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Review by: John Austin
Published: January 24, 2001
When we think about the future, we often take into account the very real possibility of society’s expansion into outer space. For many of us, that vision includes glorious laser-riddled dogfights against evil aliens from distant galaxies. However, at the risk of shattering the hopes of those longing to see the day they can strap themselves into an X-Wing to vanquish the evil Empire, it’s more likely that what we’ll see is business as usual. While progress is undoubtedly being made in the field of space travel, power struggles will more often than not involve success in commerce, and the fiercest battles will be won by those best able to manipulate the marketplace. It is this version of the future that Positech Computing attempts to simulate with their economic strategy game, StarLines, INC.
Don’t expect to see StarLines at your local retailer. You won’t find it competing for shelf space with big-name titles like Imperium Galactica II for a couple of reasons: First, with a $20 price tag, it’s not designed to compete with games from big budget studios, though it does draw inspiration from them; second, it’s only available for online order from RealGames, a subsidiary of Real.com. By distributing their work through this online-only publisher, Positech can forego the vast marketing campaign and instead count on solid gameplay as well as Real’s name recognition and Internet presence to put their work in the hands of strategy fans everywhere.
Price and availability aren’t the only things that make StarLines different from a typical strategy offering; as mentioned above, economics is the focus here, not violent battles between different races or factions. You are responsible for making your company, StarLines, into the top interstellar cargo and passenger transport company in the known universe. To do this, your missions call for you to accomplish objectives that usually involve tracking down specific targets your company needs to get ahead. Of course, you don’t want your adversaries to get the jump on you, so it’s important to accomplish your goals within the given timeframe or else they’ll beat you to it — and you’ll be out of business. Another obvious showstopper in your trade is bankruptcy, so it’s important to watch your spending as you make your way through the galaxy. A delicate balance must be maintained between keeping your crew and passengers happy and keeping your ship running in top condition.
It should be clear by now that the bottom-line in StarLines is the almighty credit. Credits make the galaxy go ’round, and they also keep your company flying. You’ll need money to hire a crew, maintain and upgrade your ship, and to pay docking and repair fees that allow you to get from planet to planet. Finance is earned by transporting passengers and cargo to the appropriate destination, and as captain of the ship, you set the price. Care should be taken in adjusting prices, however, as setting fees too high will cause clients to avoid using your services. On the flip side, if fees are too cheap, it’s hardly worth your time to transport anything at all. Again, balance is critical when it comes to determining what to charge for your services as well as what you can afford to buy to enhance the company’s productivity. It might look like you have plenty of money left after buying those ten cargo bays, but by the time you reach your destination, paying salaries to the crew may have sapped your funds to the point that you can’t even afford the standard 50-credit docking fee. At that point, the game is effectively over, even though you haven’t technically blown all your money.
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