Thursday, 14 May 2015

Game 54: Space Quest IV - The Time Traveler’s Ex-Girlfriend

By Joe Pranevich

Roger Wilco’s Janitorial Log #2 - After escaping from the destroyed city, I managed to snag myself one of Sludge Vohaul’s time pods. With a bit of luck, I found myself in Space Quest XII, a strange aquatic world filled with dinosaurs, sea slugs, and very attractive women. Me-from-the-future used to date one of them (go me!), but I seem to be stuck in the friend zone now. I saved her life and now she wants to go shopping? Perhaps my leaving makes sense after all...

Roger admires the view while we have a little chat...

A Change in Plans: SQ4 Bugs

In my last post on Space Quest IV, I died a lot. More than a lot, actually. It was pretty much wall-to-wall death there for a while and that wasn’t very fun for me and also probably not all that much fun to read. Several posters commented on that as being part of a “timer” issue with the specific version of SQ4 that I am playing, the version which is based on the CD-ROM version from 1992. There was some debate whether this problem was real or just because of faster computers, so I decided to get to the bottom of the situation through experimentation.

Searching the seedier corners of the internet, I located a download of the original floppy version of Space Quest IV and spent a few minutes playing it up to the beginning of my wall-to-wall deaths, to the point where I emerged from the manhole to try to sneak into the policemen’s aircraft.

Memories... I saw this screen a lot last post.

I lined up “identical” saved games in the GOG/CD-ROM version as the floppy version, ensured that the DosBox settings were exactly the same between the two of them, and checked the setting for game speed in the SQ4 control panel. With everything exactly the same, I confidently strolled out into this screen in both games and watched my fate unfold.

In the version that I have been playing, Roger is shot by the Sequel Police in around eight seconds after walking into the screen.

In the floppy version, Roger has 50 seconds before he is shot, plus he has a few seconds after the police arrive before they shoot.

A difference of a couple seconds could have been the developers increasing the difficulty level, but a 6x difference in time cannot be anything but a bug. If that is the case, it is a bug that all modern players have to deal with as the original version of SQ4 is no longer available. (Commenter Gregory Brown points out that a fan-made patch for this problem can be found here.)

So what does that mean for me? I am going to switch to the floppy version of the game, but not until sometime during or after the next post. This has the advantage of being a more “true” 1991 experience. Depending on whether I see any differences, I might do a fast recap or just continue the narrative uninterrupted. Either way, this post is based on the GOG version that I was playing before. We’ll figure out what this switch means for the PISSED rating when we get there.

Enough of this nonsense. Let’s get back to the game.

Time to explore!

At the end of the last post, Roger had boarded the Sequel Police aircraft and used it to sneak into Vohaul’s base. Once the ship lands and the guards leave, play resumes and we are able to explore. I first check out the ship, see if there is anything I can do with it here that I could not back in the city. Again, I am struck by how much simpler the icon interface is for doing things you don’t actually intend: “using” the ship causes Roger to board it again, the guards come, and we are whisked back to the planet’s surface. It seems that I can re-explore the first area at my leisure, but I do not find anything new or obvious that I missed. I do run into one of the zombies by accident, my first death of the post!

I restore back to the hangar deck and explore Sludge’s fortress. I’ll go right, first!

Round doors... is Vohaul a hobbit?

On the right side of the hangar deck is a round door with a keypad lock of some kind on it. Unfortunately, it is also well-guarded and I do not see a way to get there right now. Even with my speed turned all the way up
, I am shot on sight. Death #2. Nothing to do here, so let’s head the other way.
Did you know Infamous Adventures (the guys behind "Quest for Infamy") did a fan-remake of Space Quest II? Maybe we'll play it when we get to 2011.

The left side of the hangar is more promising: a police dispatch station. One guard stands beside a time pod, but as Roger moves into the screen a second pod appears. A sequel policeman steps out of that pod and distracts the first guard with his report. (He had been looking for me in Space Quest II.) This looks to be a great moment to sneak into the just-arrived time machine. I use my handy “hand” icon and moments later Roger is sitting in his very own time machine!

You know, this ship seems smaller on the inside.

Sitting in the pilot’s seat, I check out the interior. There’s a button on the door, a screen, a keypad with some gibberish characters above it, and some compartments that do not open (at least not yet). I get the brilliant idea to travel where the police just came from and think I can get there by just pressing “enter”, but that idea is as stupid as it seems in retrospect as I am just transported exactly back to where I am. Smooth move, Roger.

Did I miss something in my exploration of the city? or of the base? I did not find any time coord
inates, so how to do I know where to go? I press the button by the window to leave the pod, but then I remember that there are guards outside. Death #3 comes quickly and painlessly. I restore the game.

