This feature originally ran in PC Gamer UK issue 232. Check out our Video Blog about the photoshoot for behind the scenes footage.
Artemis isn't an official Star Trek game, but it is the Star Trek game you've always dreamed of. It's a bridge simulator, in which multiple players take on the roles of starship crew. There are six slots in a bridge crew: a captain, a helmsman, a weapons master, an engineer, a science officer and comms. The captain hosts a server. Everyone else logs into the server to play their role. Everyone but the captain gets their own screen and their own jobs. To succeed, crew members must communicate and work together. Science officers need to provide bearings and scan readings to helmsmen and weapons officers. Engineers need to divert power between the warp drive and weapons. Everyone needs to listen to the captain's orders.
Artemis is an exciting new take on asymmetric cooperative multiplayer.
Whisper it, but it's basically liveaction roleplaying with viewscreens. Without pausing to read any instructions or forum posts, the PC Gamer team flung itself into a randomly generated mission. What could possibly go... oh.
Stardate: Wednesday. Lunchtime. About a quarter past one.
Our rookie crew has embarked upon a randomly generated combat mission without looking at the manual, Wiki or readme. We quickly choose our roles and launch the game. No one has any idea how to play, or what the buttons do. All we know is that there are enemy cruisers out there, and we have to kill them.
Captain Tim Edwards: I've made my first decision of the day. I'll command the Starship Artemis with my feet on the desk, eating a sandwich. This will be known as 'The Edwards manoeuvre'. As I do this, my T-shirt rides slightly up. I pull it back down. No no no. Straightening my T-shirt will be called 'The Edwards manoeuvre'. My first order to the crew: “What the hell is going on?”
Science Officer Graham Smith: As our ship's Science Officer, I assume I'll be standing off to Tim's right, looking stern and raising a single, curious eyebrow at confusing human 'feelings'. Which sounds like a regular Thursday. Instead, my screen is a muddle of numbers and graphs. The first screen has a triangle in the middle, with three lines poking out and a circle around it. The second screen has an empty grid with space in it. The third screen shows a poorly rendered 3D spaceship.
I check the computer's databanks (the Artemis Wiki, bit.ly/artemiswiki) to find out what the hell I'm supposed to be doing. While being the sexy voice of reason, I can also use the ship's long-range scanners to bring up tiny numbers about enemy ships. Like that enemy ship half a dozen sectors away.
Tim orders us to attack – or rather, “Attaaaaaaaack!” I relay their position to our Helmsman, Tom Senior, so he can plot a course, and then let Weapons Officer Tom Hatfield know their shield frequency so he can program the torpedoes. Our course is set and we… go nowhere.
Owen 'Welshy' Hill: I'm the engineer, which means I control the power to everything on the ship. Except, as soon as I load the game up, I'm confronted with a giant screen covered with blue blobs. The rest of the team seem to know what they're doing and are gleefully making jokes and shouting out instructions. I think back to the two episodes of Star Trek I've seen. What do the engineers do? What is warp? What is impulse? I vaguely remember something about lithium crystals. Ah, it'll come to me. I tell Tim that I've got impulse engines, shields and warp power. And repair crews. He asks if I know what I'm doing. I nod sagely.
“Then why aren't we moving?”
“I'm sure the helmsman will know.”
Phew. Dodged that one.
Senior Ensign Tom Senior: Finally, I get to pilot a starship. It's my job to get from point A to point B via either sluggish impulse propulsion, or warp speed – which is so powerful it reduces your ship to a smear that streaks across the galaxy. As I jump into the game I half expect to see a bank of complex course-plotting software. The reality is, thankfully, much simpler. A small green icon in the centre represents the ship. It's surrounded by a ring, labelled with bearing degrees.
But where's the 'go fast' button? Oh, there it is, a pair of small sliders at the bottom left of the screen. What happens if I set warp to maximum? Absolutely nothing. There's no power. I'm not in charge of that.
Welshy: Oh no. Everyone's looking at me again. Apparently I'm in charge of power. I'm starting to figure this out. I can use sliders to distribute power across different systems. I should put all of our power to impuuuuuuuuuuuuullllse... That works. We're no longer docked.
