Operation: Sabotage (1982)   4 comments

It is the year 2101 and war has broken out between Earth and the distant planet Zekloke. This alien power has established a large military complex on Mars which will soon become a great danger to Earth. Hidden in the massive installation are several secret documents containing the plans for an incredible defense shield — strong enough to stop an entire fleet of spacecraft.

You are a special agent and have just succeeded in sneaking into the alien complex. Your mission is to destroy this threat to mankind and return with plans for the powerful defense shield. The outcome of this mission will decide the fate of mankind.

While we’ve had regular visits to Softside magazine via their Adventure of the Month series, that was a “side series” distributed on disk and tape. They were still printing games in their pages, and Operation: Sabotage by Ray Sato was printed three times: first in their August 1982 issue, again in their December 1982 issue (for different platforms) and yet again in their Best of Softside collection.

The original platform was TRS-80, but I played the Apple version, as the type-in version was recently uploaded by eientei (who normally types in unpreserved Japanese games but I suppose wanted some variety).

The biggest breath of fresh air here is that the game is easy. This is really genuinely solvable, and if we exclude Fun House (which was for kids) and Smurf Adventure (which was public domain and had essentially no puzzles at all) it makes for the easiest game so far of 1982. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the goal seems to be to tell a story more than pose some stumpers, and the game compensates for the low puzzle difficulty by adding quite a few red herrings, so many that it is deceptive to refer to all of them by the same name. Let’s do some splitting:

Background scenery: the outdoor forest in original Crowther/Woods Adventure which you could technically think of as a maze, but mainly serves to make the outdoors feel bigger than it really is

Side events: or in some cases easter eggs, like the stabbing of Julius Caesar from Time Zone

Passive deceptions: like when Ferret had a door with a key in it that appeared to require the newspaper-under-the-door trick, but the door is genuinely unopenable; no real player thought is needed other than the willingness to shrug and move on

Active deceptions: rather than “unsolvable puzzles” this is “items that actively seem like they solve real puzzles that are real, but don’t”; referring to Ferret again, there is a gold key that doesn’t go to any locked door, with the additional catch that taking it along requires leaving behind a silver key which is required

There was once upon a time in the late 90s where I remember Internet discussions claiming that any red herrings were bad form; I think those with that opinion were excluding background scenery and possibly side events. It is the genuinely rare game that doesn’t have some bit of scenery to make the world realistic, although some of the British-style ones (like Zodiac) fit the norm. In Hamil the nearly complete lack of red herrings serves as a clue, since some locations that might “feel” like scenery in a normal game are a little easier to cope with knowing something has to be meaningful to every element.

Operation: Sabotage does all four kinds of red herrings.

Let’s get to the gameplay! To quickly re-explain the plot from the top of this post: you need to sneak into a base, steal plans for a shield, set the base to explode, and escape.

The opening room is a case in point: the blue button opens the airlock and sucks you into space. It probably is mostly a side event although I could see it being a passive deception in trying to work out how to avoid dying. There isn’t really any item or button later that indicates a need to noodle here, though.

The passage you are in then goes south, to a decontamination chamber with a blue button.

This is basically a side event; there’s some indication later of radiation, but you don’t need to deal with it at all.

Then there’s more or less an item frenzy; without doing much puzzle-solving other than getting a CROWBAR and using it to open a locked cabinet in a room immediately adjacent, you can get:

a laser pistol
a key
a computer destruct program
an electronic control baton
a black device
a calendar

There’s various other buttons you can noodle with, like an “entertainment center” with two buttons that let you turn a movie on or off, and a red button in a bio lab that unleashes a monster.

You can win after typing SHOOT MONSTER enough times (the combat seems to be purely randomized) although this entire scene is just a side event; there’s no item reward. This means that the entire first chunk of the game we are able to sneak in an enemy base with no obstacles whatsoever. The aliens from Zekloke seem to be far too heavily reliant on robots for security, which you’ll see in a moment.

One of the buttons teleports you, as above, and takes you to the second (and last) portion of the map.

The octagons on the map are where you get attacked by androids. They require a shoot-out just like with the monster (and you can randomly die, just like with the monster).

However, you don’t have to deal with the combat at all; take a look at the above screenshot. Notice we’re in the robot control room and there’s a computer. You can just SHOOT COMPUTER and it will de-activate all the security robots.

You can also find a silver pill in a medical station (I assume it helps if you get hurt, but again you don’t need to worry about it), some nitroglycerin (useless), a portable radio (useless), and an multi-room setup where you can detect radiation with the black device from earlier, push a button to unlock a nuclear reactor, another one to turn it off, and then the ability to walk in and try to blow up the computer in the room. This kills yourself and is entirely useless

This is a multi-room active deception. The nitroglycerin also seems tempting here, and the player even starts the game with a (completely useless!) plastic explosive. No, all you need to do is find the computer center and insert the “DESTRUCT PROGRAM” that had been so helpfully lying around.

The author clearly put a lot of work into the entire nuclear reactor sequence, yet also put the method of starting the base’s self-destruct mechanism right in the open, so I’m not sure what the gameplay intent was. I did like the whole nuclear sequence but I found it after I had already discovered the self-destruct.

With the self-destruct active, you can use a “LAUNCH CASETTE” from a desk to then escape.

(I like how this is just a description of how close you are to finishing your mission, rather than using an abstract score.)

To get the plans, there’s a SAFE in the southeast corner of the map. This is the only part I was briefly stumped, as I did foolishly think the PLASTIC EXPLOSIVE would still be useful for something. (In other words, this is the one time the active deception briefly deceived me.) The game lets you try to THROW it and nothing happens, and there is no method of setting for detonation. No, you’re just supposed to take that electronic control baton from earlier and USE it. This causes the SAFE to swing open and reveal the PLANS, easy peasy.

I don’t know if the author really set to make an “easy” game or just landed on one anyway. It was refreshing to feel like the plot was mostly incidental and I could just noodle with the items given and see if I could discover some new effect with no pressure. The overall effect was definitely not of infiltrating a dangerous alien base, but honestly, after Time Zone I think I’ve proven myself in that respect and could use a vacation.

If you want to download the Apple II version, I have the original version here and a “decoded” version (which runs faster) here.

Posted April 14, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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4 responses to “Operation: Sabotage (1982)

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  1. A good gameplay, as usual.

    There is no refference to Ray Sato or Operation:Sabotage in Gaming Alexandria.

  2. Your work is amazing. I would like to see a compilation, at least a digital version. It would be worth a premium fee.

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