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Ban The Boss

First published in Develop, issues 7 & 8 (June & July 2001)

A number of conventions exist within the realm of video game design. Some conventions have arisen by a process of pseudo-evolution, with designers of early games being forced to think of new features for their games, their rivals recognising which features worked well or encouraged players to spend money, and those features being copied. Other conventions arose due to technological necessity - the level structure seen in most games exists due to a combination of design and technological requirements.

Early arcade games such as Space Invaders (Taito) and Pac Man (Namco) proceeded by facing the player with an identical level set-up, but increased the game's challenge with each subsequent level defeated. Games such as Phoenix (T.P.N. Corporation) introduced levels with different features; in Phoenix, Space Invaders style stages were followed by egg waves, and then the flying saucer stage. This last involved not many, but a single, large opponent for the player to blast. The saucer in Phoenix rained fire upon the player while its pilot hid beneath a destructible shield.

This varied level structure quickly became popular, then standard. Nowadays a great deal of variety is required in graphics and play to 'justify' a new level to the player. Once variety of play had become standard, the issue of game pacing arose. There's no point in slavishly designing variety into a game if it all feels the same to the player, despite the differences. The key to keeping a player on their toes is pacing the game experience. At its most basic level, pacing involves creating a feeling of climax at certain points of the game (after which the player will naturally feel relief).

The prime method introduced to vary the game pace was the boss. A game boss is any enemy that:

  • requires defeating for the player to progress
  • is significantly larger and more powerful in both offence and defence than the standard enemies
  • acts as punctuation in game flow, usually being featured at the end of a level, as a climax

Bosses are also usually used as a graphical showcase, to impress the player.
(Later game development introduced the 'sub-boss', smaller bosses used to mark half-level points, or similar pacing milestones).

In a game like Konami's Nemesis, the role of the bosses as pacing aids is fairly explicit, with the bosses for all but the final two levels being identical (and being preceded by a distinct 'challenge' section which also provided game variety). Later games were forced to employ more imagination in boss variety. Modern day bosses are usually thematic; lobster boss, avian boss, fire boss. Their use has branched beyond the standard shooter genre, and they are used as punctuation in practically any game genre. Bosses usually employ predictable attack patterns which, once understood by the player, render the boss more or less vulnerable.

The point of this article is to state that bosses have become overused. Bosses have got out of hand. Their use as pacing aids has been almost forgotten, and bosses are now included in games because convention demands it. It would seem that players require their fix of screen-high poly-filled spikey death. But bosses cause all sorts of problems to game structure.

The biggest flaw in the boss philosophy would seem to be that bosses haven't kept pace with the requirements of the game design. Back in the arcade days, bosses were extremely valuable to a game; players would pay to play because they wanted to see the bosses, but would have to work hard (and pay more) to beat a boss to get to the next level. Nowadays, games for home consoles are designed to give the player an entertaining play experience which ends in the completion of the game, rather than being cash-generation engines. Though bosses may be useful from pacing and 'gosh-wow' points of view, their other uses no longer apply. Battling through a difficult boss level is rarely satisfying; rather than creating a feeling of triumph, a long, torturous boss battle leaves players with a feeling of relief - that they don't have to do it again.

Especially difficult end of game bosses are even more troublesome, often preventing players from seeing the game end. Why? A player who has spent thirty hours on a game surely deserves the closure of ending and credits sequences. Difficult bosses that cannot easily be replayed (because they are featured after a five minute unskippable cut-scene, for instance) become even more frustrating. It's harder to see your sequel selling if the player has bad memories of the prequel's end.

A similar crime is that of placing the save points after bosses. Save points shouldn't be designed such as to create challenge for a game, they should be placed as an aid to the player (though I accept the usefulness of save points as a pacing aid and don't necessarily insist on 'save anywhere' technology for the majority of games). There is nothing more irritating than playing an entertaining level of a game only to be quickly destroyed by a boss, and have to play the entire section again.

A special mention should be made of bosses with long, repetitive attack patterns which are nevertheless easy to avoid. After five minutes of concentration, players are likely to make a slip here or there, and if a boss battle takes fifteen minutes and ends in the careless death of the player, don't expect them to come back to your game.

Are bosses necessary? It's a fact that players expect them, but at one point players expected a high score table. Score mechanisms have evolved to keep pace with narrative-based progressive game styles, and so should pacing techniques. Bosses may still have a valid place in video games, and no technique should be fully ignored. But if video games are to make the most of the potential as story-telling devices, or even to capture a truly mass-market, games have to work with the player, not against. Challenge is a good thing, but pointless challenge less so. Players should only be restricted in interesting ways. Too many bosses simulate the real life experience of knocking through a wall with one's head. This is not fun.

It should be noted that many major game developers are already changing they way they use bosses. Super Mario 64 (NCL, N64) decentralised its boss structure in a manner that worked well, changing the emphasis from 'completing the level' to 'completing the task'. Many newer games decrease the difficulty of their bosses, using them more as plot points than game obstacles. Dino Crisis and Resident Evil 3 (both Capcom) explored the narrative based boss, using the boss to heighten tension, but always supplying enough firepower options for the boss to be defeated when necessary (by introducing ally characters, or allowing the player to solve a bonus puzzle to obtain superior ordnance). The feeling is that bosses need to change at the very least, and may change form so much that they become unrecognisable. I would applaud this move.

Do we need alternative pacing mechanisms? Several already exist. Metroid (NCL, NES) introduced the last minute 'race against time' climax, which also worked well for the original Descent (Interplay, PC, PSX, Sat). Games like Driver (Reflections, PSX, PC) eschew standard bosses in favour of missions of heightened difficulty at chapter's end. The original Resident Evil allowed the player to weaken a boss by solving an optional puzzle, a technique which might be extended to giving the player an option of whether to fight a boss or perform some alternative task instead. Of course, these techniques can fall prey to the same pitfalls as boss design itself. The solution may lie in plot and character based climaxes as opposed to challenge based pacing structures. Narrative based games are becoming very popular amongst players and developers, and the inclusion of a story automatically allows for previously unexplored pacing mechanisms to be used.

An interesting point concerning boss design is that the climax method of pacing works far less well within a non-linear game structure. The industry seems divided upon the usefulness of non-linear storytelling techniques in narrative based games, but it seems inevitable that someone will push forward and create a truly non-linear game at some point in the future. This style of game structure will require a far finer sense of pacing than a classic shooter did in its day, and it is likely that the boss will have no place within this style of game, in his current form. It is even possible that the convention of the boss is one of the factors retarding the willingness of the industry to explore non-linear narrative. If so, it is another fine reason to ban the boss.

There will always be room in the video games world for classic arcade style gameplay, and bosses will always have a place in the hearts of long time gamers. But as narrative gameplay becomes more popular, it seems that pacing must serve game progress, rather than restrict it. The goal of the game designer has moved away from creating 'one more go' titles, to that of creating 'just a little bit longer' style games. Good pacing will keep a player hooked, and will allow for the further development of narrative style games. If the boss has to finally die for good for this to occur, then so be it.

Richard Boon
Design-integrated Scriptwriter
International Hobo Ltd

Golden Rules of Interface Design

First published in Develop, issue 11 (October 2001)

Every game requires an interface, and although a lot of thought often goes into the design of the main game controls, many overlook the rest of the interface. This article briefly discusses five Golden Rules for basic interface design:

Rule 1: Be Consistent

It sounds obvious but all too many games don't check that their controls maintain their functionality across all contexts, and the result can be a major irritation for players.

Most importantly, ensure that all menus and windows are operated using essentially the same controls. Choose how the players accept a menu option, and how they go back up a menu level, and stick to this convention rigidly.

Rule 2: Minimize Action Depth

The depth of a particular action can be defined as the number of sub-actions required to execute that action. For example, opening a menu by pressing start is at depth 1, quitting a game from the main menu is at depth of 2 (open the main game menu plus select quit).

In general, every action should be at the lowest depth achievable and all common actions should be within a depth of 3 or less. Minimising action depth makes the interface easy to learn and fast to navigate, and will minimize player frustration.

Consider Turok 2's radial weapon select, which is always around depth 1 versus Goldeneye's linear sequence of weapons, where depth increases as you acquire more weapons.

Sidebar: Measuring Action Depth

Any number of systems can be defined for measuring action depth, and your choices of how to do this can affect how you think about the interface design. If we consider selecting to be half an action, and pressing a button or key to be another half action, it is apparent that using a single key to close a window as a shortcut will generally half the depth of exiting the menus when you have finished, for example.

If you add depth for loading times you are more likely to spot the need to include a restart option on the game over screen, so the player doesn't have to reload to play the level again.

Rule 3: Allow Skipping of Non-interactive Sequences

You may want the player to see your expensively rendered cut scene, but they may not care - or they may have seen it a hundred times before, especially if its between a save point and a tough boss. Provide a method to skip cut scenes, but don't use a control the player might hit by accident.

Rule 4: Provide Options - Save Options

Options allow the player to tailor the interface to their own needs. Despite the name, they are not optional to the game design and are a vital part of the interface. Try to allow the player to customise everything that will not affect the core game play.

If the controls can be customised, remember to transfer secondary actions. Black and White, for example, allows you to redefine the control for the move operation (normally on left mouse button) but if you do you lose the double left click function which allows you to jump to a particular location directly.

Also - make sure you save all the options. The player doesn't want to reconfigure every time they start playing the game.

Rule 5: Document It!

Even though most players don't read the manual, they will turn to it if they have a problem, or want to find out if such-and-such a thing is possible. Good documentation will save your players much frustration.

Next month: Golden rules for mainstream interface design.


Golden Rules of Interface Design (Part 2):
Interfaces for a Mainstream Audience

First published in Develop, issue 12 (November-December 2001)

Last month we looked at some basic Golden Rules. This month, we're looking at Golden Rules when designing interfaces for a mainstream audience:

Rule 1: Draw From the Familiar

Don't reinvent the wheel. If there is an interface style already in use that people know about, use that as your starting point. For example, the standard WIMP environment is fine for PC sim games. If you replace it with something else, it had better be easy to learn and offer significant advantages.

The same rule applies to icon design. There are many internationally recognisable symbols you can use to improve the player's immediate comprehension of your interface.

Rule 2: Icons for Speed, Text For Clarity

Icons are great for immediate recognition - provided the player knows what it means. Mainstream players don't generally have the patience of hardcore players so make sure that you provide a text description for all your icons (either as a tooltip, or in a help line somewhere on screen).

The front end for SSX is a good example of using both text and icons to produce a pleasing interface, which is simple to use.

Rule 3: Avoid Overloading Controls

Although it is good to keep the controls down to a minimum, don't be tempted to overload a control. That is, make sure each control has only one meaning. In Jet Set Radio, the interface is beautifully designed except for the overloading of the left trigger, which is used for both camera control and spraying graffiti. This means that you cannot move the camera when you are close to a graffiti tag, which can frustrate many players.

Rule 4: Shortcuts for Advanced Users Only

In PC games, avoid requiring the keyboard for the main interface (with the possible exception of the cursor keys and the space bar). There should generally be some way (no matter how contrived) to achieve an action from the mouse alone. That doesn't mean you shouldn't include keyboard shortcuts as the advanced user will certainly want them, but few mainstream players want to memorize a list of keys before they can play.

On consoles, consider providing an advanced control mechanism that allows the player to achieve certain actions more quickly, such as Goldeneye's ability to trigger mines by hitting the A and B buttons simultaneously. Just make sure that these options are properly documented.

Sidebar: Remembering Shortcuts

A problem with keyboard shortcuts in PC games is that the only sensible key for an action is the letter it begins with - and certain keys go quickly. If you have any action that begins with 'P' you immediately have a problem as this is almost certainly going to be your pause key.

Don't go for some contrived solution such as using the second letters, as this won't help the player at all. Try arranging them in sensible spatial clusters on the keyboard, or renaming the game action so that it can begin with another letter.

Ideally, allow the player to define or redefine their own shortcuts for all the main game actions.

Rule 5: Structure the Learning Curve

Mainstream players can get swamped if you give them all the controls from the start. Introduce the player gradually to everything they can use, ideally within the main game play, but if that's not possible make sure the player is encouraged to play the tutorial before they start play. If your tutorial is as interactive as possible - and the player can skip it or accelerate it - you shouldn't have any problems.


ihobo Critical FAQ on 'Sega Bass Fishing' (Dreamcast)

Do not read beyond this point unless you are already an experienced Sega Bass Fishing player, or you have essentially no self-control. The information up to and including Question 56 of this CFAQ may be considered Spoilers.

Back to Non-Spoilers

41. What's the biggest bass you can catch?
42. Where are the best hotspots on Lake Paradise?
43. What's a tetrapod?
44. Do the sluices being raised in the Inlet affect fishing?
45. Where are the best hotspots on Lake Crystaldew?
46. How do I catch fish at noon in the Original mode?
47. Which are the best basic lures?
48. What are the best ways to use the basic lures?
49. Which are the best special lures?
50. What are the best ways to use the special lures?
51. What's a good weight of fish to catch in a day at Lake Paradise?
52. What's a good weight of fish to catch in a day at Lake Crystaldew?
53. How do I complete Arcade Mode on one credit?
54. What do I have to do to win each tournament?
55. Is there an easy way to win all the tournaments?
56. Are there any secrets in Sega Bass Fishing?

End of Spoilers


41. What's the biggest bass you can catch?

Generally speaking, the largest bass you can catch is around 21-22 lbs.

Although we can't prove it, rumours of a 23 lb. bass being caught by the ihobo team have circulated, but the tricky save problems mean we can't prove or deny this at this time.

The largest verified bass we've seen has been exactly 22 lbs.


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42. Where are the best hotspots on Lake Paradise?

The following are the best hotspots the ihobo team has found on Lake Paradise (in Arcade and Original mode), along with the best conditions and lures to use:

  • Cape

    The are several hotspots at the cape, chiefly:

    1. Either side of the pylon-structure to the left of the area.
      Lures: grub, deep crank
    2. Just right of the above are some trees in the water, which are also good for fish.
      Lures: grub, deep crank, popper
    3. The shallow, shaded areas under the tree to the left, and under the tree to the right of the area, are good when the weather is bright.
      Lures: suspend minnow, popper, deep crank
    4. The shaded area directly in front of where you start can be really good, and it's often worth a cast. If it comes back dry, go elsewhere.
      Lures: suspend minnow, deep crank, popper

    Bass Composition: Good-sized fish, with a few Huge fish
    Time of Day: Morning or evening are best, although noon fishing can yield results.
    Weather: Good in most conditions, especially cloudy or raining

  • Lodge

    There are a few hotspots at the Lodge, chiefly:

    1. Just fractionally right of where you start is a great spot. In the dead centre of the wooden pontoon area, just to the right of the central support pillar, there is a large pile of logs on the bottom. Pull a deep crank through here to attract the attention of every fish nearby, or use a suspend minnow to target a specific fish.
      Lures: deep crank, suspend minnow
    2. Along the side of either pontoon in the centre (to the right and left of where you start). Big fish like to shelter under the pontoons.
      Lures: deep crank, popper
    3. The third wooden lodge support from the left can be fruitful (at the point where the nearest wall ends), but if there isn't a big fish when you cast the first time, look elsewhere. Reeling in will bring you over some concrete blocks on the bottom of the lake, which are good when a hard lure is pulled across it, but a suspend minnow can also be effective.
      Lures: deep crank, suspend minnow

    Bass Composition: Mostly small and medium fish, with pockets of Huge fish
    Time of Day: Unlike other locations, noon can be reasonably effective at the lodge, especially if the weather is inclement - but prepare for a love-hate relationship with the Lodge at noon. Morning and evening are the best times, as ever.
    Weather: Good when cloudy or raining, but acceptable in fine weather.

  • Palace

    In the Arcade mode, the fish here are the largest found in the game. However, this is not the case in Original mode: there can be good-sized fish, but they are usually few and far between. Beware the time it takes to move from one side of the Palace to the other - you must know where you are going and go straight there.

    1. Go to the right, until you see part of a collapsed wall sticking up out of the water, creating a slightly shaded underwater hollow (there is a treasure chest in the water here). Cast as close to the middle of the interior of this corner wall as you can. Dragging lures can be pulled across the treasure chest where fish will snap them up.
      Lures: suspend minnow, straight worm
    2. If this area comes up short, go further to the right until you reach the bridge. Cast anywhere under the first arch of the bridge, and you will find a trench of deep water that is sometimes home to big or huge bass. You will need lures that go deep to catch them, though, although a surface lure has a chance of attracting attention.
      Lures: deep crank, vibration
    3. Just to the left of the area described in (a) above can also yield results, although it can be tricky to land fish here, not least of all because a bug in the bass AI sometimes causes them to get stuck in the wall, in which case they cannot easily be caught.
      Lures: suspend minnow, deep crank

    Bass Composition (Arcade): Many fish, all huge
    Bass Composition (Original): Often empty, but occasionally single or small groups of huge fish.
    Time of Day: Morning or evening only
    Weather: Cloudy or raining is essential

  • Inlet

    There is usually only one huge fish in the inlet in Arcade mode, but in Original there may be several, especially if it is not too bright:

    1. Any of the rows of tetrapods (concrete blocks with four prongs - they look a little like jacks) either side of the sluices are great places to find big fish, lurking amidst the tetrapods themselves. They are marked on the surface by buoys.
      Lures: vibration, deep crank, anything that sinks
    2. If all else fails, to the far left (by the pipe outlet) or the far right (by the boat) occasionally has a big bass.
      Lures: suspend minnow, deep crank

    Bass Composition: Predominantly medium sized fish, with some huge fish
    Time of Day: Morning and evening are the best times by far.
    Weather: Okay when cloudy or raining, but reasonably poor when it's fine

ihobo comments: the Lake Paradise locations are well balanced, and every location has a role, even if some are better than others. This level of balance was essential for the arcade, but fits well into an Original session.

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43. What's a tetrapod?

Tetrapods are concrete blocks made of four prongs that meet in the centre. They are an essential sea defence, helping to prevent coastal erosion. They can be found in the game at the Inlet, either side of the huge sluices.


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44. Do the sluices being raised in the Inlet affect fishing?

Not especially.


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45. Where are the best hotspots on Lake Crystaldew?

The following are the best hotspots the ihobo team has found on Lake Crystaldew (in Original mode), along with the best conditions and lures to use:

  • Falls

    Once you can fish at the Falls, you will only need to go to other areas at noon or if it is fine. There is only one hotspot:

    1. To the far right (near where the deer is). In the hollow to the right there is a tree sticking up in roughly the centre. Cast here. It will be a long cast, taking a lot of time to land a fish, but under the right conditions this is categorically the best hotspot in the entire game. You will see more huge fish than you've ever seen at this point, and if you don't see dozens, immediately leave - it takes so long to reel in at the Falls that if there aren't droves of monster bass you should definitely go elsewhere. You have enough time to catch about 4 fish per session, giving you one hour game time to catch each.
      Lures: buzz bait, popper, deep crank, vibration

    Bass Composition: Hordes of monster fish, or none at all
    Time of Day: Morning and evening are the only times worth coming, unless it's cloudy, in which case you have a chance at noon.
    Weather: Only worth coming when it's cloudy or raining - if it's fine there'll be nothing for you here.

  • Reeds

    Most anglers fall in love with the reeds in the morning or evening:

    1. To the right of where you start is a bridge between the two reed beds. In the shallows in front of this bridge is grand central for average sized bass - drop the popper in and watch them fight it out! It's a short cast, and you can land fish in no time at all - easily 30 lbs. of fish in a good session. If you don't have the popper, the pencil bait or deep crank will do fine.
      Lures: popper, buzz bait
    2. The place where you start (to the left of the bridge, where there are sticks coming out of the water) is a good place to fish if pickings are poor.
      Lures: grub, popper, suspend minnow (if there's a big one amongst small fish)
    3. There are small clumps of reeds in the open water either side of where you start - the one listed in (b) and another one on the other side of the bridge to the right. If you are desperate, you can pull a rubber jig through these reeds for results.
      Lures: rubber jig

    Bass Composition: Hordes and hordes of small and medium fish, with the occasional huge fish
    Time of Day: Fish are here all day, but they are here in hordes in the morning and evening
    Weather: The weather is less important than the time of day, although fine is still worse than cloudy or raining.

  • Cave or Bridge

    Abandon hope all ye who enter here...

    If you are forced to fish at the Cave or the Bridge, you should be resigned to slim pickings, and a long, long reeling time. There are no hotspots, but there are a couple of tepid spots (to the left and right of the bridge support to the far left on the Bridge; left of the deep trench in front of the cave entrance in the Cave area, for example). Scout with the rubber jig in either location, because everything else takes far too long to sink to the bottom. Vibration and deep crank are good choices for the Cave, the Bridge is almost a total waste of your valuable fishing time.

    If you know of any great hotspots at the Cave or the Bridge, please email us at research@ihobo.com.

    Bass Composition: Fish are hard to find, and rarely huge
    Time of Day: Makes little difference, although there may be more fish at the bridge if it is fine
    Weather: Makes little difference, although there may be more fish at the bridge in fine weather

ihobo comments: it is a shame that the balance on Lake Crystaldew is so heavily biased towards the Reeds and especially the Falls (once you have mastered the hotspot at the Falls, you will rapidly lose interest in fishing anywhere else).

It is difficult to know if the breakdown in game balance could have been repaired at the design level without seeing the original design documents, but ideally the Bridge and the Cave should have been places where large fish could be pulled out of the deep water with some confidence. As it stands, even if you do land a fish at these locations, they are rarely large enough to justify the time it took to land them.


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46. How do I catch fish at noon in the Original mode?

Noon is always a tough time to fish, but you can sometimes improve your chances with the alternative colours. In particular, the shrimp colouration for the deep crank is dramatically more effective at noon. The spinner bait's yellow colours may also prove effective, if the spinner bait is a lure you can already use with some success.


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47. Which are the best basic lures?

Generally speaking, the deep crank is by far the best of the basic lures, with the vibration and the floating minnow (at least until the suspend minnow has been acquired) coming in a close second.

Although not fantastic all-round lures, the spinner bait and the pencil bait have their uses.

You should still experiment with all the lures yourself, as you may find some are better suited to your style than others. If you disagree with our assessments in the next section, we would love to hear from you at research@ihobo.com.


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48. What are the best ways to use the basic lures?


