Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Adventure of the Week: Deathworld (1983)

After a disappointing issue #45 of SoftSide Magazine, which omitted the customary monthly text adventure due to disk space constraints (or so we are led to believe), issue #46 returned to form with what I count as #28 in the series, Deathworld  (it's referred to as Death World Adventure in the magazine's menu, I'm going with the in-game naming here.)  This 1983 effort is yet another Peter Kirsch adventure, but he changes his style a little bit here, working in mixed-case text, adding more descriptive plotting, and referencing some objects in the room descriptions instead of as obvious "visible items."  This game also includes a save and restore feature, which would be very handy if I didn't have save states available; I'm playing the TRS-80 version here, using the TRS32 emulator.

The setup takes advantage of the disk medium to include a prologue that would have been a waste of memory otherwise.  Deathworld is set in then-future 1992, where we have been in space for two months.  Our colleagues Brent, Reeves and Jackson disappeared during a mission to Alpha Beta II, and we've been sent to discover what may have happened to them.  Upon landing, our ship's power system is damaged, of course, so in addition to solving the mystery we will have to figure out how to get ourselves back home.

As always, interested readers are encouraged to visit Deathworld before continuing below.  It's not a terribly difficult game, though mapping is a must and the climax is a bit complicated.  I ran into a few parser frustrations myself, where I had the right idea but couldn't figure out how to express it.  But it's an atmospheric and well-written game with a startling finale, and you may wish to spend some time with it firsthand before reading the comprehensive...

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

As the game begins, we find ourselves planetside aboard our spaceship, with a damaged power crystal fastened in place with four screws, and a red, unresponsive push button, presumably for launching.  I (for inventory, naturally) establishes that we have a blaster in hand, and we are not currently suffering from injury, hunger, or thirst, novel metrics measured on a scale from 0 to 100 percent.

We can only travel South, to exit the ship and reach a plateau allowing east-west travel.  It seems the atmosphere here is breathable, at least so far.  To the east is a dead end section of plateau; to the west, we climb a steep, rocky hill.

Trying to go D the hill proves dangerous -- we trip over a jagged rock, slamming into another rock on the way down.  But the fall isn't fatal, though it does inflict 11% damage and a bleeding forehead.  At the bottom of the hill, we see a slime-covered space ship, half decomposed with someone apparently sitting inside it.

Against my better judgment, I decide to GO SHIP and see what's going on inside before exploring more of the map.  There's a skeletal body here, with an armband indicating these are the remains of Jackson.  There's also a flight recorder here, and what appears to be an intact power crystal held in place with four screws.  If only we had a screwdriver!  We can't PLAY RECORDER directly, but LOOK RECORDER reveals a button, and PUSH BUTTON allows us to hear Jackson's last words -- Brent and Reeves have already been taken by "something out there."  Bonus atmosphere points to Mr. Kirsch for the 1950s EC Comics-esque "NO! NO! KEEP AWAY! YAAAHHHHH....." as Jackson meets his demise.  Negative futurism points for the flight recorder's use of tape.

Southwest of the ship is a dirt-strewn path leading to a mountain cave, but it's too dark to see inside, so we'll have to come back when we have a light source.  Northwest of the ship is another path with exits west, northwest, and northeast.

I stop to check health, and learn that our health is worsening -- I'm at a 30% injury level, so we'd better try to stop the bleeding.  We're getting into a maze of paths here, with lots of diagonal directions, though the map seems fair and consistent for the most part.  I find a power shed off to the west, with a large 10,000 volt transformer and almost a mile of wire on a spool.  We can GET WIRE to carry the bare end of the wire -- perhaps we will be using this to electrocute the creature that killed the others, but I'll leave it here until I come up with a place to take it.

East of the power shed is a beach, which we can see from many other locations nearby.  A broken fence post and a tall tree here provide some possibilities.  I try to CLIMB TREE, but only slide back down.  There are a number of these broken fence posts along the beach, and multiple locations to navigate and map out.  While I'm trying to get my bearings, though, I bleed to death and have to start over.

