Conquest of Memory Alpha (1982)   11 comments

80 Microcomputing, the TRS-80 publication we’ve visited several times before, had an “Annual Games Issue” in August of 1982.

The general theme was type-ins of games, including today’s selection, Conquest of Memory Alpha by L. L. Myers, with biographical info at the end of his type-in being the only information about the individual we have:

L. L. Myers serves aboard a nuclear submarine in the US Navy.

Goose Creek, which the author gives as an address, has a Naval Weapons Station base.

The majority of the text, rather than being devoted to technical details (although they do get slipped in at the end), gives background for the story. The short version is that Buck Starton is kidnapped by aliens and forced to land a ship on Algar V to search for Memory Alpha which contains “the total collection of human knowledge”. For the long version, I have done a dramatic reading:

(Click here if the in-line player doesn’t work, and no, I’m not sure why I went through the work to do this. It does feel a little like honoring the effort of writing the story, even if I’m being somewhat extreme in the delivery. But also, I have trouble mentally “capturing” this large a chunk of game lore without reckoning with it directly somehow.)

Unfortunately, the game does not live up to the drama. This is only marginally-kind-of an adventure game, and definitely not an RPG even though it keeps track of XP. The closest comparison I can think of is Klondike Solitaire.

Mind you, depending on how you play Klondike the chance of winning can vary from 5% to something like … 30%? (mathematicians don’t really know) and the same thing applies here, but I had to do some source diving to come up with a strategy.

You start at the upper right corner of the map.

There’s one glitch where you can exit to the east side and reappear to the west side. Otherwise this is a straight grid structure.

In order to travel anywhere, you need to light a torch. Then, you start moving around the “outer ring” of the map, which has repetitive location names; every room in a 2 by 6 chunk at the top, for instance, is called “The Red Hills”. Along the bottom you get “The Blue Hills”; on the right you get a “Large Bleak Plain”.

Somewhere on the map, randomly, is a plastic card. You need that plastic card to get into Memory Alpha (the center red marked portion, of 4 by 4 rooms).

While you are looking for the card, you get followed by ROBOT GUARDS, BARBARIANS, and RATS, the first two who will try to hurt you. At one point you’ll need to kill and eat a rat, so that you can avoid dying of hunger halfway through the mission. This act incidentally comes with an entirely random chance of getting diseased, and if you get the disease and die, even though the game tries to “reincarnate” you there’s a bug which just sends it in a loop:

The guards and barbarians have relatively interesting behavior; the guards will actively try to follow you, and the barbarians will occasionally also move around, and both will attack at random. If you kill a barbarian (using SHOOT LASER, although you have a limited number of shots) they will give a war cry and summon another one that you will encounter in the next room. Something similar seems to happen with robot guards but I never noticed any increase in enemy amount.

Assuming you find the card at all — and you might not, since according to the BASIC source there is a 9/100 chance the card may appear inside Memory Alpha making it literally impossible to get — you need to make your way to the front door, and contend with the robot tank there. You have a grenade that has to be used (THROW GRENADE AT TANK) otherwise the tank will vaporize you trying to escape. However, the grenade only sometimes goes off. You get a second chance if you miss, but not a third chance. Missing is entirely at random.

Once inside (USE CARD, PULL LEVER), you can make your way to the northwest corner and pick up a DATA WAFER, but in all likelihood you’ve already burned too many moves searching for the cards and will run out of torch light before you can escape. If your torch is dead you simply can’t move; the game is softlocked (or at least, you can hang out until you starve to death).

This screen is before I discovered you could eat the rats.

So, to recap, getting through the game (the “regular” way) requires

a.) killing and eating a rat and hoping you don’t get diseased.

b.) randomly finding a plastic card, which may not even be available, and hoping you find it fast enough

c.) killing a tank with a grenade (and hoping it works, as you only have one grenade; you can try to skip this step but I found I took enough damage looking for the card this never worked out)

d.) grab the wafer and then make it all the way to the start without your torch light running out — hope you didn’t spend too long looking for the card!

I did manage to work out an alternative strategy. By poking at source I realized you can throw the grenade at the doors leading inside Memory Alpha instead of bothering with a card at all. That means you will get hit by the robot tank as you escape (since you can’t destroy it) but since you skip the pesky “hunt around for a card” portion of the game you will have enough health to, er, tank it.

