Archive for the ‘the-queen-of-phobos’ Tag

The Queen of Phobos: The Fabled Mask of Kuh-Thu-Lu   9 comments

Paul Berker has done an interview for the podcast ANTIC where he discussed Phoenix Software and Queen of Phobos.

He mentioned that the packaging for the game had “High-res graphic adventure” on the box…

…which was enough for On-Line Systems (of their Hi-Res Adventure line) to sue in California court. Unfortunately Phoenix was a small company out of Illinois so they just simply destroyed any remaining stock they had left, and Berker estimates he only made “about $2000” from the game.

His collaborator Bill Crawford passed away in 1984 so there’s no similar interview for him; Paul Berker said he might have otherwise made more games based on Crawford’s ideas. Paul went back to writing software for businesses, which had much more reliable paychecks.

I have finished the game, and it was excellent enough that before going on, I want toss down a link:

Click here to play The Queen of Phobos online

Complete spoilers follow, and you’ll need to have read prior posts for this one to make sense.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

As implied by my calling the game “excellent enough”, yes, the randomness ended up working out. This was partly due to the rogue’s gallery being less aggressive than they could be, but in a ludic sense they still gave the desired effect.

I had left off last time understanding part of the sequence I wanted:

a.) Get the nuclear weapon and the cable, and use the cable to dispose of the weapon. This is probably optional if you’re fast enough doing everything else! There’s lots of optional elements going on.

b.) Get the shovel and the map from the planet surface. Neither of these have randomized positions so no hunting is required. Again, technically optional, but the maze is randomized. I have some times just moved randomly and found the center with no effort, and sometimes go terribly lost, but I figured for my goal I needed the map.

c.) Somehow get the key from the claw machine; I hadn’t solved this yet.

d.) Use the key to open the locker in the captain’s room, which surely has a helpful item.

e.) Make it over to where the lasers are and throw the map to set the lasers off and have them shoot each other.

f.) Defeat the zombie by ???

g.) Get the mask by ???

h.) ???

i.) Profit!

With a bit more playing around with the claw machine — and a helpful warning not to hit the machine if you LOOK at it — I tried KICK MACHINE after playing, and the token came out again. (I tried this once already, but before playing, hah! I was thinking maybe I could just get the key to fall out on its own.)

By using the token a second time, I was able to get the key. Unlocking the locker gave me a … salt cube?

Not expecting much, I loaded up on some extra items (like a vibroaxe and a surgical chain-saw) with the hope that something I carried would take care of the zombie. The zombie comes out on its own so there’s no opportunity to use a command like ATTACK ZOMBIE, which should have been a clue that this would happen:

Ah yes, the well known aversion of zombies to salt. Actually, there’s a hint to this in a COOKBOOK lurking in the kitchen. You have to TURN PAGE to flip through the cookbook (something I was clued in on because it gets used in a prior Phoenix game). Page 4 states:


Moving past the zombie is the room with the mask! The mask is wired for electricity, unfortunately. Going back and exploring, I found that I could use a wrench to turn the mysterious spigot in the machine room I was having trouble with, which started dispensing electrolytes to ruin electronics. I also found a crock pot that I could use to take the liquid with me. (Note: both items are randomly distributed; I don’t know how keen the thieves are on stealing them, but I believe the wrench got moved around at least once.)

With the trap disabled, I was able to grab the mask, then die shortly after of a mysterious illness. You need to WEAR MASK to be filled with vitality and escape. Then all that’s needed is to head down to a shuttle and leave.

Note that the thieves become much more dangerous on your way out and will try to kill you. It is possible to run away but given any leeway they will do a surprise attack. On my winning run I had:

a.) found an electric crossbow which killed Dr. Hunter — the person with the sunglasses

b.) failed to find beer; however, the lizard-man and the beetle both by coincidence ended up in the same room, so I threw a gas grenade and took down both of them at the same time

c.) completely ignored the tree-person, as I couldn’t find anything to kill them; one rogue turns out to be not so bad to evade

Incidentally, after wearing the mask and going back to the central room, I found the beer and some footprints going northeast. I’m not sure what the meaning of this was. One might suspect the rogue was nearby and dropped the beer, or maybe the footprints were supposed to show you the way back? I just wandered randomly and kept going south until I found the exit.

