Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Adventure of the Week: Space Quest IV - Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (1992)

I've probably played the first section of Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers more than any other Sierra title -- on the original floppy disk release, on CD-ROM for DOS, and on Windows CD-ROM, to see how the new interpreter managed (it was pretty buggy at the time, with color issues and audio glitches.)  Technology aside, I can't say it was one of my favorite adventure games -- in fact, I don't really remember much of the plot, aside from the return of Sludge Vohaul from Space Quest II.  But The Two Guys from Andromeda (Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy) are usually good for a laugh and a challenge, so it's time to play this one again.

This was Sierra's third (counting Mixed-Up Mother Goose CD) adventure to feature 256-color VGA graphics, and some of the background paintings are beautiful, with a different feel from the King's Quest series.  And it was the first to feature professional voice talent, though one suspects most of the talent budget went to Gary Owen, of Laugh-In and radio fame, who must have spent quite a few hours in the studio reading all of the location and item descriptions in addition to the traditional narration duties.  The audio is a bit noisy and crackly, and the lip-synch rather approximate in places; some of the voice actors are still clearly in-house Sierra employees..  But the audio production is improved over King's Quest V.

As always, I encourage interested readers to play Space Quest IV before proceeding below.  It's still commercially available at a bargain price as part of the Space Quest Collection, available at Steam and other digital outlets.  It's not a difficult game, although there are a few hard-to-predict deaths and "gotcha" puzzles if we've missed something earlier, and it's still fun to play.  Feel free to go play and come back later if you like.  Beyond this point, there are bound to be...


The story begins as Roger Wilco tells exaggerated stories of his past adventures at the cantina on Magmetheus, making a pit stop on his way back to his home world of Xenon.  But when the cyborg Sequel Police arrive to deliver a threatening message from the formerly-departed Sludge Vohaul, Roger is in a panic.

Fortunately, the Time Rippers -- rebels with time-jump technology and mediocre voice-acting -- arrive to spirit him away.  Post-wormhole, Roger finds himself in a desolate post-apocalyptic version of Xenon, from the as-yet-unreleased Space Quest XII - Vohaul's Revenge II, where the only apparent life is the Energizer Bunny.  There's some unstable ordnance in a ship parked down an alley, introducing the first of this game's annoying "whoops, I did that!" fatal mistakes if we pick it up.  At least we can put it back in place after we learn about the danger, because if we do much moving around while carrying it, it tends to blow Roger up.  We are informed that is unstable, at least, so this isn't a totally unfair situation, though it is a bit of a red herring.

There's also a security droid that tends to show up and shoot Roger dead, no questions asked.  This seems to be random, but in some places we can earn a few points by hiding behind something so it leaves Roger alone.   The buildings are destroyed and uninteresting, but we can pick up a short, frayed length of rope in front of one to the southeast.  We can also obtain a PocketPal laptop from the glovebox of a destroyed landspeeder.  There's also a strange man wandering around, apparently the victim of some sort of cyber-surgery, and if we engage him he screams, summoning the security droid.

The laptop is a dumb terminal, and has no battery; clearly we will need to get one from the toy rabbit.  But he's not easy to catch -- he tends to walk in on the opposite side of the screen from Roger, and runs off before we can get close to him.  Mr. Owens suggests that being out in the open, barehanded, is not the best approach.  If we put the rope out on the ground, it takes the form of a snare; we just need to hide where the rabbit won't see us so we can snag it... and grab it when it's in the snare.. and avoid the everpresent droids.  The rope is destroyed by the "bunny snatching," so we cast it aside.  We can now put the power pellet in the laptop, but it's still not useful for anything.

This first part of the game is a bit frustrating, because there are so many dangers to avoid and the deaths Roger suffers are rather repetitive as we struggle to solve the few puzzles on hand.  I eventually realized that this game suffers the same technical problem as King's Quest VII -- while the animation is adjusted to the system's speed, internal countdown timers are not.  This tends to make security droids show up more often, and the sequel police fire more rapidly -- I had an easier go of it after I turned the DOSBox CPU speed down from the default 3000 cycle rate.

