Archive for the ‘cyborg’ Tag

Cyborg (1981)   5 comments

When NASA II told you that becoming a cyborg was a painless experience, you believed them, didn’t you? — and you volunteered. The operation was painless. Until you woke up.

Finishing off our tour of 1981 is Michael Berlyn’s Cyborg, his follow-up to Oo-Topos from earlier that year.

Cyborg is also the last adventure game from Berlyn’s own Sentient Software. In 1982 they’d publish two action games (Congo and Gold Rush) but never found much success and sales; Berlyn ended up at Infocom shortly after where he worked on Suspended, Infidel, and Cutthroats before making many more games for other companies (he was rather notably the inventor of Bubsy during the early 90s mascot craze).

From Mobygames.

Berlyn’s game-writing career started immediately after he had published three novels (I didn’t know about his horror novel Blight when I was writing about him last, it was under a pen name). His book #3, rather relevant to the game here, is The Integrated Man (“In a future where minds are enslaved by computer chips, one man seeks revenge.”) Oo-topos didn’t really fulfill the promise of someone taking the sensibilities of novel-writing directly to games — it’s a hunt-the-treasure game at its core with gobs of mazes — but Cyborg is much more promising right off the start as it plays directly with the ideas of the novel.

Half of your body was gone, sent to the organ bank for people who needed transplants. The other half was merged with a mechanical construct of incredible complexity and sophistication. That would have been barely tolerable if NASA II had left it at that, but they also implanted an electronic brain in your skull.

The game quite intentionally tries to have the interface — and the typical problems of being misunderstood by a parser — part of the world-universe itself.

All room descriptions are given with the pronoun “we”. The command “inventory” doesn’t work


and instead BODY SCAN will reveal the protagonist’s possessions. AREA SCAN or just SCAN is used to look at a room description, and MEDICAL SCAN gives the rather crucial CYBORG and BIO levels.

The gimmick of disabling what were then already-established commands like INVENTORY reminds me a little of Nick Montfort’s first game, Winchester’s Nightmare (1999), which disabled abbreviations for literary effect. It doesn’t feel as painful a removal in Cyborg simply because it does fit so smoothly into the narrative frame, even if BODY SCAN is longer to type than I.

The health levels start degrading as you move around so they represent this game’s equivalent of a “light timer” or “hunger timer”. I don’t know how tight the timers are; the game starts fairly open so I’ve not got a “mainline” save game I’m using yet anyway. You start in a 5 by 5 area that is “outdoors” but clearly not outdoors.

For the “clearly not outdoors” part, some room descriptions may help:




I’m guessing where in an artificial spaceship environment of some sort? Despite the NASA II text I quoted earlier (which goes on and on a bit more) the game is vague on details on how we got where we are other than there was some sort of enigmatic malfunction. Quasi-amnesia, I suppose, which works well for a game, since it means the act of exploring is part of the plot. The vivid text helps too:


(“From horizon to horizon” is both lovely and strange, and short phrases after — “the air is still”, “the sky cloudless”, “the forest silent” — are arranged almost poetically.)

So, good first impressions so far! What I can’t do yet is report if gameplay has improved over Oo-Topos, because I have yet to solve a puzzle. I managed to gather a MICRO-LASER, a SHOULDER HARNESS, and a MICROFICHE (with text too tiny to read) but have only so far been able to apply the laser to shoot at a snake who randomly appears and who I’m not sure I’m even supposed to be shooting:

In the forest area, in addition to the hungry lizard from the opening room, I’ve mainly worried about a tangled string attached to some trees I haven’t been able to pick up (that I’m sure is supposed to be used for some puzzle or another). The main sticking points are through the “dimensional doors” or whatnot with more spaceship-feeling areas. There’s a dark area (and no light source), two places that seem to do some sort of identity scan (and me with no card), a vending machine (and me with nothing to put in the slot). I’m still early in the game so I don’t know if these obstacles will be easy or hard, but at least the world feels vibrant enough that exploring isn’t a chore even if I’m not making real progress yet.

Posted December 5, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Cyborg: Food for the Truth   2 comments

Only incremental progress since last time (and I have been taking whacks at the game at odd hours all week) but part of it had to do with what may or may not be bugs.

From Schuette’s Book of Adventure Games.

The very first room had a lizard asking for “food for the truth”. I didn’t spend an overly long time agonizing here — I figured food would surface eventually — but Voltgloss mentioned there was a puzzle that didn’t work at all on the Apple version of the game, and when I investigated further I found out it was this one. Specifically, there’s a location that mentions “insects” in the description where you can GET INSECTS, but it does not work in the Apple version of the game. Here’s a screenshot from the C64 version:

Unfortunately, this means I have to start thinking about objects I might be able to take mentioned as the general part of a room description, rather than separated into their own lines. Ugh.

