Saturday 13 March 2021

Space Quest V - Spring Daze at StarCon-U

Written by Joe Pranevich

Welcome back to Space Quest V where Roger Wilco is just getting started down his road to Star Trek-style heroism. The previous post closed out the game’s introductory movie where Roger fantasized that he was the captain of a starship exploring the galaxy, only to be revealed as nothing more than a simulator. Star Trek geeks might wonder if this is the Space Quest version of the “Kobayashi Maru”, the test that all young cadets must go on to learn if they have the capacity to lose in a no-win situation. Roger doesn’t need that kind of training; he’s perfectly good at being a loser even in winnable situations!

I hope you placed your score bets. I am excited to get into this game, if for no other reason than to find out if it can match up to the previous games in the series despite having only a single “Guy From Andromeda”. Will the new blood help or hinder creativity? There is only one way to find out. 

Our menu bar!

My first surprise while playing is that we have a Sierra-style icon interface instead of the Dynamix one. Of course, I had learned this from my research: training the Dynamix team on the Sierra tools was an important part of unifying the company’s design approaches, but when I booted this up the first time it was still a pleasant surprise. The icons are the usual ones with only a new second “talk” icon (with an exclamation point) which means to order someone to do something. (The “smell” and “taste” icons from Space Quest IV are thankfully missing.) My inventory contains only a single Buckazoid coin and we’ll need to pick up more if we find a game of Astro Chicken

The hallway where I start continues to the “north” and “south” but wraps around in a circle. We can see the USS Enterprise from Star Trek as well as ships that are supposedly from Space Quest III. Someone with a better memory for sci-fi shows could probably identify more of them. I particularly like the “good ship” SCS Lollipop. Examining the ships also provides a few small doses of backstory such as the time that Roger mistakenly enabled the hyperdrive on a ship before leaving the station. Oops. It’s no surprise that Mr. Wilco isn’t a good student! Along the route, we also discover a locked janitor’s closet, a locked conference room, two crew members that tell Roger to “drop dead”, and several other panels that don’t appear to do anything at all. I skip out on the hallway leading to the rotunda for now, but enter the first (and only) classroom door that is unlocked. The doors make a satisfying Star Trek-style swoosh! 

Look, a Klingon! Maybe an Andorian? I’m not sure of the others.

Roger arrives in the room to realize that he is late for an important exam, the Starcon Aptitude Test. The “teacher” talks in muffled squawks, just like the ones in the old Peanuts cartoons. In punishment for being late, Roger has to stay after to talk to the teacher. With no further delay, we start the exam. 

Oh boy. I should have studied.

The exam is not what I expected. My first thought was that it would be copy protection and I spent more time than I care to consider going through the included magazine to see if the question was answered somewhere. I came up empty. The overall structure of the exam reminds me of the SATs (“scholastic aptitude tests”) that high school students had to take to apply for many of the colleges in the US. (When I was a kid, some schools preferred the competing “ACTs”, but both tests were similar multiple choice affairs.) Just looking at the first question, there doesn’t appear to be obvious right or wrong answers. I have no idea what we are supposed to pick. In a very nice stroke of musical humor, the background music riffs on the Jeopardy theme while we are puzzling through the test. But what are the answers?

Eventually, I discover the most Roger-esque solution: cheat. If we use the “look” cursor off the test, we can peer around the room. A flying robot watches to ensure that no one is cheating, but that’s not going to stop someone like Roger. From our seat, we can gently peer over at either the red alien’s paper or the big-brained orange one. Since we get the “points!” jungle when we look at the latter, I’m guessing that he is the one I should be focusing on. While it is not difficult, you have to time your cheating carefully. If you look at the wrong time (when the robot’s “face” is visible), he catches you and we are flushed out of the program and off the base. The narrator suggests that perhaps we’d do better in a correspondence course. 

I was guessing either Star Trek’s “Nomad” or the Imperial Probe Droid from Empire Strikes Back. The spherical robot’s design doesn’t seem to be based on either. 

The questions themselves are fun now that we don’t need to worry about coming up with the correct responses. I’m not sure if the questions change between games, but on my playthrough I found a pretty good selection of almost serious ones, references to previous games, and dumb jokes. Here are a few examples.

Some serious ones:

Question #2 - When encountering an alien ship for the first time, you should immediately: 

Answer: None of the Above (i.e. don’t beam over your entire crew, play “Ride of the Valkyries” over the intercom, or open fire with every weapon at your disposal.)

