Written by Joe Pranevich
Welcome back! It’s been a few weeks, but last time we saw Roger Wilco, he had just defeated (recruited?) an android intent on his destruction. With a stressful situation firmly in the rear-view mirror, Roger and his crew decided that they needed a little post-mission rest and relaxation at the Space Bar. If anything, last time’s post reinforced the Star Trek pastiche as we played through our first “away mission” on a surprisingly Earth-like planet. As you can guess from the title this week, we’re not going to escape the Star Trek references any time soon.
The Trouble with Space Monkeys
Captain’s Log, Stardate: Thursday and it’s a 5 o’clock world when that whistle blows; no one gets a piece of my time. My crew and I are beaming down to the Space Bar for some well-deserved shore leave after our recent exploits on Kiz Urazgubi. I am certain that no death and destruction awaits us because shore leave episodes are peaceful ones. If I get chased by any giant bunnies that are “late”, I will be certain to shoot first and ask questions later. With luck, we’ll get the “oversexed natives with a secret” sort of shore leave and I won’t mind if we never discover their secret...
One only needs to whisper “shore leave” and he’s out the door in a flash.
First, let me start with an apology. This post is late. When the last post came out, I was riding high. I had played a bit ahead and already had assembled the notes to start this post. I even had a few days off from work! A person good at time management would have used his extra time at that point to write ahead, but instead I started splitting my time with Stationfall, our next Infocom adventure. I emerged from vacation with notes for Space Quest V, plus the start and notes for several Stationfall posts. And then, vacation ended and work crashed down like a ton of bricks. I had long evenings in my day job, the end of semester in my night job, and then taxes were due and… well, it sucked. Please forgive the delay and I hope we can be back on track now. Our good friends Will and Morpheus have been playing plenty of “Missed Classics” so there is no need to start the Stationfall posts now, but they’ll come as soon as we clear this amazing Dynamix adventure.
Back on the bridge of the mighty SCS Eureka, Flo and Droole insist that they need some rest and relaxation time at the Space Bar. With no further trash collection missions, I look up the coordinates in the copy protection and we head off. If I’m the one entering the coordinates, what exactly is Droole for? I guess he controls the throttle. I enter a standard orbit; the pair are off the bridge and on their way to party before I have a chance to consider anything else. The last one off is a “rotten orat ovum”, indeed!
The crew beam out just as I arrive in the transporter room. They couldn’t have waited even a moment!? I’m surprised, in a way, that we don’t have a tether or direct attachment to the station ala Deep Space Nine. That show only aired a few weeks before this game was released, not enough time for them to care and warrant an homage. If anything, I’m reminded more of “Deep Space Station K7”, the “space bar” (and trading station) that Captain Kirk visited in “The Trouble with Tribbles”. That remains one of the most iconic episodes of Star Trek of all time and would be an easy target for a homage. (I didn’t realize yet just how accurate of a prediction this would be!)
Martini glass on the outside, lava lamp on the inside.
We beam into the main promenade of the Space Bar. The first thing I notice is the obvious “Sprint” branding. The game isn’t subtle about it! Cliffy wanders off to drink with some “friends”, but close observation reveals that he’s hanging out with the Goliath crew. Is he a traitor? And what are they doing here anyway? The bar and tables in the rear appear only decorative; I’m not able to sidle up there to order a drink. Closer to where we came in, there are two balconies: the left one features a video game system that we cannot play yet while the right shows Captain Quirk speaking to a “familiar looking alien”. Is he the one from the intercepted communication? Close to where we come in, Flo and Droole are sitting at a table with an empty seat. That looks like a clue.
I try to explore the station but there’s nothing else to see. There’s no passage to the left, although the right leads to a guarded hallway of some kind. The security guards in there aren’t playing any classic video games (pity!), but they won’t let me pass all the same. There doesn’t appear to be anything else of interest.
A floating robot waiter! What will they think of next?
With no other paths, I sit down with my crew to enjoy an adult beverage. They want to relax with their boss, right? A waiter robot comes by and we all order drinks. Flo gets a “fuzzy nostril” while Droole orders a “green goblin”. They are booger jokes, get it? This game doesn’t aim for highbrow. The waiter suggests that we remove ourselves to the restroom if we need to “hurl”, but I know from exploring that there are no restrooms. Did I miss an exit or am I looking for clues where there are none?
