Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Adventure of the Week: Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge (1988)

This week, we're playing the second entry in a popular Sierra 3-D adventure series -- Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge.  This was the last Space Quest game developed using the original Sierra AGI system, with low-resolution 160x200 graphics and a text parser for commands, and the only AGI game included in the most recent compilation, Universal Vivendi's Space Quest Collection.  I never played this one back in the day, having joined the series in progress with Space Quest III on the Atari ST, so I was looking forward to this new/old experience.  The Two Guys from Andromeda, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy, are again handling the design, which continues the spacefaring saga of Roger Wilco.

The prologue text briefly recaps the story of Space Quest I, then recounts the sad story of Roger's fading post-victory celebrity.  As this tale commences, he's a janitor again, transferred to Orbital Station 4, and, as the opening text informs, Life Sucks.......Again.  Presumably the story will involve the vengeance of someone named Vohaul, perhaps a relative of the scientist Slash Vohaul alluded to in the first game, but as the curtain rises Roger's just trying to scrape by, plying his custodial trade.

Interested readers are encouraged to play Space Quest II before continuing here -- in the interest of documenting the game and its place in the series and the genre's development, I will be high-handed and careless about the multitudinous...


The game opens with a shot of the station in its orbit above the planet Xenon, as a ship arrives and the player logs in for duty.  It seems odd that we can give our character a name and NOT play as Roger Wilco; this doesn't seem right somehow, and the game doesn't make much use of this information, so I decided to call him Roger anyway.

It doesn't take long for Roger, working in one of the station's external bays, to clumsily lose his broom, apparently the third one this week, and now... what?  We can explore the bay, and learn that Roger can walk up walls and across ceilings in zero gravity.  But he can still fall "off of" the ship and drift to his death, following the Sierra tradition of warningless demise.  There's nothing useful in Roger's inventory, it appears; is there some way to carefully walk out and get the broom?  No, it appears that trying to be responsible with Roger's tools is also fatal.

We can LOOK WATCH to play with the controls of Roger's timepiece -- there's an H button for horoscope, T for Time/Temperature, and C for communication.  Pushing the C button informs Roger that he has to get inside and clean up a mess from a passenger who was space-sick on the recently arrived ship.

Now we can use the bay's entrance portal, get decontaminated, and put on Roger's normal gray-and-purple outfit with WEAR UNIFORM.  We can open Roger's locker to find a cubix rube puzzle (har har) and Roger's athletic supporter.  Putting on the uniform also discovers a translator, presumably left over from SQ I, and a magazine order form for a Labion Terror Beast Mating Whistle, which sounds just oddly specific enough that we will probably want to have it in inventory later on.  Once he's properly suited up, Roger must go to the shuttle bay and nowhere else until his work is done.  But upon entering the shuttle, he is knocked unconscious by a couple of space thugs, and wakes to find himself held captive by one Sludge Vohaul, who holds a grudge.

In a bit of retroactive continuity, we learn that this being was behind the Sarien operation to destroy Xenon in the first Space Quest game.  His new plan is (by game standards) more subtle, as he now plans to invade Xenon with an army of clones -- all life-insurance salesmen.  (This could have been a funny idea, but it never really gets developed during the rest of the game.)

With the villain's obligatory here-is-my-evil-plan-and-don't-you-dare-stop-me speech out of the way, Roger is drugged and sent to Labion to work in Vohaul's mines.  This world is patrolled by refugees from the Planet of the Apes, but their transport craft suffers engine failure while carrying Roger to his destination.  There's some nice parallax scrolling in this cutscene, and a "Gorf breath" insult in the dialogue that calls the classic Midway arcade game to mind, whether it was meant to or not.

The hovercraft crashes; Roger's fall is broken by one of the guards, now rather smushed and dead, but we can find a keycard in his remains.  We can also see some kind of creature peeking out of the surrounding foliage.  We can also hear that the crashed hovercraft is beeping, and we can PUSH BUTTON to make it stop, though it's not immediately clear whether this is wise (it is.)  Roger can't climb the trees, and the rocks are not notable.  He can wander nearby and fall into a concealed pit -- another unpredictable death, unless we happen to notice the faint outline of the trap in the grass; at least the designers give the player a chance this time around.

