Always Dragging Practicality Into It

This is 'Fleet Commander', the work of Arthur Nishimoto, a student at the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Built mostly around the RTS Star Wars: Empire at War, it's certainly a technically impressive feat, particularly the starfighters drawn in Paint and the Death Star done up in Photoshop.  The video's been making the rounds on the great nerd blog circles, but rather than gush about its awesomeness (which it has) or complain that it'll never be commercially released (which does suck), I thought I'd try and introduce a slightly broader focus to my comments.

'Fleet Commander' looks good, there's no question about it.  And with four players working simultaneously on the screen, it's clearly got the sophistication to be a satisfyingly complex and rewarding play experience.  But unlike the rest of the nerd blogosphere, I can't say I'm especially interested in actually playing this thing, and that has a great deal indeed to do with the ergonomics of the system itself.

Despite the fact that sitting is apparently killing us, I just can't see standing and holding my arms out long enough to play an even moderately detailed RTS to be that comfortable.  Such games can easily eat up an hour or two of time at any one go, and I can't imagine my arms being in any kind of non-jellied state at the end of such a time, nor can I imagine myself doing anything other than shifting from foot to foot in an attempt to get comfortable.  And of course, the screen is both extremely large and extremely close; at one point in the video, one of the players actually has to take a step back to see the full extent of a blast from the Death Star.  Going blind from sitting too close to a television may be a myth, but sitting that close isn't likely to do anything particularly good for your vision, either.

It's certainly an impressive display, don't get me wrong.  But as a game in and of itself, I don't think it's quite the barn burner the nerd community believes it to be.

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