Thursday, 24 November 2016

Star Trek - Lost! (For Now)

Written by Joe Pranevich


A long winded introduction!

Last week, we rounded out the fifth episode of the game by saving an Aztec god from certain death at the hands of a Klingon tribunal. Star Trek can be wonderfully strange sometimes! We’ve had fun, but this week we will draw the saga to a close. As you can see from the title, I was not as successful as I hoped. I hate to not stick the landing, but I’ll keep working at it until the Final Rating is posted. Those of you that have played this game before (or read the comments) will have a good idea of what I’m stuck on, but we’ll get there in just a moment.

On to the matter at hand: Starfleet has contacted the Enterprise with a sensitive mission. A pre-warp world around Alpha Proxima may be in trouble. An asteroid (comet?) on an elliptical orbit will be approaching the planet soon and the Federation’s monitoring satellite have detected something suspicious. We have to go there, figure out what’s wrong, and fix it without alerting the natives. Sounds like fun!

That’s no asteroid… it’s a space station?

After we get our orders, Spock chimes in with more exposition. 1000 years ago, the planet was more advanced than it is now, but a global war blasted them back to the bronze age. The natives have gradually rebuilt to 20th century Earth-levels of technology, but their mythology still refers to the approaching asteroid as their God of War, Scythe. The asteroid approaches every 200 years. We warp into the sector and scan it to discover a forgotten missile base from the last great war. Uhura detects a computer transmission from the base to the planet, but it goes unanswered as the natives no longer have the technology to receive it.

We beam down to the base and arrive in front of a large metal door. Is anyone else surprised that this “asteroid” is both large enough for us to orbit and have a breathable atmosphere with Earth-like conditions? As we land, Mr. Scott informs us of a transporter malfunction during the beaming. We arrived fine, but it will be at least an hour before he can transport us out again. I try to explore our surroundings, but the game does not let Kirk and the landing party leave the vicinity of the metal door. I can pick up rocks; maybe I can throw them at another Aztec warrior. When we approach the structure, Scotty updates us on his progress: the Enterprise has a computer virus! Weapons and tractor beams have been knocked out and he estimates three hours to repair.


One door...

With no help from the Enterprise, all we can do is try to tackle the door. It has some sort of camera at the top, plus a keypad and display. I have Spock try to unlock it, but he is prompted for a passcode. He suggests that the people that built the base were superstitious and may have used a number important to them… but I know nothing about them! How does that help me now?

I restore to earlier in the episode and consult the library computer:
  • Alpha Proxima, the local system, has five planets of which two are inhabited. The third planet, Proxtrey, is the one with the pre-warp civilization and asteroid trouble. The fourth planet is a Federation leisure world well-known for its museums.
  • Scythe, the “asteroid”, was originally a moon of Proxtery that was knocked out of orbit. The name “scythe” is also the 17th letter of their alphabet.
  • On Proxtrey, the “Lucrs” and the “Sofs” waged a great war 1000 years ago which killed 75% of the population and rolled back hundreds of years of civilization and technology.
  • The Lucr culture was rooted in individualism. An individual who made the most of his (or her) abilities was considered a god. They used base three for their numbers and they gave 99 special significance.
  • The Sofs culture was collectivist. They used base four for their numbers and liked things in groups of 100. 
With that knowledge, I return to the door to try codes. I try 17 and 99 first, but neither of those do the trick. Do I need to convert to base three? 17 in base three is 122, but that doesn’t work either. But 99 in base three is 10200 and that works! Math can be fun!


Two doors...

Once we get inside, Uhura updates us that the virus was somehow transmitted when the ship scanned the base. Mr. Kyle has been able to isolate the problem and they are running antivirus programs now. While they do that, I explore the next locked door. This one has a computer terminal where we learn that words in the Lucr language have a “neutral”, “submissive”, or “aggressive” posture. Do they use mood instead of grammatical gender? There’s a keypad on the right that prompts us for another password. I run through the same numbers as last time and the door opens with 122. I guess I’m good at this!


Three locked doors! (Ah, ah, ah.)

