Preview: Redshirt – or – How to enjoy Social Networking without joining Facebook!

I’ll start by saying that I was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining I found Redshirt and it’s life-sim style gameplay to be.  Published by popular indie game developer Cliff Harris and his one man indie game studio Positech Games, I already had an idea that this was a game about social networking in a sci-fi setting, but I was finally able to jump in and play the beta preview build of the game for the first time over the past few days.  Simply reading about it, seeing screenshots, and then watching the newest trailer made me curious about it’s gameplay.  But I wondered, would it be the type of game that I could get into?

I’m not a big fan of Facebook.  Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the appeal of social networking and connecting with friends and family, particularly when you haven’t seen or heard from some of them in a long time.  I like the fact that you can almost instantaneously contact and connect with people, sharing your trials and tribulations, a simple joke and a hardy laugh with one-another, discussing who’s going to win the next big match, or mentioning that cool new song you heard on the radio.

But I don’t know… Facebook just isn’t appealing to me.  I’m not a fan of it’s cluttered and messy user interface, nor do I like the fact that I don’t have total control over my own profile, let’s say I want to leave and delete my account and info for example. Why would you want to leave the service though?  Especially when helpful information can be acquired through the connections you have with other people.  However, reading that someone just finished eating a peanut butter and chili sandwich, had a bowel movement the size of Godzilla, or discovered a new youtube video they’d like to share of someone creating origami with their buttcheeks (though I must admit, that would be mildly interesting), are just the sort of things that don’t float my boat.

I’ve thought quite a bit about why I’m just not a big fan of Facebook.  I’ve asked myself what could it possibly be that turns me off of this so-called “service”.  Is it a service that is mostly for girls and women?  Statistically, female users might outnumber the male users, but not by much, and that can’t be it because I have plenty of male friends and relatives who log-in regularly.  Am I too old?  Nah, I’m still young at heart and I enjoy discovering new technologies and applications, plus I play with toys (hey, I have two young sons… honest!).  Am I anti-social?  I’m a gamer – OF COURSE I’M ANTI-SOCIAL!!!  Next question!

Whatever it is, and as popular as Facebook is, I know I’m not alone.  Perhaps it’s the whole human element and the necessity people feel to participate in an unending popularity contest.  I don’t want to compete for other peoples approval, nor do I feel like I have to.  I’m very much my own person and for the most part I’m happy with myself and the way that I already do connect with friends, relatives, and new associates or acquaintances.  When the time is right and I think that Facebook provides the kind of service that I simply can’t do without, I’ll probably jump aboard much like everyone else.  Until then however, I’m going to play Redshirt.

The gameplay in Redshirt is a lot like creating your own Sci-Fi soap opera.  The story is mostly about you, a guy or girl, living life as a lowly bogroll technician aboard a huge Deep Space 9 style space station, while trying to expand your friends list, seek a romantic relationship or two, advance your career, engage in planned events, and ultimately sustain popularity, ergo happiness, by using the space stations vast social network called Spacebook.  You’ll find many of the things that people are looking for in real life social networking, but you’ll also find an intriguing, humorous, and thoughtful take on social networking as a game

Redshirt is mostly a casual affair, and it does offer players quite a bit of freedom over their choices, but it also involves a bit of strategy.  If you want to befriend the right people, be they human or alien, who can open up new career opportunities and connections for you, then you’ll have to play the popularity game and schmooze just the right people along the way.  This involves attending the right events, making the right connections, inviting people over for drinks, and posting nice comments on other character’s Spacebook profiles.  By acquiring new interests and meeting characters with similar interests, you can expand your own network which can lead to new relationships, opportunities, glory, and happiness.

Having a lot of friends does have its benefits, but there are some downsides as well.  If you neglect or ignore your friends, or the people you’re romantically involved with, they’ll begin to feel that neglect and this changes their attitude toward you.  Some characters simply won’t become friends with you until you share similar interests or have more of the same friends.  Aside from the other characters in the game, you’ll also need to focus on yourself and keep an eye on things such as your own health.

At times you’ll need to make healthier choices, such as not eating the space lobster with its side order of super-gluten garlic bread, and start dining at the healthier restaurants aboard the station.  At other times, you’ll just want to let it all hang out, drink heavily, and have fun with your friends in order to increase your happiness, while embarrassing yourself along the way of course.  There are choices to be made and a lot of freedom when making them.  To buy, or not to buy the Turbo-Mop or the RoboCat, that is the question.

At the beginning of the game, players can choose to create a custom character.  You’ll pick the gender and even the species you want your character to be.  The gameplay is turn-based and allows players a few action points with which to use each turn.  Within a turn players can check their messages, write on other character’s Spacebook walls, send out friend requests, attend a myriad of events, and even shop for useful items that can provide short-term or long-term benefits.

There are ton of options to choose from, though not all of them are available in the early game.  A number of random events and situations turn up on the space station from time to time and they can have an affect on the overall atmosphere and attitudes among the variety of characters you’ll meet as well.  Although Redshirt is mostly a casual game, there is a depth to the choices you make and the amount of situations you’ll find your character in, adding some simple fun but strategic elements as well.

You’ll do a lot of pointing and clicking throughout Redshirt, and the majority of the clicking is done within a GUI (graphical user interface) that, oddly enough, resembles another very popular social network you may have heard about.  However, I found that learning to navigate Spacebook and it’s many social aspects, functions, and features, was more intuitive, user-friendly, and fun than actually using Facebook.  Interestingly, Redshirt has a colorful cartoon-like quality in its appearance that works well with the overall tone of it’s gameplay and life-sim / imitation social networking.

I wish I could pinpoint exactly what it is that makes Redshirt so appealing to this 30-something male gamer.  I can honestly say that everything I find annoying or off-putting about Facebook, I find humorously interesting and entertaining within Redshirt.  It’s entirely fictional and it leaves a lot to the players own imagination, but in many ways it mimics what we know about social networking and some of the silly uses we’ve found for it.  Redshirt is all about the popularity contest, connecting with new characters, achieving life goals, and being silly along the way.  It does a great job providing a mix of casual and strategic gameplay coupled with a healthy dose of satirical entertainment.

If this sounds interesting to you then you should definitely head over to the Redshirt official website where you can pre-order the game and then download the beta version today.  You might just find yourself as pleasantly surprised and entertained as I was!

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