Sunday, 6 November 2016

Future Classic: Snare (1997)

By Ilmari

Attention all Federation citizens! You have been duped!

In the last few weeks, you’ve been led to believe that the face of the Federation is benevolent and enlightened, a paradise based on the inalienable rights of all sentient beings.

Federation propaganda at its worst

These were all lies, which you have been made to believe with the careful administration of docility and gullibility inducing tranquilizers in the water system. In truth, the real face of Federation is far more ruthless...
It’s like an iron fist smacking you senseless
Fortunately, there are resistance groups fighting the fascist regime of Federation. The best known of them is….
Notice the lack of apostrophe


When I first suggested to my fellow admins Blake’s 7 (1978-1981) as a possible topic of an extra post and as a counterpoint to all this goody goody Star Trek stuff, all I got was incredulous stares. Joe Pranevich hadn’t even heard of the show, while TBD had watched one episode of it, on basis of his auntie’s recommendation that it would be just like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - needless to say, he found the series not like that comedy classic. I am not saying it’s Federation trickery behind this ignorance (although I wouldn’t put it past them), but there’s certainly a clear gap to be filled here.

Like many good things in British scifi, Blake’s 7 was created by Terry Nation. What, you have never heard of Terry Nation? Or Terry ****ing Nation, as they so endearingly call him in the great Adventures with the Wife in Space? The man behind Daleks? The genius who invented Davros? The one who made Survivors possible?

Admittedly, this last one is known only by us old British scifi aficionados

There are certain themes that run through all of Nation’s creations - militaristic governments, pandemics, apocalyptic situations. Yes, Mr. Nation seems like a positive and optimistic kind of guy.

He also seems to have strange fetishes, fondling a hand of a Dalek

You often hear people say things like Deep Space Nine made Trek edgy and even destroyed the Roddenberian ideal of human future. I am sure these people have never seen Blake’s Seven. The basic premise of the series is a clear giving the middle finger to Star Trek - what if Federation would have been baddies, a ruthless Orwellian dictatorship? And there’s no doubt about it that this is meant to be a stab on the Trekkian Federation, because they even use a similar insignia.

But that’s not all. It shows a great deal of courage and far more edge than everything in Profit and Lace and Alt Mirror Universe put together that Terry Nation made the nominal star of the show, Roj Blake, a convicted sex offender. And not just any kind of sex offender, but a child molester.

Does the one named Kirk have anything to say to that?

Let me first seduce this two hundred years old girl who has just hit puberty

Of course, it’s all just a Federation ruse to make Blake lose his credibility as a freedom fighter. Still, it tells something about the tone of the series that the Feds even considered this possibility. I mean, they just brainwashed a number of innocent kids and implanted some pretty disturbing memories into their heads, just to get this one person into a ship flying to nearest prison planet.

The other members of Blake’s Seven are no professional officers. There are smugglers, cleptomaniacs, violent psychopaths calmed down only by brain implants… just a pleasant lot, always ready to betray one another, if a good possibility occurs. And then there’s Kerr Avon, brilliant computer technician, who was just on verge of doing the best swindle of Federation history before being caught, and the character with the best lines.

Like Kirk wouldn’t be anything without Spock, Blake wouldn’t be anything without Avon. There are clear analogies - an idealist man of action needs his rational counterpart, who has a talent for ironic statements. But while we are always sure that Kirk and Spock are best chums, it is always a bit unclear whether the cynical Avon cares at all about Blake - or whether he is just biding his time to capture their ship to his own nefarious purposes.

Unlike the static world of Star Trek, where no one dies except some meaningless extra, Blake’s Seven is never a fixed group of people - new members are introduced, old members vanish. The show even survived the absence of its supposed main character.

This instability had its bad side effects also. Terry Nation was a man of great introductions and story concepts, but he usually failed on actually pulling the story together. A classic example is the serial, in which Daleks were introduced - the first few episodes work well in getting us to know the worst menace of whole universe, but then we encounter the sorry bunch of pacifist Thals and everyone goes running around in caves and jumping over the smallest pit ever for far too many episodes.

After the first few episodes, Nation did water down the series. It is a wonder that Blake’s team survives at all, but then they just stumble into Liberator, an alien spaceship with technology superior to Federation - and few episodes later to Orac, the most efficient computer in the universe, with the ability of predicting future. While these might have been necessary plot devices just to give Blake’s group a fighting chance, same cannot be said of the change, in which the faceless fist of Federation was given a face, in the form of the Supreme Commander of the Federation military, Servalan, and her lapdog, Travis - two of the campiest villains in the whole scifi history.

Ice Queen and Pirate of the Federation  - can you really take these two seriously?

It is no wonder that when the second season of the show started and Terry Nation could finally leave the script writing duty to others, the quality of the episodes soared. But the worst enemy of Blake’s 7 was not Federation nor Nation's lack of writing skill, but - as it was case in all British scifi of the era - the insufficient BBC budget, and as the times went by, it just kept diminishing, making the later series look cheaper and cheaper. Still, the show managed to have some strong episodes down to its shocking, but inevitable final episode.