  • Shallow Crank
    (basic colours: green, alternative colours: purple-yellow)

    The shallow crank is an okay lure, but restricted to shallow waters. Generally speaking, the deep crank will do everything the shallow crank will, only better, and unless you have developed a personal preference for this lure, we would not advice using it at all.

    Difficulty: Easy
    Usefulness: Poor
    Buoyancy: This floats unless you reel, so you have to reel quite a lot to keep it below the surface. Bass don't like this lure when it's on the surface.
    Alternative colours: the purple-yellow okay, and may get better results than the green shallow crank. However, the big fish do not like the purple-yellow colours, and selecting this colour scheme will therefore not catch you anything worth catching.
    Superior version: the deep crank is generally a superior version of the shallow crank, and it is available in your starting tackle.

  • Spinner Bait
    (basic colours: white & green, alternative colours: all yellow)

    Although many anglers find the spinner bait ineffective for catching anything but tiddlers, some seem to click well with its style, and it can be effective. Reeling and stopping is generally better than reeling constantly, especially if you can hit obstacles. Reel slowly, so it doesn't come in too fast, but don't let it drag along the bottom.

    Difficulty: Easy
    Usefulness: Average
    Buoyancy: this lure sinks naturally, which makes it quite good for medium depth fishing.
    Alternative colours: the yellow colouration seems more effective at noon than the default colours.
    Superior version: although the buzz bait looks very similar to the spinner bait, the best action for the buzz bait is markedly different. However, once you have earned a buzz bait, you probably can abandon the spinner bait entirely, unless it is a personal favourite.

  • Pencil Bait
    (basic colours: green & yellow, alternative colours: red-yellow-green)

    The pencil bait can be a useful lure, but it is vastly overshadowed by its superior version, the popper. The pencil bait's biggest advantage is that it is a surface bait, which means used properly you can attract fish without having to seek them out underwater. The best action is to reel gently - just enough to keep the tension - and to twitch in all directions, but primarily left and right. With practice, you can get bass to follow this bait, which allows you to have less line out when you get the hit. This is advantageous near the end of an allotted time period, or any time that there are vast numbers of bass congregating in the same area.

    Difficulty: Average
    Usefulness: Average
    Buoyancy: this lure floats and nothing you do will get it away from the surface.
    Alternative colours: the alternative colours don't seem to significantly affect the performance of this bait.
    Superior version: as soon as you have the popper, you can abandon using the pencil bait all together.

  • Vibration
    (basic colours: red, alternative colours: purple)

    This is an excellent lure, but it can be difficult to learn to use it properly. As you reel, the lure vibrates making a noise that can draw in fish from some distance away. However, the big fish are lazy and unlikely to travel to far, so you have to be in the right ballpark to catch huge bass with the vibration lure. The trick to using it is that its depth in the water is determined by how fast you reel. You need to match the depth of the lure with the depth of the bass you wish to land for the best results. This lure is especially good amongst the tetrapods in the Inlet.

    Difficulty: Tricky
    Usefulness: Good
    Buoyancy: this lure sinks naturally, and is a good choice for medium depth fishing.
    Alternative colours: the alternative colours seem worse than the regular colours - especially in the evening.
    Superior version: none.

  • Floating Minnow
    (basic colours: brown, alternative colours: neon purple-green)

    Although hard to master, the minnow lures are effective, and offer the best ability among all the lures for singling out a specific bass to land. You do not have to reel the floating minnow constantly, but you do have to reel enough to keep it underwater. Inserting brief periods of slack (so it rises gently) can be highly effective, especially with a gentle twitching. Fish generally do not want the fish to look like it has epilepsy, but respond well to a gentle twitching with the occasional spasm.

    Difficulty: Hard
    Usefulness: Good
    Buoyancy: this lure floats naturally, but must be kept off the surface. Reel heavily at the start of the cast to get it underwater, or pull the rod up (analogue stick down) to pull it deeper, but in this latter case you will have to reel in to take up the slack.
    Alternative colours: the neon colours are good in the morning and evening and all but useless at noon.
    Superior version: the suspend minnow is vastly superior to the floating minnow, and should be used in place of it once it is acquired.

  • Deep Crank
    (basic colours: brown & white, alternative colours: shrimp - pink head, white body)

    Everyone should learn to use the deep crank - this lure is easy to use and can land all sizes of fish, in all depths of water. Most anglers rapidly single out the deep crank as a favourite. However, be careful not to become over reliant on the deep crank, as other lures offer superior performance in many situations. The key to using it is to reel rapidly at the start in order to get the depth, and then cease reeling, leaving the lure to float up a little. This is effective in the middle water, or on the bottom where the spoon part of the lure rakes up sand, often attracting fish. If you are near a fish you want to catch, you can cease reeling and twitch the rod a little, to have it move on the spot, attracting attention. Don't do this too often without reeling in, however, or you will lose the tension. Bass go wild for this lure when it skates across piles of sticks or other similar debris at the bottom of the lake. If you're not sure of the rhythm, reel for one beat, then rest for just over one beat, then adjust this pattern until you can maintain the depth of the deep crank easily. Persevere. It will be worth it.

    Difficulty: Easy
    Usefulness: Excellent
    Buoyancy: this lure floats naturally, and must be reeled to keep it underwater. You want to be deep with this lure, as it is almost useless at the surface.
    Alternative colours: the alternative colours for the deep crank make it resemble a shrimp - this colour scheme is superb for noon fishing, and should almost always be used at noon. If it is still dark at the start of the noon session, the regular colours may be more effective, but by 1200 noon the shrimp colours are usually more effective.
    Superior version: the sonic lure is a superior version of the deep crank, and should be used in place of the other cranks as soon as it is acquired.


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49. Which are the best special lures?

Buzz bait, grub, suspend minnow, popper and sonic lure are all excellent lures in the right circumstances.

The rubber jig, because it sinks faster than any other lure, is a great 'probe', and has its uses, even if it isn't a great lure in terms of catching fish.

You should still experiment with all the special lures yourself, as you may find some are better suited to your style than others, or that we have not uncovered a great trick for a particular lure. If you have anything to add, we would love to hear from you.


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50. What are the best ways to use the special lures?


  • Paddle Tail
    (basic colours: grey, alternative colours: light green, purple, dark green)

    This lure works best if you can slap it against a hard surface, such as rock. It is mostly ineffective in attracting the attention of fish on softer surfaces, and to make matters worth its a drag lure, so fish have difficulty biting it. You can twitch the rod when a fish is near to pull it off the bottom, or just hope that something grabs it when it goes over an obstacle.

    Difficulty: Hard
    Usefulness: Poor
    Buoyancy: this lure sinks at a moderate speed.
    Alternative colours: no better performance has been achieved with the alternative colours.

  • Buzz Bait
    (basic colours: white & yellow, alternative colours: grey/black)

    You can be forgiven for thinking that the buzz bait is not a useful bait. In order to produce the expected splashing, you must lure very fast, and only small fish can be bothered to keep up with it. In addition, it requires a relatively long cast to have enough room to manoeuvre, and it is only truly effective in shallow water. However, you may discover that buzz bait is a bit of a sleeper; once you've mastered one simple trick it transforms itself into one of the best baits in the game, and a bait that catches huge fish with amazing reliability.

    The key to the buzz bait is to create the desired 'buzzing' splashes by reeling rapidly, but then pausing and letting the lure sink, repeating these two steps as necessary. (This action is almost the direct opposite to deep crank action, which floats when you don't reel, causing the buzz bait to earn the nickname of "anti-crank"). The splashing attracts the attention of fish, and the resting period gives them a chance to bite.

    Best of all, fish of all sizes will happily follow the buzz bait, allowing you to get closer to the boat before getting a bite. The buzz bait can also be used under water, by letting it sink, and twitching gently as it descends. Persevere with the buzz bait - it's worth it, especially at the Falls.

    Difficulty: Hard
    Usefulness: Excellent
    Buoyancy: this lure sinks gently, but can be kept on the surface by reeling.
    Alternative colours: the black buzz bait has shown to be effective in the Reeds.

  • Grub
    (basic colours: black & gold, alternative colours: light green, light grey, dark green)

    The grub is a wonderful, if specialised lure. The time to use the grub is near vertical surfaces - trees, pylons, reeds - anything that a grub could realistically fall out of. At the Cape, the grub is one of the best lures to use, and this lure only avoids the ihobo 'Excellent' rating for Usefulness on account of its somewhat specialist nature. It is good at the Bridge, Lodge and the Reeds, as well as the aforementioned Cape.

    Difficulty: Average
    Usefulness: Good
    Buoyancy: this lure sinks steadily, but is most useful if it is not on the bottom. You can reel periodically as it drops to keep it from falling to the bottom of the lake.
    Alternative colours: all of the colour schemes can be good, but it is often hard to tell when to use them. The light grey colours have been especially good at the Cape in the evening, or when it's cloudy

  • Suspend Minnow
    (basic colours: light grey, alternative colours: blue)

    This is essentially a super-minnow, and once you have the suspend minnow, your floating minnow should be banished to the tackle box. Its usage follows exactly the same guidelines as the floating minnow, except for one thing: when you don't reel, the floating minnow just sits where it is. This allows you to position the lure near the fish you want and take your time about courting it. Best of all, if a fish you don't want takes an interest, you can just let it sit until they run away, and the floating minnow will just hold its position. There doesn't seem to be an upper limit to the size of fish you can catch with a floating minnow, making it one of the best lures to master, especially if you favour precision fishing.

    Difficulty: Hard
    Usefulness: Excellent
    Buoyancy: this has neutral buoyancy, and holds its position in the water even when you don't reel.
    Alternative colours: okay in the morning, but utterly useless at noon, and not much use in the evening.

  • Rubber Jig
    (basic colours: black & red, alternative colours: white, black)

    This lure is far too specialised to be used effectively - fish only go for it in earnest when you drag it through a patch of reeds, and there are too few of these (even in the Reeds area) to make its usage worthwhile. However, it will catch fish of all sizes, and is worth learning to use for one simple reason. The rubber jig sinks faster than any other lure in the game, making it the perfect 'scout lure' to drop into a deep hole and explore. In Original mode (where you have more time) this is worth doing even if you can't catch a damn thing with the jig, but if you can learn to land fish with it, you may find launching a 'jig probe' is the first thing you do at the Cave or Bridge.

    Difficulty: Hard
    Usefulness: Average at catching fish, but excellent as a probe
    Buoyancy: the jig sinks like a stone - you will struggle to keep it off the bottom, making it hard for fish to bite it. Use obstacles or tugs of the line to keep it free floating, if you can.
    Alternative colours: the alternative colour schemes do not seem to make the jig any more useful.

  • Popper
    (basic colours: grey, alternative colours: fluorescent blues)

    Hail to the popper, the king of speed fishing. When you don't care what you catch, but you'd like to catch a lot of fish quickly, the popper is the lure for you. Reel just enough to keep the tension and push the stick randomly left and right to make a plop sound that attracts fish from all directions. You can also make it pop without reeling, but the tension will drop if you do it for too long, leaving it static in the water. With a little practice, anyone can use the popper, and the fish just jump on it, especially at the Reeds in the morning or evening. Fast and effective, the popper replaces the weedy pencil bait which you can happily toss overboard once you have the popper. Its main disadvantage is that it lands everything indiscriminately, which means if there are a lot of small fish and only a few big ones, you will mostly land small fry. It is also not very effective at noon, since the fish are usually reluctant to come to the surface.

    Difficulty: Average
    Usefulness: Excellent
    Buoyancy: the popper floats at the surface.
    Alternative colours: the alternative colour seems fine, and may actually be an improvement in the rain.

  • Straight Worm
    (basic colours: light green, alternative colours: light grey, dark green, dark grey)

    Used as a drag, the straight worm suffers from the same problem all drag lures have: bass struggle to pick it up off the bottom. However, you can use it in a similar way to the grub with some success. Generally, however, the straight worm is not a tremendously useful lure. It scores over the paddle tail by virtue of being easier to use, as it will work in all circumstances. If you can cast it across an obstacle, fish will leap on the straight worm, making it a fair lure, if not a great one. This lure can catch fish of all sizes, but it can often be a struggle.

    Difficulty: Tricky
    Usefulness: Average
    Buoyancy: sinks slowly
    Alternative colours: the alternative colours do not seem to greatly affect performance.

  • Sonic Lure
    (basic colours: blue hedgehog with red boots)

    This is identical to the deep crank - except the fish love it even more! The action and behaviour is exactly the same, except it looks cuter in the water. This lure is awarded for winning every stage of the Professional tournament in Original mode.

    Difficulty: Easy
    Usefulness: Excellent - even better than the deep crank
    Buoyancy: floats when not being reeled in
    Alternative colours: none.

ihobo comments: it is unfortunate that the fish struggle to pick lures from the lake bottom, and appears to be a slight bug in the game. However, International Hobo does not believe this problem could have been identified at the design level.


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51. What's a good weight of fish to catch in a day at Lake Paradise?

More than 75-80 lbs. is a good target. Anything over 100 lbs. in one day is a good effort.


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52. What's a good weight of fish to catch in a day at Lake Crystaldew?

Once the Falls area is available, if you catch less than 100 lbs. in one day you need more practice at the Falls. Totals in excess of 200 lbs. in one day are not unheard of, and no one else in the tournament will have a chance of catching you once you've mastered the Falls.


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53. How do I complete Arcade Mode on one credit?

Use your first minute to catch as many fish as you can, in order to get at least one special lure. Use your second minute to find a big fish (by watching the shadows), and hopefully to land it.

For the second and third stage, just go straight for a big fish - you don't have time to waste. It is therefore worth starting on whichever level you find it hardest to catch big fish at. A popular choice is to start at the Cape (which has plenty of good-sized fish, but fewer huge fish) and hence finish at the Lodge (which usually has a huge fish in the centre area).

At the Palace, fish with a deep crank, suspend minnow or buzz bait at the usual hotspots (see above) in order to catch a monster fish and win the game.


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54. What do I have to do to win each tournament?

In the Amateur tournament you will need to catch about 70-80 lbs. of fish to win each stage. There are five stages in all, starting on Lake Paradise, and then alternating with Lake Crystaldew from then on. Any weight between 60 and 70 lbs. is likely to score you points, and anything above 90 lbs. is a guaranteed win. Your opposition will catch about 15 fish a day, and the fish will weigh between 4 and 5 lbs. You only need to be in the top ten to get the next tournament passport, which will require roughly 12 points; over 100 points are required to come first.

In the Challenge tournament you will need to catch about 70-80 lbs. of fish to win each stage. There are two stages in all, starting with Lake Crystaldew. Fish under 3 lbs. are ignored. The opposition will catch about 15 fish a day, and the fish will weight between 5-6 lbs. , so you will usually need 75-80 lbs. to win each stage here, exactly as it was in the Amateur tournament. You need to be in the top five players to get the next tournament passport, which will require roughly 25 points; over 50 points are generally required to come first.

ihobo comments: the weights of fish caught by the other contestants do not match the availability of fish in each of the lakes and strongly suggest a simplistic linear function was used to generate the numbers.

International Hobo has designers who can create non-linear functions for any occasion, and in this case we would have recommended a cap-tailed bell curve function, with a scalar variable to incorporate the angler's level of skill.

An example of a good function for the purpose is

Sx[(A x rnd)+(A x rnd)] + S^2 x [(M x rnd)+(M x rnd)]

where S is the skill of the angler (from 0.01 to 1.0), A is the average weight of fish in the lake and M is (maximum weight for a fish in the lake - average weight for fish in the lake)/2.

For example, with A = 3 and M = 10 (which would be approximately right for Lake Crystaldew):

An angler of skill 0.2 (extremely poor) will typically catch a fish of about 1 lbs., with a maximum size of 2 lbs.

With skill of 0.5 (average), an angler will typically catch fish of about 4 lbs., but can catch a fish up to 8 lbs.

With a skill of 0.75 (good), an angler will typically catch fish of about 8 lbs., but can catch a fish up to 16 lbs.

At skill 0.9 (excellent), an angler will land fish around 11 lbs., and can land up to 22 lbs. (which is roughly what the limit is in the game).

An angler of skill of 1.0 (outstanding) would be pulling in around 13 lbs. and could land monster bass up to 26 lbs.!

In all cases, there is no lower limit on the size of fish caught, although the more skilled anglers are unlikely to land small fish. This would allow a great range of variation.

The above function is only an example, however, since it does not take into account weather conditions or time of day on the fish caught. If the ihobo team had worked on this project, we would have tuned a function ideal to the purpose.

It is frustrating in the game as implemented that the computer anglers catch as many fish (and of the same size) apparently regardless of the weather conditions or time of day. This is particularly irritating at noon when you come back empty and they have caught the same weight of fish that they did in the morning.

In the Professional tournament you need to catch 5 bass of at least 3 lbs. in five stages. The best of the computer anglers will only catch fish up to about 7 or 8 pounds, so if you catch at least 40 lbs. worth in 5 fish, you will be guaranteed to win. Only the top three players advance, but by now the Falls should be available, making victory comparatively trivial.

In the Masters tournament you need to catch 7 bass of at least 4 lbs. in two stages. The best of the computer anglers will still only catch fish up to about 7 or 8 pounds. If you catch at least 56 pounds worth in 7 fish, you will be guaranteed to win.

There are no tournaments beyond Masters.

ihobo comments: the Professional and Masters tournaments are pathetically easy compared to the first two tournaments, especially with the Falls available. You can catch all the fish you need to win in the morning, and then have nothing to do for the rest of the day but sit in the boat and look for shapes in the clouds.

The problem stems partly from the poor computer angler functions, addressed above, and partly from the unbalancing effect of the Falls area on play. It should have been possible to spot this problem at the design stage.


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55. Is there an easy way to win all the tournaments?

Yes, although it's not very sporting and you will have to be at a reasonable skill level before you can achieve it. There are no super cheats that will allow you to skip having to learn to play the game, thankfully.

Firstly, don't accept failure. If you don't score points on a stage, reload and try the stage again. Always save when you win a stage.

Fish for a lot of medium sized fish first, in order to get as many special lures as possible. You want to focus on medium sized fish until you at least have either the popper or the buzz bait, and preferably both. The Cape is a great starting point.

When you are fishing on Lake Crystaldew, always fish at the Falls if at all possible. Before the Falls are available, use the Reeds in the morning and evening and then go and make a cup of coffee at noon.

When fishing on Lake Paradise, concentrate on the Cape in the morning and evening, and the Lodge at noon. After it is unlocked, venture into the Palace in cloudy weather if you are feeling lucky, but don't stick around if there's nothing to be found.

Once you have a significant point advantage, you can afford to relax on a stage or two, unless you are so driven that you feel the need to come first in each round, in which case expect to have to reload quite frequently on Lake Paradise. You will probably want to win all the stages of the Professional tournament so that you will have the Sonic Lure in the final tournament.

The Professional and Masters tournament are generally much easier than the earlier tournaments, provided you have the Falls to fish on. Even without the golden fishing ground, a good angler will be able to vastly outperform the computer anglers when only the biggest fish are counted, and if you are good enough to win either the Amateur or Challenge tournaments, you can almost certainly win the last two tournaments.


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56. Are there any secrets in Sega Bass Fishing?

There are a few secret features in the game:

Female Angler in Arcade
Press A and B together when selecting an area to fish in Arcade mode to play as the female angler.
Sonic Lure
This "super deep crank" is awarded for winning all the stages in the Professional Tournament in Original mode.
The Palace
To be able to fish at the Palace in both the Original and Practice modes, you need to win any tournament stage (Original mode) that takes place on Lake Paradise.
The Falls
To be able to fish at the Falls in both the Original and Practice modes, you need to win any tournament stage (Original mode) that takes place on Lake Crystaldew.

ihobo comments: it would have been nice if the ability to fish at midnight (as in the Palace stage at the end of arcade) was available in Practice mode as an unlockable feature. International Hobo usually recommends reuse of game material in as many ways as possible, including as secret features.

As far as the ihobo team can divine there are no cheats that make the game easier, although the tips in this Spoiler area will help you perform at your best.

Back to Non-Spoilers


ihobo Critical FAQ on 'Sega Bass Fishing' (Dreamcast)

 1. What's a CFAQ?
 2. What is ihobo's relation to Sega Bass Fishing?
 3. What is Sega Bass Fishing?
 4. Should I buy Sega Bass Fishing?
 5. What are Sega Bass Fishing's best points?
 6. What are Sega Bass Fishing's worst points?
 7. Which versions of Sega Bass Fishing does this CFAQ cover?
 8. What are the controls?
 9. How does the game time work?
10. Is the fishing controller worth buying?
11. Is the game worth playing without the fishing controller?
12. Will there be other games that use the fishing controller?
13. Is it true I can use the fishing controller to play non-fishing games?
14. What different play modes are there in the game?
15. Do the Options affect Original Mode?
16. How does Arcade Mode work?
17. How does Original Mode work?
18. How does Practice Mode work?
19. What information is in the diary?
20. Are there any differences between the male and female anglers?
21. How do I cast?
22. How do I use the lures?
23. How do I snap (hook) a fish?
24. Can I get rid of a fish I have hooked/snapped?
25. How do I land a fish?
26. What are the different classes of fish you can catch?
27. How can I tell the weight of a fish without having to land it?
28. How big does a fish need to be to snap the line?
29. Can I snag my line?
30. Can I catch anything apart from bass?
31. How close to the boat can I catch a fish?
32. How can I tell where to cast?
33. Does the weather matter?
34. Does the water temperature matter?
35. Does the time of day matter?
36. Does the colour of the lure matter?
37. Why are the fish not always there at my favourite hotspot?
38. How do I get a special lure?
39. What are the trophies in original mode?
40. Can I skip the credits?

Spoilers Start

Do not read from Questions 41 to 56 unless you are already an experienced Sega Bass Fishing player, or you have essentially no self-control. The information from Question 41 up to and including Question 56 of this CFAQ may be considered Spoilers, and are contained on a separate page.

41. What's the biggest bass you can catch?
42. Where are the best hotspots on Lake Paradise?
43. What's a tetrapod?
44. Do the sluices being raised in the Inlet affect fishing?
45. Where are the best hotspots on Lake Crystaldew?
46. How do I catch fish at noon in the Original mode?
47. Which are the best basic lures?
48. What are the best ways to use the basic lures?
49. Which are the best special lures?
50. What are the best ways to use the special lures?
51. What's a good weight of fish to catch in a day at Lake Paradise?
52. What's a good weight of fish to catch in a day at Lake Crystaldew?
53. How do I complete Arcade Mode on one credit?
54. What do I have to do to win each tournament?
55. Is there an easy way to win all the tournaments?
56. Are there any secrets in Sega Bass Fishing?

