Savage Island Part 1: Exhausting Options   6 comments

I’ve been pulling out all the stops in terms of listing available verbs and puzzles, trying to be as systematic as possible. There’s a little pleasure in at least documenting things out, although it would be more enjoyable if I could solve … at least something?

Speculation is welcome from people who haven’t played before; if you have beaten this game or seen a walkthrough, please hold off on any hints for now.


52 moves: “My bones ache” message starts appearing; I’m guessing this is just physically sensing the hurricane is coming.

67 moves: “Hurricane Alexis hits island”

At this point the palm log on the beach can land (“CRASH!”), although which exact turn it happens seems to be random; sometimes it happens on move 67, but I’ve seen it happen as late as 120 or so.

It also becomes unsafe to move outside after this time, and (at random) the hurricane can kill you.

217 moves: “Getting dark”

247 moves: “Sunset”

After sunset, the room description is simply “Its too dark to see!” It’s still possible to move around (as long as you don’t go in any invalid exit directions, which causes you to trip and fall).

?? moves: “I hear cannon offshore”

I haven’t tracked how many moves this is at exactly, but it isn’t too long after sunset.

No other timed events seem to occur. It’s possible more get triggered by being able to SLEEP after sunset, but I haven’t found anywhere safe to sleep. I either get a.) blown away by the hurricane b.) eaten by wild animals or c.) both, which makes you double-dead as the excerpt below demonstrates.

Not safe
I’m attacked by wild animal
Not safe
to move in hurricane
storm lifts me out to sea

I did find one place where I could SLEEP successfully without being attacked by wild animals

West of the lake on a secluded ledge on the volcano wall

but unfortunately, this place is not safe from the hurricane so I can’t use it to wait out the storm.

It’s certainly possible the intent is to win the game within 247 moves (that’s a lot of moves for a Scott Adams game) but the hurricane hitting at 67 moves makes moving around deadly very early, so I’m not sure.


The available verbs I’ve found are


although both DRINK and EAT have glib responses

I’m a bottle baby

and KILL is highly suggestive of “don’t bother”.

If you like to kill monsters play “MACES & MAGIC”!

Nouns that work include KNIFE, BUTTON, LEVER, and KNOB, although I haven’t found any of those four in any location.

Nouns NOT included: LIGHT, LAMP, TORCH, COAL, LAVA, CANDLE, FIRE. It’s still possible there’s an aforementioned BUTTON or some such to turn on lights, but I suspect the darkness is either just simply left as darkness, or there’s some “natural geography” resolution. (I’ve thought about: the cave’s opening is to the east, and there’s a basin, so if we get water in the basin maybe on sunup the sun will reflect off the basin and shine light into the dark maze. Maybe? I’d have to survive sleeping first, though.)


Puzzle #1: Opening the coconuts
Objects/locations involved: The Coconuts start at Top of a Tree on the east beach
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: High
Description: The response to OPEN COCONUT or BREAK COCONUT is “How?” which requires a WITH (noun) response; WITH HANDS doesn’t work.

There might be an item that will work, although I’ve wondered if they could just break themselves open in the right circumstances, i.e. being blown off a tall cliff and landing where they get smashed.

Once open, I suspect they could be used as a container for water (since FILL is a verb). That would be a portable way to wash off sweat, plus something that could be used to fill the stone basin.

Puzzle #2: Handling the bear
Objects/locations involved: The bear starts in a cave, but can go outside next to the lake or deeper inside into the dark maze.
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: High
Description: The bear moves about more or less at random but will track the player if nearby. It licks and eats the player if they are sweating. Sweating can happen from either physical exertion (initially climbing the volcano) or from just being around the bear (being nervous).

The bear is described as “sickly”, and since the game is pretty spare with descriptions, that seems it should be a significant hint.

There’s some fish bones in the cave that seem like they should distract the bear, but I haven’t been able to get any reaction.

In an earlier Scott Adams game we were able to knock a bear off a cliff, so I do wonder if geography can somehow be used to our advantage; haven’t seen the bear get carried away by the wind or anything like that, though.

