Monday, 21 June 2021

Space Quest V - Worst of Both Worlds (Parts I and II)

Written by Joe Pranevich

Welcome back! It sounds odd to say while writing about a Space Quest, but one of my favorite Sierra games is Quest for Glory IV. That game hardly needs an introduction, but one of my favorite things about it is the development of relationships between our Hero and the townsfolk. In previous Quest for Glory games, the Hero had a supporting cast of Katta innkeepers, a Saurian or two, and a sword-wielding lion. In the fourth title, he finds himself an unpopular and unwelcome visitor. Tolerated but not supported, the early hours of the game feel lonely as every pair of eyes look at you with suspicion. Gradually (and sometimes not so gradually), the townsfolk come to appreciate our heroic actions. One by one, their stoic exteriors are broken by the actions of our Hero. It may seem like such a small thing, but so much of my love for that game can be summarized by the feeling that you are making a difference. Space Quest V, finally and perhaps surprisingly, has progressed down the same path. After breaking Cliffy out of jail (and blowing up the evidence), Roger has built bridges to Flo and Droole. The latter is just impressed, but Flo appears to want to engage in some unprofessional activity. Everyone on the ship sees Roger as “one of them” and I love it. It’s a nice pivot and gets us ready for the darkness that is almost certainly coming.

This post was originally going to be divided into two parts, but I’m already struggling enough with the schedule so better to push it all out now. It comes together better that way anyway. We have a broader mix of inspirations this time out from Star Wars to Night of the Living Dead, plus more than a little Toxic Avenger for good measure. We’re still playing it all through a Trek lens, but the other inspirations are clearly there. Let’s sit down in the command chair and start our adventure of the week!

Worst of Both Worlds (Part I)

Captain’s Log, Stardate: Friday, I think. It’s all blurring together. Back to work! Moments after the mysterious and completely unexplained explosion that destroyed the Spacebar, we have been given another assignment: a trash pickup! Again! As we zoom off to collect the waste of Klorox II, we stand proud knowing that my crew and I are truly cleaning up the galaxy to make it a better place and not, by way of example, blowing up any space stations. 

The crew is bonding!

Flo reveals that Klorox II is a small colony in the G6 system, but is otherwise too infatuated with me to tell me anything else of importance. (Suddenly, it’s a bit more apparent how she has so many ex-husbands…) The name comes from “Clorox 2”, a color-safe bleach that appears to still be manufactured. “Color-safe bleach” makes as much sense to me as “nonpoisonous pesticide”, but whatever floats their boat. Curiously, the copy protection code for the location is “90210”, best known as the ZIP code of Beverly Hills, California (as well as the title of a 1990s teen drama). We head to our new destination but there is no waste beacon. That is odd. We also get no response when we hail the planet so Flo suggests contacting Starcon. No response from them, either, other than a hold message that says we are the 2 billionth caller in the queue. What could be going on? Are we alone in the universe? Probably not.

Droole’s first thought is that the colony was invaded and that we should nuke the colony from orbit. Roger disagrees so Droole suggests beaming down to take out the invaders hand-to-hand. We have no idea what is happening so it seems a bit premature to jump to such extreme measures. Cliffy reminds me that we have a working science officer, WD40, now. She can conduct scans of the area and provide recommendations. She reveals that the planet has only “indeterminate” lifesign readings and that we should beam down to investigate. As soon as I stand up, Droole races to the transporter room to help us “investigate”. He’s just itching to shoot something, isn’t he?

Two suns over a desert. Where have we seen that before?

Klorox II appears to be patterned off of Tatooine in Star Wars, down to the two sons and the spaceport that looks a bit like Mos Eisley. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence. Droole spies my wardrobe and immediately runs off. Red shirts, he informs me, are bad luck. (Could that be why Quirk wears purple?) The idea that the red shirts were cannon fodder was a truism in the original Star Trek, but abandoned by The Next Generation, probably because Patrick Stewart looked much better in red.

Whatever it is patterned off of, the colony has been attacked. Tools are scattered among the dunes, a nearby building has a hole blown into it, and everything looks like whomever was here left very quickly. Ignoring the settlement for now, I explore the east outskirts first to see a mysterious canister in the rocks but no way to get to it. Only be heading west (somehow) do we end up on top of the ridge to see it close up. Perhaps the planet is a mobius strip?

Not from concentrate.

Looking closer, the canister is “primordial soup”, a biohazardous material. How did it get here? In real life, “primordial soup” refers to the theory developed in 1929 by biologist J. B. S. Haldane to explain the origins of life on Earth. This canister perhaps speeds up that process? (Is it like one of the Genesis devices from Star Trek II?) The warning label claims it as a product of the Genetix Corporation and even provides the coordinates for its headquarters. (Fittingly, it’s “41666”.) How did this canister affect the colonists? Is there more of it? More importantly, am I exposed now too?