End of Spoilers

57. Where can I learn more about Sega Bass Fishing?
58. What about Sega Marine Fishing?


1. What's a CFAQ?

Check the Critical FAQ on ihobo CFAQs to find out more.

Because of the lack of existing documentation for this game, this CFAQ has been made as complete as possible, and as such may contain spoilers that may reduce your enjoyment of the game.

Spoilers are given in the second half of the article, on a different page.

At the end of this page can be found links to other sources of information on Sega Bass Fishing, as well as a brief section on Sega Marine Fishing.


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2. What is ihobo's relation to Sega Bass Fishing?

International Hobo was in no way involved in the design or implementation of Sega Bass Fishing. Our only connection to the game is that we have played it extensively, and used it with focus groups to explore what facets of game design turn people off a game, or hook them into it.

ihobo comment: The boxed comments in this CFAQ are provided as examples of the sort of feedback ihobo provide with a Design Overhaul. For legal reasons, we cannot discuss actual Design Overhauls or Emergency Design Overhauls that we have performed.

Although ihobo does not usually work on sport simulations, an unusual subject (such as fishing) can often entice us into biting. Also, since this was an arcade conversion, International Hobo would be more likely to get involved, since most of the research would already in place at the time of our involvement.

This Critical FAQ assumes for its comments that ihobo was brought in at the beginning of the console conversion, so that the arcade game would be available for play, and there would be the whole of the allotted conversion period to develop in.

If we were brought in later, when the majority of the menu structures were in place and the game had already taken a direction, many of the suggestions contained in this CFAQ would not apply, on account of lack of implementation time.


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3. What is Sega Bass Fishing?

Sega Bass Fishing is a freshwater fishing arcade-simulator for the Sega Dreamcast. As an arcade-simulation, the game plays fast and furiously, but it still captures many of the features of real bass fishing in a quasi-realistic fashion.

Originally an arcade game, Sega Bass Fishing has been converted to the Dreamcast faithfully. Additional features have been added to flesh out the compelling, but short, arcade mode.

ihobo comments: arcade conversions make up a significant proportion of the games released for consoles (along with PC conversions, cross-console conversions and original games), and whilst most offer faithful representations of the arcade version, many are lacking in features that take advantage of the new format. At ihobo, we believe the console version of an arcade game should add enough features that gamers are getting at least two games in one.

Sega Bass Fishing achieves this by adding a new lake - Lake Crystaldew - to the game. However, this lake is only used in the tournament-based Original Mode, and not in Arcade Mode. International Hobo would have recommended being able to play Arcade mode with both of the lakes - this would add very little to the workload, but create a whole new challenge for the player.


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4. Should I buy Sega Bass Fishing?

Almost certainly yes, but to be certain ihobo recommends playing the demo version of the game to see if you like it.

Play until you can complete the Lodge Area (the end of the demo) to give yourself a chance to get used to the game - at the end, you'll probably be hooked (if you'll excuse the pun) and will probably want to buy it the next opportunity you get. If the demo doesn't appeal, you almost certainly won't like the game.

The demo was distributed in the US on the demo disk that came with the Dreamcast, and is readily available.

In the UK, the demo was on the cover of certain magazines, and is consequently harder to come by. Renting from Blockbuster or another games rental shop is recommended before buying.

You may look at Sega Bass Fishing being played and decide it doesn't look very involving, but there is no substitute for playing it. Until you've landed a decent sized bass (4 lbs. or more), you won't have a feel for the game.

In focus groups, response to Sega Bass Fishing was phenomenally positive, and almost all players became addicted to the game in no time at all. For this reason, ihobo recommends buying the game even if you can't find the demo.

If you are wondering about whether or not to buy the fishing controller as well, see the appropriate questions later in this CFAQ. (Q10, Q11, Q12, Q13)


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5. What are Sega Bass Fishing's best points?

This game is tremendously addictive and enormous fun. The game environment is so involving, that it's hard not to get sucked into the game.

With most of the lures, after you cast you are treated to an underwater shot, and the camera follows the lure as you reel it back to the boat. Part of the key to the game's appeal is the beautiful underwater scenes, and the behaviour of the bass. They react intelligently to your actions to the point that experienced anglers can play duels of wits with monster bass, which can be highly satisfying.

The more you fish, the better you understand the way the lures and the environments work, and the bigger fish you catch. The learning curve is not too steep, and your satisfaction in playing will grow the more you play. When you finally catch a twenty pound bass, it will briefly feel as if your life is complete.


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6. What are Sega Bass Fishing's worst points?

Although a superb game, there are several major flaws, most of which could have been eliminated at the design level.

The load and save mechanism is the biggest flaw in the game. The best Dreamcast games have featured elegant load and save systems that carry the minimum risk of losing valuable data. Sega Bass Fishing has an inconsistently used save mechanism, that can easily result in lost data.

In particular, because you must manually load and save files, players who forget to load can be left facing a dilemma if they catch a huge fish in Arcade mode having forgotten to load. Do they save their victory and wipe out their old data, or cast aside their achievement and restore the old data? Neither is especially appealing.

ihobo comments: the main problem with the file management is the lack of autosave. ihobo would have recommended that the player selects a VMU to use for loading and saving at the start of the game, and that the game file in that VMU be loaded at the start of the game.

We could suggest that the game data be saved automatically after each game of Arcade (but before the closing credits) and every time the location is changed in Practice Mode (or when Practice Mode is exited).

For original mode, we would suggest supporting at least 4 characters (preferably 8), each identified by a name, as in the current Original Mode. When starting original mode, these files would be available to load, as well as options to delete files or start a new Original game.

The Original Mode data for that character would be saved automatically at the end of a tournament stage, provided the stage was completed (i.e. not if the game was quit).

This would not significantly add to the already large (50 block) save file, since only one set of data is ever kept for the diary in Original Mode, regardless of which player caught the fish. In order to limit the amount of data that needs to be saved for each Original game, the recommendation would be to record the minimum data set for each game. The only data required are the IDs of the anglers who scored points in the previous stages of the current tournament (this is a maximum of 4 x 7 = 28 bytes per character save file).

By instigating this file management system, there would be significantly less risk of the player losing important data, and it would require little more work than the currently implemented menu system.

The second problem with the game is the manual. The quality of game manuals is often poor, usually as a result of insufficient resources, and sometimes because it is intended for a published guide to substitute as a manual. At ihobo, we believe a manual should provide all the basic information required for a game, and a published guide should provide information about how to acquire secrets, and walkthroughs, maps and other reference materials to help gamers complete the game. They should complement each other.

Gamers should never be forced to buy a published guide to make up for the inadequacies of the manual.

ihobo comments: manuals are one of ihobo's specialities, and we offer manual services on any game for which we have worked on the design, or for which we have given a Design Overhaul. International Hobo prides itself on its manuals, which have won critical acclaim - something most manual copy writers cannot claim. All ihobo manuals are produced by someone with game design experience, someone with excellent language skills and a proof-reader.

Where available, ihobo will also provide manual copy in Spanish, French, German and Italian. (Translation services subject to availability).

Finally, the loading times for Sega Bass Fishing can be infuriatingly slow between stages. This is probably a result of the size of the graphics that need to be loaded for each location. Modern games use streaming techniques to load in graphics as you play, but since the complete set of models and texture maps must be loaded for each location from scratch, it would have been difficult to achieve this in the game.

ihobo comments: although the possibilities for streaming were limited, there was one option that may not have been considered. Since in Original Mode the first location on each lake is known in advance, the graphics for the first location can begin streaming the moment the Original Mode menu is displayed. However, as you will see later in this CFAQ, ihobo would have advised against making the player start in a specific location, thus invalidating the above recommendation.

Also, there may be specific reasons why streaming was not used in this game which are not apparent from reverse engineering.


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7. Which versions of Sega Bass Fishing does this CFAQ cover?

This CFAQ was developed using the US version of Sega Bass Fishing. We believe the information contained applies equally to the European versions of Sega Bass Fishing, with one exception in that the weights of fish caught is measured in grams not pounds and ounces.

Most of the information is also applicable to the original Japanese version, although there may be some significant differences.

Anyone with extensive experience of the Japanese version is encouraged to email us with their experiences.


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8. What are the controls?

Initially, you will start on the lure selection screen. Scroll through the lures and use A to select the lure, and Y to cancel. You can select a different lure by pressing Y any time before you cast.

When casting, the analogue stick controls the position of the casting cursor. The cast will always be to the edge of the lake area, so when you cast it will be short or long depending on the position of the cursor.

In Original Mode, you can press X before casting to select a new location (it does not take time to travel between the locations, although 3 or more seconds will be lost bringing up the menu option and selecting a new location).

Casting is achieved by pressing A (or by casting with a fishing controller).

When the lure is in the water, it can be reeled in by using the triggers (or by reeling with a fishing controller).

The lure's movement is controlled with the analogue stick, and by controlling the speed of reeling.

When a fish bites, pull down on the analogue stick to hook the fish (or you may make a snap with a fishing controller).

To land the fish, reel it in and use the analogue stick, ensuring that the line tension is not allowed to rise too high (in which case the line will break).

The subtleties of the control mechanism are described in detail throughout the CFAQ.


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9. How does the game time work?

In Arcade, you get 2 minutes for the first area, then 1 minute for each area after that. If you continue, you start again at 2 minutes.

In Original, you get 4 hours in three sessions per stage: a morning session (0600-1000), a noon session (1000-1400) and an evening session (1400-1800). Each minute of time on the clock represents a second of play time.

The play clock does not stop while you select a lure, or while you select a new location to move to (although no time is added to the clock for actually moving between areas).

ihobo comments: although the ihobo team agrees that time should stop when moving between areas, there are two areas in the game time that we believe could have been improved. Firstly, forcing the player to start at the Lodge or the Bridge is a disappointment: it would have been preferable to select the location prior to starting (as happens in the Arcade mode), as the implemented system costs at least 3 seconds to select a lure you won't use, and then select a new location.

The ihobo team would probably have recommended that in Original mode, the speed of the play clock be slower when selecting a lure or a new location (or that the play clock be paused when selecting a new lure or location). This would have allowed the player more time to think in Original mode, capturing more of the mood of a fishing tournament, and allowing the player more freedom to experiment with different lures. As it stands, players really need to know what lure they are going to select and go to it straight away, or too much valuable time is lost.


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10. Is the fishing controller worth buying?

If you like the game, the fishing controller is absolutely worth buying. Not only will your ability to fish be enhanced, but also your appreciation and enjoyment of the game will be greatly increased.

The fishing controller is designed to be similar in shape to the lower end of a fishing rod. Grasping the 'rod' in one hand, you can crank the reel at the right to wind in (the mechanism only winds in one direction). You have vastly greater control with this device than you do with the analogue triggers of a Dreamcast controller, and it becomes much easier to land fish of all sizes.

A built in vibration accessory provides valuable tactile feedback (although a vibration accessory in a controller is equally good), and skilled anglers can use this to judge their line tension without paying attention to the on-screen tension bar.

The other additional features with a fishing controller are cosmetic. You can cast with a casting movement (the action is all in the wrist - it does not require you to make elaborate movements, although you can if you wish), and snap the hook with the reverse motion. You can still perform both functions using the usual buttons or movements, if you wish, and generally speaking it is advisable to do so unless you are 100% on your casting and snapping motions.

Since the rod's left-right movement detection is difficult to control at best, you should use the built in analogue controller to do all rod movements, and hence to control the lure.

We believe once you've tried the fishing controller, you will never go back to regular controllers (at least for Sega Bass Fishing).

Parents should also note that playing with the fishing controller is a much better work out than playing most computer games.


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11. Is the game worth playing without the fishing controller?

If you like the game, you can still play it perfectly well with a regular controller. The trigger buttons are used to reel in at different speeds, which is an acceptable level of control, if not as sensitive as the fishing controller.

If you are going to play without the fishing controller, you must purchase a vibration accessory. The game feels flat without it.

However, if you really get into the game, the extra investment is worthwhile, and since the game has been out for some time now many shops are now packaging Sega Bass Fishing with a fishing controller. If you've already played and know you like it, it is probably worth buying the fishing controller, since it will enhance game play considerably, and these specially packaged sets are worth looking out for.

In summary, if you're going to buy the game, count on wanting to buy the fishing controller at some point.


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12. Will there be other games that use the fishing controller?

Yes, although at this time the only one we know of is Sega Marine Fishing. However, we believe that if you enjoy the game enough, the fishing controller would be worth buying even if there were no other games, so the news of another compatible game is welcome.


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13. Is it true I can use the fishing controller to play non-fishing games?

Yes! Some non-fishing games do support the fishing controller. In particular, Crazy Taxi can be hilarious when played with a fishing controller. Cast the line with the flicking movement to get a Crazy Boost, and reel the line for speed. This is particular amusing when the special taxi (the pedal bike) is being used as the player's frantic reeling matches the pedalling of their taxi driver.

Soul Calibur is also compatible with the fishing controller, and it can be waved around much like a sword; horizontal and vertical motions convert to the corresponding attacks. Although it is difficult to accurately control the characters, a frantic prolonged shaking of the rod can set off insanely convoluted combos. We were able to complete the basic game just by using the rod like a maraca (although our wrists hurt when we had finished).


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14. What different play modes are there in the game?

There are three play modes: Arcade (which is a faithful recreation of the arcade game), Original (which is a single-player tournament mode) and Practice (which has no objectives).

ihobo comments: ihobo would have recommended the following game modes:

Arcade Standard (on Lake Paradise)As included
Arcade Original (on Lake Crystaldew)Uses Arcade code but Original locations
Original (single player)Similar to included
Original (multi-player)Similar to included, but multi-player
PracticeAs included
ChallengeNew mode

Changes to Arcade and Original Mode are discussed in later sections; the Challenge Mode would be a series of fishing challenges to be completed. (Since we would recommend calling this 'Challenge Mode', we could recommend renaming the Challenge Tournament in Original Mode).

Our proposed Challenge Mode is suggested because as it stands it is possible for the player to complete all the game modes using only one or two lures and one or two fishing locations. Often this is not because this is the only way to play the game, but because once a player finds a location or a lure that works for them they are reluctant to experiment.

The Challenge Mode would be an invitation to experiment - indeed, it would force the player to learn to fish in each location, and with each lure. Each of the challenges would be made of the following components:

  1. Goal: either a target number of fish, a target weight of fish, a target weight of fish above a certain cut off or a target weight for a target number of fish (e.g. four fish with a total of 20 lbs. or one fish with a total of 15 lbs.).
  2. Tackle: for each challenge, only a certain selection of lures would be offered - and sometimes only in their alternative colours. Initially, the basic lures would be introduced, and then later the special lures.
  3. Time: each challenge would be given an appropriate time limit, between 2 minutes and 45 seconds.

Challenges would be specified by ihobo for each location, under each weather condition, for each time of day. For each setting (location, weather and time of day) there would be four challenges for a total of 192 different challenges! (Almost certainly, the software house would ask us to scale down this goal, for fear of the time taken in QA to test the Challenge Mode). When fishing under any combination of conditions, any of the four challenges could be fished for, and a record kept of which of the challenges had been completed.

Challenge mode would open up, using the following structure:

  • Start with: Lake Paradise except Palace, Lake Crystaldew except the Falls; only weather condition is Fine, only time of day is Morning (easy targets)
  • Add Cloudy when Fine completed (harder targets, since the fishing is easier in cloudy)
  • Add Raining when Cloudy completed (hardest challenges)
  • Add Noon when Morning is completed (easy targets, since fishing at Noon is naturally difficult)
  • Add Evening when Noon is completed (difficult targets, since fishing is often easier in the evening)
  • Add Palace in the appropriate weather/time of day when all basic Lake Paradise locations cleared in that weather condition/time of day (medium difficulty targets, since fishing at the Palace is usually patchy except in Arcade Mode)
  • Add Falls in the appropriate weather/time of day when all basic Lake Paradise locations cleared in that weather condition/time of day (extremely difficult targets)
  • When all challenges are completed, the player gains an additional ability (such as Night Fishing, using the routines specified for the Palace in Arcade Mode, or the Sonic Lure).

The menu system for selection could be identical to Practice, except gold stars would be displayed to show how many of the challenges had been completed under each condition. However, we would recommend a system in which the nine possible conditions for each location could be selected in parallel, and the number of completed challenges for that location clearly seen. (Essentially, all conditions would be displayed in a 3x3 table; time of day along the top, weather along the side).

Although the Challenge Mode would require a certain additional effort, the programming overheads are low, and the art overheads minimal. The only real drawback is additional time in QA, which could be as much as an additional month for nearly 200 challenges. However, a smaller set (say fifty challenges) would probably only add a week of QA, and ihobo would strongly recommend the inclusion of a Challenge Mode in order to give the game greater long-term appeal.



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15. Do the Options affect Original Mode?

Sound Options affect all Modes; Set Up options only affect Arcade Mode. The different Set Up options are as follows:

  • Difficulty: the default is Normal, you may also have Very Easy, Easy, Hard and Very Hard. Making the Difficulty harder will not greatly affect game play. The easier settings may make a difference if you are a novice.
  • First Norm: determines the first target weight you must catch. Default is 11 lbs., the range is from 9 to 13 lbs., in single pound increments.
  • Time: you may choose to start with between 1 and 3 minutes, in 30 second increments.
  • Rod Control: in the default set up, you pull down to make the rod go up, as if you were playing a flight simulator. You may use this option to switch from Normal to Reverse, in which case the rod will respond in the most literal fashion. Only change this option if you find the default setting difficult to get used to.
  • Vibration: do not ever turn off the vibration. Don't even go to this option. You have been warned.

In general, you will not want to tamper with the Options Mode. However, if you play the Arcade Mode a lot, you may want to experiment with the options.


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16. How does Arcade Mode work?

The following features are unique to Arcade Mode:

  1. You get to select a starting area before you start the game; the other areas are completed in sequence (the sequence is Lodge, Cape, Outlet, so if you start in the Cape, the Lodge is your last location).
  2. All fishing takes place on Lake Paradise.
  3. You receive 2 minutes to complete the first area, and 1 minute to complete the following areas.
  4. If you run out of time you can continue. This has no effects other than to resume the game with 2 minutes on the clock.
  5. When you hook a fish you score a bonus ("Hit Bonus!" the commentator raucously declares) of 2-8 seconds, which is added to the clock. The size of the Hit Bonus depends on the size of the fish hooked.
  6. When you land a fish you score a bonus ("Time Bonus!") of 4-8 seconds, which is added to the clock. In principal, there should be a 10 second time bonus for the largest fish, but this will almost always clear the level for you, and hence you will not score the time bonus.
  7. You complete the stage when you land a certain weight of fish. For the standard difficulty settings you must catch 11 lbs., then 13 lbs., then 15 lbs.
  8. In Arcade Mode, you can see shadows of the fish in the water as you move around. These shadows are not permanently displayed, but flash up briefly as you (or the fish) move from side to side. These shadows do correspond to the location and size of fish present, and can be used as a guide as to where you should fish.
  9. After you've completed the first three stages, you fish at the Palace at night. You only have to catch one fish, and they are all Huge. You have 1 minute to complete the task, and you may continue.
  10. You will receive special lures at certain intervals after you land bass. These special lures are not available for use in Practice Mode, and are only for the current Arcade game.

You need to catch a fish of 17 lb. 15 oz or more to take the top spot in the high score table.

ihobo comments: since this was an Arcade port, ihobo would not have altered the Arcade Mode. However, we would have recommended the same game "rules" were applied to the other lake - Lake Crystaldew - to create an additional Arcade Mode.


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17. How does Original Mode work?

The following features are unique to Original Mode:

  1. You get to select either a male or female angler, and enter a name (initial and surname), which appears on your Tournament Passport.
  2. Fishing takes place alternately on Lake Paradise and Lake Crystaldew.
  3. Each of the four tournaments has different rules and consists of a number of different stages (between two and five). Each stage consists of a morning session (0600-1000), a noon session (1000-1400) and an evening session (1400-1800).
  4. You receive four "hours" (4 minutes) to complete each session, hence 12 minutes total to complete the stage.
  5. You may change location during the tournament by pressing X whilst the casting cursor is displayed (when you don't have a lure in the water, and you are not selecting a lure). The bonus locations (Palace and Falls) are not available when you begin playing the tournament.
  6. You may change the colour of the lures to alternative colours, by pushing up and down on the stick during lure selection. The appearance affects the performance of the lure.
  7. You may save your progress in the tournaments.
  8. You will receive special lures at certain intervals after you land bass. These special lures then become available for use in Practice Mode, as well as for the rest of the Original Mode game they were earned in.
  9. At the end of the stage, points are awarded for the top 7 contestants. The person with the highest weight in bass (according to the tournament rules) scores 30 points. Second is 25 points, then 20 points, 15 points, 10 points, 5 points and 1 point.
  10. You are awarded trophies for completing tournaments and certain goals. These are displayed in Data on the Personal Data menu.

ihobo comments: the biggest change ihobo would have proposed to Original Mode would be to allow multiple players to compete in tournaments, playing in sequence. We would probably recommend that the players can select the length of the tournament in days, the tournament rules (selected from those tournament styles the competing players have unlocked) and teams, to allow multiple anglers to fish in rotation towards one team score.

The multi-player mode would probably be cut during production, as software houses usually axe multi-player options, preferring to focus on the single player game.

Another change would be to the menu system. In the game as implemented, failure to complete a tournament returns the player to the top-level menu. We would have suggested that players are free to compete in any tournament for which they have earned a Passport. Failure to complete a tournament would return the player to the initial Original Mode menu, where they could select to play the tournament they just played over again, or play any other tournament for which they have earned a Passport.


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18. How does Practice Mode work?

In Practice Mode, you can fish at any location you have unlocked in Original Mode (any of the basic locations, plus the Palace and Falls when unlocked). You may choose the time of day, and the weather.

Although voice file 036 says "Select Water Temperature", the feature to select water temperature was not provided in the final game. This is relatively unimportant, since changing the other conditions alters the water temperature, and this level of fine-tuning was not necessary in the final game.

You can press Start to select options to choose a new area, or exit the Practice Mode.

Initially, you can fish in the three basic locations on Lake Paradise, and the three basic locations on Lake Crystaldew.

Finishing the first two tournaments in Original mode (Amateur and Challenge) unlocks the Palace in Practice mode.