Question #3 - Before beaming down to an unexplored planet for the first time, you should be sure to check:

Answer: The planet’s atmospheric readings.

One reference to a previous game:

Question #3 - You’re marooned on an alien planet with no weapons and a killer android out for your blood. You should:

Answer: Drop a big rock on the robot and shout, “Hasta la vista, baby!”

Some dumb jokes:

Question #8 - How fast does light travel through a vacuum?

Answer: Depends on whether it’s an upright or canister vacuum. 

One of the questions also suggested that I “switch to Sprint” so all of that advertising money is clearly not going to waste. Playing it through, it seems that you only need to cheat once to get the points and pass the exam. For extra laughs, it’s fun to compare the red person’s answers with the brainiac since he’s wrong so much of the time. After the exam, we are informed that our punishment for tardiness is to clean the academy crest. That should be right up Roger’s alley.

Memories of the opening to Space Quest I?

Making my way back to the janitor’s closet, we pass by more students loitering around. Just as before, their only dialog is “get lost” and that seems like a bit of a narrative loss. It’s not like we need every student to have a unique personality, but when you have interesting and unique visual designs for them, you should also invest the same attention in making them interesting and unique. Roger is able to open the janitor’s closet now-- perhaps flashing back to the opening moments of the first Space Quest-- and everything spills out. I grab the “Scrub-O-Matic” and some safety cones; that must be all I need because Roger just kicks everything back in as soon as I pick up the latter. There’s a fun note here that Roger has “bottomless pockets” which is why he can carry a giant cleaning machine, but more likely it just saved on having to animate him pushing it down the hallway. 

That man is not playing Galaga

Where is the Academy crest? The only place it can be is the rotunda that I skipped earlier. This area is a semi-circle elevated around a central plaza. We can take an elevator down to the plaza where the crest is located or we can scoot around the edge to explore the other side of the room. Both regions have a “Security Clearance Alpha'' area that Roger is not permitted to enter off to the south. They also both have video game-playing guards: the one in the west is playing 1980’s Missile Command, while the one on the right is playing Asteroids (1979). There is also a hallway off to the far west that I do not have clearance to enter either. Only way to go from here is down. 

Getting every last pixel can annoying.

Once below, the screen shifts to an overhead view. It feels a bit unusual for a Sierra game, but I can’t say for sure whether they’ve done that before. Removing the safety cones and the sweeper from my “bottomless pocket”, I am ready to play a mini-game! This one is simple and all Roger needs to do is run his sweeper around the seal (using a “brush” icon) to make it less grimy. The actual color difference isn’t huge and it’s easy to miss a pixel here or there. It’s not challenging, but you have to be thorough. (Just like cleaning!)

Once I finish, I am greeted by Captain Quirk as he gives a tour of the facility to “Ambassador Wankmeister”. She seems pleased that her tax dollars aren’t going completely to waste. Seeing Roger, she pauses mid-tour and asks if he is the hero that defeated the Sariens many years ago. Roger is amazed that she knows of him, but more importantly he flashes back to the hologram in Space Quest IV. She is the woman that he is destined to marry! It’s to the game’s credit that Roger thinks about marriage rather than the other implication that could lead to them having a kid together...

Just like me. Didn't you get the subtext?

Clever and romantic? Not likely.

Roger is flustered. Never a good communicator at the best of times, he mumbles out an acknowledgement and she walks away remarking that Roger is not who she expected. Is that good? Bad? What did she expect, anyway? Quirk realizes that he’s being upstaged by a cadet and points out a dirty spot on the crest. This is immediately followed by Quirk ignoring the safety cones and taking a spill on the freshly cleaned floor. Beatrice teases the captain that his toupee is askew; she has absolutely no patience for Quirk’s attitude. 

Slippery when a moron.

Quirk complains that Roger deliberately made the floor slippery to trip him up and places him on “double secret probation” which, considering that he told Roger about it in public, isn’t very secretive. Quirk and the ambassador wander off. Now what am I supposed to do?

Without any particular goal in mind, I re-explore the station. I don’t have to wait long before a cutscene triggers: an alien rat of some kind has snuck into the base’s grading computer. Just as the computer processes Roger’s exam, the rat leaps into the electronics and dies in a shower of sparks that momentarily cuts power across the base. We cut to Quirk and the Ambassador in a conference room discussing something as the lights flicker. Roger walks by the window outside, but our view is of the conference as Ambassador Wankmeister tries to convince an admiral and a number of other assembled brass that the “Sludge Bandits” are destroying planets and need to be stopped. (Are they any relation to Sludge Vorhaul?) The panel is dismissive, but she fights back by referring to Quirk as “rug head” and pointing out that four planets his sector have been affected already. 

