Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Operation: Sabotage (1982)

On deck this week is Operation: Sabotage, a 1982 text adventure by Ray Sato, ported by Rich Bouchard from the TRS-80 to the Atari 400/800 computers, and published by SoftSide Publications.  It's very much in the style of the monthly adventures the company published in its disk-based magazine, though it doesn't seem to be part of that regular series.  The game is written in BASIC, so the parser and display are a bit sluggish at normal speed, though that's easy enough to fix in the emulated modern world.

Operation: Sabotage is a straightforward escape-the-alien-ship game, though we're on a mission with formal objectives which makes for a nice change.   The parser is limited, with no EXAMINE or LOOK verbs and precious little READ information, and the puzzles are generally simple, though are there are plenty of red herrings scattered about.

As always, readers are encouraged to explore the game's world for themselves before reading my comments below, as in the interest of documenting this adventure, there will be comprehensive...

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

We begin in an airlock, with some PLASTIC EXPLOSIVE in inventory (INVENTORY or INV, the common shortcut I does not work) and nothing else visible in the room but a blue button and an exit south.  It's probably a bad idea, but for the sake of investigation we can PUSH BLUE -- and yep, THE AIRLOCK OPENS... YOU ARE BLOWN OUT INTO THE VACUUM OF SPACE -- YOU ARE DEAD!  So we're in space on a futuristic spy mission, not underwater invading somebody's island base.  Good to know.

South of the airlock room (after a restart) is a long narrow corridor spanning three rooms until we come to a SMALL ROOM, similarly nondescript.  Further south we find a DECONTAMINATION CHAMBER with another blue button.  Pushing it produces an orange glow that covers us and then fades away -- no obvious harm done, but no obvious reason to do so, either.

Heading south again, we find a small storage chamber and a classic adventurer's implement in the form of a CROWBAR.  West of this location is a larger chamber with a locked cabinet and passages continuing west and south.  There's no EXAMINE or LOOK verb, and READ and USE don't often come into play, so we have to take most of these things at face value.  Fortunately, the authors give us a generous eight-item inventory limit and no real juggling will be required once we know which items we can safely ignore.

At the western end of this part of the ship (no port or starboard here!) we find an office with a large desk, and if we OPEN DESK we find something called an ELECTRONIC CONTROL BATON.  We can't WAVE BATON or RAISE BATON, though.

South of the office is another storage room, with some BATTERIES, always useful in these situations.  Continuing south through another nondescript large hall, we find ourselves in an ENTERTAINMENT ROOM, with a screen and two buttons, red and blue.  If we PUSH BLUE, the screen lights up and a movie is played -- but we can't WATCH MOVIE or LOOK SCREEN, so no further detail is available.  We can PUSH RED to turn it off, but so far this isn't providing us with anything useful.

Continuing south (the map is large but fairly schematic, so I'm trying to explore the length of it before heading back to the east) we find a DATA RECORD STORAGE ROOM with a COMPUTER DESTRUCT PROGRAM -- and if we try to READ PROGRAM, we learn that ONLY A COMPUTER CAN READ A PROGRAM, so at least it's not a type-in listing.  Good thing we found this, as it seems we're poorly equipped for our sabotage mission otherwise.

We've reached what appears to be the southwest corner, so now we'll head back east into another office with a desk, this one containing a SECURITY KEY (adding up to the customary, remarkably low level of actual security typical of these alien establishments.)

East is another empty storage room, so we'll head north from the office into a room with a card table in the center.  We can't discover anything on or about the card table; to the east is a BIOLOGICAL LABORATORY with a red button on the wall.  Pushing the button releases an ALIEN MONSTER, and we get into a combat situation.  I couldn't KILL MONSTER or SWING BATON or HIT MONSTER -- and after three or four hits from the creature, we're dead.  So it's probably best to restore and come back after we've found some sort of weapon -- probably a firearm of some kind, as the only command I found that gave a meaningful response was SHOOT MONSTER.

Seeking further north again, we find a small, empty office, and a SMALL ELECTRONIC LABORATORY containing a SMALL BLACK DEVICE.  It doesn't count as a weapon, though.  North is a small chamber with a CALENDAR -- the parser will let us READ it, but reports I SEE NOTHING SPECIAL

There's also a STRANGE PURPLE ROOM in this area, with a blue button.  This seems to be a teleporter between floors of the ship, as when we PUSH BLUE we're temporarily blinded by a flash of light, arriving in a similar room with a red button, but the surroundings have changed.

From this location, we can explore quite a few additional rooms -- an empty library, a launch control room with a GALACTIC CHART that again yields no interesting reading, and several security check areas manned by trigger-happy SECURITY PATROL ROBOTs, trapping us and eventually killing us if we have no way to disable them.  There's a WEAPONS STORAGE ROOM, but all it contains is a LARGE PHOTON BOMB, so that's probably not a good self-defense play.  There's also a MEDICAL STATION with a SILVER PILL that might be needed if we take too many hits but survive.

Aha!  There's a ROBOT CONTROL CENTER in the northern part of this area; there's another attacking robot on guard, but we can see the CONTROL COMPUTER MOUNTED IN THE WALL.  We can't INSERT PROGRAM or READ PROGRAM, or TURN OFF COMPUTER, though, so that's not helping yet.

And now it seems we've mapped out the accessible parts of the ship, so let's get to work on the puzzles.  We can't UNLOCK the locked CABINET, but we can OPEN CABINET using the crowbar and acquire a LASER PISTOL, which should help with the alien creature... except THE LASER SHOT HAS NO EFFECT.  We can't set it for kill versus stun or anything.  Hmmmm.  Ahhhh -- I was trying to SHOOT ALIEN and the parser insists that we need to SHOOT MONSTER, otherwise it's interpreted as if we are firing randomly into the air.  Several hits later, I manage to kill it without dying myself.  We don't seem to gain anything from this, though, so maybe we should just leave the poor creature alone.