You can then talk to the lizard (“ASK LIZARD”) and get some information which mostly seems to be for plot flair, but it was still worth going through the effort:

The lizard also confirms the forest is “purely an illusion” and mentions it arrived where it did “through a terrible catastrophe” and that “zoological specimens” have escaped their cages and “the robot is worst of all”.

Switching back to the Apple version (because I’m stubborn, and also I haven’t found a good C64 emulator that handles “turbo mode” well without also making keyboard presses too fast and Cyborg runs incredibly slow) I still was quite stuck. I had noticed that I could WEAR the micro-laser in order to shoot it and the shoulder harness could be worn as well, and with the laser I could shoot at the hostile snake and “cut” the string I found tied in the forest into smaller pieces of string, but I was otherwise combing over every location making sure I hadn’t missed anything.

I decided to try HELP because it felt like it was meant as an in-game resource and not an external “giving up” — this lets you “talk” with the computer you are merged with to get advice. Most places were not terribly helpful, and some hints I knew already, like a spot in the northeast had a tree that was climbable (but I kept slipping when trying to climb it). Oddly, one hint seemed to be misplaced.


This happened to the location just north of where I think it should have been.

The path to the “little, shelved room” isn’t necessarily described, but I was blindly trying room exits at the time so I found it almost right away in my first session.

I maybe should have internalized this as a general pattern. There was another hint when climbing a ramp (the same one that has the insects) that there seems to be something below, but if you try to CLIMB DOWN you go splat and die. I tried tying the string into some sort of rope (it was described as strong, so maybe?) but otherwise had no luck so figured this was a puzzle for when I got an object later. But no: this was pretty much required as the next step in the game. But you don’t climb down where the hint is given, but rather one position off from it.

If this was the only place in the game where this happened, I might say the hint was just trying to be sneaky and force the player to think about another location to get down from the same place, but since the other hint location is clearly erroneous, I’m going to guess this one was an error too.

Past the glitch I found some sneakers, matches, a black plastic cube, a power-pack (this helps keep the “your health is reducing” timer at bay) and a stepladder (which helps you get back up to the ramp again).

I also found what was entirely a “flavor maze” when I tried to leave the clearing in an odd direction. The rooms seem to be there entirely just to get the player lost, but I still had to go through the effort of dropping items and testing every direction because I wasn’t sure there wasn’t going to be a hidden item.

I then used the pieces of string I had failed to turn into a rope to make the sneakers wearable, and was able to climb up the tree to find a “strange piece of fruit”.

On a hunch, I took the fruit back to the lizard and tried to give that (rather than insects) and found it worked! Maybe the insects were intended as an alternate solution?

Posted December 12, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Cyborg: A Beautiful Planet, Definitely Not Earth   1 comment

After a couple stumbling blocks mainly having to do with the game not adequately conveying what was going on (and one admittedly good puzzle) I managed to break into a wide-open area and get quite a lot done. Fairly sure I’m close to the finale.

From an eBay auction.

Last time I left off I had acquired sneakers (with strings made into shoelaces), some matches, an “ultrafiche” with words too tiny to read, and a black plastic cube. I also had found a stepladder which was currently underneath a ramp but since I needed it to get up to the ramp I wasn’t able to pick it back up again.

I wasn’t sure what to tackle yet. I had a number of narrow slots I still couldn’t make work, and two points where I was scanned and rejected from entering. Just on a whim, I tried one of them, not expecting to make it through.

This was a new area. Still confused, I stepped back, took off the sneakers, and tried again — the sneakers were what let me enter! Very strange (although there’s something decently clever I was missing at the time).

The gymnasium I had entered was small, and in addition to the cabinet I was unable to interact with there was a trapdoor I found on the ceiling.

Given both KICK and HIT also did not work (“OW! THAT HURT!”), so you would normally assume brute force doesn’t work here, right? I found out (straight from a walkthrough) that SMASH is parsed as an entirely different verb. (I already ranted about a similar situation in Asylum so I’ll just link to there.) This led up to a room where a female lizard was hiding (of the same kind that started the game) but was “quaking with fear”. Some failed attempts and frustration led me to just check the walkthrough again while I had it open and find out that you can PET LIZARD.

I … what? I admit they are described as “tiny lizards” so I guess it makes some sense, but given they are sentient and talking, I would not have thought to treat them like cats. Going through this gives the same conversation choices as before:

The only other advice is to “stay away from Smada” who turns out to be a berserk cleaning robot.

I think this whole exchange is optional and is just for more plot color. After a bit more thrashing in frustration I found out back at the cabinet of steam that I could climb it. (I visualized it as something smaller — it says MASSIVE cabinet so I guess that’s my fault, been even exceedingly large cabinets I’ve come across in real life don’t seem to be the sorts of things you can climb.)