Finishing the last two tournaments in Original mode (Professional and Masters) unlocks the Falls in Practice mode.


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19. What information is in the diary?

The 400 biggest fish you have caught in Practice, and the 400 biggest fish you have caught in Original are listed in the diary.

You may change the order they are listed in order, for example, to look at them from biggest to smallest.

ihobo comments: it is unfortunate that the Arcade data is not given in the diary, and this would have been recommended (at the cost of fewer fish from the other modes being saved).

It would also have been recommended that the default display option for the diary would be in weight order, from biggest to smallest, as this is the most useful setting provided.


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20. Are there any differences between the male and female anglers?

No.

The male angler is the default for Arcade, but the woman may be selected by using A + B to select an area from the map.


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21. How do I cast?

First, select an area to cast. In Arcade, you may do this by examining the shadows of fish in the water. Sweep left to right to see where the fish are, and cast where you see the most fish, or the biggest fish. It is worth spending up to 15 seconds selecting the perfect place to cast, as when you only have a minute to fish, it is helpful to fulfil the weight target in one huge fish.

In Original and Practice, you will have to rely on your experience, or the information contained in this CFAQ. You will need to learn the hotspots that the big fish congregate around under the right conditions. The Spoiler section of this CFAQ describes the best ihobo-approved hotspots, but you may develop your own with a little creative experimentation.

Press A to cast, or make a forward flicking motion with your wrist with the fishing controller. Some players like to press A on the fishing controller at the same time as making a "vanity cast", just to stay in the spirit of the game.

You will always cast to wherever the casting cursor is, which means if you place it a long way from the boat, it will be a long cast. The only way to get a short cast is to aim for somewhere closer to the boat. Think carefully about the distance you are casting, because you will have to get the lure, and eventually the fish, all the way back. When trying to land a large fish, long casts are not recommended for novice players, as they will have greater difficulty reeling a fish in safely.

Short casts are ideal at the end of a session, but you may also use a long cast with a lure that works quickly (such as the popper) and still land a fish in about 30 seconds of time.

ihobo comments: we would probably have recommended an ability to 'cut' the cast by pressing the A button a second time to pull the cast. This would have been optional for the player, but would allow shorter casts to be selected when time is short, or when a fish has been sighted closer to the boat.

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22. How do I use the lures?

The game has three different sets of advice as to how to use the lures.

In Arcade mode, the basic instructions for each lure are displayed as you select it.

In Original mode, instructions for each lure can be found in the Tackle Box, under the Personal Data menu option.

In Attract mode (when the game has been left to its own devices at the title screen), detailed instructions for each of the basic lures are given, including an animation of how the lure should look in the water. Beginning players should look at this section, as it gives a better idea of how to fish than any number of words could achieve.

To make it easier to learn to use the lures, ihobo has classified the different lures according to the way they are controlled:

  • Reel: Spinner Bait and Vibration are reeling lures. You may reel them constantly, or reel constantly and then relax the reeling. Spinner Bait is a good beginner lure.
  • Crank: Shallow Crank and Deep Crank benefit from short bursts of fast reeling, followed by a brief pause to allow them to float. These are great beginner lures, and highly recommended.
  • Minnow: Floating Minnow and Suspend Minnow can be tricky to use. You can use any combination of gentle reeling, bursts of fast reeling, and twitching the rod with the analogue stick. See what the fish respond to best, and replicate that behaviour until they bite.
  • Surface: Pencil Bait and Popper are surface lures that do not sink at all. Reel just enough to keep the tension, and twitch the rod with the analogue stick to make it splash or plop.
  • Drag: Paddle Tail, Rubber Jig and Straight Worm have been designed to be dragged along the bottom. Reel along and hope to hit obstacles, since the bass have difficulty grabbing these lures if they are on the bottom. A twitch of the rod can bring them off the bottom, allowing them to be caught more easily.
  • Sink: Grub and Straight Worm are effective if twitched as they fall in the water, reeling only to get close to some fish. Try to make them look like a maggot or worm that has fallen into the water and you will get good results.
  • Buzz: Buzz Bait is intended to be reeled rapidly enough that it skips along the surface, making a tinkling, splashing sound, similar to the surface lures. Unlike the surface lures, the buzz bait will sink if not reeled.

These classifications will tell you how to learn to use the lure. They will not tell you how to master each of the lures. For this information, you will have to turn to the Spoiler section of this CFAQ.

Different players generally find different lures easier to work with. Experiment with all the lures and see which ones work best for you. Once you have your own impressions of the lures, you will be better equipped to interpret the lure information given in the Spoiler section.


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23. How do I snap (hook) a fish?

Pull down on the stick.

You may also perform an "anti-cast" (upward flick) with a fishing controller, but we recommend that you use the analogue stick, for greater reliability.

Make sure the line is taught - reel furiously whilst snapping until the fish is hooked.


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24. Can I get rid of a fish I have hooked/snapped?

Before they bite, you can stop moving and reeling in any way and you will often lose the fish. This is handy if you have caught a small fry and there's a giant lurking nearby. Be warned that the struggle of the fish you almost hooked will move your lure away from where it was, and may also scare off any bass that were nearby.

After they have hooked, you can lose a fish you don't want by not reeling, but the fish will usually have travelled quite a distance by the time it lets go (which can take quite a while), and you'll be left just reeling in. For this reason, you should always try and reel in, but if you don't care about the fish you have on the line, ignore the line tension and reel furiously. (For the smaller fish, you will usually end up landing them anyway).


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25. How do I land a fish?

In essence, all you have to do is reel it in without the line tension spiking so high that the line breaks. However, it is never that simple.

If you let the line tension fall as low as the green, the line will be hanging loose and the fish may slip off its hook.

Yellow is safe, but for most of the time the line tension should be in the red, although not too high.

Having the line tension at exactly the top of the scale briefly will not break the line, so you have plenty of room to play with - but don't get cocky. There is a certain range above the top of the screen that you do not see, and breaking point almost generally lies in this area. Vary your reeling speed so that you are reeling fast enough to keep it in the red, generally.

You will have to move the stick, but you don't have to listen to the commentator's suggestions as to which way to move the stick. Watch the bass you are trying to steer, and move the controller in an attempt to flick it round.

ihobo comments: although audio assistants such as the one used in Sega Bass Fishing are useful when learning to play, they become increasingly irritating with repeated use. We might have recommended an option to disable the angling assistant on the option menu, as well as a separate option to disable all speech (but not the sound effects).

A good way to learn how to control a bass is to use a circling motion to flick the bass around. When you are using this technique, you should vary the direction of circling when the tension is in the red and the bass is pulling away from you. Circling in one direction will lower the tension - keep reeling and turning until the tension changes again as the fish changes direction.

When you are more experienced, you can combine the circling motion with sharper 'tugs' to pull the fish around. You may either do this by watching the bass itself, or by watching the tension, or even by following the tactile feedback provided by vibration - follow whichever cues you find most helpful.

When you are starting to learn to reel (and especially when you don't have a fishing controller), you should aim to play it safe and keep the tension in yellow. Then, gradually increase the tension level you are aiming to reel at. Very gradually ease up the tension you aim for until either you are getting consistent line breaks or you chicken out. Chances are you will chicken out at a convenient level.

The better you get at reeling in, the faster you will reel fish in, and in particular, the faster you will reel in big fish. What may take a minute when you start playing may take 20 seconds once you have mastered the subtleties of the control mechanism and bought a fishing controller.


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26. What are the different classes of fish you can catch?

There are four sizes in Arcade, and in most of the Original tournaments:

  • Small One: up to 1 lb. 13 oz
    Fish snaps into the on-screen angler's hand at high speed.
    Angler: "No!" Commentator: "Small one."
  • Average: from 1 lb. 14 oz to 4 lb. 6 oz
    Fish is shown being held off the side of the boat.
    Commentator: "Okay an average size. Good job"
  • Big One: from 4 lb. 7 oz to 5 lb. 14 oz
    Fish is pulled into the centre of the boat and held vertically.
    Commentator: "Oh, a big one!"
  • Huge: 7 lb. 12 oz or heavier
    Fish is hauled onto the boat and held horizontally.
    Commentator: "This one's huge!"

In the Challenge, Professional and Masters tournaments, there are only two named sizes:
  • Release Size: less than the minimum size for the tournament (Challenge, Professional and Masters), or smaller than the fish you've already caught when you have already caught at least 5 fish (Professional) or 7 fish (Masters).
    Commentator: "Release size."
  • Keeper Size: one of the biggest 5 (Professional) or 7 (Masters) fish you've caught, or any fish above the minimum size for the tournament (Challenge).
    Commentator: "Keeper size."

The on-screen angler still makes whatever exclamation they usually make, but you do not get your satisfying Commentator comment in the later tournaments.

ihobo comments: two sound files appear to be unused: 096 ("Medium") and 097 ("Super Big"), suggesting that there were originally going to be six categories. International Hobo would definitely have suggested more categories, since once a player has become an expert, "Average" is insulting and the smaller "Huge" fishes feel positively small.

Using the sound files already extent, our recommended categories would have been:

  • Small One: up to 1 lb. 15 oz
  • Medium: from 2 lbs. to 4 lb. 15 oz
  • Average: from 5 lbs. to 7 lb. 15 oz
  • Big One: from 8 lbs. to 11 lb. 15 oz
  • Super Big: from 12 lbs. to 17 lbs. 15 oz
  • Huge: 18 lbs. or heavier

If we were brought in before the sound files were recorded, we would have recommended that the top three sizes were called Big One, Huge and Monster ("It's a monster fish!").

Obviously introducing these changes would mean the Arcade Mode was no longer a perfect copy of the arcade game. However, this would be offset by a much more satisfying sense of development as you learn to play - as it stands, most players tend to catch a Huge bass within a day of a starting play, provided they receive adequate basic instruction.

None-the-less, we would suggest the changes be made because the benefits exceed the loss, and ihobo believes that an arcade conversion need not be an exact port if there is room for improvement.

International Hobo generally considers most games to have insufficient dialogue to prevent the feeling of excessive repetitiveness, and our recommendation would almost certainly have been for additional dialogue (scripted and, if necessary, recorded by ihobo). However, one of the accidental charms of Sega Bass Fishing are its catch phrases, and it is apparent from the finished product that additional dialogue would not have been essential.

In fact, our experiences with focus groups suggest that certain games (especially sports games) do not require much more than functional dialogue, provided the most heavily repeated phrases have the capacity to become catch phrases. Research into this area is continuing, and anyone with any observations on acceptable lower limits for speech in games is welcome to email comments to us.


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27. How can I tell the weight of a fish without having to land it?

The more you play, the better you will become at judging the size of the fish, since there is no way to tell the weight of a fish before it bites.

However, once you have got a hit (once the fish is definitely hooked) there are clues to the size of the fish on your line.

In Arcade mode, you score a Hit Bonus of between 2 and 8 seconds. The size of the fish relates to it Bonus as follows:

2 s Hit Bonus4 s Time Bonusup to about 3 lbs.
4 s Hit Bonus6 s Time Bonusfrom 3 lbs. to around 6 lbs.
6 s Hit Bonus8 s Time Bonusfrom 6 lbs. to around 14 lbs.
8 s Hit Bonus10 s Time Bonus?14 lbs. and bigger

The Time Bonuses listed are the times awarded when the fish are successfully landed. It is difficult to verify the 10 second time bonus for the heaviest fish, because catching these almost always clears the current level, making the Time Bonus irrelevant.

Also, if the fish is particularly large, you will hear the commentator say "It's gonna be a big one!" which is your guarantee that the fish you are hopefully about to land will be Huge.


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28. How big does a fish need to be to snap the line?

Generally speaking, a Small One will not break the line under any circumstances. Fish of Average size are unlikely to break the line, unless you really set out to purposefully break the line - even then it's unlikely. As a general rule, the smaller fish can be reeled in at maximum speed without worry. However, the larger fish can always break the line, and you must learn to be "careful with the tension" when reeling one in.

Position of the rod is as important as how fast your are reeling. With the smaller fish, if you keep the rod straight, you can reel at any speed. For the larger fish, you must try and keep them moving towards from you, as the tension will spike as they pull away, dramatically increasing the risk of a line break.


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29. Can I snag my line?

No. Wherever you cast, your line will remain miraculously unsnagged - even if the line goes straight through a tree.

ihobo comments: although unrealistic, snagging the line would add a level of frustration to the game and detract from the battle between angler and fish. Although it sometimes looks strange when the line passes through a solid object, the benefits in a more direct style of game play are tangible.

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30. Can I catch anything apart from bass?

No. Any tip that claims you should catch a turtle or a frog is trying to make you spend hours attempting what is in essence impossible.


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31. How close to the boat can I catch a fish?

At 15 feet, you have entered the danger area. The fish generally don't like to come close to the boat, and it's not in your best interests to lure the big fish anywhere near your boat, or they will hide underneath and you will struggle to get them. Unless you are clearly about to get a bite, you can usually give up at 15 feet (reel in and cast again). Often, it's apparent that it's a lost cause earlier than this, and you should immediately reel in and cast again.

Any closer than 8 feet and you can be reasonably certain that the fish won't bite at all, and once you're under 10 feet you should probably just reel in unless time is running short.

The closest recorded bite was a mere 6 feet from the boat with a suspend minnow being flicked about on the surface, but once the hit was recorded, the line length was increased to 9 feet. The fish in question was a pathetic 1 lb. 15 oz.


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32. How can I tell where to cast?

In Arcade mode, the shadows of fish in the water give clues as to the best places to cast. These shadows are not always visible, and the easiest way to make use of them is to make a sweeping motion from side to side around the area where you saw the shadows of fish.

Generally speaking, you should cast either where you see a lot of fish shadows, or where you see a particularly large shadow. In Arcade, time gets very short very quickly, and you often have only enough time to land one truly big fish. Practicing how to spot the big fish is the key to mastering the Arcade game.

In Original, there are no clues. You must learn for yourself where the best "hotspots" to fish are in each area, and under each weather condition. The Diary keeps a record of the biggest 400 fish you've caught, and thus over time allows you to spot where you are catching the biggest fish (and which lures have been successful - although be warned that since you will tend to prefer some lures over others, the Diary can mislead you as to the best lures to use).

If you're just too impatient to discover good hotspots on your own, the Spoiler section of this CFAQ will give you some great pointers as to where the best places to fish can be found.


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33. Does the weather matter?

Absolutely. The weather affects where the fish can be found, and may also alter the effectiveness of some of the lures.

Fine weather is universally poor weather to fish in. Bass hate bright light, and hence tend to be found in the shade, which in Fine weather is harder to locate. Some locations are still half-decent at noon, and learning which can be a great help in Original mode.

Cloudy and raining are both good times to fish - the whole fishing area will be darker, and hence the bass feel more free to congregate. Although there are subtle differences between the two weather conditions (fish tend to be closer to the surface when it is raining), either weather condition is your guarantee that there are plenty of good fish to be caught.


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34. Does the water temperature matter?

Although the water temperature does affect the depth that the fish prefer to swim at, you will generally not have to worry about temperature when you are fishing, as the prevailing weather condition is vastly more important.

The temperature gauge only displays the surface temperature anyway, and water temperature usually varies with depth. There is no way of telling if this is implemented in Sega Bass Fishing, and hence we would advise not greatly worrying about water temperature, at least when you are starting to fish. When you become more proficient, you will develop your own indicators as to the best conditions for fishing.

ihobo comments: if water temperature does change with depth, a temperature and depth gauge would be a welcome addition to the game (showing the temperature at your current depth).

Although the sound file "Select Water Temperature" (036) exists, it was not used in the game. Since as already noted the prevailing weather conditions have a greater influence on the fish than the temperature, its omission was probably a wise move.


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35. Does the time of day matter?

Time of day is perhaps the single most important factor in choosing where to fish.

As a general rule, noon is a lousy time to fish. The sun is high in the sky, driving the bass into the shadows or the depths, which means not only are the fish harder to find, it takes significantly longer to land them.

Morning and Evening are roughly equivalent to each other, and are both wonderful times to be fishing. Some hotspots swarm with fish at dawn or dusk, and a good Morning or Evening session will often land you more than 50 lbs. of fish.


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36. Does the colour of the lure matter?

In Original mode, the colour of the lure can be changed by pushing up and down during lure selection. These alternative colour schemes have a marked effect on the responses of the fish, and if they aren't biting a lure you know they normally would take, it is worth experimenting with the alternative colours.

More information on the other lure colours can be found in the Spoilers section of this CFAQ.


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37. Why are the fish not always there at my favourite hotspot?

The fish have quite sophisticated AI, and behave in a manner quite similar to real bass. Just because one hotspot was good one time does not mean that it will be great when you come back to it later. It is easy to be convinced you have found a fantastic hotspot, only to realise later that it was a one-of-a-kind fluke.

You will need to learn several hotspots in many different locations to be successful in Original mode, and if the fish aren't where you expected them to be, don't bother casting again to check. If there was nothing there the first time, they won't have all have magically appeared if you cast again. Give it up and go elsewhere.

Also be warned that the struggle of landing a fish sometimes causes the fish to move elsewhere, which can move bass away from wherever they started.

Remember, however, that it takes time to position your angler (even if no time is spent actually switching areas) so you can't afford to change area too frequently if you want to have any time left to fish.


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38. How do I get a special lure?

In Arcade mode, you will get a special lure after every fourth fish you catch (the first at 4 fish, the second at 8 and so forth). Lures gained in Arcade are lost at the end of the game, but are available throughout all the future stages of the current game. As a result, when you start playing (and have 2 minutes of playtime on the clock) it is worth catching two or three fish of any size quickly in order to give you a special lure at the end of the first area.

The lures are awarded in a random order.

ihobo comments: the manual gives no clue as to how the special lures are acquired, making the game seem slightly random in its choices (whether your fourth fish is a monster or a tiddler, you still get the special lure). We would definitely have recommended explaining this aspect of the game in the manual - even the Prima guide does not contain this fact!

The same is true in Original mode - that you get a new lure every four fish - but lures gained in Original Mode are available for use in Practice Mode. Because of the length of the Original game, you will very rapidly have a full tackle box, except for the secret lure (see the Spoiler section for details).

The fish you have caught in earlier stages do count even though the fish counter is reset on a new stage (so if you catch 3 fish in one stage, the next time you start fishing you will only need to catch one fish to get your next special lure).

ihobo comments: because of the huge length of the Original tournament, gaining a lure every four fish works very poorly in this mode, as the tackle box fills up too quickly - usually by the end of the first tournament. We would have recommended awarding a special lure for catching a fish above a certain size so that lure acquisition could be more spread out. A sliding scale would probably be most effective, for example:

5 lbs. (Big One)Unlocks either Paddle tail, Straight worm or Rubber jig
10 lbs. (Huge)Unlocks either Buzz bait or Grub
15 lbs. (Huge)Unlocks either Popper or Suspend Minnow
20 lbs. (Huge)Unlocks Sonic Lure

The first special lure in each category would be awarded for the first fish of that size caught, the second for the fifth and the next for the ninth (every four fish, after the first).

If all the lures for a given size have been won, a lure from the next smallest size category would be awarded.


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39. What are the trophies in original mode?

Trophies are shown in the Data option under Personal Data in the menu that is available between tournament stages in Original Mode. This screen also gives you your statistics, including win percentages, total fish caught, record sizes and the number of fish caught in different weight brackets (that do not correspond to the normal bass sizes in the game).

There are four big trophies, one for winning each tournament. Pressing A will show a 3D representation of any trophies you have won.

There are also three small trophies. These are:

  • Ranker Killer: this seems to be given for winning two stages in a row.
  • Perfect Angler: this seems to be awarded for winning all stages in a tournament.
  • Top Water King: usually awarded after the Challenge or Professional tournament, it is not clear what you need to do to earn this trophy, but you do not need to win all the stages of a tournament to win this award.

Pressing A will show a 3D representation of the small trophies, allowing you to read the inscription, which shows the name of the trophy and the legend 'Super Bass Fishing'.

ihobo comments: although the trophies are a nice record of achievements, given that none of the documentation (manual or in-game help) explain what the trophies are awarded for, they are more mysterious than satisfying.

International Hobo would have recommended describing how each trophy was won in the manual, and also recommended an audio message to alert the player when they have won a new trophy, much as happens when you win a special lure.


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40. Can I skip the credits?

Yes. A soft reset (A, B, X, Y and Start pressed simultaneously) will return you to the game's title screen, and you will not lose the arcade data from the game you just completed. However, you will miss out on seeing the high score table, which is displayed at the end of the credits.

ihobo comments: being able to skip credits and cut scenes is an essential feature of modern games - it is frustrating to be forced to watch sequences you have seen time and time again.

It is unfortunate that there is no easy way to select the Arcade high score table, however; just as if you were in the arcade, you must either finish the game or wait for the attract sequence to cycle around to the high score table.

International Hobo would have recommended providing an option to view the Arcade high score table on the main menu.


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Questions 41 - 56 inclusive are Spoilers.

Do not read the spoilers unless you are already an experienced Sega Bass Fishing player, or you have essentially no self-control.


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57. Where can I learn more about Sega Bass Fishing?

There appear to be no decent FAQs on this game, and we believe this CFAQ is the most comprehensive guide available for this game.

The Prima Guide is not recommended unless you can get it very cheaply, as it is very short on information, and seems to have been compiled from perhaps 10-20 hours of play time by one person. The author clearly knows a lot about real bass fishing, however, and you may find it entertaining for that reason alone. It is available cheaply in bargain bins and remainder shops in both the US and the UK.

Some cheats are at:

http://sages.ign.com/codes/9/10957.html

but be warned that the only cheats that have been demonstrated to work by the ihobo team are those that are listed at the end of the Spoiler section of this CFAQ.


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58. What about Sega Marine Fishing?

Sega Marine Fishing was released in October 2000 in the US. No European version exists.

This game features saltwater fishing in coral reefs, shallows and deep water, and to allow anglers to catch anything up to and including a shark. The same game engine is used, although the reel response has been tweaked slightly.

Fifteen different species of fish can be caught, including tuna, blue marlin, tarpon, sailfish and mako sharks, and sixteen different lures are available to catch them with.

The main locations are: Coral Reef, Offing (deep water), and Shallows (sandy shore). There is also a fishing port location, unlocked from within the game.

Additional features include various mini-games and an aquarium which fills with fish and features as you play the original game mode.

