Mission: Asteroid (1980)   5 comments

After finishing Mystery House (Hi-Res Adventure #1) and Wizard and the Princess (Hi-Res Adventure #2) Ken and Roberta Williams decided to write a “beginner’s” game, Mission: Asteroid (Hi-Res Adventure #0).

It is easy, sure, but absolutely not what I would ever give a beginner, especially given the unintentional surprise ending.

At the start of Mission: Asteroid, your watch goes off and (after PUSH SWITCH) lets you know you must report for a mission:

Inside the building is a secretary who stops you and asks for a password. None of these work:

>SAY STARSTRUCK
>STARSTRUCK
>TALK SECRETARY
>ASK SECRETARY
>SAY PASSWORD
>GIVE PASSWORD
>GIVE STARSTRUCK

(With the last, for instance, the game responds “I don’t know how to give something”.)

I finally hit upon TELL STARSTRUCK. I can understand slightly messy syntax in two-word parsers when there’s no other way to write something, but there are perfectly grammatical alternatives here!

Upon entring the complex, there’s a general you are told to >SALUTE:

The general also says the information is “TOP SECRET”. There is a room of reporters next door and an amusing way to lose the game.

This happens if you >TALK REPORTERS. I think it may be the first “you can hang yourself by your own rope” style death in a Roberta Williams game.

Assuming you want to actually keep playing, the next stop is a computer, which gives you a set of directions for flying from Earth to the asteroid.

right for 10 minutes
up for 5 minutes
left for 15 minutes
down for 5 minutes
left for 5 minutes
up for 10 minutes

Just past the computer are some explosives; you’re never told they’re officially part of the mission, but you need them to succeed.

Next stop: the rocket, where a doctor does a checkup. He tells you that you are out of shape and smell bad and can’t go on the mission yet. You need to go to the nearby gym and EXERCISE and then TAKE SHOWER for the doctor to let you by.

Once past the doctor, you can enter the rocket. It has a throttle to launch and land, and four colored buttons: white for “left”, black for “right” , orange for “up” and blue for “down”.

I admit some confusion to enacting the “right for 10 minutes, up for 5 minutes, …” flight plan. I first tried just pushing black once, then waiting 9 turns (there was no “wait” command so I just moved randomly) then pushing white and waiting 14 turns, etc. This was wrong for two reasons. 1.) you’re supposed to keep hitting the relevant button the entire time and 2.) more interestingly, I didn’t notice until later that time was moving in 5-minute increments. So you have to start by hitting the black button two times (10 minutes) then the orange button one time (5 minutes) then the white buton three times (15 minutes) and so on. I don’t think I’ve ever had difficulty on a puzzle due to not understanding the flow of time in relation to commands.

After a successful flight, you find and land on the asteroid. You’re using a spacesuit with a very tight limit to the amount of oxygen, so it’s very easy to die here by getting lost. (It’s technically a maze, although I didn’t bother to map it; I just worked out the right steps to take and reloaded.)

I found a cave with a pit. I then had to SET TIMER (the game lets you choose how many minutes it will take) then DROP EXPLOSIVES followed by IN PIT.

Then, retracing my steps and flying the ship back to Earth… I blew myself up with the explosives. Whoops! I somehow had mistyped IN PIT I guess so my character was still holding the explosives.

Retry: set timer, drop explosives, return to ship. Flying back involves the same directions as getting to the asteroid but backwards (down for 10, right for 5, up for 5, etc.) I landed on the Earth and then …

…actually, let’s wait on the ending. I’m going to make a digression for a moment.

Even though it has roughly the same plot outline, I’d recommend the last game I played (World’s Edge) to beginners, while this one I would not.

