Thursday, March 18, 2010

Oddities: Klendathu (1982)

Book-inspired games have never been common, and action-oriented adaptations even rarer.  One such title was Leo Christopherson's Klendathu, published by Radio Shack for the TRS-80 Color Computer back in 1982, based on Robert Heinlein's classic sci-fi novel Starship Troopers.

Christopherson established a reputation for impressive animation on the TRS-80 Model I, where his artwork and sound design brought personality and life to games like Android NIM and Dancing Demon.  This was his only published game for the CoCo, and while he took advantage of the color capabilities and square(ish) pixels of the new platform, his work here isn't spectacular.  The burning flames look quite nice, and the bugs' walking feet are properly anchored to the ground, but there just isn't much else to look at.  The soundtrack is also weak compared to his Model I efforts -- it consists of simple pops and beeps, with nary a hint of a keening alien insect or crackling flame.

The action is based on the alien bug battles central to Heinlein's novel, but there are some tactical aspects to the gameplay as well.  The player must monitor the grid for bug activity and drop in where the battle rages hottest, switching zones rapidly to keep up with the insects.  There are no fixed "waves," just a constant onslaught that requires the player to keep on top of the developing situation:

Once in the heat of battle, the player has a small flamethrower with which to ignite as many bugs as possible, using the CoCo's analog stick mouse-style to aim and the fire button to turn on the heat.  There's a bit of Missile Command strategy available here, as a burning bug will occasionally ignite its neighbor, but for the most part the player's focus has to be on hitting each of the bugs with a shot of flame as quickly as possible:

There are some higher-level strategic concerns as well.  The player must manage limited fire resources, and keep a close eye on the clock and the attacking bugs' impact on the player's protective suit.  Get worn down by the bugs, or lose track of time and fail to return to the drop ship, and it's game over (incidentally, I recall this screen as the first time I'd encountered the phrase "bought the farm" as a jokey euphemism for death):

There isn't much more to the game than that -- fight the bugs, fight some other bugs, earn money, gain rank, and repeat.  There are two difficulty levels and 5 game lengths to choose from, but the gameplay is essentially the same in all modes. 

Klendathu's design is simple and light on story detail, and the audiovisuals aren't nearly as atmospheric as one would like them to be, but the constant pressure to leap out of any given battle and see how the war is going overall provides a realistic touch.  It was a unique CoCo-exclusive game, a fresh experience in its day, and I enjoyed playing it enough to seek out and read Heinlein's novel a few years later.


  1. Got to admit I've never got myself far enough into the game, bugs always win :-)

  2. This brings back memories! I never did read the book, but I saw the movie.