It is only available on the Sega Dreamcast.

ihobo comments: Although Sega Marine Fishing is reasonably good fun, the lack of any tournament mode (the core of the Bass Fishing experience) ultimately lets it down. Also, having to compensate for the different types of species by giving different point values lends an uneven quality to the game.

The mini-games are reasonably good fun, and one in particular where you are challenged to catch a fish of a particular species is excellent - but only once you have mastered the game, as it is a devilishly difficult challenge until you know how to catch all the different types of fish.

There is also Sega Bass Fishing 2, but here they seem to have thrown away the accessible fun of the original and gone for a sim-type game. Not recommended.

Fans of Sega Bass Fishing should check out Sega Marine Fishing, but the ultimate fishing game remains the original Sega Bass Fishing.


Discworld Noir - Help Tree

1 - Start Here

Welcome to the Discworld Noir Help Tree. To find the best advise for your current predicament, please select the first response that applies to you from each of the lists of options that are given. You can use your browser's Back button to step back through your choices. Please start by selecting the Act you are stuck in:

2 - Act I: While Ankh-Morpork Sleeps

3 - Before Malachite

4

Talk to Nobby at Pseudopolis Yard about the Two Mysterious Passengers clue. You will need to do this twice in two separate visits, although if you have already spoken to him in the Café Ankh about this clue, that will count as the first time. After the second time, go to Café Ankh and Ilsa will be there.

5

Get the label from out of the flotsam in the Milka's hold and talk to Ilsa about it. This will allow you to get to Pier Five.

6

Talk to Sapphire in the Octarine Parrot about Therma to get the Madame Lodestone clue, then talk to Nobby about Madame Lodestone to gain access to the Mausoleum.

7

Provided you have been to Pier Five, there should be an invitation from Carlotta waiting for you near the door to Lewton's office. Read it, and then head over to the sinister Von Uberwald Mansion.

8

Talk to the First Mate in the Wharf about the Milka clue. This will allow you to reach Café Ankh.

9

In order to get on the Milka, you will need the crowbar which can be found on a cart outside Café Ankh. Use the crowbar on the single crate on the Wharf when the sailor is absent (if the sailor is present, exit and re-enter). This will allow you to get onboard the Milka.

10

Talk to Nobby in Café Ankh about his main topic, the Vimes topic and Milka clue. You can now get to Pseudopolis Yard (although give Nobby a chance to get back there before you try and visit).

11 - After Von Uberwald Mansion

12

Talk to Sapphire in the Octarine Parrot about the Malachite clue. This will allow you to get to Rhodan's workshop.

13

Select the Invitation from the inventory when talking to the Butler. When he has left to collect her, look at the painting and she will arrive.

14

Get the Selachii Family Mausoleum clue by interacting with the tombs in the Mausoleum. Then, talk to Carlotta about the Selachii Family Mausoleum clue and you will eventually get the Therma in Vault clue. Talk to Malachite about this and you will be able to get the grapple from him.

15

16

The Scrap of Cardboard can be found by searching the bottom bunk in the stateroom on the Milka.

17

Use the grapple on the ledge at Pier Five to get into the warehouse. The Torn Matchbook is on the floor here.

18

Pick up either the Scrap of Cardboard or the Torn Matchbook and use it on the other. This will give you the Matchbook object, which you will need to complete Act I.

19 - Finishing Act I

Go to the Octarine Parrot and talk to Mankin about Mundy and then the Matchbook. Then use the Lying topic to get access to Mundy's room and enter to end Act I.

20 - Act II: To Have Or Not To Have

21 - The Regin Case

22

Talk to the Butler about the Count clue to acquire the Missing Companion clue.

23

Talk to the Count about his Missing Companion and you will learn about Regin, and receive the iconograph.

24

Go to the Wharf and show the Iconograph of Regin to the First Mate to learn about the Carriage.

25

Go to Pseudopolis Yard and talk to Nobby about the Carriage clue. This will give you access to the Maudlin Bridge.

26 - Mundy's Coin

27

Simply look at the frayed rope tied to the roof in Mundy's Room and you will receive the Frayed Rope clue.

28

You will notice on examining Mundy's boots that there is rope tied around them. Using the Frayed Rope clue on the boots will cause Lewton to realise that Mundy was hung upside down before he was killed.

29

Make sure you've searched Mundy's boots (Lewton will comment that there's nothing there, but notes that there should have been). Then, go and talk to Mankin about the fact that Mundy was hung upside down before he was killed. A 'Cut Down' topic will be added, use this, and then the 'Boots' topic and Mankin will give you what was in Mundy's boot.

30

Go back to your office. Al Khali will be waiting to take you to see Horst.

31 - Towards Interrogation

32 - Finding Regin's Body

33

Go to the Wharf and use the grapple on the mooring line, which is good stout rope to replace what you lost when Mundy was murdered.

34

Go to Maudlin Bridge and use the grapple on the River Ankh. You will learn that there is something in the river...

35

Go to Rhodan's Workshop and tell Malachite about what you found in the river. He will come and haul whatever it is out of the river for you.

36 - Saturnalia

37

Talk to Mankin about why Sapphire lied to you. You will be told that Sapphire is in her dressing room, giving you access to this location at the back of the Octarine Parrot.

38

Talk to Mankin about Sapphire's Money. He has plenty of gossip.

39

Whirl's memory works better with gold in his pockets. Use your purse on him to bribe him, then ask him about Sapphire's Money to learn something interesting.

40

Confront Sapphire by talking to her about the Losing Streak and the Secret Meeting clues. A 'Confront' topic will be added which allows you to learn some interesting information.

41

Go to Lewton's office to find a card from Sapphire saying she's arranged a meeting with Therma. Go straight to Rhodan's workshop and talk to Malachite about the meeting and you and he will head off to see the mysterious Therma.

42 - After the Interrogation

43

Just wait. Don't move or touch anything. The rat will disappear into a crack in the wall, then you can search this to find a loose block which moves to allow you into a different cell.

44

Go to Saturnalia and talk to Carlotta about the Golden Sword topic. You will get more than you bargained for.

45

Go to the Von Uberwald Mansion and ask Carlotta about the Milka's Cargo. She will give you a Shipping Order which you can show to the Watchman at Pier Five to learn all sorts of useful things.

46

Go to the Café Ankh. Samael, the pianist, will be on a break. Ask him about the Wine Barrels and he will give you a key to the wine cellar. Use it to unlock the trapdoor outside.

47 - The Hiding Place

48

Talk to Ilsa about the Varberg Crates. She'll make you an offer.

49

Go to the exterior of the Patrician's Palace, and go to the side where the garbage is. Look at the wall and then use the grapple on the wall to climb up to Leonard's Cell.

50

The best hiding place is where the Patrician would least expect it - in the Palace. Use the Hiding Place clue on the wall at the Palace and then go to the Wine Cellar to tell Ilsa the news.

51 - Towards the Vaults

52

Go and see Horst and talk to him about Laredo. Then go back to Laredo and talk to her about Horst. She will head off on another exciting adventure.

53

Examining the bookcase, you will find a hinged book. Use the hinged book to rotate the fireplace and hence uncover a way down into the vaults below the Guild of Archaeologists.

54 - The Security System

55

You will notice that in the iconograph, Regin is bald. His corpse, on the other hand, has a full head of hair. Use the Iconograph on Regin's body to find something useful.

56

Go to Saturnalia and ask Whirl about the key. He'll point you in the right direction.

57

Both the Count Von Uberwald and Malaclypse, the raving madman at the Temple of Small Gods know what it is. Ask either of them about it.

58

Warb, the miserable wizard at Saturnalia, could use some good luck. Make sure you have talked to him about Unseen University, then offer him the Charm. Use the 'Vault 51' topic that is added to trade the Charm for something more useful to you.

59- Finding the Sword

60

Go to the entrance to Vault 51 and use the Back Passage clue on the rune panel to switch off the security system. You can now enter Vault 51.

61

Because Mundy was hung upside down, his message doesn't read 'Azile' at all. Use the Mundy Hung Upside Down clue on the Azile clue to find out what it really says.

62

Use the 3712V clue on the Crates to locate the display cabinet with exhibit 3712V inside.

63 - Finishing Act II

64

Go to the tomb where the fake-Therma's body lies. Then, steal one of its teeth.

65

Use the tooth on the glass cabinet to score a hole in it. The urns can then be yours.

66

Just exit the Guild of Archaeologists and see what happens.

67 - Act III: Mostly DOA

If you want assistance with a specific problem, select the first option that applies to you.

68 - About Lewton's Werewolf Abilities

In Act III, you have access to Lewton's abilities as a werewolf. You can change into a werewolf by clicking on Lewton and then selecting the wolf icon. Sometimes, Lewton will be reluctant to turn into a werewolf because he can be seen. In these cases, try positioning Lewton where he cannot be seen by the people around him before transforming. The scent inventory functions like the object inventory, and can be accessed by clicking on Lewton and selecting the appropriate icon, or by pressing F4. You can use scents to interact with other scents and in some cases with ordinary tags, objects and clues. When you work out what a scent belongs to, the name of the scent will change from its colour to the appropriate name.

69 - Before the Inner Sanctum

70 - Following the Murderer's Trail

71

Go to the Cemetery, turn into a wolf and interact with the Magenta scent to follow it to your murder sight. Here you will find the Moss.

72

Take the Moss into the Conservatory at the Von Uberwald Mansion and talk to the Count about it. He will allow you access to the Library.

73

In the Library, use the Moss on the index cards to get the Sewers clue, then use the Sewers clue on the index cards to find the civic plans of the sewers. You can now enter the Sewers.

74

Transform into a wolf in the sewers and find the Magenta scent. You can follow this to a lair, where you can search the debris to find a Pendant.

75 - Carlotta's Alibi

76

Go to the Von Uberwald Mansion and ask the Butler if you can see Carlotta. While he is away, turn into a wolf. Lewton will learn something of interest, and arrange for Carlotta to meet him at the Café Ankh (although she won't be there if you go straight to the Café).

77

You need to confront Carlotta about where she was at each murder. Go to the Von Uberwald Mansion and ask to talk to her, then ask her about Mundy being hung upside down, about Regin's Murder, and about Malachite's Murder. When you have done all three, select the 'Carlotta's Alibi' topic to receive the Errata clue.

78

Go to the Octarine Parrot and keep searching through the notices on the wall until you learn about the job at Unseen University.

79 - The Pendant

80

Go to Leonard's Cell and ask about the Pendant. You will learn about the Temple of Anu-anu at Al Khali.

81

Search the Sturdy Unlocker to find the books.

82

In the dorm part of New Hall, turn into a wolf. You will smell what is written on the Octarineboard. Then, use the Temple of Anu-anu clue on the Octarineboard to alter it. Leave the New Hall and come back later to see what has changed.

83

When you return to the New Hall after altering the Octarineboard, a book on the Temple of Al Khali will have arrived. Use the Pendant on this to open it. If you have altered the Octarineboard but the book hasn't appeared, go somewhere else and come back later.

84 - Temple Politics

85

Talk to Mooncalf about the List, go out to the Cemetery and go over to the stained glass window. Turn into a wolf and listen in to the conversation between Mooncalf and the troll.

86

Go to Malaclypse and talk to him about the Meeting of the True Believers and the Errata clue. Use the 'Inner Sanctum' topic to gain access to the Sanctum.

87 - Unravelling the Murders

88

You will need Sapphire's perfume, which can be found in her dressing room. Turn into a wolf and smell the Bright Cyan scent, then turn back and take the bottle. Then, in the Sanctuary, hide in the Lectern and when you have the opportunity, spray Mooncalf's feet. You will follow him to the meeting of the True Believers.

89

At the New Hall, go onto the Concourse from the dorm and then ask Gelid about the Wizard's murder.

90 - The Clerk's Murder

91

Go to the Palace exterior and go to where the garbage is. Turn into a wolf and compare the Magenta scent in your inventory to the Magenta scent here. Then, go to the Wine Cellar, look at the Receipts and use the crowbar to get into the barrel. You will be carried into the Palace.

92

Go to the part of the Halls where the double doors are and change into a wolf. Then, listen at the door.

93 - The Merchant's Murder

94

Ask Mrs. Fomes about the Wizard's Murder, or Mathom's Murder if you have that clue.

95

Ask Mankin or Nobby about the Merchant's Murder to gain access to the Merchant's Guild.

96

Talk to the Gatekeeper at the Guild of Merchants about the Pointy Boots clue, then go to the Conservatory. Talk to Death about any murder clue, and then about the Merchant's Murder.

97 - The Pattern of the Murders

98

Go to the Library and look up Nylonathatep in the card catalogue.

99

Use any murder clue or the Octagram of Murders clue on the Map of Ankh-Morpork. You will be given access to several new locations.

100 - The Last Two Murders

101

Take the Theatre Flyer from the Dysk Theatre to the Library and look it up in the Index Cards.

102

Examine the Fresco in the Sanctuary and then look up the Strange Symbol clue in the Index Cards to the Library.

103

Stand near the stage in the Dysk Theatre and change into a wolf.

104

Use the Sign of the Eel clue on the Marks to open the secret door.

105- Finishing Act III

106

Use the Crowbar on the boards to provide a way into the Fish Bar.

107

Search the debris in the Fish Bar to find a bone (it's amazing what Lewton can find in debris in this game...). Look at or Examine the bone.

108

In the Sepulchral Temple use the Eight Great Tragedies clue on the Altar.

109

Go to the Wizard's Pleasaunce and hide in the bushes. All will be revealed.

110 - Act IV: Shadow Over Ankh-Morpork

111 - Hunting the Cultists

112

Go to the Sanctuary. The Amulet can be found by searching Kondo after you have finished with him.

113

Go to the Library and look up the Amulet. Then go to the Temple of Small Gods and talk to the now raving Mooncalf about the Amulet and then the 'Traitors' topic.

114

Go to Rhodan's Workshop and pick up the bandages, if you haven't already. Talk to Rhodan about the Bandages and then about Foid. Then, go to Dagon Street and enter the building on the other side of the road from the Fish Bar.

115 - Satrap

116

Search the rubble in the Sepulchral Temple under the Dysk Theatre and you will find the Sword.

117

Talk to Foid about the Sword and then the Amulet. Then use the resulting topic to learn about Satrap's contact.

118

Provided Mrs. Fomes has fired you, go to Pseudopolis Yard and talk to Nobby about the Gelid clue. You will get what you need to get back into the University. If she hasn't fired you yet, go to Unseen University before visiting Nobby.

119

Go to the Concourse and change into a wolf. You will follow a trail of blood straight to Satrap.

120 - The Trapezohedron

121

Look at the Inscription in the Sepulchral Temple under the Dysk Theatre, then look up Nylonathatep in the Library again.

122

Talk to Leonard and Two Conkers about the Radiant Trapezohedron clue.

123

In the Observatory, use the Starmap on the Mosaics and then examine the Small Group of Boring Stars. Finally, look through the telescope to see where you need to be.

124

Go to the Mausoleum and use the Astrolabe (which is on the floor in the observatory) on the sky. Then, push the Grotesque out of the way; the sarcophagus is in the Crypt under the Grotesque.

125 - Getting the Sword

126

Use Mundy's Coin on the indentation in the sarcophagus to open it.

127

Threaten the Zombie with the sword and you will receive the Radiant Trapezohedron.

128

Examine the Radiant Trapezohedron carefully. Once you have found out where Horst is, go there.

129 - Ending the Game

130

I guess you're looking for a way to prevent Horst from stealing the sword from you. But you're going to have to face it sooner or later. Leave the Mausoleum and exchange the Sword for Ilsa like a good hero.

131

The Flapping-wing-flying-device is the perfect choice. Go to Leonard's cell and talk to Leonard and Two Conkers about it.

132

The Palace roof is ideally suited to launching the device - all you need to do is clear away the rubble.

133

The Sign of the Eel is the best protection under the circumstances. Use this clue on the Flapping-wing-flying-device and you're ready to attempt to stop the Laddering Horror.


ihobo Critical FAQ on Metro 3D's Armada (Dreamcast)

 1. What's a CFAQ?
 2. What is ihobo's relation to Armada?
 3. What is Armada?
 4. Should I buy Armada?
 5. What are Armada's best points?
 6. What are Armada's worst points?
 7. What race should I play?
 8. How do I control my ship?
 9. Is it worth talking to everyone?
10. How do I get into space? How do I land on Starbases?
11. How do I use my weapons effectively?
12. How do I navigate?
13. How do I read the scanner?
14. Why does everything have 100 hit points?
15. How do I make a lot of money?
16. How do I get a lot of experience?
17. What Ultratech should I buy?
18. What Ultratech is available where?
19. When do I get my next new ship?
20. Why is every planet boxed in?
21. I finished playing but my character wasn't saved. What happened?
22. How do I complete the game?
23. What's that floating in space that I picked up?
24. Is there a fast way to get the next mission?
25. What else is there to do?
26. How far does space go?
27. Where can I learn more about Armada?
28. What about Armada 2?


1. What's a CFAQ?

Check the Critical FAQ on ihobo CFAQs to find out more.


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2. What is ihobo's relation to Armada?

International Hobo was in no way involved in the design or implementation of Armada. Our only connection to the game is that we have played it extensively, and used it with focus groups to explore what facets of game design turn people off a game, or hook them into it.

ihobo comment: The boxed comments in this CFAQ are provided as examples of the sort of feedback ihobo provide with an Emergency Design Overhaul. For legal reasons, we cannot discuss actual Emergency Design Overhauls that we have performed.

Armada was chosen as a good example because the project experienced something common in the industry, namely a change in circumstances beyond the software house's control that results in a major rethink being required at a time when all the internal resources are tied up.


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3. What is Armada?

Armada is a top-down scrolling shoot-em-up for the Sega Dreamcast. It has been described as "asteroids the role playing game". Gameplay is almost entirely based around shooting swarms and swarms of alien craft, although there are some role playing elements, particularly in terms of collecting good equipment, and going up in levels. The player's ship becomes bigger as it gains levels, making the game both easier to play, and more satisfying.

It was one of the first games to be released in the US for the console, although the release date was delayed owing to last minute complications to do with problems with Sega's network. Armada was originally intended to be a massively multiplayer online RPG - it would have been the first online game on the Dreamcast, and the first MMORPG. However, Sega were unable to get their network problems resolved in time for launch, and Armada was hit with production problems.

ihobo comments: This sort of unanticipated crisis is common in the games industry, and undoubtedly caused panic and frustration at Metro 3D, the makers of the game. This is precisely the situation when an external consultancy like ihobo can offer relief to troubled software houses.

In this particular case, we would have taken everything that was already in place and restructured it within the design to take into account the lack of network access. It seems that Metro 3D had a good crack at doing this, but like any software house, there simply isn't time to resolve all problems in house, and until now there was no other way because design consultants like International Hobo Ltd did not exist.

4. Should I buy Armada?

As one of the first games released in the US, Armada is readily available preowned for $20 or less. This makes it a considerable bargain, if its blend of high octane blasting and role playing elements appeals to you. This is not a game that everyone will appreciate, however.

Be warned that this game is not available in the UK. British gamers will have to wait for Armada 2 which is expected no earlier than first quarter 2001.

If you are completely addicted to first person 3D graphics, you will probably hate Armada and consider it to be graphically crude. However, if you have ever enjoyed a two dimensional shoot-em-up (R-Type, Nemesis etc.) then this game could surprise you. Although its top down perspective with fog and starfield layers is simplistic, the sheer volume of beautifully designed and drawn enemy vessels will eventually win you over, especially as your own destructive power gradually escalates.

Be warned if you have any obsessive-compulsive traits at all that Armada can produce the same sort of symptoms as any other class and level RPG - you may find yourself staying up late at night "just to get the next ship upgrade". This is made all the more gruelling by the hideous spacing of the levels in Armada. If you do not like playing games for a long period of time, Armada is probably not for you.


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5. What are Armada's best points?

Far and away the best aspect of Armada in the view of many players is the ship upgrades. Most found themselves coming back to it again and again just to see how much bigger and better their next ship was. If anything, there was a slight disappointment from the ones that played the most that their ships were not as big as they could have been, even after hundreds of hours of play.

Each progressive upgrade does make your vessel much more destructive, however, and the difference between, say, a level 30 vessel and a level 1 vessel is staggering. This lends a sense of achievement to the game, even if on observation all that one has achieved is a lot of play hours spent on the game.

ihobo comments: the ship upgrades become such a drive to progress in the game that ihobo would probably have recommended making them come significantly faster; every two levels, or even every one. When the game was intended for online play, the spacing was necessary, because in an online game the players keep coming back for more to see how the community inside the game develops, often racking up many hundreds of hours play.

Without the online play, the longevity of the game for most players is not much more than 40 hours (this is roughly how long the main plot of the game will take to complete), and this is less than a quarter of the total play time probably required to max out the ship upgrades. Correspondingly, ihobo would have recommended placing the upgrades closer together, so that more players got to feel a sense of having 'completed' the game. As it stands, very few players will ever experience what ships are like at the highest levels.

Armada is also a fantastic multiplayer game - provided you can find other players who are prepared to come to grips with the control method. No other game in the history of the computer games industry has offered such frantic top down action, and Metro 3D are to be commended for achieving that.

Nice multiplayer touches include the fact that all players can keep coming back in (albiet in slightly worse condition) until every player has lost all their lives - this means the inexperienced player gets plenty of opportunity to practice their skills as they are in a manner of speaking immortal provided one player has not died three times.

Nothing is lost if you die - you return to the Allied Base (the centre of the game) with all your equipment and experience intact. This makes playing the game a lot more relaxing than most class and level based systems which usually punish harshly for character deaths.

The fact that characters are saved separately from campaigns is another nice touch - it means that if one of your friends is playing Armada at the same time as you, you can bring your character to their house to play in their campaign, and they can bring their character to your house to play in your campaign.

ihobo comments: there is a downside to the ability to "mix and match" characters and campaigns which could have been caught at the design level. Although in principle any group of characters can team up, in point of fact there is no point in characters of radically different levels teaming up. A 4 or even 8 level gap can be tolerated, but any larger than this and only the highest level ship will really be killing anything, and as a consequence they will be soaking up almost all the experience. The other characters almost needn't bother playing at all.

This sort of problem is common to class and level based MUDs (multi-user domains), which rarely bother to resolve it. However, there are several possible solutions, all of which could have been offered to Metro 3D if ihobo had been called in, although only two are presented here by way of example.