I’m not even referring to the parser-level issues; just, as a game, this wasn’t very fun. In both cases there was a lot of “being told exactly what to do” and at a surface level, the plot interaction is fine in both cases. However, Mission: Asteroid makes a passing attempt at taking itself seriously, while World’s Edge is silly out the gate. Having to EXERCISE and TAKE SHOWER right before the mission just highlighted the ludicrousness of the scenario, whereas World’s Edge “jump in a silo and go, and the rocket disappears when you get off” setup pushes far enough there’s not even a veneer of verisimilitude, so that when we summon sporks with horns and find a hint given by a spork baby the effect is more comedic than cringeworthy.

Additionally, Mission: Asteroid adds timers. There’s a timer for the asteroid hitting the Earth, and a timer for the amount of oxygen in the spacesuit; it’s fairly certain a first-time player will need to reload their game on occasion, but having to do so because time ran out adds something more like annoyance than difficulty.

World’s Edge had no timers whatsoever, and while you could die via using the jetpak in the wrong place, or dropping the explosive plastic, those deaths came off as both necessary and amusing; the limited oxygen given in the spacesuit of Mission: Asteroid just seems intended to annoy.

So, assuming you plant the explosives correctly, have left the asteroid, and didn’t set the timer so far out the asteroid strikes before the explosives go off, you eventually get a victory message:

However, the game doesn’t exit you out, so you can keep going. (This isn’t that uncommon for this era — great, you found all the treasures! … eh, end whenever you feel like it.)

Whoever did the programming on this — Ken, or Roberta, or both — forgot to stop the timer that’s set to destroy the planet. So a short time after the victory message, this happens:

Yes, this really is what happens, this wasn’t due to a hack or anything; back in 2007 Carl Muckenhoupt ran into the same issue and managed to get both saving the Earth and destroying it on the same screenshot.

Posted August 4, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “Mission: Asteroid (1980)

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  1. He tells you that you are out of shape and smell bad

    I knew I should’ve put that tape over my webcam!

    I have some real-life physics questions about the “shooting yourself with a shotgun instead of a rifle” thing that Carl mentioned in the linked post. First of all, about the metaphor, I feel like it is often better to be shot with a shotgun rather than a rifle? Like, that guy Dick Cheney shot apparently had a minorish heart attack shortly thereafter, but he’s still alive thirteen years later at age 91, which seems like it would’ve been less likely if he’d been shot from thirty yards with a rifle in the head/neck/chest area.

    On the non-metaphorical side, it seems like breaking the asteroid into tiny pieces (granting that you have a big enough explosion that the asteroid really would break into tiny pieces) probably would be beneficial? One thing is that it seems like some part of the mass would probably get blown to the side enough to miss the earth. But also, I imagine these alternatives:

    Giant asteroid coming to earth -> a bit of the asteroid burns up in the upper atmosphere -> most of the asteroid hits earth -> big impact -> not good.

    Many many small asteroids coming to earth -> most of the individual asteroids burn up in the upper atmosphere -> not that much of the total mass hits earth – > probably not great, but maybe not as catastrophic? Although looking at some estimates, it seems like you’d wind up breaking the Chicxulub asteroid up into at least 10 million Chelyabinsk meteors, which still sounds bad.

    • I don’t know the physics of meteors enough to comment further, but “blow up a big meteor, then deal with the tiny bits” is the plot of Deep Impact (the other meteor movie from the year Armageddon was released). The meteor is destroyed only … maybe a third of the way through the movie?

  2. In that first picture, we’re tall enough to look down on the roof of the building. How are we supposed to enter it? Are we crawling on our hands and knees for the rest of the game?

    • I have the feeling that’s not going to be the only strange image perspective we’ll see from Sierra. (In theory terms, it seems like while they’re mostly “first person” images, conceptually they’re just trying to show off scenes, so are willing to switch to “movie establishing shot” once in a while. That’s the sort of shot that makes more sense with having a little person you move around as in King’s Quest. I wonder if it’s this kind of abnormality that eventually led to the idea.)

  3. From what I understand, it makes more sense to put on the asteroid something that would divert its path than to blow it to bits. That way it misses Earth completely.

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