Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Galaxias (1986)

Casting about for something unfamiliar to play this week, I decided to take a look at the UK's Sinclair Spectrum scene once again.  The machine was well-suited to adventure games, as it supported dynamic display fonts and 48K of memory, allowing for detailed descriptions and graphics on occasion.  It hosted many text adventures back in the day, so it's not hard to run across something I haven't played, and in this case my haphazard Internet wanderings led me to a 1986 game I had not heard of: Galaxias, published and written by similarly unfamiliar entities, Delta 4 and Fergus McNeil.

The game opens with an attractive title screen and uses a sci-fi font throughout.  The interface adopts a convention I haven't seen before - the onscreen Exits list actually tells the player what lies in each direction, instead of baking the navigational details into the room descriptions or leaving them up to discovery (although later in the game, some paths remain UNKNOWN.)   Galaxias was written using The Quill, a popular tool during the Spectrum era.

As always, I encourage interested readers to sally forth and adventure before proceeding here; the game features an expansive map, but most of the work involves finding a handful of useful items and doing the right things with them, ignoring the game's numerous red herrings.  The objectives aren't really spelled out in-game, so I was happy to avail myself of the walkthrough and hints available at the CASA Solution Archive.  Beyond this point, be advised that there are sure to be...

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

We begin in Zagro Spaceport; a landing bay with a spacecruiser lies to the east.  The interior map of the ship is pretty detailed, but once we're onboard we can't readily exit (at least until we figure out how the ship works.)  So we'll presume this must be the beginning of our adventure, not our destination, and that we should explore elsewhere before we GO SPACECRUISER.

To the west is an engineering centre -- one of many such centres, remembering that this is a UK title -- where we can and should acquire a Laser Probe of indeterminate usage and purpose; the game is extremely stingy with EXAMINE feedback.  We can pick up a laser probe here, and check out the Teleport Unit, which takes us to a large domed hall that we can reach on foot if we go around the long way, so it's not particularly necessary to dis- and re-combobulate ourselves.  We can enter the WARNING DISINTEGRATOR! room indicated to the west, if we wish to be disintegrated, but we don't want to do that.

Up from the domed hall is a sparkling glass streetway with a food dispenser, and we find ourselves just south of the starting location, thanks to the teleporter.  The talking food dispenser merrily offers us comestibles, but we can't seem to USE DISPENSER or BUY FOOD or GET FOOD.  We can go into

the nearby Food Consumption Centre to find SOME FOOD, presumably left behind by someone else.  We may be tempted to take it along, as we have no other apparent means of nutritional support, but it also develops that while there's plenty of food lying around the world, we never actually seem to get hungry, and needn't waste the inventory slot.

A security checkpoint is guarded, and there's some food here also.  We can only carry SOME FOOD at a time -- if we try to get more, we're told it's ALREADY CARRIED, and there's no reason to do so anyway.  We're not challenged in any way at the security checkpoint -- we can just walk through the gates to reach what appears to be a maze of BARREN WASTELAND, but we can't actually go anywhere here -- W takes us back to the checkpoint, all other directions just return to the same room (at least for now).  Upstairs from the checkpoint is the Defence / Communications Tower, which is apparently able to lock onto any enemy spacecraft and blow it to bits.  That seems like it may come in handy later on, except it never does.

The seedy Metalon Bar (color-coded in red onscreen) is frequented by space-pirates, or at least that's what we are told; the joint is curiously deserted during our visit.  We can GET DRINK here, though we don't really need to.  There's also an Alcohol Reclamation Center to the south -- or as it is known on earth, the loo.  We can't do anything here but enjoy the gag.  The bar's back room -- we can simply enter it by going east from the bar, ignoring the "KEEP OUT OR DIE" sign -- has some more food and nothing else of note or value.

So we have the impression that this spaceport is completely deserted, and there seem to be no puzzles or prizes to be had here.  It's probably time to climb aboard the cruiser and see what fortune yields.

The Meta-Galactic Sky Cruiser is fully equipped -- it features a Millennium Falcon-style laser turret with tracking system, a tubewalk (illustrated onscreen) that serves as a hub, a teleport unit that leads to the "nearest planet" but is not working at the moment, and living quarters with a sleep chamber and washrooms and more uselessly available food.  If there's any doubt about a certain Star Wars feel here, there's also a hologramic [sic] chess game in progress in the living quarters.