Uhurich McCormick: I'm working the communications rig and am supposed to use the ship's arrays to chat directly with the things hanging in space around us: to secure docking permissions, check the status of allied ships, things like that. I'd previously been wittering away happily with the station's manufacturing teams to get some more photon torpedoes, but out in the inky blackness of the void, there's no one to talk to. Aww. Wait, we've just scooted past something!
Some red dots on the ship's scanner. I call over to Graham and ask for his expert analysis on what they are. “Red dot things, over there!” he squeaks. Thanks, Graham. Are they hostile? Let's find out.
I bring up my communicator and find their designations. They're marked under 'enemies'. Time for a chat. I have four gambits with which to begin my fledgling diplomatic career, three of which are insults. I think today I'll start with their mothers.
Captain Tim: Red dots. Awesome. We're going to have a scrap. I put down my sandwich, stand up and shout at the crew. “Engineering, shields up. Helmsman, impulse power. Weapons, load torpedoes.”
Ooh, weapons. I forgot to check what guns we're carrying.
Science Officer Smith: I scan the ships, which brings up little numbers next to their names. “There's a Torgoth Cruiser and it has RS200 and FS150! Does anyone know what that means? Also, (M74) BRG, DMG and 2K! Guys, I think we're fighting a motorway.”
T'om Hatfield, Son of Martyn: Torpedoes! I have torpedoes! Not just torpedoes, but mines and nukes too! I always wanted to nuke space! I click on an enemy ship and a little circle appears around it. Did I just target it? I think I did. Graham tells me to turn to frequency E, which I do. Apparently that will make my phasers hit harder, so it's a shame I have no idea where the 'fire phasers' button is then.
The screen shakes. Owen cries out something about damage. Wait – shields! I have those. They should probably be up right now…
Welshy: “What are all the red dots? Everything is flashing!”
Uhurich: “Don't panic, I've just found the 'red alert' button. I'll turn it on.”
Senior Ensign Senior: I'm starting to learn that piloting a starship isn't just about going fast in a straight line. I can see our firing arcs projected around our craft. Different weapons can fire in different directions. This close to the enemy, manoeuvring becomes a precise dance as I try to stay away from enemy firing arcs.
Unfortunately, the screen keeps shaking from all the hits we're taking, the panicked Welshman behind me won't stop screaming and some sort of incessant alarm keeps playing.
Uhurich: The red alert button makes a 'WEE-OO-WEE-OO' noise. I turn it off and on again. I'm helping!
T'om, Son of Martyn: The phasers fire by themselves! Awesome, I don't have to do anything! Even better, I've figured out how to raise the shields. Unfortunately, so has Tom Senior. As a result, he accidentally lowers the shields as soon as I've put them up. Then I put them up and he brings them down. It's like running into someone in a narrow corridor and awkwardly swaying from side to side, only instead of mild embarrassment, we're risking hot laser death.
Welshy: “Is it good to have a big power number or a little power number? Either way, power equals zero!”
Captain Tim: I have to take control of the situation. The sandwich is now ignored. I bang my fist on the desk. “Everyone, quiet. Weapons, put the shields up. Engineering, damage control crews to weapons. Helm, get us out of here. Comms and science, tell me what we're dealing with.”
I'm so excited I think I could squee.
Uhurich: I put the red alert on again. Tim looks at me in a certain way. I turn it off. “Sorry.”
Senior Ensign Senior: Someone just said, “Get us out of here.” With my mouse, I grab the warp slider and whack it up to maximum. Wheee!
Uhurich: We whizz forward a short distance, out of our foes' weapon range. Our short hop gives me just enough time to bring up my communicator and fire off one final insult at our aggressors. There seems to be no real use for the insults besides winding the window down and shouting “FUUUCK YOOOOU” as we drive away. We run a classy ship.
Captain Tim: Hey. We have mines. And nukes. I have a plan. “Engineering, how are the repairs? Weapons, load nukes. Science, tell me which red dot is in the centre. Comms, target that ship. Helm, come about. And will someone turn that sodding red alert klaxon off?”
Welshy: “Everything is still flashing!”
Captain Tim: “This is what we're going to do. We'll fire a nuke at the centre ship. As soon as it hits, we'll burst through, firing torpedoes. As we burn through the cloud, we'll drop a mine. Then we'll come about and finish them all off with our phasers.”