We can duck -- one way -- down a grate to reach a Sewer Maintenance office area beneath the street.  Roger can pick up a jar on the table, which we will need much, much later.  A button beneath a desk blotter summons a recorded holographic message from the past which explains much of the present circumstances.  A supercomputer was given control over Xenon, it seems, including its weather control and defense systems, and all was well until a copy of Leisure Suit Larry infected the system with a crippling virus.  "WILCO MUST PAY," the system announced, and began waging war on the inhabitants of Xenon, and assimilating them -- the wandering husk cyborgs are modified Xenonians.

From the office, Roger can enter the sewers -- though the door, of course, slams shut behind him, so we'd better hope we have anything we needed to grab earlier.  In the tunnel he is pursued by a green slime, which is of course capable of skeletonizing Roger if it touches him.  We can't seem to capture it in the jar at its points of origin from vents along the sewer tunnels, so we should just climb the ladder to the west.  This brings us... back up to the street.

From his safe observation point, Roger can see as a spaceship lands and police officers emerge.  Roger doesn't have time to just sprint for their ship, so perhaps we have to make use of the unstable ordnance?  There isn't time to get to it, and we can't hide from these officers as easily as we could the robots. Hmmmm.  If we duck back down the manhole before coming out, we seem to be able to avoid the first patrol.  We can approach the ship, but another officer arrives to shoot Roger before we can do anything with it.  (This is really only difficult if we haven't turned down the CPU speed, but this worked out okay in my case as it forced me to go back and check some other possibilities out more thoroughly.)

Can we grab the slime?  Gary Owens is helpful -- if we use the jar on it, he tells us we should wait until it stops moving.  That should be doable.  We can only scoop up a portion of the slime, so we need to get moving again pretty quickly after doing so.

Now that we have the slime, can we do something different with the police?  We still can't get to the ordnance -- if we go over there, Roger just pauses until he gets shot.  Turning down the DOSBox CPU speed really helped here -- I was finally able to get him into the ship, by stowing away in the landing gear compartment.  This lands Roger -- as is often the case in this series -- in a new facility, where he must explore and try to figure out what's going on. 

We can just get back into the ship, in which case we are taken back to the ruined city.  But we should probably do something different while we are here.  If we wander to the right, a guard picks Roger off.  But to the left, two guards converse after one returns from an investigation of Space Quest II.  Roger has just enough time to steal one of the time machines (which can also be seen making a cameo appearance in Sierra's VGA remake of Space Quest I.)  We have to punch in a code -- though for now, anything will do at random... oh, wait, no it won't!  But a second try seems to work.  And we should write down the SQ XII code on the display before entering any random tries of our own -- I forgot to do this, but fortunately retained a save game before trying any codes, so I was able to come back later and capture this critical information.

Roger ends up in Space Quest X - Latex Babes of Estros, an affectionate poke at Infocom's Leather Goddesses of Phobos, no doubt.  There's an odd rock formation down below, which (perhaps fortunately) Roger cannot touch, sniff, look inside or taste.

A pterodactyl-like creature passing overhead casts an ominous shadow on the rocky platform higher up, and a distinctly female silhouette ducks out of sight after spotting Roger exploring.  We reach a dead end down a flight of stony stairs, where water blocks our progress.  Is there nothing to do here?  Should we just get back into the machine?  Wandering back down near Roger's landing site yields progress, of a sort -- our hero is snatched up by an unseen flying, taloned beast, and dropped in a skull-strewn nest high atop a tower.  A Sequel Policeman shortly follows, and is neatly skewered on a branch.  A quick search of the body yields a paper-wrapped wad of chewing gum.

Roger should not wait around here -- he can drop out of the nest, landing semi-safely in the water below.  After swimming to shore, he soon meets a beautiful blonde in a skintight blue latex bodysuit, whom he has apparently abandoned in a previous game in the series.  He is summarily kidnapped by his ex and her henchwomen, taken to this apparently all-female tribe's headquarters, and cuffed into a chair, where lasers turn his space slacks into ragged cutoffs, to provide a little sexism for the ladies as well.

Torture mistress Thorine plans to shave Roger's legs as a form of torture, using the EpiRip 357, but her work is interrupted by the arrival of a sea slug.  The women run off, but the creature's tentacles inadvertently free Roger from his shackles before sucking him into its maw.  We can't apply the slime acid to it, but we can probably fire the chair's lasers to sting it a little and buy some time -- and maybe use the oxygen tanks stacked to the side somehow.   Yep -- stuffing one into its mouth destroys the creature, earning Roger his freedom and a shopping trip to the Galaxy Galleria with the girls, providing yet more sexism for the guys.

