Wednesday 30 August 2017

Missed Classic: Oo-Topos - No Place, And Not Like Home

Written by Voltgloss

Explaining the title, courtesy of an 8th grade school project.
Also, “eu-topos” sounds similar but means “good place.” Thomas More was a punny guy.

When we last left off exploring our space prison/complex on Oo-Topos, we’d found an airlock to the surface and a decidedly non-breathable atmosphere; we’d found our spacesuit in the trash disposal but couldn’t escape the deadly garbage fumes; and we had no idea how to parse “taka ela leva.” There’s also the continuing oddity of the mirror room, from which I still haven’t been able to find any escape once trapped inside. Wandering around the rest of the complex didn’t come up with any other exits, so some of these problems are going to have to give. Onward!

First, I returned to the “taka ele leva” room. Maybe there’s more to this than just suggesting we “take the elevator?” In the spirit of Adventure’s “xyzzy” I try typing “taka ele leva” and…

Forget it! No more beaming! This time I’m gonna walk!

...ah. This is apparently a teleporter, and speaking the “magic words” in its presence sends me to a new place. Weirdly though, after getting this message and new screen, I’m immediately (with no time to type another command) warped right back to where I started. Huh? It took some experimentation to figure out what’s going on here… apparently “taka” means “teleport to new room” and “leva” means “teleport back,” and typing “taka ele leva” processes both commands in succession. OK, that’s a bit of a headscratcher, but hey, new place! I can do a lot here, right?

Unfortunately, not as such. The only exit from this “other side” of the teleporter is to a north-south catwalk, with an east-west catwalk suspended above it. I can move between the two with “up” and “down,” but if I try to walk to either end of either catwalk, my progress is blocked by force fields. Three of them warp me around this small three-location area; the last is behind a closed door, which opens easily enough but the force field still blocks my progress. None of my items seem to be of use here, nor do “taka” or “leva” produce any other effect. It’s a discovery, sure, but I’ll have to come back later to make any headway here.

So do I have to figure out the trash room puzzle now and get my space suit? Or have I still missed something in the complex? One thought that comes to mind is those goggles that make everything go wire-frame - so far they helped me in the bright room, but other than that they haven’t had more than a cosmetic use. But I haven’t worn them everywhere. Might they reveal a secret door somewhere? I take a tour with them on and…

...wind up stumbling on the solution to my other problem instead.

With the goggles on in the trash disposal, I don’t see the garbage, but instead see a button on the far wall. Pressing that opens a vent or something (the game isn’t precisely clear) and releases the gas that had been killing me on previous visits. Now I can get the space suit (and helmet and gloves), and the gravtube works again to bring me back up to the rest of the complex. Finally I can escape the airlock and reach the surface of Oo-Topos!

But this is the first puzzle in the game that I’m feeling iffy about. There don’t seem to be any clues to wear the goggles here, where every other challenge so far has been - I think - more fairly hinted at. I literally only discovered this by trying the goggles in every room. I can’t imagine that brute force approach is intended here, and find myself wondering if the original pure-text version of the game handled this better.

In any event, the airlock awaits! Properly equipped, I emerge on the roof of the complex. There’s a gold ring here I can pick up, which appears to be another valuable looted by the pirates from my ship. There’s also a sign on the north edge of the roof reading “Emergency Exit” (which I couldn’t read without the translator), but no ladder or other obvious means of egress. How to get down to what’s described as a “wild jungle” below?

I can kill a dragon with my bare hands, of course I want to go that way!

Trying to go “north” from the roof provides what appears to be a rhetorical question. Remembering “Adventure” as the game’s inspiration, I respond “yes” and am treated to a comfy ride down to the surface courtesy of a suddenly-appearing ramp. Having saved just before trying this (that’s the “choose 1, 2, or 3” you see above), I get curious and reload, then try exiting the roof to the east or south. Doing so produces the same rhetorical question - but if you answer “yes,” you fall and die with an ignominious splat. I guess you really need to recognize where the “Emergency Exit” is located!