Puzzle #3: Digging in darkness
Objects/locations involved: The dark maze under the bear cave
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: High
Description: Last time I wrote about the dark maze, and how one of the rooms let you DIG with a response of YUCK! the first time (and only the first time). It’s faintly possible the intent is to play literal guess-the-noun to figure out what was dug up, although a way of bringing light into the cave would of course alleviate the problem.

Puzzle #4: West in the darkness
Objects/locations involved: The dark maze under the bear cave
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: Low
Description: In the same room that digging is possible, the west exit is blocked off. This may simply be the portion we can GO CREVICE to escape, but it’s faintly possible there is some obstacle in the darkness, like a crack that must be jumped over? JUMP is a strange verb in the game; you can JUMP any noun you want to, and it will just say OK. The only time I’ve seen JUMP work is a spot where you can get from the volcano area back to the opening beach.

Puzzle #5: Surviving the night
Objects/locations involved: Everywhere
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: Medium
Description: After 67 moves, hurricane-force winds start; after 247 moves, sunset hits and sleep is required to bring back the day. I haven’t found anywhere safe to sleep. It may be that there is no safe place to sleep, so the game must be beaten before sunset, or a light source (?? can’t imagine what now) needs to be found.

Puzzle #6: Sand
Objects/locations involved: The starting beach
Likeliness of being a real puzzle: Low
Description: For completeness, I should mention the opening beach has SAND. You can DIG SAND followed by WITH HANDS and get an OK message; however, nothing changes in the room. Perhaps there is a more efficient way to dig, or you need to dig at the right time?


Posted May 21, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Savage Island Part 1: Solving Too Early   10 comments

Have you ever solved a puzzle in an adventure game with a combination lock, and you had most but not all of the combination, so you said “eh, forget it” and brute force guessed the rest of the way through?

I mapped out the dark maze since last time, although I’m not sure if I was supposed to.

You might think the first step is getting some sort of light inside. However, the nouns LAMP, LIGHT, FLASHLIGHT, TORCH, FIRE, etc. are not recognized, nor any verbs that might logically go with those, suggesting that there is no light source. We have had some required-moving-in-darkness before, so it seems possible.

The bear is still on your tail, though, and while it seems to only be able to eat you (by random chance) when you have sweat, physical exertion isn’t the only way to get sweaty; just being around the bear makes you nervous and causes sweat. (This feels like a Dr. Who monster; it kills you if you show fear, and just being around it makes you fearful, but if you weren’t fearful you would have nothing to fear.)

1 is the entrance. 4 lets you GO OPENING to get back to the cave where you started.

The “FELL” bit is interesting; the game keeps says it’s dangerous to move in the dark, but you only trip if you go in one of the marked directions above. You’re able to drop items but not see them; however, you can still pick them up, so mapping was a slow process of testing a direction and trying to pick up the items I had seeded to see which one would work. Since the bear randomly kills you while all this is going on, I had a lot of reloads in this process. Sometimes the bear would kill me upon loading a saved game, so I would have to reload several times just to do any actions at all.

I did find I could DIG (followed by WITH HANDS) while in maze room #4, and the game says


and subsequently digs get no message, so presumably I found something but not what it was. This particular bit is what makes me suspect I’m not supposed to be in the maze yet at all; hard to be sure, though.

I can’t say I’m “stuck” yet; I still have been getting ideas for things to try. I haven’t experimented much with the time element, for instance — are there any other items that blow in with the wind, and can the hurricane affect the bear?

Posted May 19, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Savage Island Part 1 (1980)   6 comments

Last time we had a Scott Adams game, he tried to turn up the difficulty with Ghost Town. Savage Island Part 1 manages to barely squeak into 1980 and is the game (along with Part 2 from 1981) where Scott completely and explicitly makes things as tough as possible. From the game’s blurb:

WARNING FOR EXPERIENCED ADVENTURERS ONLY!!!! A small island in a remote ocean holds an awesome secret. Will you be the first to uncover it?

Not one, two, or three, but four exclamation marks. Just so you know it’s serious.

No treasures here: this is a game of raw survival. But … also something else? It starts with the same in media res style from Secret Mission and The Count.