"Meanwhile, back in Space Quest XII," a cutscene informs us that the Sequel Police have captured one of the Time Rippers who helped Roger escape.  Sludge Vohaul clearly has a trap of some kind in store for our hero.

The game's second act takes place entirely within the mall, where there are quite a few sights to see and puzzles to solve.  A Skate-O-Rama hover-skating rink occupies the center of the layout, surrounded by moving conveyor belts and shops.  If Roger tries to exit the mall, Sequel Police cyborgs take him out.  There's an ATM card (Autobox Teller Machine) on the floor as we arrive, which may come in handy.  The walkways are annoying to deal with -- as intended, I'm sure -- because it's difficult to get Roger to walk in the opposite direction when we miss a store's narrow entryway.

A software store reminiscent of erstwhile game retailers Babbage's and Electronics Boutique plays beepy AGI-era themes from other Sierra games, but the crowd is initally so thick Roger can't really get inside.  An ATM machine stands near the shop, but Roger looks insufficiently like the card's real owner, a blonde woman.  So a little wardrobe shopping will likely be in order.

The electronics store, Hz. So Good (called Radio Shock in the original floppy disk release, before certain lawyers initiated certain communications), is run entirely by a sales robot through a menu screen.  There are specials -- the ReShrinkwrap 2000 (aimed at retail software chains) is the only one on offer, for 1033 buckazoids.  The rest of the store includes a Swiss Army MicroEntertainment center, a ridiculous surround-sound system, a CDGIROMTV system that plays CD-ROM, CG-G, CD-I, CDTV and "high-quality laserdisc movies, sure to become popular any century now."  The PocketPal Portable Terminal is also available, "with chiclet-style keyboard and dentyne-style mouse."  And we can buy something we didn't know we needed-- the PocketPal Connector, for 1999 buckazoids, which might actually be useful if we had any money.  Most of the items in the catalog are just for laughs, and are either sold out or not yet available.  And Roger can't buy anything without cash in hand, anyway.

There's a Monolith Burger on the premises, of course, but Roger can't enter without doing something about his attire -- he has no shoes, so no service, per the pig creature who seems to be the manager.  There is a men's clothing store nearby, run by a supercilious droid with a bad French accent.  And Roger has enough buckazoids from previous adventures to spare 20 for new boots and pants, restoring his standard outfit from the store's "generic space hero" line.

Entering Monolith Burger, Roger can converse with the manager.  They're out of everything, employees included; we can apply for a job, and opt to skip the ensuing arcade sequence if we want to chicken out, but it's worth a quick go.  We have to assemble burgers, assembly-line style, and the conveyor belt speeds up as we go; with my laptop mousepad I was only able to earn $5 before getting fired.  We can come back later if we need to earn more; the more pressing point of this exercise is to pick up the cigar butt the manager throws at Roger after kicking him out.

A women's clothing store is also open for business, offering wigs and dresses.  The female droid clerk sounds like Mae West, and fixes Roger up with a basic black dress and a blonde wig.  The tab comes to 60 buckazoids; with only 44 in hand, Roger gets thrown out of this fine establishment too, without the outfit he needs, so we'll have to come back later with sufficient funds.

The mall's arcade has yet another iteration of the Astro Chicken franchise -- Ms. Astro Chicken.  There's no apparent high score in need of beating, and a round costs a buckazoid, so we won't bother with it much right now.  I played enough to note that Cedric the Owl from KQ V makes a cameo appearance in Ms. Astro Chicken, just flying by at the top of the screen, and we also occasionally see a biplane towing an advertising banner for MediaVision, a now-defunct multimedia card manufacturer.  Pressed for cash and time, I skipped the arcade sequence at Monolith Burger on my return visit, walking quickly out with 71 buckazoids now in my pocket.

Now Roger can buy the dress and wig, fooling the Buckmaster 2000 into allowing him access to the funds belonging to the ATM card's owner.  There's $2001 available, and only one menu option - "Clean It Out."  So now Roger is flush enough to buy the PocketPal Connector at Hz. So Good.  This is good indeed... except we have to pick a specific plug to buy -- how do we know which one to get???  We'll probably have to come back with better information in hand.

