Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Adventure of the Week: In the Universe Beyond (1980/2013)

We're tackling yet another Roger M. Wilcox adventure this week, with In the Universe Beyond, the tenth in a series of twenty-one text games written by the author in the early 1980s for the TRS-80 and recently converted for Windows PCs.  I've been enjoying these -- they're not too difficult, the availability of the source code helps a lot when the going gets rough, and Wilcox's interactive storytelling is interesting (and clearly maturing as this series goes along.)  These games were not widely distributed back in the day, so they're also historically valuable -- they're clearly part of the first wave of microcomputer text adventures, but they didn't get much exposure at the time.

In the Universe Beyond is a space exploration adventure that begins with the player standing outside Cape Canaveral, with an unwelcoming sign reading "Welcome to Cape Canaveral! Now get lost."  The true nature of our mission remains unstated, though we will learn more shortly beyond this initial puzzle.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to play In the Universe Beyond for themselves before I give away the details of my own playthrough -- Mr. Wilcox has made his games freely available for download, so if you're running Windows you really have no excuse.  Beyond this Universe... I mean, this point, there are certain to be...

 ****** SPOILERS AHEAD! ******

The security guard standing near the unwelcoming sign is likely none too friendly, but there aren't many options available -- we can't explore anywhere else, and we have nothing in inventory.   EXAMINE GUARD suggests that He barely seems to hear you!  We can't PULL or PUSH or KICK or HIT or KILL or KISS him, though, or SHOUT or YELL... oh, wait, yes, we can YELL, and The guard misinterprets the direction of the sound, and runs off, leaving the entire complex unguarded.  (A very similar puzzle exists in the author's earlier game Jailbreak.)

We can't OPEN GATE, but we don't need to, we can just GO GATE to enter the facility and see a space ship, a scientist and some green plants.  EXAMINE SCIENTIST prompts an explanation -- a second universe is converging on ours, so we must travel there and remove the center of this invading universe, after which we will be richly rewarded.  And the password is QMY$.

We can GET PLANTS before we go, but then we can't seem to GO SHIP or BOARD SHIP or ENTER SHIP or navigate onto it.  We have some green plant leaves in inventory, and HELP yields What do plant leaves have that makes them green? -- but we can't LEAVE either.  Ah -- of course, we can SAY QMY$ to find ourselves aboard ship.

The ship's control room features a viewscreen that displays our current surroundings -- the landing site on Earth -- along with a white button and a blue button.  The adjoining equipment room contains a helmet, a large belt (It has a single 360-degree hook on one side), a maser pistol, and a sealed hatch.

The blue button launches some kind of massive weapon -- The space ship destroys the planet below! The planet's remains fly out in all directions, bashing your ship into scrap. You die inside it.  So we shouldn't do that indoors, then.

PUSH WHITE takes us to a view of the Milky Way galaxy, where PUSH BLUE causes us to crash through the light barrier and the edge of the universe where we see the planets and stars repelling each other.  If we PUSH WHITE here, we find ourselves in weak anti-gravitational orbit about a planet.  We can try to BEAM DOWN from the equipment room, but we are out of range; PUSH WHITE just toggles between near-orbit and general galaxy positioning, so we can't get any closer to the planet.

Can we BEAM UP, given the opposite nature of this place?  Yes! ... But we die quickly in the unbreathable air on the surface of the planet, and there's not enough air in the helmet to keep us alive either.  HOLD BREATH doesn't buy us any time; as soon as we land on the planet, Your helmet runs out of air quickly.  You pull it off and The air is not breatheable.

What about the sealed hatch in the equipment room?  SHOOT HATCH sears it off, allowing us to access an auxiliary store room below and pick up a promising canister, though this also seems to use up all the energy stored in the maser pistol.

Carrying the canister with us doesn't help planetside, so we must need to do something more complicated with it.  OPEN CANISTER prompts With what?, but HANDS doesn't do it.  We can't CONNECT HOOK or CONNECT CANISTER, but we can HOOK CANISTER using the hook on the belt.

But we still can't breathe!  BEAM UP and SAY QMY$ have different but similarly fatal results, as we suffocate either in space or on the surface of the planet.  I had to peek at the code to learn that we can WEAR LEAVES -- apparently this somehow protects us in a cloud of breatheable atmosphere, though what chlorophyll has to do with it I really can't say.

Planetside we spot a shovel, and we can explore the forest's edge to the north and a big field to the south.  DIGging in the field yields a can opener.  OPEN CANISTER -- With what? -- CAN OPENER fails (Sorry, but no go Joe), but replying with OPENER instead opens the canister, revealing a smaller canister inside it.  Digging in another field to the east yields a small black cylinder with a switch on one side.

We can't CLIMB TREE in the impenetrable forest, and the cylinder is stubborn -- we can't PULL SWITCH or PUSH SWITCH or FLIP SWITCH or PRESS CYLINDER.  Is the cylinder the center of the other universe?  Apparently not, as the scientist back on earth is completely uninterested in it and it seems a little premature for us to be ending the adventure.  We can't CHARGE PISTOL or INSERT CYLINDER or INSERT PISTOL either...

Aha! We can SWITCH CYLINDER, which emits a whir, although you can't see anything happening to it, and it is now an Activated black cylinder

Is it explosive?  We can DROP CYLINDER by the forest, but it doesn't seem to go off (and we can't easily pick it up again without dropping some other items, as inventory handling seems to have a limit-counting bug, or perhaps the digging up of objects which end up in our hands temporarily exceeds the normal limit.)  If we EXAMINE CYLINDER after activating it, it cuts our head in half, fatally so.  So the cylinder must be a cutting tool of some kind -- and yes, we can CUT TREES -- With what? -- CYLINDER to clear a pathway through what is now a forest of stumps (apparently we overdid the tree-cutting a bit.)

