Sunday, 14 January 2018

Missed Classic: Cyborg - Won! (With Final Rating)

Written by Voltgloss

We left off last time having reached the bridge of the spaceship we’ve been blundering around all this time, having rediscovered that we are its cyborg captain and need to fix up and land the thing in order to safely deliver a precious cargo of humans in suspended animation. We had several pathways open to us and apparent problems to solve to do so - let’s dive in!


Potential surprise twist: as “Captain Cyborg,” we looked like this all along.
Upon loading my save and reviewing both our inventory and the areas I found last time, I get an idea. There was a doorway in the airlock area that was “too narrow for us to fit through.” And we have a “mini-droid” in our inventory. Perhaps the droid can go where we can’t? I head over to that area following the blue stripe. Once there, I get our machine half’s opinion on our location and it responds “no way we could squeeze through.” So… deploy droid!

It takes me a little way to figure out the syntax. “Drop droid” returns “you’re not carrying it” - which is technically correct as it’s attached to a harness we’re wearing. “Place droid,” “use droid,” “activate droid,” and “deploy droid” are all fruitless. Ultimately I “remove droid” and the droid automatically runs through the narrow opening and returns with a pressure suit! Perhaps a spacewalk is coming sooner than I expected. I “wear suit” and… what do you mean game I “can’t do that yet?” Why not? I scan it and it’s described as “skin-tight” with a valve for flow of oxygen. Nothing seems to be preventing me from wearing it, so why can’t I? Some experimentation reveals that the game decided to get realistic on us: we can’t put on the suit because we’re already wearing other things (the sneakers, the harness, the laser, the ID card). I remove all of them - fortunately I don’t need to take out my infrared lenses - and THEN can put on the suit. I’d have appreciated more explanatory feedback on this needlessly fiddly bit.

That resolved, I go to the airlock wearing the suit, cycle it without dying, step outside, and… am suddenly playing an arcade game.


Talk about an unexpected genre shift.

Upon exiting the airlock, we’re treated to an extreme close-up view of the ship’s outside (a wall of blue), and given horizontal/vertical coordinates. We can spacewalk around the “grid” that the side of the ship is laid out upon, and can back up to get a more “zoomed-out” view. The long-range sensor gives us a brief glimpse of the full map, including the damaged sector of ship that needs a repair patch. Our goal is to maneuver over to that sector, stop ourselves (if we don’t time it right we’ll zoom right past), apply the patch, get back to the airlock, and get back inside. All with a small and rapidly dwindling oxygen supply, that keeps counting down rapidly even if we aren’t doing anything. And we only have 2 patches, so we can afford to “miss” only once. First time I try this I die immediately because I have the emulator speed cranked way too high and my oxygen runs out in a blink. I return to normal emulation speed and, after some experimentation with the controls, soon have a repair patch applied and myself back inside the ship, safe and sound.


White is the airlock. Gray is the repair patch, successfully applied.
Purple is me, desperately trying to get back inside before my oxygen runs out.

That seems to have accomplished one of our key goals. But what now? It takes me a fair bit of wandering around to realize that the vertical chute I used to get to this level actually extends yet one more level down - which opens up to three hallways. But by the time I get there, my cyborg power level has reached critical thanks to the passage of time. I decide to restart and get back to this point more efficiently, so I have more time to noodle about solving these puzzles. In retracing my steps, I pause at one place I couldn’t access before: the ceiling of the gymnasium, where there was a trapdoor that seemed either “rusted shut” or “beyond our strength.” But is that in fact true? I try a variety of verbs and with “break trapdoor” (but not “hit”) I get the response: “Do you really think we should break the trapdoor? (Y/N)” I affirm, and lo and behold, we bust it open! That leads us back into the ventilation shafts, in an area I could reach before, where an “orange-haired female lizard” called a “togram” is hiding and “quaking in fear.” One random assortment of verbs later I hit on “pet togram” as a way to soothe her, whereupon the game lets me “ask” her about four topics:
  • She wishes she could find the “others like [her]” in this “odd place where nothing makes sense” and then go home.
  • She likens the place we are in to an “amusement area” that “isn’t amusing.”
  • She tells me there are others of my kind existing nearby but with something “terribly wrong with them.” Presumably these are the other humans in cryosleep.
  • Finally, the togram warns me to avoid the “smada,” which she describes as “abnormal and very dangerous.” Unless she’s talking about the snake I lasered to death way back at the beginning, which seems unlikely, I don’t know what she’s referencing.
That detour completed, I return to the bridge area to complete the tasks there. On the way, I pause at the grill with a lifeform behind it. Does the same trick work here as with the trapdoor? I “break grill” and get the same confirmatory prompt; I affirm and we bust that open too. And out jumps a rat with razor-sharp teeth! It’s the smada! It bites my leg! I summarily blast it with a 50-power laser shot and it runs off to die. And… that seems to be that. No other items, I can’t go behind the grill, and I’m left wondering if this was just some optional trap.