This game's AGI graphics are sometimes a bit odd, probably because the artists were trying to keep him from looking too much like King Graham or Leisure Suit Larry -- as presented here, Roger has no visible nose when seen in profile, and his head is wide seen face-on.  And some of the backgrounds are very nicely drawn, with attractive use of the limited 16-color palette despite the low resolution and vector-and-fill rendering technique:

The plant life here is quite dangerous.  A nearby location features giant mushrooms, which, of course, prove carnivorous if Roger gets too close, but at least it's a pleasantly psychedelic death.  There's nothing we can do about the mushrooms, though I did try a few random acts of adventuring, uncovering this parser gag:  SMELL SUPPORTER yields, I'll act like I didn't hear that.

We can navigate through the bushes at the "top" of the crash site screen, and shortly we hear a TWANG followed by a high pitched shriek.  To the east, Roger finds the little pink creature seen peeking out of the bushes has been caught in a snare, and if we UNTIE CREATURE, it runs away, giving Roger a long glance before heading east through the impassable undergrowth.

There's a sci-fi-ish mailbox in the forest, which we can use to send in Roger's order form for instant delivery of the mating whistle, an homage of sorts to the classic Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny and Road Runner cartoons.  In the same location, some pods are on the ground beneath a tree; if we get too close to them, Roger accidentally kicks one and a paralyzing gas emerges.  Roger can't do anything while he's paralyzed, but eventually the effect wears off.  It seems that these pods could prove useful, and we can TAKE SPORE after Roger recovers (but he can only carry one.)

Another area has a root system controlled by a movable brain/digestion entity.  The little pink creature (or one of its kind) shows up here, picking berries from a bush.  We can navigate through the roots by stepping very carefully around using the arrow keys, in one of those maddening early Sierra physical puzzles; SAVE and RESTORE come in very handy here.  The bushes contain odoriferous red berries, and we should PICK BERRIES.  Next, we realize that there are no other exits from this location, so we have to navigate back out the way we came in, through the dangerous root maze.  The return trip is frustrating and tedious, given that we've already demonstrated an ability to navigate successfully and this seems like a needless playtime stretcher.

Some more hovercraft-riding ape guards appear near a chasm, and Roger's best strategy is to hide until they go away.  Most of the abundant trees cannot be climbed; Roger can try to climb the less-slick trees on one screen, but they turn out to be adhesive and Roger shortly gets devoured by insects.

I also tried to WAIT at one point, only to be told (somewhat disingenuously) that This isn't a text adventure!  But the point is taken -- while the Sierra AGI games do use a text parser, events that require waiting do take place in something like real time.

Roger soon encounters another of the small pink creatures, and it seems like a good idea to follow it through a nearby swamp, if only because there's nowhere else obvious to go.  Roger has to slog through the muck, slowly, and he shortly gets attacked and killed by an underwater monster that follows him, bubbling ominously.  But if we pay attention, we can see the little creature rubbing something on its body before entering the swamp, and we can RUB BERRIES ON BODY to use them as a monster repellent.  The monster still attacks, but Roger now survives.  (It's useful to turn the game speed up while crossing the swamp -- it doesn't make any difference regarding these events, but it shortens the uneventful portions of the journey considerably.)

On the other side of the swamp, Roger arrives at a fissure, yet another classic adventure game challenge adapted to Roger's 3-D animated world.  We can't JUMP FISSURE (Sorry. This game is in a NO JUMPING zone -- is this a reference to Atari's coin-op I, ROBOT?)  We can't PUSH TREE or KICK TREE to knock a prominent and appropriately positioned trunk across the chasm, but trying to CLIMB the old dead TREE does the trick.  We can't really move much once we're straddling the chasm on the dead log, however; we just move to the right until Roger gets safely off the tree.

A clearing past the fissure has a death at its back "wall," denoted subtly by a black line at the edge over which Roger can fall.  Along the correct route, Roger gets caught in a snare and passes out, dreaming of Leisure Suit Larry in the Land of the Lounge Lizards in a little quick cross-promotion, and then wakes up in a cage, held captive by an alien creature, apparently a hunter judging from his equipment.  Roger can use the spore to knock him out, but he's still stuck in a cage.  We can SEARCH HUNTER from the cage and find the key on the hunter's unconscious body, which is odd as he looks too far away to allow that; but we can't GET KEY, as the hunter is in fact too far away.  And when the hunter wakes up, Roger is done for.  Hmmmm... well, we can YELL, which attracts the hunter's attention and brings him closer to the cage. Then we can hit him with the spore, get the key, escape the cage, grab the rope and head north.