I pause. Straighten my T-shirt again. “Does everyone know what they're doing?”
Senior Ensign Senior: “Yes!” This is a straight-line plan. I can do straight lines. As long as I do nothing to deviate from the straight line, everything will be fine.
T'om, Son of Martyn: “Yes! Phasers set to frequency spaceship! Wait! No! How do I reloa-”
Uhurich: “Yes! Who do you want me to insult next?”
Science Officer Smith: “Yes! I've scanned it and it's still, uh, a spaceship.”
Welshy: “Yes!” Secretly: “No!”
Tim: “Red alert. Engage!” I raise my sandwich to my mouth.
Welshy: This is my moment. I put all the sliders to maximum.
Uhurich: No, this is my moment. I press the 'red alert' button and sit back satisfied. A job well done.
Senior Ensign Senior: No no no. This is my moment. “Full speed ahead!”
T'om, Son of Martyn: I think you'll find that this is my moment. Tom brings us in close enough to fire the nuke. I fire, and then hit reload. Oh no. It takes an age to reload. We're not going to be ready for…
Senior Ensign Senior: I'm flying us directly into a nuclear blast. I don't know how this happened. We're going too fast and won't be able to…
Welshy: If you put all the sliders to maximum, you see a bar labelled 'overheating'. It's in red. I wonder what that...
Science Officer Smith: The nuke hits. We're caught in the blast, taking down the entire front of the vessel. Our phasers are offline, our torpedoes are offline. We come to a complete stop.
Captain Tim: Many of the enemy are damaged but they're still able to fire. Tom's impulse charge has left us bang in the centre of their fleet. We're doomed. “Abandon desks!”
Artemis explodes around us. I'm so depressed I bin my sandwich.
Welshy: “So. What does 'warp' mean anyway? I've only ever watched two episodes of Star Trek.”
Stardate: Thursday. About half-past three.
The PC Gamer team have interrupted their work day to complete the Siege of Hamak, a fully voiced and scripted episode of Artemis. This is it: we're now out of the combat simulator and into… the simulator. We have no idea what situation the game will throw at us. We just know that, at some point, voice acting will be involved.
We've also made some personnel changes. Our idiotic Welsh engineer has been ejected from the nearest airlock, replaced by PC Gamer's second biggest Star Trek fan, Tom.
Tom O'Francis: “What? You started without me? How could you start without me? I'm at least the second biggest Star Trek nerd on this team! While I was out wasting my time playing Diablo 3, you were all cavorting around the alpha quadrant? I will never-”
Wait – I'm over it. I've just seen how many sliders I have. This is the happiest day of my life. “What's our mission?”
Uhurich: “Tom, you should really know this mission – you were the one who sent us the .zip file to extract into our Artemis folders.”
O'Francis: “Ah, yes.”
Uhurich: “Wait, everyone shut up a second. We're being bombarded with messages. I'm going to play them. Tim, say, 'On screen' so we sound like we know what we're doing.”
Captain Tim: “On screen.”
Uhurich: “Thanks.” I play the messages from a Captain Haynes and an Admiral Weeks. Two things become apparent. One: we've been asked to go and collect something called a 'ramscoop' at the Hamak space station in the bottom left of the Hamak sector, before pitching back out into space to collect wibbly nebula bits to give us energy for some reason. And two: fan-made missions in Artemis sometimes come with voiceovers. Exuberant voiceovers.
The crew cringes through three messages, as an over-enunciating Haynes explains why she calls Weeks 'Squeaks'. I quietly delete the messages so we never have to listen to them again.
O'Francis: I've heard from the crew that their last engineer recklessly squandered their energy reserves and had to be fired into space. As the new crew member, I realise that Pulaski's Law dictates I'm the most likely to be hated by the fans, so I'm keen not to make the same mistake. I keep all auxiliary systems on half power and resist the urge to overcharge our warp engines for a speed boost. I am doing excellent engineering.
Science Officer Smith: I'm looking at the space grid and I've just worked out which little dot is us. We're down in the bottom left of the map, surrounded by what we scientists call purple wibbly stuff. We're headed towards the space station in the bottom right. We're heading incredibly slowly towards that space station. No, no, I'm wrong. We've stopped. We're out of power again. “What the hell, new guy! Wait, I mean: This seems illogical , Captain.”