So that means the procedure becomes

a.) kill and eat a rat still

b.) go straight for the doors and throw a grenade, hoping it goes off correctly (you still might die randomly here)

c.) grab the wafer and make it to the start

You still have a chance of dying at this moment. If a robot guard is in the location with you it has a chance of taking a last shot and killing you.

Keeping the backstory in mind, that we are working unwillingly for an alien menace, it looks like we just doomed the human race.

I confess this is slight enough of an adventure I would have been fully willing to discard it, but I do have an entry coming up where this exact game is relevant, so I needed to cover it first.

I will say at least the game was interesting in the sense of being different gameplay; as I said, it doesn’t really fall into either adventure or RPG categories. Even simulation is pushing it. But devising a strategy that optimizes the gauntlet of RNG was at least vaguely satisfying.

The author clearly had some ambitions in terms of trying to “simulate a story” as opposed to dropping a bunch of superfluous puzzles in the player’s path. I do find a game where on some playthroughs you are required to fail by mere random chance kind of intriguing, but only in a meta art-gallery sense; it’s more fun to talk about than to play.

Posted September 26, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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11 responses to “Conquest of Memory Alpha (1982)

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  1. The later 1983 C64 game, ‘Assault on Memory Alpha’, appears to be heavily based on this one; with a few extra elements added. That one was programmed by Pete Lobl of American Peripherals and touted in a review in the Midnite Software Gazette issue 12 as “The first adventure game commercially available for the 64.” (Which I think might be at least a little unlikely, given the ease of porting titles from the PET and VIC-20)

    • I guess one of my 1983 tasks will be figuring out which C64 game was the first!

      • It’s not ever something I’ve looked into but there must’ve been commercial adventures that came out for the C64 before the end of 1982… someone on Facebook was saying that they were porting over some PET/VIC20 BASIC adventures in the months before the C64 was released to the general public.

        (I’m not sure of the exact date on Assault on Memory Alpha either. I think the earliest reference we have so far is that Midnite Software Gazette mention, which was from the March/April 1983 issue… so it might’ve been a 1982 game too. I’d sort of expect that if their assertion it was the “first commercial C64 adventure” was true.)

      • (Edit: Ah, it does say 1983 in the ‘Assault’ listing)

  2. The game mechanics is interesting, though the author should’ve had foreseen certain probabilities such as the card ending inside the center of the map, etc.

    • There were clearly some unintentional things (like this poison death loop — the poison incidentally _is_ pretty rare, so he probably only tested it once). I almost think having the card be inside the building was intentional since there’s the alternate route with the grenade.

      The thing that’s really badly balanced is the torch. While you can find more than one rat, if you do any walking around the “perimeter” at all you are almost guaranteed to run out of torch life, and there’s no battery in the game. Maybe one was intended but he forgot to add it in?

      Anyway, balancing probabilities in games is one of the things I think about for my day job, so this was weirdly appealing in the end at least as a “how would I fix this” exercise.

      • ‘Assault’ has a clear torch battery-life level, which may help but, I guess, only if it’s a little more generous about how much juice you start out with. ‘Assault’ adds “chameleons” and “computer technicians” into the mix. There’s a skill level selector too, which affects the number of guards etc. For some reason it also adds some riddles to answer at the end.

      • There’s a computer tech here too (I didn’t mention him because he really does nothing other than get irritated if you talk to much and mysteriously fry you with a button on a box).

        No Chameleons though.

      • A computer tech in both adventures? That’s maybe like some kind of signature?
        > he really does nothing other than get irritated if you talk too much
        Funny!! :-D

      • ‘Assault on Memory Alpha’ seems to be just an uncredited port of ‘Conquest of Memory Alpha’ to the C64 with a few extra tweaks. It’s amazing how many TRS-80 adventures found their way onto other systems with a different title and completely different “authors”.

        (The adventures from the Captain 80 book are particularly “well-travelled” and have caused me many (many) hours of headaches!)

  3. Pingback: Dungeon from An Introduction to BASIC (1982) | Renga in Blue

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