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Skybreak! Reviews
Author: William Dooling
Date: 2019
ADRIFT 5.0


Reviewed by Sam Kabo Ashwell

Skybreak! is a CRPG-ish science-fantasy space adventure. As a wandering adventurer, you will fly to dozens of systems and spend only a little time on each before moving on.

Thereís actually quite a few examples of this sort of thing in the general IF space: Voyageur, Out There, Superluminal Vagrant Twin, Sunless Skies. Skybreak particularly reminded me of Voyageur in that they both have random navigation: in Voyageur your drive can only take you towards the galactic core, but you have slight influence over your route. In Skybreak you canít steer at all, but you can revisit places, and you can only take one action each time you land. (Sometimes that action leads to further choices, but youíre always on a brief visit.)
Many moons ago I wrote this about Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home:

SF treats space as a rational quantity to be managed in some way or another: an ocean to chart, a frontier to advance, an empire to administrate. In Heliopause, space is the Great Forest of Arthurian knight-errant and Grimm fairytale, or the ocean of the Odyssey: anything might be encountered there, but you wonít be able to plot it on a map.

Skybreak does, in fact, have a map among its copious out-of-game supplements, but itís not very useful and the principle holds. Itís unequivocally science fantasy Ė you will use Occultism as much as Gunnery Ė and it has a general scent of belatedness and Old Weird about its style. Thereís are mysterious towers and lost civilisations and not-quite-alive things and elves and just a lot of good naming. Your soul definitively exists, and various menaces will steal bits of it. In a very Fallen London vein, a lot of the resources you collect are various kind of story or secret, rendered in the abstract as resources, and scientific data figures as just another flavour of those. Your spaceship is the narrator, and it loves you. So this contains a lot of what youíd expect in a generic Space Adventure, but it is very clearly not confining itself to that.

Skybreak is not shy about letting you know that this is going to be A Lot Of Game from the outset. The game begins with a multi-stage character-creation process. There is a sixteen-page manual, heaving with more information than anyoneís going to be able to retain on one reading. Its basic design Ė a floating-modules, roll-a-random-encounter kind of deal Ė is one that inherently requires a large amount of Content to work in the first place. There are a lot of different systems at work Ė as well as the stats and the resources and the special skills (which I always immediately forgot about), thereís a reputation system and combat and apparently you can fall in love (alas, I was never given the opportunity).

Character creation is not, by the standards of a trad TTRPG, a hugely complicated or lengthy process: if you look at the character sheet and consider it as a character sheet, itís pretty simple. Iíve played storygames with denser character sheets. But context matters a lot! Having a ton of stats and skills in a tabletop game isnít a big issue because the content can be crafted around them after the fact. In a computer game, content has to be made for all of the possibilities Ė well, OK, sure, Iíve played plenty of CRPGs where you go Ďsure, Iíll put a couple of points into Lore(Nature) and Fisherdwarfship, that fits with the character I wantí, and then those skills get used once in the entire game and cost as much as the (completely indispensable) Heal skill. But thatís bad and you shouldnít do it. So: a big list of skills is a promise of content thatís both very extensive and reasonably balanced. (If you read the manual, it strongly recommends at least +2 in two of the following skills: Survival, Technology, Gunnery, or Strength, which I didnít notice until way too late.)

Character-creation does do a good job of offering an initial sketch of what the universe looks like, though: a lot of the evocative power of lists is at work here.

The biggest problem with all of this is that this is using an unadorned parser-IF system, and so the gameís output is a single stream of text. The download comes with a printable character sheet, and I donít think this is meant as a joke: youíll want to be able to refer to this information regularly. This might be a clue that this game could use a better way of displaying information. In particular, I constantly wanted to check my inventory to see if I had the resources necessary for a particular challenge Ė your inventory changes a lot more often than your skills Ė and, because the inventory is formatted as a vertical list with every possible resource listed, it takes up more than one screen of text (and scrolls your choice menu way up off the page). Often, Iíd just guess rather than dealing with that. There are a too many resources to hold in memory, and you wonít necessarily be able to focus on grinding one resource for one task, so being able to reference them is a big deal. Itís particularly difficult to remember whether youíve got some Forbidden Lore, Forgotten Lore or Foretold Lore.
This is particularly an issue for a game which is designed to reward long-term play: I didnít get used to the UI jank over time, and indeed I got more frustrated at how it was slowing down my learning of the gameís systems.