I’m failing to recall any sci-fi greenhouses.

I don’t immediately get sick so I notate the coordinates and descend into the nearby settlement. The only building we can enter is a destroyed greenhouse. Careful exploration reveals a working computer, but an unseen attacker lunges at me before I can reach the controls. The assailant looks like a cross between a zombie and the Hunchback of Notre Dame, but with more warts. (Disney’s film didn’t come out until 1996 so that is likely to be a coincidence.) He knocks Roger to the ground and pounces, pinning us to the ground and triggering a small minigame sequence. 

You… are… so… gross...

Our minigame is a simple one: we have to dodge spit. The mutant fires off a loogie and we have to move our head in time and in the correct direction to dodge it. If Roger gets hit, he will transform into a mutant and then it’s Game Over. It’s quite simple but also takes a couple of tries to see the trick: move our head too quickly and he adjusts, too slowly and we don’t dodge in time. Instead, if we just click as soon as we hear the “spitting” noise, we dodge the offending droplet and he tries again. After a few successful maneuvers, Droole arrives and shoots the creature dead. He was so looking forward to killing things!

Droole is quite proud of himself, even doing a gun-twirling motion, before running off to see if there’s anything else he can kill. (I’m tempted to make a joke about the “Group W Bench” here, but that is probably too obscure even for me.) In his death throes, the mutant creature transforms back into a person: he’s one of the missing colonists. He urges us to search for the “bad soup” on the “secret path” (that we already found). He also drops a piece of paper with a set of coordinates on it (“80869”), but otherwise there isn’t much to see. 

I search everything again, but find nothing new. We beam back up to the ship, but we receive an emergency transmission from the Goliath as soon as I arrive. 

Guess wearing purple wasn’t a great idea, either.

Quirk appears on screen and relays a message to anyone listening: the Goliath is under attack. The attackers somehow came through their shuttlebay. Anyone in range is ordered to render aid. Before we can respond, the transmission ends. Flo manages to track it to the Thrakus system. As a final coda-- unseen by Roger and the crew of the Eureka, Quirk and his men succumb to the mutagen. The battle is over before it even began. (Cowabunga! The original animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and their mutagen debuted in 1986. Could be yet another contributing homage to this misadventure. We’ll just have to be on the lookout for taking sensei rats.) 

Looks like someone watched “The Menagerie”.

Worst of Both Worlds (Part II)

Captain’s Log, Stardate: Still Friday… maybe Saturday? Does anyone have a calendar? What time is it anyway? What we found on Klorox II was unspeakable: the colony deserted, every survivor transformed into a bulbous rage monster. They’ve taken to the stars now, to who knows where. We killed the final mutant on the surface, but who knows how many more there may be scattered through the expanses of space. We just received a distress call from the SCS Goliath: their crew, too, have been transformed into these creatures. We have been ordered by Starcon emergency protocol to offer assistance. My own future (er… past? something?) may be in jeopardy: Ambassador Wankmeister is aboard the Goliath. If I do not rescue her, what would become of the timeline?

Turning once again to the copy protection, we warp to Thrakus. While we could elect to follow the coordinates on the paper or on the can of “soup”, the direct approach to the emergency seems like the “by the book” approach. Thrakus is a green planet with an asteroid belt, perhaps the ruins of a destroyed moon. Is that pertinent or just world building, I have no idea. Goliath is nowhere to be seen, but we do detect an escape pod on the surface of the planet. Our new science officer informs us that the environment is toxic. She’s also concerned about hidden ships and suggests stealth, but our cloak (that we stole from her ship) isn’t functional yet. For the giggles, I beam down to the surface and die immediately just a few feet from the escape pod. We’re on the right track, but how can I descend safely? Does the person in the escape pod have the equipment needed to survive?

Not my brightest move, but there’s always the “restore” button.

Unfortunately, I do not have a solution to the “dying” problem. The space suits in the ship have all been damaged and the EVA pod can only be used to repair the ship. I’m clearly missing an item that I need, but where can it be?

Since the answer will not be found sitting still, I explore the two sets of coordinates that I found. This actually feels “good”, like the game is opening up to a wider world where we have more than just one place to explore. (That feeling will shortly be revealed to be illusionary, but it feels nice at the time.) I head to the address on the canister first. That leads to a space station. We are hailed immediately upon arriving and it’s the bug guy from the Spacebar and Quirk’s transmission! Unfortunately, he doesn’t exactly welcome me with open arms: he throws up shields that I cannot beam through and reports me for trespassing on high-security space. 

Does it have a guard playing Galaga?