Ambassador Wankmeister is wonderfully assertive against the bureaucracy.

Quirk offers to hear more about the “alleged dumping sites”... over dinner at his place. To her credit (and 1990s sexism’s!), she retorts that she already provided the coordinates to Starcon command. The admiral assigns Quirk to investigate, but Beatrice insists on coming on the expedition to observe directly. The admiral points out that it’s against regulations to have a civilian onboard during a mission, but Quirk insists that it would give them time to develop a “productive working relationship”. Beatrice again reminds Quirk that she is an official representative and that she has a right to observe, and by implication a right not to be hit on. The admiral insists that she would just be in the way, but Beatrice storms out of the room. These are “her people”, she claims, and she’s coming on the mission whether they like it or not. 

On her way out, she bumps into Roger as he was trying to listen in at the door. Despite her friendly tone to him earlier, she sarcastically calls him the “savior of the universe” and essentially asks him to go play with his “golden mop”. (This was from the original Space Quest, correct?) Roger dusts himself off as she departs. 

We resume exploring to discover that the big-brained cadet that I cheated off of is telling everyone that I cheated off of him. My classmates are even less friendly, if that is possible, with one telling Roger to play “Romulan roulette with a hand phaser”. Ouch! At the bulletin board, I retrieve my test results-- printed on paper, of course. We received a perfect score! Not only that, but we have the highest score ever reported by the academy. Based on our incredible talent, we are immediately promoted to Captain; Quirk will be our superior and will post our first assignment. Thank you, little rat! 

Roger is now a “red shirt”. 

A garbage ship shaped like a hand-vac? Not the most subtle joke in the series.

Roger changes out of his blue cadet uniform to a red Captain uniform. (Whether they are mimicking the red captain uniforms of The Next Generation or the “red shirts” of original Star Trek is unclear. Perhaps neither or both.) We attend a weeklong training seminar at “Planet Oakhurst” and are assigned the SCS Eureka. On flying out to his craft for the first time, Roger discovers that it is a garbage scow rather than a starship, but at least it’s his. (It’s also in the shape of a hand vacuum, no doubt named for the “Eureka” vacuum brand.) 

We get a glimpse of Roger coming onto the deck for the first time to meet his bridge officers, Flo and Droole: Flo is a communications officer while Droole is the navigator. As Roger sits in his Kirk-style command chair for the first time, it makes a farting noise. Yes, we’re in that kind of game.

Captain Roger Wilco! I like the sound of that.

And that is where I will leave us off for the week. While it’s just the introductory area, it gets us a pretty good sense for the comedy and pace of the game. At this point, I’m especially pleased to see how much effort is going into characterization. While Roger is still as dimwitted and ill-defined as a player-character needs to be, I’m excited to see how Beatrice is being written. She’s sassy and strong, quite willing to stand up to Captain Quirk. The fact that she knows of Roger and is both approving and disappointed plays well and gives them room to develop a relationship, if they choose to go that route. In just a few sequences, she’s one of the more interesting and well-realized characters we’ve seen in a Sierra game in a while. Quirk is obviously played up as much as possible to be a Kirk-style ass and I’m certain that Roger will get his revenge on the rug-wearing captain before the end of the game.

All in all, a fun start to the game. Let’s see how our missions proceed from here.

I would also like to extend my apologies to Corey and Lori Cole, the makers of the upcoming Summer Daze at Hero-U, for borrowing their title for my post. I would offer to give it back, but it’s already broken. Their next game, a sequel/prequel to Hero-U, will be available soon. I only speak for myself when I say that I am looking forward to playing it. 

I’ll be back next week to take a final look at Bureaucracy and tease out what I can from the source code. Did you know they originally wrote three completely different airplane sequences? 

Time Played: 1 hr 05 min


  1. In the first screen, besides the nacelles from the USS Enterprise, the upper ship it is a Viper fighter from "Battlestar Galactica". I don't recognize the lower ship, but as "Space Quest V" is from 1993, it could be some minor ship from "Star Trek: The Next Generation".

    1. I should post all of the hallway scenes next time and we can see if we can name any more ships. The rooms were just a bit repetitive and so I didn't bother posting them all.

