Archive for the ‘planet-of-death’ Tag

Planet of Death: Finished!   36 comments

Planet of Death was the first a very long line of games for Spectrum computers, and consequently provokes enough nostalgia that there’s both an Android remake and an iPhone remake.

Planet of Death was a technical miracle straining against its original hardware.

Planet of Death ambitiously included multiple solutions for at least two of its puzzles.

Alas, that still doesn’t stop Planet of Death being a very bad game, at least in its original incarnation.

I switched to the ZX Spectrum version, the blinking in the ZX81 version got to be too much.

Last time, I was stuck trying to get a mirror from a “green man”.

I AM IN A QUIET CAVERN
THERE ARE EXITS WEST,EAST AND SOUTH
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A MIRROR
A SMALL GREEN MAN SLEEPING ON THE MIRROR

I had a failure of visualization here; I was thinking “short” in human terms but it really meant “small enough to just pick up”.

>GET MAN
UGH! HE IS ALL SLIMY

You can then set the man down and get the mirror.

The second issue I had was with a force field.

I AM IN A PASSAGE
THERE IS A FORCE FIELD TO THE SOUTH : BEWARE OF SECURITY
THERE ARE EXITS TO NORTH,EAST AND WEST
I CAN ALSO SEE : A LOUDSPEAKER WITH DANCE MUSIC COMING OUT

I needed a walkthrough. The right action is to be holding the laser gun, and then to…

>SMASH FIELD
IT HAS WEAKENED IT

..not, HIT, SHOOT, BREAK or any other logical alternatives work. Those three verbs are even understood by the game, just not here! Guess-the-verb can be slightly manageable if it’s a matter of “I clearly haven’t communicated my intentions yet, I’ll keep trying” but when the game appears to have understood an action but just ignored it, it makes puzzle-solving almost impossible.

We aren’t done yet!

>S
I CANT GO IN THAT DIRECTION
>GO FIELD
IT HAD NO EFFECT

The right way to get through is to DANCE while holding the MIRROR. If you don’t have the MIRROR you fall over, although this happens if the field has been smashed or not so it’s unclear what function the mirror is having.

>DANCE
I AM IN A LARGE HANGER
THERE IS A LOCKED DOOR TO THE WEST
THERE ARE ALSO EXITS EAST,NORTH AND SOUTH
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A SMALL BUT POWERFULL SPACE SHIP
A SLEEPING SECURITY MAN

This is near the end of the game: the goal is to be able to launch the ship and leave. Unfortunately, entering the ship right away is a trap; the ship can’t launch yet (for unclear reasons) there is no way to leave once entering.

You first need to go west into a “lift control room” with “3 switches” and a sign that says:

5,4 NO DUSTY BIN RULES

Here is an excerpt of my attempt at operating the switches:

It turns out you can just PUSH 1, PUSH 2, and PUSH 3, although they need to be done in the order 3, 2, 1.

If you’re as puzzled as I was what the DUSTY BIN reference has to do with anything, it’s from the old British game show 3-2-1. Dusty Bin is the mascot for the show.

After hitting the switches a lift opens. You can get an engine from another room (where there’s an OUT OF ORDER sign, implying the engine doesn’t work, but I guess it does) and then take it into the ship, and finally launch…

…except make sure you don’t push the MAIN button because the spaceship blows up. The AUX button works:

Let’s go back to those two puzzles with alternate solutions. You might notice nowhere above did I mention the ice block from the maze I was puzzling over in my last post. That’s because it’s an entirely optional way of going down, although one I don’t see how anyone at all would ever find in either the original ZX-81 or Spectrum versions. Here is the relevant room:

I AM IN AN ICE CAVERN
THERE IS AN EXIT TO THE EAST
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A BLOCK OF ICE

Although mentioned nowhere in the text, there also to be an exit DOWN;

>DOWN
HOW?
>WITH ICE
I AM IN A QUIET CAVERN
THERE ARE EXITS WEST,EAST AND SOUTH
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A MIRROR
A SMALL GREEN MAN SLEEPING ON THE MIRROR

(Note this only works if you’re holding the ice block — it can’t just be in the room, even though I think you’re supposed to be “riding” the ice.)