Unlike those games, there aren’t any context clues to quite figure out what’s going on (unless the stone head is a more significant hint than I’m catching on to). I’m also getting some vibes from Lost, albeit three decades early (up to and including having a bear on a tropical island; we’ll get to that in a moment).

You start with a watch that tracks your number of turns taken

and it became quickly apparent to me the game is exploring the dimension of time in addition to space when a hurricane hit at turn 67.

When we talk about exploration in adventure games, we usually mean physical space, but some games — often mysteries in particular — include a sequence of events set for certain times that seems just as mappable.

So far, I have access to the opening beach…

…a volcano area…

…and an underground portion in darkness.

(NOTE: Likely entirely inaccurate.)

The volcano area has a bear who will occasionally maul/eat me if I have a smell. For example, physical exertion causes sweat. A jump in the lake will remove the sweat, but that carries its own problems (you can’t get any objects through the lake without drowning).

The darkness area is probably (?) a maze, but possibly one that is meant to be mapped when it is still dark. The bear can come in and follow you around, so simple brute force doesn’t seem to help that much (and that’s not even including the probable time limit with the hurricane).

So, in essence: I have solved exactly zero obstacles. Despite this game clearly being very hard already, I’m enjoying myself more than Ghost Town so far; there’s more direction and structure, and the presence of the hurricane means there will be at least some sort semblance of plot.

Posted May 17, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Haunted Mansion (1980)   4 comments

John O’Hare finished his trilogy (and, as far I can find, his very last text adventure) with a large dollop of atmosphere. He cut short his process of evolving from a beginner; how many artists are like that, who show glimmers of promise but decide they’ve had enough of it?

Haunted Mansion still has the cribbed-from-Scott-Adams feel going in terms of technical style and minimalism (with possibly a pinch of Greg Hassett), and it’s still a treasure hunt: gather the 20 treasures together and you win. However, this game goes all-out with environmental messages.

The BIG MAC suggests O’Hare may also have had Dog Star Adventure in mind, although you later feed it to an oyster instead of a robot.

In addition to screams, there are random black cats and spiders and footsteps and so forth.

As seen above, a ghost starts appearing that can kill you at random. You need to shoot it with a “magic gun”. Interesting design note: the ghost doesn’t start appearing until after you get the gun, so you can postpone that particular pain in the neck until late in the game. However, you do need the magic gun to defeat another enemy, so you eventually have to unleash the ghost.

The “Hubie” from the screenshot above also appears at the top of the house:

After the scene above, Hubie occasionally appears with spooky warnings (always in the attic area) but never with any real danger. It’s not a “red herring” in the classic sense. He’s there purely for “plot” (or I guess “lore”, where you happen upon backstory).

When I finished my first session with this game, I walked away thinking this might have a puzzleless game; you can get the majority of treasures without fiddling with any obstacles (other than, say, applying nearby keys to a door).

This wasn’t to hold — I even got stuck on my last treasure and needed a walkthrough — but still, the overwhelming ratio of atmosphere to puzzles put this game in the same boat as Death Dreadnaught, of all things. With a few more examples I might call this part of a legitimate adventure sub-genre (puzzle-sparse-exploration-heavy) that feels a little bit like the modern “walking simulator” genre. (Not entirely there, though! This might be one of those proto-genres an aspiring modern author could still find new territory in. Imagine taking Gone Home or Tacoma and having an optional puzzle-focused subsection.)

So, about those puzzles–

None of them are particularly hard, because there are explicit hints given in texts in the game. You might remember last time how I got tricked into thinking a tiger needed food, rather than a swift application of a sword. Here, the game quite straightforwardly says “some treasures may be weapons” and “Kill a vampire with *silver*”. One coffin + silver knife later:

There’s a hint about moving things around when stuck. This appears at first to simply hint at moving a rug to find a trapdoor. This is where the coffin above is hiding. However, there’s a second level to the hint, one I didn’t get right away: you can move the coffin to find a secret passage.

There should be a name for this, where a hint gets “used up” on an earlier, easy puzzle, but the same hint has a second application. Maybe the Secret-Within-a-Secret Technique?