O'Francis: “Some kind of anomaly, sir! In as much as I thought we'd be OK when we are in fact boned.”
I don't understand it – usually the old girl speaks to me. Granted, that's sort of dependent on me paying attention to these readouts saying we're running out of energy. Look, I can fix this. I'm cutting off power to tactical, weapons, manoeuvring, shields and impulse engines. There's definitely no downside to this. We're now regenerating power at one point every minute.We'll be back to full in... 1,000 divided by 60, carry the six recurring... 16 hours and 40 minutes.
I am doing excellent engineering.
Captain Tim: “Team: fix this shit. Now! I have a meeting with Ads in an hour.”
T'om, Son of Martyn: We're stranded in space. Upside: no enemies. Downside: we can't move. With no enemies, there's nothing for me to do but polish my forehead ridges. Wait – what's this? “Guys! I can convert one of our torpedoes into energy!”
O'Francis: “We could also eat the crew for food but I think we should probably avoid that until we have to. We've only got 16 hours and 39 minutes left.”
Captain Tim: “Do it! Eat them all!”
Uhurich: “Don't worry guys, we can just restock on torpedoes at the Hamak station. I gave them a call a few minutes ago, and after I'd told them their parents were terrible creatures and they'd never amount to anything, I asked them to build us some weapons for free. I can't see why they wouldn't.”
T'om, Son of Martyn: I load a shovelful of torpedoes into the mighty space furnace powering our vessel and our energy reserves leap upwards. It's not a lot, but it might be enough to reach the station. It's a crazy plan, but it could just be crazy enough to work.
Senior Ensign Senior: Sweet weapons-grade energy flows into the engines. I can fly again! Time to pick a random direction and go as fast as I can that way.
Science Officer Smith: My scanners are down, as Engineer O'Francis has put all of the ship's limited power towards the engines. I ask for some juice and instantly see the station. “Set a course for 110°, Helmsman! Because space is two-dimensional.”
Senior Ensign Senior: “Aye aye, sir!” We're not even slightly going in that direction and there's no power to manoeuvre. I turn the ship as fast as I can. It slowly arcs towards the station with the grace of a deluded whale.
T'om, Son of Martyn: Thanks to Rich's earlier order, the station has built up a nice stock of torpedoes and as soon as we arrive, my supplies replenish. I also have a nuke, which I now know fires in a straight line and explodes in a burst. A large burst. A burst we should not go into.
Uhurich: On our exit from the Hamak station, we receive another wave of messages. I try to play them, but our weapons and science officers are conducting a loud discussion about energy levels over the top of the transmissions. How do I insult them again? Ah yeah, with my own face.
“Guys, be quiet. Also, you suck.”
I play the messages again. There are some Tachyon sources, apparently, and they're 'unknown'. I wonder if I can insult them.
Science Officer Smith: With power and scanners now operational, I can see the world around us. It's purple and wibbly still, but within that, I'm also detecting three Unknown Tachyon Sources. A friendly ship, the Warsaw, is checking them out, bragging about how they're going to discover the cause before us. Oh yeah? We'll see about that. “Helmsman! Boldly set a course to go boldly where no person has boldly gone before: Unknown Tachyon Source #1.”
Captain Tim: It's been a few minutes since I told anyone what to do and I'm beginning to get nervous. A crew is only as good as it's leader, and that means I need to step up. “Helmsman! Do whatever it was that Science Officer Smith just said.”
Oh yeah. I'm a manager.
Senior Ensign Senior: Without a bearing to work with, a helmsman is left only with his instincts, and my instincts say, “Look at the long-range scanners and head towards the thing Graham just said.”
I see a mysterious blob in a nearby sector and power us towards it. As we depart, Rich receives an incoming message from Admiral Weeks. It says something about us now owning a share in an arms-trading company, and the torpedoes more than covering the cost of our energy scooper. I have no idea what that means, but whatever. Onwards!
Uhurich: “We've had a message from Captain Haynes suggesting that we're far behind combat lines and incredibly unlikely to be attacked. Suggested course of action: divert all power to shields, move at half impulse and look suspiciously out of the window.”