This is the same room you reach if you just go down a pit using a rope, which is not exactly a difficult puzzle. So even though the ice block represents an alternate solution, the method of solution it is used for is so obscure it might as well be a red herring instead.

Additionally, I mentioned occasionally being tossed into a prison.

I AM IN A PRISON CELL
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A LOCKED DOOR
A BARRED WINDOW
TELL ME WHAT TO DO

There are two ways to escape. You can LOOK UP (!?) which let you see the bars are loose, and then you can KICK BARS (by some miracle I came up with this verb on my own). Or if you have a gold coin from doing GO LAKE earlier (something I missed in my playthrough) you can USE COIN and that bribes … an invisible guard, I guess?

This is interesting in a theory-of-game-craft sense. Red herrings can be painful (especially when there’s a puzzle like a maze attached to reach them) so what do you do when you have alternate solutions that rely on different objects? — can alternate solutions only use objects that are easy to reach, or is it possible to make them in a way it doesn’t feel like part of the game is wasted? At the Gaming After 40 writeup, Dale Dobson finished the game without knowing what the ice and gold coin did at all, and had the exact same frustrations a real red herring would provide.

I once tried (and failed) to design a small adventure game where each puzzle had 3 or 4 solutions, but it never occurred to me until now that adding solutions, while making a particular puzzle easier, might make a game holistically more difficult. Objects intended as possible solves to early puzzles might never be applied, but the player wouldn’t know that and might fruitlessly try to use those same objects in later puzzles.

The authors clearly had a sense of what makes an adventure game interesting; alternate solutions are still pretty rare in our chronological sequence, and they at least attempted to stage “scenes” rather than arbitrary obstacles. However, as early trailblazers, it would have been hard to know how to write scenes that come across to the player in a logical way.

Take the central puzzle with the security barrier — it’s reasonable, on its own, to shoot the barrier with a gun; it’s reasonable, on its own, that dance music might prompt the music DANCE; it’s reasonable, on its own, that a MIRROR might mess with a security system somehow, but when all the parts are jammed together without logic or explanation (and the absurd verb SMASH) it makes for a dreadful puzzle. I don’t think it would have been so obviously dreadful on paper, at its inception; being aware of the effect would require realizing what the implementation would be like (and how hard the verbs would be to find).

We’re not leaving Artic Software just yet, because their next game was also released in 1981. The author is different this time; someone famous enough that there’s a good chance you’ll recognize some of his more recent work.

Posted January 9, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Planet of Death (1981)   25 comments

For All the Adventures, we’ve seen British games with Acheton, Philosopher’s Quest, and Quondam, but they were all based on a single university mainframe. The general public never saw them until later (in the case of Acheton, much later).

Planet of Death is a strong candidate for “first British commercial text adventure” (we’ll reach some more possible games eventually, but there’s not many). Given the absolute flood of UK-authored text adventures that eventually hit the market, this is a significant milestone indeed [1].

One might reasonably wonder why it took so long for the first Britventure to come out, but note the first two fully-assembled UK-manufactured home computers came out in 1980 (the Acorn Atom and the Sinclair ZX80) and both had staggeringly low memory in the base models (2K for the Atom and 1K for the ZX80) [2]. Haunted House from 1978 for the TRS-80 managed to fit in 4K but that’s more or less the required amount to reasonably fit an adventure game.

Richard Turner and Chris Thornton founded Artic Computing in 1980; Richard had a choice between a disco party and a ZX80 for his 18th birthday, and he chose the computer (source). In 1981 the duo released the first of what was to be a series of eight adventures.

Via ZX81stuff. As the cover art implies, a 16K memory expansion was needed for it to work.