The last interesting puzzle bit was not difficult, again due to the hint (“when trapped, take a drink”) but had a nice atmosphere: deep into the sub-basement there’s a pit, and beneath that pit room there’s another pit room, and then another pit room:

There’s a vial of liquid that teleports you, so drinking that leads to escape.

Oh, and the treasure I missed was rather a silly one. I had 19 treasures but hadn’t used the “SAY CBM” clue yet, so tested it on every room in the house with no luck. I checked a walkthrough; it turns out I needed to be holding the blue book it was in and the book would turn *gold* after using the magic word. Oops.

Posted May 15, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Another Fine Mess (partial)   2 comments

The downside of resisting the use of hints is the stalling that accompanies it. Rather than waiting any longer for me to finish this episode, I’ll do a work-in-progress post.

Another Fine Mess sees the Enterprise called to investigate some Elasi pirate activity and starts with the usual ship combat, but against two ships rather than one. I was stuck here for quite a while until I realized: a.) against one ship, even flying head-on, the Enterprise can tank hits better than the other ship can and b.) if you fly around for long enough Scotty will repair the vessel. So my strategy involved what wasn’t exactly a kamikaze dive, but still pretty much laying on maximum firepower on one ship without caring much about damage; then booking it away as far as I could to give the Enterprise time to return to health before taking down ship #2.

Both Elasi ships flew away and the Enterprise tracked them to a nearby star system (Harappan) which led to an unpleasant surprise.

Harry Mudd is a recurring character who appeared twice in the original series (Mudd’s Women, and I, Mudd) and described by the writer who invented him as “an interstellar con man hustling whatever he can hustle”.

This time Mr. Mudd seems to be involved in a surprisingly legitimate salvage operation on an alien ship, and has sold numerous items to various parties but, mysteriously, the Elasi pirates are demanding to know Harry’s source. Only the fact the alien ship is near a neutron ship has let Harry escape so far unscathed.

My suspicion is not that Harry tried to scam the pirates, but that he ran across something much more interesting than he realized. (Again, this is work-in-progress, so I don’t know for sure.)

Kirk points out the unfortunate reality that because Harry Mudd is involved in legitimate business under the purview of the Federation, the Enterprise is obligated to protect him. The Enterprise manages to beam the usual away team over (Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and a redshirt) but afterward is out of contact due to the neutron star.

Upon arrival, Harry Mudd himself is rummaging through supplies looking for more things to sell. The events that follow are strangely low-pressure. Essentially, you’re given free rein to roam around the ship and learn about the aliens, with minor incidents involving aforementioned intergalactic con man. While I’m sure a pressing crisis will come — probably the pirates will find the location of the alien ship — at least at the start, the gameplay involves wandering around, scanning things with a tricorder, and activating alien machines. (It’s a nice change of pace, but I’m stuck not due to some specific puzzle, but what I assume is a story trigger that hasn’t gone off.)

The fact an entire location is devoted to a special torpedo weapon with higher range than an existing known technology might be considered a tell.

My first hour on the ship consisted of wandering back and forth across the same series of three rooms without much luck. This game is very difficult when it comes to telling where exits are. In the screenshot above, for instance, there’s a door to the left hidden behind the equipment; I only found out it existed when I came the other way.

I finally came across a computer room and managed to activate it via some odd deductions of Spock involving the fact the alien species likes to organize things in sixes.

Because they have six eyes and six fingers, you see. This is one of things that’s totally plausible in reality but in story practice here felt rather goofy.

On a visit back from the computer room through a medical lab, the crew found Mudd trying to take a capsule from a medical cabinet. He was startled, tried to hide the capsule behind his back, and dropped it causing him to go into a paranoid state. Spock used the Vulcan nerve pinch to bring him down, and McCoy fixed the alien medical bed in order to treat Mudd’s condition.

Hm, I just made those events sound almost normal. In game reality, here’s what happened:

The scene with Mudd dropping the capsule happened as described. Then I tried a bunch of actions to subdue Mudd but had no luck; a phaser wouldn’t work for some reason, and McCoy said he wasn’t fast enough to apply a hypo. I ended up having to wander elsewhere without having solved the puzzle, and found a perfectly well and conscious Harry Mudd in the opening room still unloading a box. At the same time he was having a paranoid freak-out two rooms over. It took me a little while to process that this was a bug and not some futuristic twist.

