Circle World: Space and a Lot of Stars   Leave a comment

I’ve finished the game. It was a slog, but at least there was one remarkable conceptual idea at the core of Circle World.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

Rather than spoiling what the idea is, I’ll let it build up over my gameplay.

Before continuing with the action, I want to hit something that dmstelzer commented on, which indirectly touched on an important point: Circle World is not so much based on the original Ringworld as the sequel, The Ringworld Engineers.

The 1979 Phantasia Press edition, from eBay.

Fans pointed out that the original Ringworld, being of connected parts, would not be in stable orbit. Larry Niven invented the “ramjet” as the futuristic tech helping keeping the Ringworld intact, and made the plot of his second book revolve around the ramjets failing. The book includes finding a “Mars” area with a control room; in Circle World, the control room is in and you can reach it near a “Mars Island”. If I was previously familiar with the book I would have had an easier time realizing how the control room was linked.

As I mentioned before in my last post, you can ride a “disc” to a “machine city”. There are two other locations the disc can go to: a library…

I incidentally switched to the C64 version, with the same BASIC code, simply because of emulator headaches. The “LUWEEWU” will be important later.

…and a control room.

LOOK VIEW responds with SPACE AND A LOT OF STARS

(It does not go back to the starting area with the altar and volcano, even though I could swear I made it back the first time — I think I was just confused.)

The library was my first useful stop. Reading the yellow book that was there:

POWER SOURCE=MOTOR+GENERATOR+WIRE+SWITCH+FUEL

This gave me an inkling of the foozles that need to be collected to fix the Ring–er, Circleworld. Some of them I knew about already:

  • The generator is right below the library in a “celler”, along with a “silverbox” (with red, blue, and green dials).
  • Some OIL at the machine city counts as fuel.
  • The gold wire (that wouldn’t transport in the disc) counts as the wire.

The motor and switch still eluded me.

West of the library is a GREAT CHASM. The chasm includes a “bridge” that is lowered. If you take the silverbox and turn the blue dial, a “frail” bridge appears. This links the library to the machine city area.

A “zoomed out” view of the overall map up to this point in the story. Dotted connections are teleports.

This means that you can take the gold wire from the machine city back to the library without using the disc; however, you cannot take the generator from the library back over to the machine city (heavy object + frail bridge = bad). This was the first hint there was going to be some complexity in how the sub-areas related to each other.

Bring the gold wire over to the library initially seemed useless — there was still nothing to fix, and although I didn’t know it yet the ultimate goal was to bring all the parts to the Control Room — but east of the library there’s another obstacle.

YOU ARE AT:SUNFLOWER PATCH
A NIGHT SCAVENGER IS BLOCKING YOUR WAY
HE WANTS YOU TO TOSS HIM
SOMETHING OF VALUE
YOU SEE
NOTHING
OBVIOUS EXITS ARE-
WEST

Well, gold is of value?

THE SCAVENGER TAKES YOUR GIFT AND DISSAPEARS

Except … that loses the wire which I needed. What do I do? (You might be able to guess before I get there.)

Past the night scavenger is a rocky cliff with a closed door; the green knob opens it up.

ASIDE: That’s the last use of the silverbox; here’s what the red knob does.

YOUR COMMAND? TURN KNOB
WHICH ONE?? RED

YOU DIE

How descriptive!

MOVING ON: Inside is a secret tunnel with a RADAR/SONAR unit. Past that is the altar/volcano area at the start of the game! So this is the way to reach that place even though the energizer disc doesn’t go there, it only goes from there.

The altar still had two mysteries left undone: the meaning of the “A HERO’S NAME IS THE KEY” message and what to pray for. I’m pretty sure I was wrong with Hercules and I was just praying for HELP when the game said

SOMETHING OF VALUE

This is a hint as to what to pray for, and also, the exact same text as with the night scavenger where he had to throw our gold wire.

COMMAND? PRAY
WHAT FOR?? GOLD

This makes the gold wire appear. I admit being somewhat impressed by the minimalist hint, but keep in mind this is all conveyed through a fog of misunderstood commands and non-existent descriptions.

For that other puzzle, the solution is in a screenshot from earlier where I looked at an ivory statue of a HELMETEDBIPED.

LUWEEWU

This cases the mirror to swing open and reveal a secret room with a key.

The key can be taken back to the machine city and a tool shed, which opens to reveal a SWITCH, a WRENCH, and SCUBA GEAR. (The SWITCH is one of the missing items for fixing the Circleworld, so we just need the MOTOR.) The scuba gear lets you go into a lake that previously drowned you; there’s a lake shore to the east of the volcano area, and a lake shore to the west of the machine city, but it didn’t occur to me they were the same lake! Having the scuba gear opens up the map connections even more:

You need the SONAR/RADAR to see the AIRLOCK going DOWN.

Going UP from the lake leads to Mars Island, with a frozen waterfall that you can blast with your laser/flashlight…

YOU ARE AT:DRY RIVER BED
YOU SEE
FROZEN WATERFALL
OBVIOUS EXITS ARE-
SOUTH

YOUR COMMAND? BLAST LASER
WATERFALL MELTS

…and a laboratory.

The “alarm” indicates just grabbing the motor is a bad idea. It causes the door to close and lock behind you. What you can do is grab the nylon, work your way around and above, tie the nylon to a beam, and swing down Mission Impossible-style. The alarm still goes off when you get the motor (using the wrench) but you can climb out (don’t forget to grab the cloth mask, as well).

So, that’s all the parts: time to be heroic? I realized by this time the control room was the ultimate destination, but still couldn’t get the gold wire there with teleportation. However, there was still the “hatch” in the lake left unexplored. This leads to the aforementioned control room, connecting up the entire map.

Using the system I remembered from Escape from Mars, I dropped everything off and was able to PUSH SWITCH.

SUPERGRID IS ON

For the ramjets, it’s a lot less complicated — there’s just a lever there and you pull it, but “YOU CAN’T QUITE REACH IT”. It seems kind of ridiculous when you think about all the heavy stuff you’ve been toting around, but the only way to reach the lever is the CHAIR found back at the library. One long toting trip later — fortunately, if things are timed, it isn’t super-tight — and

RAMJETS ON!

…and no expected victory message. You have to go all the way back to the altar and check the CRT one last time.

Most of the Aardvark games have gotten creative with geography:

  • Nuclear Sub had the entire map get flooded as part of the escape, changing the nature of the map
  • Escape from Mars had two hidden entrances to the same place (and you didn’t need to find both)
  • Deathship had a puzzle where two items need to be brought together, but neither item can make it all the way; the solution is to have them meet in the middle
  • Trek Adventure let you enter some rooms from a duct system, but later let you enter the same rooms in a “normal” way
  • Pyramid had a trap that only triggered if one passed “through” the room, that is, entering from one side and exiting the other, but it was safe entering and leaving from the same side

Circle World falls in the same category, for which I’m glad, because it’s the element that sustained me to the end. In most adventures from this period, all of these areas would be entirely distinct (like Timequest) but here, all of places you can teleport to are connected, and in order to win you need to “unite the map”. Structurally (and admittedly, only structurally) I found the game very satisfying.

Unfortunately, Circle World also shares the dodgy implementation of the other games; arguably, a good game trapped inside a bad one. I just wish the Aardvark crew had the chance to try their ideas on something more modern, without having to cram extra-tight BASIC code into a tiny disk capacity.

Posted October 27, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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