A long tubeway leads to the ship's more functional areas -- engine room, docking bay, and escape ship. So it seems I've explored the area and picked up all the objects.  Now what?  Can I FLY SHIP?  No.  Can I close the bay doors with the unit on the nearby wall?  Nope.  Can I PROBE UNIT?  Nope.  The parser is notably unhelpful here -- it tends to respond with NOT POSSIBLE or INPUT NOT UNDERSTOOD, and few hints emerge from experimenting. 

Stumped, I took an online peek at Ken's hints, which suggest looking at the floor in the engine room.  Ah -- the rattling sheets of metal conceal a well-hidden door when we EXAMINE FLOOR.  We can't OPEN DOOR but we can go D to find a hidden smuggler's compartment (yes, I should have taken the Falcon-esque hints!)  There's a gold bar down there, but the game has no SCORE command, so I'm not sure if this is actually going to be a treasure hunt.

Still stuck, I consult Dorothy's walkthrough, and -- aha! -- learn that there is a functional HELP command which actually provides information about how to use the ship's computer systems.  On the bridge, we TYPE LIST PLANETS -- we can apparently visit GRAFLON, TERMINAN, SEPTULE, and AKROL, and are currently at ZAGRO SPACEPORT, STATION 1, I erroneously assume.

TYPE GRAFLON does most of the spacefaring work for us -- we automatically set course, enter orbit, and use the teleporter to beam down.  Graflon is a green, tropical planet judging from the simple illustration we see as we land:

A forest maze leads to a vicious carnivorous plant that ATTACKS YOU WITH GREAT VIGOUR! but is apparently not immediately fatal despite our inability to KILL PLANT.  All of the game's maps are fairly large, with some detailed room descriptions, but there isn't really a lot to do or find anywhere we go; the Speccy's lavish 48K of memory is apparently devoted to a large map but few events.  At least this planet is inhabited -- or was -- as we see footprints in a nearby village along with a couple of huts.   We can pick up more food here, but I'm still not hungry.  There's a pool west of the plant -- it does not block our passage with its vigorous attacks -- where we can SWIM, and get EATEN BY A LARGE REPTILE SWIMMING IN THE DEPTHS!  There doesn't seem to be anything else to do here.

TYPE TERMINAN takes us to a mountainous desert planet, with snow up in the mountains.  We find steps carved into the rock, so there must have been inhabitants of some kind, though a nearby city is strewn with trash and deserted. An underground bunker is illustrated, as we enter the Terminan Defence Centre, and the computer systems are still working, indicated an ALL SYSTEMS OPERATIONAL display.  We can PUSH BUTTON to turn our space cruiser into dust, but that's probably not a good idea.  If we try to pass through the city's teleporter, we never re-materialize, so it's game over; this happens even if we don't blow up our ship.  (At this point in my playthrough I hadn't figured out how to return to our ship, nor did I feel like I had made any progress, so it seemed best to restore and try another destination.)

TYPE SEPTULE takes us to the roof of a building on an urban planet, where the streets are paved with platinum.  There's a SportCentre and a law enforcement building nearby.  There are no police about, though -- someone has spray-painted BEWARE OF THE FILTH! on the station walls, which are also bloodstained and full of knife marks.  But there is a pass card here, with ENTRANCE OK written on it, so that may be of value.  There are two living players in the SportCentre's arena, playing a dangerous sort of laser ball; their names are ZAXY and KYSEL, judging from the scoreboard, but we can't interact with them.  There's a park with synthetic trees and a strict anti-littering ordinance, an android factory, and a train that takes us to an old mining station with a stormy, impassable area to the south.  There's also nothing obvious we're supposed to do in this part of town.

Having acquired the pass card -- a potentially useful item at last -- we should figure out why we can't seem to get back from any of these places.  All we have to do is TELEPORT to return to the SkyCruiser, but we have to do so from our original landing location.  (This is also how we get out of the cruiser at Zagro Spaceport.)

TYPE AKROL takes us to an arctic planet, where we arrive standing at the centre of a frozen lake.  Here the scanner is frozen, so we have to map the world out ourselves, but it's a simple east-west layout. Somebody named Jekra is in an igloo, saying "I WANT COVALIUM" if we talk to him/her.  There doesn't seem to be any available on Akrol; returning to Graflon and exercising an ancient adventure game tradition, we EXAMINE WATERFALL, revealing a hidden space -- but we can't GO SPACE or ENTER WATERFALL.  We have to go S (guessing blindly at the correct direction) to discover a cave where there is some COVALIUM stashed.

Jekra will only talk to us once -- after that we'd better remember Jekra wants covalium, which he or she happily takes, giving us a map.  READ MAP indicates it will guide us through the wastelands.  I took this to mean we need to go back to Septule, but the map doesn't help us in the mining badlands where our scanner doesn't work, so this must apply somewhere else.