    2. I took a look to a playthrough, and one of the ships seen from the windows seems to be an "Star Wars" Imperial Shuttle with its side wings folded. clipped (although the dorsal stabilizer keeps its original length) and mirrored (so it has four side wings, two upper and two lower). In another screen, there is a ship which seems to be a Cylon Raider from "Battlestar Galactica" (it's very small and difficult to recognize, but its crescent-moon shape matches the Cylon Raider silhouette in its typical promo shot).

      The bald admiral on the conference looks a bit like Patrick Stewart. Also, the font type used in the game initial credits reminds me of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" intro credits, and when Roger Wilco leaves the simulator pod, you can see that the sim pod itself it is a disguised Millenium Falcon (you can recognize the Falcon's cockpit in the sim pod's left side).

    3. My guess was that some of the people around the conference table were meant to be Sierra / Dynamix employees, but I didn't try (yet?) to work out who.

  2. I once heard that if you play the game in 16 colors, the game skips the crest-cleaning puzzle and gives you full points. I don't know how to test that, or even if it's possible to play in 16 colors.

    1. Probably you could emulate a particular video card setup in DOSBox. This thread about VGA games that had EGA versions doesn't mention Space Quest V, but they also talk about some quick-and-dirty downgrading by just having an EGA driver included (without having taken the time to actually make separate versions of the graphics), so maybe SQV was in that category.

  3. A garbage ship shaped like a hand-vac? Not the most subtle joke in the series.

    Besides the obvious joke about Roger being a janitor, it makes me think of Spaceballs. ("She's gone from suck to blow!")

    I wonder if the ship on the left that vaguely resembles a shoe is meant to be a reference to the Heart of Gold?

    Quirk is obviously played up as much as possible to be a Kirk-style ass

    Jim Kirk really isn't an ass though. The image he's gained in modern popular culture (full of himself, womanizing...) isn't really borne out by the actual TOS episodes. Some of it might be because Bill Shatner himself can be a bit of a jerk?

    1. When the entire Star Trek franchise got available on Netflix, I saw all the TV series, as my previous experiencie with "Star Trek" was the movies, the first season of "TOS", and like forty "TNG" episodes seen out of order. I was in a curious situation, because I was quite familiarized with the franchise due to having read sourcebooks and episode guides, but I had seen very little from the TV series themselves (I'm Spanish, so I didn't had the kind of exposition to the "Star Trek" TV series that I suppose somebody living in the USA would had).

      I was quite surprised when seeing "TOS" that I found that a lot of "Star Trek classical tropes" are exaggerated interpretations of what really happened in "TOS". As Lisa H. has said, Captain Kirk es not an ass nor a womanizer in the "TOS" episodes; quite the contrary, it is the kind of captain which you would love to serve, and the womanizer aspect only really starts in the third season, wherein there is not only a big drop in quality, but the series takes a turn to being more "space adventure" than "sci-fi". There are a lot of problematic aspects which have aged badly in "TOS" (and in "TNG"), but the Captain Kirk of "TOS" it is much closer to the Captain Steve Trevor from the "Wonder Woman" movies to the Captain Kirk from the last "Star Trek" movies (which depict them as quite a jerk).

    2. About William Shatner's jerkiness, I have a friend who met him a few years ago in a sci-fi convention celebrated in London (if I remember correctly, I think it was one of the last conventions done before the coronavirus breakout, so I would guess it was the London Film & Comic Con from 2019), and she didn't get a good impression from Mr. Shatner.

    3. Shatner has always been a performer who seems to have fancied himself more akin to the flamboyant personas of Hollywood's golden age A-listers, despite being a middle-tier TV actor from the second half of the century. And over the years, he just kept leaning into it to the point that he's basically a walking caricature now. But yeah, the popular conception of kirk is way off from where the character actually was. The key to understanding him is that what's perceived as arrogance and entitlement is actually a pathological sense of responsibility - he's a control freak because he blames himself for everything that goes wrong in the universe (There's a rather wonderful character arc in Discovery where they imply that's the reason Spock likes Kirk, since he reminds him of his adopted sister, who he explicitly calls out for her pathological sense of responsibility).

    4. I've got the impression that over the years that Shatner's jerkiness has risen and fallen. During TOS he was insistent on having the most lines of any character, but during the writing of his Star Trek Memories books, he realized, "Oh, I was an asshole to the rest of the cast". But I've gotten the impression that these days Shatner is going to be a jerk if he thinks you're going to be annoying or obnoxious.