So: as an experience this would have been hugely improved by a UI that managed player information more smoothly Ė which, in practice, would probably mean a platform other than ADRIFT, so that seems unlikely to happen. But its mode of interaction is almost entirely menu-based, so being based on a parser platform really isnít doing it a lot of favours.

The space combat system, too, is a bit opaque unless you go and read the manual; itís not super-clear even then, and every fight feels a little bit too long. And once youíve got your ship beaten up itís hard to get it fixed Ė you canít do the usual RPG-fuckup thing of hurrying back to a safe haven after you get your ass kicked, you just have to wait and hope that you randomly appear at a place with a starport. Thereís also a tendency to get long runs of uninhabited systems; Iím not sure whether this is just because the game has a well-considered balance between common, routine content (uninhabited systems where you mine and do scans) and rarer, more detailed stuff (major populated planets), or whether the navigation is more structured than it initially looks, and leads to you wandering around empty zones.

The writing is capable, although with so much Stuff it varies quite a lot in effectiveness and tone. A lot of the time itís going for a generic mode Ė these are events that youíre going to be repeating Ė and sometimes this comes through a little too hard:

You successfully make the journey, though your limbs are weary and your bones ache.
It is truly far better to travel than to arrive. After the journey is complete, you look back on it in wonder and amazement. Did you really accomplish that? How incredible. You have a new tale of adventure to tell.

When you do get highly unique content, it can sometime come with a lot of text Ė a page or so Ė and this is a bit of an abrupt gear-shift.

I encountered a fairly small handful of bugs: in particular, when an event makes you travel to a new part of space, the menu for the new system sometimes doesnít display correctly.

It isnít really possible to do more than scratch the surface of this within the compís time limit; by the end of that time, I had quit prematurely once and died a couple of times, each time only at the beginning of working on my characterís objectives. There are a lot more character builds to explore; I need to develop better ways of not dying. Thereís clearly a ton of longer-arc content that I havenít got to grips with, and lots of elements I havenít had the resources to explore. Either in character terms or in worldbuilding, I didnít really get my teeth into any narrative arcs so much as random adventure and a lot of atmosphere.

An impressive (and somewhat intimidating) piece of work, not being shown off to best effect. 8.


Reviewed by MathBrush

I would have been happy to pay for this game. I intend to play through this game many times in the future.

This is a menu-based Adrift game (I strongly recommend downloadable play). Basically, you are in space, and you visit worlds. At each world, you can do exactly one thing before you leave.

However, you may randomly visit the same place again in the future. So if you missed out on something, or started something you couldn't finish, you get another chance.

The game has many stats, almost 20, but it becomes more natural over time. The game is right when it says it's better to have a lot of 1's than a few 3's or 4's.

You can pick abilities, talents (which increase abilities and give you special powers or the ability to unlock a new kind of story), and two backgrounds. The backgrounds drive the game, and decide what your win conditions are. For instance, my character had the goal of collecting 30 stories (from the storyteller background) and also the goal of exploring 10 or so new planets (which is how I won).

For the regular backgrounds, achieving your objective ends the game with no fanfare. There are 3 'special' backgrounds that apparently give a more coherent story (I didn't choose them in my first playthrough, as they seemed more difficult).

Progress is slow in this game, and there is a lot of grinding. Probably half of the links are systems where you can scan with Astronomy or mine with Mining.

But this game uses a lot of the principles that make things like gambling addictive. It has infrequent, random rewards that are pretty awesome, so it kept me chugging through the grind.

Loved it overall, and plan on playing it more. There are a few small bugs (like an option the says "Explore Explore [Planetname]" and a choice I clicked on that didn't have any follow-up text). But these were very slight. Love it!


Reviewed by Spike

Skybreak! is a huge space exploration-and-trading game, with RPG elements and multiple win states. You can explore star systems; mine planets, asteroids, and comets; recruit spies; unearth lore; acquire alien artifacts; and collect beetles - among other things.

Skybreak! feels like a cross between Superluminal Vagrant Twin and Sunless Seas. Skybreak!'s setting, method for moving between locations, and text-based format are reminiscent of the former, but it has some of the features (such as lore-gathering) of the latter, and its scope is closer to that of the latter.

That isn't to say that Skybreak! is as large as Sunless Seas. It doesn't take nearly as long to win Skybreak!, for instance. (A few hours, three playthroughs, and judicious use of UNDO got me a nice ending in Skybreak!.) However, much of the reason Sunless Seas takes so long is that you spend a lot of your time moving your boat around on the screen and managing your fuel. Strip Sunless Seas down to its item- and knowledge-gathering aspects and its quest trees, and the scope comparison between it and Skybreak! starts to seem more reasonable. Skybreak! really is huge; I can tell from the few hours I've spent on it that there's a lot to the game I have not seen.