Thus, it is quite surprising that no one has had the guts to do a proper adventure game of the show before the end of nineties - a clear sign of Federation censureship, if any. A curious temporal anomaly has allowed us to take a sneak peek into the future of the blog (1997), where a text adventure Snare, based on Blake’s 7, is a possible Missed Classic. Since doing a full playthrough of the game would break all the laws of time, we will merely look at some opening scenes.

You can just sense the class oozing from these quotations

I am no programmer, but I better say something about the technology behind Snare. You see, in the nineties making quality text adventures suddenly became easier than ever. The man behind this change was Graham Nelson, who published several versions of Inform, a programming language meant specifically for designing text adventures. Inform wasn’t the first of its kind, but it definitely was far more nuanced and capable of creating games which allowed more intricate interactions.

Even the game gives kudos to the creator of Inform

The starting scene gives us a clear task - we are about to use our computer skills to steal some money from the government. Although the game does not tell it, our identity is now clear - we are playing as Avon and this is the famous hustle that led him to the same prison ship as Blake.

Just five million credits and I could be playing adventure games all day long

There’s plenty of directions to go from here, but I am especially interested of the large building on the east. There’s a guard, but I am carrying a pass that lets me in - this must be where Avon is working.

 I think I’ve met bank accountants like her

Elevators take me to 23rd floor of the building, where I instantly check the lavatories.

Considering there’s a metal detector on the front door, how did this get here?

Next, I check my office.

I just love the level of details

Opening the picture frame I find a tariel frame (a sort of space diskette).

I never knew fooling bank securities would be so simple

How should I escape now? I have a gun, but I cannot take it through the front door (I try - I am caught, taken into an interrogation unit and left to the care of someone called Shrinker - the end). Maybe I could shoot Susi so that no one notices and then switch the metal detector off?

No, that doesn’t work

I quickly had the idea of throwing a book to the switch. Surprisingly that works and I am free to walk out the building with my gun and…

...get caught

I am pretty sure I should have gotten a bit further than this, since I didn't even get to use my gun - I suspect I should have used my time more sparingly after loading the bank fraud program. Still, I am on to the next stage of the game, which makes this a perfect point to break this glimpse into the future - who knows, we might continue from here when we reach 1997.

In the meantime, feel free to make your own choice of the best TV space opera ever - there are lot of options to choose from, in addition to Star Trek and Blake’s 7. (For simplicity’s sake, we’ve put all series belonging clearly to same time and space continuum together).

What's the Greatest TV Space Opera of All Times?


  1. I think it's telling (and unfortunate) that we had to go to 1997 to get to another major adventure game for a science fiction TV series. Star Trek had 7 or 8 official adventure games by 1992 but no others.

    Can anyone name any others that might have had adventures earlier?

    What is it about Star Trek that lends itself to adventure games where other brands do not?

    1. A likely explanation might be that no other franchise just wasn't that well known to be commercially viable - even Snare was just a fan game.

      In addition, I think most of the games based on TV space operas belong to other genres, such as simulators. Even the Star Trek game we are playing now emphasizes space combat.

    2. Maybe so, but it still feels surprising. There were a few Star Wars games by this time, for example, bot NO adventures?

      The best I have able to find is a fan-made Red Dwarf adventure from 1996. Still not official and still awfully late.

    3. Star Wars is another question altogether. One possible answer is that the video game rights of Star Wars movies were for a while in the hands of companies like Atari and Broderbund - not really companies renowned for their adventure games - while the games section of Lucasfilm had to be satisfied with second-tier movies like Labyrinth.

      Of course, this still doesn't explain why Lucasarts did not publish any Star Wars adventure games at the beginning of 90s, when they did obtain the rights (if I remember correctly, Yoda Stories in 1997 was the first attempt of a Star Wars adventure game). Then again, it might have been just an economical decision - action games had a wider audience than adventure game, so maybe it just made more sense to make a game like X-Wing.

      So maybe the real question is why it took so long to make action games out of Star Trek? Here I think it is plausible to suppose that Star Trek -franchise just didn't turn easily into space simulators or shoot'em'ups or platformers, because there just wasn't much of that sort of action in the original series.

    4. One older one, but not space opera: "Doctor Who and the Warlord", an officially licensed text adventure from 1985 for the BBC Micro.

      I am not surprised that Doctor Who would have adventure game fans however.

    5. Inform (the language that the B7 game was coded in) only became available in the mid-90s, which may explain part of the delay. There was a fan-made game of Doctor Who, based on Pyramids of Mars (and titled Pyramids of Mars) that was written in 1994.

      There was, I believe, a text adventure based on The Twilight Zone. And there was, of course, Infocom's The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (although that was probably based on the book rather than the show).

  2. Hey guys, an apology: I am supposed to have a Star Trek post up tomorrow, but with all the election mayhem and some personal time-sinks I did not get it finished in time. It is also very likely that I will not have any time to write tomorrow as I spend the evening obsessing over election results as they come in state-by-state.

    We should be back on track in a few days and there may be a bit of shuffling.

    Thanks to your assistance, I have also managed to get un-stuck in Dungeon and will have a post on that in a few days as well.