But really, the game worked. The fact that the rogues could be killed in at least two ways or ignored was fantastic; it gave a risk-reward feel and opened the possibility to a “pacifist run” where you avoid killing any of them. (If any of them follow you into the shuttle, you don’t have time to push the launch button before they shoot you.)

There weren’t that many obstacles in the end, but that turned out to be a feature; I don’t know if the game’s central idea would have worked well for a more prolonged stay.

This suggests strongly that one of the main principles of a good roguelike-adventure is to allow alternate solutions or even skipping puzzles when randomness is involved. Also — noting that the nuclear device and cable were always in the same place — if something involves critical timing, don’t toss it in the random generator mix.

The game doesn’t quite go all the way to the fantasy of the infinitely repayable adventure, as the fundamental frame is always the same, but it does lend at least more than is typical. The wisdom it holds is good to keep in mind as the next game on my list is fully adventure-roguelike, and was completely lost to the world until quite recently.

Posted June 13, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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The Queen of Phobos: They Must Not Drink Beer Where He Comes From   Leave a comment

Softline, May, 1982.

I think I’m converging on a solution. The game can’t be too huge just on the basis of it only taking one disk side and some of the space occupied by animations. I already showed some of the zombie, here’s a selection of frames from when you jump off into space (and die):

Again, just a selection: it looks startlingly like a cutscene jumped into the game, 1990s-style. I think it’s easy to see the resemblance to, say, The Tartarian and discard the graphics as crude, but there’s some genuine craft and art design put into them.

They’re not museum-frameable, but there’s a ragged 50s-movie vibe to them. Sure, the creators were probably forced into it due to technical circumstance, but they made the most of it.

The frisbee-shaped ship has a game schema like this:

The corridor is the central travel area. To the “south” of each junction of the corridor are the main rooms (navigation, bridge, armory, etc.) To the “north” is a maze of state mazes leading to the center of the ship (and the aforementioned zombie). So unless I’m fundamentally misunderstanding something, the majority of the action plays out on the corridor. I’ve mapped it as a line, but note the two ends wrap around.

Green represents a section where you can teleport down to the planet the Phobos is orbiting. The corridor lets you go north into the “maze”-ish section but that’s where the circular aspect becomes hard to map. Fortunately mapping the maze seems to be unnecessary to winning.

Despite the ad materials mention of “randomly placed” weapons, some of the items seem to be consistent. For example, you’ll always find a SURGICAL-CHAINSAW in the surgery area. It’s possible for the thieves to filch items, but they also will sometimes drop them again; for example, Thomas S. Hunter picked up a bazooka from the planet (he hitched a ride with me through a teleporter) and dropped it off again randomly in the ship’s corridor. That’s a pity, because the bazooka doesn’t work and will blow up whoever tries to use it. Maybe I need to get him to swipe it and then provoke him so he tries to use it.

Thomas S. Hunter posing with Yuggoth.

As implied by the screenshot above, you can have two thieves in a room at once, although I’ve never seen three, which is kind of a pity, because the one item that seems to work on all the thieves — but only works once — is the gas grenade. (You need to be wearing a gasmask, but otherwise you can just throw it.) This means that it may be that all four thieves have a custom defeating-method but the grenade will work in a pinch if you can’t find a certain item or just happen to be stumped.

One of the items that defeats a thief is a case of beer. Normally it isn’t helpful…


…but the Beetle can’t resist the beer, which was apparently too much to handle.

I’m also not 100% sure you actually need to defeat all or even any of the thieves. While they sometimes follow you around they don’t attack (yet) unless you make a move first. There is some secondary havoc they must have caused behind the scenes, because there’s a thermonuclear device in an armory that is set to explode and needs disposing of. You can get a cable from near the engine of the ship, then find a gaping hole with some ship damage; attach the cable to yourself, walk out near to the hole, and toss the device.

If you don’t attach the cable before throwing the nuke, Newton kicks in and you fly into space and die.

In the department of other puzzles: there’s also a machine with a metal claw; you can put in a token, and the claw moves over and picks up a deck of cards. I suspect I need the key right next to it in the machine, but I don’t know how to fix things yet.