I had to consult the walkthrough again to discover that we can TYPE STATION to go to a space station -- the ship computer's reference to ZAGRO SPACEPORT, STATION 1 is meant to indicate two separate destinations, not part of Zagro Spaceport.  We can pick up a lance in the Space Station's power centre, which emits heat.  We can also note that the CIVILIAN LIVING COMPLEX is described as AN OPEN AREA OF NO REAL PURPOSE, much like most of the game's other locations. 

With the heated lance, we can MELT ICE in the cave on Akrol to find a rifle. We can SHOOT JEKRA, to watch as he DIES IN A CLOUD OF BLUE SPARKS, but there's no reason to do so.  We can also SHOOT PLANT on Graflon to take it out in similar fashion, but again, there seems to be no reason to do so.

So we'll go back to Zagro to see if the pass card and map are useful anywhere back where we started.  With the map in hand, we can now navigate the barren wastelands beyond the city gates and reach an old metal dome sticking out of the ground.  We need the pass card to get into the dome -- that's why we weren't having any issues at the checkpoint.

Inside the dome we find a dusty computer room, and a massive secu-vault, along with comfortable living quarters and a JACCUZI [sic].  We have to be careful not to leave the dome by going north from the computer room, because entering once uses up the pass card and we can't go back inside.  Trying to get the secu-vault open, we TYPE OPEN, which yields: "GOOD MORNING. ALL SECUIRITY [sic] WORKING. ELECTRIC FLOOR ACTIVATED."  We can try to OPEN DOOR directly -- and somehow the laser probe we've been carrying around for most of the game applies, and we succeed in doing so.  Except the floor is electrified, as previously noted, so stepping into the vault kills us in a blinding flash of hostile voltage.  TYPE SECURITY OFF and TYPE FLOOR STOP don't work, but TYPE DEACTIVATE ELECTRIC does.

Inside the security vault, we espy THE CRYSTAL -- not just any old crystal -- so this is presumably the point of all this galaxy-trotting activity.  We TAKE CRYSTAL -- and that's it! 


We are also encouraged to "WRITE TO DELTA 4 FOR YOUR NEXT QUEST!" -- even in 1986, computer software was not readily available in traditional retail outlets and mail-order was the primary means of distribution.

Fergus McNeil's Galaxias features a large map, but there's not very much to do except try things until something interesting happens; neither the nature of our quest nor the puzzles, such as they are, are very clearly laid out.  It seems like the mapmaking phase of the project became too ambitious for the plot as deadlines loomed; we're left with a detailed but extremely barren sci-fi world, where things that look like puzzles are completely optional and all of the useful items can be found just lying around.  I'll most likely play more of the Delta 4 games in the future, but hope for better adventuring ahead.


  1. Fergus' adventure-game zenith would come a couple of years later, with 1988's Mindfighter, published by Activision.

  2. Fergus McNeil and Delta 4 were best known for comedy adventures (including a completely unauthorised adaptation of "Bored of the Rings".) In those games, you could wander around the mostly empty map, enjoying all the jokes in the location descriptions. That made up for the lack of puzzles.

    When Galaxias came out, McNeil and Delta 4 were trying to switch to more serious adventures, though they obviously hadn't yet worked out what to include instead of jokes!

    OTOH there was a school of British sci-fi adventuring that did like big empty maps to explore. Level Nine's "Snowball" infamously begins with the player lost in a maze of over 1,000 rooms (no, that's not a typo!) which has to be navigated before the main adventure begins on the other side. I wonder if Fergus was trying to follow in this tradition.

    (In fact, Snowball's main game is very, very good, when you finally get out of the maze. It might be worth you doing an AOTW about it sometime.)

    P.S. I was the Anonymous who commented on your "Adventure A: Planet of Death" review.

  3. Glad to see I've stumbled into a productive vein of adventuring here! I have an actual cassette copy of "Bored of the Rings" for the Speccy around here somewhere, though I haven't played it, and I believe I played a bit of the Atari ST version of "Snowball" via Firebird's three-game compilation (though I recall it being rather buggy.) I didn't mind mapping Galaxias out -- exploration is one of the things I enjoy about adventures -- but it did seem like the objectives were vague and lost amid the landscape. At any rate, looks like Delta 4 and Level 9 have some worthwhile games to offer.

  4. Oops. A quick bit of Googling reveals that although Galaxias was released after Fergus & Delta 4 were famous for comedy games, it had actually been written much earlier. Either it wasn't released sooner because it wasn't good enough, or maybe it was but just sank without trace the first time round.