Today I'm doing an unplanned post at the recommendation/challenge of fellow blogger The Wargaming Scribe, who often comments here as Narwhal.
Back when I played through Doug Carlston's Galactic Empire on the TRS-80 as a prelude to the early games of Broderbund, I hadn't intended to continue the saga. The initial game was interesting, ambitious given the limitations of 16KB BASIC, and weirdly atmospheric, but Carlston would go on to bigger and better things, and Galactic Trader isn't especially well-regarded. However, after WGS covered it, and recommended I check out the third game, I decided to cover both.
I played this one very briefly after covering Galactic Empire and quickly decided it wasn't worth covering, but the chance to compare performances might make this more interesting, and the data-gathering aspect and trade route optimization does speak to me.
Ousted from your role as a military commander in Galactic Empire and marked by imperial assassins, you now roam the galaxy as a freelance trader in pursuit of money, which during times of peace means power - power that you'll want when the revolution happens. You make money buying goods low and selling them high, but you'll need to visit planets to learn what the rates on the goods are before you can do this effectively. It's much like DrugWars, which was, according to Wikipedia, inspired by a 1974 BASIC game called Star Trader, which also influenced Elite.
|I don't fancy these odds.
Some of dangers you'll face are:
- On Galactica, the only world that deals in cash, you risk assassination with each visit.
- Cargo weighs down your ship and increases fuel expenditure, leaving you stranded in space if you run out.
- Traders may kill you if you offer them goods that you don't have.
- Difficulty was maximized at level ten.
- I created the save state as soon as I decided to play in earnest.
- I get one chance to finish the game. No restarting allowed.
- My only acceptable uses of save states are so that I can take breaks and resume later, and to undo serious input errors and accidental breaks.
- I will log my trips and trades so that I can re-trace my steps should I need to load a save state.
- The game must be left running and unpaused when entering data or performing related number crunching.
- I may pause to take blogging-related notes.
Because Galactica is the only planet that deals in cash, and since going there can kill you, it makes more sense to me to think of fuel as the galaxy's de facto currency. This viewpoint is further supported by the fact that commodity traders outside of Galactica are slightly cagey about their own exchange rates, but the fuel cartels are up front about their goods-for-fuel rates, and as it turns out, are perfectly accurate predictors for what goods are worth on any given world.
|The only time a commodity trader will ever tell you what the goods are worth.
I won't comment too much on the interface. It isn't great, and WGS said enough on the subject already, but I still find it an improvement over Galactic Empire. The biggest issue, one carried over from the previous game, is that if you start typing a number (e.g. an offer on goods), the game will automatically submit your input when you stop typing it. This could cause you to really screw yourself by submitting an offer to trade your entire stock of Rhiolans for 173 Hempites when they were actually worth 1,731 of them, and the last "1" didn't register. Less catastrophically but no less annoyingly, It could also mean that when you press Enter to manually commit an input, the game may automatically commit first, and then buffer your Enter keypress and process it on the next query.
|Surveying the planet locations
WGS noted that the farther away two planets are, the bigger the difference in price will be, and Llythll was the most distant from Galactica. In fact, nothing is particularly close to it. The farthest planet from Llythll is Alhambra.I visited the local fuel cartel to check the exchange rates here. The interface, as noted already, is unintuitive and inefficient for a methodical playstyle, but I learned that, contrary to WGS's experience on the Apple II version, here you do not need to possess any cargo to merely offer it in trade, which will save me plenty of fuel during my intel-gathering phase. Just offer the goods, take note of how much fuel is offered to you, and be sure to reject the offer, or you'll face the cartel's wrath.
I discovered that the traders will give you fuel at 0.25 units per dollar of whatever the value of the goods you offer are worth, rounded down. Therefore, I'd always offer 4 goods to discern the true fuel value. Traders will sell you fuel at $2 per unit, so it's a better deal to sell your goods at Galactica and buy fuel with cash, but as noted, this isn't really a sustainable gameplay option.
