Archive for the ‘forbidden-planet’ Tag

Forbidden Planet (1981)   7 comments

… a desolate planet where only your skill and your talking computer will help you survive. (80 Micro, December 1981)

We’ve seen William Demas with Timequest (published by The Programmer’s Guild) and The Golden Voyage (with Scott Adams, published by Adventure International); his next two games, Forbidden Planet and Forbidden City, were published by a third company, Fantastic Software.

Fantastic Software (run by Al Loose) and the author William Demas were both located in Las Vegas. Al had come across a piece of software by Dick Barker that could provide voices to the TRS-80. According to William Demas, Al Loose “thought that it would be a great addition to an adventure game” so William went on to write two games that used voices. (Source 1, Source 2)

I’d like to say the voices make a positive addition, but it’s pretty much just the same voice over and over again asking what you want to do next. Let’s just say the sheer novelty does not overcome the annoyance. (I’ll try to get a recording so you can hear it, but I’m having technical difficulties.)

The author later ported both Planet and City to Macintosh, using the names Utopia and Futuria. From what I’ve gathered hopping back and forth between the two games, dropping the voice and adding graphics (with Mac-style tweaks to interface) are the only changes.

I think it ends up being a pretty good trade; the graphics aren’t stellar but aren’t irritating either. They pass the bar of the clunky vector-graphics into an aesthetic.

As the screens above hint, you awake from suspended animation on a spaceship in trouble, and (after some puzzle-solving) end up crash-landing on a planet.

The “puzzle solving” was a pain: you find a key that unlocks a cabinet with a rag, a tube, and a screwdriver. The screwdriver lets you get into a crawlspace with a CHARRED TUBE, as depicted here. The wires are purely a red herring and kill you if you try to take them. I tried various permutations of PUT TUBE and REPLACE TUBE but the right action is to USE RAG. This smashes the old tube (!!) so you can put in the new one.

Upon crash landing, the map opens up quite a bit more; you can see the city of Utopia right where you land (which is apparently the goal for the game).

Exploring a bit, the game oddly went into fantasy mode. I found a amulet which glowed when worn …

The forest is a small maze, but I found nothing useful upon mapping it.

… a crossbow (and some bolts), a rope (which you can tie to one of the bolts), a book that talks about “summoning” something to get to our destination, a shovel (I’ve tried DIG everywhere with no luck) and some small creatures and ogres.

One ogre is guarding a cave; you can kill it by shooting it with the crossbow (but it falls on top of you) and it ignores blasts from the disruptor (which came from the ship).

Another ogre gets mad enough to punch a wall and start following you if you shoot it.

This turns out systematically interesting, because the ogre chases you across the map. I’m not sure where to take it.

I can go through the hole it just punched, there’s a conch shell (blowing it collapses the cave, you die) and a boulder (I can’t do anything with it). However, you can also run around outside, although I haven’t found anywhere useful to go.

This phase of the game has enough open possibilities that I don’t feel like I’m stuck in a “use object on puzzle” mode (possibly with an obscure verb to boot). Maybe I get the two ogres together somehow? Can I set up a trap before hand with the crossbow and the rope? Can I survive a collapsing cave? I’m not sure yet, but it’s interesting enough to keep trying things out.

Posted April 20, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Forbidden Planet: Kishōtenketsu Revisited   7 comments

From 80 Micro, March 1981.

Slight progress. My largest chunk came from simply predicting something correctly in my last post; I could take a potshot at one ogre and lead them to a different one and they would fight.

Very satisfying! Then I could enter the new cave the ogre was guarding and get trapped in after one step away from the entrance.

A little detail here, because this moment is important in a theoretical sense, and also the Thing I Am Most Stuck On.

As the text implies, the ogres fighting are what causes the cave to collapse. This suggested to me this is one of those paused-time puzzles — where an event might normally in a fully realistic world move forward, but waits, for dramatic reasons, for the player to be in a particular position. We saw this in The Colonel’s Bequest where, despite the rapid collection of dead bodies, they waited for us to find them before they got spirited away.

However, the trigger for the cave collapsing is walking away from the initial room of the cave. That means you can walk past the fighting ogres, grab the axe and bones, then walk back away and visit other places. I had to meta-realize that the game wasn’t collapsing the cave for me so I had access to more than I originally thought. (Essentially, I transitioned from the physical logic I was using before into solving by looking at game logic.)

