Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Adventure of the Week: Creatures that Live in the Sun (1981/2013)

After a few posts spent in point-and-click territory, this week we're returning to the Roger M. Wilcox text adventure archives.  Creatures that Live in The Sun was Wilcox's eleventh game, originally written for the TRS-80 in 1981 and converted to Windows in 2013.  Mr. Wilcox's games remain freely available at his website, and they're well worth checking out, especially for adventure fans that may have missed these back in the day.

I'm sure a few readers have noticed the similarity of this game series' author's name to Space Quest protagonist, Roger Wilco.  Any resemblance appears to be purely coincidental, but one can't help noting that many of Wilcox's games feature science fiction motifs, and this one is a time-constrained escape adventure, in which the player's ship has run out of fuel just after landing on the sun's... surface?  (The author notes that this game was based on a creative writing project he wrote in the fifth grade, so we'll dispense with any scientific nitpicking.)  Let's hope we can find enough fuel to achieve escape velocity!

As always, I encourage the intrepid adventurer to sample Creatures that Live in the Sun before proceeding here.  For the historical record and entertainment purposes, I'll be detailing my playthrough and giving away everything I discovered.  In other words, there are inevitably going to be some major...

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

At the start, we are aboard our grounded ship, with a closed airlock and a console populated with patriotic buttons (not, like, Whip Inflation Now, but red, white and blue.)  An engine room west of the starting point features a Better-than-asbestos suit -- presumably this means it is both heat-inhibiting and non-carcinogenic -- an empty fuel line, an empty bucket, and Strange dark goggles, suggesting that we may have missed some important equipment training in solonaut school. 

We've got nothing in inventory, so let's grab everything we can; the fuel line is fixed in place.  We should also SAVE before we start messing with the buttons, if past experience is any guide.  PUSH RED, and the airlock opens -- the sun's temperature melts the capsule from the inside out, and we're dead.  If we PUSH BLUE instead, a transparent cover envelops the interior of the capsule -- a heat shield, perhaps?  PUSH WHITE produces a warning light, "NO FUEL", so that will probably be one of our final actions at the end of the game.

With the shield up, the sun doesn't damage the ship, but if we're not wearing the BTA suit, we're vaporized anyway.  We may note in passing -- literally, while dying -- that It's too bright to see!, so that's probably why we have the dark goggles.

With all the right stuff in place, we can see that B.T.A. sheets protect everything -- not quite as high-tech as I'd imagined, but I like that this new material is apparently named by the same people who produced Uneeda Biscuit and Better Made Potato Chips.  We can exit through the airlock to reach the photosphere of Sol.

(This all reminds me of the old joke -- "How does the [insert favorite ethnic/national/occupational stereotype] mission to the sun plan to avoid burning up?"; [adopt favorite accent]; "We plan to go at night.")

We can see that the capsule is slowly dissolving in the heat, so time is of the essence.  We can also see a solar disturbance, likely wreaking all kinds of cable service havoc back on Earth.  GO DISTURBANCE yields a Scott Adams-esque misleading prompt: Are you just going to walk through that solar flare?  And while a thoughtful "No" click yields A wise decision, a reckless, foolhardy "Yes" click gets us through without apparent ill effect.

This is an interesting idea -- we find ourselves on a river bank, but it's a river of salt (sodium chloride melts at 1474 degrees Fahrenheit, per a quick web search).  We can FILL BUCKET to obtain a bucket of salt, and we can GO RIVER, though there doesn't seem to be a reason to do that yet.  We can't FILL FUEL or FILL LINE with the bucket, though, so we must have to do some further work.

We can POUR BUCKET -- on the surface, it just Soaks into the photosphere.  Actually, it does this anywhere, even inside the ship with the airlock closed.  I spent some more time exploring the river and the bank, but before long, it seems, we're notified that Your space capsule's non-tempered hyperdiamond casing is disintegrating through! and we are in major trouble... unless we return to the ship and close the airlock, which buys us a little time... except, no, wait, it doesn't actually reset anything, and next time we open the airlock the meltdown continues, eventually melting the capsule and ending the game.

What else can we do?  EXAMINE SUIT reveals a yellow button on its left hand.  PUSH YELLOW does nothing of note in the engine room, but if we try it in the river, A ray of cold shoots from your fingertips, doing nothing.  It seems that it will fire, but do nothing, while the airlock is open, but if the airlock is closed it does nothing at all.

I got hung up here -- my attempts to SWIM and DIVE and FLOAT down the river went unacknowledged, but a peek at the source code reveals that we can FOLLOW RIVER once we're in it to reach its end, where a =Deadly gronk gronk= blocks the way.  The freeze ray doesn't do anything about this guy either.  POUR BUCKET here causes an unexpected result -- A silvery line extends from one of the gronk gronk's fingers, and hits you, piercing your suit!  Hmmm?   Ah, this happens randomly, it has nothing to do with whether we've emptied the bucket.  (For some reason, I am picturing the Gronk Gronk looking like the Crunchberry Beast.  I don't know why!)

I had to look at the code again to find out that we can FEEL RIVER -- I was trying to do something similar by DIVEing, but anyway -- to discover a Hyperdiamond "eye," marked Medusa H.D. Company.  So this might be useful -- and yes, SHOW EYE turns the deadly gronk gronk into stone (Good work! The Medusa H.D. Company comes through again!)  I assume H.D. stands for Hyperdiamond and not High Definition.

Now we can reach the "solar junction," a crossroads where an Alien blueish-green man is standing (no word on whether this individual is littleish-small.)  We can't TALK MAN, so we'll explore some more.

