This week, we're looking at yet another vintage series that's been largely forgotten today -- the Mega-Venture games from Big Orc Software, written for the TRS-80 Model I/III using Bruce Hansen's adventure system, modeled on (and compatible with) the Scott Adams engine. We'll start at the series' beginning, with Jim Veneskey's 1984 game, Mega-Venture I: Romulan Adventure, an unlicensed but obviously Star Trek-inspired game casting the player as a Romulan spy.
The game is dedicated to one Eric Ludwig, and presents mixed-case text, a relative rarity on the TRS-80 platform. It's not a terribly difficult game, but useful clues are limited, and I had to dive into the binary file to figure several things out. As always, I encourage interested readers to step away and play Romulan Adventure independently before proceeding here, as there will be comprehensive...
***** SPOILERS AHEAD *****
As the game begins, we find ourselves in a Space Port; to the north is a Briefing Room, where we can KNOCK and ENTER to receive the particulars of our mission. TALK ADMIRAL informs us that our assignment is to test a new ship-cloaking device inside Federation territory; the Admiral mentions that "you took your time getting here," which I thought meant I had wasted too many turns exploring elsewhere, but he says this even if we go immediately to the Briefing Room. With his message delivered, he leaves a key on his desk and departs, giving us a moment to sit down and find the brand-name battery hidden in his desk (apparently they still use Energizers in the future.)
The game is quick to promote the upcoming Mega-Venture II: Top Secret in the grand Scott Adams tradition. There's also a recurring in-game sponsorship gag -- the action is occasionally interrupted by a message reading, in part, ==Drink Romulan Rootbeer== and now back to the show. It's funny the first few times, calling the original Star Trek broadcasts to mind, but the joke wears off quickly with repetition.
With the Admiral's key in hand, we can now UNLOCK SHUTTLE and GO SHUTTLE. Once inside, we can't LEAVE or EXIT the shuttle, as no obvious exits are available, and GET OUT doesn't work, contrary to adventure tradition. We can GO SHIP, using the shuttle to reach our command ship, and then GO OUT to prepare for our mission onboard. Having dropped us off, the shuttle departs automatically and we have nowhere to go but deep into enemy territory.
I got stumped for a while at this point, as our ship's TURBOLIFT elevator has a speaker grill, which we can TAKE if we like, but there doesn't seem to be anything we can LISTEN to or SAY into it. While I was pondering my options, a Tribble appeared, then wandered away, then showed up again later. If we pick the creature up and look at it, we learn that It's GLOWING!, and it's now described as a Radioactive Tribble; it's not dangerous, though, it just serves as a light source later. To make productive use of the elevator, we have to make some assumptions about the ship's likely structure -- GO BAY takes us to the cargo bay, GO BRIDGE to the bridge, and so forth. I had to dig into the game's data file to discover all the possible locations; in general, the Romulan ship appears to resemble the Enterprise.
We are carrying a watch, and LOOK WATCH tracks the number of moves used, though this seems to serve no specific purpose. There's a general discovery bug in the engine -- if we re-discover a hidden item, it gets returned to its point of origin (e.g., LOOK DRAWER after taking the batteries puts them back into the drawer.)
An old adventure inconvenience resurfaces here, as we get tired along the way, but if we SLEEP in the wrong place, we learn that I caught Pneumonia! Boy, I sure miss a cozy bed. I'm dead. A related bug here is that if we die this way, and restart from the beginning, we immediately start getting sleepy, implying that a counter hasn't been properly reset.
The SAVE GAME command provides ten slots, numbered 0-9, which is very handy; the save data files are named using the first two characters of the player's name, allowing for multiple users as long as their names begin differently.
On the bridge, a viewscreen displays "tons of stars" -- no scientific precision here -- and notes that we're currently orbiting Romulus. We can retrieve our handy communicator (LOOK CHAIR on the bridge to find it) and SIT CHAIR to review the ship's Owner's Manual, as our Romulan Officers arrive (and politely do not comment on our apparent inexperience.) The manual (listed in-game as the Owners Manual, as the game engine does not support single quote/apostrophe characters) tells us we can: 1) Order course, 2) Order speed, and 3) Leave orbit. This seems straightforward enough, but these aren't exactly the commands we need to use; I had to hack the code again to figure out all the details. I was able to guess SET COURSE, and some Trek knowledge came in handy for coming up with WARP SPEED. But I had to cheat to discover we must order the crew to BREAK ORBIT.