The simplest solution to level-gaps is to downscale the differences between levels (Gauntlet Legends is an example of a game which attempts this approach). That would have been disappointing here where the vast bonuses of higher level ships are actually part of the attraction. Our recommendation for a game like Armada would be to change the experience system so that experience is shared between all players, rather than awarded on a 'by kill' basis. Given that the online game was no longer an option, this system would allow new players to gain experience more easily, and mean that low level ships flying with high level dreadnaughts could act like "fighter escorts" and still get a share in the pickings.

The 'experience by kill' approach (which was founded with the table top role playing game D&D over two decades ago and became very old very shortly afterwards) is fraught with problems, and offers few advantages, except the possibility of players being able to 'snatch' kills from other players, which may be seen as an advantage to the more competitive players. We almost never recommend that all the experience goes to the person who takes the kill, and usually for an experience based RPG our recommendation is to split experience according to the amount of work done by each participating player. (Whether this could have been done in Armada would depend whether the processor was already working flat out to run the game in its current).


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6. What are Armada's worst points?

The plotted portion of Armada's game play comes to a very swift conclusion, and after that gameplay becomes immensely competitive. In addition, after the script writer went to great length to build up a sense of community between the players and the non-player character vessels, the whole atmosphere of the game is shattered after the last mission is completed, since the dialogue dries up and just repeats ad infinitum.

ihobo comments: one of the most common recommendations that ihobo makes is more dialogue, and more context-dependent dialogue. Not all software developers follow this suggestion, since there are often technical or financial reasons why this isn't possible. However, Armada appears to have used cheap (but competent) voice actors, and it is exceptionally unlikely that there was not enough space on the GD-ROM for more speech.

The place it is most obviously lacking is with the "wingmen" that players occasionally recruit. Each race has exactly one comment to make - from the snappy Scarab "There is strength in Unity" to the soppy Vorgon "Let's Team Up". Whilst these catch phrases become fun, they are irritating when they repeat incessantly, which is just about all the time.

It's possible Metro 3D added the "wingmen" to the game as a compensation for the fact that (with no online play) there wouldn't be other human pilots to fly with. This was an admirable move, but is let down by the lack of dialogue to accompany it.

International Hobo specialise in providing rapidly produced quality scripts for context dependent dialogue, and even if the development time was not there for context dependent speech to be incorporated, we could have provided additional speech which could have been used on a rotating basis, thus minimising the repetitiveness of the in game speech.

Another criticism is that the thirty one missions in the game are over very rapidly, and afterwards the player loses the role playing aspect of the game and is left with just the mindless blasting. This hurts longevity considerably, and since they occur in a linear sequence replay is generally tedious rather than rewarding. The script manages to hide the linearity of the story by giving the impression that the plot could go off in multiple threads, but the campaign plays identically every time you play.

ihobo comments: in the online version of the game, the players would have brought a life and atmosphere into the game, and Metro 3D could have kept the campaign going practically indefinitely by altering the server files. With the online version gone, more time should probably have been spent determining what was going to substitute for the online community.

Although it would add a couple of weeks to QA, ihobo would probably have recommended a branching plot structure, with a number of different endings. This could be done effortlessly inside the existing design since all plot development is done through dialogue.

ihobo would have sequenced dialogue (using only marginally more than was present in the game) to give the greatest impression that the players actions had a tangible effect in the game world. We would have recommended that the planets (which always remain under the control of the Armada or their allies) could become freed of Armada influence as a result of the players actions, since the loss of a few "dungeons" to fight in would have been more than offset by the sense of influence and participation, and since the code to run "safe planets" already existed in the Allied base. This would allow a long term goal of freeing all the planets to be aimed for.


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7. What race should I play?

The races in Armada are very poorly balanced, and appear to have fallen prey to the "it looks good on paper" syndrome. Having learnt from their mistakes, Metro 3D appear to be making more of an effort to achieve balance between the races in Armada 2.

The six races are as follows; each has a specific colour assigned to it which sometimes determines the colour of their shots, and sometimes the colour of the ships:

  • Terran (Blue): these were clearly intended to be "all rounders", but for various reasons the Terrans end up being inferior. The main reason is that the Terran's special ability - their homing missiles - can be picked up through a piece of equipment, and they are nowhere near as effective as the Nomad's torch sabre. Ultimately, the Terran undoing is that the Nomad vessel is (slightly) superior in just about every way to the Terran ship, meaning the only real reason to play Terrans is if you like their blue ships. When playing a Terran, you will probably have to get relatively close to your targets to fight them, since the shots only come out of the front of the ship.
  • Nomad (Red): the Nomads are one of the better races, and with the best weapon stats they become absolutely magnificent death machines at the later levels. Like the Terrans, the Nomads benefit from playing up close and personal, and since their torch sabre is omnidirectional, they even have an advantage when running away (although it should be noted that the torch sabre is available as equipment, so any race can use it).
  • Eldred (Pink): the Eldred's ability to be able to fire at warp would be fantastic, if it were not made completely redundant by one of the pieces of equipment later in the game. As it is, the Eldred is only worth playing if you do not plan to play the game much. By level 16, they are utterly redundant. Their experience bonus is all but useless because you will be struggling to make any kills at all if playing with anyone else.
  • Scarab (Black): in general, the Scarab is completely useless and unusable - although their partially phased "shadow" ships are very attractive. It's special ability - it fires two rear shots at 120 degrees to the forward shot - sounds great, but ultimately you can only be aiming one shot at any one time, so the extra shots are just random flak. From the sounds of it, the Scarab have been greatly improved for Armada 2.
  • Drakken (Green): the ability to fire three shots in the same direction is fantastically useful, and Drakkan ships are ideally suited to players who like a destructive spread in front of them. Their built in cash bonus is also handy, making them a reasonable choice, especially if you like the Klingon-esque green ships.
  • Vorgan (Purple): widely considered to be the best race in the game, the Vorgan's are in point of fact just wildly unbalanced. Too weak to be a serious contender in a single player game (unless you just can't aim at all, in which case they are a shoe in), they are only useful in multiplayer because their homing shots steal almost all the kills, and hence steal almost all of the experience. This is frustrating for just about everyone playing (even the Vorgan player who can become quite unpopular). However, Vorgan is the perfect race for a player whose computer game skills or shoot em up skills are just not as good as the other players, as they can just concentrate on staying alive and not worry about aiming their shots.

Ultimately, you should decide for yourself which race to play, but make sure you are happy with your choice, because you could be playing that character for a long time. Try them all and see which one grabs you.

ihobo comments: lack of balance between classes or races has plagued table top and computer role playing games for as long as there have been class and level systems. There are many solutions, not least of which is ditching the class/race based system entirely. We shall assume Metro 3D wanted to keep the game as a class and level system (although an ancient system, it has the advantage of being well known by gamers of all types, and therefore easy to pick up).

Many of the ihobo staff are veterens of table-top role playing games, and skilled at achieving game balance, and ensuring that advantages and disadvantages more or less balance out. An exact solution cannot be stated without more details of the internal workings of the game, but it would probably involve normalising the abilities so that all the race abilities could be acquired using equipment, minimising any advantage that any one race might have.

An additional minor point; not all the races have uniquely identifying shot colours. This is unfortunate, since it can often be the easiest way to locate your ship. White and yellow shots could have been used to remove the problem whereby Eldred, Scarab and Vorgan ships fire similar coloured shots. This is not a huge problem, however, since the Scarab triple shot and Vorgan homing missiles are highly distinct from the Eldred's basic forward shots.


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8. How do I control my ship?

Many people struggle with the Armada control method, mostly because they are used to relative control mechanisms, such as used in Micro Machines, as opposed to absolute control mechanisms.

In a relative control mechanism, controls are used relative to the character being controlled. If your character is facing up the screen, left turns them right and right turns them right. If they are facing down the screen, left turns them right and right turns them left.

In an absolute control mechanism, controls are relative to the screen. If you push right, your character faces and moves right, regardless of which way they were previously facing. Similarly, if you push up, your character will turn and move up regardless of which way you are facing. This is how Armada works.

If you have trouble controlling your ship, the following suggestion may help: always keep your analogue controller pushed in a direction. When you steer, roll the analogue pad around towards the direction you want to go (as if you were turning a steering wheel). This method means you will not generaly suffer the problem of the ship not turning when you want it to.

ihobo comments: Both relative and absolute control mechanisms have problems, and appeal to some people and not others. Giving the option to choose between the two might have been a good idea, although software companies are notoriously reluctant to allow for multiple control mechanisms.

ihobo believes Metro 3D were justified with going with the absolute control mechanism for a number of reasons, especially since once mastered this technique is by far the most appropriate for a screen so filled with action as a typical Armada screen.

To move, use the triggers to accelerate. Right trigger is thrust (think: Impulse drive; it doesn't drain your energy, but it's slow), left trigger is warp (which drains your energy for every race but the Eldred).

When you have been at warp for a short while, you will accelerate to your maximum warp speed and move faster, provided nothing happen to "burst your warp bubble" (such as a collision with an Armada ship) which will put you back to your normal speeds.

ihobo comments: the warp effect works well, and allows players to rapidly get to where they need to be in the game world. However, once slight disappointment is that the player is always in a position to outrun the Armada. No Armada vessel can catch the players if they decide to flee.

This is perfectly acceptable, but does mean one doesn't have to worry about fighting the Armada most of the time. This means the game rarely generates any surprises in long space journeys. Some Armada vessels have a weapon which temporarily paralyses the player, but it is short lived and more of an inconvenience than an effective weapon.

ihobo comments: It is highly unlikely that the material in the design documents would have made it apparent that there was no real possibility of an Armada ambush in the game.

However, if it was possible to divine this from the documentation (or from a Beta version of the game), we would have recommended a weapon which temporarily disables warp drive, possibly in the form of a "tractor beam" type effect. This would be particularly effective in multi-player games, where other players may have to rally round and liberate a player who has been caught.

Metro 3D may have intended for the players to always have the freedom to flee, in which case suggestions like the above would be irrelevant.

A button fires your main weapon, B your power pod attack (smart bomb), Y your power pod defence (shield), X activates the scanner.

You have three power pods which can be either used for attack or defence; they do not replenish when you die unless you have a Pod Siphon (see later). You can replace them by scanning Phoenix or by finding them amongst the debris of destroyed Armada ships.

The scanner is used to talk to people, recruit wingmen, collect salvage in space and to scan for anomalies. Later in the game, it is also used to activate wormholes.

You may well suffer problems learning the control mechanism, but persevere. Within an hour you'll be a natural, and that's a fraction of the amount of time you'll be spending the on the game if you enjoy it.


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9. Is it worth talking to everyone?

You can complete the campaign without ever speaking to any of the characters if you want, although it seems like a waste of the game. The script writer put quite a bit of effort into developing what personality they could out of the one-liners each of the characters gets to say between missions, and the voice actors give wonderfully understated performances, substantially better than in many games.

By the end, most players were disappointed they would never again hear Tak ramble on about the food mix, or Duke utter one of his pricelessly uptight remarks. If this sort of personality doesn't appeal to you, then feel free to skip speaking to everyone altogether, and nothing unforeseen will happen as a result.


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10. How do I get into space? How do I land on Starbases?

Up on the D-pad takes you up from planets; down on the D-pad brings you down to planets or starbases. (This is in the manual, but many players prefer to plough into a game without checking the manual. ihobo always recommends at least skimming the manual for any game, just to see what's there).

Some players report difficulties getting their ship to land at Starbases or Planets. Ships can descend to a planet or Starbase when it is in the lower half of the Starbase or Planet. If you are in the upper half, you may find you are out of the defined area within which you can descend.


ihobo comments: this problem is not a design issue, and probably should have been picked up in QA.

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11. How do I use my weapons effectively?

Until you get the Shiva, you have limited supplies of energy. It will always recharge, but when you warp, or when you fire, the bar goes down. Your shots are more rapid, and more powerful, when there's energy in the bar, so the most effective way to fire is in short bursts.

When you have equipment to make the energy bar recharge faster, you can make your bursts longer.

Once you have Shiva, you can just hold down fire and watch the enemy wither under your firepower.


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12. How do I navigate?

When you start playing, space is just a vast empty tract and you have no means to navigate at all. It is worth learning where everything is and the only way to do this (unless you have exceptional spatial skills) is to draw a map. It doesn't have to be complicated - just draw axes up to 30,000 units (don't bother marking any distance less than 1,000 units) and mark anywhere you go to on the map.

Although ihobo have a complete map to the Armada universe, we have not provided it here because half the fun of the game is finding new corners of the game universe through exploring, or following a lead given to you by the non-player characters at Allied base. Be sure to write down any co-ordinates they give you if you want to explore. If you don't want to explore, and you just want to do the missions, you can just wait until a new mission name appears at the bottom left of the screen when you talk to people. When you go into space, an arrow will guide you to the mission.

However, here is a list of the positions of each of the races' Starbases to help you find your feet:

LocationDirection from CentreCo-ordinates
Allied Base (Planet)Centre of game area 0,0
Allied StarbaseInsignificant distance North West-78, 99
Terran StarbaseShort distance North West-3408, 2400
Nomad StarbaseLong distance North (approx. NNE2421, 14343
Eldred StarbaseLong distance East (approx. ESE)13652, -5886
Scarab StarbaseMedium distance South-128, -9822
Drakken StarbaseLong distance North East12421, 7476
Vorgan StarbaseLong distance West (approx. WSW)-12989, 7334

There are also four secret Starbases, which you can find for yourself. None are further out than the 30,000 mark, so if you're looking for them and you go beyond this point, you know you've missed them. You can buy equipment at these Starbases at a lower level than at other Starbases.

The seven Starbases mark out a perimeter area around the Allied Base planet at 0,0. Armada ships get stronger outside of this area.

There are wormholes hidden in the map, although you will not initially be able to detect them. Use the wormholes by scanning them, at which point you will jump to the other end instantaneously. They can be used to move about a little faster than trying to go everywhere directly.

ihobo comments: we would certainly have recommended a map of the basic starbases being included in the manual, so the player could be better oriented when they start playing.

When you are near a planet, the types of ships you face in space will change. There is a circular area surrounding each planet where the "native" Armada vessels (the ones down on the planet's surface) can be found in space. Consequently, a change in the enemy ships could mean you are close to a planet.


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13. How do I read the scanner?

Green dots are friendly ships, red dots are Armada vessels. Big red dots represent capital ships - harder to kill, but worth more experience.

Green crosses only appear on the Allied Base planet, and are Phoenix (who replenishes your power pods when you scan him) and Lola (who repairs your armour when you scan her).

Red crosses are tentacled creatures which, when shot, leave a glowing ball behind which can be collected to repair armour.

Small white circles are mission objectives.

Big white circles are planets or Starbases.

Wormholes are marked with a purple circle.


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14. Why does everything have 100 hit points?

If Armada uses a hit point system (and it may do), it is hidden from the player. Instead, the player sees the condition of enemy vessels as a percentage - so they all start at 100, and they go down as they get hit. Weak ships will drop down fast as you hit them - bigger and higher level vessel will tick down slowly as you damage them.

Larger vessels always have a greater capacity to absorb damage; that is, a level 10 Armada fighter is considerably weaker than a level 10 capital ship.


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15. How do I make a lot of money?

Killing ships on planets nets more money than killing ships in space, but to make a lot of money there is no better way than delivering supplies to any Starbase except the Terran Starbase (which being closer offers smaller profits). The profit for delivering to all the other bases is the same. Here are the prices:

MaterialAllied StarbaseTerran StarbaseAll Other StarbasesProfit
Construction Materials15015517525
Food50558030
Medical Supplies10010514040
Computer Components20257050
Entertainment Pod12012519979

You must wait for the appropriate cargo to be developed before you can ship it (at the mission you are asked to deliver it for the first time).

If you don't have much money, Computers are the best cargo. If you have plenty of money, Entertainment Pods ("Dreamcasts" as we like to call them) are the best option.

ihobo comments: the commodity market is a hugely underdeveloped part of the game. With minimal processor overhead, ihobo would have designed a simple supply-demand system which would mean the player could not always ship to the same Starbase if they wanted to make a good profit. This would be more fun, and would keep the players moving between starbases when they are trying to make money.

In addition, we would have suggested making the sale prices at the secret Starbases to be substantially higher, to encourage expeditions to the furthest reaches of known space.

You can't trade money between players, but you can trade equipment. As a result, you can effectively trade money by buying stock and giving it to the other player to sell. This is a laboriously tedious process.

ihobo comments: we would probably have recommended that a facility to transfer cash between characters, and an ability to trade items without having to leave Starbases, were included in the game, to make character management easier.

Because a single player can drag other ships in warp, you can make the most money by tediously using a "mule" character (or characters) - another player brought in uncontrolled. All you do is fill their cargo bay with your extra cargo (by loading up, going into space, giving it to them and repeating) and reverse the process when you arrive at your destination. It is a lot of hassle, but it's the only reliable way to build up money relatively quickly.

Escort missions (see 'What else is there to do?') can also be quite profitable, but usually only in deep space where the opposition is strong.


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16. How do I get a lot of experience?

Fight a lot of Armada ships. If you are below Level 25, it is efficient to start a new campaign and run through all the bosses back to back (which gets progressively faster each iteration). After that, you do just as well to plough into the toughest foes you think you can survive and hope for the best.

Finding the hardest planet that you can still last a significant time upon is about the best way to accumulate experience.


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17. What Ultratech should I buy?

Much of the equipment in Armada suffers from the problem of being underpowered. Most of it is so weak in its effects that most players struggle to see an advantage, or if they see an advantage, they struggle to eliminate the nagging doubt that its effects are entirely psychosomatic.

What makes matters worse is that you can only have four pieces of equipment. This means that anything that might be helpful but you can't be sure of is dead weight, and you will quickly evolve towards four items which will aid you the most.

You can always pause the game and swap in different items when you need them, however, which means you can develop a set of optional equipment to swap in on demand.

ihobo comments: limiting ships to just four pieces of equipment would have been a reasonably solid idea in an online version because it would theoretically increase diversity between different ships. However, there are two problems with it.

Firstly, the players can swap in other pieces of equipment on demand, which inevitably leads to a certain level of frustration that one is constrained to only four items.

Secondly, almost all of the items of equipment are wholly or entirely useless. Most provide tiny fractional bonuses to the length of the energy bar, the damage of power pods or other areas which the player can barely experience the effects. Of course those effects are going on inside the game engine, but it all means nothing if the player doesn't experience the effects of the item. The list of items that follows shortly was compiled from the experiences of several players, and represents all the equipment anyone found to have an effect that could clearly be noticed.

Several of the ihobo team are veterans of board game and strategic battle game design, and we would certainly have proposed an alternative equipment roster (although the names of the equipment are quite satisfying as they are, the effects would have to be tweaked).

According to Metro 3D's request, we would either have developed a list of items with planned obsolescence (at higher levels, the old equipment becomes gradually redundant), or with maximum combinatorial effects. In essence, equipment would be constructed so that there would always be a reason to select one item over another. For example, an item which combines the features of two different devices would be less effective than two separate devices.

It is probable that after looking at the design documents, the ihobo team would conclude that the only problem with the equipment is that the modifying factors used are too small to be experienced by the player. Certainly, a situation would be reached where most, if not all, of the equipment in the game would be of clear benefit when used.

The following are the most useful items, although you should feel free to experiment with the other equipment in the hope that you find it works well for your style of play. You need to be a certain level to buy each item of equipment, but if you know someone with a higher level character, they can buy it for you and give it to you.

  • Pod Siphon: the single most important piece of equipment. With it, your power pods are restored every time you die, which means more destructive power, and more defensive options. In a multiplayer game, because you can continue to die provided at least one player has not lost three lives the pod siphon turns fast-dying characters into gratuitous exploding death blossoms.
    There are no upgrades for this item.
  • Impact Webbing: if you find yourself dying shortly after every collision with an Armada vessel (which can happen a lot in the early stages of the game), you should purchase Impact Webbing from the Scarab Starbase. You must be at least Level 4, or have a character who is Level 4 to buy it for you. At Level 16, it can be bought at the Allied Starbase. It costs 1800 credits. After about Level 20-30, you probably don't need the Impact Webbing any more.
    There are no upgrades for this item.
  • Warp Generator: unless you are playing Eldred, the Warp Generator is an extremely useful piece of kit. With a Warp Generator, only half your energy bar is lost to warp. This item is available at Level 4 at the Vorgan Starbase and at the Allied Starbase for 1300 credits.

    Upgrade: Armada Heart (4300, Level 12 Scarab Starbase)
    Upgrade: Shiva (50000, Level 16, Allied Starbase)
  • Energy Cycler: this increases the rate of energy regeneration, which is especially useful if you are having difficulty controlling your fire and you find yourself frequently trying to fire when the energy bar is empty. Available Level 4 at the Terran Starbase for 2300 credits, or at Level 1 at the Terran Special Base in Marauder territory (whose location is unknown to you at the start of the game).
    Upgrade: Energy Battery (3800, Level 12 Terran Starbase; L4 at Terran Special Base)
    Upgrade: Shiva (50000, Level 16, Allied Starbase)
  • Torch Sabre: Nomad's get this special weapon for free - everyone else pays 1800 for it (L4 at Nomad Starbase, Level 12 at Allied Starbase). It is far and away the best of the special weapons - it hits its target regardless of which direction you are facing (randomly determined at apparently random intervals) and best of all it is clearly visible, giving a satisfying sense of destructive power every time it fires. At the Nomad Secret Weapon or Secret Base (secret Starbases), this can be purchased at Level 1.
    There are no upgrades for this item.
  • Phoenix Rocket: although some players do not notice the difference, most recognise a more powerful forward shot - as if the weapon being fired was from the next upgrade of ship. Although you may frequently convince yourself that you don't need the Phoenix Missile, it can be addictive. Once you start playing a character with a Phoenix Missile, you don't want to give up the more powerful looking shots. Available Level 8 at the Nomad Starbase for 2800, and Level 1 at the Nomad Secret Base.
    There are no upgrades for this item.
  • Entropy Cannon: more damage and less energy per shot, this is one of the best weapon upgrades. 4300 at Level 12 at the Nomad Starbase; Level 8 at the Nomad Secret Weapon, and Level 1 at the Nomad Secret Base.
    Can be considered an upgrade of the Shot Booster or Penetrator, which are largely inferior versions of the Entropy Cannon.
  • Spatial Splitter: extra shots and also allows you to shoot phased ships, which is helpful but not essential. Some races (including the Vorgans)get their extra shots launched in a different direction which makes having this or a Shot Splitter (the Spatial Splitter's younger brother) almost essential. Level 8 at the Nomad Starbase for 3300 - or Level 8 at the Nomad Secret Weapon.
    Combines the Shot Splitter and the Probe, neither of which are essential by themselves.
  • Armada Burner: by no means essential, this is a useful piece of equipment to have around. When used, the ship's shots slow Armada vessels, which is especially useful for the Sentinel-type vessels which maneuvre to put a shield between themselves and enemy vessels.
  • Kill Scanner: this gives the Eldred experience bonus to any ship (and is cumulative with the Eldred's own bonus). This is only a little over 10% bonus, and frankly is barely noticeable on the long slog to the next ship upgrade. None the less, when you just can't wait to get to the next level, swapping in a Kill Scanner is useful. You can get it at Level 1 from the Eldred Starbase for 1300 (or Level 8 at the Allied Starbase).
  • Spectral Scanner: this gives the Drakken cash bonus to any ship (and is also cumulative with their bonus), much as above. Level 1 from the Drakken Starbase for 1300 (or Level 9 at the Allied Starbase).
    The X-Scanner is a combined Kill Scanner and Spectral Scanner; Level 12 at the Drakken Starbase for 4300 credits.
  • Hull Diffuser: increased damage resistance, which some players find useful. Level 4 from the Vorgan Starbase for 2300 credits.
    The Protection Ring is an upgrade for this which incorporates increased energy regeneration, which is useful until you have your Shiva. Level 12 at the Vorgan Starbase for 3800 credits.