This led me to a mini-droid and some lenses. The lenses allowed seeing in the dark (no more concern about matches for a light source, although they get used for fire later) and the mini-droid becomes our protaganist’s buddy, nestling itself on a “shoulder harness” and making comments as you go through rooms. I’m reminded quite a bit of Floyd from Planetfall.

I was still left with some places I couldn’t get into. The mysterious black cube I had been carrying along I had tried to OPEN at one point and I should have known (since it didn’t give a generic failure message) I should think about it more carefully; the game said it didn’t have any obvious way of opening it. The trick is to CUT CUBE (with the laser) and then an id card falls out. The somewhat canny thing here is that I’m fairly sure we had been using it all along to get into the gymnasium, but since we’re just scanned, it didn’t matter we didn’t know it was in the cube! What the ID card does now allow is operating the various “narrow slots” I had been having to skip.

One in particular linked the top of the ramp to the area where I got the stepladder, so I was able to retrieve the stepladder. (Even if I didn’t know the stepladder was going to be needed again, the “structural solving” of having the mechanism to return made it essentially guaranteed the ladder was going to be necessary.)

I also then was able to get into the “detox” area mentioned in my previous screenshot, which break opens the game to a somewhat vast section.

A “zoomed out” view of the new areas.

You end up in a shaft that you can climb down to multiple levels. One level just has a dead end (not quite sure if it is meaningful or just a read herring). The second level links to a medical area, an airlock, and a bridge; the third level goes to some dorms, an engineering bay with “sleepers”, and a crashed alien ship in rubble. I gave away a little bit of the secrets just from that description, so let me just jump straight to the


which is near the bridge. I put the ultrafiche I had been toting around and the ID card in, and got what was more or less a complete explanation as to what happened.

So our semi-amnesiac protagonist has been — using their cyborg skills — captaining a space vessel. They were orbiting a planet when their vessel ran into an alien ship (the one with the lizards). Our objective (??) is to fix and land the ship.

I did say the bridge was nearby, so let’s visit there next, using the ladder toted from all the way across the map.


There’s lots of dials and viewscreens.

I assume the cleaning robot and hole in the ship need to be resolved before winning (I’ve done both, I’ll get to them in a moment). There’s also a dial that says something about waking the sleepers that is broken and is currently my nemesis (I’ll get that last).

To resolve the hole in the ship requires going to


I fortunately discovered this section after the bridge, otherwise I would be mightily confused. I’m still a bit confused.

Nearby the airlock.

After having our droid friend get a space suit for us, we can go to the airlock and push a button to go outside and play an action sequence. It isn’t the first one ever in an adventure game (that’d be Battlestar) but I believe it is the first in a game intended for home computers.

I get the feeling it isn’t meant to be hyper-action-y as much as “decipher what’s going on”, like The Prisoner. You’re given commands as shown in the screenshot. What took me a while to realize is that your display (when not on this overall map screen) is the entire screen filled with some color, either black (if you’re looking at space) white (if you’re looking at hull or purple (if you’re looking at what turns out to be the damaged spot).

This means what is actually moving in the game is the numbers on the bottom, since for the most part the screen stays the same color as you’re spacewalking along the outside of the ship. It feels a little bit like playing the old Lunar Lander game in that way. On the computer model I was emulating the numbers moved rather fast (even at “realistic speed”) so it took a couple tries before I hit placing the patch at the right moment (as the spacesuit passes by the “purple” spot). Still, the main problem was deciphering what all this meant, so I guess it sort of counts as a puzzle, in a meta way, more than a twitch-fingers sequence.

I was still quite glad to get the sequence over with. You’re then informed the ship has been safely patched and the image on the bridge changes. I don’t know what the consequence of not patching is (was there a hidden timer? will the ship get torn apart trying to land?)

With that done, I turned my attention to


The droid has a unique piece of chatter for each room.

This is where the killer robot, which I had been hearing long about (both lizards mention it) and I had seen on the bridge monitors. I was looking forward to some sort of tricky puzzle confrontation … and I was able to blast it immediately with my micro-laser. I have no idea what the big deal was, except for the fact I’m guessing I may have softlocked the game here (maybe bait the cleaning robot into following me somewhere that it ends up cleaning accidentally…?) The iguana just past was honestly a bit trickier.

It was playing with something but bored. Using cat-logic, you take the strings off the sneakers (you don’t need them any more, I hope) and hand them over as a toy, letting you take the item it was playing with a (a sleeper dial auto-repair manual). I like the puzzle finesse here in that the string does not feel like the sort of item that should be re-used, as it was combined with another object. This led to a GIVE ITEM TO NPC puzzle being actually clever.

The last bit of major progress I made was with


This is relatively straightforward: there’s some rubble you can’t pass and a crashed alien ship (the one mentioned in the microfiche message). Back in the medical area you can fill a beaker with liquid oxygen, then pour the oxygen, light a match, and BOOM.