I seem to be stuck. There’s no way to progress further here and no way to borrow an oxygen tank. I warp away to the second set of coordinates and find… nothing, just empty space. Is this for a future rendezvous? If so, I must be early because there is nothing here to see. My illusion of having a galaxy to explore is destroyed; I’ll need to search for a way to survive the planet closer to home.

This leads to a lot of frustration and fruitless searching. I believe that the developers didn’t intend for the problem to be as difficult as it was, but nonetheless it took me a while. In short, I re-explored every inch of my ship. In the downstairs pod bay, next to the damaged suits and the EVA pod, there are some small panels in the background art. I didn’t think anything of them, but inside two of the panels I discovered an air tank and a rebreather mask. A third contains a… chicken. It flies out of the panel and across the room, playing the music from Astro Chicken. I’m going to assume for now that it is just an in-joke and that I don’t need to find a way to capture (choke?) the chicken. The game is above that kind of sexual innuendo, isn’t it?

Yes, it’s a chicken. But is it an “Astro Chicken”?

I return to the transporter and don the rebreather mask. The game beams me down to the surface automatically so either I don’t need the oxygen tank or we use it automatically. The planet is just two screens wide and there’s no difficulty working our way around to the escape pod on the other side. The pod is hot to the touch, but naturally I burn Roger over and over again while the game more or less calls me a sadist. I finally work out that we need to “look” inside the entrance to the pod, not “use” it, and then we peer inside. 

At least it has seat belts.

The pod is upside down and empty. I hope whoever was in here has a mask to breathe. Searching the pod, I discover a frock that I can take and turn off the emergency beacon. My crew refuses to beam me back up so there must be more exploring to do, but what will I find? Is it a man or a monster? Exploring again is tense, but I am quickly ambushed by a woman wearing a rebreather mask. In the ensuing melee, we both tumble off the side of the mushroom platform and nearly fall to our deaths in the forest floor far below. 

She knows Venusian aikido?


There’s the unnecessary innuendo!

Nearly falling to one's doom has a way of opening your eyes and the woman, Ambassador Wankmeister, realizes that I am friend and not foe. We dangle precariously over the forest floor as she gradually pulls down my pants. Believe me, it’d be a lot sexier if there wasn’t dying involved. To make matters worse, some mutants beam in below and start to fire (using Super Soakers?) a mucus-like substance at us. They want to create more mutants and we cannot let them. More importantly, where did they beam in from? Did the Goliath return? Or did we not see it in orbit? Are Flo and Droole okay? No time to think, they keep shooting at us.

I hand down Beatrice’s jacket and she climbs up it and then me. Once she gets to the surface, she lowers a vine to climb. No sooner do I step foot on solid “ground”, then another batch of mutants (led by Quirk) corner and shoot us. Game Over. I try the sequence again and again. Before long, I get the idea to call my ship while we are dangling and then climb up. Doing so causes the Eureka to perfectly time an extraction just as we’re about to be creamed by their mucus guns. We escaped!

Quirk pauses a moment to look at the fourth wall.

There is no time to gloat. Beatrice collapses and we learn that she was struck by one of the mutants. It’s only a matter of time before she transforms. (This feels like a trope from a zombie film, but I haven’t seen any of those.) Roger wants to look for a cure, but there’s no time. She suggests that we cryogenically freeze her to slow down the progression of the “primordial soup”. She reveals that while she thought I was a jerk at the academy, she now sees that I am an “okay guy” and perhaps even “more than okay”. It’s not love at first sight, but it’s a start! 

She reveals that the Goliath plans to infect all of Starcon next, but that she sabotaged it (by removing something from the warp drive) on her way out. (This parallels a similar event in Star Trek III.) That also means that Goliath is still in orbit with us and we are in very great danger, but let’s just solve one issue at a time. 

Kicking Roger’s butt is not as difficult as it appears.


It doubles as a microwave?

A brief speech and a quick “not a doctor” joke from Cliffy later, Roger hauls Beatrice’s body over to the cryogenic pod and drops her in. There is still a small puzzle of how long we should freeze her for, but the answers are right there on the control panel: 10 seconds to freeze an ambassador. I put her in hibernation and we’re out of the woods… for now. We still must survive the Goliath and find a cure for everyone. Why does this janitor always need to clean up everyone’s messes?

TO BE CONTINUED...

Very much an LCARS-based interface.

Addendum

Rather than wait until next time to write it up, I solved one further puzzle while writing this post. The set of coordinates that I discovered on the paper in the greenhouse weren’t coordinates at all! (Or at least, not only coordinates.) After defeating the mutant, I never went back to look at the computer. Booting it up prompts for a password and shows an LCARS (Star Trek: The Next Generation)-like interface. Entering the password on the sheet gives us access to the personal logs of the colony administrator, Harry Kerry (get it?). He documents how the colonists found strange creatures roaming the badlands. Only a few days later, the colony was massacred by a monster and the colony leader was injured. The monsters captured the shuttle pad and pretty much all was lost. Before long, the mutants took off in a shuttle, leaving the administrator to slowly succumb to his poisoning and become a monster himself. I didn’t get any points for discovering the log entries, but they fill out what happened. Better to mention them now rather than later.

