Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Interstellar War (1980/2012)

This week, I'm making another trip into the Roger M. Wilcox archives to play through Interstellar War, written in 1980 and remade for Windows in 2012.  This one is reportedly based on a short story by the author, though we only really get a taste of the story's setting and plotline in this brief vintage text adventure.  (UPDATE:  At the time I played this, Roger thought this was his fourth game, but it was actually his ninth -- so I'm not really playing these in order, but I'll get it straightened out on the index page.)

Wilcox's adventures up to this point have been very simple -- this one is a little more complicated in terms of puzzles and storyline.  Interested readers are encouraged to tackle this one for themselves -- it's freely available at Mr. Wilcox's website.  I did find a bug in my playthrough, but in an amazing commitment to non-paying customer service, the author fixed it the same night I reported it and the corrected version is now available for download.  Beyond this point, I will thoroughly document my experience of Interstellar War -- so be prepared for...

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

We begin in a jungle full of dead foliage, and in short and linear order we must climb a tree, GET VINE and SWING VINE -- In the distance, you can almost hear Ron Ely yodeling.  I had to look this pop culture reference up -- Mr. Ely played Tarzan on a 1966 NBC TV series.

We shortly find ourselves in a desert wasteland.  There's a big pile of rock here, and, disturbingly, the Lower half of a body to the north, from which we can liberate a wrench.  We can't PUSH ROCK (Oh, stop being weird), but we can KICK ROCK to cause a landslide.  This leads into one of Wilcox's more original puzzles -- we end up buried in a pile of rubble, and can't GET UP (I don't get it) or GET DOWN (... and boogie!), but we can DIG to make our way out.

We can now enter a decimated village, where, tellingly, The decimation seems to have been caused by a single weapon.  We can explore a shallow pond to the north, and the outskirts of the village to the south.  Here we find the other half of the aforementioned body, formerly belonging to somebody who was killed while trying to pull a lever.  The dead body has bled the lever in place, so we will probably have some grisly cleanup to do.

A metal building east of this mess contains an odd contraption -- a large plastic bag with a valved pouch that we can enter and use to capture air from the current location.  Further east, we find an empty bucket, and a sign reading, "Get 'Derelict 2147' adventure for your TRS-80!" in the grand self-promoting adventure game tradition, though that game, Wilcox's twentieth adventure, wouldn't actually come out until 1982, two years after this one was released, with more than a dozen titles in between.

We also discover a dangerous whirlpool of sand, reportedly swirling fast enough to grind anything so if we need to destroy something this may come in handy.  A twisting road east of the village has a sign reading, "Warning -- dangerous gasses [sic].  Do not enter."  This is a challenge we can't pass up, so we'll use the plastic bag -- getting in and closing it first, then entering the ammonia-filled Jovian area, and sucking some air into the pouch with a quick TURN VALVE.

I spent some time trying to figure out how to tell the parser to mix the pouch's ammonia gas into a bucket of water, until I realized I had to enter the pond in the bag, and release the gas there with another turn of the valve.  This turns the pond into a puddle of ammonium hydroxide, good for cleaning, I hope.

We can now EMPTY BUCKET (POUR is not a recognized verb) and the blood-soaked lever is cleaned, but still rusty.  Here, it gets a little strange -- we can't use the wrench to force the lever to move, but we can drop it in the sand whirlpool to turn it into a liquefied wrench, then carry it in the bucket and EMPTY BUCKET again to oil the lever.  But there aren't many other options available at this point, so this isn't too hard to figure out.

Pulling the lever results in a blinding flash of light, and now we are at a plastic four-way intersection, a new section of the map not apparently connected to the other.

A storage room to the north contains a number of potentially useful items -- an empty magnetic bottle, some field-charged tongs, a lightning rod, and a suit of hardened titanium armor.  A room-sized vacuum oven to the east can be used to... presumably... do something to something else, involving lots of heat.