Although I had the Galactican prices, this wasn't enough to tell me which items were expensive and which were cheap. Tenibles were the cheapest item at $13/each, and Feelies the most expensive at $382/each, but I'd really need to visit another world to compare prices.
I bought 309 units of fuel, leaving me with $382, just enough to buy a single Feelie later. It would be embarrassing if I spent all my money on fuel now, leaving me unable to start trading later! A trip to Llythll and back would cost just over half of my fuel, certainly leaving me with enough to make a return trip with some cargo.
I went to Llythll, carrying no cargo, and queried the fuel exchange rates of the goods available. Everything was more expensive here. Especially the rhiolans, which had gone up from $277 to $2582! If Galactican prices were typical of that corner of the galaxy, then the optimal strategy seemed to be to buy rhiolans there, trade them at Llythll for something that might bring a profit at home, trade several of them back for fuel (more on this later), and return home to trade for rhiolans.
Before returning to Galactica, I took a detour to Alhambra to check their prices. Rhiolans were even cheaper here.
Lacking any goods to trade here, and unable to spend cash, I returned to Galactica to buy a single rhiolan. Here, the computer informed me that on my next visit, I'd face a 66% chance of assassination. I'd have to make this trip to Galactica my last. From here on, I'd have to barter, so I spent my remaining cash on fuel.
The trip to Llythll left me with only 157 fuel, but a trader here, a Mr. Kanabe, offered me 67 tenibles for my rhiolan. The formula for what deals they'll accept is very simple; divide the total value of what you're offering by the value of a unit of what you want to get and round down to get the highest quantity you can ask for. The deal that they propose to you are always the fairest ones you'd get anyway.
A single tenible could be traded for two rhiolans back on Alhambra, so I traded all of my tenibles but one for fuel. Optimization could come later - for now I needed some reserves to ensure I could make a return trip.
The return with 2 rhiolans left me with only 50 fuel, and a big problem - the "intermediary consortium" declared exclusive trading rights on the Alhambra-Llythll route, and I could not trade them for tenibles as planned. Thankfully, I could still trade with the fuel cartel - I'd be very screwed otherwise - so I traded 1 rhiolan for 645 fuel, and embarked to Ootsi, the closest planet.
Here, my remaining rhiolan became 272 tenibles, and once again I
traded all but one back for fuel. I took it to Viejo, the next-farthest
planet from Llythll, where I was able to get 7 rhiolans! Bringing those back to Llythll, they fetched 475 tenibles.
Now, I had a problem that required math. Taking 475 tenibles back to Viejo would need 15,035 units of fuel, and I only had 158, which wasn't even enough to return without the cargo. I'd have to trade some of this for fuel, but how much? The more you sell, the less fuel you need.
(GravityFactor + Distance/2)*(CargoMass + ShipMass)
(3+ Distance/2) * (CargoMass - CargoSold + 10)
Fuel + CargoSold*CargoValue
Fuel + CargoSold*CargoValue > (3 + Distance/2) * (CargoMass - CargoSold + 10)
CargoSold > (3*CargoMass + 30 + (Distance*CargoMass/2) + 5*Distance - Fuel)/(CargoValue + 3 + (Distance/2))
After plugging in the values, and checking very carefully to ensure my math was right and rounding up distance values to err on the side of caution, I found I'd have to trade 369 of my tenibles for 3,505 fuel, for a total of 3,663. The trip to Viejo with the remaining 106 units would take 3,596. I sold 372, rounding up to a multiple of 4, to get the most fuel per tenible possible, and embarked to Viejo.