Time Played: 2 hr 25 min
Total Time: 9 hr 40 min
Inventory: Buckazoid, warp distributor cap, fuse, leftover part from W-D40, laser cutting torch, communicator, hole punch, stick, business card, air tank, rebreather, paper with writing
Score: 2145 of 5000 (43%)

18 comments:

  1. I'm sure cryo-freezing people while waiting for a cure to a disease must have occurred in a Trek episode, but I can't recall one off the top of my head.

    I've just finished Deep Space Nine and have moved onto Voyager, and it makes me think that despite the 90s being full of new star trek, in gaming it's still so often the original series that gets mined for material for jokes/parody.

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    1. I'm not sure about "as a cure for disease". The most famous example I can think of that may qualify would be Walt Disney, but none of the Star Trek shows went there.

      Star Trek's most famous cryosleep episode was probably "Space Seed", the one with Khan. But in that case it was sleep-for-long-distance-travel which is a completely different trope.

      Did Futurama (1999) have people frozen to escape disease? I don't recall the premise well and, of course, that was still six years in the future from our game's perspective.

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    2. TNG did the escaping from a terminal illness bit in S1's final episode, The Neutral Zone. Turns out quite a few humans got sent on long cryogenic journeys in that series.

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    3. Futurama did indeed have people frozen to escape disease, there's a whole episode about an 80s guy getting unfrozen.

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  2. If I remember right, there was a huge sapaceship that was a greenhouse in Battlestar Galáctica (the one with Edward James Olmos, not Face)

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    1. Good catch! Were there any from pre-1993 though?

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    2. Silent Running? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silent_Running

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  3. One of the major things SQ5 is riffing on here is the cheesy horror movie(s) The Blob, whose titular gelatinous mass causes people infected by it to become its obedient servants. It was originally made in 1958, with a remake in 1988.

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  4. "Is it an Astro Chicken?" Well, based on the Greek origins, it is of the stars, isn't it? (Might demean the video game franchise created by the two guys from Andromeda, but technically any chicken launched into space or space adjacent is assuredly.. just that.)

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  5. I loved Heroes Quest for Glory I&II far more than III and only played once through IV. I didn't enjoy the diversion into a darker, I presume more European delve into gypsies, selkies, werewolves and the undead. Great looking game though!

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    1. The first game is my favourite overall, followed by IV (still haven't gotten around to playing V). Although IV has a more complex plot that I appreciate, I love a well-done parser and think it adds enough immersion in QfGI for me to prefer it - otherwise IV would be my favourite. (For example, it feels faster and more natural to type "run" than to go through menus to activate running mode.) The other games also didn't do the environmental structure as well, with II's grinding done outside (of a labyrinthine city) in the desert and III having its few key locations hours of travel apart. In the first and fourth games, instead you're constantly running through a monster-filled forest and the grinding happens naturally.

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  6. I need some help! Any idea how to survive the fly section? I found the computer and Cliffy beamed down, but he just swats me when I get close. I cannot find anything else to do here and I am a bit stuck.

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    1. 1. Unir lbh znantrq gb hfr lbhe pbzzhavpngbe?
      2. Pbhyq lbh trg fbzrguvat urnivre gb ghea vg ba?
      3. Unir lbh gevrq yhevat gur sebt gb whzc? (Lbh'yy arrq tbbq gvzvat gb abg trg rngra.)

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    2. Thank you! I had been eaten by the fish several times, but never managed to get it to land on the communicator. It wasn't obvious that I was just doing it wrong rather than it being something else in the environment that can kill you. (If you fly too close to some plants, you also die, for example.)

      Past it now and am writing up the next post.

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  7. Space Quest V is among my top 10 games of all times, even if the writing perhaps has excessive failed comedy. But the graphics, puzzles, music and overall plot make up for it. Still, I think I prefer IV.

    By the way, Veil of Darkness has been abandoned for months... Perhaps somebody on the team should take a look. (I wonder what % does that game have of graphic adventure and what % of RPG, too).

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  8. Thanks for the opening paragraph about Quest for Glory IV, Joe! We worked hard to create structures that would show the player overcoming suspicion and distrust. It's good to read that we pulled it off, at least for you.

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    1. Ok, just had to look that up... "mistrust" would be a better word than "distrust" per Grammarist. I'm compulsive about trying to use the best word, even when the difference is small.

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