Oo-Topos: Unfinished!   4 comments

As the prophecy foretold, the version of 1981 Oo-Topos I was playing turned out to be broken in a way that made it unfinishable, and in a very specific way where I even know what the fix was in the later version(s). If v1.4 or some other repaired version pops up I may do a revisit — fortunately, I was able to get through almost all of the game, so I can report this as “essentially” finished.

From Launchbox.

As I predicted, once I hit the “edges” of the map the game became more pleasant to play. I found shortcuts, mostly wrestled down the mazes, and got enough of a feel for the setting that I entered the mode where I was able to step back and think of the big picture with unsolved puzzles — what of everything I’ve seen might go with this problem?

In general, with one exception, the puzzles were “easy”, but the sheer volume of objects made things hard to check. This really was, at its essence, a “navigation” game where most of the thought was put into exploration.

The starting area with the prison cell includes a huge hall adjacent to a “Sentinel Room” with a robot, a “Platform Room” with a flask of oily liquid, and an “Acid Room” (you can use the acid to disable the robot). Additionally, there’s this:

You’re at the south end of the chamber. A dark passage continues south. As you peer into the gloom,
you catch a glimpse of an alien materializing in the passage before you. You hear it say “crond” and vanish!

>S

You’re in a tiny, narrow room. The walls around you vibrate with energy. A dark passage to the north empties into a huge chamber.

There’s an oxygen recirculator here.

After a few rounds of SAY CROND (and variants) I assumed I needed an item or some such, but I discovered later the game wants you to type CROND just by itself; this teleports you over to another part of the map. This is akin to one of the magic words in Adventure that takes you to a “connected” area — you can just walk from one place to the other if you like — but it is meant to shorten travel time.

>CROND

You’re at the east end of a wide tunnel. A smaller, metal tube leads on, while passages branch off to the northeast and southeast.

Here’s a “super-structure” map of the overall game:

I realize I haven’t talked about all these places yet.

The dotted lines indicate “magic word” connections. (The other two “words” are TUGO-TUSTA and TAKA<->LEVA. On the latter, I am unclear how you’re supposed to say an arrow symbol out loud, but that is exactly what you need to type for the teleport to work.) You’ll notice the magic words are essentially optional, except for that after taking the one-way trip from the Catwalks to the Fly Room area you’ll need a magic word to get back.

The weird and frustrating thing is how the multiple routes make some puzzles redundant. I’ve already mentioned a pointless maze; it connects a garden portion with a fountain with another portion at the far east of the map, but you can simply walk from one side to the other via catwalks.

Yes, it’s the return of the maze where rooms are differentiated by word order. I had learned my lesson from Adventure (see: On the Worst Maze Ever) and mapped this the old fashioned way by dropping objects, but again: there turned out to be no point whatsoever in doing so.

There’s also a room with a “gravcar” where I kept getting shot down by an alien until I brought a stronger weapon (a “needler”). To the northeast of the car is a force field. Inside the gravcar is a plaque which needs a universal translator to read (one you can get by applying acid to the robot I mentioned in the opening area). The plaque indicates it can be used to pass through the field, and indeed you can…

… but the ending “room” of the gravcar-with-canopy-open is quite easy to reach by a different direction (you don’t need to solve any puzzle at all to get here, in fact). So not only is the gravcar already “present” at past the force field (which makes no sense since it’s simultaneously there before the force field — this was just a sloppy-coding way of handling the sequence without implementing a real vehicle) but the method of passing through the force field requires solving a puzzle sequence, and the puzzle sequence has no reward at the end.

This is an interesting theoretical design issue in that multiple routes to places seem like intrinsically a Good Thing, but in this context, I spent roughly two hours solving a puzzle with what felt like a kick in the teeth at the end.

The “fly” rooms represent another maze.

You are standing on a “floor” in the fly room. Your feet, like the furnishings, defy gravity — there is no “up”. A doorway from an adjoining “wall” lies open by your feet.

Each room has a “down” door that connects to a small area.

From Kim Shuette’s Book of Adventure Games, because my map turned out to be inaccurate but I got too exhausted to correct it and even late in the game I just wandered randomly until I hit the right room.

The most important area has a pit which leads to a “Tras” which I mentioned being stuck on last time. The puzzle ended up being trivial, I just had to pick up the “Needler” in the same room and shoot it. Using a pressure suit and wearing some gloves, I was then able to get into a cold room:

You’re inside an icy cold room. In the center, sitting on the floor, is a large box. Even through your suit’s protection the chill creeps in.
There’s an ice-covered box here.

I’ll have more to say about this box in a moment, but let’s fill in the rest of the map. Past the “fly room” is an extensive jungle maze …

The maze includes a NAVIGATION CHIP you need but you get stopped by a “Huja”. I was able to feed it a seed found in the same jungle in order to distract it.

… and a beach where you find the remains of your ship’s hull.

