Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Adventure of the Week: Trekboer (1983)

Another Withers/O'Dea Mark Data Products graphic adventure for the TRS-80 Color Computer is on our agenda this week.  It's Trekboer, an entertaining sci-fi mission:



The game opens aboard the USS Trekboer, commissioned in 2032.  (The game was set fifty years in the future when released -- now we're down to twenty-three years, and the scenario is not looking very likely!)

Like most of the Mark Data Products adventures, Trekboer is not overly difficult -- I only got hung up in a couple of spots, and the various environments and machines behave logically.  It's basically another quest game with puzzles; most of the action has occurred before the adventure begins.  But it's fun to explore and figure out the backstory, which is played fairly straight and in a serious manner, and there are some entertaining surprises along the way.

I always encourage readers to try these games out before reading further here, as I will reveal several key surprises for history's sake.  I realize it's hard to "spoil" something that came out more than twenty-five years ago, but still...

****** SPOILERS AHEAD! *******

Once again, the Scott Adams influence is apparent -- an advertising leaflet turns up at one point, pushing the other games in the Mark Data Products graphic adventure series:

 

The bridge room reveals a minor parser issue -- LOOK VIEW yields I see a planet!; a subsequent LOOK PLANET yields I don't see it, because the game's dictionary doesn't actually contain the world PLANET.  It's necessary to "beam down" to find out more.

The layout of the ship's main floor seems to be a cross shape inside a six-sided polygon, with diagonals implied by movement in the cardinal compass directions.  It takes a little getting used to but is entirely consistent.  This knowledge is useful later on, with efficient reuse of graphics, when the player finds a sister ship, where some artifacts useful on the Trekboer are exactly where one would expect to find them.

Unlike the other games in this series, Trekboer makes a distinction between carrying the spacesuit and WEARing it.  The player can learn the difference early on by opening the ship's hatch, or using the teleporter without a planet visible from the bridge:
 

I did make one of those game-ending mistakes common to vintage adventures -- I discovered the coordinates for Earth, and went there to see if I could find anything useful.  But returning prematurely without completing the mission, even when the nature of the mission is not yet clear, leads to an immediate and ignominious conclusion:

 

The backstory is revealed by way of found and received messages, as shown below.  I found it amusing that the robot circa 2032 takes cartridges -- a reasonable assumption in 1983, before the arrival of digital disc media.

 

Another classic adventure trope turns up even in this future world -- a glass beaker shatters when we drop it, unless we have dropped -- wait for it -- a pillow first.

Once we figure out the navigation and teleportation systems we can go planetside, where the landscape scrolls as we walk around its surface.  Of course, after we find our way to the planet at coordinates 8350, it appears that all is not well with our colleagues aboard the Veldboer:

 

Filling a canteen with said liquid utterly fails, as it dissolves the container, but establishes potential uses for the liquid; the glass beaker works to carry the bubbling stuff to an appropriate destination -- two, actually.  I restored my game after an initial experiment here, thinking that the canteen might have a use elsewhere in the game -- but as it turned out a blanket was much more effective.

A bit of external knowledge is required by Trekboer -- at one point an alien cenotaph surfaces, improbably decorated with Roman numerals.  I was offline while playing this game and had no handy Internet assistance available, so it took me a while to get MMMMMMMCXII properly translated to Arabic -- but the ship's navigation system only accepts four digits, which helped a lot, and eventually I arrived at the proper value of 7112.

Once on the "hidden" planet, I got stuck briefly at a dead end because while I had deciphered the cenotaph, I had not realized it was climbable.  GO CENOTAPH took me to its top, where I found an amulet that enabled me to proceed (after a game restore from a dead-end position, naturally.)

It wouldn't be an adventure game without a maze and a monster lurking somewhere in it:

 

Disposing of the spider is a time-sensitive puzzle -- once a certain medicine is administered, it takes several turns to knock the arachnid out.  The spider can then be carried to a suitable venue for termination, but it wakes up and kills the player if too much dawdling occurs.

It's import to enter the strange room before pushing the red button, to find the fabled Xendos Plant.  Entering the strange room after pushing the red button outside is not advisable, though it is colorful:
Egads! Atoms of my body have been scattered all over the galaxy. 
It also turns out to have been important to tie a rope to one of the trees above the chasm before entering the maze, as the player emerges at the bottom of the chasm and can't get back up unless the rope has been tied in a specific spot before entering the maze.  TIE ROPE works in many locations, with the parser assuming (to tree), but there's only one spot where it hangs over the edge of the chasm, so the puzzle isn't unfair beyond the high probability of backtracking once the need is recognized.  Save early and often!

Fortunately, I managed to get the Xendos plant to the Trekboer's cultivation room and planted it securely for the trip home.  The shipboard hydroponic system needs water, and it took me a while to figure out how to get it working.  I dug up some frozen H2O on the ice planet, but wasn't able to put any into the canteen or beaker before it melted in my hands.  I resorted to a walkthrough to learn that a blanket is needed to carry the ice.  Then I discovered that putting the ice directly into the cultivation room didn't work; I had to put the ice in the barrel in the hatch room to feed the irrigation system.

This seemed like the right thing to do, and it was -- out of curiosity I went back and tried returning to Earth with the plant simply stored in inventory, and it died on the way.  When I visited home base, botanical corpse in hand, I was informed that "By killing the precious Xendos plant I have sealed the fate of the Earth.  I have failed my mission and I'm a disgrace to the entire Boer fleet."

So it's best to return home with a viable cure in hand for the win:

 

Trekboer is another fun little adventure from Mark Data Products -- there's enough substance to it to keep it interesting, the graphics are colorful, and it's not too frustrating.  Next week, we'll wrap up our look at this six-game series with Calixto Island.

5 comments:

  1. Amazing review of a great game!. Kudos.

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  2. When I played this I gave the capsule to the spider,but even though he ate it,I was killed the next move. Is this randomized? Did you ever have this problem with the game?

    I would have just saved and tried again but none of the Mark Data Project's six games will save on my dosbox emulator

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  3. I don't think it's randomized, but it does take several turns for the spider to succumb to the capsule, and he may attack if you try to do anything significant (like leaving the room) before he's knocked out. See if you can just LOOK SPIDER for several turns in a row, until he's knocked out, then waste no time carrying him away for termination.

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  4. Maybe the "cartridges" that the robot takes are actually USB memory sticks. "Disc media" is soooooo two weeks ago!

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  5. Trekboer was definitely my favourite text adventure game by Mark Data Products (probably because it was the easiest one to solve). Tried downloading them onto my PC but unable to play them. Would be great to see them available for Android ;)

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