This is in a way bad, because it means there’s yet more items available for me to use to resolve the dilemma. For example, there’s a conch shell (left behind at the first ogre) that you can blow and causes the cave to collapse, but since you can go back and get it, can you somehow cause a “safe” cave collapse? Here’s my full item list, although I can’t carry all of the items at once:

small key (already used on spaceship, probably done)
metal plate (from spaceship)
box (from spaceship)
screwdriver (from spaceship)
old rag (from spaceship)
broken glass (from spaceship)
amulet (worn, providing light)
axe (from cave with fighting ogres)
dusty bones (from cave with fighting ogres)
old book (“Summon the Guardian of This Land and He Will Transport You Ac… The Rest of The Page Is Missing!!”)
leather bag (with three bolts)
crossbow (can use the bolts, can also tie a rope to a bolt but I haven’t found anywhere where this is helpful)
disruptor (still useful; on that screenshot above you need to zap the bat so it won’t kill you)
shovel (can be used to get a “small bowl” in the fighting-ogre cave)
hollow conch
log (took axe back to the forest and got this)
branch (ditto)

The well is refreshing, the river is poison. Either or both could be useful.

Including the items in the cave that collapses, there’s also

gold coin (although I end up giving this to a centaur)
small bowl (already mentioned, can be filled with water)
pickaxe (seems like it could be useful for digging out, but there’s no item the pickaxe can be directed at like a pile of rocks)

I’m sure I’ll make more progress next time (if nothing else, I’ll be willing to start cracking open the walkthrough) but I wanted to take a moment to return to a concept I haven’t written about since Zork I: Kishōtenketsu.

To summarize quickly, it is a 4-act structure rather than a 3-act structure:

Ki: Introduces characters and other necessary information.

Shō: Follows any lead characters, but without major changes.

Ten: Provides an unexpected development. This is the essential substitute for the climax, because it may not be a “confrontation”, but can be just an unusual change in the environment, or enigmatic development.

Ketsu: The conclusion, which unifies the original elements with the “twist”.

I theorized adventure game puzzles didn’t really fall well into a 3-act structure, which is how was seems inarguably plot-like activity sometimes is written off as “not story”.

The ogre battle seems traditional: we have two ogres that won’t let us by locations (the Setup). We can get one of them angry and follow us to other (the Confrontation), and then they’ll fight, allowing us passage (the Resolution). A clever protagonist in a fairy tale could easily encounter similar.

What doesn’t seem to fit 3-act is something I brushed over in the object list above: obtaining a log and branch. I had been puzzling over any use for the forest, despite it being a maze and me needing to spend a fair chunk of time there to map it. I had reached “ki” — seeing the forest for the first time — and “shō”, which developed the forest as an area and where I poked at its puzzle potentials without any real “change”.

This was more a pain to make than it looks because it took some fiddling to get the room placement in a way that made the links between rooms make sense.

Finally, I found the axe, the “ten” (unexpected development) which led to the “ketsu” (conclusion, obtaining the items). The whole sequence seems limp and fruitless in a climax sense but isn’t that far off the mark with 4-act (which doesn’t necessarily need a “climax”) yet this is the sort of manipulation that happens in adventure games all the time: slow discoveries that chip away at the world and increase our ability to manipulate it. When put contiguously, maybe this sequence could be part of a 3-act structure, but it doesn’t happen to the player contiguously. The complete plot, for one of my sessions, was simply finding a log and branch, and it did feel internally like a plot was moving, but when trying to explain to others the revelation, I can’t think of any way that isn’t underwhelming.

It may be adventure games deserve a structure all their own that doesn’t fall under static story lines in any sense.

Posted April 27, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Forbidden Planet: Finished!   7 comments

I’m not sure the ! mark is appropriate there, but neither is a period mark. Maybe an interrobang (‽).

Fairly shortly after I made my last post, I got by another puzzle, and then the game crashed with an “unhandled exception error”. I tried a different Mac emulator; I tried a different sequence of events; I tried downloading a fresh version of the game. At the moment, the Mac version of Forbidden Planet (Utopia) is busted, so I had to switch to TRS-80.

From the manual, via Macintosh Garden. I guess I’m never making it to Utopia.

I went back to where I was before and did find two small differences 1.) the location with a pair of creatures next to one of the ogres is entirely absent and 2.) a “hole” as described as being on top of the mountain is missing.

I think the hole at the top of the mountain is intended as an extra hint for a puzzle I’ll explain later, although it sidetracked me quite a while as I attempted to work out ways to survive going in or typing a rope to something that would let me climb in. (No addition to a game world is neutral; something may be intended to help, but can serve to distract to enough of an extent that it actually makes things worse.)

The puzzle I solved was at the location above. I decided to SWIM RIVER. I had done so before, apparently, but forgot. Normally you get dragged to the bottom of the river (making me assume at the time it was a dead end) but if you happen to be carrying the log, it lets you cross safely. (It took me multiple iterations before I realized that’s really what happened.)

In the TRS-80 version, here’s what’s on the other side:

Long anticipation for … advertising! At least that’s not the only thing. There’s a paper that says

ross the lake. Price for this service is 9 gold coins.

Combining this with the incomplete message from a book I mentioned last time:

Summon the Guardian of This Land and He Will Transport You Across the lake. Price for this service is 9 gold coins.