We see a ship taking off in the distance, and can get Roger killed by Vohaul's guards here too if we try to continue north, but that's fatal anyway, as there's no time to hide or escape when their hovercraft shows up.  So another path would seem to be in order.

We have rope, and can slog back through the swamp, where nothing seems to have changed.  Roger can then tie the rope to the stump at the edge of the fissure, and CLIMB ROPE to encounter a nasty monster lurking below.

We can try to SWING ROPE to get to the safe side of the gap here, but we need to climb lower to do so, and then the stump the rope is tied to gives way, so that's no good.  This approach works better if we TIE ROPE TO LOG instead.  Now Roger can swing on the rope, avoiding the monster and jumping to safety on the other side once the rope is swinging widely enough.  When the creature grabs at Roger for the first time, it's wise to hit F6 and release the rope.

Roger can now enter a cave that is very dark; we can navigate to some degree by trial and error, before getting felled by a killer Cave Beaver!  So we probably need a light source.  The hunter's fire has gone out (and the hunter has disappeared) if we return to his campsite, so that won't help us.  The parser recognizes the word STICK, but the hunter doesn't seem to have had one at his campsite, even though he comes up with one to shishkebab poor Roger if we don't manage to escape.

At this point, I had to consult a walkthrough -- dang, I was doing okay up to this point! -- which indicated that there's a glowing gem in the swamp in the deep spot.  I had noticed that spot earlier, but thought it was just a stumbling block to slow Roger down for the swamp monster's attack.  Roger is forced to swim in this small area, and with no monster to harass us, we can DIVE to swim down, though we need to HOLD BREATH first or die early.  Roger swims through the underwater cavern, finding a glowing gem, and now we can get back on track.  (If this sounds familiar, as it did to me, note that King Graham has to do something similar in King's Quest I.)

Now we can HOLD GEM in the cave to see where we are going, though not too clearly, as shortly Roger tumbles downward through a minor pitfall.  A couple of the little pink creatures show up here, and Roger's translator (which has not been useful earlier) intones, "Follow us, beanpole!"  The nearby canyon is ruled by these creatures; they promise to help Roger on his way when he is ready, but it will be a one-way passage.  Roger dropped his gem on the way in, so we will want to reclaim it; that's about all we can do here, as there's no way to climb back up the way we came.  The text parser allows for a puzzle in this area that simply wouldn't work in the point-and-click world of Sierra's later games -- we have to literally SAY THE WORD (per the creatures' instructions) to get them to reveal the exit.

So what was Roger supposed to do here?  Not much, so we'll have him climb down the exit.  It's pitch-black in this second cave, and Roger can't climb and hold the gem at the same time, especially with the scary guttural sounds echoing through the area.  We need the light source to be active for safety's sake, but we can't DROP GEM to the bottom of the ladder; we can't PUT GEM IN SUPPORTER or WEAR SUPPORTER; we can't THROW GEM INTO HOLE.  But aha!  This is a parser-based game at heart, so we can HOLD GEM IN TEETH -- this casts a little bit of light around Roger so he can climb down and crawl through several screens of tunnels.  There's quite a maze to navigate, filled with passages and ladders, not to mention fatal attacks by the dreaded Cave Squid.  But with a little luck Roger soon emerges in an underwater cavern.

Roger can enter the water and explore, but there's a fork in the path -- one choice is instantly fatal, as Roger gets out of his depth and the current picks up, sweeping him over a waterfall.  The other choice seems equally dangerous, as it sucks Roger into a whirlpool, but it ultimately dumps him safe and sound in a pond outside, near the landing platform seen earlier from a distance. 

There's no apparent exit from this area, but we can BLOW WHISTLE here to summon (of course) a male Labion Terror Beast, who in a second Warner Brothers homage enters a la the Tasmanian Devil, carving his way through the surrounding rock.  He's rather dangerous, but Roger can just duck out into the water the next screen over to be left alone; the Terror Beast has gone its merry way by the time Roger returns.