The crowd has dispersed at the software store, which is now sold out of Sierra Software, but there are some vintage software parodies in the "box of slop" -- rather, bargain bin, which I can't resist sharing with fellow vintage gaming fans here.  BOOM is a LOOM parody by "Morrie Brianarty," and the description pokes fun at rival Lucasarts' approach to point-and-click adventuring. 

Sierra itself also comes in for a little ribbing with King's Quest XXXXVIII: Quest for Disk Space, which is "over 12 gigabytes in length," a joke that hasn't really held up in the age of DVD-ROM.  But who would have thought games would reach the GB range at all at the time?


There's also SimSim, the questionably ethnically-humorous Where In The World is Hymie Lipschitz?, It Came For Dessert, and Phil Phudge's Checkerboard Construction Set.  Also notable is Cluck Egger's Advanced Chicken Simulator, a parody of EA's Chuck Yeager Flight Simulator -- and a foreshadowing of Cluck Y'egger, a character in the Two Guys' new SpaceVenture project recently funded on Kickstarter. 

What we actually need here is the Space Quest IV Hint Book -- for 5 buckazoids, perfect.  After we've made our purchase, most of the stores close (except for the arcade and Hz. So Good, fortunately.)

The Hint Book works like the Infocom Invisiclues -- we can use a pen to reveal progressive hints in invisible ink, most of which are irrelevant to the actual game.  There's also a Twin Peaks joke, with a question saying, "I can't seem to find the one-armed man anywhere" and the first response: "Ask Bob."  The only real info in the book is the Time Machine code for Ulence Flats, and a code to be used in a "strange room inside the Super Computer" we haven't yet encountered.

I ran into an odd bug in the game engine somewhere, probably due to the memory management problems Sierra's SCI engine was sometimes prone to -- it's possible to get the display mode set to garbage instead of "Text" or "Speech," which seems to disable both and makes the game pretty much impossible to continue.  I'm not sure how this happened but it was associated with a particular save game in my case, so all I had to do was back up and replay a little bit from an earlier good save.

Roger can return to the dress shop to change back into his normal outfit, and in fact he needs to do this to trigger the next series of important events.  If we go back to the arcade, the Sequel Police eventually arrive -- now we must help Roger elude them and steal their time machine.  The best way to avoid them seems to be by entering the Skate-o-Rama hover rink, but even so it's hard to keep Roger alive; we have to keep him in almost constant motion, and then, once the police take to the rink in hot pursuit and run into recoil issues with their laser weapons, we can escape.  Turning the DOSBox CPU speed down also seems to help a lot here, as it slows down the enemy's rate of fire and seems to make the game logic more forgiving as we try to make sure Roger is a moving target. 

Once we manage to leave the Sequel Police behind, we can move on to Ulence Flats.  Now with the speech back on, I learn that only half of the Ulence Flats destination is visible in the hint book -- without that info, it just seems like a short code.  And the code already in the time machine's system is already in use, but this time I realized I should write it down so we can return to get the PocketPal connector later.  I was stumped for a moment, but an inventory review helped -- the rest of the code is written on the gum wrapper we snagged from the dead policeborg in the pterodactyl's nest earlier.

If we stop now to play Ms. Astro Chicken, after the game is over Roger is surrounded by Sequel Police.  So we'd better not do that.  Ulence Flats is, of course, the world of Space Quest I, rendered in an odd SCI/AGI hybrid style -- 320x200 resolution, 16 colors -- which ruins the effect a little.  The familiar DROIDS B US and Tiny's Used Spaceships retail establishments are closed, and a Wall-Mart force field keeps Roger in town.  The local bar is still open though, with music playing and some AGI-era sprites about, including the Blues Brothers-alikes from the earlier game.

The locals, stuck in black-and-white, aren't happy about Roger's fancy-pants VGA 256-color look, and keep him from taking the matchbook on the bar.  A frustrated Roger can kick their hoverbikes over outside, at which point they all rush off in a state of high dudgeon, and we note that they can pass through the force field.  Roger's still in danger, though, and when one of them zooms in from the east we have to time a mouse click correctly to roll him out of danger's way.  Now we can pick up the matches; there's nothing to read on the blank book, so these must have a practical purpose.  If we talk to the bartender, he recognizes Roger as the guy who broke his slot machine back in SQ I.