Moments later, an old man in a pocket-covered vest comes by and introduces himself as Nelo Jones, the Merchant of Venus. It is nice to know that the game can make Shakespeare puns too! Nelo is clearly based off of Cyrano Jones from the above-mentioned “Trouble with Tribbles” episode. He tries to sell me just about everything from a Thing’s Quest game to radioactive cufflinks before settling on a package of dehydrated Space Monkeys for 15 buckazoids. At this point, Roger still only has a single buckazoid to his name (the drinks are being billed to Starcon) so we have to settle for a small free sample and Nelo’s business card if we ever have money to be swindled out of in the future. (In an earlier draft of this post, I mistakenly said that Mr. Jones was Harcourt Fenton Mudd, the more famous con man antagonist of the original series. I had forgotten that he had a slightly lower-rent counterpart in this episode.)
How does he get to wear a purple shirt? It’s not fair.
No sooner does Nelo leave than Quirk’s conversation with the alien ends. He swaggers down to poke fun at Roger, revealing that he’s the reason that Roger was assigned to the scow in the first place. He reminds us that he and Ambassador Wankmeister are working “closely” together on the Goliath. The implication infuriates Roger who insults him right back, only to have Quirk counter by threatening to bring Roger up on charges for insulting a superior officer. (But aren’t we both captains? Is he like a Super Captain and that is why he can wear purple?) Instead of resorting to the judicial process, Quirk offers to let us settle this like men: with a video game. He challenges us to a game of Battle Cruiser.
Not quite the “Kobayashi Maru”, but is it a no-win scenario?
We march up to the balcony and sit down to play. It becomes apparent that Battle Cruiser is just a variation of Battleship, except in space. It’s not exactly like its predecessor though:
- Instead of a single board, we have three “sectors” we play in at the same time. When firing at ships, we first select which sector and then choose the target from a 10x10 grid. That gives 300 possible places to aim.
- We place four ships. Only one (a scout ship) is a simple line like in the original game; the others are in various patterns to represent different ship designs.
- We are also given a limited number of “probes” that reveal the presence of any ships in a 5x5 grid.
After a successful probe, I know where his ship is. The bottom middle belongs to a second ship, but I didn’t realize that at the time.
I place all of my pieces and begin the game. A few things become obvious: first, Quirk is a “shoot-first” type. He never uses his probes, but while his shots appear to be random, he’s actually canvassing in a checkerboard pattern to maximize his exploration area. When he scores a hit, he scours the adjacent areas to eliminate the target. Using the probes, I have a tactical advantage, but we only get a limited number of them.
In short order, I locate his Battle Cruiser with a probe, but his scatter-shot approach nabs my tiny scout ship. That would have been tricky to find. A few turns later, we are both down by one ship. I get lucky and manage to find the next ship with my next probe (although I should have realized that I had found it already!) and then somehow manage to snag one ship after another with a correct probe each time. It was a good run of luck and I defeat him having lost only one ship.
I sunk your Battle Cruiser!
In this specific instance, Quirk put all of his ships only in the first sector and so was out with only four probes. I play a second time while writing this post and the next pass is much more challenging. In that game, I barely squeaked out a win with one ship remaining. It’s clearly mostly luck, but careful use of the probes should make a human victory more likely. I’m surprised that Quirk didn’t cheat; he even seems not too much of a sore loser as we walk away. I get a few more points for winning after only losing a single ship, but it doesn’t seem worth replaying again to see if I get yet more points for losing none of them. It seems possible to do, but it might take a number of tries unless there is a secret that I am missing.
We emerge from the game to find Cliffy in a fistfight against members of the Goliath crew. Someone had called his ship a garbage scow! Naturally, he was offended and defended the Eureka’s honor. Roger steps in to remind him that his ship is a garbage scow, but at this point the damage is done. Cliffy is escorted to the station’s brig while Quirk and his crew beam back to the Goliath. This scene is exactly parallel to one in “Trouble With Tribbles” when Scotty starts a fight with Klingons over precisely the same insult. Perhaps my first guess of what they would homage was more on the nose than I realized.