We emerge into an open space and get another update from Uhura. She and Lt. Kyle have discovered that the Klingon antivirus “K’Trhra-C” is able to cure the infection but it will take some time. The tractor beam is working again so that we should be able to stop up to ten missiles, but any more than that and we cannot ,protect the planet. Er… what? When did we discover the base was going to fire missiles? And if that’s the case, why didn’t it fire them the other four times it approached the planet since the war? I explore the room, but there’s not much to find. The northern door is locked and requires an ID card instead of an easily guessed password. The doorway to the east is open so we head there next.


Reused art assets! Just like the real show!

The room to the east is a science lab, reminiscent of the one from the Carol Marcus episode. Even the gun on the ceiling is the same! I’m not sure if this represents laziness or brilliance on the part of the creators as reuse of assets was a Trek staple, especially in later seasons. There’s a box on the floor that contains some wires we can collect plus a control panel. The gun on the ceiling is a mining laser, but it can no longer be pivoted far. The computer lets me fire it with multiple settings: 1, 10, and 100. At first glance that seems to be a strength setting, but “100” requires me to enter coordinates. I’m not sure what is going on there.

Eventually, I give up and search the other room again. When I try to manipulate the keycard slot, I get a message that says my fingers are too big. Spock checks it out and believes that we can fashion a keycard out of rock using the mining laser and use it to open the door. That sounds stupid, but no less so than locking your missile base with your culture’s equivalent of “password” so we’ll let it slide. I scan the keypad with the tricorder to get an image of the card I would need to create, then use that on the mining laser to create an indentation in the rocks at the far side of the room. Now what? I realize that the rocks from outside are a purer metal than the rocks in this room so I put some into the indentation and fire the laser on setting “1”. Like magic we melt the rocks and get an ID card!


I wonder if either of those could play Zork. 

The final room contains the “brains” and “brawn” of the base: a trio of computers plus a fleet of nuclear missiles. Two of the computers appear responsible for targeting while the third controls the launch sequence. I examine the two computers carefully and they are not quite the same: the left one runs at 750,000 operations per second while the right does 1,200,000. Spock realizes that the left one has a virus! If we spread it to the other computer, the missiles will fall harmlessly into the sun.

The solution is simple: I connect the cable from the other room to each computer. The virus crosses the cable and we win! It feels like an anticlimax, but Starfleet likes it enough to award us 89% and 3 commendation points. What did I miss? I don’t feel like replaying for 100% so this will have to do.


Up next: the season finale!

Star Trek Trivia

  • This episode was light on the Star Trek references. Most notably, it is predicated on the “Prime Directive”, the Starfleet notion that mankind should never interfere with a pre-spacefaring culture. That was first seen in the episode “Bread and Circuses” but has been a staple of Star Trek lore in every format. 
  • Computer viruses were too “high tech” to be imagined for the original Star Trek, but The Next Generation faced a virus in its second season (“Contagion”). The Oxford English Dictionary credits David Gerrold, Trek writer most famous for “The Trouble With Tribbles”, with the first use of the term in one of his non-Trek novels in 1972.
  • Long-forgotten automated weapons were depicted a few times, most notably “The Doomsday Machine” on the original series and “Arsenal of Freedom” on The Next Generation.
  • The two computers portrayed here wouldn’t even have been advanced for 1992. A contemporary 486DX processor could perform 25 million operations per second. Modern processors are thousands of times faster than that. 



A destroyed starship!

I intended to discuss the final episode next week, but it turned out shorter than expected. Rather than force everyone to wait a week for a short post, let’s jump right into it! We begin the final episode with a Captain’s Log: twelve hours ago, the USS Republic, the ship that we sparred against in the first episode, was attacked. We arrive at her last known location to find her all but destroyed. There are only two life signs aboard, both heavily injured.

Before we beam over, we are given a choice: I can send Starfleet a full report immediately plus order the Enterprise to flee to Starbase 24 if an enemy approaches, or I can wait to notify them and have the Enterprise stand her ground. Why are those choices connected? What if I wanted to notify and stand to fight? I choose the communicate-and-flee option as the safer approach. Better to save the crew and lose the captain than have another ship be destroyed.