I hardly believe it existed.

One last new development: I fill the empty beaker from the sickbay with liquid oxygen from the nearby ruptured pipe. Because that seems to be a safe thing to carry around.

OK, back on the bottom level! Three doors beckon: north, south, west. I try north first and find the cargo bay. After using our ID to pass by a door requiring authorization, I find the hold is filled with rubble and debris but also contains a “little alien ship.” Unfortunately, I can’t seem to get the game to let me interact with the ship; it doesn’t even know the words “alien” or “ship.” Am I supposed to, I don’t know, lead the togram here or something? I leave it for now and move on.

Back to the bottom level intersection I try south and find what is apparently the cryosleep area, with rows of clear glass capsules. Here I find the “berserk cleaning robot,” which misidentifies me as an anomaly and starts trying to “dismantle us” by bashing into our shins. Another trusty 50-point laser blast fries it into submission. Another problem solved? Moving past that brings us to engineering, where we find a bored iguana-like creature playing with a “sleeper’s manual.” We want that manual as a scan reveals it will let us fix the dial back at the bridge. But the iguana won’t give it up. I try giving it all of my inventory items as a trade but it doesn’t seem interested. That is, until I hit on the idea of untying my sneakers and giving it the string. That works! Because “iguanas love playing iguana’s cradle more than living.” Who knew?


Instant amusement. Just add iguana.

That problem solved, I check out the last area on the bottom level. The west passage leads to a north-south hallway, off of which I find a multi-room dormitory and eating area. The beds and tables are scattered about and wrenched from their mountings - likely due to the hull breach - but I do find one intact storage locker. It’s apparently important but the lock won’t work; my machine half suggests finding some tools to open it. I also find a battery to boost my cyborg level, although my machine half still mentions needing to find a “permanent” such attachment. Hmm.

Am I done? Is the manual all I need? I try heading back to the bridge but I can’t seem to do anything to fix the dial. Wish I could actually just READ the manual to figure out what else I need to collect, but that’s sadly not an option. Having failed to crack the mystery of the alien ship in the rubble-filled cargo hold, I decide to head back there. Reading the room descriptions more carefully, I realize I’m not actually AT the alien ship - the rubble and debris seem to be blocking my way. Do I have any means to clear it out? I have an explosive - the liquid oxygen - but lighting it with a match (either in my inventory or after dropping the beaker) just blows me up. Ah, but pouring out the oxygen and THEN lighting it manages to blow a hole through the rubble without damaging us!


How to survive something like this? ...You have to know where to stand.

Reaching the alien ship, I note that the wall of the hold shows where I applied the repair patch. Ah, this ship must have been what impacted ours. And it’s apparently how the lizard creatures got on board as well. Inside is a friendly, lonely lizard who is willing to talk, as well as a “small CPU” which is apparently a chip. The lizard apologizes for all the trouble his crew accidentally caused by impacting our ship, and asks for “a piece of old and moldy bread.” I saw that in the descriptions in the dormitory area although it didn’t appear to be an item I could pick up; I go back to retrieve it and hand it over, to the cryptic response “a lizard runs by and snatches it.” The same one? A different one? Who knows. Finally, the lizard also tells us that we need to kill both the snake (from the “forest”) and the smada before we can land the ship - so I guess we needed to blast them away after all.

While back down here, I also pay a return visit to the berserk robot I destroyed. It’s still there, lying in a heap, and a scan says its chest cavity is hollow. Breaking it reveals a set of tools (aha!) and a “power casing.” I’m unclear what that entails, but verb experimentation lets us open it to uncover a “permanent power cell.” Wearing that gives us a full cyborg level of 2000, which no longer ticks down. One ever-looming threat resolved!


Apply directly to the forehead.

The tools let us open two things: the locker in the dormitory and the glass cylinder in sickbay. The locker coughs up a loop of solder. Perhaps we’re unwittingly gathering the objects needed to fix the control dial? The cylinder - after some frustration (you can’t “open” or “unlock” either the cylinder, the panel, or the lock - the only command that works is “unlock latch”) - finally lets me inside to a lever for “physical restoration cycle.” Closing the panel and pulling the lever bathes us in “soothing” radiation that heals much of the damage we’ve suffered over time. Nice!