This is animated. It doesn’t seem to be a mini-game, but rather the cards get picked up automatically.

I’ve otherwise not got much left to fiddle with. A “spout” in a machine room needs a handle to turn; I’ve found a shovel which dug up a grave on the planet…

…which has a map that leads from the captain’s quarters to the center of the ship, which is why I indicated earlier figuring out the maze was unnecessary.

Each thief is a puzzle of sorts, and it’s fun just to see what kind of combinations can happen on a fresh game, so I’m not bored of things yet. As long as things resolve fairly soon this won’t have outworn its welcome.

I can’t guarantee yet that the random aspect is solid, but the alternate method of thief-killing and the fact they are willing to drop their loot both suggest it shouldn’t be possible to get into an unsolvable situation. I did want to mention one more novelty of this game, which happens if the disk thinks you’ve copied it (that is, this is an anti-piracy measure). As observed by 4am, Apple II preservationist extraordinaire:

The melting is just what happens if the nuclear bomb goes off, so whatever time limit the bomb has (200 moves?) gets set to 1.

Posted June 12, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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The Queen of Phobos (1982)   11 comments

This one’s got a terrific high concept.

Think about the Thief in Zork I. Imagine instead of one Thief there are four of them, moving about an ancient spaceship just like you are, all of different alien races with different personalities and methods of being defeated, as everyone vies to be the first to lay their hands on a powerful ancient artifact: the legendary mask of the long-extinct Martian race, Kuh-Thu-Lu.

Our previous visits with Phoenix Software were both in 1981 with Paul Berker, who wrote Birth of the Phoenix and Adventure in Time for the Apple II. Both were text-only games; Paul returns here with The Queen of Phobos as a programmer, with graphics and design by William R. Crawford. This is Mr. Crawford’s only credited game.

From Mobygames.

I did say “graphics”, although other than the title screen…

…they’re entirely in black and white. I am hence going to turn on the “black and white TV” mode; I know the weird purple sheen that comes from the unique way Apple graphics worked may give some nostalgia, but I honestly think the black and white Apple II games usually look better in actual black and white.

A zoomed-in look at the four thieves from the cover.

The starliner Scalus III — recently appeared after more than a thousand years lost — is rumored to be the famed long-lost ship “Queen of Phobos” with a passenger roster including the Pharaoh Rahnk III of Mars. The ship had the pharoah’s mask, supposedly not just a symbol of power but a real source of power. The loss of the pharoah and the mask brough Mars into a civil war and the Martians themselves into eventual extinction.

While Earth was give right of salvage of the vessel, four thieves have boarded. Your job is to board the vessel on behalf of Earth and get to the mask before the thieves do.

I have yet to assess how much randomness the game has, but I’m serious when I say the AI seems to be like the Thief in Zork — it can go anywhere at any time. For example, upon disembarking on the Queen of Phobos, I went “north” and then “west” (apparently directions are a bit fuzzy as “north” is always towards the center of the vessel) and found an axe in a corridor. On a different playthrough I found the axe filched and one of the four thieves showed up. I ran away because I had no items.

On yet another playthrough I found no item but some beer along the next corridor. The items seems to be randomly scattered at the start but since the thieves are grabbing things, probably it is the best to not be feeling like I need to “race” for a particular item.

The thieves do seem to play hardcore, as evidenced by what happened when I went back to visit the ship I landed with. (This seems to always happen no matter the circumstances, and it means you can’t leave the same way you came in. I’m reminded of the Thief in Zork closing the trapdoor behind you.)

The map is circular, with a long corridor “outer ring” and a web of “staterooms” on the next ring.

Despite the apparent chaos, there’s definite specific puzzles going on. For example, while toting along the case of beer, I found two lasers, and with no other resources, threw one of the beers out.

Immediately afterwards I found a zombie which mauled me in dramatic animated fashion. I guess that explains why The Queen of Phobos went missing.

This one’s going to be fun to play around in. Is it going to be fun to beat, though? It depends how frustrating the randomness gets (and if there’s alternate methods for defeating particular thieves if they swipe an item that you need). So far, though, this feels less like the author felt a need to create an Adventure Game and more “here’s a story where you’re part of it”.

Posted June 9, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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