Where to now?  Space Quest XII again?  There are no sequel police hanging around by the timepods now, so we can check out the dispatch computer.  But there doesn't seem to be anything we can do with it.  A door at the other end of the docking bay doesn't respond to anything Roger can think to do with it.  And the PocketPal terminal doesn't seem to hook up to either one.  Hmmm.  We can use the slime acid on the door to open it, good.

Inside the tunnel is a keypad.  In my playthrough, the hint book suggests 69-65-84-76-69 as a code, but that code doesn't fit in this situation.  We need to disable some invisible barriers that kill Roger if we try to go deeper inside.  These are lethal laser beams, apparently -- we can see holes in the three rings lining the corridor, and use the stogie and matches to puff enough smoke out to see the beams.  Now can we figure out the controls? 000 makes no change; other values rotate the beams, but it's not a degree-based system.  Goofing around with values of 020 and 040 eventually got everything lined up for me. 

We enter a maze of layered corridors, but our immediate goal is to see what sort of connector the terminals dotting the area require.  Security droids show up, again on a CPU-speed-influenced basis, so we have to be careful and quick.  Back to the mall we go, to get the right connector for the PocketPal.

Now we can return and hook into the system.  Fortunately our cigar smoke from earlier is still hanging around. I was missing a battery for the PocketPal, but just had to get it from the toy rabbit.  We can't dawdle looking at the terminal display, as the security droids keep moving.  It looks like Roger needs to head west to reach something of interest there.

Navigating the maze, we are given hints about the droids' whereabouts -- "You can hear an electronic hum approaching from your left," for example, which is helpful for avoiding them if we're quick to respond.  Checking in at the last terminal on our way in to check out the supercomputer, Sludge Vohaul's electronic visage appears and shows Roger an image of some poor slob held in electronic cuffs -- and says that it's Roger's SON???

The computer itself is H.R. Giger-inspired, and there's a terminal behind the door once we enter the unlocking code from the hintbook.  This is one of my favorite paintings from the game, but I'm a big Giger fan:


The computer is a primitive Amiga-style windowing desktop.  We can see LSL4 is installed, and just drop it into the toilet -- I thought this might clear the virus, but it's just something to do.  We can also flush the Security Droid icon to turn those off, which should be very useful.  Most of the system's memory is consumed by a King's Quest sequel, following up on the earlier gag.  And putting SQ IV into the toilet ends the game immediately, dumping back to the DOS prompt -- a nice little meta-joke.

We need to put the system's brain icon into the toilet, starting a countdown to reformatting that starts at 5000 and moves fast, although this too is influenced by the CPU speed.  Dilly-dallying here can be fatal, as even though the onscreen count was still at 4000 I managed to die in the process.... ?  Ah -- this is because I panicked at the countdown and tried to leave the way I came in, forgetting all about rescuing Roger's hitherto-unknown son!  We have to circle around the (now thankfully droid-free) levels and take the elevator to the top floor. 

Here, on a suspiciously isolated platform, Roger finds his son -- who unfortunately is currently occupied by Sludge Vohaul, who also throws the disk containing the mental record of Roger's son off the platform.  After a brief, largely non-interactive scuffle which requires just a few mouse clicks in the general vicinity of the struggle between Roger and Sludge/Roger's son, we have an opportunity to climb down and retrieve the disk.  Then we can use the system's control panel to download Sludge, upload Roger's son to his own body again, and save the day.

Roger and Son have an awkward but touching reunion, and we learn that Xenon took peace for granted and put too much control into the hands of the computer management system, as was suggested earlier.  Roger Wilco was intentionally sought out because it was known he had defeated Sludge Vohaul in an earlier era, but there's no information available concerning what happened to Roger in between Space Quest IV and XII.  We see an image of Roger's wife, Beatrice, a Wagnerian beauty who is also no longer with us.  Roger is sent back through time to his own Space Quest IV era, and the game is over.

The end credits inform us that Jane Jensen (Gabriel Knight) voiced the Maebot robot from the Galaxy Galleria, and Josh Mandel (many projects at Sierra, and King Graham's speaking voice) played the Monolith Burger manager.  And now, before too much longer, I intend to tackle Space Quest V, which I have never played before.

1 comment:

  1. Just want to add that the cluebook joke also extends to the television show, The Fugitive which is where Twin Peaks got the inspiration for the One-armed man.