Is this copy protection? Some other puzzle? I search the manual for time codes; I even read all of the advertisements! There are a ton of places listed in the “Galaxy Galleria Mall”, but not one of the ads provides coordinates for the mall. I remember being in a mall when I played this game as a kid, so I must be going ther
e eventually. But perhaps not yet? This is where a distant memory pinged off my brain, but I am embarrassed to say that I probably would not have figured it out without that: there is no time code here. If I enter gibberish codes enough times, Roger will stumble on one that works and get the heck out of there. I try that and sure enough, a few seconds later Roger is traveling through time!

...and ruby and olive and violet and fawn
And lilac and gold and chocolate and mauve...

Are we there.. oh... yeah, we're here.

Roger lands in an alien landscape with more ledges than should be possible. Do you think it was all caused by erosion? Am I overthinking this? There’s a path to the west and a stair to the south, so I flip a coin and head south. That doesn’t take me anywhere, just to an overlook over a bunch of other stairs. There are some little piles of rocks that seem like I should be able to push down onto someone below, but nothing appears to be manipulable. Perhaps I need to explore the other side first?

She's actually just pointing at the screen and making fun of me.

Walking to the west, a shadow of a large bird passes overhead. Are the eagles coming? I’m fairly certain that was a different series. I head down the stairs and this time I see the silhouette of some heavily armed women. The music is shrill and tense so obviously something bad is about to happen. Except… nothing happens. There’s a pool of water at the bottom of the stairs (another dead end), but apparently nothing for me to do now.

I head back up the stairs. The tense music is still playing. I get the sense that someone is watching me. And then this happens:

It's a bird... It's a plane... No... actually, yes, it's a bird. Mostly.

Time out for a second, because I have to tell you that I love the animation of this scene. As you click like mad to try to figure out something to do, the designers have a ton of things happening: the background is gradually moving, Roger’s hair blows in the wind, and his poor eyes look like they are bugging out of his head. It’s a great scene and well-done. But that doesn’t stop me from clicking like mad, trying to find a way to get out of the situation. The game does helpfully tell me “don’t mess with it” when I try to get the bird to release me, which I suspect is a hint for not doing anything to cause me to fall to my death. Considering how liberal the developers are with death scenes, it is almost surprising that isn’t one.

A few moments later, the creature’s nest comes into view and I am dropped into it, shaken but not stirred. A sequel policeman, dropped seconds later, is not so lucky: he is impaled on a sharp branch and dies instantly. This is a comedy, right? I keep forgetting.

Why does this seem familiar?

And… wait a second. Haven’t we just done this? I don’t know if you remember, but our friend TBD just faced a very similar puzzle not that long ago in King’s Quest V: the roc nest. Of course, I have nothing against Sierra reusing puzzles and locations, but still…

King's Quest V did have more interesting camera angles at times.

Since I didn’t feed any eagles on my way here, I assume that this will not quite work out the same as King Graham’s experiences. Time to see what I can do! I search the guy that dropped from the sky to find a gum wrapper, but on examining it more closely I find half of a set of time coordinates! That will come in handy, if I can find the other half or figure out a way to clean off the gum. Along the way, the text of the game helpfully tells me that these are “sequel police”, which I think I already knew but cannot recall whether I knew because I remembered or because the game actually told me. They almost all have “SP” on their helmets, so that makes sense now. But I am confused about the blood. I had thought that the policemen that I had seen so far were robots, but this guy has clearly bled out. Are they cyborgs? Are some robots and others are not?

I search the rest of the nest but find nothing except a path down… by falling. Just when I expect to see yet another death screen, I land in the water and survive. Whew! As soon as I break the surface, I am surrounded: the titular Latex Babes have arrived. T
hey are armed and they have a submarine. The submarine is really the coolest part.

Uhh... take me to your leader?

A few helpful moments of exposition later, we discover that the apparent leader of the Latex Babes has some history with Roger: he apparently dumped her in the future to go pursue his dreams of not being tied down to an attractive lady from Estros. Perhaps we will find out some day, if the Space Quest series ever resumes and we get to the real events of Space Quest X. I am not going to be holding my breath, though.

Hello, Sweetie.

I am ordered to board the sub and you know, I really could. And I know I will. But I just have to see what happens if I don’t. Naturally, I die. In fact, I get an arrow in the knee… er… harpoon in the back for my trouble. Death #4, yes, but I think I expected something like that to happen. I restore and board the sub like a good ex-boyfriend.

Victory or Sovngarde!