Can we SHOOT ROBOT?  Yes... but they're pretty well-armored, and it's a lot more direct and effective to SHOOT COMPUTER in the robot control room and shut down all the security droids.  Past the robot control room, we can visit RADAR CONTROL and see nothing of interest on the radar screen when we READ it, so it appears this is more window dressing.

The other droids are indeed shut down, so we can check out another empty security room, and a chamber adjacent to the ship's nuclear reactor, with a firmly locked door, where the small black device flashes brightly.  We can access the REACTOR CONTROL CENTER through a small storage room south of the teleport room, where simple red and blue buttons turn the reactor on and off.  We can also find some NITROGLYCERIN in the chemical lab, and a COMPUTER CENTER with a slot where we can INSERT the destruct PROGRAM, setting the base to destruct in 34 minutes, counting down at the rate of 1 minute per turn.  We don't want this to happen yet, I don't think, as we haven't found a clear way off the base.

The small black device is no longer flashing now that we've turned off the nuclear reactions (I don't think this is quite how these things work in reality), so let's see if we can enter the reactor.  We can unlock its door with the security key we found earlier, but then THE REACTOR BUILDING IS NOT PRESSURIZED. YOU ARE BLOWN INTO THE VACUUM!  So that wasn't a good idea.

Where else can we go now that we're free to roam?  There's a RADIO ROOM with a portable radio we can't LISTEN to, and a small room with A SAFE IN THE SOUTH WALL that seems to require a particular key if we try to OPEN it.  Ah, and an office with a button controlling PRESSURE TO REACTOR, according to the handy sign (which is written in English!)  Now we can enter the pressurized area, with the reactor shut down, and see the nuclear reactor with a computer on the wall.  READ COMPUTER produces no interesting information, per usual on this tight-lipped ship, and we can SHOOT COMPUTER to... blow up THE WHOLE NUMCLEAR [sic] REACTOR and die, of course.  There doesn't seem to be any reason to come in here, actually, which seems odd as there's so much puzzle-like material surrounding it.

What else?  There's a SMALL LAUNCH AREA in the northeast corner of the ship that has a small slot and a closed launch gate.  Maybe this is where we need to come to make an escape after setting the ship to blow up?  Ah, there's a LAUNCH SYSTEM CASSETTE in the desk at Launch Control.  Futuristic science-fiction setting, 1980s technology!

So do we need to do anything more, beyond setting the computer to destruct and launching ourselves out of here?  INSERTing the CASSETTE opens the launch gate... and heading E into the gate lets us escape with no further action required, but of course, YOU DIDN'T DESTROY THE BASE.  YOU HAVE FAILED YOUR MISSION.  So we need to backtrack a little bit; this last part is straightforward... and this time, we escape with 20-odd minutes to spare... and the base is destroyed... but YOU DIDN'T RECOVER THE SECRET PLANS NEEDED BY STAR COMMAND.

Okay, okay, we're pretty close; most likely the secret plans are in the safe.  Maybe that's why we brought the plastic explosive along... but we can't STICK or PLANT or INSERT EXPLOSIVE, or BLOW SAFESHOOT EXPLOSIVE doesn't do it, either.  Can we use the radio to set up a remote trigger?  No, if we try to USE RADIO we just learn that it's silent, and the batteries are not useful for bringing it to life.  Interestingly, START RADIO is interpreted as a STATUS command printing out the player's current hit points, dexterity and luck attributes, though these don't seem to be very fleshed out as factors in the gameplay.  Hmmmm.  Can we use the nitroglycerin to blow the safe?  No go on that front either.

So it's time to peek at the source code -- and discover that, in a rare design choice for this era, all of the in-game text is encrypted in the listing!  We didn't have to do any decoding in-game, but to cheat we need to do a little work.  Fortunately, it's a simple alphabet-reversal cipher, with A=Z and Z=A.  So SAFE would be HZUV... and there's a phrase GSV HZUV RH ZOIVZWB LKVM, or THE SAFE IS ALREADY OPEN... which is no help.  R WLM'G SZEV GSV PVB GL LKVM GSV HZUV -- that's just the "no key" message we get when trying to open it normally.  GSV HZUV LKVMH -- THE SAFE OPENS is more promising; what triggers this?  It happens on line 2120 -- when V2=7 and A=26 (we're in the safe room) and D9=N0 (the safe is not already open).  What does V2=7 represent?

This takes a little more digging -- is there actually a key for the safe?  KEY is PVB -- so the game knows about a SECURITY KEY, which we've already found.  Any other unfamiliar objects?  It looks like we've seen all of these items -- PLASTIC EXPLOSIVE, CROWBAR, CALENDAR, SMALL BLACK DEVICE, LASER PISTOL, CALENDAR, ELECTRONIC CONTROL BATON...

Oh, wait, are we supposed to USE BATON to open the safe?  It's the seventh item on the list of objects, so V2=7 might reference it.  And yes!  So that's what it controls!  And the safe contains the SECRET PLANS, as expected.  We grab the plans, start the destruct program, go to the launch gate, and this time, victory is ours with 22 moves to spare!

Operation: Sabotage is a pretty straightforward adventure -- while there are lots of red herrings to distract us, most of the potential puzzles that the designer seemed to have had in mind aren't fully realized, so it's mostly a matter of opening all the desks and making appropriate use of the "secret" items found therein.  Ray Sato worked on a few other SoftSide adventures, so we'll probably run into his name again.

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