Where Skybreak! surpasses both Superluminal Vagrant Twin and Sunless Seas is in its number and variety of role-playing options. At the beginning of Skybreak! you've got a choice of five species (well, four and then an "other" option), two of ten background characteristics, and three of sixteen talents. These affect your win-state goals (as in Sunless Seas), your secondary goals, and the kinds of tasks you're most likely to succeed with. They really are meaningful choices, too: On my first and third playthroughs I made very different character selections, and those two playthroughs looked quite different. By comparison, SVT has no RPG elements, and Sunless Seas allows you fewer options.

By biggest criticism of Skybreak! is the random navigation. I can see that this prevents players from doing as much grinding, which would destroy a lot of the fun of the game. But it is also frustrating to be presented with half a dozen or more interesting options for a particular solar system and yet only be able to choose one of them before having to move on, perhaps never to return on that playthrough. The UNDO command does mitigate this frustration somewhat, though, as it allows you to try out the different options and then select the one you like best.

There's a great deal to see and do in Skybreak!. If you enjoy games like this, there's enough content to keep you engaged for many, many hours.


Reviewed by The Stack

Itís easy to get the impression that all of Interactive Fiction is based on just two models, the explorable environments typically seen in parser-based text adventures and the branching stories typically seen in hypertext. So itís good to get occasional reminders that there are other alternatives. Skybreak! is built out of randomized storylets, kind of like Fallen London and Reigns ó but more like Reigns in the way it denies player control.

The premise is one of space-opera exploration, zipping from star to star, but the destinations are chosen by your shipís AI, which claims to be in love with you. When you arrive at a location, you get a series of menus that let you choose what to do there. Once youíve followed a path through the menu tree all the way to a leaf, itís time to get back on that ship to another randomly-chosen destination. Often the choices are, unfortunately, meaningless: you arrive at a star with multiple planets and choose which one to explore further, on the basis of nothing more than an orbit number. However, on the basis of a jpeg map included with the game, I think itís likely that the contents of each star system is fixed, not randomized at runtime. That you could theoretically take meticulous notes about every destination and use that information on subsequent playthroughs. It would take some time, though, because you canít control where you go, and the galaxy is large.

Large, and uncooperative. At one point I seemed to be stuck in a morass of planets where there was basically nothing to do but mining, which I was terrible at. See, in addition to inventory, there are character stats and skills in this game, and a fairly elaborate character creation process; success at your actions is frequently contingent on where you put your skill points. I had optimized as a scholar/storyteller, figuring that finding the lost history of extinct civilizations would be the most interesting path. But I never found much of that during the Compís two-hour judging period.

Character creation involves choosing a race from a short list and two ďbackgroundsĒ from a longer one. The races notably include elves and goblins, and the backgrounds include sorcerer. Which is at least honest, I suppose. Backgrounds give you both victory conditions (which I never got anywhere near) and special abilities, some of which involve actions that arenít in the menus. See, even though the game is basically menu-driven, itís the sort of command-line-based menus where you type in a number at a prompt. Other commands can be typed in too, such as the ones that display your stats or inventory. This system feels a bit old-school, like Hunt the Wumpus, especially if you play it in a browser, where clickable links are more natural. But I kind of dug it. The game is written in Adrift, which is usually used for second-rate parser-based text adventures. I donít think Iíve seen an Adrift game on this paradigm before.

The whole thing is just impressively baroque. Thereís stats and skills youíll never use, things youíll never find. Thereís a whole section in the inventory for exotic beetles. It may be best appreciated as an art object rather than played as a game.


Reviewed by Thomas Mack

I have fond memories of playing board games like ďArkham HorrorĒ or ďAgents of SmershĒ that are essentially multiplayer versions of gamebooks. That is, theyíre similar to old Choose Your Adventure Books, but with some sort of RPG-style stats, more state, and significant random elements. ďSkybreak!Ē is a charming space adventure written in that style.

Gameplay: The goal of the game is to acquire certain kinds of items (or abstract things like scientific data) by randomly travelling through space. Exactly what kinds of items are needed depends on the details of the initial character construction, and the stats chosen at that point also affect how the later vignettes on each planet play out. None of them are particularly complicated, but theyíre enjoyable and play smoothly. 6/10.

Mechanics: The encounters on each planet are similar to those in the two board games above. Theyíre straightforward and designed well, although they get a bit repetitive over the course of the game. Thereís significant state to the game (enough that the author provides a printable character sheet for reference, although all that information is also easily accessible from within the game), and there are opporunities for exchanging or otherwise taking advantage of items that the player has collected. 6/10.