    5. Other commenters have expressed it fairly well, but my impression of "Quirk" is that he is modeled after the worst bits of both Captain Kirk and William Shatner. There are some famous examples of this ranging from the tantrums when Nimoy received more fan-mail to the famous 1986 "Get a Life" sketch. It's clearly a broad-strokes parody, but it's effective in part because it plays so well against Beatrice's no-nonsense personality. She sees him being a creep and either ignores it or calls him out on it. I rather like how she is written so far, but I could feel differently by the end of the game.

      For the record, I am also a Star Trek nerd and have watched every episode (in order) of TOS, TNG, DS9, and ENT. I'm enjoying Discovery and Picard so far, especially the most recent season. My multi-year marathon of all Trek died in the middle of Voyager when I reached a point where it was just too dumb for me to go on. I similarly have not managed to make it through TAS or Lower Decks yet.

    6. I met mr Shatner 2 years ago and my impression was of a very genuine and nice person. I don't doubt the stories of his earlier behaviour but age does tend to either humble or harden a person, and from what I have seen it appears to have somewhat humbled him. He also did a documentary on all the Star Trek captains a few years ago that I can really recommend to fans of the series. Just my personal experience with the man.

  4. "The “smell” and “taste” icons from Space Quest IV are thankfully missing"
    aww, I liked them, they added potential for comedy (and comedy deaths)

    1. They are fun, but unless they're routinely worked into the general gameplay, they're kind of dead weight in the UI.

    2. Their existence was sort of a pain if you're the kind of player who prefers to cycle through icons by right-clicking.

  5. "Whether they are mimicking the red captain uniforms of The Next Generation or the “red shirts” of original Star Trek is unclear."

    My first impression were the movie era jackets.

    1. In case it matters, while you can *lose* the game at any point in the story, you can't actually *die* before becoming captain.

  6. An alternative approach to the quiz is to just write down the answers you try (they're not random) and restart several times until you have the full list. People who have played Larry 1 or 3 (that start with that "age quiz" that is largely incomprehensible if you're not from the US, in the days before google) will find this method familiar :)

    1. Does that work? Do they let you "win" without cheating?

    2. I'm pretty sure that it works. Of course it HAS been a long time since I played this. Feel free to double-check.

    3. I think so. I have a list of the correct answers written down in my own walkthrough, but also a note that it doesn't matter (in the sense of advancing the story) what answers you choose.

    4. If you answer just anything - I played using SCUMMVM - a robot breaks into the quiz computer and causes havoc, giving you a perfect score.
      So either way, cheating or not, you still get a perfect score

  7. What I recall enjoying from this game is that if you leave Roger alone for a while he fusses with his uniform, pulling it down in the front...and then down in the back, as though it can't ever be comfortably tucked in.

    1. I get the impression that they might just be imitating Picard? Picard's always fussing around with the uniform whenever he stands up or sits down in Next Generation.

    2. Yeah, that idle animation probably parodies the "Picard tug" aka "Picard maneuver" (the latter name presumably being a joke on the actual in-universe tactical maneuver).

    3. Makes sense, I wasn't ever much of a Trekkie

  8. "Once below, the screen shifts to an overhead view. It feels a bit unusual for a Sierra game, but I can’t say for sure whether they’ve done that before."

    There was at least one occasion before this: in King's Quest V in the ice mountains after Graham defeats the Yeti, there is one screen viewed top-down, just so you get a nice view of Graham getting bug-eyed at a giant shadow before a roc swoops in and grabs him.

    I suppose there's also the beginning of Space Quest II where Roger can walk on the wall so it looks like a similar perspective, but that probably doesn't count.

  9. If anyone is reading the comments, I could use some assistance. New post is just about done, but I need help after that.

    The battle against the android is killing me (literally). I think it has something to do with the boulder and somehow pushing it down the cave or dropping it on her and while I can climb up, I don't have any way to dislodge the rock and just using the hand icon doesn't do it. Have I missed an item?

    Hints in rot13 for escaping this area would be appreciated. I've been dying now for more than an hour and that's enough time that I'm okay asking for help...

    1. (sorry, wrong reply level.)

      Lbh arrq fbzrguvat gb chfu gur obhyqre jvgu.
      Lbh zvtug arrq gb tb bhg ba n yvzo.
      Gurer'f n cynpr jurer lbh pna jnyx ba n gerr oenapu bhg bire n cbby.
      ...Fcynfu! Jryy, znlor gung oebxra oenapu jvyy or hfrshy?
      Nsgre pyvzovat hc, hfr gur oenapu ba gur obhyqre.

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