Here’s one of those games I wish I knew existed back when it was new. Just take a look at it! Star Wars Droidworks, Developed and published by Lucas learning in 1998 for Macintosh and Windows PCs. Yeah that’s right, Lucas Arts had a spin-off edutainment arm for a while. Headed up by former edutainment veteran, Susan Schilling, who’d just left MECC after the SoftKey buyout. Lucas Learning’s first title was DroidWorks here But it was quickly followed up by the likes of Star Wars: Pit Droids, Star Wars Math, and Star Wars: JarJar’s Journey. Now, alright, they weren’t all destined to be classics, but DroidWorks managed to stand out. I mean, just look at this fantastic packaging with all its indulgently embossed holofoil cardboard goodness. The front, the back, the sides, the end pieces, and the fold-out cover are all ridiculously shiny and reflective, to the point of distraction. It actually kinda makes it hard to read the advertising copy. But whatever, man, this is Star Wars. So you can probably guess 90% of its contents right off the bat. Speaking of contents, inside the box the first thing you get is an ominous red paper telling you how annoying it is to get the game running on an iMac. Yeah, I almost forgot, DroidWorks was one of the applications designed to launch alongside Apple’s iMac. They were pushing edutainment pretty hard! Steve Jobs: “Some math and some history software. Again, edutainment and educational coming back to the Mac.” You also get the game itself and a colourful CD-ROM. Alongside a dual case manual that’s also printed in full colour. And I approve. It’s quality stuff all around when it comes to the packaging and the box contents. And I wish I could say the same about the game itself. But yeah, time to quit stalling and jump right in! DroidWorks launches with a typical Lucas Arts launcher of the time, followed by some logos. And the obligatory, but always welcome, Star Wars opening crawl. [Star Wars theme] C-3PO: “This young Rebel makes an excellent Jawa, don’t you agree, R2?” [R2-D2 beeps] C-3PO: “R2 is right. Now that your disguise is in place, we should begin immediately.” So apparently Imposter-3PO and Low-Res R2 have captured some height challenged Rebel and dressed them up as a Jawa. And this is the character you play as. Not that it matters since you’ll never see them again. But yeah, the whole point is that you’re a Jawa in disguise off to thwart the Empire’s plans by the way of droid construction. Jawa: “Greetings, I am Wimateeka! So more (?) kind leader of this Sandcrawler. I hear you’re an excellent droid builder!” Yeeaahhh, Jawas speak English now. Err, sorry, Galactic Basic. Personally, I find it a bit off-putting. But I guess it’s more player friendly than reading a bunch of weird noises with subtitles. After this unsettling Jawa realisation sets in, you’re dropped right into the droid workshop to prepare for your first training mission of which there are eight to complete before embarking on your main objective. There are two types of droid to construct: walking and rolling. And between them, there are unique parts and capabilities like speech, welding, sensors, lighting, jumping, lifting, grabbing, and even medical abilities. As you play the game, you’ll unlock more parts. And in the end, there are 87 parts to choose from. You can only pick one of each type, and there are strict limitations as to the combinations and where they can be placed on the droid. But at least you can customise them even further with names and paint jobs to prevent things feeling samey. And I’ve gotta say, building Star Wars droids is a childhood dream come true, man! I always wanted to do this as a youngling. So even without playing the rest of the game just being able to mock up retro sci-f abominations is awesome in of itself. I mean like, nobody needed to see what it would look like if beloved Star Wars characters had a terrifying and regretful lovechild, but here you can! And it is fantastic. Once you’ve determined your droid’s appearance and approved of their dancing abilities, it’s off to the map screen and the mission briefing. Jawa: “Your droid needs to through the door at the top of the cliff.” Here you’re given an idea of what kind of hurdles to expect. But the only real way to tell precisely what kind of droid capabilities that you will need is by giving it a shot yourself. You can either start the mission straight away, or jump into the testing chamber of your Sandcrawler and try things out sans galactic consequences. This is also a good place to familiarise yourself with the controls and interacting with the environment which, err, well it isn’t great. However, before we get to the suck, lets talk about the acceptable. Once you’ve left the construction mode, DroidWorks takes place in a low poly, three dimensional environment. One that might look familiar if you’ve played other games in the Sith engine, like Star Wars Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II, and Mysteries of the Sith. From here, you’re tasked with figuring out how to accomplish your objective, and seeing as this is an edutainment game, the idea is that you’re supposed to learn scientific principles along the way. Most of this happens by way of the game’s information and data expert, or InDeX. Mmm, that late 90s weird capitalisation. This is a slightly interactive encyclopedia of sciencey things, and while some if it is fictional inner universe stuff, it’s all explained in a manner that also relates to real world physical properties and scientific laws. So each mission will rely on exploring the way