The Queen of Phobos (1982)   11 comments

This one’s got a terrific high concept.

Think about the Thief in Zork I. Imagine instead of one Thief there are four of them, moving about an ancient spaceship just like you are, all of different alien races with different personalities and methods of being defeated, as everyone vies to be the first to lay their hands on a powerful ancient artifact: the legendary mask of the long-extinct Martian race, Kuh-Thu-Lu.

Our previous visits with Phoenix Software were both in 1981 with Paul Berker, who wrote Birth of the Phoenix and Adventure in Time for the Apple II. Both were text-only games; Paul returns here with The Queen of Phobos as a programmer, with graphics and design by William R. Crawford. This is Mr. Crawford’s only credited game.

From Mobygames.

I did say “graphics”, although other than the title screen…

…they’re entirely in black and white. I am hence going to turn on the “black and white TV” mode; I know the weird purple sheen that comes from the unique way Apple graphics worked may give some nostalgia, but I honestly think the black and white Apple II games usually look better in actual black and white.

A zoomed-in look at the four thieves from the cover.

The starliner Scalus III — recently appeared after more than a thousand years lost — is rumored to be the famed long-lost ship “Queen of Phobos” with a passenger roster including the Pharaoh Rahnk III of Mars. The ship had the pharoah’s mask, supposedly not just a symbol of power but a real source of power. The loss of the pharoah and the mask brough Mars into a civil war and the Martians themselves into eventual extinction.

While Earth was give right of salvage of the vessel, four thieves have boarded. Your job is to board the vessel on behalf of Earth and get to the mask before the thieves do.

I have yet to assess how much randomness the game has, but I’m serious when I say the AI seems to be like the Thief in Zork — it can go anywhere at any time. For example, upon disembarking on the Queen of Phobos, I went “north” and then “west” (apparently directions are a bit fuzzy as “north” is always towards the center of the vessel) and found an axe in a corridor. On a different playthrough I found the axe filched and one of the four thieves showed up. I ran away because I had no items.

On yet another playthrough I found no item but some beer along the next corridor. The items seems to be randomly scattered at the start but since the thieves are grabbing things, probably it is the best to not be feeling like I need to “race” for a particular item.

The thieves do seem to play hardcore, as evidenced by what happened when I went back to visit the ship I landed with. (This seems to always happen no matter the circumstances, and it means you can’t leave the same way you came in. I’m reminded of the Thief in Zork closing the trapdoor behind you.)

The map is circular, with a long corridor “outer ring” and a web of “staterooms” on the next ring.

Despite the apparent chaos, there’s definite specific puzzles going on. For example, while toting along the case of beer, I found two lasers, and with no other resources, threw one of the beers out.

Immediately afterwards I found a zombie which mauled me in dramatic animated fashion. I guess that explains why The Queen of Phobos went missing.

This one’s going to be fun to play around in. Is it going to be fun to beat, though? It depends how frustrating the randomness gets (and if there’s alternate methods for defeating particular thieves if they swipe an item that you need). So far, though, this feels less like the author felt a need to create an Adventure Game and more “here’s a story where you’re part of it”.

Posted June 9, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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11 responses to “The Queen of Phobos (1982)

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  1. The geography reminds me of Starcross. Took me a long time to wrap my head around the ring structure where up is towards the center because it’s spinning to create artificial gravity.

    • I seem to remember throwing in the towel early and just using the Invisiclues map when I first played (back in ’90-’91). Starcross is currently scheduled somewhere near the end of 2022 so I suppose we’ll find out soon if I’m still going to get confused.

  2. This feels like it should be a board game, even just a computer original one. Four thieves? Randomization up the wazoo? The possibility of one player getting screwed? Definite board game vibes.

    Morpheus Kitami
  3. It looks like a great concept indeed : randomisation AND independent agents.Like those heist movies with competitive teams. It can very quickly become frustrating if poorly designed (sorry, we took your quest item), of course, so I am curious to see whether they pulled it off !

  4. Re: the title, I can’t imagine that Leather Goddesses didn’t cross your mind at some point.

    Is there any creative cross pollination between this and the more famous Infocom hand?

    • There seems to be no relation whatsoever.

      It didn’t cross my mind just because the Project has had so many name clashes (two Alien Adventures in the same year, for instance).

      Honestly, after finishing, I think the closest comparison might be Empire of the Over-Mind? Sort of? I’ll likely post tomorrow.

  5. Is that zombie attack the best-looking line art in these games so far? Earlier games (Mystery House etc.) look ridiculously crude in comparison.

    • I haven’t looked at the source code (although it is supposedly available) but it seems like they took the same style as The Tartarian and had a Real Artist (in this case, the one who also designed the game) draw it.

      Based on the title screen (which looks kind of ridiculous) I’m glad they didn’t use color. The other side effect is the animation really does move pretty fast; I played the entire game on “authentic speed” because I didn’t need to crank it any higher.

    • There are some places where its done a bit badly (those hands!), but I think that wouldn’t have really mattered in 1982 when there wasn’t much proper competition anyway.

      Morpheus Kitami

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