A ravine lies on the other side of the erstwhile forest, and we can JUMP to reach its eastern side, where a fat steel post resides.  To the north is a wasteland, where DIG yields what is initially described as a piece of slate... though EXAMINEing it indicates it's probably flint, as it makes sparks.  We can try to CUT POST, but neither the cylinder nor the can opener prove useful against its fat steel.

We've done all the digging we can, but EXAMINE STUMPS in the forest yields a Handle with gas nozzle (oddly, it's described as jumping into our hands, though it doesn't seem sentient.)  We can LIGHT NOZZLE with the slate, then CUT POST with the nozzle to turn it into a fat open-end steel stump.

It seems obvious that we should GO STUMP, and discover that It's too dark to see! -- even though the nozzle is still lit.  At least we can safely go back U.  What to do for a light source?  We can't CUT STUMP to make a torch or anything.  We can tell which directions we can't go in the dark, so we can navigate D, D ... whoops, You fell and broke every bone in your body.  The same happens if we try to navigate blind after that first downward move, so this isn't going to help.

We can OPEN PISTOL to remove a used but still active power source, glowing Radium as it turns out, and now we can see that we're in a cave with a loose dirt roof.  The cave isn't really a maze, we just have to navigate a few rooms to find ourselves in front of a Lead wall with peephole notchEXAMINE WALL, LOOK PEEPHOLE, EXAMINE NOTCH, and PEEP HOLE don't reveal anything of interest; in fact, neither the notch nor the peephole / hole are even recognized by the parser.  Further DIGging around in the cave rooms isn't very productive either.

After being stuck for a while, I peeked at the code again to figure out that we can't just DIG in the critical cave room, or DIG at its loose dirt ROOF specifically -- we have to DIG UP to find a key.  (This does kind of make sense, but I wasn't hitting on the right action and the game doesn't provide much help here.)

With the key in hand we can OPEN WALL and then PUSH WALL to move it aside and discover a six-section lead plate.  Going east now leads us to a perfectly spherical room, wherein lies the fabled Center of the universe.  Now all we have to do is GET CENTER, and... Congratulations, you have been sucked into the center of the universe. Dummy!  So that's not the right thing to do.

The six-section lead plate might be useful, though I wasn't quite picturing it properly -- I was trying to UNFOLD PLATE and THROW PLATE or DROP PLATE, but we can FOLD PLATE to make a lead box, which somehow allows us to safely GET CENTER (that's an awfully strong lead box!)

Now the pace picks up a bit, as the planet begins to shake. The whole universe is shaking! You have only 12 seconds until it envelops you!   Fortunately, each move we make only takes one second, so we have time to exit the cave, jump across the ravine, run through the forest back to the beam-down site, and BEAM UP -- fatally transmitting ourselves into the inside of the planet, dash it all!

Trying again, I don't quite make it in time -- I tried to BEAM DOWN one move too early -- and CRUNCH!!! The universe has closed in on you!, just before I was able to PUSH BLUE and go back to our own time-space continuum.  (The universe may have begun with a Bang, but apparently it ends with a Crunch.)

Doing everything right, we manage to deliver the Center of the universe to the scientist, and while we've saved our own universe, the promised reward is something of a disappointment:

It seems like this sort of thing ought to merit at least an episode of NOVA, but at least victory is ours!

I like these tense little endgame sequences, mostly because they make my adventurer's obsession with mapping on graph paper feel more like actual productivity.  And with game number ten played and conquered, we're about halfway through the Roger M. Wilcox oeuvre, with more to come sometime soon.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Ack! I didn't mean to remove this comment, I meant to reply to it! Roger's original comment:

      Chlorophyll manufactures oxygen, you silly goose!

      My response:

      Okay, okay. :) I always think of its primary role being photosynthesis, but oxygen IS a by-product. Of course, then that means that in the dark cave we should start suffocating... :)

    2. Curses, you're right! My entire oh-so-carefully-balanced adventure world has come crashing down upon me! I should have foreseen your need for an alternate oxygen source inside a lightless cave.

      But seriously, folks -- now that I think about it, the planet also sported a forest of trees. Why didn't those trees make oxygen? [Thinks of an excuse] Oh, of course, silly me! Any oxygen they produce should have fallen off into space, what with the reversed gravity and all. Yeah, that's it, that's the ticket. ("So why does the planet have ANY atmosphere at all, in that case? And how does your lit-nozzle blowtorch burn?") Um ... hey, look over there, it's Scott Adams! [ducks and runs]

    3. Oh, and one more little tidbit before I forget:

      The cylinder that cuts through trees (or your head) is supposed to be the base of a monofilament blade. You can't see the blade, of course, because it's only 1 molecule thick. I should've made that clearer.

  2. The reason the Handle with gas nozzle jumps into your hands is that gravity is reversed in this universe. You're not so much STANDING on the alien planet as clinging to it. The only reason you don't fall off into space is that the canister you have hooked on your belt is an anti-gravity device.

    This was a rather weird adventure for me. Every time I thought about what reality would be like in a reverse-gravity universe, I was forced to the inevitable conclusion that planets and stars could never form. I had to sweep that inconvenient fact under the rug to write this adventure.

  3. Ah -- okay, I wasn't picturing it kind of falling into my hands as much as eagerly leaping to my assistance.

    I didn't quite understand the role of the cylinder, but I noticed that after I suffocated I would fall off the planet into space, and having to BEAM UP instead of BEAM DOWN was another clue that things were a little upside down here. I agree, you can only reverse so many things before reality stops making sense, but I think you got the idea across!