Fixing the ship took a bit of wrangling; you need a WRENCH and REPAIR MANUAL, but also all of the parts of the ship, and it’s a pretty large list:

power cylinder, water system, gyroscope, oxygen recirculator, compass, navigation chip, converter

You then just type BUILD SHIP. If you are missing something the game says I CAN’T DO THAT YET with no explanation of what’s missing. Having a “hidden” list of treasures is relatively ok; having a “hidden” list of items that you need to collect to utilize a generalized verb (where the player character presumably has an idea of what’s going on!) was intensely frustrating.

Speaking of treasures, I mentioned in an earlier post that an alien was stealing them, like Adventure’s pirate. Reaching the area they were stashed is one of the last things I did, because the puzzle was unusually hard.

Would you think to go to the fountain at the garden, fill a flask with water, and come back here to POUR FLASK?

The water reacts violently with its dry skin keeping it out of phase.

There is a MATTER PHASE-SHIFTER in the game which claims to be activated by shaking well, but SHAKE SHIFTER does nothing. I suspect the water is meant to be an “alternate” solution and the phase-shifter is just broken, but the way things got configured I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get the phase-shifter to work.

The puzzle would almost be optional (you can just skip the treasures and still finish the game, from what I gather) but the wrench I mentioned earlier needed for building the ship is also in the same area.

Let’s go back to that ice-covered box.

The box is the serum — which if you remember the plot (and it’s OK if you don’t, since even I forgot it sometimes amidst the endless mapping) — is the main item we need, and the one that we were taking to Earth in the first place in order to save them from a plague.

The problem is … we can’t take it. Or refer to it. And that’s not meant to be a puzzle.

The issue is there’s another box in the game. The system apparently can’t handle having two items with the same noun.

In Kim Schuette’s book, it mentions taking a CHEST here rather than a BOX. So, at some point in the game’s history, a version was made that changed the noun. Without the serum the game is unfinishable. (Since I know someone’s going to ask: if you type GET CHEST in the version I was playing, the game says it doesn’t know what chest means.)

Just so I could see the end, I loaded up a Youtube video of a Oo-Topos walkthrough, although I realize the text is likely different than the original.

After a rather short, and thankfully uneventful flight, your destination comes into view. Upon arrival, you are greeted with much excitement! Panic was beginning to spread, as it was highly expected that your flight would not arrive after the two-day-long-delay. Your ship appeared on the Labport scanners just as alternate plans were being made for limited evacuations of the unsuspecting planet. When your ship was positively identified, preparations were hastened for the final (and ultimately successful) leg of the mission to actually save the Earth. But your part has been done! Congratulations!

In 1980, Michael Berlyn had two novels published with Bantam.

I tried some of Crystal Phoenix. I found it well-written but it has fairly intense subject matter so I didn’t finish. The comparison to A Clockwork Orange is apt. I’ll save The Integrated Man for when I get to Berlyn’s other 1981 game (Cyborg).

Consequently, the advertising for Oo-Topos leaned pretty heavily on having the adventure made by a “real author”.

From Softalk magazine, October 1981.

The odd thing is that Oo-Topos has less plot design than many of the other games we’ve seen from 1981 (see: Hezarin, Adventure in Time, Frankenstein Adventure, Savage Island Part 2) and is essentially a sci-fi version of Adventure. The emphasis is on a large map and gethering items; yes, part of the item gathering is in building a ship, but there’s still the functional feel of Grabbing More Treasures when finding the parts. While the arrival of the serum at Earth is clearly a stronger plot ending than cheering elves, that’s essentially a book-end on what was a mission of almost pure exploration.

I did essentially have fun — and I’m sorry the writeup might seem balanced in a way that indicates constant suffering, but that can happen when you pick out the interesting-to-comment-on bits — but without knowing the author beforehand I never would have guessed who it was.

Clearly, just bringing someone in who has written some books to make a game does not automatically give said game the same qualities of character, writing, and plot that you might expect. To compare with a game from an experienced hand: Savage Island Part 2 has a part where you swap brains with a Neanderthal; judging from Crystal Phoenix and Berlyn’s later work, this type of idea would mesh with Berlyn’s interests, but I doubt the codebase for Oo-Topos was even capable of handling such a finesse. Berlyn’s follow-up of Cyborg is when he opens up a little more to book-writer tendencies (it’s written in first-person plural, for one thing); he likely needed to first get comfortable with game design and coding in general.

Posted May 7, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “Oo-Topos: Unfinished!

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  1. A needler, eh? I wonder who originated that concept. I haven’t read a lot of old sci-fi, but I know it’s a weapon that gets used a lot in Keith Laumer’s Retief stories from the ’60s. I read a collection of the earliest stories (1960-1966) after being introduced to the character through Nathan Mahney’s playthrough of Aldebaran III.

  2. Where is the arrow symbol in TAKALEVA? (It doesn’t seem to show in the blog post, if it’s meant to be there.)

    • WordPress and HTML teaming up to give me a headache.

      It’s less than symbol – right than symbol

      I will try to plead with WordPress interface to get it to work tomorrow.

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