The latex babes take me deep into the ocean to their underground lair:

Wait... you aren't a babe.

Oh God, no. No, no, no, no, no. I just had some terrible flashbacks there, I am sorry. Those rat mazes… all that backtracking to find items that I missed… I am still traumatized. I feel bad for Deimar because I just know that he’s never really going to be able to put Hugo II out of his mind. It will always be there for him, just under the surface, waiting to come out while he is playing better games.

Okay. I can breathe. Let me try again.

Not yellow.

It's as if the Bond girls all chipped in together and got themselves their own evil lair.

Once we arrive, one of the lovely Latex Babes strap Roger down to an uncomfortable-looking chair that seems like half dentist chair, half fetishist dream. There are instruments of torture nearby and the lady that is running the show looks like she’s awfully good at her job. One press of a button and Roger’s pant legs are fried clean off. And that’s when the true nature of my torture becomes clear: they are going to shave Roger’s legs. Perhaps, all the way off.

This doesn't look so bad.

Oh shit.

Suddenly, just as Roger is about to find out if it really shaves closer than a blade, a “roar” is heard in the distance: the base is being attacked by a giant sea monster. The women all flee, leaving Roger strapped into the chair and helpless against the creature. It’s like something out of a horror film. Where the heck did they get the design for this thing?

In retrospect, shaving seems nice.

Since this is an adventure game, the monster is more than a bit clumsy. Rather than eating me outright, it somehow manages to open my bonds using its long and very scary tongue. That gives me a chance to stun it using the same beam that blasted my pants off earlier. That leaves a mark and the monster seems to be momentarily stunned.


Now that I am out of the chair, I could either fight or run. I should have run to see how the monster would have killed me, but in the heroism of the moment I looked for a better way. Right near the chair, there were pressurized containers of some sort, probably oxygen or fuel tanks. I pick one up and use it on the monster, but I do not seem to do it in time. I die a martyr’s death. That makes five this post.

I restore and the next time around, I am able to push the exploding something or another into the monster’s mouth, blowing it up from the inside. It has a well-animated cartoon death and I revel in my victory. The monster slinks back into the ocean and the Latex Babes come out of hiding, acclaiming me as their hero. We apparently agree to just be friends (poor Roger) and before I know it, I’ve agreed to go shopping with the ladies. God help me.

Some days, you wish you never crawled out of your algae pool.

Yes. Yes I was.

And with that, I will end this play segment. This has been fun. While the last post felt distopian, this one feels much more like a Bond thriller. I also like the change in pace: there was less exploration and more scripted sequences. It does not hurt that the sequences are all well done graphically, either. I do not approve of all the sexism, but this was more than twenty years ago so I will cut them some slack. In the next post, I finally get back to the mall I remembered from playing as a kid. I cannot wait!

Deaths: 5 (39 total), not counting the several during my version testing
Inventory: Pocket Pal (with battery), Unstable Ordnance, Bunny (sans Battery), Jar of Goo, and one (?) Buckazoid, Gum Wrapper

Time played: 1:35
Total time: 4:35

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points:
There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

Science Fiction References Contest!

Andy_Panthro has kindly agreed to donate a game to the commenter that posts the most obscure sci-fi reference that they can find in Space Quest IV. Man, this is a game series that just takes and adapts science fiction, so it should be a lot of fun to find the little elements that I suspect I am missing. Is the sea monster from some Japanese monster movie? Are the futuristic zombies adapted from a book? Does Roger’s uniform strongly resemble one from a certain popular series? These answers or similar might win you a game, so I hope you participate.


  1. I have the Steam version (actually I think I have the GOG version too, but I have the Steam collection installed because it's the only one with the VGA sq1 remake), so I'll have to see if it has the speed issues you've run into, and I've downloaded the fan patch just in case.

    I don't think you'd miss much playing the floppy disk version though, aside from the voice acting. There are a few differences for legal reasons though! (in the mall area)

    Also: The Tex Murphy Collection is on sale at the Humble store, for a mere £1.99! Surely a bargain?

    1. Also on sale at BundleStars for $2.49.

      With Martian Memorandum coming up soon on this blog, and three of the best FMV games ever made included, can you afford NOT to buy it!

  2. If you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense - the 'sequels' are completely different games with different styles to them. (I'm banking that SQ9 was the console-only crappy one that resembled KQ8, though. Maybe an FPS.)

  3. I'd hoped to see one of them like Virtual Vixens/Space Sirens. Didn't happen though.

  4. Rather obvious answer to Andy's Scifi Reference contest: Latex Babes of Estros is a play on Leather Goddesses of Phobos.