There is one other item of equipment, attained late in the game, which we have chosen to keep secret in this CFAQ. Rest assured, you will want it almost as much as the Shiva, which provides infinite energy, and rest assured it is more expensive, so save up your credits. Like the Shiva it is available at the Allied Starbase, but you will need to be Level 32 to buy the last piece of Ultratech.

Almost all the rest of the equipment is useless. Anyone who can report a definite, positive benefit to other pieces of equipment is welcome to do so.

The most nominated piece of Utterly Useless Equipment has been the Ultrascope.


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18. What Ultratech is available where?

  • Allied Starbase

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
    1Warp Muzzle800Increased shot speed
    1Absorption Rod800Increased beam resistance
    1 Ultrascope800Detect Ultratech at long range
    1 Shot Splitter800More shots
    1 Defence Booster800Increased shield strength
    1Armour Booster800Increased armour strength
        
    4Power Gun1300Increased power pod damage
    4Warp Generator1300Warp only drains 50% of power
    4Power Rod1300Faster shot rate
        
    8Probe1300Hit phased ships
    8Kill Scanner1300Experience bonus for kills
    8Spectral Scanner1300Credit bonus for kills
        
    12Torch Sabre1800Beam attack
    12 Missile Rack1800Missile attack
    12 Armada Scalpel1800Increased rate of salvage
        
    16Energy Booster1800Higher maximum energy
    16Shot Booster1800Decreased energy per shot
    16Impact Webbing1800No damage in collisions
    16Shiva50,000Infinite Energy
        
    32?????????

  • Terran Starbase

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
    1Armour Booster800Increased armour strength
    1Power Rod1300Faster shot rate
    1 Missile Rack1800Missile attack
        
    4Energy Cycler2300Faster energy regeneration
    8Plated Emitter2800Increased armour and shield
    8Power Turbine3300Increased shield and power pod damage
        
    12Energy Battery3800Faster energy regen and max energy
    12 Armada Burner4300Main weapon slows Armada ships

  • Terran Special Base/Marauder Outpost (Secret Starbase)

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
    1Armour Booster800Increased armour strength
    1Power Rod1300Faster shot rate
    1 Missile Rack1800Missile attack
    1Energy Cycler2300Faster energy regeneration
        
    4Power Turbine3300Increased shield and power pod damage
    4Energy Battery3800Faster energy regen and max energy
    4 Armada Burner4300Main weapon slows Armada ships

  • Nomad Starbase

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
        
    1 Shot Splitter800More shots
    1Power Gun1300Increased power pod damage
        
    4Torch Sabre1800Beam attack
    4Power Spine2300Increased damage for main weapon
        
    8Phoenix Rocket2800More powerful forward shot
    8Spatial Splitter3300More shots & hit phased ships
        
    12Scorcher3800Increase weapon and power pod damage
    12Entropy Cannon4300Inc. damage, decreased energy cost

  • Nomad Secret Weapon (Secret Starbase)

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
    1Power Gun1300Increased power pod damage
    1Torch Sabre1800Beam attack
    8Spatial Splitter3300More shots & hit phased ships
    8Entropy Cannon4300Inc. damage, decreased energy cost

  • Nomad Secret Base (Secret Starbase)

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
    1Armour Booster800Increased armour strength
    1Defense Booster800Increased shield strength
    1 Shot Splitter800More shots
    1Power Gun1300Increased power pod damage
    1Torch Sabre1800Beam attack
    1Power Spine2300Increased damage for main weapon
    1Phoenix Rocket2800More powerful forward shot
    1Spatial Splitter3300More shots & hit phased ships
    1Scorcher3800Increase weapon and power pod damage
    1Entropy Cannon4300Inc. damage, decreased energy cost

  • Drakken Starbase

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
    1 Ultrascope800Detect Ultratech at long range
    1Spectral Scanner1300Credit bonus for kills
        
    4Energy Booster1800Increased energy max
    4Piercer2300Increased chance of critical
        
    8Absorption Battery2800Beam resist and inc. energy max
    8Power Chamber3300Detect Ultratech and inc. energy max.
        
    12Penetrator3800Inc. chance of crit. & dec. energy cost
    12X-Scanner4300Credit and experience bonus

  • Drakken Gasmine (Secret Starbase)

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
    1 Ultrascope800Detect Ultratech at long range
    1Spectral Scanner1300Credit bonus for kills
    1Energy Booster1800Increased energy max
        
    8Penetrator3800Inc. chance of crit. & dec. energy cost
    8X-Scanner4300Credit and experience bonus

  • Eldred Starbase

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
    1Absorption Rod800Increased beam resistance
    1Kill Scanner1300Experience bonus for kills
        
    4Shot Booster1800Decrease energy cost per shot
    4Energy Plating2300Beam resist and increased shot speed
        
    8Pod Siphon2800Power pods replaced after dying
    8Power Disk3300Exp. bonus and inc. power pod damage
        
    12Split Booster3800More shots at cheaper energy cost
    12Split Scanner4300More shots plus exp. bonus

  • Scarab Starbase

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
    1Warp Muzzle800Increased shot speed
    1Probe1300Hit phased ships
        
    4Impact Webbing1800No damage for collisions
        
    8Nullifier2800Armada ships do not subdivide
    8X-Probe3300No subdivide and hit phased ships
        
    12Power Converter4300Inc. shot speed and power pod damage

  • Vorgan Starbase

    LevelUltratechCostEffects
        
    1 Defence Booster800Increased shield strength
    1 Armada Scalpel1800Increased rate of salvage
        
    4Warp Generator1300Warp only drains 50% of power
    4Hull Diffuser2300Increased damage resistance
        
    8Power Ring2800Increased shield and energy max
    8Warp Lens3300Inc. rate of salvage + shots and damage
        
    12Protection Ring3800Damage resistance and energy regen
    12Armada Heart4300Warp uses 50% energy + shield strength


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19. When do I get my next new ship?

Ship upgrades are every 4 levels and take effect when you return to the Allied Base Planet. A fanfare accompanies your new bigger, more powerful weapon of mass destruction.

The experience for levels grows exponentially, according to the function 8 x (current level)^3. The required experience per level are as follows:

LevelExperienceUpgrades
10 
28 
364 
4216First upgrade
5512 
61,000 
71,728 
82,744Second upgrade
94,096 
105,832 
118,000 
1210,648Third upgrade
1313,824 
1417,576 
1521,952 
1627,000Fourth upgrade
1732,768 
1839,304 
1946,656 
2054,872Fifth upgrade
2164,000 
2274,088 
2385,184 
2497,336Sixth upgrade
25110,592 
26125,000 
27140,608 
28157,464Seventh upgrade
29175,616 
30195,112 
31216,000 
32238,328Eighth upgrade
33262,144 
34287,496 
35314,432 
36343,000Ninth upgrade
37373,248 
38405,224 
39438,976 
40474,552Tenth upgrade
41512,000 
42551,368 
43592,704 
44636,056Last upgrade

After your last upgrade, not only will you look big and funky, but you have infinite power pods and therefore are practically invincible. Enjoy it - you've earned it.

ihobo comments: this experience chart would have been fine for the internet version of the game, but without that, it is much too top heavy. Few players will bother to raise even one character to level 40, let alone trying it with all six races.

We would have recommended downscaling the chart so that less experience was required per level, specifically, we would have reduced the gradient of the exponential so that the experience requirements at the upper end were more achievable.


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20. Why is every planet boxed in?

Presumably because the graphics for the planet do not tessellate, so the actual area that can be scrolled across is restricted. This is a shame, as it lends a wholly artificial quality to fighting on planets.

ihobo comments: the planet part of the game is perhaps the most disappointing. These are the game's "dungeons" (by comparison to an RPG at least), and they are essentially the same as space, but with different opponents and greater rewards.

We would have recommended a tessellating planetary graphic, so the planet surface could be made larger, and also made the planets more goal-oriented. By giving the player the ability to liberate each of the planets, the player can have a goal. The target number of kills could be quite large, so it would be a struggle, but each visit should reflect the strength of the Armada presence there, so the player feel a genuine effect. A series of larger and more dangerous bosses to kill en route could also be factored in.

When liberated, non-player characters from the Allied Base planet appear at the newly freed planets, and periodically the planets would be attacked by Armada ships, causing a new mission to be generated to attempt to defend or, if too late in responding, liberate the planet.


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21. I finished playing but my character wasn't saved. What happened?

In a multi-player game, each character quits with the menu option for quitting their character by name. Quitting in this way does save the character that is exiting the game.

However, when there is only one player, the option to quit character by name is not given. Instead, the option to quit is given. This will end the current game, and not save. Therefore, when you are playing single player, or when you are the last player in the game, you must use the Save Game option before you quit.

ihobo comments: menu systems ideally should be consistent for multi-player and single player games. If the menu system was detailed in the design documents, ihobo would have performed a structural analysis and suggested making the single player save game/quit analogous to the multi-player, so that the functionality of the menu remains constant.

If no menu structure was given in the design, ihobo would have offered to design the main menu system as part of its remit.

One nice quality of the save and load in Armada is VMU selection, which is both effortless and intuitive. Metro 3D are to be commended for having thought sensibly about what would be the best way to deal with this design issue.


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22. How do I complete the game?

The game will continue indefinitely, but there is a set campaign of 31 missions to complete. There are only three types of mission, unfortunately:

  • Delivery missions, which involve picking up one of several different commodities from the Allied Starbase and delivering them to one of the other Starbases.
  • Battle missions, which involve destroying ever more powerful foes.
  • Special missions, which involve going to co-ordinates doing one simple action.

The missions take place in sequence whether or not someone has told you about it, so if you know the location for the mission, you can skip returning home if you want to.

The following is the order of missions, the Level of the enemy for Battle Missions (you should aim to be about this level to take them on), and the location (or approximate locatoin) of each of the targets. They show up on the scanner as a white dot for battle missions.

MissionTitleLevel of FoeCo-ordinates or location
0(No title)L1Allied Base
1Destroy GuardianL4Just NW of Allied Base
2Deliver Construction MaterialsDeliveryTerran Starbase
3Deliver Food MixDeliveryDrakken Starbase
4Seek & DestroyL7approx. 8870, -4370
5Reduce Broodhome PopulationL89223, -4370
6Defeat the SentinelL9-9366, 3212
7Invade Life WorldL10-9408, 6400
8Defend VorgansL11approx. -14000, -7000
9Deliver Medical SuppliesDeliveryVorgan Starbase
10Dissect the Rock HammerL12-21022, -7000
11Deliver Computer ComponentsDeliveryScarab Starbase
12Destroy Claw CommanderL13approx. -13500, -4500
13Invade the Desert PlanetL14 -22998, -5327
14Scan for AnomaliesSpecial-326, -359
15Open the WormholeSpecial-22405, -9641
16Destroy Marauder CommanderL15-144, -9723
17Destroy Marauder GeneralL22-98, -4512
18Invade the Ice PlanetL17-14721, -20911
19Deliver Entertainment PodDeliveryEldred Starbase
20Destroy Armada Brain ShipL18256, -9328
21Investigate New Armada ThreatL197455, -14332
22Protect Eldred DomainL205442, -11002
23Liberate Drakken GasmineL2122522, 7334
24Prevent Tentacle EvolutionL2222954, -2886
25 Invade the Dead PlanetL238655, -17822
26Invade the Gaseous PlanetL2427421, 3284
27Invade the Volcanic PlanetL2522421, 24511
28Attack Armada MasterL26-20034, 31022
29Attack Armada OverlordL27-25032, 29878
30Invade the Infested WorldL28-31250, 342880
31Kill Armada Emergency BeaconL29-34123, 36544

The last mission can be completed with characters substantially below level 29 with good equipment, a few friends and a psychotic attitude.

After mission 31, space becomes much harder. The Level 1 Armada ships around the Allied Base go up to Level 16, and all the Armada vessel in space will be similar increased in level.

You can go to any of the planets to fight, which is the best way to get experience and money.

ihobo comments: the lack of any more missions after number 31 is disappointing. With very little work, existing dialogue could have been worked into an endless sequence of additional missions, reusing the bosses already fought, but placing them at ever higher levels. This could infinitely expand the basic game play at little or no extra expenditure of resources.

Combined with the ability of the players to "liberate" planets (mentioned before), and an ability for the Armada to retake the planets, the players would become far more involved in the development of known space and of the game.

More dialogue would be recommended (and scripted) to cover the additional situations, but there is plenty of material already available that could be switched for this alternative usage.


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23. What's that floating in space that I picked up?

It could be any one of the following:

  • Armour Repair: a green energy ball, left behind when a tentacled alien is shot.
  • Power Pod: a red circular pod, almost invisible on most backgrounds, left sometimes at random when you destroy an Armada vessel.
  • Credits: a little sparkling bone shaped piece of debris can be scanned or run over for money.
  • Ultratech: a little technoblock (usually very difficult to make out) represents a piece of Ultratech that has been found - that is, that you've been given a random piece of equipment. This is usually very disappointing, and does not happen often.

ihobo comments: it is a shame that at no point is there a mission which results in the player being able to salvage more advanced Ultratech. We would have recommended setting aside some of the more useful equipment such that it could only be found as salvage. We would also have recommended that the Armada Scalpel more noticeably increased the chance of salvaging.

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24. Is there a fast way to get the next mission?

Yes. Return to the Allied Base using the menu, then hold down your scanner and press up on the D-pad to ascend. On the way up you will talk to everyone - restoring your power pods, repairing your armour and getting any current mission.

You can also use this trick when ascending from planets to collect any salvage, power pod or armour power ups that you might have missed. It is worth "surfacing" frequently to check for what you have missed.


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25. What else is there to do?

Space is crawling with escort missions - a flashing green circle indicates a ship in need of assistance, and if you go to it you will find one of the six races with a huge carrier and a handful of support fighters (the Nomads have little men in battle suits, and are by far the coolest of the escort missions).

When you scanner the ship to be escorted, it begins moving to destination co-ordinates that you are given on screen. Payment is based on the distance travelled and the level of the enemy ships at your destination.

It is important when escorting not to lose sight of the ship you are protecting. It is very easy to peel off to engage a capital ship, only to discover when the dust settles that a squadron of fighters went straight to the escort vessel whilst you were occupied and turned it into debris.

ihobo comments: the escort missions are one of the more enjoyable aspects of the game, but marred by one fatal flaw. When the escort arrives at its destination, it just waits where it is to die. Since players often stick around for the fight at the end, it gives a very depressing and pointless feel to the gameplay.

Presuming this feature was documented in the game design, ihobo would have recommended making the destinations of the escorts by planets or Starbases, so that when the escorted vessel arrives it can descend to the base (using the graphical routines that the players' ships use to descend) giving a real sense of achievement.

If the supply-demand model for trading was used, the escort of ships could also effect prices at Starbases.


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26. How far does space go?

As far as we could tell, it goes on indefinitely, but other FAQs have unconfirmed reports of an edge of both the fog and the starfield.

At approximately 80,000 from the centre, all the ships become capital ships.

At approximately 200,000 from the centre, all the enemy ships are Level 50 - huge capital ships.

At periodic intervals after this point, different classes of ships are encountered, but they are all Level 50.

The furthest ihobo expedition went out to 320,000 from centre, where Shell-type vessels are the opponents. We encourage you to attempt psychotic expeditions even further into deep space and let us know what you find.

Robert Lemberg sent us this report from the deepest reaches of the outer rim:

"In my farthest trip through space I was able to reach around 520,000 from the center with no end in sight. By now the max experience from capitol ships was 154 and the max money from escorts was 1000. The ships I encountered were mostly lightning, marauder, and the ones that look like trilibites. If I manage to get farther I will tell you."

And Ashura Johnson sent us this report from the edge of the universe:

"First of all the co-ordinates of the end of space, in any direction is 1,000,110.

"Second of all you will need 3 things at least. A pod siphon, another charecter to select from, and another controller. With all of these set, head into space (best at level 12 for the one your using, and just use one at a time.)

"About 200,000 in, there are invisible ships that pop out of nowhere into your path, and a pod siphon is your friend, because you will encounter these off and on every 100,000/200,000 points in a coordinate, they are difficult to dodge, because the computer directs them so you run into them (my guess a safe gaurd to keep you from getting to the edge of the map).

"The main thing you want to do is race toward the end of the universe at high speed, using pod powers only to boost your shields. If you so happen to die, and lose your last man, quickly hit the start button on the second controller and load the other character, your character that just died will return to life (with one life) and you might want to quit the character you just loaded.

"Continually do this as you go through the universe, dodging all enemies to the best of your ability, (by the way, I recommend dodging the Invisible ships by swerving back and forth in their area, they are less likely to slow you down for long. And also, have an impact webbing equipped, or you might not last it the whole trip, and it's very hard to make it).

"Toward the end, the fog DOES cut off, and you can fly about 110 more points, then the map dissallows you to go further, however, I didn't notice any lack of stars, like other guides discussed.

All in all, there is an end, its just not worth it to find unless you want to prove a point or if you just want to go, and you probably only want to do it once."

ihobo thanks these brave explorers for their psychotic commitment to exploration!


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27. Where can I learn more about Armada?

The best other FAQ for this game we have found is at:

http://www.gamefaqs.com/console/dreamcast/game/24226.html


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28. What about Armada 2?

Armada 2: Star Command (originally Armada 2: Exodus) was originally planned to be released in 2001. However, Sega's discontinuation of the Dreamcast meant that Armada 2 was left without a platform, as it was designed with online play in mind (as the original Armada was) and the untimely death of the Dreamcast left no place to put it.

It is now due for release October 2002 in the US. It is expected to contain revised versions of the races with better racial balance, and substantially more equipment to choose from. It is planned that players will be able to use their save games from Armada to give themselves a head start in the sequel, but the extent of that head start has yet to be announced.

It will be available on the PS2 and X-Box only, and all versions will be able to play together on the internet.


Critical FAQ on ihobo CFAQs

 1. What's a FAQ?
 2. What's a CFAQ?
 3. Why should I trust the ihobo CFAQs?
 4. How does an ihobo CFAQ compare to a published game guide?
 5. How long does an ihobo CFAQ take to write?
 6. Anyone can find fault after the game is finished. Isn't making comments on the design of other people's games a little like 20-20 hindsight?
 7. What should I do if I find a mistake in a CFAQ?
 8. Can I submit a CFAQ to be put up on the ihobo website?
 9. What if my question isn't there?
10. Why aren't there more CFAQs?
11. Why are all the CFAQs on Dreamcast games?

1. What's a FAQ?

FAQ stands for 'Frequently Asked Questions'. Originally, FAQs were collections of the questions that were most frequently asked on a newsgroup, the idea being that people would avoid having to read the same old questions over and over again if the most commonly asked questions were available in one file. Of course, once FAQs became commonplace, the most frequently asked question on any newsgroup was: "where is the FAQ for this newsgroup?"

For computer games, FAQs are rarely a collection of genuine frequently asked questions. Rather, the term 'FAQ' has become synonymous with either 'play guide' or 'walkthrough'. Like any other word, FAQ is evolving its own particular meaning as time goes by.


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2. What's a CFAQ?

The ihobo Critical FAQs or CFAQs are intended to do five things:

  1. Collect together a genuine selection of frequently asked questions on a particular game, including the most obvious question never asked: should I buy it?
  2. Help new players get to grips with the game, without necessarily giving away every secret and detail of the game. Not all CFAQs will completely solve the game for you - but they will always point you in the right direction.
  3. Describe only those cheats which have been verified to work. Many sites list all cheats that have been submitted, and almost always a large number of them are myths made up by playful or malicious people with too much time on their hands. We will not put a cheat or secret into a CFAQ unless we have been able to demonstrate to our satisfaction that it definitely works.
  4. Provide links to other FAQs, walkthroughs, cheats, hints or solutions to the game, so you don't have to search for them yourself.
  5. Promote the ihobo Design Overhaul service to the computer games industry. This is the only commercial aspect of the CFAQs, and since we are advertising to the games industry, most of the gamers using the CFAQs can ignore this aspect all together by skipping all the boxed sections marked 'ihobo comments'.

If a CFAQ exists for a game, it will be your best point of reference for anything you want to know about the game.

Some CFAQs will be on games that ihobo has worked on - in which case we are almost certainly the highest authority on the Internet for that particular game.

Other CFAQs will be games we have selected for a deconstruction exercise, or focus group trials. These are not generally games for which we have inside information, but we guarantee that if we are writing a CFAQ the ihobo team has collectively spent more than forty man hours playing or studying the game.


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3. Why should I trust the ihobo CFAQs?

Magazine reviews are often useful, but in the world of computer games, magazine reviews are often biased to an extent which borders on corruption. Many magazines offer favourable reviews in return for exclusive rights to preview articles, or to cover disk demos. Some magazines are so dependent on certain companies, that their ability to offer an independent opinion is utterly compromised.

Also, in order to make publication deadlines almost all magazines have to make reviews on the basis of less play time than might be strictly necessary. In particular, all magazine reviews can only guess at the longevity of a game. An ihobo CFAQ review is based on people's experience actually playing the game over an extended period of time. The only major source of bias in an ihobo CFAQ is when we write a CFAQ on a game we have worked upon (and in these situations we always say that this is the case).

