Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Star Cruiser (1980/2012)

I was a bit pressed for time with a busy work weekend, so it was a good opportunity to jump right into  Roger Wilcox's second vintage/remade adventure, Star Cruiser, written for the TRS-80 in 1980 and remade by the author for Windows PCs in 2012.  It's an enter-and-escape-the-alien-ship game, a fairly standard old school trope, and like Wilcox's first effort, Misadventure, this second adventure's setup mentions that several people have recently died trying to achieve the game's objective:

The design is also similar -- most rooms are only lightly described and contain only a few objects of interest, though the parser and map are slightly more expansive.  Most of the puzzles are fairly straightforward, in part because there aren't many things to try, but I did have to cheat a bit to find the correct word for the right idea at one point.

Interested adventurers can download Mr. Wilcox's adventures for Windows at his website, and they're freely available so I encourage you to try out Star Cruiser before proceeding with my comments below.  For the sake of history and time-constrained gamers everywhere, I will be documenting my experience in detail, and there are certain to be...

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

We begin standing outside an alien star cruiser, with a note on its side conveniently reading, "Entry word -- ZLP", with nothing in inventory and nowhere else we're allowed to go.  SAY ZLP, as suggested, takes us into the ship's Port of Entry.  (The game doesn't actually capitalize location names as I will be doing here, but the Infocom convention makes it a little bit easier for me to keep my prose straight!)

North of the entryway is a Very Wet Room containing a bucket of water, and east of that room is Security Outpost #1, where a =Threatening little alien= takes the place of the customary dwarf.  And it's not uncommon for the alien to randomly shoot us with a laser beam, ending the game before we can respond.  (This is also an annoying thing about Wilcox's Windows updates -- when the story ends in an unsatisfactory manner, we have to exit and restart the program before we can load a saved game or try again.)

South of the entry is the Room of Opening, with a dull key and a button on the south wall that opens another exit in that direction.  The Room of Reflection east of here contains a hand mirror, fittingly, and north of that room is the Room of Illumination, where we can honor long-standing tradition as we GET LAMP.

The Weapon's [sic] Room contains a ray gun, which should be useful against the alien... except that even when we manage to make it into the room and dodge the alien's welcoming shot, when we SHOOT ALIEN, our shot can also randomly miss.  It took me several tries, restarting and reloading until probability went my way; I always find these random-chance situations frustrating, especially because while it seems like the hand mirror might be a useful way to deflect the alien's beam, it doesn't seem to confer any protection at all.

Once we do succeed, the alien's body vanishes in a cloud of greasy black smoke -- a dwarf by any other name, it seems.  The next room is Security Outpost #1.5, which contains... a =Threatening little robot=.  We can't THROW WATER (the bucket of water just lands on the ground) or POUR WATER to short-circuit him, but at least he's not as immediately lethal as the alien.  SHOOT ROBOT doesn't work, as the beam bounces off his shiny surface.  The parser doesn't recognize GIVE or EMPTY at all, and we can't UNLOCK ROBOT or OPEN ROBOT with the dull key.  We can't GET ROBOT, and he won't let us walk past and ignore him.  WATER is just a synonym for BUCKET, so DROP WATER doesn't do anything either.

Aha!-- well, to be honest, I actually had to look at the source code -- we have to SPLASH ROBOT, as Mr. Wilcox conveniently keeps the object management simple: As the bucket mystically refills, the water hits the robot and short-circuits it!  Right idea, obstinate parser, immutably full bucket of water.

Past the robot is an iron gate, and we can readily UNLOCK GATE with the dull key, leading through an "L" Intersection to a room with a closed hatch.  Before we try to open the hatch, we can check out the Room of Mystery to the east, where we find a suitably Mysterious ring.  North of the hatch room is the Aliens' Burial Chamber, with a closed coffin.

We OPEN COFFIN to find a key sharpener, apparently for use with the dull key (I assumed the reference was to its coloration, not its physical sharpness.)  We can't take the sharpener but we can SHARPEN KEY right here, turning it into a Sharp key (it seems there ought to be a music joke here, but no such gag manifests.)

Now we can UNLOCK HATCH with the un-dulled key, and then... well, we can't GO HATCH or ENTER HATCH or USE HATCH or move UP or DOWN or otherwise find any intuitive way to go there... oh, wait, no, we actually can CLIMB HATCH.  Whew!

The top-of-hatch room leads to some more locations.  An Area With Some Bars suggests we need to breach those bars somehow.  A "T" Intersection to the north leads to Security Outpost #1.7, where a =Deadly prismatic square= holds sway, immune to laser fire and water with its diabologeometry.

South of the top-of-hatch is the "Star Cruiser's *strong*-hold," which seems intentionally worded enough to be a clue.  There's a small envelope here containing a large pill, and to the south is the ship's kitchen containing a Large amount of good food.  We can EAT FOOD, and EAT PILL, and we suddenly become very strong

We're not the Incredible Hulk, though -- we can't KILL SQUARE, nor we can we GET BARS or PULL BARS, but we can LIFT BARS to rip them out of existence.  In a Round Room east of the removed bars, we can acquire a silver ball.  Returning to the Security Outpost, we THROW BALL, and The ball dents the prismatic square out of existence in perhaps one of the mildest boss victories ever.  Further west we find Security Outpost #2, where another annoying alien randomly kills us.  This time it seems we have a better shot if we're carrying the mirror, but it still took some restarts and reloads before I got randomly past him.

Now we can access the Star Cruiser's Control Room, where we face a panel of 3 buttons.  PUSH BUTTON yields You are now in Mode 2, actually a different mode for the game's parser, and we can choose to push button 1, 2, 3 or select option 4 to return to normal mode and resume our exploration.

These buttons actually provide a few different endings -- button 2 is useless, as Nothing happens, but button 3 rather surprisingly sets the player up as the commander of the USS Enterprise, in order to promote Wilcox's own version of the popular Star Trek games that were making their way from mainframe computers to the TRS-80 at the time:

Button 1 provides the most satisfying and dramatic ending, as we set the ship's self destruct counter and are given 20 seconds (moves, actually) to escape to a victorious conclusion:

This one is a little more involved than Misadventure, but only just; it's still a quick playthrough, with simple guardian puzzles and a minimal plot.  I enjoy a game of that sort once in a while, so I have no complaints, and I look forward to playing more of Wilcox's games as time goes on.

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