You just know any place described as “shifting” is going to be hell to map.

The ramp retracts after I land - I guess this was a one-way trip - and now I’m in a “lush, shifting jungle.” Exploring around quickly reveals this to be a pseudo-maze; every room is different with a different description and picture, but the room connections make very little sense. Aborting my first attempt at a regular boxes-and-lines map, I reload and start mapping the place systematically with dropping items like a regular maze. The place is 12 locations total - twice the size of the other “maze” - and just over half of the locations have something interesting:
  • A “Huja,” which seems to be another indigenous life-form like the Snarl from earlier, sitting by a “stablizing gyro” from my ship. It doesn’t attack or otherwise threaten me, but it won’t let me take the gyro or otherwise pester it - such attempts are rebuffed by a “spray of mace.” Self-defense protocols are well understood by the Oo-Topan natives.
  • A patch of reeds growing in a swamp, from which I can take one (the game won’t let me take more, saying that one is enough).
  • A “collector robot” on a beach at the edge of a green sea, guarding a shield unit from my ship. (These alien pirates are a clumsy lot to just litter so much of my ship’s parts all over the planet.) The robot won’t let me take the shield, won’t let me pass by in one specific direction, and doesn’t seem interested in trade - in fact, it zooms over to snatch any other items I drop, to add to its “collection.” Laser blasts do nothing. And I want that shield unit because a look at it reveals that it will shield me from force fields! This seems to be the key needed to unlock that catwalk area on the other side of the teleporter!

Also, the sea is a deathtrap. Swimming not recommended.
  • A Meso-American style step pyramid, which sounds incredibly intriguing, but ultimately offers much less than I expected; I can climb the top and pick up a “moon jewel” that’s apparently worth a small fortune and, and I can try but fail to enter the interior thanks to yet another force field. My interest in getting that shield unit further intensifies.

Roof of the pyramid, moon jewel included. The exterior just shows a bunch of steps.
A subtle hint I just noticed when writing this post: that’s my ship in the distance on the beach!
  • A tunnel leading to a “gravcar,” which looks like a wide scooter with up/down pushbuttons. Hopping aboard and pushing “up” twice brings us back into the main complex - specifically, to that tunnel with a steep drop we found very early in the game. Fortunately the gravcar stays where you leave it, so I now have an easy means of transitioning between the complex and the jungle without leaping off the roof. (Also, I discover you can get yourself permanently stuck if you take the gravcar into the complex and then leave via the roof again - the gravcar doesn’t come back.)
  • Another beach area with a “ruby seashell” and an aggressive crab. Hanging around too long, or taking the ruby, results in a nasty crab bite. It doesn’t kill me immediately, but seems to poison me and gives me a few turns of getting excessively more “thirsty” until I finally expire. If the garbage disposal/goggles puzzle was insufficiently clued, this one seems to be too on-the-nose - a quick drink of liquid from that “for emergencies” bottle I’ve been toting around since game start, and I’m cured! 

Alternate answer to the puzzle: violence.
Not shown: crab, due to acute case of protonic reduction.
  • Heading north from the crab beach leads to the ultimate prize - my ship! This also seems to be the location blocked off by the collector robot (although you can just navigate around it via crab beach - the crab doesn’t stop you). Finally I have the means to get off this rock and resume my mission - right? 

I wonder if the sea was always green, or if that was a CGA-graphics-driven change.

Entering my ship, I find a standard set of sci-fi adventure game ship locations - bridge, computer, cargo hold, life support station, engine rooms, airlock. But I’m oddly jarred by these areas having extremely brief descriptions - literally just a few words naming each location. No description of items, no description of room features or ship controls, nothing. None of the rest of the game has been this blandly described. Why now, when I’m finally at a place that my character should understand how to use, am I receiving the least information of all about my environment?

At this point I’d been playing for a while and decided to take a break. I was worried I’d missed something fundamental with regards to my ship. And indeed I had! The answer came while I was doing more research on the game for these posts. As is so often the case, it was all there in the manual.