  5. Lori and I are running a second Kickstarter for Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption at, and we hope all of you will check out the campaign. Sharing on social media will really help us.

    From what I am hearing from fellow adventure game designers, every high-end adventure game on Kickstarter has gone way over budget (Broken Age, all of the ones from former Sierra designers, etc.). Some of the others got additional funding by making a publisher deal, getting venture financing, or using profits from their other games.

    Most have also dug into the developers' savings, as Lori and I have done for Hero-U. We decided to run a second crowdfunding campaign to let us finish the game without also having to take out expensive credit card loans. The game is drastically improved from what we showed in late 2012, and we think it deserves a new look.

    1. Almost half-way already, looking good for exceeding your target.

      I really do like what you've done with the game since those early concepts from the original kickstarter.

    2. I haven't been this excited for a game in a long time and now I've backed you twice. Good luck! And I look forward to arm-wrestling Ilmari to play the game for this blog sometime in the 2020s.

    3. Arm-wrestling? I was hoping for something less physical, like darts.

    4. We should have a battle of obscure sports for lazy people.

      I would challenge you in Candlepin Bowling, a game played only in my native New England and in Atlantic Canada.

      I don't think you can challenge me in Pespallo, because that requires too many players and it looks like it might cause us to break a sweat. Ditto with "Snow shoe football". Perhaps it will need to be darts, after all...

    5. Wait, how'd you guys call dibs already? I was the first to post in response to Corey. Clearly, I'm the natural selection.

      ... Wait, that means a contest we can all perform..

      Yahoo! Literati?

    6. We should probably have a great big tournament, testing strength, dexterity and intelligence of every potential player. Something like a combined triathlon of wrestling, archery and Go. I'd add something that tracks Paladin skills, but I cannot fathom what it would be.

    7. Tut tut tut. We're talking about playing for the 'thief' venture of the franchise. Everyone knows that if you play as a 'thief paladin' you end up bugging out QFG3 and.. well, it just doesn't make a great lot of sense.

  6. The time pod puzzle is really nasty. How are you suposed to know that entering random codes you eventually get out of there? I did it by chance but I didn't know that there are not codes to be found anywhere!

    1. I would NOT have gotten it if I didn't remember it. This is the only puzzle in the game (so far) that I solved only because of a back-of-mind memory. I assume it must have really annoyed me as a kid because otherwise it wouldn't have stuck.

    2. I remember finding that out quite quickly as a kid. What I struggled with was the bird section - or more precisely, I never happened to trigger the bird catching Roger -sequence. I just walked around, saw some shadows and found nothing to do in Estros. I had to get to a hint book just to get somewhere.

    3. I think I just tried random combos until it worked, it never took very long so I can only assume the game is programmed to accept a certain amount of random combinations (or perhaps after 2 or 3 wrong ones, it fixes your next guess as the right one?)

  7. And if you (like me) were unaware of all of the Space Quest fan projects, there is a list here:

    Are all of these games on our list of games to play in the future? The earliest of these is 2000, so we will not get to any in the near future, but I am confident that with time and patience The Adventure Gamer will get there! And I hope I will still be a part of that quest. Including the "Missed Classics", SQ4 is my seventh game so far for TAG! I hope I get to ten by the end of the year.

  8. "Perhaps we will find out some day, if the Space Quest series ever resumes and we get to the real events of Space Quest X. I am not going to be holding my breath, though."

    The Latex Babes probably won't be holding their breath, either. Seriously, there's nowhere to put it!

    1. This post made me want laser guns, an underground lair and a wardrobe of sexy bathing suits.

  9. Oh man, the timing issues. I remember when I fired this game up about ten years ago after not playing it since the mid-1990s and being blown away with the difficulty of avoiding the Sequel Police and some other sections due to the timing. I think at the time I used a program called Mo-Slo, which also helped with a certain puzzle in the first Gabriel Knight game. Eventually, DOSBox solved this.

    Also, in other SQ-related news, I saw a truck for a company called Janitronics yesterday, a reference to one of Roger Wilco's favorite magazines, Popular Janitronics.

    1. I remember using Mo-Slo too, after I got a copy of it with (I think) the Ultima collection (to allow you to play older Ultima games on modern computers).

  10. Lame that GOG doesn't include the floppy version as an extra/goodie item like they do with some games. Maybe if enough people request it?

    I own the floppy version, but I think I got pretty far in the CDROM version at some point.

    I wonder how well it works in SCUMMVM?

  11. And... I've finished - with help from a walkthrough towards the end when I was getting frustrated. I started off quite liking this game but by the end I really hated it. I won't get into when I reached extreme dislike for fear of spoilers but it was a gradual move.