Eventually I did get down to trying (click Use)-(click Spock)-(click Mudd) but Spock just sort of saunters over casually and applies the nerve pinch, so I’m not sure why McCoy or a phaser wouldn’t have worked. Spock then moves Mudd to the medical bed where I had to do a convoluted set of clicks to get to

(use McCoy on patient)
(use Pick Up on the capsules)
(use capsule just Picked up on the console below the capsules)
(then go back and use McCoy on patient)

The “Pick Up” thing threw me awry. The game essentially has 3 ways of reasonably delivering the same command but only wants to recognize one of them.

There was also a very brief scene where a temporary life support system goes awry; a repair tool from elsewhere on the ship fixed it.

Finally, I managed to operate a control panel and open a viewscreen … to see stars.

I’m sure if I go in circles enough the next story trigger will happen, otherwise, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be doing? Again, there doesn’t seem to be any pressing crisis, the only thing to worry about is the Enterprise can’t get through (so we can’t just beam off the ship at the moment).

Posted May 13, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Great Pyramid (1980)   7 comments

I decided to continue with the O’Hare trilogy.

Adventure 1: Cavern of Riches
Adventure 2: The Great Pyramid <—
Adventure 3: Haunted Mansion

Last time we saw what was a mashing together of Crowther/Woods Adventure with what might literally have been the code from Scott Adams Adventureland. Everyone has to start somewhere.

As I expected, this game feels more "original" … still gathering treasures, mind you. However, it flat out tricked me for the last treasure in a way that managed to be simple and very clever at the same time.

This animation is in the 1980 PET version but not the later C64 one.

Pyramid games seem to like tricky openings, like Pyramid of Doom (1979) which kills you if you just try to walk in, or Infocom’s Infidel (1983) where I remember being stuck a long time. While I have now finished this game, I originally thought I was going to have to open with a post where I was stuck outside.

There’s a spot where you can dig and get some items (flashlight, flute, matches, crowbar, copper key) but the front of the pyramid is blocked by a brass door so the copper key doesn’t work, since the rule in videogameland is that all doors and keys must color-match.

Specifically, a backpack is buried in the desert. My grizzled-adventurer instincts were enough for me to remember to try “open backpack” multiple times.

I seriously thought for a while perhaps there was some deranged way to turn the copper into brass (I’ve come across situations before with roughly the same logic). I eventually resorted to verb-checking, by going through an old verb list I made playing Pyramid of Doom to see which ones would work.


CLIMB turned out to be the magical solution.

Mind you, “up” says YOU CAN’T GO IN THAT DIRECTION.

Eh, well. I guess the opening made me think the game might be slightly more difficult than its predecessor? For the most part, no.

There’s a mummy that you burn, a snake you play the flute for, secret passages that open to magic words given right next to them. There’s a vault and the nearby numbers 762, 112, 777 (it turns out you only need to enter the last number for the vault to open, which I guess is a low-effort way to avoid worrying about keeping track of state).

In adventure games of this era rust happens really fast.

All this dropped me into false complacency: I had gathered 11 treasures with 1 more to go. The last one was at a hungry tiger:

>FEED TIGER gave me “I have nothing to feed it.” so I knew the verb existed, I just need to find the right slab of meat or piece of bread or whatever.

I assumed I must have missed an exit somewhere (not uncommon for me), so I combed over the whole map … twice. No food. (It’s really weird to have viable food in an ancient pyramid, but adventure-game logic has led us to finding a Coke machine in the center of the Earth.)

The “hungry” thing is just a red herring. The proper solution is force. Specifically, one of the treasures is a “silver sword”.

Poor tiger, he just wanted a treat.

I never would have thought using a weapon to fight an enemy would be a puzzle worthy of stumping me for hours, but I always seem to discover new things with these games. This puzzle only could work within this particular structure: the author must have known exactly what he was doing, and how the simple frame would lull the player into falling for the red herring. (Additionally, none of the other treasures were useful as items before this point — remember, this is at the end of the game — so they weren’t even on my radar for puzzle-solving.)

