Instructions for Space Tag Applet

(Written May/June 1997; significantly revised December 2002. You may want to print these instructions, and keep them handy while you play.)

Introduction. Welcome to Space Tag, a real-time graphical space adventure game available in large / medium / small size. In this game you fly around in a (green) spaceship, looking for (purple) goodies and other valuable objects, while trying to avoid the (black) imperial storm trooper police and the (colour-changing) torpedo-shooting renegades. You can also refuel and reduce your temperature at the five (light-green) space stations, plus land on the (blue) large planet or the (red) small planet. You have available a (square-shaped) short-range display screen plus a (circular, in lower-right corner) long-range scan. You can even fire (red) torpedoes. The game keeps track of your ship's position, velocity, fuel-remaining, and temperature. And it follows actual laws of physics, including gravitational attraction and Newton's Law of Cooling. For experts there are some worm holes, a black hole, an ion disturbance area, some bouncy blobs, and a high score list.

Flying your spaceship

The most difficult thing for newcomers is to learn to fly the (green) spaceship. The commands are very simple: use 'j' and 'k' to rotate your ship's direction (counter-clockwise and clockwise, respectively), and use the "space" key to accelerate in whatever direction the ship is pointed. But remember: in space there are no "brakes"; your inertia carries you forever until you change it. You control your acceleration, not your velocity. So try to accelerate slowly and gently, in controlled movements, never going too fast. Note also that pressing space gives just a SMALL acceleration in the forward direction; you may have to press space several times, or even briefly hold down the space key, to obtain the desired effect.

Your ship is always in the center of both your short-range display and your long-range scan. All other objects are seen relative to your position. The only indication that you are moving is the passage (in the opposite direction) of a fixed "grid" of thin black lines. In addition, the long-range scan shows your velocity vector as a green line.

It is important to learn to stop. You stop by accelerating, just the right amount, in the direction opposite to your current velocity, until you gradually come to a stop. This is tricky, but very important to be able to do.

Practice tip: Try flying your ship a short distance, and then coming to a complete stop. Repeat this often until you can do it consistently.

Practice tip: If you're new to the game, then to get started, try pressing "e" to enter "easy mode". That way there will be no gravity, slower police, no renegade torpedoes, no damage when you crash, and easier-to-scoop goodies.

Reminder: Don't forget to refuel, by bumping into a (light-green) space station from time to time. There are 5 stations in all, so keep them in mind as you travel! (If you run out of fuel, then your "life support" fails and you die.)

The Spacetag Universe

Once you are good at flying the ship, you can explore! The spacetag universe consists of the following fixed items: You should keep a rough picture of these objects' locations in your head while playing spacetag. In particular, you should always have a sense of where the nearest space station is, to refuel whenever necessary.

On the other hand, the spacetag universe itself goes on forever; you can fly as far as you want in any direction.

Scoring Points: Goodies, Creatures, Treasures, and Bouncy Blobs

Randomly distributed in the neighbourhood of the blue planet will be ten small purple "goodies". Each time you capture one (by colliding with it), you earn a point. Once you capture all ten, you move up a level and ten new purple goodies appear.

There are also a number of white "creatures", including three on the blue planet, two on the red planet, and two in space in the neighbourhood of the red planet. Each time you capture one, you earn two points. They re-appear upon clearing all ten purple goodies.

There are also a few dark-green "treasures", including one in the ion disturbance area, one orbiting the black hole, and two "bouncy blob" treasures that bounce around the universe. Each time you capture one, you earn five points. They all re-appear upon clearing all ten purple goodies.

If you score at least 50 points, you can get listed on the high-score list.

Getting Caught: Storm Troopers, Renegades, and Torpedoes

The universe is patrolled by three round, black "storm-trooper" police ships. If they catch you, then your game ends. If you hit them with a torpedo, then they will be temporarily paralysed (and turn gray), so they will just drift in a straight line (for two minutes). Note: The police get faster at higher levels. For advanced players, press 'F' to make them faster right away.

There are also one or more colour-changing "renegade" ships, which fire torpedoes at the nearest available object. If they hit you with a torpedo, then your game ends.

In addition, if a renegade (or you) hits a creature or treasure with a torpedo, then the object is destroyed and you do not get points for it. Furthermore, if a renegade (or you) hits a space station or worm hole with a torpedo, then the object shrinks in size. On the other hand, if you manage to shoot a renegade with a torpedo, then the renegade vanishes and you get five points.

Fun tip: Try playing as a team of two, with one person typing the keys, and the other being the "captain" who decides what to hunt next, looks out for police and renegades, keeps an eye on the fuel level, etc.

Further Details

Don't go TOO fast, or your temperature will rise above 1000 degrees Kelvin, causing you to OVERHEAT. This wastes valuable time and fuel while your ship automatically slows down and cools off. Similarly, crashing too quickly into a planet or space station causes a delay while REPAIRS are made to your ship.

There are two (light-blue) WORM HOLE pairs; entering a worm hole automatically sends you out the corresponding pair. This is a good way to travel long distances quickly, and/or to escape the storm troopers (who never go through worm holes).

There is a (dark-pink) ION DISTURBANCE AREA where long-range sensors do not work, so you're on your own for navigating and for avoiding storm troopers.

There is also a BLACK HOLE with a dark-green goodie orbiting it. Be careful; the black hole's gravity can suck you in, and once you're in there's no escape and your game is over.

Game History

This game is modeled somewhat after my old C-language plain-text-graphics game (circa 1990), but it has come a long way since then!

The basic java game was developed in May/June 1997, including such features as two planets, short- and long-range scans, five space stations, goodies, space creatures, treasures, storm troopers, worm holes, and black hole.

In December 2002, a number of new features were added, including torpedoes, renegades, planetary creatures, bouncy blobs, and the high-score list. There were also a number of minor additions, such as planets appearing larger in the long-range scan, etc.

Thanks to Margaret Fulford, Gordon MacDonald, Jan Pajak, and Gareth Roberts for helpful suggestions along the way.

Summary of commands

So let's play!

Try the large version, the medium version, or the small version, depending on your monitor resolution.


-- Jeffrey Rosenthal. Comments welcome!!

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