Quirk really is a tin-plated overbearing swaggering dictator with delusions of godhood.
I follow Cliffy and the guards back to the eastern hallway where I was before. I realize now that we are looking at the station’s brig. The guards won’t let me visit my engineer so I will have to find a solution to this puzzle. Checking my inventory, the answer emerges quickly when I look at the Space Monkey free sample. It specifically states not to mix the dehydrated aliens with alcohol. So what should I do? Let’s head back to the bar for a drink.
Or feed them after midnight?
Since I cannot order anything at the bar, I sit back down with my crew. Flo confirms my thought that the alien speaking with Quirk was the one on the intercepted transmission. What is our purple-shirted friend up to? What was so important that they had to meet right away? Droole lets me know that this is not Cliffy’s first fight, last time it was the crew of the Intrepid and Cliffy had insulted an officer’s parentage. Even so, Droole insists that we break Cliffy out of lockup. He wants to go in blasting, but Roger believes that there must be a more cunning way. This is the first real “bonding moment” between Roger and his crew and is well-written. We’ll see if things get any rosier once we rescue our friend. (Incidentally, the “parentage” joke seems to be quite a deep cut. On Star Trek, the USS Intrepid was an Enterprise-alike ship crewed primarily by Vulcans.)
Once the conversation is over, I pour the Space Monkeys into my drink. Immediately, they begin to grow and fly around the station multiplying rapidly. Seconds later, they are already overrunning the station. Yeah, this is 100% a “Troubles with Tribbles” parody episode! Of course, now we have a new problem on our hands.
It’s like they are born pregnant.
They are already making themselves quite at home.
With my distraction in place, I return to the cellblock. The guards discuss among themselves how they are receiving annoying marketing calls from “TT&A” trying to convince them to switch away from Sprint. Can you believe that? The red alert sound blasts out and the guards dash out the door; they are excited to have a chance to beat someone up! This is not a “woke” joke about recent police brutality cases, but more likely a poor-taste joke about the beating of Rodney King. This game was released only a few months after the Los Angeles riots and they must have been on the minds of the California-based development team. Nonetheless, it is a good reminder that everything old is new again. We in 2021 can easily relate both to spam telephone calls and difficult questions of racial injustice.
Force fields in the hallway, but the cells have to use real bars?
With the guards gone, I lower the force field and search all of the cells until I find one that is occupied. Naturally, Cliffy doesn’t look very happy to be there. How do we get him out? I try the torch first, but that will cook him at the same time that it melts the bars. I open an embarrassing amount of time trying to pick the lock. Notice that there are what appears to be keycard slots in the door. By using the hole punch on “The Merchant of Venus” business card, I thought I could find a combination that would open the door. That was a dead end, but I received points for trying anyway. I restore to undo the holes that I poked.
The next bit took me longe than I care to admit to work out because I believed that the solution must be on the station. It wasn’t. Instead, I eventually beamed back to the ship and collected Spike, our friendly face hugger. En route, the situation in the station reaches critical as the Space Monkeys expand to fill all available space
It’s all going to hell very quickly. I hope they don’t send me the bill.
By “using” Spike on the cell door, he is encouraged to do his business and melt through the bars. Didn’t we have a plot point just a post or two ago about how we treated his overly acidic urine with an antacid? If so, how does this puzzle make sense? Once Cliffy is free, we run out (and Roger has running animation!) and beam back to the Eureka with no time to spare. The station is overcome with Space Monkeys and explodes! I wonder who will have to pay the bill to repair the station? As we observe the carnage, the ship’s windshield wipers scrape off one dead green monkey-creature after another…
Before we consider the brevity of life, we receive new orders from Starcon: a garbage pickup at Klorox II. (Named, of course, for the laundry detergent.) No further information is forthcoming. Sounds like we have another daring trash pickup to make!
TO BE CONTINUED...
Time Played: 2 hr 10 min
Total Time: 7 hr 15 min
Inventory: Buckazoid, fuse, leftover part from W-D40, laser cutting torch, communicator, hole punch, stick, business card, Spike the Facehugger
Score: 1730 of 5000 (35%)