Presentation: The lightly comedic of the game is consistent throughout, and I enjoyed the scenes that played out on arriving at distant planets. Thereís a large roster of skills, character backgrounds, and other embellishments to add variety to the gameplay. 6/10.

You might be interested in this game if: Youíve played and enjoyed games like ďArkham HorrorĒ or ďAgents of Smersh.Ē

Score: 6


Reviewed by Iris Colt

New Adrift games are few and far between at the moment but the IFComp is just about the only moment when Adrift games are played by a large number of normal persons, with commonly held IF beliefs, tastes or interests, and mainstreamers. I am glad that Adrift games are no longer de facto MS Windows games since IFComp 2011 thanks to ADRIFT WebRunner, as this year I am only rating entries with a ďPlay onlineĒ button. This game works seamlessly in my Android Firefox Focus, and note that the same cannot quite be said of Quixe, however, wink.

This game strives to give you a promising introduction, and the optimism that underlies this No-Manís-Sky-esque concept approach and the very room descriptions are themselves no doubt inspiring, but things only scatter from there with its lackluster and repetitive gameplay. I expected, a collection of well-executed callbacks to older games, at least.

I would also recommend polishing the UI/look; this would benefit greatly from a little attention to the color scheme. And I discovered that several important commands were only briefly mentioned. For example:
➢ 5
You decide not to recruit a hero. They are not worth your time.
➢ 3
The dark matter currents have shifted. For better or worse, it is time to move onÖ
➢ move on

Sorry, I didn't understand that command.

Previous text said:
(We can make a single choice here, then we will have to move on. We can do that by typing "c" and then "l")

So, I noticed that I would have needed to memorize those commands. By the way, what is the purpose of using these two commands together, might I issue one command but not the other in certain moment?

The game had an attractive premise and, on the level of prose, a concise execution. However, interface design and implementation are too important to be treated the way this game treats them, and it suffers for it.


Reviewed by Carl Muckenhoupt

Itís easy to get the impression that all of Interactive Fiction is based on just two models, the explorable environments typically seen in parser-based text adventures and the branching stories typically seen in hypertext. So itís good to get occasional reminders that there are other alternatives. Skybreak! is built out of randomized storylets, kind of like Fallen London and Reigns ó but more like Reigns in the way it denies player control.

The premise is one of space-opera exploration, zipping from star to star, but the destinations are chosen by your shipís AI, which claims to be in love with you. When you arrive at a location, you get a series of menus that let you choose what to do there. Once youíve followed a path through the menu tree all the way to a leaf, itís time to get back on that ship to another randomly-chosen destination. Often the choices are, unfortunately, meaningless: you arrive at a star with multiple planets and choose which one to explore further, on the basis of nothing more than an orbit number. However, on the basis of a jpeg map included with the game, I think itís likely that the contents of each star system are fixed, not randomized at runtime. That you could theoretically take meticulous notes about every destination and use that information on subsequent playthroughs. It would take some time, though, because you canít control where you go, and the galaxy is large.

Large, and uncooperative. At one point I seemed to be stuck in a morass of planets where there was basically nothing to do but mining, which I was terrible at. See, in addition to inventory, there are character stats and skills in this game, and a fairly elaborate character creation process; success at your actions is frequently contingent on where you put your skill points. I had optimized as a scholar/storyteller, figuring that finding the lost history of extinct civilizations would be the most interesting path. But I never found much of that during the Compís two-hour judging period.

Character creation involves choosing a race from a short list and two ďbackgroundsĒ from a longer one. The races notably include elves and goblins, and the backgrounds include sorcerer. Which is at least honest, I suppose. Backgrounds give you both victory conditions (which I never got anywhere near) and special abilities, some of which involve actions that arenít in the menus. See, even though the game is basically menu-driven, itís the sort of command-line-based menus where you type in a number at a prompt. Other commands can be typed in too, such as the ones that display your stats or inventory. This system feels a bit old-school, like Hunt the Wumpus, especially if you play it in a browser, where clickable links are more natural. But I kind of dug it. The game is written in Adrift, which is usually used for second-rate parser-based text adventures. I donít think Iíve seen an Adrift game on this paradigm before.

The whole thing is just impressively baroque. Thereís stats and skills youíll never use, things youíll never find. Thereís a whole section in the inventory for exotic beetles. It may be best appreciated as an art object rather than played as a game.


 

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