Curiously, this location is *inside* the pyramid. It’s like the player is just being an interior decorator rather than the usual tomb robber.

So, kudos to Mr. O’Hare, and hopefully we’ll see some more interesting developments in his last adventure game, Haunted Mansion.

Posted May 7, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Star Trek: 25th Anniversary: Love’s Labor Jeopardized   2 comments

The next episode gave me a lot of headaches with interface issues, so I want to spend a moment going over how the interface for this game works. These kind of adventure games often get lumped together as “point-and-click” but there’s a lot of variety in what that means: pointing at what, exactly, and clicking how many times, and how exact a command is it possible to give?

Star Trek: 25th Anniversary falls squarely in the era of click-on-verb-then-click-on-object. The issues pop up most clearly with a compare-and-contrast, so let me first go over the opening screen of an entirely different game from roughly the same time, Space Quest IV.

If you move the mouse cursor to the top of the screen, the list of verbs appears as in the screenshot. You can then click on the verb you want and it becomes active. You can right click to switch between verbs (in the order they appear on the screen) and you can also click directly on the inventory if you want to use an inventory object. The last inventory object used also shows up directly on the bar.

You only need to click once to access a verb (and it’s very easy to remember where to find the verb) and at most twice to access an inventory object.

Here is the Star Trek interface:

Right-clicking brings up the “body” menu as shown above. Different parts of the body correspond to different verbs.

If you want the inventory, you click the verb you want to apply, then on a “bag” that appears which is your inventory, then pick the inventory item that you want to use.

Notice that:

1. Using the mouse to select a regular verb takes two clicks.

2. There is no right-click-to-swap-verbs feature, because the right click is already used to pull up the menu.

3. The verbs are arranged in an unusual way that makes it take a little fiddling to move to the right position. It’s also very easy to confuse “use” with “pick up”; during the first episode, I got confused which was which.

4. Inventory takes three clicks, even though the majority of the time you’re wanting “use” as the verb. The Sierra interface does require an extra click if you want to “look” at an inventory item…

…but that’s not nearly as common, so it’s sensible to “default” to use.

Note also the Sierra default makes it fairly straightforward to use one inventory item on another; click on the inventory item so the cursor “becomes” that item, then click on what you want to use it on (and the game will always give you feedback if what you’re attempting even if it doesn’t work).

In Star Trek, the pattern is (click use)-(click inventory bag)-(click the new item you want to use the first item on), so one extra click.

Now we approach the absolute worst thing about the interface.

You see, if the combination of items doesn’t work, the game simply switches what item is active to the new item. In other words, it gives no feedback whatsoever that combining items is even possible in the game! (I didn’t know it was possible until I checked the cluebook during the episode Hijacked.)

This lack of feedback carries to the regular verbs-on-objects part of the game; doing something “wrong” sometimes gets no response at all from the game, suggesting that the pixel that you’re clicking on isn’t even recognized. (Maybe you need to be holding a specific object but you’re just doing the verb “use” on its own.)

There is a saving grace: keyboard commands. I’m pressing “T” for talk and “U” for use and so forth rather than adding the extra click.

I’m still leaving one complaint out which keyboard commands do nothing to alleviate, but let me get to it in context–

Episode 3, Love’s Labor Jeopardized, starts with a message from the space station ARK7, which is being raided by Romulans past the neutral zone. ARK7 also happens to be the residence of Dr. Carol Marcus, who has an old history with Kirk.

After setting a course, the Enterprise is pounced upon by a Romulan vessel.

This leads, predictably, to ship combat (I’m guessing every episode starts with ship combat). There’s a little variety here because the Romulan ship can use its cloaking device to disappear, but I was often able to suss out which direction to shoot anyway and get some hits in.

After the combat, the Romulan ship self-destructs to avoid capture, and the Enterprise makes it to ARK7.

Upon opening hailing frequencies, we find the Romulans think the Federation is developing a bio-weapon to kill Romulans (and kind of did, by accident).

