Sunday, 10 September 2017

Missed Classic: Oo-Topos - Won! (And Final Rating)

Written by Voltgloss

When we left off last time in our attempt to escape Oo-Topos, we still needed to find 3 missing ship parts; the special seeds to save Earth; and 56.9 frod worth of treasure for lunch, gas, and tolls. Sounds like a lot, right?

Turns out we were only two puzzles away from accomplishing all of that.
Of course, they were the two puzzles that took me the longest to figure out.

My sentiments exactly.

The first puzzle: how to deal with the “collector robot” that was blocking access to the shield unit. Not only do we need that for our ship, but it also promises to be the answer to get us through the forcefield at the pyramid and catwalk areas. But the robot won’t let us take it - or anything else we try to offer to or throw at it; it just snatches whatever it is up and adds to its stash. Lasers do nothing. What’s the answer here? It’s… actually one of the more satisfying solutions in the whole game, in my opinion.

The second puzzle: turns out there’s a treasure item in one of the locations I’d visited (and screenshotted in one of my previous posts). How’d I miss it? Because the game pulls a trick here that it pulls nowhere else in the game: finding that treasure involves investigating a room element that is only in the picture - it is NOT in the room’s textual description. Making this my least favorite conundrum in the game.

Everything needed to solve these puzzles has been shown in my second post. In case you, the reader, want to pause and consider what those solutions might be before I reveal them, here’s some spoiler space.

...I regret nothing.

OK, so after about a half hour of trying different items and commands against the robot with little success, I finally realized the answer was to use the robot’s behavior against it. It always dashes over to grab whatever I drop or throw in the room. So what if I throw something into a dangerous place?

Like, say, the nearby sea of molten mineral?


Whatever item I use for this purpose is gone forever. The reed is an obvious choice because I can always go pluck another one (though how a reed can be thrown is an exercise left to the reader). I found it cathartic to use the hologram crystal of all human knowledge. Hey, my ship computer says it’s of zero value anyway.

With the shield unit in hand, I can walk through the force fields unimpeded. One, at the pyramid, leads to a lone interior room with a “psi cube.” This is another treasure to be sold for frods - 30 of them to be exact, the lowest value item I’ve found so far. I’m now at 471 frods, 26.9 short.

The other force fields are all at back at the “taka ela leva” catwalk area accessed through the teleporter inside the complex. With the shield unit in hand, I find three new rooms in that area (the fourth force field leads back to the teleporter):
  • The cold room I saw through the viewscreen beyond the 4-D mirror, where I pressed a button that opened a chest. Inside that is the vial I need to save Earth! ...Yes, a vial. Not seeds. I suspect the original 1981 storyline is rearing its head again here. 
  • A food processing room, where my oxygen recirculator sits on the floor. 
  • A storage room, where both my cryon purifier and my power cylinder sit on the floor. 

In one fell swoop, and without solving any more puzzles (because we’d already opened the chest remotely), I suddenly have everything I need to finish fixing my ship! And the seeds - er, vial - needed to save Earth! Now, where’s that last treasure I need to have gas money to get where I’m going?

Figures it was something green.

Yep, that green flower in one of the nondescript jungle areas held a secret: if you try to get or touch it, its “emerald center” falls out. Which is a straight-up emerald worth 56 frods, more than enough to satisfy my computerized bean counter. This flower is not mentioned at all in the room description, and is the only instance in the whole game where a progress-critical room feature can be discerned only from the graphics. Dirty pool, game. Dirty pool.

Also, turns out the whole “treasures are worth different amounts” mechanic doesn’t amount to anything of substance. The lowest-worth treasure - the psi cube - is worth 30 frods; but if you get all of the treasures except the psi cube, you’ll be at 497 frods. You need 497.9 frods. So you need every single treasure. None are optional.

But hey, we finally got everything we need to win! After returning to my ship, having the computer value all the treasures, stowing the vial and treasures in the cargo hold, installing all of the missing parts, and closing the airlock… the computer agrees to blast us off!

Turns out it was also important to turn off the tractor beam.
Without doing that, the computer won’t blast us off (and won’t explain the problem).