Our ship now makes its way toward a Federation post, but before its gets there we really need to use the elevator to GO ENGINEERING, where we discover that our installation of the fabled Romulan Cloaking Device suffers from a serious case of... dead batteries. We need to REMOVE (the dead) BATTERIES and then INSERT (the good) BATTERIES, and PULL LEVER to turn it on -- otherwise we'll find ourselves shot down by the Federation in short order.
A well-rested captain is an alert captain, so at some point we should GO QUARTERS and find the small bell in our Cozy Bed. We can then GO TRANSPORTER and RING BELL to summon an operator to the Transporter Room. The sick bay to the east has medical supplies, but the only item we can take is the Bottle of Green; it's useful, though not immediately constructive, to discover that DRINK GREEN is fatal.
We eventually arrive to find ourselves orbiting a Federation base station, ignored by the Federation warships all around, so it appears that the cloaking device is working as expected. We can BEAM DOWN to the base, but must navigate carefully -- Federation Officers ambush me! if we wander into the wrong rooms. We can discover that the base movie theatre is playing Star Trek IV without arousing too much suspicion, but we really need to find the uniform in Someones [sic] Quarters, then GET and WEAR UNIFORM to enable broader access.
It's not immediately clear what we're doing on the base -- it seems we've fulfilled our stated mission by flying in here with the cloaking device activated and not getting our entire crew captured or killed. But since we're here, we might as well do a little spying; this becomes apparent when we reach the Federation base's bridge, and note that the viewscreen can't see our "SPY SHIP" because it's CLOAKED!
So we will now set out to do a little damage. We can poison the food in the base kitchen with the Bottle of Green, producing some Dead Feds in the cafeteria, but this isn't strictly necessary. What we need to do is find the pieces to build a bomb, including a small plastic box in the Storage Room, and a wire from the bridge console.
Unfortunately, it develops that this particular Federation base is under the command of one James T. Kirk. We learn this by noting that Captain Kirk shoots us with his phaser if we try to go into his room, so we must create a diversion. Before we poison the Federation crew, we can LOOK FOOD to find a Toothpick, which we can use to PICK the LOCK of the generator room. Here, we can recharge the dead batteries we salvaged from our own ship earlier, then PUSH BUTTON to turn off the lights, using our handy Radioactive Tribble while everyone else flounders around in the dark. Doing all of this in the right order is crucial, as we cannot turn the generator back on after we've shut it down.
Now we can sneak into Kirk's room, and GO CLOSET to fall through a false bottom, landing in an Arsenal room containing HIGH EXPLOSIVES, AMMO, and... science-fiction author and occasional Star Trek screenwriter Harlan Ellison?
It's not entirely clear what elements are needed to make the bomb; no list of ingredients is provided, but some experimentation establishes that we need the Watch, the (charged) Batteries, the small box, and the wire. Using our improvised explosive is not intuitive either -- we have to SET BOMB while it's in hand, then DROP BOMB in the ship's arsenal to fuel the explosion.
The bomb goes off very quickly after we set it, and there doesn't seem to be any actual requirement that we escape from the Federation base. At the least there's some inconsistent behavior here -- at one point, though I was unable to reproduce it, I received the admonishment, I did'nt [sic] make it to the ship! But we can only SET BOMB in the arsenal room, and the game doesn't actually seem to verify whether we escaped the base -- we still get credit for a successful ending even if we don't really escape:
In fact, we even get credit if we just set the bomb in Kirk's Arsenal, forget to drop it there, and carry it back to our own ship to explode. But it feels a lot more satisfying if we can SET BOMB, DROP BOMB and BEAM UP just before it blows:
I'm not a die-hard Star Trek fan, but I recognized enough of the references here to enjoy the game. Hacking and minor bugs aside, the puzzles weren't too difficult and everything made sense. To save others the parser wrestling, I'm proving my walkthrough below the fold -- it's also available at the CASA Solution Archive. And we will be tackling Mega-Venture II in the not-too-distant future.
*** WALKTHROUGH ***
(when Tribble is encountered, GET TRIBBLE; it moves randomly around the map)
TALK ADMIRAL (he gives us instructions and leaves)
PULL LEVER (cloaking device on)
(if not yet "Getting sleepy...", WAIT until you are)
RING BELL (Romulan Officer enters)
N, N, W, W
S, E, E, S, E, S, E
N, W, N
PICK LOCK (make sure you have acquired the Tribble by this point)
LOOK TRIBBLE (it becomes radioactive and glows)
W, S, W, W
BEAM UP (to victory in the nick of time!)