The version I played was for the follow-up ZX81, but on both the ZX80 and ZX81 there was the issue of no video card, and … allow me to just have Kevin Gifford take over.

Since the computer’s video signal was generated by the Z80 processor, whenever you overtaxed the system with too resource-intensive a program, you ran the risk of having the screen go all wonky and flickery. Programmers had the option of turning off video output entirely to let the CPU devote all its time to running code instead, which is what Artic Computing seems to have done for this adventure game. A lot. After every single keypress, in fact.

You can experience this yourself with this accurately rendered online version of the game. I had to avert my eyes to play it because I started to get nauseous. I contemplated putting a GIF animation of the effect but I want to be polite to my readers.

You’ve crashed on an alien planet, and your job is to escape.

The starting area has a mountain, a lake, and a maze. Of course there’s a maze.

The maze may not look so bad, but I omitted the fact that every exit not included on the map above sends you to the starting room. This is the all-or-nothing structure (as seen in, for instance, Adventure 500) which tries as hard as possible to keep a player from reaching the destination by random luck. On top of that, inside the maze, there’s an ice block, and if you don’t make it directly to the exit as fast as possible, the ice melts. (On top of being on top of that, I have no idea what to do with even the unmelted ice.)

I’m usually fairly zen about the inclusion of mazes in games, but somehow this one actively offended me. Even in slightly deranged maze configurations, there’s often a little bit of verisimilitude and structure; for example, the Zork I maze had a “lower level” and an “upper level” with a skeleton of a past adventurer at the midpoint. This means text adventure mazes are a combination of some bit of puzzle and some bit of world-building (if not outright narrative). However, the all-or-nothing structure is so blatantly anti-realist that the maze is clearly standing just as a puzzle, and since it’s a repeat of one from many, many other games, it’s not even an interesting puzzle.

…ok, enough grumbling about a five-room maze. Adjacent to the starting place there’s a rope; adjacent in another direction is a pit. You can GO DOWN followed by WITH ROPE in to get to a belowground area. I unfortunately got stuck soon after I arrived.

I AM IN A PRISON CELL
I CAN ALSO SEE :
A LOCKED DOOR
A BARRED WINDOW
TELL ME WHAT TO DO

Trying to do anything (including unlocking the door with the key!) just gets the response I CANT. I don’t know if this is meant to be a puzzle or a “trap” that is impossible to escape.

Other than that, I have to deal with

a.) a green man sleeping on a mirror; it’s possible to walk peacefully by, and it’s possible to SHOOT MAN (that breaks the mirror, which implies to me that it’s wrong)

b.) a force field with the message “BEWARE OF SECURITY”

c.) a computer with a keyboard where any command I attempt to type just gets “I CANT”

Other than the melting ice and rope I’ve managed to find BOOTS, a LASER GUN, a PIECE OF SHARP FLINT, SOME STONES, a KEY, and SLIMY GLOVES. The available verbs I’ve found are CUT, CLIMB, BREAK, OPEN, KILL, HIT, UNLOCK, JUMP, PUT, PUSH, TURN, SLEEP, WEAR, KICK, SHOOT, FIX, SAW, STAND, TYPE, CROSS, and USE. I’ve resorted to trying every verb on every item but still no luck.

I’m going to hold out and be patient a little longer, just for the historical status of this one, but I really do typically need a little variety in my parser responses to stay engaged with a game.

[1] Consider, for example, this list of over 500 games using the Quill system; while not all of them are commercial or UK-made, it gives an idea of the scale at which the games were being produced.

[2] Of course, the production (or lack thereof) of adventure games isn’t just technical, but also cultural. Sweden had the ABC 80 by 1978 which seems to be perfectly capable of running an adventure game, but as far as I can find no adventure games were written for it and the Swedish adventure market didn’t start going until later. the earliest Swedish home-computer game we know a date of is 1982. This is despite the fact the first non-English adventure game is in Swedish (but it was mainframe-only until 1986).

Posted January 6, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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