We can reach the landing platform now, which is being closely guarded by one of the apelike creatures.  Roger can stealthily move nearer, using the bushes for cover and avoiding the guard's searching eyes.  We have to be patient to get him close enough to the elevator to open it with the keycard -- INSERT KEYCARD INTO SLOT -- and then ride the platform up.  A shuttle is available here, with no guards on the actual platform.  The instrument panel has a POWER button, an Attitude dial, and an Ascent Thruster button.  We can set the dial to VAC or HAC, that is, Vertical or Horizontal control, and use the ascent/vertical mode until the shuttle's computer tells us that "adequate altitude has been achieved."  

Then we switch over to HAC, and we're off!  But (of course) Roger's journey is shortly interrupted by the appearance of Sludge Vohaul on the display screen -- he takes over the ship and brings Roger to his asteroid base, then fortunately misplaces him, leaving our hero free to wander the ship looking for useful items.  We do have to watch our step in here, as there are hazards aplenty; Roger lands on floor 1, and the elevators have buttons for four circular wraparound levels, 1, 3, 4 and 5; floor 2 is accessible only on foot.

On floor 5 (my explorations began at the bottom of the ship) we find a surveillance camera and a dead end on the "eastern" end.  Roger can get fatally bopped on the head by a large creature held in a cell, if we step too close, so we need to hug the far wall to reach a dark janitor's closet.  We should take the wastebasket her; we're not allowed to take the uniform, as it's too small, but something falls to the floor when we try -- a lighter, which will also probably come in handy later on.  Roger can also get french-kissed by a H.R. Giger-esque alien that escapes from a cell on this level; he survives, but is there any risk here?  Yes indeed, but we won't find that out for an hour or so, at which point there's no choice but to hope we still have a saved game prior to this event.  The alien, once released, will eventually chase Roger down and have its way with him, so we really need to avoid its cell altogether; it won't open unless Roger enters that room, but there's no way to undo the situation once it's been triggered.  It's an old-school Sierra puzzle, otherwise known as live-and-learn-and-restore.

On Floor 4, a closet contains a glass cutter, restrooms for males and females sporting a wide range of physical genotypes, and there's a clever, subtle xenobiology joke here -- the male and female doors lead to the same space!  The only empty stall has a giant space herpe sitting on the seat; it flees when Roger shows up, and I didn't find any way or reason to interact with it, it's just a gag.  Roger can use the toilet, to no apparent purpose, and peruse the graffiti, with such gems as, "You're right, R.D.!  Sierra is an alien outpost!"; "Sir Graham Cross Dresses!"; and "Vohaul plays text adventures!"  (I rather like text adventures myself, but the newfangled 3-D animated generation was feeling young and cocky at the time.)

Floor 3 has small windows revealing billions and billions of stars (yes, I know Carl Sagan never actually said it exactly that way), and its closet contains a plunger, which will also likely prove useful later on.

Walking down to floor 2, the door closes behind Roger -- it's a trap!  Barriers spring up, and an acid bath under the sliding floorboard ensures Roger's swift demise.  We can STICK PLUNGER ON BARRIER to enable Roger to stick safely to the smooth curved wall; still, his grip eventually weakens and he falls into the acid.  I tried a couple of ideas here, to no avail, before I realized I was simply using the plunger too early.  If we wait until the last minute, the floor returns to cover the acid bath, Roger can CLIMB DOWN, and the trap is disarmed (and the plunger mysteriously vanishes).

Beyond the trap, at either end of floor 2, dangerous wallbots emerge from the walls (naturally) to attack Roger with jolts of electricity that reduce him to dust.  So we should probably avoid this.  If Roger ducks into the doorway, they do not see him, but thus thwarted they just return to their posts to attack again later.  I had to consult the walkthrough to learn that I completely missed the sprinklers on the ceiling here.  But I was still stuck -- we can't LIGHT LIGHTER or HOLD LIGHTER TO SPRINKLER.