The main control room features a red button marked "Limbo," a gold button marked "Fire," a crumpled "Peace" treaty, and a narrow viewscreen.  The peace treaty was for naught, and written for tongue-in-cheek comedy -- "We Alpha-Centaurians and humans agree to terms of peace, even though we want to tear each others' throats out.  Signed, James Carter Holsteader."  In case we missed the point, we are informed that Both signatures appear reluctant, using our character's hidden talent for handwriting analysis, apparently.

The engine room contains a window into the engine, a large knob and valve, and an empty drive box we should probably try to fill.  Experimenting, I TURNed KNOB and a stream of fusile deuterium shoots out from the engine, and is instantly pulled into the magnetic bottle.  Hmmmmm, interesting.

There is, of course, a transporter room west of the control room, with a white button marked "Transport."  We push the button, enter the transporter, and are sent back to the village, so we can travel back and forth as needed.

Above the control room is a viewing chamber, offering a perspective on Your decimated planet, and below is a computer room with a Chip shunt, probably for computer chips as opposed to, say, Pringles.

Can we cook the fusile deuterium in the vacuum oven?  We can, but the heat comes out! You're fried!  So that's not a good idea.  Hmmmm.  This actually happens whether we've put anything in the oven or not, and the control room buttons don't seem to influence it.

It seems like we ought to be able to close the oven door to keep the deadly heat in, but in my initial attempts I discovered that the published code had a bug!  It reported "Ok" when I tried to CLOSE DOOR, but it actually kept the Open oven door in the room, making it impossible to finish the game.

But all was not lost -- Mr. Wilcox has provided us with his source code, so I was able to confirm that the verb_open code is identical to the verb_close code, causing the problem I was seeing.  I contacted the author to see if this could be fixed -- assuming I would have to set this one aside for a while -- and Mr. Wilcox responded with alacrity, fixing this issue the same night I reported it!  Thanks, Roger!

With the oven door closed, we can safely turn it on.  If we drop the armor in the oven, though, The mummy won't let you leave!  What mummy?  This must be code left over from another game, though none of the author's games I've sampled so far seem to feature a mummy.  And none of the items we are carrying seem to be impacted by a trip through the oven, so I really didn't get anywhere with this sub-adventure.  Hmmmm.

Time to do some experimenting.  We can die by opening the oven door while it's on, or by trying to get more fusile deuterium from the engine room.  Ah -- with the titanium armor on, we can survive in the sandy whirlpool and acquire a piece of silicon!  Cooking the silicon in the oven adds some Transistor crystals to the room (the silicon remains there too.)  And now we can somehow manually MAKE CHIP from the silicon and crystals -- take that, Intel!

Now we can INSERT CHIP in the computer room's chip shunt, and the control panel buttons become active.  The red button produces a mechanical voice response: "No drive fuel."  PUSH GOLD fires a missile that travels harmlessly into into [sic] space at the moment.

Trying to INSERT BOTTLE to fuel the drive with fusile deuterium initially seems like futile tedium.  I had to look at the code to figure out that we have to do something with the lightning rod before we're allowed to do this.  We can THROW ROD to bring a lightning bolt down to earth, to no apparent effect.  But if we first drop the bottle with fusile in it, then the bolt ends up in the bottle as well and we now have a Reverse-charged bottle.  With the field-charged tongs in hand, we can GET BOTTLE and INSERT BOTTLE into the drive box, so that it is now loaded with antimatter.  Quite how this works I don't understand given my limited physics knowledge, but this is a good thing -- whew!

PUSH RED in the control room now takes us through a tunnel of space-time at the speed of light.  And now the viewing chamber shows us a Barnardian planet, and an Alpha-Centaurian space ship.  We will assume the Alpha-Centaurians are the bad guys who decimated our planet, given the lack of any other information about their culture or role in galactic society during this time of Interstellar War, and start firing by PUSHing the GOLD button in the control room.  A few attempts, and we've defeated the (local) enemy fleet!

This one was a little more complicated than the author's earlier efforts, with a couple of interesting mechanical puzzles, although I can't say they all made a lot of sense.  Thanks very much to Roger M. Wilcox for making his old adventure games available in convenient Windows format, and for being so quick to fix the bug in this one!

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