O'Francis: “At some point we really need to talk about the torpedoes.”
T'om, Son of Martyn: “This is a good point. I'm no longer registering any torpedoes on board. I assume that's because miserly Chief Engineer Ebeneezer O'Francis has shut off power to weapons between fights, right?”
O'Francis: “That would make it my fault, so it can't possibly be that. I think it's because we're at warp. That would make it Ensign Senior's fault, something I think we can all live with.”
Uhurich: I have a horrible gnawing sensation in my gut. Am I hungry? No, it's not that.
Oh. Wait. Didn't one of the messages we received mention something about torpedoes? Hang on, I'll play it back.
The crew sits obediently as Weeks explains how he sold our torpedo contingent for shares in an arms dealer's company. We are weaponless. Fortunately, we're in a sector that hasn't seen conflict in 20 years. Nothing could possibly go wrong.
Science Officer Smith: I'm beginning to realise there's not a lot for me to do as the Science Officer. I look at the scanners; there's nothing there. I whirl them around, checking every direction. Nope, nothing there. Shouldn't I have more to do? Tim is the captain, so he gets all the good lines, but I get more fanmail than he does. I've done fucking Shakespeare, I bring an air of class to this. Sigh. Maybe I should ask if I can direct an- wait. Wait. “Everyone shut up for a second.”
Senior Ensign Senior: “W-”
Science Officer Smith: “Shut up! Captain, I have... 16 enemy Torgoth ships on the scanners. Permission to break character and freak the hell out.”
Captain Tim: “Permission... granted.”
Uhurich: “We've just received a message from Captain Haynes on board the Warsaw – they're under attack from those Torgoth thingies, and they sound a bit dead. Permission to turn the red alert button off and on again really fast for a legitimate reason this time.”
Too late, I'm doing it anyway. I think it's helping morale.
O'Francis: Everything is flashing red. Enemies are everywhere. We have no torpedoes. It's time to blow this sector. Helmsman!
Senior Ensign Senior: I need more manoeuvrability! Tom does something complicated and suddenly our space whale becomes a nimble minnow. I flip the ship around in seconds. We hightail the ship all the way back to the space station, where the torpedoes live, but there's a problem. They have no torpedoes. No torpedoes at all.
T'om, Son of Martyn: Right, Rich has forgotten to order torpedoes so we aren't getting any. But wait – if I can turn torpedoes into energy, surely I can turn energy into torpedoes. That makes sense, right?
It doesn't, but I can anyway. I assume we must have some sort of replicator system installed. Anyway, since we're docked at a station, we effectively have infinite energy. This means I have unlimited torpedoes. Actually, eight. Since that's how many I can carry. Still, it was nice to dream.
O'Francis: “Sir, I'm receiving word from the Artemis Wiki I just Alt+Tabbed that increasing power to warp engines actually makes them more efficient, not less.
“On the downside, this means it was totally my fault we ran out of power. On the upside, it means we can now head out with warp engines running at 300% power and not feel bad about it. Permission to refer to this as Warp Factor Woo.”
Captain Tim: “Permission… granted.”
Senior Ensign Senior: We undock from the space station. I point us at the distant enemies. Warp Factor Woo, engage.
The ship makes a noise like a washing machine on heat and we ping across the system. We pass one sector, another sector, and another in a matter of seconds. I abandon the helmsman's traditional quiet dignity and professionalism for a moment to say, “Wwwwoooah!” This is exactly why I pretended to join Starfleet.
I overshoot drastically and plonk us right in the middle of the swarm of enemies. There's a chorus of worried noises from the rest of the crew. I enter Warp Factor Woo quickly once more and blast through the pack. I call to O'Francis for manoeuvrability and speed from moment to moment, keeping the ship out of enemy firing arcs. Behind me, Graham is calling out ship numbers and ship types. He actually sounds like a bridge officer.
We're in position. We have our targets. The rest is up to whoever it is that controls the nukes.
T'om, Son of Martyn: I open with attack pattern delta, also known as attack pattern fire-anuke- and-yell-frantically-at-the- helm-to-bank-right, and it does serious damage to the whole group. Then I start picking them off one by one with torpedoes and weapons, Graham relaying the right frequencies for each ship in turn.
