- You get to be a bridge officer
- Great work on making it feel right
- Interface is a bit clunky
- Some things threw me out of immersion
Artemis is a Star Trek bridge simulator I was able to participate in on Thursday morning at SaltCon 2018 and was generously run by the crew of the USS White Buffalo. There were a couple of rough moments throughout the session, but I caught a glimpse of just how much fun this game can be. Artemis was built to be a general bridge simulator but the crew of the USS White Buffalo have taken that core theme and added layer upon layer of Star Trek goodness to the mix.
I took on the role of the engineer on the bridge. It was my job to manage power and coolant levels and send damage repair teams to…repair the ship. Seems self-explanatory, and it looked easy enough to me. The only issue was that I had to deal with the learning curve for both the user interface and the way power allocation works. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nowhere close to as complex as managing an actual starship’s power requirements would likely be. I struggled as a complete novice. Although I did eventually figure out the basics, there were a few moments I worried that we’d overheat and explode or something.
In addition to the engineering console, there were other players managing the helm, science, communication, and tactical stations, as well as a captain. Everyone had their own console and had to manage systems that function independently, but work toward a single goal. I have to tell you that Artemis has some definite potential. It’s something I’ve dreamed of since I was in high school.
Artemis’ Best Points
Artemis has a lot to recommend it. I loved the potential for wish-fulfillment, the ability to work together in living out a ton of Star Trek missions, and the incredible support of a local club. Next year, if you haven’t yet tried Artemis, I highly recommend it.
Probably the best thing about Artemis is that it lent me a serious case of wish-fulfillment. I’ve always dreamed of not only being on the bridge of a starship, but of being able to simulate being on the bridge of a starship. I know, I’m a nerd. It’s true, though. In high school I had a desk built and painted like an imitation LCARS panel. I dreamed of having an actual interface and bridge simulation. Guess what, that system exists now, though it didn’t then.
Another great thing about Artemis is that players work together. Communication is key to being able to be effective. The group I played with didn’t excel at that. Partially, I’m sure, that is because it was the first real session of the convention and at least half of the players were completely new to it. Even so, I could see that when a crew works together well, they can really have a blast and succeed at some really tough missions.
Finally, one of the best things about Artemis for me was that the experience was hosted and provided by a local group who have sunk time and resources into making it better every year. I’ve seen it at every SaltCon I’ve been to, as well as at Salt Lake Comic Con (when it was SLCC and not FanX). The people supporting Artemis are creative and really nice. Kacie, one of the organizers of the group commented on a recent post on Facebook:
We are continually working to upgrade our systems and add more to the setup as a whole. We have several enhancements planned as far as the lighting effects, LCARS system, bridge design and layout, etc. for the future and are already working on ideas for SaltCon next year. We try to add something new each year we run it, and have several things already in the works for next year. We enjoy running Artemis and enjoy watching others having fun and enjoying themselves as they play.
The support and thought that the crew of the USS White Buffalo have put into creating the feeling of a starship bridge and enhancing the simulation is incredible. It even included a raised platform, custom interfaces that displayed the game schedule, and custom mission videos. They put an awesome amount of effort into making Artemis a blast for people, and it shows.
Artemis’ Worst Points
Now, all that being said, my experience wasn’t without flaws. There were a number of technical glitches, some stilted dialog, and a few issues with the interfaces. Even when I throw these things into the mix, I have to recommend Artemis to anyone who likes Star Trek.
As with anything that uses a bunch of networked computers, there are likely to be glitches. I found that to be true to my experience with Artemis. Granted, I participated in the first session of the convention and there were going to be some bugs to work out. At one point the game froze completely and the hosting machine had to be restarted. At one point I got kicked back to the join screen and had to re-enter the session. I’ve since been informed that the glitches have been identified and resolved, and that everything should run smoothly for the next year.
The crew of the USS White Buffalo have compiled a number of mission videos to introduce Artemis and the scenarios played at SaltCon. It’s a really cool idea. In the best tradition of fan-made Star Trek video, and the early episodes of most Star Trek shows, the dialog and acting is awkward and stilted. What else can you expect, given that it’s amateurs and fans producing them? Although I want to think I could do better, realistically, that’s simply not true. So, while it’s stilted and momentarily throws you out of the immersion in the world, it’s still darned impressive.
The biggest issue I found was that the user interface was a bit difficult to work with. As the engineer I had to use a number of sliders to manage power distributions to varying systems. The sliders weren’t terribly consistent. Most of the time, no matter where I dragged them to, they would end up between 5 and 20 points above or below where I intended. Most often (and I’m sure it was by intent), the slider would snap to 100%. It made me want a place where I could key in an override and manually enter the percent.
It was also difficult for me, as a novice, to identify when a specific system was overheating. The instruction documents weren’t very clear about where the indicator was, and as a result I didn’t notice that some systems were overheating until it was nearly too late. Although I don’t have any experience on the other consoles, I think they probably have a couple of similar idiosyncrasies.
Possible Future Enhancements
I see a bright future ahead of Artemis, especially the version run by the people of the USS White Buffalo. They’ve built something awesome. Looking at what I always dreamed of having on my bridge simulation, I have a couple of suggestions for possible future enhancements.
As with everything, these cost money. Many times they’re simply not going to be feasible for a hobbyist without more investment than they’re able or willing to give. So don’t go expecting these to show up next year at SaltCon. Instead, let’s look at these pie-in-the-sky dreams and keep on hoping. If you like these ideas, and you want to help make them happen, consider donating some of your time or the supplies necessary to make them happen. If you want to donate, visit the USS White Buffalo website.
The White Buffalo crew already have a lot of plans underway, and they’ve made incredible progress already. I hope the community will continue to support their efforts in making an immersive game experience.
With touch-screens becoming nearly ubiquitous, it’s not too much of a stretch to assume that this is possible. In fact, there are some decent bargain laptops with touch-screens. Many of these actually fold down into quite nearly a tablet.There are also touch screen monitors that could work with a arduino style mini-computer like the Raspberry Pi. How cool would it be to be able to use an LCARS touch interface? As a bonus, if touch screens could be inserted into bridge consoles it’s would be amazing. It would have the added benefit of hiding cables and computer boxes and the like.
Although Artemis is pretty complex and it runs well for the most part, I’m sure that there are some lessons that a UX/UI designer could impart on the way the interfaces function. As a long-time Star Trek fan, I love the idea of LCARS, and I want to see an interface that mimics the best parts. I also would love to see a functional (and pretty) redesign of some of the interface elements. Making the sliders on the engineering console more responsive would be a great start.
More Set Dressing
The crew of the USS White Buffalo has already done an exceptional job with the set dressing for Artemis. The Captain’s console is awesome and they’ve got lighting and side-consoles that really help immersion. Adding some painted/printed canvas screens that look like a starship’s bridge around the edges would make the effect even cooler. Especially if they were combined with LED lighting that responded to the ship’s alert status.
I have to applaud the people who starred in the USS White Buffalo mission briefings and other videos. It takes some courage to put yourself out there like that. That being said, I think that having people who are a bit more comfortable behind the camera, and a bit more familiar with the scripts would help me feel more immersed in the experience. It’s another one of those things that can be difficult to pull off. I think, however difficult, it would make the experience even better.
Participate in Artemis
If you want to participate in Artemis, you can at next year’s SaltCon. Or you can get together with the crew of the USS White Buffalo. If neither option works for you, there’s always the chance to pick up a license for Artemis on Steam. (As a note, the Steam license is only for a single console, so you won’t be able to set up your own bridge without a bit more work.)
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