You might notice from the Macintosh screenshot I blew a gold coin already giving it to a centaur so it would go away. Whoops. The right action was to note that since the centaur drinks from the well sometimes, and the river is poisoned, you can transfer some water over:

Past the information on the paper is a swamp with an alligator who needs a highly specific verb.

I know WRESTLE was required in Haunt. I think there was one other game I’ve played that needed it but I’m not remembering which.

Then there’s an extremely messy scene involving a pedestal with an amphora on it. A spear trap nails you if you’re not careful, and an asp nails you if you’re not careful after that. Even if you are careful you can just die.

To explain, the bat from last time and the asp here are set to attack and kill at random. By “at random” that can mean “the first moment you see them”, meaning it is impossible to react and you have no choice but to die.

I found this the most baffling part of the game, and ended up just letting Dale Dobson’s walkthrough guide me through it. Let me just quote this one:

Dealing with the asp stumped me for quite a while. Removing the amulet and working in the dark seemed to inhibit its attack for a few moves, buying some time, but I was still dying on a regular basis. I tried to use the bowl to pour some of the poisonous river water into the amphora before shattering it, but that didn’t work. I thought perhaps the alligator would take out the snake, but they’re both more interested in attacking the player than each other. I tried to shoot the asp with the Disruptor and the crossbow, multiple times, missing on every attempt. I tried to THROW STICK, hoping it would take the asp with it, but it always just dropped the asp on the floor or ground, where it promptly attacked. What I finally worked out was that we can leave the Shrine quickly and THROW ASP / IN SWAMP. Whew!

Your services are most appreciated.

This gets you a stash of 7 coins. Combined with the one gold coin (that you have to not give to the centaur) this makes for 8 coins. The 9th one as required by the instructions isn’t hard to find but it requires escaping the cave first.

I originally assumed escape would be “through”, but no, it’s way back at the start. Remember what I said about the small hole at the top of the mountain being a hint? If you LOOK UP in the starting room you can see a hole in the ceiling.

I really ought to not be getting tripped up by that any more. LOOK UP has been a thing; it showed up in Nuclear Sub for instance. It’s still very much an anti-pattern against normal gameplay but I should still toss it somewhere in my How to Beat Moderately Unfair Text Adventures toolbox.

Anyway, knowing there was a hole up and remembering my fussing about with a crossbow bolt attached to a rope, I finally knew where that was meant to be used, but I still had to start the whole section over again. You see, the inventory limit is *very* tight and I had the crossbow outside of the collapsed cave. Time for another restart!

The logistics here are cruel. You have to heavily leverage the fact the cave only collapses when you walk farther in the entrance. You can bring a crossbow, bolt, and rope inside, and drop them at that entrance, and then go back and retrieve any other materials you need. Also, once you’ve finally used the crossbow appropriately and climbed out of the cave, you find out the rope has broken and so it was a one-way trip. That means you also can’t take any unessential materials on the cave expedition, like the conch shell. The upshot is you can only bring in exactly the objects needed for solving puzzles, because there are enough items you find that need to be retrieved (including a pickaxe) that you otherwise won’t have the space to take everything back out of the cave.

(In practical essence, I get the impression the author was thinking from their perspective rather than the player, here. The player doesn’t know which items are essential and has to carry multiple loads if they’re taking everything. Once you know exactly which items get used where the logistics aren’t as bad.)

Whew. After getting out, the rest is pretty straightforward as long as you understand the “summon the guardian” message. There’s one uninvestigated boulder — the pickaxe works — and it yields the 9th gold coin. Then you can go back to the river where you crash landed and blow the conch horn safely.

The no-win situations where an enemy reacts before you can even solve a puzzle were clearly a misstep. I found the inventory logistics to be the second-biggest pain. Looming over everything, though, was the parser. It just wasn’t quite adequate for the task. We had USE RAG to mean “break the glass tube that is already slotted in with this rag”. We had the trick where the game breaks a command into two parts


At what? Like: “AT TREE”


but that counts as two commands, and at least twice I died to the bat because I got the first command in but not the second. (I later discovered that just typing AT BAT works to zap it.) We needed to convey actions like scooping water from a river and transferring it to a well; of taking an asp and tossing it specifically directed into a nearby swamp. The parser made conveying them incredibly awkward. I got the strong sense Demas was working with good ideas and a nicely dynamic sense of puzzle design, but the actual implementation reduced the strength of the experience.

There’s still one more Demas game to go, as advertised: entering the city across the river. I’ll be saving it for closer to the end of 1981; it does seem to have squeaked into the year but only at the very end, plus that gives me time to diagnose my Mac woes and see if I can at least go back to nice graphics for the sequel.

Had to give up on this one after reaching the bat-infested cave. Was never granted the opportunity to defend myself as no amount of random attempts allowed me to move South of the main entrance without being instantaneously smitten by a blood-thirsty bat (and I did attempt this a good 20 times or so to no avail).

— From an anonymous commenter to the Gaming after 40 post

Posted April 28, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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