Not gonna lie, it’s just a bit nicer than my hand-drawn maps.
Also, that’s a suspiciously human-shaped spacesuit for a supposedly non-human protagonist.
Full disclosure: when I started playing, I had only found and read the original manual, for the 1981 pure-text version, which was three pages and extremely bare bones. What I should have read at the start was the manual for this re-released Comprehend version - which includes a really nice, 12-page, Infocom-feelies-level-of-quality manual specifically dedicated to my ship. It’s worth a read on its own, with subtle humor (sporting a 50 billion mile/5 year warranty, for example) and plenty of world-building. More importantly for the game, it not only gives a map of your ship’s interior but also explains where the various “ship parts” I’ve been finding need to be installed - my energy converter goes in the Port Engine Room, for example, while the navchip goes in the computer. And I also learn that to start up the ship’s computer I need to provide “audio input of the MISSION CODE.” Where’s the mission code? From more feelies, of course.

My orders and mission code, straight from J. Castor Nebulus him/her/itself.

Typing my mission code in the computer room finally kicks things off and provides me with a full data dump (literally) of the situation: not only did the pirates steal a bunch of ship parts, but they also took most of the ship’s fuel, leaving us without enough to reach our destination. Installing the Navchip into the computer fixes that partway: the computer identifies a trading post that we can reach with our remaining fuel (should the rest of the ship get fixed), but wants a “Data Evaluation Card” (that I don’t have) to be able to value our cargo and see if we have enough to sell to be able to purchase the fuel we need. And aside from that, we’re still missing quite a few ship parts that need to be installed before we take off. In addition to the Navchip, we need:
  • The energy converter left inside the complex;
  • The stablizing gyro guarded by the Huja in the jungle;
  • The shield unit guarded by the collector robot on the beach;
  • My light rod, which I’ll install last when I know I’m done using it;
  • And four items I haven’t seen - the Data Evaluation Card, a power cylinder, a cryon purifier, and a recirculator.
Typing “STATUS” at the computer lets me check what’s left to install. I think I see where this is going: a two-prong “treasure” hunt. I need to find the rest of the ship parts before I can take off, but I also will need to gather up enough valuable goods (like the moon jewel, ruby seashell, etc.) to be able to buy enough fuel after we’ve left.

Looks like I’ve still quite a bit of work to do. I dump all my “treasure” objects in the cargo hold - except the moon jewel, for reasons I’ll get into soon - to free up carrying space, and then back to the jungle!

One of the jungle scenes that doesn’t seem to have anything in it.
“Music-like sounds” gives me an idea, though

I was first planning to return to the complex to pick up the energy converter I’d left there, but on the way I saw this screen and had a thought. I couldn’t get the gyro from the Huja, and none of my items seemed to help there, but almost immediately after finding that I also found that patch of reeds mentioned above. Following up, I made my way back to the Huja and tried “blow reed.” I produce some lovely music and the Huja smiles at me! Having made a friend, I can now take the gyro. More progress already!

The Huja’s face literally changes to a smile when this happens. Another nice graphical touch.

That side trip done and the gyro installed back at the ship, I return to my original plan. Back in the complex via gravcar I pick up the energy converter from where I left it at the radiation room. I then save my game and head over to what’s been a thorn in my side since the game began - that mysterious mirror room.

Wearing goggles doesn’t help solve the mirror puzzle, but does reveal another joke.

When I found the moon jewel on the pyramid, its description mentioned that such jewels are said to be “windows into other dimensions, but no one knows for sure.” The mirror room had a “4-dimensional mirror in the center of the room.” Perhaps bringing the two together will be profitable? As it turns out, no, the moon jewel has no effect there… but just by dint of trying that, I stumble yet again upon the solution. And it’s a real face-palm moment: simply typing “look 4-dimensional mirror” somehow allows me to see the exits! There are three - south and west (which I knew about) and north (which I didn’t) - as well as being able to enter the 4-dimensional mirror itself, which I learn leads me back into the six-area maze mapped in the first post. Man, I could have solved this from the very beginning! Ah well.