Further help from the walkthrough indicates that we need some paper from the restroom on level 4.  I ran into a dangerous waxing machine on the way to the bathroom, but it can be avoided by ducking out of its way.  I still couldn't LIGHT PAPER WITH LIGHTER or BURN PAPER.  What Roger is supposed to do here is PUT PAPER IN WASTEBASKET, DROP WASTEBASKET and LIGHT PAPER.  This may not be a text adventure in the strictest sense, but the parser is a little too obstinate on this puzzle.  At least we don't have to hit each robot specifically -- burning the paper sets off the sprinklers, and shorts all of them out.

Now, at last, Roger can reach the villain's secret chamber!  If we try to confront Sludge Vohaul directly, Roger gets miniaturized and put in a jar.  But we do have a glass cutter... we can escape the jar and jog across the shelf to ENTER VENT nearby.  If we ignore the vent and head west from this area to a location with a keyboard,  Roger gets smashed by Vohaul's fist, so the vent is probably where we want to focus our efforts.  Inside, conveniently, we find the control center for Vohaul's life support system.  Turning it off kills Vohaul in short and rather anticlimactic order, but in a final act of defiance he does something... but what?

There's no time to waste now.  We have to get Roger back to normal size using the keyboard and a nearby switch.  We LOWER SWITCH to turn the system on, TYPE ENLARGE (the tiny Roger jumps on the keys) and soon restore our hero to normal size.  But Vohaul's life-insurance peddling clones have already preparing to invade Xenon!  What to do?  Well, READ SCREEN doesn't work, but EXAMINE SCREEN does -- when I played, I could see that the launch was due in less than 8 minutes, and that we need to enter a code to abort the launch.  But what is the code???  Examining Vohaul's corpse reveals the letters SHSR written on the back of his hand (this might be randomized).  And, thanks to evil absent-mindedness, that is indeed the code.

The launch is now aborted, but Roger is informed we have only "40 MINUTES UNTIL MELTDOWN."  So it's time to escape Vohaul's ship. 

Getting up the diagonal staircase is the first challenge -- these are never easy to navigate in the Sierra AGI games, and the potential for fatal falls means we really need to lock in the diagonal direction as best we can.  We also need to get the oxygen mask from a box at the walkway entrance, and wear it at one point near a breach in the walkway walls to keep Roger from suffocating.  This dangerous little trip gets Roger to the otherwise unreachable walkway in the landing bay.

There are escape pods here, guarded by a robot called The Vohaul Marrow-Matic.  It won't follow Roger into the walkway, but -- ACK!  When I first played, THIS is when I learned that french-kissing the alien earlier did indeed plant a fatal parasite in Roger's body.  I had to restore to an earlier save, and replay a good chunk of the game; as noted above, I had to avoid even letting the creature out of its cell, as once released it will eventually catch up with Roger and plant this annoying time bomb.

Okay, now that that hazard has been sidestepped, let's see what we can do here.  The Marrow-Matic attack robot won't follow Roger out into the landing bay -- we can get past it by ducking out of its way and letting it go past, although we don't have a lot of time before it comes back again.  We need to get Roger into an escape pod, after which the robot will assume he's supposed to be there.  I don't know if there's any difference between the pods, but I may have lucked out by using the rightmost pod, which is flashing red when Roger arrives.

Almost there.  We PUSH LAUNCH BUTTON, blast off, and learn that... there's not enough oxygen in the pod to get Roger to safety?  Did I take the wrong pod?  No, we just need to use the sleep pod onboard.  We've destroyed Vohaul and his plot, escaped safely, and it's THE END - FOR NOW.  Victory is ours!

But... I finished with only 218 of the 250 points, so I had to do a little followup research.  As it turned out,  I missed throwing the cubix rube to the Labion Terror Beast, and just avoided him.  Similarly, I didn't use Roger's athletic supporter to sling rock at the landing platform guard; I just avoided him too.  So that accounts for 30 of the missing points, and the remaining 2 were missed because I never picked up a rock to sling at the guard.  So I didn't miss any story points -- I just chose to solve a few puzzles by alternate, non-confrontational (and apparently worthless!) means.

I enjoyed playing Space Quest II, and sometime soon we'll tackle Space Quest III, the first of the SCI generation Space Quest games, with higher-resolution graphics and a full-blown MIDI music score.

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