceti. When the final, largest, offensive against the Centaurians has failed, the Earth governments have decided to pool all resources into defending Earth and building Sleeper Starships, knowing that the Centaurians won't stop until all humans are dead. One of the messages received by the Calypso while underway claims that the final Centauri offensive had begun and, likely, succeeded.
- Human Popsicle: All colonists and crewmembers spend the decades of travel in cold sleep. The crew is woken up first, including the first batch of colonists. Colonists are woken up based on need. However, a random malfunction can result in several thousand colonists dying in their sleep, when their cryochambers fail.
- Klingon Promotion: If you blunder spectacularly, one of your advisors will kill you for incompetence and take charge of the mission. Usually this involves a task with a time limit and many people die. The failures include:
- Do not set up a self-sufficient colony on Gaea. You get plenty of time and multiple warnings here. You're killed by a science advisornote . Apparently, the military advisor just sits by and does nothing.
- Do not create enough living space on a short notice when several hundred cryo-chambers malfunction. Science advisor again.
- Fail to develop the blood filter. Science advisor.
- Improperly respond to Fanatic's crisis on Hades. Military advisor.
- Fail to suppress a riot.
- Deplete energy storage too many times.
- Lightspeed Leapfrog: A rare sublight example. Given that relatively slow speeds at which the Calypso and the Tantalus travel and the vast distance (90 light years) involved, it's not that surprising for the Tantalus to arrive to Beta Caeli 21 years before the Calypso despite being launched 16 years later with only a marginally more efficient drive. It still stings to wake up from cold sleep after such a trip only to learn that you're expected to provide "support" to people who you didn't know were supposed to join you. Had nothing bad happened to the Tantalus colonists, there would probably have been a lot of bitterness between them and the Calypso colonists.
- Macross Missile Massacre: Averted, while you can research and build missiles to be put on your shuttles during the conflict with the Empiants, each shuttle can only carry one missile at a time.
- Meaningful Name: All planets are named after Greek gods, which are equivalent to the Roman names for planets in the Solar system. The two Earth-like planets are named Gaea (earth goddess) and Rhea (mother of the gods). Interestingly, one of the ruins contains a mention of a movement among the Tantalus colonists to rename the planets to their Roman counterparts.
- Negative Space Wedgie: Several messages from Earth have been erased when the ship passed through a magnetic anomaly prior to the game.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Several notes found from the previous colonists reveal that the captain of the Tantalus had the ship dismantled to use the fusion reactor on Gaia surface as a power plant. After the H'riak threat became apparent, many colonists cursed the captain for leaving them no option but to fight (they couldn't flee the system or even retreat to Tantalus).
- Nuke 'em: Besides Frickin' Laser Beams, shuttles can drop bombs that produce mushroom clouds and wipe out anything in the immediate vicinity on the planet below. The only limit to how many you can drop is the shuttle's energy/fuel, implying some sort of energy bomb.
- Panspermia: The H'riak are discovered to have seeded habitable planets in several star systems with life programmed to hate any living thing of different origin. Earth is not one such planet.
- Planet Looters: You can syphon hydrogen from gas giants to get cheap energy. The Empiants, who live on Chronus, probably won't like it.
- Psychic Powers: The Empiants are a telepathic species who are hurt by human brainwaves. They can also melt human brains.
- "Transcendental radiation" was invented by Tantalus scientist and is rediscovered early in the game. It allows to find places of interest, by creating "a resonance between what the brain can conceptualize and what is physically on the planet's surface".
- Pyrrhic Victory: After the H'riak sporeship is found by the Tantalus colonists, they send their entire shuttle fleet to attack it. They manage to destroy all its weapons but at the cost of 90% of the fleet.
- Ramscoop: The intro shows an enormous web being folded, as the Calypso is entering the Beta Caeli system. Given that the ship is powered by a fusion reactor, this is likely used to collect interstellar hydrogen to fuel it.
- Random Event: Several research options become available only after random events (usually, tragic). For example, the idea to develop mass drivers for sending cargo between colonies comes after a manned shuttle engaged in a "pipeline" mission inexplicably blows up. If you only use automated shuttles (there is no advantage to be using manned shuttles, except occasionally ferrying advisors to colonies), then this won't happen.
- Space Plane: At the beginning, the Calypso only has 4 shuttles with limited fuel tanks to go ferry supplies and colonists between the ship and the colonies. Shuttles can be either unmanned or manned (almost no difference). They can also be used to send your primary advisors to colonies for certain quests. Once you set up proper self-sufficient colonies, you can set your factories to build more shuttles. Additionally, you can research shuttle improvements such as a larger fueld tank, better weapons, larger cargo space, more efficient engine, stronger armor, etc. Once the conflict with the Empiants starts, shuttles become your Space Fighters (or Attack Drones if you send them unmanned), although you pretty much have to send them en masse in order to make a difference. Shuttles can be sent on a variety of missions: scouting planets, exploring regions, sending cargo and/or colonists, building space stations, establishing pipelines (automatic ferrying of supplies and/or colonists between two colonies), patroling, etc. Since planets continue to orbit the star Beta Caeli, distances (and fuel requirements) constantly change.
- Timed Mission: Several tasks must be completed within a certain time limit. Unfortunately, you're not told about the time limit. Failing to do so often results in a Nonstandard Game Over.
- What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?: Tantalus was punished by the gods for killing his son and generally being a dick to be trapped for eternity in Tartarus constantly presented with food and water and never being able to reach them, as well a huge rock suspended over his head. So you decide to name a ship that is supposed to keep humanity alive with a guy who ended up this way. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?
- Calypso is a character in The Odyssey who forcibly kept Odysseus on her island for many years. Not much better. On the other hand, another meaning of "calypso" is "to conceal", which is appropriate for a ship that is supposed to carry the last humans away from a race of murdering aliens.
- What If?: Rhea is an Earth-like world whose position in the Beta Caeli system is similar to that of Venus in ours. It's not difficult to see that the creators wanted to show what Venus would be like as a lush, life-giving world. The main difference is the size (Rhea is slightly larger), the spin (Rhea spins much faster), and a moon. The theory is that these factors helped prevent the greenhouse effect that makes Venus a hellhole.
- Wide Open Sandbox: The game is non-linear, which means you are free to do as you please, for the most part, in terms of building colonies and expanding. Certain events do trigger new missions, though.