Using this formula again at Viejo, I converted 103 tenibles to 43 rhiolans plus the needed 1,536 fuel, and brought those back to Llythll, where I was once again truck-blocked by the consortium. So I traded 4 for enough fuel to get me to Ootsi, where the 39 rhiolans got me 693 tenibles plus over 17,000 fuel. From there I went to Sparta, the next-furthest planet from Llythll, where I traded for 148 rhiolans plus 4,488 fuel back to Llythll.
more round trip to Sparta and back, and I was hauling 515 rhiolans and
15,144 fuel to Llythll. And the consortium decided that was enough and
blocked me once again, forcing another detour. Trading 12 for fuel, I
went back to Ootsi, where the consortium had yet another
exclusivity deal, and I had to trade another 8 to make it to Eventide.
There I converted what I had left to 7624 tenibles plus over 228,000
fuel, took those to Viejo where I got 3,863 rhiolans, plus over 112,000
fuel to carry them all. Just how is my ship, which weighs the same as
ten cargo units, supposed to be holding all this?
wanted to take these back to Llythll, but stopped at Eventide on the
way to avoid trespassing on the consortium's Viejo-Llylthll route.
There, I reached my time limit, and the game suddenly ended.
asset value here is exactly equal to 8 credits per rhiolan, which is
what they were worth on Viejo where I got them. At Galactica rates,
they'd be worth a million.
I replayed my original save game, using save states liberally this time. I got all of the prices ahead of time, planned my routes, and
quickloaded to avoid time-wasting embargoes. I eventually found that this
version of the game is unwinnable.
yes and the game crashes, unable to inventory 3 million silicates. Say no
and it freezes, unable to calculate how many tenibles your cargo is
you own more than a million of any commodity, it crashes, and even if
you avoid this, the game starts behaving very strangely when attempting
to sell quantities close to the limit, sometimes freezing, sometimes
refusing to process input, and very frequently displaying numbers in E
notation. Even if you could somehow acquire 999,999 of every asset, it
would be worth only about 6.5 billion on this galaxy's Llythll, and you
can only get cash on Galactica so many times (and we're talking hundreds
of millions per trip at most).
GAB rating: Bad.
Galactic Trader is a lot simpler than Galactic
Empire, less interesting for it, and overall feels slapped
interface is a confusing mess, the mechanics unintuitive,
the way it seems to encourage will get you nowhere. If you
don't like poring over spreadsheets like an accountant working overtime
then there's no joy to be had here at all, and
even I didn't have that much fun with it. The game-ruining
bugs were the final nails in the coffin.
my activity log from the "real" game, played without aforehand knowledge of prices or embargoes. Pink rows represent exploration,
green rows commodity trade, and yellow rows are detours forced by the
|Arrival year||Planet||Fuel||Sold||Bought||Fuel||Cargo||Galactican worth||Departure year||Fuel spent|
|227||Llythll||157||1 rhiolan||627 fuel
|287||Alhambra||427||1 tenible||2 rhiolans||427||2 rhiolans||$554||287||377|
|345||Llythll||50||1 rhiolan||645 fuel||695||1 rhiolan||$277||347||149|
|366||Ootsi||546||1 rhiolan||474 fuel
|421||Viejo||687||1 tenible||7 rhiolans||687||7 rhiolans||$1,939||424||529|
|480||Llythll||158||7 rhiolans||3.5k fuel
|546||Viejo||186||103 tenibles||1.5k fuel
|604||Llythll||85||4 rhiolans||2.5k fuel||2,667||39 rhiolans||$10,804||605||625|
|624||Ootsi||2,042||39 rhiolans||17k fuel
|676||Sparta||423||693 tenibles||4.4k fuel
|735||Llythll||106||148 rhiolans||73k fuel
|792||Sparta||1,268||2.3k tenibles||15k fuel
|848||Llythll||389||12 rhiolans||7.7k fuel||8,135||503 rhiolans||$139,331||850||6,418|
|869||Ootsi||1,717||8 rhiolans||3.8k fuel||5,527||495 rhiolans||$137,115||871||4,552|
|883||Eventide||975||495 rhiolans||228k fuel
|941||Viejo||3,889||7.6k tenibles||112k fuel