Medieval Space Warrior (1981)   Leave a comment

Another Roger M. Wilcox game to knock off the pile, this one supposedly with loose inspiration from Arthur C. Clarke.

Cover by Richard Powers.

So, in preparation, I dutifully read a synopsis and the first few chapters. One billion years in the future, so far ahead in time that exploring the universe is in the past, one city on Earth — that of Diaspar — remains, and everything is run by a Central Computer, with new generations created and controlled by the computer, except for the unique “Alvin” who has the urge to go outside the city. The environment is philosophical and religious and heavy, so I was a bit boggled when I started the game and this happened:

>EAST

You are in the middle ages on a plain. Visible items:

Evil wizard. Sealed-off castle.

Obvious exits: West

>PULL STONE

That was the keystone! The castle crumbles.
That was the Wizard’s favorite castle! He strikes you down with a magical thunder bolt!

Erm, what? That was a little sillier than I expected.

The actual solution here eluded me a bit; I tried HELP which notified me “I know the noun MAINTENANCE” which will be important later but is no use for this puzzle. Based just on pure intuition I went back to the starting “dirt hill” and started to DIG where I found a gold nugget. Giving the nugget to the wizard:

The wizard says “Thanks,” picks up the gold nugget, stretches his arms up and out to make his body look like a Y, scintillates brilliant yellow, and flies off into the distance. Unfortunately, his glasses fell off on the way up.

The game becomes a little less silly past this point, but that was some opening. Oh, and taking the keystone still collapses the castle (leaving you with an iron rod), but the wizard doesn’t see so you are able to enter the rubble, dig to reveal a forge, use the forge to sharpen the iron rod into a spear, grab a nearby log to tote along, find a teleporter to jump up to a spaceship…

All of a sudden, you feel yourself transformed into coherent light. You streak through Earth’s atmosphere as though the 200 kilometers didn’t exist, and rematerialize inside a cylindrical room.

…with an alien who starts shooting at you, and use the rod as a spear to kill the alien.

OK, only a little less silly. What follows is a tightly structured linear set of rooms that reminded me of Tanker Truck. I won’t go into the puzzles blow by blow, but you

  • shoot a second alien with the gun from the first alien
  • sing a song on a sheet (“re mi do do sol”) in order to open a portal (“sing re. sing do. etc.”); according to the author it’s the Close Encounters of the Third Kind tune
  • shoot the log with the gun to turn it into ash, which you can use to cover a “circuit protector”, and then when you try to shoot the protector, rather than the beam bouncing off it will destroy the protector
  • climb a statue marked “The Master” and find a red gem, which you can turn and “hear a grrrrsphydink from below” opening a secret storage area
  • find an alien helmet too small to fit your head, but it has purple lenses that you can pop out and put into the wizard’s glasses; the glasses help you see in a dark room later

You are in the Master’s first chamber. Visible items:

You see the glowing face of the Master.

I will have to say the puzzles were relatively smooth to solve; along the way there’s a viewscreen which compactly explains why you’re here.

An alien fleet is approaching Earth. It will arrive in 71 centons.

I never quite understood what the Master business was about — it’s the one element borrowed from City and the Stars, but only tangentially so (*) — but at least it added some nice atmosphere in the last part of the spaceship.

You are in the Master’s second chamber. Visible items:

Closed portal marked “The Master”.

At the last room there were computers which I got horribly stuck on, and had to use my one outside hint of the game.

I had forgotten about the hint inside the game about MAINTENANCE being a noun. As an aside, while adventure games have sometimes been explicit about verbs, this is the first time I’ve seen a noun be a hint, and I really wasn’t sure what to make of it. MAINTENANCE is in fact a key word:

Okay, “maintenance”
A mechanical voice intones, “PERMANENCY DEACTIVATED.”

After the maintenance mode is active, the computers can be pushed over, which I guess is how future tech works?

The computers topple over like dominos! The ship disappears at the last computer bank fails.

The game lets you know since the flagship has been destroyed (I guess that’s where we were the whole time) the fleet turns around and Earth is saved. We can then (assuming we wisely donned a space suit before destroying the ship) make it home.

Why was a person from the past needed in the first place? Best not to think about it too hard, I suppose. I almost suspect the title Medieval Space Warrior came first because it sounded cool and it was built around that.

Still, this was pretty brisk like Tanker Train, and I’m hopeful the author has shaken out the fussier puzzles out of his system. I theorize part of the reason commercial games often had absurd puzzles in this era is the feeling that if progress is “too smooth” then the game is insufficiently dense, with “not enough game” to it. $20 was not an atypical price (that’s what each Scott Adams game cost); with inflation that would be close to $60 in 2021 money. With the amount of content possible in a TRS-80 game, an “easy” game would be over in less than an hour (like Local Call for Death) — is that worth $60 of your time? Mind you, its relative smoothness might be why Local Call for a Death is superior to much of the work of the period, but I could see sheer economics would make authors reluctant. With Roger M. Wilcox’s private games, economics wasn’t a concern, but he was still emulating the games he saw, and he mentions in a comment two moments from the game are direct homages

* Touching a panel activates it, but pressing the panel causes a short-circuit. This comes DIRECTLY from Scott Adams’ _Strange Odyssey_, one of the 3 Scott Adams adventures that had a strong impact on me.

* “You hear a grrrrsphydink from below” is an homage to — perhaps even a direct quote from — _Death Dreadnought_ by Biff and Spudd Mutt. As a teenager, that game had a certain allure because the ads for it said it was “Rated R for gory descriptions”. Ooh, edgy!

(*) In the book, long before the main events start, the Master came back to Earth with his followers, and Alvin eventually finds the Master’s old spaceship as part of the plot. It’s not a flagship for an alien invasion or anything like that.

Posted June 6, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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