Black Hole Adventure (1981)   4 comments

From Atarimania.

We’ve finally hit the December installment of the Softside Adventures of the Month, which (just like Around the World Adventure the month before, and Jack the Ripper from September’s selection) is credited elsewhere to Peter Kirsch. However, unlike those games, I have fair certainty the author is not Kirsch — I’ll get to why later.

Out of the various unlicensed movie rip-offs we’ve seen for All the Adventures, it’s generally been the usual nerd-cred suspects: Star Wars, Star Trek, and Alien. Dr. Who is coming, just not quite yet. Battlestar was undoubtedly the strangest with a crossover between Battlestar Galactica and Fantasy Island.

One thing I never expected to see re-imagined was the 1979 Disney movie (and box office failure) The Black Hole.

The crew of an interstellar craft discovers the long-lost Deep-Space Probe One, the Cygnus, at the edge of the vortex surrounding an immense black hole. See if you can foil the plans of Dr. Hans Reinhardt.

Softside, December 1981.

It isn’t even trying to hide the comparison, given the villain hasn’t changed names. V.I.N.CENT (the good helpful robot) and Maximilian (the big bad robot) are also both in by name, and if you don’t know what I’m talking about, this brief video clip from the movie should get you up to speed:

The Atari version of the program (although not the TRS-80 one) includes more backstory which is just a simplification of the movie: you are captain of the Palomino (and it is just you, although maybe there are crew members staying on the ship), and you find the ship Cygnus around a black hole. The ship had vanished decades earlier with its captain Dr. Hans Reinhardt. You land to find the ship controlled only by the Doctor and some robots. Your job is to escape.

(The robots in the movie are really just humans, who were “lobotomized” into drones in a neo-Dr.-Who-Cybermen sort of way.)

Having said all that, the game is almost entirely exploration. There’s one puzzle at the start which is gnarly.

Pushing the red button tells you that your ship is missing “fuel” and “parts” in order to blast off. This will be important later.

Specifically, the “open door to the south” is not actually open. In order to get past you need to SHOW PIN. In the process of noodling with this (before finally giving up and checking hints) I found that you can’t READ things or EXAMINE things or really interact with much anything at all. This can work, but not when you’re starting the game with a puzzle that requires flailing in place waiting for the exact right command with no clueing and a bug which makes it confusing why you’d need to be solving a puzzle in the first place.

Wrr. After that, the map opens wide for exploration, and you can go nearly everywhere:

There’s a “blaster” and some “ammunition” in one of the crew cabins you need early, because robots will eventually start randomly appearing and you need to blast them (similar to Forbidden City which we just played, but also, importantly, Dog Star Adventure with a constant stream of guards).

This is the one robot you can blast that’s fixed in place.

I gathered an inventory of random items like an IDENTIFICATION BRACELET and FRUITS AND VEGETABLES (called FOOD in the game) with no notion what they’re for. I did run across Maximilian, although he doesn’t bother you as long as you don’t try to shoot the Doctor:

The item other item that turned out to be handy was a KEY which let me get into a supply room that has ALL SORTS OF THINGS. The only place we’ve run across a similar situation (kind of) is Dog Star Adventure which, in its original BASIC type-in listing, pulled the same trick where you had to guess what items the supply room held and type them in (like GET BLASTER). That’s the same case here. Remember the FUEL and PARTS? You can find them here by typing GET FUEL and GET PARTS. Then you can take them back to the ship, drop them off, and hit the red button to blast off and win the game.

Well, sometimes. There is (according to Garry Francis) a 30% you’ll just get blasted by a laser cannon and die, and there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s just random.

There’s also some other ending involving … going into the black hole and starting a new world? You need to get BOB (another robot from the movie and the Atari intro text, but not the TRS-80 one!) who also happens to be hidden in the supply room, and apparently the “DISKETTE” in the room with Maximilian I showed a screenshot of also is useful … maybe? The game is very unclear about why certain things are happening and I really got the vague sense the author was frantically gesturing at moments from the movie they found exciting without finding an adequate way to convey that excitement in adventure game form (other than random death).

Another death that can happen, although I don’t know if it is based on randomness or just spending too many turns exploring.

Back to my original assertion this is not a Kirsch game: the parser, text layout, and general competence are quite different. I could see slacking on the third point, but Kirsch (for example) always uses “Some exits are” to list exits; this goes back to Kidnapped. He also allowed abbreviations like N/S/E/W for north/south/east/west, which this game does not (you have to type EAST in full to go east). There is no doubt in my mind this is a different author, possibly one who was using Dog Star Adventure as their base source code; that game does use the “OBVIOUS DIRECTIONS” text, plus has random guards easily changeable to robots, plus has the bizarre supply room we haven’t seen anywhere else. (Except the laundry in Escape From Colditz I guess?)

I gather this was a phase where getting a monthly schedule for Softside was hard, and so they couldn’t be too discriminating in what they published for their monthly choice. Backing up in a holistic way, the game is kind of interesting — a relatively expansive map, the inclusion of movie beats despite very little action, the alternate endings — so I can see why it made print, but it still feels like a relic of 1981 publishing practices rather than a real game.

I got this when I tried to take off when a robot was still in the room with me. The game never clarifies what the evil plans are.

Posted September 10, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “Black Hole Adventure (1981)

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  1. Hi Jason, is there any way to filter your posts by platform? Although I find all of your posts interesting, I really have a keen interest in Apple ][ adventures which is what I grew up with. I do not see any way to filter your posts by platform.

    • hmm, I should put platform tags! Maybe on a future pass. I can give you at least textually which ones are Apple II-oriented (not including some of ones that have the ports)

      1979

      Empire of the Over-Mind

      1980

      Mystery House
      Zork I
      Wizard and the Princess
      Deathmaze 5000 (I played the trs-80 one though)
      Mission: Asteroid
      The Prisoner
      G.F.S. Sorceress

      1981

      Kaves of Karkhan
      Alkemstone
      Zork II
      Birth of the Phoenix
      Adventure in Time
      The Chambers of Xenobia
      Race for Midnight
      Oo-Topos
      Demon’s Forge
      Mad Venture
      Cranston Manor Adventure (I played both the text Atari and Apple versions, they go together)
      Curse of Crowley Manor
      Cranston Manor
      Ulysses and the Golden Fleece
      Castles of Darkness
      Palace in Thunderland
      Escape from Traam
      Earthquake San Francisco 1906
      Mummy’s Curse

  2. Yeah, I’m not completely sure of where the “Peter Kirsch” reference comes from. I guess it probably originated from a lot of the Atari archives which credit him for the game. e.g. http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-400-800-xl-xe-adventure-of-the-month-no-7-black-hole-adventure_649.html

    I’m not sure where they got their information from.

    It’ll be interesting to see if the other 19 post-1981 games attributed to Peter have firmer evidence for the credits.

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