 
Redressed sets!

We beam onto the Republic’s bridge and find everyone dead, including Captain Patterson. The life sign that we detected just moments ago has already faded away. It’s a sad scene. I send Spock to scan the computers and he learns that the ship was attacked by the Enterprise! How is that possible? Could it be that someone captured the sensor data from our initial skirmish with the Republic and replayed that somehow to hide the origin of the attack? Could this be related to the virus from the last episode? Does all of this connect?


He’s dead, Jim. 

Leaving the bridge takes me directly to sickbay. Two bodies lay in medical bays, but only one, a young woman, is still alive. I have McCoy stabilize her and she confirms that it was the Enterprise that attacked. They even had visual confirmation! There goes my theory. McCoy discovers that most of the casualties on the ship were caused by life support being lost in the battle. There is nothing else to do so we request a medical team and beam back to the ship.


Sorry. Who are you again?

The scene jumps ahead as Kirk narrates an updated Captain’s Log. We have located and are pursuing the ship that destroyed the Republic and it really is an exact duplicate of the Enterprise, right down to hull markings and transponder signal. It’s luring us to Veradine and I get the choice to either hail the ship or try to catch up. I try talking first. Ies Bredell of the Vardaine Defense Force answers our hail. Many years ago, a young Lt. Kirk did something to Mr. Bredell that he was pretty unhappy about. He asks us if we remember… which of course we do not because this has never come up before. This is not a plot element carried over from either the series or movies. I ask how he created a duplicate of the Enterprise. Bredell just says that his people have good intelligence. I tell him that he couldn’t possibly beat a well-trained Starfleet crew and he opens fire. Here we go!


RIP Captain Kirk (2233-2269)

And this is the end of the line for me. Within seconds, Bredell’s ship is joined by two Elasi fighters. The combination of the three of them, the fast pirate ships plus the heavy firepower of the fake-Enterprise, defeats me over and over again. This is by far the hardest battle I have faced and I am not even coming close to killing even one of their ships. I requested assistance last week and I will gladly take more hints this week, but as of right now I am toast. I will keep trying different things while I work on the Final Rating.

What happens next? Not much. I read a few spoilers online that suggest that the game ends as soon as the battle does: one more visit from the admiral and then an ending based on your overall scores through the missions. We may not be missing much, but I’d rather not have my first loss either.

I may be feeling down on this sequence because I lost, but this is a disappointing way to end. The finale doesn’t tie the episodes together in any way. The villain is one-note and a lost opportunity to use someone from the Star Trek canon that we might care about. And closing an adventure game with a non-adventure episode? That’s a strange decision. There’s so much more to say, but I’ll hold my tongue until next time.

Star Trek Trivia
  • Captain Kirk’s time as Lt. Kirk aboard the USS Farragut is central to this storyline, but none of the events described in this game were hinted at in the original series. Kirk’s time on the Farragut was a central element of the episode “Obsession”.
  • It would have been very difficult for Bredell to construct his Enterprise-2 in time for his revenge plan. At this point in our story, Kirk had been on board the Enterprise less than four years. It takes two years for a Starfleet shipyard to build their own Constitution-class starship. Bredell could not have planned and built this replica in only three years without access to the same quality shipyards.
  • Using a near-duplicate of the Enterprise was a cost-saving measure in a number of episodes, most notably “The Doomsday Machine” and “The Tholian Web”. The hand-wave is that the Constitution-class starship was a major workhorse during this era of Trek history so naturally Kirk will see them on his missions. 
If all of the stars align, next week we will have a special post to look at the updated version of “Vengeance” which was included in the CD-ROM edition of the game. Depending on how long that gets, we could push off the Final Rating until the following week. Either way, this part of our “five-year mission” is coming to a close soon.

Time played: 2 hr 05 min
Total time: 15 hr 20 min

11 comments:

  1. Ah, yes, the final battle. I was never able to beat it myself; good luck with it! Thankfully the sequel, Judgement Rites, introduced a difficulty setting for the combat (which even had an option for "none" I believe).