And that’s it! The rest of the game is literally on autopilot: we reach the nearby station, sell our accumulated junk for gas money, and reach Labport V in time for the folks there to use the seeds (vial) somehow to protect the Earth. Mission accomplished!

And there was much rejoicing!

Time played: 1 hr 30 min
Total time played: 4 hr 45 min

Looking back, I feel this last chapter of my tale (really, half-chapter) suggests a more negative view of Oo-Topos then I had for most of my time with it. Overall I enjoyed the game and was glad to have a chance to play and blog about it. We’ll get to Final Ratings in a minute, but first there’s a loose end I need to tie up (at least in part)...

So What About The Original?

Cutting-edge 1981 Apple graphics. I want my four-color CGA back.

Full disclosure: as of this writing I haven’t completed the original 1981 version yet. This is mainly due to technical issues: the only emulator I’ve gotten to work so far is frustratingly slow to process commands, isn’t saving/loading games properly, and doesn’t let me backspace to correct typos in my commands. (This last issue might be an Apple II-specific oddity that I’ll just have to bear.) I plan to play and blog Berlyn’s Cyborg next, which only exists in its 1981 incarnation, so I’ll need to get these technical problems figured out by then. If there’s more to say on the 1981 version of Oo-Topos I’ll address it then as a quick side feature within the Cyborg posts.

But for now, what I’ve observed of 1981’s Oo-Topos is quite a different experience from its updated rerelease.
  • The map is completely different. Many of the locations are the same, but are shuffled around in a manner that in no way resembles my completed map. 
  • There are puzzle differences as well. For example, while you still need acid to deal with the sentinel, but to collect it you need to find a flask of oil and empty out the oil so you have an empty flask. Even the very beginning is different: the prison door is pre-kicked-in for your convenience, the game simply telling you that you just finished bashing it in before giving you control.
  • The game is frustratingly vague sometimes with room exits. I was stymied for a while early on because I’d missed some exits in a “panoramic room” - turns out you can move twice both north and south from where you enter that room, but the descriptions don’t tell you this. The game also supports intercardinal directions (NE, SE, SW, NW), which unfortunately just doubles the number of exits you need to test.
  • Death and dead-ends seem more prevalent. I died multiple times in dark areas before finding the light rod, and most recently found an “alcove” off the game’s mirror room equivalent that seals shut behind me with no apparent way out. Without a working save/reload functionality, this makes game progress unworkably slow. 

I’m shelving this for now until I get my emulation issues worked out and after playing/blogging Cyborg. Hopefully I’ll have a better experience then.

The one plus that is apparent even from the raw 1981 version is Berlyn’s prose. Both versions feature eloquent, well-crafted descriptions of the protagonist’s adventures, along with clear attention to world-building and the occasional wry wit. I suspect this quality was one that caught Infocom’s attention before they offered Berlyn a job. Perhaps we’ll see more of this, and maybe other qualities besides, once we turn our attention to Cyborg.

In any event, on to the final rating! I’m not scoring the 1981 version for obvious reasons, but the 1987 version awaits judgment!

My final map and notes. Not the last hand-drawn map you’ll see from me.

Final Rating

Puzzles and Solvability - Most of the game’s challenges were pleasingly logical and I did not need to consult hints. The early game makes a strong showing of giving you short-term goals to complete: finding a light source for dark rooms, finding a translator for alien writing, finding a space suit to survive outside the airlock, and figuring out the various transport mechanisms available (the gravtube, the teleporter, and the maze). Dealing with the sentinel and the collector robot, and getting down from the roof, were memorable standouts. However, there are some insufficiently clued puzzles (like using the goggles in the garbage room and finding the emerald) that keep the score from rising above average. My score: 4.

Interface and Inventory - The parser may not be as strong as Infocom’s, but if so, I really didn’t notice it while playing. Multiple synonyms for both nouns and verbs are recognized and complex multi-part commands are accepted. Polarware was clearly aiming to compete with Infocom with this “Comprehend” system and parser, and at least in Oo-Topos it seems to work. It doesn’t rise to the level of an innovative Infocom parser, but it certainly reaches the level of a workable one. Also there are some inventory juggling issues mid-game (until you find the ship and a clear place to store treasures/ship parts) that drag the score down just a bit. My score: 4.

