Oo-Topos (1981)   7 comments

I’ve been looking forward to this one.

You were the one Space Central selected to “volunteer” for this mission. Nothing personal — but a rookie cadet could have handled the situation better. You knew full well what failure would mean, what would happen to millions — perhaps billions — of people if you didn’t return with the plague antidote.

— From the game’s manual

Michael Berlyn, you see, wrote Suspended (1983), one of my favorite Infocom games. Oo-topos is his first game. He formed his own company (Sentient Software) with his wife Muffy Berlyn and self-published it.

Except for the title screen, it was an all-text game for the Apple II; it later had a graphical remake in 1986 published by Polarware (adding Muffy to the writing credits; according to Questbusters June 1986, Michael and Muffy wrote the story together for both versions). I am not averse to playing a graphical-updated version of one of these games for the Project, but I’ve compared the two sufficiently to say they should be considered different games.

I would normally be on my chipper way, except I’ve had warning the original is impossible to complete and crashes near the end. To make things more complicated, the version I’m playing has no version number on the title screen, while this entry on eBay includes a “v1.4”, indicating there’s more than one copy floating around there. Am I playing a broken version or a fixed one? Was the original message just hogwash and the game really is finishable? Is it possible with modern emulation to bust through even if there’s a memory error or some such?

I guess we’ll find out? If all else fails, Voltgloss played the graphical version over at The Adventure Gamer so people can meander over there and read about the ending if this one drops on a cliffhanger.

There’s some random world-building in the manual, but the plot condenses down to: while transporting a vial of anti-plague serum to Earth, you get attacked by aliens who drop you in a prison and strip your spaceship for parts. Your mission is to get the serum back and escape.

Just to give a quick idea of the version differences: while this game has the lock already broken by the main character, the 1986 edition requires you to BREAK LOCK yourself. The 1986 opening room also contains a bottle and some food, and you have to LOOK THROUGH WINDOW to see your ship.

The world starts out very open so I’m still mapping things out; I’ll just mention one curious thing I’ve observed:

Aliens do appear as you explore the planet, but they pop out more or less at random and feel inspired by Adventure. The first alien you see drops a LASER which you can then use to blast an alien that appears later (compare with the first dwarf in Adventure dropping an axe) and the fight scene has some randomness which, again, feels like Adventure. There’s also an alien that steals your “treasures” (akin to the pirate), although I’m unclear yet what constitutes a treasure in this game. The long shadow still looms.

After all — one lone human being against an insane alien planet sounds fair. At least it sounds fair to the aliens.

Posted April 29, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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7 responses to “Oo-Topos (1981)

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  1. “Suspended” is one of your favourite Infocom games? You’re really hard as nails, Jason! I really like the game in theory but don’t enjoy playing it. Maybe I should give it another go seeing that you seem to like it so much.

    I enjoyed “Oo-topos” and “Cyborg” quite a bit, though. Have fun with those!

  2. By the way, if I remember correctly I played the Apple ][ version of “Oo-topos” but it’s entirely possible that either I’m wrong or I didn’t finish it and only thought I did.

    • The Kim Schuette book I link in my latest post doesn’t mention any issues, but he might have had v1.4. (I’m also reaaaally tempted to look at the maps but I’m staying clear.)

      I’ve heard enough wrong rumors in the past I’m only putting odds about 25% I’ll have a crash and burn, but it wouldn’t be the first broken game we’ve seen.

  3. Is this probably the very first adventure game with a good cover?

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