The clever finesse is letting you play — and kill yourself — with the liquid oxygen earlier. There’s a “grill” where the droid asks about “barbeque?” so I took the oxygen over to the grill and (without setting the oxygen down first) tried LIGHT MATCH to reach an ignominious death. But the death was helpful! This made it easy to realize I needed to make an explosion when it was needed.

Fortunately, the ship is unscathed, and I was able to pick up a small CPU.

Other than that, I’m fairly stuck — I’ve been collecting items that feel like they fix something (some wire in the open, a “power crystal”, the manual the iguana had) but I don’t have an obvious hole or outlet to put things in. READ MANUAL just says I can’t. Trying to FIX DIAL back on the bridge while holding the items says I can’t. (Am I missing items, or am I doing the procedure wrong?)

There’s also a locker I haven’t been able to open and a “cylinder” in the medical area with a lever that doesn’t work (it is supposed to heal people who are inside). I suspect I’m semi-stuck on just parser issues, but there’s likely a few tricky puzzles to sew things up. The end of 1981 approaches!

Posted December 14, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Cyborg: The Human Race Will Continue   1 comment

A winner is me. Or perhaps, us. Or the whole human race, now living in harmony with hyperintelligent lizards. As usual, this won’t make much sense without having read my prior posts on Cyborg first.

A portion of the cover of the Macintosh version of the game. From Mobygames.

I was definitely close. I was still underusing the “SMASH” verb.

The cleaner robot that I had destroyed wasn’t just an obstacle — it held something very, very, useful:

The set included some “tools” and a “permanent power cell” which meant the “CYBORG LEVEL” that had been constantly depleting was no longer a concern. The “tools” went back to the locker I had been unable to open and get some SOLDER.

I toted everything I had gathered up to the broken dial (for the record, the important items are a CPU, wires, solder, a power crystal, the tools, and the repair manual) and after some major fiddling (the tools and manual should be held, the other items should not be held) I managed to FIX DIAL.

After this you can TURN DIAL to wake all the sleepers. Unfortunately, you can’t go visit them, because, as the game informs you, there is risk of contamination. With the ship repaired, it felt like all I had to do was go back to the main bridge and hit the switch, and, hmm: nothing happened. No feedback as to what went wrong, either.

I baffled about this for a bit. I did know I missed one thing — back in the crashed alien ship there was someone who was wanting to talk but I had some parser struggles until I realized this was a REPTILE this time rather than a LIZARD. I was able to ASK 1 through 4 again to make conversation and find I was talking to the captain of the crashed vessel:

(I incidentally found the bread back near where the locker was, but I was never able to give it over — a reptile kept stealing it and running off I tried to drop it for the captain. It ended up not being necessary, though.)

In addition to the reassuring friendship the captain explained that any dangerous alien animals needed to be done away with before the landing procedure would work. It mentioned a “snake” which I had run into at the very start of the game — I just had happened to skip killing it in my current run because it didn’t seem useful to do so. So that was easy to mop up, but the captain also mentioned a “smada”. I thought the smada was the robot somehow but no: it’s a different creature. I had to look up where to find it: back at a “grill” (where the barbeque joke was made) you can SMASH it.

With the two enemies smashed, I was able to throw the final switch in the center of the bridge.

In terms of technical handling, the game is pretty sloppy; it seems like what Michael Berlyn needed was to join forces with a company with a better parser and play-testers and a faster system that could handle his ambitious ideas; unlike most times where I have lamented this about a particular author, he got to follow through with this by joining up with Infocom soon after.

But focused on just the ideas: he had a plot that unveiled slowly based on conversation with characters (in menus!) with some insights being optional, but everything needing to fit together in the end to complete the game. (That is, you needed to resolve all the ship issues before landing, and it wasn’t clear what those issues were without grasping the plot.)

The parser-frame is integrated with the game concept itself as it uses “we” perspective in a sincere way. Even past a game design sense, in a science-fictional sense the conceit is intriguing, and gives a perspective on what hell it might be to be cyborg-merged with imperfect technology.

The design had a strong semblance of structure (much stronger than Oo-topos, at least) where the geography itself was used as part of the plot and it was quite easily to “mentally package” the various locations and zip around the ship trying to resolve the obstacles near the end.

The overall meta-structure. Even though the start is “wide open” there’s some “gating” through sections before reaching the “starship” sections where the plot is revealed.

In short, I’m fairly happy this was the game to end my 1981 sequence so I could go out on a positive note.

“End” in quote marks because I’m always discovering new games or just finding out their dates are wrong, and I even know of a few already that are going to probably land there; I’m using my discretion of keeping my fixed list from a few months ago so I don’t go batty worrying about missing work. Up next comes my 1981 summary, and then a few pieces of unfinished business before moving gloriously on to 1982.

Posted December 19, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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