these principles work by way of the in-game physics engine and environment interactions. An admirable goal, indeed! But there’s a problem. Unless you use very specific computer hardware that’s slow enough, the physics engine and environmental interactions are completely and utterly broken. I’m not just saying that either. Games are buggy sometimes; that’s just how it goes. Programming’s hard, you know. The thing is, when you’re entire product, one that’s built specifically as an educational experience, that relies on aspects of the game that are clearly screwed up, it simply fails at its main objective of being an effective learning tool. So like running into some physics glitches in Battlefield is one thing, but running into physics glitches in a game that’s all about teaching you physical interactions is something else entirely, y’know? I don’t know if it’s a result of retrofitting the Sith engine, or they ran out of time, or what, but DroidWorks suffers form a variety of constant infuriating physics problems on every retro PC setup I’ve tried. It reminds me a bit of the problems of Lego Island in terms of how picky it is with CPU speed. The simulation screws up if it’s allowed to run at a frame rate higher than of about 15. Just one example, driving up a slight incline with treads is a total crapshoot (???) Occasionally it’ll work, but most of the time it won’t. A legged droid could jump over it, but many of the missions force you to use treads so you’re stuck. Until you figure out that pressing certain buttons on the UI will temporarily reset the physics system, which then forces your droid over the hill. I mean, that’s fine until there’s another one and then you do it again, and again, and again, and yeah, this is really not a feature. This is a bug. I have never seen a game where you have to exploit the help companion to drive up a ramp. Help Companion: [repeated] “These are information tapes. They provide you with important information relating to your droid.” Err speaking of that companion, that is one bizarre choice for her accent. I’m not entirely sure what they were going for there. It’s like Daisy Duke mixed with Elly May Clampett. Help Companion: “One launch battery now in your inventory!” Not a complaint, more of an observation. But y’know, those– those two, y’know, err– Gold Five: “Stay on target…” See, now I can’t get the idea of those two being my companion at the same time– Gold Five: “Stay on target…” [clears throat] Right, as I was saying, even if you can deal with the wonky physics, the aggravation continues with several puzzles that rely on pushing objects, and there’s just no graceful way to do this. You bump into things until they sorta move in the direction you want them to, and hope that you don’t clip through them or accidentally move them up against a wall because then you have to restart the whole scenario. But good luck with moving things around, seeing as the camera itself is abysmal. A terrible trait to have in a game that relies heavily on environmental navigation. The camera is always fixed on your droid, and there’s no way to look around without physically moving yourself. And to top it off, this happens to be the most sensitive and jarring set of controls in the game. Then there are of course the areas that despise you for no reason. And you’ll get stuck without any method of resetting your position. You’ve got no choice but to quit, and try to avoid that next time. And sure, in a way that’s the point of DroidWorks. It’s a game all about problem solving and you accomplish this by doing your research out in the field, and then going back and designing a more fitting droid. But when so many of these problems are unpredictable glitchy garbage, it quickly becomes far more of a chore than any kind of valuable teaching opportunity. Still, it’s not as if it’s a total loss. It’s not. The rest of the gameplay is pretty darn fun. And it seems plenty of folks thought so too back in 1998, seeing as it won a crapload of awards. It’s got a lovely Star Wars atmosphere going on, with familiar locations and sound effects, and even some character interactions to participate in. Droid 1: “Well, hello there. What are you doing here?” Droid 2: “I was sent to fix the corrosion on the water pipes. I was just about to get started and, well, wouldn’t you know it, wham!” When it’s at it’s best, DroidWorks is a charming, enjoyable little game. And maybe when I was a kid, I would’ve forgiven its numerous physics short-comings cos, dang it, it’s Star Wars, and it’s creative, and it’s technically educational so I could play it with less of a chance of parental reprimanding. But as an adult, I can’t really say it’s worth much of your time. There comes a point in the game where you’ve figured out what elusive specifications are perfect for each picky mission. Yet even then, it straddles a fine line between being trivially easy to complete and being an unforgiving monster of physics, glitches, bottomless death pits, and purposely deceptive navigation. Then once you’ve finished everything up, you get a cut scene and a certificate. Hooray(!) Who cares. That DroidWorks. In theory, it’s absolutely awesome wish-fulfilment with some dandy educational goodies and sandboxy stuff thrown in for good measure. In retrospect, it’s not something I think I’ll ever play ever again. And if you enjoyed this episode of LGR Edutainment Month, and perhaps you’d like to see some of my others. There’s new videos every Monday and Friday, so subscribe if you would like to. And as always, thank you very much for watching LGR!