Specifically, Dr. Carol Marcus and her team were working on an experiment on the origins of life, and inadvertently made a virus in the process. (Trying to echo the plot of the movies Star Trek 2-4, I guess, and how the Klingons thought the Genesis device was designed for genocide when it was just an inadvertent side effect.)

In any case, the Romulans aren’t in good enough shape to stop the Enterprise from transporting over an away team. We don’t get any choice in the matter as to who is going: it’s still Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and a redshirt.

In the first room, there’s a computer which mentions the Oroborus Virus being harmful to Romulans … and Vulcans. Whoops! (It’s funny, with the amount of choices elsewhere, how the game forces you to put Spock into danger here.)

Now we hit the last interface complaint I’ve been saving. Spock talks about how there’s a file attached that would interest McCoy. I could not for the life of me figure out how to get McCoy to use the computer.

In prior episodes, when I wanted a crew member to do something, I used an appropriate item from the inventory. Using the science tricorder, for example, was equivalent to asking Spock to use the tricorder. Using the medical bag or medical tricorder was equivalent to asking for McCoy’s help. Here, I kept getting a response along the lines of “that doesn’t need a medical officer”. I tried painstakingly clicking every pixel on the computer, assuming there was a specific pane the game was wanting me to use.

Nope, I just had the interface wrong. Usually, Kirk is doing the actions, but if you want to specifically tell a crew member to do an action, you can click on that crew member after “use”, and then click on whatever object you want them to use. This feature wasn’t even necessary until this point in the game. Figuring this one out took me reading the relevant portion of the clue book, being still baffled, and combing through the manual to see if I missed something. This particular bit of interface is, in fact, in the manual, but it might be the first time I’ve ever had to check the manual to use an adventure point-and-click interface.

Most of the rest of the episode involves wrangling with scientific doodads in order to a.) come up with a gas that will knock out the Romulans so the away team can safely enter the lower part of the station and b.) coming up with a cure for the Ouroborus Virus. Here’s a specific moment in the process.

The Oxygen and Hydrogen are hooked up to a machine which can combine the gases together. Using it by default as is generates water. To be able to use it, the gases must first be turned on. Clicking “use” on either tank or what looks like the knob about the tank doesn’t work. I was getting no response at all.

I managed to open the gases once by trying to use the machine repeatedly and having Spock step in and open the gas valves, but then I couldn’t get them closed again afterward. Finally, I realized that a wrench from elsewhere needed to be used on the top of the tank (not the tank itself) and the right action would happen. There was no message at all about “you need a tool, you can’t open the valve by hand” or … really, anything more helpful than nothing.

Things weren’t much better even when I understood what I was doing. I needed to switch in nitrogen for oxygen; I wasn’t sure why, but the game had gone through the trouble of putting a nitrogen tank elsewhere, so I figured it had to go here. The perfectly reasonable route of (use)-(click nitrogen)-(click on oxygen) didn’t work. Eventually, I hit upon picking up the oxygen and leaving an empty gap, but I still wasn’t able to put the nitrogen in. I was clicking the nitrogen on the end of the gas valve with no luck. Roughly an hour later I realized I needed to use the nitrogen on the empty space where the oxygen had been; that is, use the item on a location where there was nothing at the location.

I’m not even going through every step, but this sort of thing happened multiple times through the episode, including with a device for making the cure where Kirk kept picking up and dropping the Ouroborus virus inside because I couldn’t figure out how to interact with it.

After much mouse-throwing and a deep reliance on the hint book (wasn’t even trying to hold back at this point) I finally got to the point where I had a cure, used it on Spock, used a knockout gas on the Romulans, freed the humans (including Carol Marcus), and finally used the cure on all the unconscious Romulans including the commander.

After curing the commander, he was gracious enough to accept that it was all a wacky misunderstanding and call the assault off. (This seems out of character from the Romulans I remember in the actual TV shows, but ok.)

Wrr. At least the episodic structure makes it feel like I have a “reset” button. I’ll try my best to approach the next episode hintless (it involves Harry Mudd, a recurring character from the original TV show).

Posted May 3, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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