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  2. Not sure what you missed in mission 6, it sounds like you basically did the same things as I did. One interesting thing is that if you ask the Enterprise computer about "base", you get an article about American baseball, but you can page over to other articles about Base 3 and Base 4, and it'll list out some example conversions, conveniently including the two pass codes you need.

    Looks like you have the short version of the final mission; the long version has a few more things you need to do. Note that it's possible to deadman yourself near the end of the long version, so be sure to save at least at the beginning of the mission. Here are some hints for where people are most likely to get stuck (Andy?):

    1. Jura lbh'er ba gur nhkvyvnel oevqtr
    2. Gurer ner zhygvcyr ubgfcbgf ba gur prageny pbafbyr
    3. Gur synfuvat ohggbaf, fyvtugyl gb gur yrsg bs gur ohggbaf, naq rira shegure gb gur yrsg bs gur ohggbaf
    4. Unir Fcbpx fpna gubfr ybpngvbaf
    5. Fbzrgvzrf lbh unir gb gnxr gur vavgvngvir
    6. Lbhe perjzrzoref znl abg nyjnlf xabj jung'f orfg
    7. Qvfertneq Fcbpx'f vafgehpgvba gung lbh arrq gb cbjre gur fuvryqf
    8. Cbjre gur jrncbaf, gura unir Fcbpx fpna gur "fyvtugyl yrsg bs ohggbaf" fcbg gb yrnea gung gur jrncbaf ner wnzzrq

    It took me a couple dozen tries to win the final fight. Note that you can save during the fight; I saved immediately on entering the fight, and again (in a new slot) whenever I destroyed a ship. Your best chance to take out the fake Enterprise is right at the start. Immediately power up weapons, and go after it as hard as you can. With a little luck and good aim, you can destroy it before it slips out of your crosshairs. Power up shields once the Elasi jump in or if the Enterprise slips away. I hadn't messed with manual damage control in any of the previous fights, but I used it here and it seemed to help. My priority was weapons and sensors if I had an angle to attack, or engines/shields/hull if not. I kicked in the Emergency Power the first time I came under serious fire (which was just as I was destroying the fake Enterprise), no idea whether it helped at all. Good luck!

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    1. I am indeed stuck in that longer section of the final mission. I tried restarting and doing things differently, I tried following a hint guide but still got stuck. Hopefully your hints will help!

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  3. Strange, I haven't seen the mission from the demo during the posts. How disappointing (or good for the developers to use another mission). Then again I might not remember much. All I can recall from 20 years ago is randomly pick a sector and either find nothing, battle different enemies or if you are lucky, find a grey planet and then you beam to a room with one door. And I never got past the door since I never got the hang of the controls.

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  4. Wow. Finally managed to get to the final fight, and you guys weren't kidding! Three on one fighting is near impossible, and the interface is really working against you to try and keep everything repaired while also trying to out-manoeuvre three ships. If I could only destroy one of them, it might get me enough breathing room to finish the others, but they seem to always be able to get behind me.

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    1. I should probably add that I used the keyboard shortcuts, rather than trying to click on crewmembers. D for Damage control, E for Emergency power.

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    2. Even with keyboard shortcuts I think I won't be any better off, it really does feel like an unfair fight!

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  5. I thought consoling Joe for his difficulties with some entertainment would be a solid excuse to post this thematically relevant indie film:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RHAPXlVq5lk

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    Replies
    1. You should have linked to their earlier, "animated" endeavours. Joe might have even caught some familiar scenes:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPglc3z6r_A

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    2. Thought about it, but I decided that the first one or two were so low quality that it'd discourage him from watching the rest. Besides, In the Pirkinning is the most famous one.

      Anyway, here's the playlist containing the Star Wrecks preceding Prikinning: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLCBA2610726132EBE

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  6. For mission 6 I got 96% and 3 commendations.

    I didn't use the computer to get the information required for passcodes at the beginning, and rather than reload, I used a walkthrough to tell me the codes. When I did so, Spock congratulated me for working out that the code would be a base 3 version of god or whatever it was - clearly Spock looked at the computer even though I didn't. :)

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