A sunspot area features a locked sunspot case (?) that can't be opened at this point.  Another solar flare is decidely not safe to walk through, of course.  And there's a makeshift landing field, where the not-makeshift Solar Challenger (airplane) is parked.  We can GO CHALLENGER to reach the cockpit, where we see green, black and orange buttons, most likely color-coded to prevent confusion on the part of the parser rather than the player, and having nothing to do with The Troubles and/or the Black Irish.

We PUSH GREEN and the plane takes off; we can see a Gronk Gronk Fighter out the window, which based on previous experience we should probably try to dispatch.  We PUSH ORANGE -- and A mechanical voice intones, "What is the password?"   We don't have the password, so PUSH BLACK fires a cold ray, but the fighter evades it.  Fortunately, we can PUSH GREEN to land again.

We can LOOK MAN (or, oddly enough, FEEL MAN) to prompt conversation -- he asks us to defeat the Gronk Gronks' fighter (we suspected as much) and also obtain the key that opens the sunspot case.  He then slips something into our hands -- it's a Gold Credit Card?  There are no retail establishments on our map so far, but closer examination indicates that it's smudged, but we can read an "S."

Back on the Challenger (which was the name of a still-operating Space Shuttle when this game was originally written), we note that obvious guesses PASS and SOL don't work as passwords.  We can WIPE CARD, though, to see "Srill" (briefly, before the card somehow smudges up again.)  PUSH ORANGE and SAY SRILL activates the plane's SADAR tracking, allowing PUSH BLACK's cold ray to lock on and do the job properly.

We're getting closer, but this was my second serious attempt, and I had taken too much time -- the capsule was once again melting, and we're too far away to do anything about it now. 

Back on track after restoring, we haven't found any reason to PUSH YELLOW or POUR BUCKET yet, so we should see if we can find opportunities to do so.  POUR BUCKET in the solar flare area puts out the solar flare, opening up a passage south to an insignificant part of this granule.  There's a large hyperdiamond here.  We can PUSH YELLOW, and the ray shoots out, this time freezing the hyperdiamond extensively.

I tried to HIT, KICK, PUSH, and SMASH the frozen diamond, but we just need to BREAK DIAMOND to form a hyperdiamond key.  Upon seeing us again, the alien takes us to the sunspot (which was being used as a freezer) and opens the case, revealing a Container of solid fuel, which ought to be just the ticket home.

Moving as quickly as we can, lest our ship dissolve again, we run all the way back to the ship, close the airlock, FILL LINE with the solid fuel, and PUSH WHITE to take off to... ACK!  Not quite, I missed it by just one move it seems!

Doing it ever-so-slightly more efficiently, we get the best ending, marred only by boring transportation!

No treasures, just a fine story to share at the Space Bar after we cool down a bit.  Creatures that Live in the Sun was good fun.  More Roger Wilcox adventures await!


  1. Why is it called a better-than-asbestos suit? Because it's doing asbestos it can!

    But seriously, folks ... when you mentioned that the "patriotic buttons" were not like "Whip Inflation Now", I immediately thought: I'll bet we're the only two people still alive who'll get that joke. (Bah. Kids these days!)

    I DID try to plant a rather subtle, indirect hint that the player should FOLLOW RIVER. If you type HELP while you're in the river, you get the cryptic message "Rivers usually lead somewhere, don't they?". Admittedly, it wasn't the most obvious hint, but one thing about the Scott Adams adventures as I remembered them was that part of the puzzle involved figuring out the right verbs to use. (Remember "Asylum"? I never finished that adventure because I didn't think of typing "SHOW Note To Inmate" instead of "GIVE Note To Inmate". Sure, it's not a Scott Adams adventure, which kind of undermines my whole point, but ... um ... was I going somewhere with this? Never mind.)

  2. Incidentally, the Solar Challenger wasn't a reference to the Space Shuttle Challenger (which, at the time I wrote this adventure, hadn't even gone into space yet).

    It was a reference to this solar-powered airplane:


  3. Oh, and one more thing before I forget: I'm actually kinda picky about my middle initial. I always write my name as "Roger M. Wilcox", never "Roger Wilcox." It's kinda like Richard M. Nixon -- what kind of a nobody would he have been without his M.?

    Ultimately, I think the reason I was inspired to write this particular adventure was because I read an ad for another adventure where, in passing, it mentioned that the setting contained "silver rivers." It was clearly talking about the rivers' purity and reflective colors, but it got me thinking: Where would you encounter a river of ACTUAL silver? It would have to be some place really hot ... like the sun! Hey! I could use that "Creatures that Live in the Sun" story I wrote in 5th grade as the basis for an adventure, and then I could have a LITERAL silver river! ... Except when I looked up the boiling point of silver, it was well below the surface temperature of the sun, so I had to switch it to an even hardier substance (i.e. salt).

    It turns out, of course, that even salt isn't tough enough to remain liquid at photospheric temperatures. Even inside a sunspot, which is a paltry 4000 degrees Celsius, salt would not only be vaporized, the chlorine and sodium ions would be dissociated from one another and you'd end up with a chlorine-sodium plasma.

    1. Roger, thanks as always for the followup comments!

      And I was wondering about your middle initial -- I will strive to be more formal in its use! (I use mine on occasion, but not consistently.)

  4. Your comments about "boring transportation" and the "Space Bar" got me thinking ... this adventure COULD be construed as taking place in a future where everybody had his own private space ship, and travelling to another planet was as commonplace as travelling to another city is today.

    That wasn't my intent. The story was supposed to take place in the very near future, with a space program not much more sophisticated than the one we have today -- missions to other worlds are supposed to be an extreme rarity, and the mission you the player are embarked on for this adventure is supposed to be the first EVER manned mission to the sun. (Hence, the ending by splashing down on Earth -- there are no space stations to go to, no settlements on Mercury, etc.)

    And, yes, we tried to avoid the heat by going at night. But it was too dark to find our way. {rimshot}