Going north now that the mirrors are decoded reveals another key prize: the Evaluation Data Card that the computer wants! It’s in a dead-end room with a “viewscreen” and red and blue buttons. Nabbing the card, I toy with the buttons and find that the blue button changes the area shown in the viewscreen, and the red button has an effect therein (which varies by room). Most of the areas seen through the screen are unfamiliar:
  • The default view is to the “bright room” where I’d used the goggles to find the plasma orb. The red button has no effect (maybe because I’d already solved that puzzle).
  • Second view is of an unfamiliar “frozen room.” The red button opens a chest that I didn’t realize was there. I feel like I solved a puzzle I didn’t know about yet.
  • Third view is of outer space, where I can see the pirate fleet! No wonder I haven’t run into any others since the alien I shot in the beginning - they’re all off in space. The red button “fixes” this by sending a signal to call them back to the planet! Uh-oh.

Like an Alpha Centauri/Pirates!! Crossover, with a lot less Sid Meier.
  • Fourth view is of a massive “domed room.” Looks like an alien city? The red button does nothing here and I can’t discern any other details.
  • Fifth and final view is of a tractor beam. This is what snared my ship in the first place! The red button turns it off. I’m guessing this is a needed step before I can make my escape.
The views cycle after this. I feel like I’ve made a mistake calling the fleet back, especially as warning messages start blaring over the loudspeaker of their arrival in “60 chrono-units.” That means turns, of course. I decide to wait around and, sure enough, when the pirates arrive they immediately find me and unceremoniously dump me back in my cell, resetting everything to the game’s initial state. I reload and vow to leave those guys in space this time!

Returning the Evaluation Data Card to my ship’s computer, I can now use the “VALUE” command to assess the worth of each “treasure” item I’ve collected. The computer explains we need 497.9 “frod” worth of treasure so we can buy enough fuel at the trading post nearby. Between the gold ring, the ruby seashell, the plasma sphere, the silver block, and the moon jewel, we’re already up to 441 frod. I’m a bit disappointed the hologram crystal with “all human knowledge” isn’t worth anything - I guess that’s not easily fenced at a backwater trading post.

Wrapping up this post, here’s my jungle “map.”
If someone can make sense of this with boxes-and-lines, be my guest.

Believe it or not, we’re getting very close to finishing this game. Next time we’ll get the shield unit from the collector robot to access all the force-field-blocked areas, find a “last lousy treasure” which hiding style I seriously question, and maybe even save Earth!

Inventory: Space suit (worn), helmet (worn), gloves (worn), light-rod, energy converter (installed), Navchip (installed), language translator, repair manual, laser, pair of blue goggles, plastic bottle, hologram crystal, plasma sphere (in cargo hold), block of Vegan silver (in cargo hold), Evaluation Data Card (installed), gyro (installed), gold ring (in cargo hold), ruby seashell (in cargo hold), moon jewel (in cargo hold), reed

Ship status: 4 parts installed, 2 parts seen, 3 parts unknown
Worth in frods: 441 out of 479.9 needed
Seeds to save Earth: undiscovered and almost forgotten about entirely

Time played: 3 hr 15 min


  1. Replies
    1. This is a game that is already in progression:

    2. Hello! I think you may have meant to put this on the Amon Ra post? Once we have the second post of a game, voting on the score is closed.

  2. Everything is better with a Spaceballs reference!

  3. "If someone can make sense of this with boxes-and-lines, be my guest."

    Because I'm insane, and looking for any excuse to procrastinate instead of looking at spreadsheets, I did it.

    Fun fact: To get from the Navchip to the Robot, you either just go NORTH, or go EAST 4 times and SOUTH once, maybe SOUTH twice and EAST 3 times, or just go WEST and then EAST.

    Makes perfect sense to me!


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 the reviewer requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game...unless they really obviously need the help...or they specifically request assistance.

If this is a game introduction post: This is your opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that the reviewer won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return.
It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All score votes and puzzle bets must be placed before the next gameplay post appears. The winner will be awarded 10 CAPs.