The Queen of Phobos: The Fabled Mask of Kuh-Thu-Lu   9 comments

Paul Berker has done an interview for the podcast ANTIC where he discussed Phoenix Software and Queen of Phobos.

He mentioned that the packaging for the game had “High-res graphic adventure” on the box…

…which was enough for On-Line Systems (of their Hi-Res Adventure line) to sue in California court. Unfortunately Phoenix was a small company out of Illinois so they just simply destroyed any remaining stock they had left, and Berker estimates he only made “about $2000” from the game.

His collaborator Bill Crawford passed away in 1984 so there’s no similar interview for him; Paul Berker said he might have otherwise made more games based on Crawford’s ideas. Paul went back to writing software for businesses, which had much more reliable paychecks.

I have finished the game, and it was excellent enough that before going on, I want toss down a link:

Click here to play The Queen of Phobos online

Complete spoilers follow, and you’ll need to have read prior posts for this one to make sense.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

As implied by my calling the game “excellent enough”, yes, the randomness ended up working out. This was partly due to the rogue’s gallery being less aggressive than they could be, but in a ludic sense they still gave the desired effect.

I had left off last time understanding part of the sequence I wanted:

a.) Get the nuclear weapon and the cable, and use the cable to dispose of the weapon. This is probably optional if you’re fast enough doing everything else! There’s lots of optional elements going on.

b.) Get the shovel and the map from the planet surface. Neither of these have randomized positions so no hunting is required. Again, technically optional, but the maze is randomized. I have some times just moved randomly and found the center with no effort, and sometimes go terribly lost, but I figured for my goal I needed the map.

c.) Somehow get the key from the claw machine; I hadn’t solved this yet.

d.) Use the key to open the locker in the captain’s room, which surely has a helpful item.

e.) Make it over to where the lasers are and throw the map to set the lasers off and have them shoot each other.

f.) Defeat the zombie by ???

g.) Get the mask by ???

h.) ???

i.) Profit!

With a bit more playing around with the claw machine — and a helpful warning not to hit the machine if you LOOK at it — I tried KICK MACHINE after playing, and the token came out again. (I tried this once already, but before playing, hah! I was thinking maybe I could just get the key to fall out on its own.)

By using the token a second time, I was able to get the key. Unlocking the locker gave me a … salt cube?

Not expecting much, I loaded up on some extra items (like a vibroaxe and a surgical chain-saw) with the hope that something I carried would take care of the zombie. The zombie comes out on its own so there’s no opportunity to use a command like ATTACK ZOMBIE, which should have been a clue that this would happen:

Ah yes, the well known aversion of zombies to salt. Actually, there’s a hint to this in a COOKBOOK lurking in the kitchen. You have to TURN PAGE to flip through the cookbook (something I was clued in on because it gets used in a prior Phoenix game). Page 4 states:

THE ZOMBIE: THE ZOMBIE WILL EAT ANYTHING, BUT ‘NO SALT’!

Moving past the zombie is the room with the mask! The mask is wired for electricity, unfortunately. Going back and exploring, I found that I could use a wrench to turn the mysterious spigot in the machine room I was having trouble with, which started dispensing electrolytes to ruin electronics. I also found a crock pot that I could use to take the liquid with me. (Note: both items are randomly distributed; I don’t know how keen the thieves are on stealing them, but I believe the wrench got moved around at least once.)

With the trap disabled, I was able to grab the mask, then die shortly after of a mysterious illness. You need to WEAR MASK to be filled with vitality and escape. Then all that’s needed is to head down to a shuttle and leave.

Note that the thieves become much more dangerous on your way out and will try to kill you. It is possible to run away but given any leeway they will do a surprise attack. On my winning run I had:

a.) found an electric crossbow which killed Dr. Hunter — the person with the sunglasses

b.) failed to find beer; however, the lizard-man and the beetle both by coincidence ended up in the same room, so I threw a gas grenade and took down both of them at the same time

c.) completely ignored the tree-person, as I couldn’t find anything to kill them; one rogue turns out to be not so bad to evade

Incidentally, after wearing the mask and going back to the central room, I found the beer and some footprints going northeast. I’m not sure what the meaning of this was. One might suspect the rogue was nearby and dropped the beer, or maybe the footprints were supposed to show you the way back? I just wandered randomly and kept going south until I found the exit.

But really, the game worked. The fact that the rogues could be killed in at least two ways or ignored was fantastic; it gave a risk-reward feel and opened the possibility to a “pacifist run” where you avoid killing any of them. (If any of them follow you into the shuttle, you don’t have time to push the launch button before they shoot you.)

There weren’t that many obstacles in the end, but that turned out to be a feature; I don’t know if the game’s central idea would have worked well for a more prolonged stay.

This suggests strongly that one of the main principles of a good roguelike-adventure is to allow alternate solutions or even skipping puzzles when randomness is involved. Also — noting that the nuclear device and cable were always in the same place — if something involves critical timing, don’t toss it in the random generator mix.

The game doesn’t quite go all the way to the fantasy of the infinitely repayable adventure, as the fundamental frame is always the same, but it does lend at least more than is typical. The wisdom it holds is good to keep in mind as the next game on my list is fully adventure-roguelike, and was completely lost to the world until quite recently.

Posted June 13, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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9 responses to “The Queen of Phobos: The Fabled Mask of Kuh-Thu-Lu

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  1. I think its a shame that these guys got dinged over the hi-res thing. Would have been really nice to see what else these guys could come up with because I can’t say I’ve seen this kind of quasi-board game adventure thing done before. Well, at least not ones that lead more board game than adventure game.

    Morpheus Kitami
  2. Thank you for the link. I have started to play and I realized this game is great.
    It’s a pitty that there aren’t any more stuff available from this company.
    I will enjoy it to the end.

    – Jade.

  3. The zombies being repelled by salt might be inspired by magical zombies from Haitan voudoun, where as I understand it flour and salt are often used to create ritual magic circles.

    • Salt is an extremely common ingredient in protective magic.

      • Fair enough. I was thinking more in terms of the typical sci-fi zombie (funky bioengineering and so forth) but the game’s manual hints the mask could be Actual Magic rather than just High Science.

  4. (can’t go any deeper in that thread, sorry) Maybe the zombies are thought of as being slimy and membranous like slugs or snails and thus vulnerable to salt? (wow, wtf. I typoed “thought” there at first instead of salt. “vulnerable to thought”.) But if you’re calling your mask “Kuh Thu Lu” then I think you’re certainly intending to evoke eldritch stuff in the mind of the player, even if there isn’t literal magic going on.

  5. Does the surgical chainsaw work on the tree person?

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