That all said, we’re starting to get plain old hungry again, so it’s back to the bridge to see if we’ve fixed everything that needs fixing. We have tools, the manual, the power crystal, a bunch of wire, the CPU, and solder. Is that enough to just “fix dial?” Again, frustratedly no, and it takes some more experimentation to find that I first need to drop the items I’ve listed - but NOT the manual and the tools - before “fix dial” works. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing in the game that explains this, making the repair process yet again unnecessarily fiddly.

With the dial fixed, I turn it to wake up the human sleepers, go back to the bridge to throw the auto-landing switch, and we’ve won!!


Booyah.

Final Rating

Puzzles and Solvability - A mixed bag I think that sits solidly average. Solutions are mostly logical, but a few puzzles give insufficient feedback - like how exactly to fix the dial even after you’ve gathered all the parts. I did very much like the iguana’s cradle problem, as it’s both logical AND clever in requiring the player to disassemble a previously assembled inventory item. On the other hand, having to lace up sneakers before going into a “wooden floor” room because it’s a gymnasium is on the absurd side. My score: 4.

Interface and Inventory - The game goes to a lot of effort to implement unique “cyborg” elements to your interface, to really drive home your character being half-human/half-machine. On the whole I think they work as intended to create a pleasingly different - but not too off-puttingly different - text adventure experience. The two-word parser unfortunately hiccups at times where only certain noun/verb combinations will work - and not always the obvious ones. Inventory management was smooth for most of the game; there is a limit, but you can also alleviate that by wearing a lot of the items you find. Though as noted, wearing gets fiddly in the name of “realism” (the space suit being the biggest example). On the whole, I think the cyborg interface elements bring this score above that of a typical two-word parser game - but only just above. My score: 4.

Story and Setting - We’ve seen amnesia stories and fix-the-damaged-spaceship stories. Cyborg puts the two together and adds a friendly alien race that inadvertently caused the problem and supports our efforts to fix it. Berlyn knows pacing; the drip feed of information about the bizarre setting, who we are, and what’s going on starts from the beginning of the game and slowly feeds through it until the full truth is revealed. And I was happy to see no “treasure hunt” shoehorned into the game; throughout I was pursuing clear and logical goals even when in a (supposedly) illogical setting. It works. My score: 5.

Sound and Graphics - There are no sounds. There are almost no graphics. I’ll give one point for the spacewalk minigame and its graphical execution, which for Apple II, accomplish what they set out to do. My score: 1.

Environment and Atmosphere - I docked points from Oo-Topos in this category for the lack of any real urgency or threat. Here, urgency is always looming in the form of your dwindling cyborg and bio levels. The clash of “forest” and “metal” areas in the early part of the game also work to its benefit by creating a gameworld that doesn’t “make sense” - which is, of course, part of the mystery. The friendly lizard creatures also contrast well with the violent threats that pop up here and there (the snake, the smada, the berserk robot). And by staying within the ship the entire time, the game feels more cohesive than did Oo-Topos; and allows for a configuration of ship areas (engineering, bridge, dorms, etc.) that fit together more logically than Oo-Topos. My score: 4.

Dialog and Acting - Again, Berlyn’s prose and written world-building remains strong throughout. The friendly lizards provide a source of some limited dialogue as well. But if that’s worth an extra point, I have to dock a point for a bit TOO much out-of-place, wry, and/or sarcastic humor. Oo-Topos hit that balance just a bit better. On the whole, those two differences make a wash, bringing us back to the Oo-Topos score. My score: 4.
Final Tally
The total score? (4+4+5+1+4+4)/.6 = 37 points!



That’s the same score I gave Oo-Topos, but remember that game had graphics throughout; on the whole I think Cyborg is a better and more interesting game - its catching up to Oo-Topos even with (almost) no graphics bears this out. Thanks to all for the opportunity to play it for the blog and report on my thoughts. I enjoyed it and hope you all did too.

Ilmari almost nailed guessing the rating for this one, at 36. Well done!

Time played: 5 hr 50 min

3 comments:

  1. Berlyn's early titles are more on the independent product side of things, but if you're committed to exploring the warm ups of later infocom imps, Brian Moriarty had a couple of type-in adventures for Atari 8-bit computers you could look at.

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    1. Can you help me track those down? I'll be researching Mr. Moriarty very soon.

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    2. They were only a Google away when I documented them for Mobygames, let's see... Crash Dive! at, let's say http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-400-800-xl-xe-crash-dive_1376.html , plus Adventure in the Fifth Dimension at http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-400-800-xl-xe-adventure-in-the-fifth-dimension_114.html

      You will need an Atari 800 emulator to fire those up.

      I tried to round up the salient bits of trivia at the Mobygames entries which may explain some curious design elements or resolve ambiguities.

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