I decide to try remapping the confusing area, now that I know more about how the world is laid out, and I discover a dispensary west of the power shed.  Inside I find some iodine and a bandage -- it takes me a few false starts to figure out that we can PUT IODINE, though that doesn't do much good, as it's just smeared on our arm.  BANDAGE WOUND doesn't work, nor does WEAR BANDAGE, but PUT BANDAGE does the trick (and miraculously heals our injuries, all the way back to 0%!)

It seems we're in a more populated section of the map over here -- roughly west from the dispensary we find a tool shed.  But it's locked, and SHOOT LOCK only returns Not now.  South of the tool shed is a steel shack, with a timer lock; we're told only that the door will open at an unknown predetermined time.  Hmmmm.

There's another dark cave in the northern section of the path network.  I try to SHAKE the unclimbable TREE on the beach, and it yields some STRANGE FRUIT.  Northeast of the beach, we find a mountain, and spy a LITTLE ALIEN CREATURE carrying a red rod and moving east, somehow disappearing from sight. There's another dark cave entrance up here as well.

I finally get the the complicated map worked out (I think) and am strolling along the beach when a slimy tentacle reaches out of the water and tightens its grip around my waist.  SHOOT TENTACLE only gets my blaster slapped out of my hand by another tentacle, and I don't have time to try anything else before I am dragged into the water and drowned. 

Now I can start over and be a little more efficient with the opening of the story. I play Jackson's flight recorder and bandage my head.  Now what about these locked sheds?  Can we zap the lock with the wire from the power shed?  Nope, the wire won't quite reach that far.  Can we zap the tentacles with the wire?  I leave it on the beach and turn the power on, but nothing obvious happens (though if I GET WIRE now, I am electrocuted as expected.  Just checking.)

We can't GO LAKE, because we can't swim, apparently.  Are we supposed to make an electrified, tentacle-proof fence around the lake using the broken fence posts, maybe?  I try to BUILD FENCE, MAKE FENCE, ATTACH WIRE, STRING WIRE, CONNECT WIRE, and PUT WIRE, with no luck, so I turn the power back off.

What about hunger and thirst?  DRINK WATER proves fatal -- the lake is poisoned.  EAT FRUIT is similarly fatal.  So we don't have any way to sustain ourselves yet, and we may just have to work fast once we figure out everything we need to do.

The mountain where we saw the little alien is too steep to climb.  Can we KILL ALIEN when we first see him?  No, he disappears before we can act.  Are any of the caves lit naturally?  Not that I can see.

Aha!  TIE POST allows us to tie the wire to the fence posts on the beach; two-word parsers always make these kinds of puzzles difficult to approach (TIE WIRE also works.)  I am able to circle the lake, tying the wire at each point, and the game confirms we have made a complete circuit of wire.  I'll turn the power on, just in case those tentacles show up again.

I check the steel shack, and it's open now -- apparently the timer has expired!  I can now get a RED ROD from inside, and maybe climb the mountain like the alien appeared to do?  Nope, the mountains are still too steep.  But I can go E where I could not before, walking right through the mountain into a cave where we find a luminous rock.  Progress at last!

With this light source in hand, we can visit the three cave locations.  The one in the northeast corner contains the DEFORMED, SLIME-SMEARED BODY OF REEVES, and I try to SEARCH BODY and LOOK BODY to no visible effect.  A passage connects this location to the cave in the northwest.  The southwest cave contains Brent's rotting body, similarly impervious to inspection, so we have confirmed the demise of everyone we were sent here to rescue.  Mission accomplished, I guess?

The southeastern cave contains... a captive little alien!  He mutters, in that strange alien dialect peculiar to adventure games, "KOVZHV UIVV NV. HSZPV Z YOFV ILW GL LKVM NB XSZRMH."  This conveniently translates to English by reversing the letters (A = Z, B = Y, etc.), to read:  "PLEASE FREE ME. SHAKE A BLUE ROD TO OPEN MY CHAINS."

