Avert your eyes! Its interface design!
It happens to all of us. You’re sitting around with friends, conversing about everything, when someone says “Hey! I’ve got a great game idea!” Before you know it, you’re talking about all the great gameplay elements of Zeppelin Tycoon and how it would make millions. Of course, for the vast majority of us, we’ll never actually make the game. That intermediate step is often too difficult/time-consuming/uninteresting, but it is also the most important part of game development. Count social networking simulator Redshirt as yet another victim of that step. Despite the compelling concept, Redshirt’s execution is too poor to make it worth playing.
The premise is unique. You play as a janitor on a space station who seeks to make his way up the social, financial, and professional ladder before an unnamed catastrophe strikes the station. Using a Facebook like application (cleverly titled….wait for it….SPACEBOOK), you boost skills, apply for jobs, and make friends. The potential for the inclusion of interesting levels of customization and new mechanics is high, but Redshirt barely taps that well. Everything is executed in the simplest way possible. What to boost a skill? Pick an event that boosts that skill. Want to make a friend? Ask them to be your friend. Redshirt places everything behind a “do this thing” button with little concern for long term strategy or drawing the player in.
Even with solid mechanics, Redshirt would have trouble getting the player invested. The people of Redshirt are little more than palette swaps of ten pictures with the exact same personality. Individuals blur together to the point where it can be hard to differentiate a boss in need of schmoozing with the random guy who keeps hitting you up for drinks. I once nicknamed my girlfriend “Mullet” because it was the only distinction between her and her doppelganger. I had no qualms about letting Mullet die horribly to get off the space station. She will not be missed, and she will certainly be forgotten.
The game does little to provide any motivation to achieve the overall goal. Occasional messages pop up hinting an impending doom, but they are quickly lost in a sea of useless communication. Even these hints at world building are rare and the countdown of days becomes a promise of ending the game rather than any feeling of urgency. Victory is straight forward enough that you’ll never be confused on how to win, but you wouldn’t really care if you were. Redshirt is just as soulless as the taped on grin of your avatar.
Straightjacked to the terrible gameplay is a poorly designed interface. Redshirt spreads needed information across multiple screens all hidden behind a number of pointless menus. The interface does not compare related stats, but rather links between menus. Deciding the best course of action often requires renavigating the same screens repeatedly and remembering all of that you have learned with each iteration. This completely disrupts the flow of the game by creating a memory minigame that is both tedious and pointless. In a game that relies so heavily on its interface, poor design dramatically decreases the experience.
Redshirt needed time. The limited features, poorly realized world, and mind numbing interface are all problems that are immediately obvious on the first play through. It’s a shame that developer Mitu Khandaker-Kokoris was unable to fully realize the potential of the idea. Given the time since release, it looks like she never will. Stay away from Redshirt.