As if all this wasn't bad enough, many "reviews" of games are made not on the basis of a finished product but on a brief tour of an early Beta version of the game and a copy of the design documents. The magazines are forced to this by their publication deadlines; here at ihobo we have no publication deadlines. We don't put anything into the Forum until we're sure it's a fair representation of the game.


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4. How does an ihobo CFAQ compare to a published game guide?

Although published guides can be a good reference for a game, they are usually rushed in order to get the guide in circulation at the same time as the game. In Europe and the US, the guides may well be based on the Japanese version of the game (if one exists) which usually gives a fair representation of what can be expected, although some errors can creep in.

Often, game guides are constructed from the design notes of the game. Although this is an invaluable resource for a guide, there are limits as to what can be learned from the documentation, and the best guides are those written by people that have played the game as well as having access to the design notes.

International Hobo CFAQs will always say whether they are based on play (minimum 40 man hours), or design notes and play. Generally, we except an ihobo CFAQ to be superior to a published game guide because we have no publication guideline to stick to. This is not to say that such guides should not be published, but we would content that many are published prematurely.


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5. How long does an ihobo CFAQ take to write?

It takes roughly a week to prepare a CFAQ, but a minimum of forty man hours of play-time is required before the CFAQ is even begun. We never research what is planned for the sequel to a game until after the main body of the CFAQ is completed.


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6. Anyone can find fault after the game is finished. Isn't making comments on the design of other people's games a little like 20-20 hindsight?

We do our utmost to make only those comments that we believe could have been picked up at the design level, or at least to identify which faults could have been prevented at this point, and which could only have been detected in QA (Quality Assurance, i.e. play-testing). Many faults cannot be picked up at the design level, but most industry veterans can spot which sort of problems probably did originate in the design.

Feel free to challenge us if you think any of the ihobo comments regarding design improvements could not have realistically been made before the game was finished.


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7. What should I do if I find a mistake in a CFAQ?

Immediately email us so we can fix it! We credit all external contributors to a CFAQ.


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8. Can I submit a CFAQ to be put up on the ihobo website?

Sorry, we can't accept CFAQs from people who don't work either for us or with us for various pragmatic reasons. However, if you have a FAQ for a next generation game, please feel free to contact us and we will put a link to your FAQ when we put together a CFAQ. You can also email us if there's a next generation game that you'd particularly like to see a CFAQ for, although we can't guarantee that one will be made.

We will happily host any FAQs that are having difficulty finding a home on the Web.


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9. What if my question isn't there?

If you have a question about a game that we have a CFAQ for and you cannot find the answer in the CFAQ or any of the links given in it, feel free to write to us. We can't guarantee a swift reply - everyone at ihobo is a full time game designer or script writer and our work keeps us very busy - but we will try and get back to you.


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10. Why aren't there more CFAQs?

Because this is a service we are running in our downtime, between working on designing and scripting games which is what we really do for a living. We will be striving to have as many CFAQs as we can, but for the most part we can only write a CFAQ for a game which we have used with one of our focus groups, or which we have worked on.


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11. Why are all the CFAQs on Dreamcast games?

Because this is the only next generation console currently in circulation in the West.


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Call in the Cavalry

First published in Develop, issue 4 (March 2001)

Outsourcing is nothing new - developers and publishers are used to the idea of hiring a graphic design agency to produce manual layouts, contracting a script writer, or even having music commissioned from an outside source. With game projects having dramatically increased in scale over the last decade, few companies have all the resources they need in house, and many are looking for new options to make meeting the all important milestones plausible without suffering a loss in quality.

Enter the new vanguard of studios specialising in providing unique services to game developers and publishers, such as design-integrated script and audio, design overhauls and 'emergency services'. These limited companies, such as my own Manchester-based International Hobo (ihobo for short) and Paul Weir's Earcom, specialists in audio design for interactive entertainment, situated in London, are setting out to change the way companies think about outsourcing. Both offer markedly different services to the games industry, but share the same goal of offering exceptional creative potential coupled with the advantages of a limited company structure.

Both Paul's company and my own are actively involved in design-integration - the process of ensuring that music and dialogue are not supplemental to the game play, but an integral part of it. Design-integrated scripts and soundtracks add a level of depth and possibility previously unrealised. Rather than having a game and bolting on speech and music as an afterthought, the structure of the game is built around the narrative; the player's actions become more meaningful if the music or dialogue reflects the choices they make in the game world.

International Hobo started as an entirely personal matter. I needed a framework that would enable me to work on game designs and script from anywhere in the world, in part because I was involved with an American woman who has since become my wife. Originally, ihobo was just a limited company framework built around one man - me - but it rapidly became apparent that I wasn't going to be able to handle all the work alone, and so I set to work building a team with varied skills in design, writing and human-computer interfaces that could fulfil the role of a multi-purpose outsourcing company.

It's not been easy. There's a certain mentality that many developers have in the West, that starts with pride and can eventually border on arrogance. Studios don't like to admit that they can't do everything by themselves, or feel that having someone check over and revise material externally is a sign of weakness, rather than a sensible financial investment. This territoriality can even extend inside a studio, with conflicts between producers and in-house game designers causing a project to be pulled in different directions. It's not a happy state of affairs when you have two entirely different projects trying to occupy the same space, and getting an impartial outside company to focus the design towards its goals can be invaluable.

It has been mostly Publishers who have contacted International Hobo with a view to using their services. Sometimes they are concerned that a particular project doesn't have the strength of design that it needs, and sometimes it is simply a recognition that it is better to hire additional help for an already overworked studio than risk not delivering milestones on time. There's still a certain amount of caution, because no-one quite expects to find a specialist design team which can handle all the creative aspects of design, scripting, front ends and so forth.

Generally, the company functions as a consultancy, delivering certain documents to an appropriate milestone schedule but always being on hand to help with any problems that emerge through the development cycle. When all hell breaks lose, even the sturdiest developers struggle to remain within the original milestone structure, and having a pool of external talent to draw on can be a welcome resource. We even offer unique "emergency services" which I believe are a cost-effective way to attempt to rescue a project whose design has thundered off the rails.

Earcom found its feet somewhat faster than ihobo since whilst most developers have at least one in-house game designer, many do not have a team of in-house musicians. Much of Earcom's work focuses on obvious audio production work - producing music, original sound effects, sourcing actors and recording speech. They have a reputation for high quality work, and one of the clear advantages of working with Earcom is that the pool of talent they offer has been exposed to a great range of experience, and by necessity is absolutely up to date with both ideas and technology.

Paul's company does not restrict itself to games, and has even been commissioned to produce scores for London theatres. One of its current projects involves producing a score for 150 musicians incorporating a full scale wind orchestra, two choirs, dancers and a solo singer - they haven't yet encountered a project that was too big for them to handle, and seem to welcome every challenge.

One of the biggest problem facing the new outsourcing companies is a lack of awareness, both of the companies themselves, and of the availability of such services. Advertising is generally not as effective as it would be in retail, and word of mouth is slow. Additionally, the time it takes a computer game project to come to term can be two years or more, meaning that during the first few years the company cannot easily show off its talents to prospective clients. Non-disclosure agreements further complicate the issue, constraining the ability for these companies to discuss even current projects.

Earcom has been making good progress in their tricky first year by having their fingers in a lot of pies. Many of these projects surround the core business of audio production, but draw on a considerable range of highly specialised skills. They have found it easier to develop a name for themselves within the more web-based new media field than within the games field. Earcom is heading in a direction where they not only design the audio and its integration, but also the applications (providing that they are strongly audio led) to accompany that audio by drawing on a pool of specialised Javascript, C++ and Actionscript programmers who are all very knowledgeable about audio matters.

Conversely, International Hobo has had to spread its net wide within the games industry, making contacts in Europe, the US and Australia. Some blossom into fully fledged projects, but even this takes time, and securing a baseline income has proved both challenging and rewarding. The solution has been to minimise the number of permanent staff but maximise the pool of talent that can be drawn upon. Rapidly expanding, we have had to be careful to ensure that their size grows in proportion to continuous income, not short term gains. In the long term, we are working on tools such as FreeSpeak, a context-dependent script format that can be machine processed into dynamic scripts, helping to minimise the QA impact of context-dependent dialogue. By offering unique and creative services, we hope to make a name for ourselves as the next few years unfold.

Both ihobo and Earcom have strong links to academia, ensuring they can remain at the cutting edge of design-integration. My own company has ties to Manchester University's prestigious computer science department, and I try to meet regularly with Dr. Mary Wood to discuss advances in research that may have an impact on future game designs. Paul Weir at Earcom runs the only Masters course in Composing for New Media in the country, and can regularly be found on the lecture circuits talking about interactive media.

These new companies have a long way to go before they prove that external design-integrated services are the future for the games industry, but for the time being we are holding our own in a difficult market, and working to push games to their creative limits. Ultimately, our success depends as much on changing the attitudes of the developers and publishers we aim to work with as it does in our own capacity for excellence.

Chris Bateman is a former in-house game designer and script writer with a Master's degree in Artificial Intelligence and aspirations to either rule the world or improve the overall quality of games. Whichever comes first.


Games or Films?

"There's a nasty tendency in the games industry to treat a game as a film with short interactive sequences. It's a mistake, because people soon tire of the game if all that's keeping their interest is the cut scenes.

"I believe it is generally better for games to implement the story mostly through the game play itself, resorting to cut scenes only where essential. Such games require a little more design work, but the pay off is well worth the investment."

Neil Bundy
Design Consultant
International Hobo

"I'm deeply concerned about people treating new media as a relation of film, which is a huge mistake since film and interactive entertainment live in completely different dimensions. People turn off game music often because it's written as a film score and doesn't take into account the major differences between the two mediums.

"Despite coming from a classical background, I firmly believe that the future of interactive entertainment audio production is in real-time synthesis, particularly physical modelling. Indeed we can already see the spread of physics based game engines within current games and as processing power increases, this will encroach more and more on the audio."

Paul Weir
Managing Director
Earcom

"It's annoying the lack of interest people are taking in game scripting, because it doesn't cost much to do it right. The games industry shouldn't take the same attitude as Hollywood to scripting, which is that scripts are dispensable, because we've all seen what has happened to Hollywood."

Richard Boon
Design-Integrated Script Writer
International Hobo

Market Hazards

"It's easy for companies to get complacent and to stick firmly to traditional methods when a new attitude may be required. Old habits die hard, but the more companies we work with, the more we are able to demonstrate the advantages of our services.

"Obviously we end up having to bid for a lot of our contracts, which is a perfectly natural business practice. The problem comes when clients fail to recognise that producing a design -integrated script with a strong narrative is not the same as cranking out a few hundred lines of dialogue for cut scenes. It takes both a script writer and a design consultant to excel in the former, and that costs a little more than just hiring a regular script writer.

"I believe our services are very competitively priced, and we never attempt to offer less than a project requires. We don't want to put our name to any project if we do not believe we can genuinely facilitate in making it the best it can be, given the time and budget restrictions."

Martin Chase
Design Consultant
International Hobo

"In the audio field, there's always been a lot of freelancing or outsourcing. This may partly be due to a lack of specialised skills, but also because, rightly or wrongly, the audio content can normally be created fairly quickly when compared to the long production cycles of games.

"There has however been a lack of ltd. companies. This is partly, I think, due to the difficulty in developing a business active enough to employ more than one or two people. Unlike film or particularly advertisement sound design, there are very few, if any, 'names' that a commissioning company can go to. The games industry has always been too fragmented and poorly organised to develop a strong sense of it's own social and cultural identity within the context of its members."

Paul Weir
Managing Director
Earcom

Games Businessmen Play: Tokyo 2001

First published in Develop, issue 6 (May 2001). This article was edited for content (and possible libel!) and the text presented here represents the original copy.

It may have been a disappointing Tokyo Game Show, but the men & women on the Digital Content Trade Mission to Japan kept themselves entertained...

Game 1: Dodge the Bill

The rules are simple. Sit yourself in the hotel bar and order a beer. Sooner or later, someone you know will turn up and they'll order a beer too. Keep drinking and more people will join the group - continue until there's at least one millionaire at the table, and let them pick up the tab.

The game is more subtle than it first appears, however, since there's always the possibility that a millionaire won't turn up - or worse, that they turn up but then slip away, leaving you with a table full of heavy drinkers and no walking cash-point. Of course, you can always leave shortly after the millionaire does, but that looks suspicious.

The game ends up much like no limit poker, whereby you can only afford to let the tab build up to the point where you can still just about squeeze it onto your overworked expenses without a lot of clever bluffing.

Although he will probably not thank me for the accolade, Crawfish's Cameron Sheppard was widely considered to be the master of this game, but there were no shortage of contenders for his throne.

Game 2: Yenhunter

Played by almost everyone, it seemed, the game of Yenhunter places you in the role of a businessman who has run out of cash, desperately trying to find a cash machine that will accept your card. This is no easy game to win at, but a good tip is to look for a green shamrock-like icon - that usually means the machine will take Visa. Post offices are a good bet, but be warned that they tend to be closed at the weekend.

Virtucraft's Brian Beukan racked up the most mileage in his quest for frequent petty cash top-ups, sandwiched between meetings with Capcom and the inevitable outings to Rappongi; ground zero for the Tokyo night life.

Game 3: Rappongi Monopoly

Roll a die. Whatever number comes up, move to Motown - or any other nightclub with standing room only. Drink prodigious amounts of beer then return to the hotel lobby with three women from random countries who you just can't get rid of for some reason. Get as little sleep as you can, schedule your hangover between your two meetings, then collect 50,000 yen when you pass Go and do it all over again.

As with conventional Monopoly, the game goes on so long that it's more of a test of endurance than a game of skill, but the boys from Empire certainly seemed contenders for the prize, having spent something approaching the GDP of a small African nation on drinks.

The most likely winner was Jon Oldham, the Pickford Brothers' pocket thug and the nicest guy ever to be blessed with forearms that could crush Peter Molyneux's head like a quail's egg. John's dedication to Rappongi Monopoly was such that it seemed by the end of his stay that he'd done every conceivable thing one can do in downtown Tokyo at night, except sleep.

Game 4: Embassy World Cup

Although in most respects the trade mission was extremely well organised, there were times when it seemed we were involved in a sporting challenge of Embassy United versus Business International. The clash usually came down to the lack of understanding the Embassy staff has of the games industry, or the usual breakdown in communication that goes with any major event.

George Bray of Guildhall Leisure scored a stunning goal for the business side after a frank exchange with Trade Partners rep Kevin Coleman, and was rewarded with a whole team of staff at the Embassy working to resolve a set of problems that could easily have been avoided from the outset if there had been a little more specialist knowledge available to the Embassy.

Game 5: Sim Foreign Businessman

Two ways to play this one: you could either do your level best to respect Japanese customs, use a little of their language where appropriate and commit yourself to a lengthy process of building trust, or you can take the Teleca/Bio-Virtual approach. Turn up with a strong, visual product (one that you can understand irrespective of language), go yachting with the President of Sony and announce a distribution deal in front of a captive audience of Japanese businessmen at the British Embassy. Hats off to Paul and David for the PR coup of the trade mission.

Game 6: Buzzword Exporter

Several companies were trying their hands at Buzzword Exporter, which is a tricky game since you can never be entirely certain if your preferred buzzword has the right impact when translated into another language.

Clem Chambers (one of the aforementioned millionaires regularly mixing it up in the Dodge the Bill tournament) was selling the concept of Visual Datamining to the Japanese. It's a great product for the right client, although Clem and I disagreed as to whether it actually constituted a datamining application (as well as debating the origin of the universe, ecological dynamics, the nature of religion and just about every other topic we could squeeze into a quiet night's sake drinking together).

Another buzzword in the game was 'content convergence', being touted by Jonas Eneroth and Gil Payne of Wired Realms. Although their buzzword raised some laughs amongst the ex-Bedroom Programmer nobility on the mission, you only have to rough out their business plan on a napkin to see they could be making some serious money in no time at all provided they get even modest market penetration.

Game 7: Card Harvest (Japanese Edition)

And finally, the classic game of exchanging business cards is given a new lease of life in Japan where the rules are slightly different. Of course, as with Sim Foreign Businessman, you can play by the old rules and rely on the 'fools license' granted to foreigners, but unless its abundantly apparent what you have to offer your potential Japanese business partner, it's worth making a few changes to your behaviour.

You'll score good points for passing your cards using both hands, taking the time to look intently interested in the text printed on the card given to you and then placing you contact's card somewhere safe, preferably in a card holder. Just be careful not to put it in your back pocket - you might just as well use it as toilet paper as far as many Japanese are concerned.

And remember, it's not the number of cards you harvest, it's the opportunities each of those cards represents that allows you to keep score in this game.

Chris Bateman is Managing Director of International Hobo Ltd, the world's largest games consultancy. He speaks better Japanese than he realises, but still managed to order "two coffee-people" in the hotel bar.


Cut Scenes - Friend or Foe?

First published in CTW (Computer Trade Weekly), issue 840 (11th May 2001)

As narrative elements become more popular and more necessary to video games, techniques for communicating story events to the player become vital. The primary technique currently used in narrative based games is the cut scene - a non-interactive sequence which facilitates narrative exposition. Basically, a cut scene is a chunk of story played out in visuals and sound, that the player is expected to watch and absorb.

Cut scenes have recently come under fire as being a blunt, inflexible method of communicating a story to a player. The fundamental argument in discrediting the cut scene technique seems to be that because cut scenes are non-interactive, they limit the player's involvement with the game world. This article seeks to explore the advantages and disadvantages of the cut scene, and asks: are cut scenes really an outdated video games concept?

Cut Scene Technology

There are two fundamental types of cut scene; the pre-rendered or FMV scene, and the engine-rendered scene. The former uses pre-created visuals such as computer generated animation or video, while the latter uses the game engine to generate the visuals. In both cases dialogue is provided either by written text or by a pre-recorded voiceover.

At the current time, pre-rendered scenes have fallen out of vogue. They originally became popular with the advent of CD-ROM storage for video games, and the availability of the space required to store memory-intensive blocks of data. CD-ROM's created the unpleasant breed of PC-based video game known as the 'interactive movie', which usually invoked reels of video visuals as a backdrop to necessarily simple game play concepts. The advent of the Playstation, with its popular ability to easily generate effective polygonal graphics, relegated FMV to cut scene or intro sequence status. Still, FMV was very popular with the new mass market of gamers, since it presented the illusion of high tech interactivity.

More recently it has been realised that expensive FMV scenes don't make games more popular. In part, Nintendo 64 successes such as Goldeneye (Rare) showed that engine rendered cut scenes could please a player and serve the game as well as FMV (which is restrictively memory-intensive for cartridge based systems), as well as being generally cheaper to produce.

It is interesting to note that Microsoft have announced a policy of allowing no pre-rendered graphics to be used in X-Box products, meaning that engine rendered graphics will be the only available choice for cut scenes on this system. Perhaps this will mark the end of an era where a product can advertise itself entirely on pre-rendered graphic images that have nothing to do with the game play of the product being sold.

Backlash

The main concerns regarding the use of cut scenes fall into two related categories; the over-use of cut scenes, and the non-interactivity of cut scenes. This second complaint is the most important. A cut scene takes control away from the player, thus, in theory, reducing player identification with the game. The over-use of scenes exacerbates this problem; over-long scenes, or the use of too many scenes in relation to the amount of play between scenes, can bore players. Playstation successes such as Metal Gear Solid (Konami) and the most recent entries in the Final Fantasy series (Squaresoft) have received criticism in this area. The success of these games has arisen despite their often poor pacing, rather than because of the amount of story information presented.

The Advantages of Cut Scenes

Despite their lack of direct interactivity, cut scenes are a strong device for the development of plot. Players are used to this form of story information, because they are used to watching television and movies. In addition, cut scenes allow for character-based work that is difficult to achieve in-game. Cut scene animation can be more sophisticated than in-game animation, and so can be used to provide character information to the player. The Resident Evil series of games (Capcom) uses this technique well - excellent engine-rendered scenes (often using pre-rendered backdrops) give the characters dynamic movements and therefore personality, while in-game animation is kept simple and functional.

A second advantage of the cut scene is as a player reward. Since the concept of the high-score has become devalued, other rewards are required to give the player a sense of achievement. Story can be used for this. Cut scenes are especially useful because they give the player a break from the game action as well as providing reward, and allow them a safe period to lean back, massage their hands etc. - without allowing the player to break from the game reality and thus 'stop playing'.

A final advantage of cut scenes is that they may be used to add dynamism to the game. Jet Set Radio (Sega, Smile Bit) uses brief cut scenes at specific points within its environments to show the player an alternative view of their action, giving a sense of satisfaction and reminding the player that their activities are really quite spectacular.

Narrative Pacing

Cut scenes are too valuable to dismiss entirely, but players are becoming increasingly frustrated by poorly paced cut scenes. It is irritating to find cut scenes popping up just as the player is becoming involved with a game, and there is a growing hatred of over-long scenes that actually bore. The issue of pacing seems to be an as-yet unexplored factor in video games, but efficient marshalling of various narrative techniques will be required as narrative structures in games become more complex. Otherwise players will be alienated rather than entertained.

Cut scenes are especially useful in more arcade-oriented games, in which an overreaching story is not necessary, but in which player identification can be improved by a snippet of character information here or there. In terms of narrative-based games, cut scenes have become far more flexible now that players do not expect expensive FMV. FMV constrains plot by being immutable when played - and so all story elements at that point of play are forced to conform. Next-generation engine-rendered cut scenes will be mutable, created using disparate, definable elements, and so will allow far more non-linear narrative structures to be used.

Fundamentally, cut scenes cannot be seen as an enemy to game play, as this view-point is short sighted. Instead, I believe that cut scenes should be seen as a useful tool in an ever-increasing toolbox of techniques, that may be responsibly employed by game designers and script writers to improve player understanding of the video game story.

The problems will come as it becomes increasingly difficult to satisfy players' demands for an influence in the game world without devising flexible ways to fit cut scenes into the player's choices. Dynamic cut scenes are already appearing in games, but soon there will be a need for dynamic dialogue and plotting to accompany these scenes. As the barriers between game design and script writing come down, developers will need to either learn new skills or forge new alliances if they are going to meet the challenges ahead.

Richard Boon
Head of Script Services
International Hobo