Now if only we had a blue rod!  I am feeling stuck now, so I check the code and discover that I have been trying to LOOK BODY, which the parser sort of recognizes but doesn't specifically address, and should have been trying to, for example, LOOK REEVES instead.  Doing this, I find a small key on the body, and can access the tool shed to acquire... a screwdriver.  Good!

What about Brent's body?  He has a blue rod!  Even better.  We can now SHAKE ROD -- Shake red or shake blue rod? -- okay, SHAKE BLUE to free the little alien.  It tells us its name is Nikki and starts following us around, intending to help out.

It's too late to help me very much, though, as I'm just about dead of hunger, but Nikki points to the fruit and says, "YZW!" -- "BAD!"   Which was already pretty obvious.  When I DROP FRUIT, it rolls away, never to be seen again.  Hmmmm.  Time to restart and work back to this point as quickly as possible before we starve to death.

This time, when we're walking along the beach, Nikki points to the water and says (in translation), "POISONED," and as the tentacle attacks again, Nikki's "OH OH" is similarly lacking in news value.  But we're right by the tall tree, so I take a chance, GRAB TREE and the tentacles give up on dragging me into the lake and let go.  Apparently the electrified fence isn't stopping the monster,and Nikki continues stating the obvious with a heartfelt, "WHEW!"

But this is new -- when I SHAKE TREE again, the fruit this time provokes a cry of "YUMMY!" from Nikki.  So we can safely EAT FRUIT, though it only knocks our hunger down by about 50%.

Do we need to do anything else, or can we just grab the power crystal from Jackson's decaying ship and get out of here?  As I try to head back to the ship by way of the beach, we hear something slithering, but manage to return to the hillside without being attacked.

Inside Jackson's ship, our tag-along alien says, "POOR BABY" and I begin to wonder if it's even worth the translation effort.  We just have to GET CRYSTAL to use the screwdriver and remove it.  But as we leave the ship, a tentacle appears from seemingly nowhere, and drags us off to a cave to meet its owner.  So it seems we'll need to deal with this creature somehow before we'll be able to leave.

Purely by chance on the next try, I miss the beach I was trying to get to and end up by the northwest cave.  A monster emerges, with eight tentacles, and its face is almost nothing but teeth.  Nikki says, "THE BOGEY MAN!", suggesting that the alien language is not only a highly unlikely perfect inverse of Earth's North American English, but that cultural archetypes transcend time, space and biology.

I know the wire won't reach this far, but maybe we can lure the monster into range of the electrified wire.  I try heading towards the lake, but it wraps its tentacles around us and we're dead.  SHOOT MONSTER is more productive, though not in the way I intended -- it buys us a little time, though.  The monster grabs our blaster and a wild shot injures our arm, instantly infecting it.  While the monster is inspecting the weapon, Nikki suggests, "MAYBE HE EAT IT."

I try to lure the beast toward the lake, and as soon as we head in that direction, it moves toward the lake and gets zapped by our electrical trap.  "OOH! BAD BOY GO UP IN SMOKE!", Nikki helpfully adds.

Our badly infected arm is why we need the iodine, I surmise, and I PUT IODINE to clear up that health issue.  "FIX YOUR SHIP GO HOME."  Yes, Nikki, that's what I intend to do.  I am quite relieved when our alien companion finally says "BYE BYE" and scampers away, never to be seen again if we're lucky.

Anyway, now we can GET CRYSTAL from the late Jackson's ship, toss out the damaged one from our own ship, PUT CRYSTAL to install the good one, and PUSH BUTTON to launch.  And just when we thought it was safe to go back into space, our host pulls a twist ending on us:

The tentacles are going to take over the world!

So... this is not exactly a victory, then, as our best efforts seem destined to infect our home world with an intelligent and violently predatory alien species.  This is a nice twist, a refreshing change from the clean, convenient, treasure-laden victory scenarios that end most adventure games.  Deathworld is another solid entry from the prolific Peter Kirsch, and I think it's safe to say it's one of my favorite SoftSide adventures, as we draw near the end of this long-running series.

1 comment:

  1. Alpha Beta II? Hmm ... I wonder if that was a reference to the Alpha Beta supermarket chain, which was active in California back in the 1970s and 80s.