Somewhere in the middle of this I realise that I can manually target my beams on certain systems. I try to knock out the enemy engines so they can't escape. Resistance is futile, little red dot men.
Uhurich: As the rest of the crew do important things such as flying and shooting and stopping us from being sucked out into the cold vacuum of space to have our eyeballs shatter, I'm aiming staccato insults at our targets. Boom! We blow out their primary beam. “You suck at cricket!” Bang! We knock out their forward shield. “That shirt makes you look like a Ferengi!”
As we destroy our third ship, I realise there's another dialogue option next to my insults: 'Surrender.' I decide to aim it at the fourth ship in our gunsights. Immediately, they give up and limp off. I keep my remorse for the souls we've already killed quiet and systematically ask every other ship in the area to surrender. One we pummelled on the way in does, but the others keep up their barrage. Torpedoes hurtle toward us. Then there's a crunch.
Science Officer Smith: “Shut up again! We've just been hit by something!”
Uhurich: “I'm theatrically swaying!”
Captain Tim: “Damage report!”
Captain Tim: “Can you be more specific please?”
O'Francis: “All the things! All the things are damaged.” We've lost everything – tactical, manoeuvring, front shields, rear shields, beam weapons, torpedoes. I guess we have engines. I set full power to engines.
Senior Ensign Senior: Somehow, our strategy of flying into our own thermonuclear explosion has again proven to be our downfall, but we're not dead yet. Every system on the ship is failing except one. As long as the engines have power, there's a way out. I set the warp slider to maximum and we blast away to the safety of the space station once again.
O'Francis: Unfortunately, docking does not automatically repair our ship. My screen – a schematic of the ship – is a mess of red dots, all concentrated on one half of the vessel. I show it to Smith.
“Look, all of this damage was done to the rear while you guys were asking me for full power to the front shields!”
Science Officer Smith: “That is the front of the ship.”
I'm trying to direct my repair teams around the ship's corridors from this schematic view, but they keep refusing to move to critical systems. The last straw is when several members of one team die while walking between two undamaged sectors. When you can't count on surviving an encounter with a corridor, you may not be Artemis's best and brightest.
Eventually I figure it out: they have to repair non-critical ship sectors to get past them to the critical ones.
Captain Tim: “How long are these repairs going to take?”
O'Francis: “At least 25 minutes.”
Captain Tim: “OK.”
T'om, Son of Martyn: “You're supposed to say it has to be done in half that.”
O'Francis: It is done in half that – it turns out that once I clear a few corridors, it gets a lot faster to move my crews around. I'm secretly really enjoying this – I had no idea the repair system was so involved. For the first time in my life I get to meaningfully say, “All systems nominal,” and we undock to engage the final group.
Science Officer Smith: I swing my scanners toward that final group and find out it's more like a final one. Our parting nuke was enough to make our previous aggressors surrender. One unidentified tachyon source, coming right for us.
Captain Tim: “Weapons, arm nukes.”
T'om, Son of Martyn: “Nukes, sir? Are you sure? We can take him out with torpedoes.”
Captain Tim: “Nukes. Lovely, lovely nukes.”
Senior Ensign Senior: I undock the ship and set a course heading straight for the anomaly.
Uhurich: The unknown tachyon source is so unknown that I can't communicate with it. I put it on Tim's main screen to get a better look at it.
It looks like a normal cruiser, the weakest of the Torgath ships. Nukes are powerful enough to take down three in one blast. I remember our last nuking. This could get messy.
Captain Tim: A good captain remembers the times he almost led his crew into self-perpetrated nuclear doom and resolves to be more cautious in the future. “Science Officer, scan target. Helms, get us into nuke range. Weapons, prepare armament. Fire, then take us out of here at 300% warp.”
T'om, Son of Martyn: “Nuke fired.”
Captain Tim: “Engage!”
Science Officer Smith: Launched out of the sector at physically improbable speeds, I flick my scanners over to where the last Tachyon source had been. There's nothing there now. There's nothing on long-range scanners either. “I think that's mission accomplished, captain.”
If you want to try the game out for yourself, you can buy it at the Artemis website.