Story and Setting - Much of this score comes from the manual and associated feelies, which rival those of Infocom games (and in my opinion surpass a few of them). Frankly, I’d be interested to read a novel that runs the full length of the story - not just the vignette that is our protagonist’s time on Oo-Topos. It’s a shame then that the game itself has some odd disconnects with that story - like the “seed” vs. “vial” weirdness, or that our protagonist is clearly meant to be human despite the backstory’s insistence to the contrary. I attribute this to the game’s being rooted in the original 1981 storyline instead of being adjusted to fit its new story/feelies. Also, while the backstory is intriguing and the complex-with-jungle setting makes a nice playground for the adventure, it does in the end devolve into a two-pronged treasure hunt; one for ship parts, one for valuable items. (Three prongs if you count the vial/seeds.) My score: 4.

Sound and Graphics - There are no sounds. The graphics are a resounding “fine” in my book; I understood what I was looking at at pretty much all times (and when I didn’t that was more my failing then the game’s), but all in all they’re still CGA. I’ve checked out some of the other systems’ graphics online and, while they show off more colors, they also run a bit garish for my tastes. I’m adding a point here for the neat graphical changes reflected by gameplay (like using the goggles)... but then I’m taking a point away because the graphics take a considerable time to draw in with every command entered. This didn’t impede my playthrough with emulator speed cranked up, but back in 1987 it would have significantly slowed the pace. My score: 3.

Environment and Atmosphere - The game starts off well in this category but then dips and never recovers. The key issue for me is the lack of any real urgency or threat. After shooting the alien threatening to re-imprison you (which happens in the first 10 minutes of gameplay), you never encounter the alien pirate “antagonists” again unless you screw up by recalling them to the planet. Without an active antagonistic force and without any time pressure, the game just doesn’t keep up the tension suggested by its opening act. Honestly, I’d have welcomed a time limit in this game (and it would be in keeping with the story) as adding the challenge of putting together a “winning run.” My score: 3.

Dialog and Acting - The prose is strong and the written world-building runs throughout. No surprise given Berlyn’s already having achieved published author status. I appreciated the occasional wry humor, which wasn’t around so much as to overstay its welcome. But that’s all the game has in this category; if there were more characters for some actual dialog beyond the narration (the ship computer sort of counts but only barely), I could see rating this higher. My score: 4.

Final Tally

The total score? (4+4+4+3+3+4)/.6 = 37 points!

This puts 1987’s Oo-Topos on par with Starcross and Enchanter. This feels right to me - where those outscore this game slightly in other categories, 1987’s Oo-Topos catches up with its use of graphics. Overall I enjoyed it and am looking forward to Berlyn’s other pre-Infocom offering in Cyborg (even if I’ll be struggling with a less friendly interface). And who knows… perhaps some playthroughs of Polarware’s other adventure offerings may await in the future!

Average score guess was 36.17, so you all were collectively almost right on the mark. Kus of the Valley was individually exactly right on the mark, with their first guess ever of 37. Well done!

Thanks all for the opportunity to play and blog through Oo-Topos. I’ve enjoyed it and I hope you all did as well. For now, I’ll sit back (and work on my Apple II emulation issues) while eagerly awaiting the next installments of Joe Pranevich’s Great Zork Marathon - including his playthrough of what may be Berlyn’s most infidelamous work.


  1. Congrats! It does seem that the re-release and the original game are just different enough that it may be worth looking at them again someday. Good luck with Cyclops, whenever you decide to play. If you are really up for it, it would be lovely to have that just around when I am playing "Cutthroats".

    Also: is this a 1987 or 1986 game? Your intro post said 1986 but this one says 1987. I just want to make sure we label it correctly on the sheet.

    Good work!

    1. Thanks very much! There seems to be some disagreement in online sources whether the rerelease was 1986 or 1987. I'll try to pin down a comfortably authoritative source.

  2. My first guess - huzzah! I am an extremely happy man!

    An excellent use of "their" in an uncertain gender situation by the way :)

  3. Well done, Voltgloss!

    I like that the last game screenshot shows that your guy celebrates with a song and dance cabaret number