Tuesday 6 July 2021

Space Quest V - Requiem for the Brundlefly

Written by Joe Pranevich

As we start this week, I’m of two minds. On one hand, Space Quest V has exceeded my recollections and expectations. The plot, the whimsy, and even the Star Trek references are hitting just right. The presence of a central ship and crew sets it apart from the other games in this series, fleshing out Roger’s world more than the “road movie”-style events of the previous games. On the other hand, I’m just about ready for the game to be over. Maybe it still has surprises in store, but it would be nice to come to the end this week or next.

As the title suggests, this week’s events borrow heavily from 1986’s The Fly starring Jeff Goldblum. As discussed in the comments on a previous post, I deal very badly with horror (and especially “body horror”) films, so I know it only by reputation. I encourage commenters to point out anything that I might have missed, but I suspect they borrowed little more than the idea that a transporter accident with a fly could cause wacky hijinks. This week also brings us the usual collection of Star Trek jokes, plus a pinch of Star Wars and a dash of Lassie. If I missed any references (anything from 2001?), let me know. 

Requiem for the Brundlefly

Captain’s Log, Stardate: Saturday morning and I’m missing my cartoons! Beatrice has been saved! Well, sort of. After responding to the Goliath’s distress call, we found only a single escape pod on the planet. After much heroics on my part (and absolutely not losing my pants in front of my future wife), I rescued the ambassador just as the mutants that used to be the Goliath’s crew attacked. Alas, the Ambassador was infected by the mutants before beaming up and we had to place her on ice. Now we wait. Can my little garbage scow stand up to one of the most powerful ships in the fleet? 

So hot, she’s cold.

Everything is strangely quiet. With Beatrice on ice, one immediate danger is dealt with, but what about the other? WD40 works at her station. Cliffy bangs on sensitive equipment with a hammer. I take a breath, but we went from being chased by Goliath mutants to… nothing. Why aren’t we panicking? I look in on Beatrice and even though we just put her in containment, she’s already transforming into a mutant. Even frozen, the process seems inevitable.

I return to the bridge and finally the panic sets in: the Goliath spotted us! She arms torpedoes and advances. I hail, but there is no response. I order “Evasive action!”, but Droole (strangely) tells me that we don’t have a reason to retreat yet. What about the giant warship, Droole? Goliath opens fire.

In the immortal words of Lt. Cmdr data in Star Trek: First Contact, “Oh Shit”

The first attack takes out our shields; Cliffy complaints that the ship is barely being held together. The cloaking device isn’t working yet, either. WD40 recommends running away. I order “Evasive Action!” again and this time Droole is more receptive, but now we’re trapped between the Goliath and an asteroid field. Going into the field is “certain death”, but it’s better than waiting around and dying. Droole’s expert piloting brings us into the asteroids and the Goliath is unable to follow. Quirk, now a mutant but retaining his arrogance and hatred for Roger, hails the ship. He promises that even if he cannot reach us, he can still take over the universe… starting with StarCon headquarters.

Let’s unpack this a bit. Roger and his crew are now hiding in an asteroid field, presumably well enough that Goliath couldn’t just fire torpedoes at us until dead. In real life, asteroid belts aren’t this dense, but it’s a standard trope in science fiction. (So much so that it has a page on TVTropes.) Trek fans might be inclined to think that this is a reference to the “Badlands”, the easy-to-hide-in region that originated on Deep Space Nine and was where Voyager was lost to the Delta Quadrant, but that wasn’t introduced for more than a year after this game. If we really want a Trek reference, the best we can do is to the Animated Series episode “The Pirates of Orion”. While that episode featured both an infectious disease and hiding in an asteroid belt (to escape the pirates), by 1993 the Animated Series was mostly unavailable except to the hardest core fans. Perhaps David Selle was that kind of superfan? No, it’s more likely to be a reference to The Empire Strikes Back. You knew that already, right?

And your font is no match for italics.

Cliffy surveys the damage from Goliath’s torpedo strike and must repair the hull directly. He leaves the ship in an EV suit and completes repairs, but an asteroid impact sends Cliffy reeling into the blackness of space. We watch as he floats away. I ask everyone for status; strangely only WD40 suggests that we go out and rescue Cliffy! What’s more, she calls him “Crawford”. Should I read anything into that? Or are androids just lovely formal? She suggests that I use the EVA pod to rescue him, but to be careful because “Chief Engineer Crawford’s” maintenance habits are poor.

Cliffy is floating in a most peculiar way.

I’m sure this is a reference to something, but I have no idea what.

I take the lift down and double check the EVA pod per WD40’s recommendation, but nothing appears amiss. Roger climbs in and we are treated to another minigame of sorts; the screen on the left is a helpful manual:

  • Our left hand controls the movement of the vehicle. We can rotate left or right, plus accelerate or decelerate. Clicking on the center causes us to hang steady in space. 
  • The right stick controls a mechanical arm that looks a bit like one from those prize-grabbing games. We can extend or retract the arm, plus open or close the hand. 
  • The gauges on the dashboard show our oxygen and fuel. Oxygen gets used all the time, while fuel is consumed only when we move. We need enough for both the trip and the return. We’ll need to conserve carefully. 
  • The colored dots represent our sensors: green for Eureka and red for “something else”. In this case, that something else appears to be Cliffy.

Flying is easy, but the overall game is harder than it looks. On the first try, I wasn’t efficient with my movements and ran out of fuel. I rotate the craft towards the red dot and fly forward until I find Cliffy. Once we find him, lining up the grabber is difficult. I burn through one oxygen tank just extending and retracting my claw, fruitless grasping in empty space. Eventually, I get it right and a “Target Lined Up Properly” message appears. One challenge is that we’re not dealing in 3d-scaled polygons; small variations in our position relative to Cliffy don’t show any distinction on the screen. Once he is in tow, returning to the Eureka is simple. We saved Cliffy twice!

Not close enough?

Got him!

With Cliffy back on board the ship, he warns us that we need to leave immediately. The hits from the asteroids are taking their toll. Where am I supposed to go next? I confer with the crew. Flo continues to try to get through to StarCon, but the Goliath is jamming our signals. She recommends that we find a way to fight the mutants by tracing their origins from Klorox II. Droole is more aggressive: he proposes that we sneak up to the Goliath, fight our way on board, and take it over from the inside. Even with his badass piloting and shooting, he estimates that the odds would be one in a googleplex that we’d survive. That option is out anyway as WD40 reports that the Goliath is gone and no longer on the long-range scanners. In all of this, Flo is on edge. She is jealous of Ambassador Wankmeister and wants to throw the “tart” out the airlock. She also questions the morals of any woman with the last name of “Wankmeister”. All good points, but perhaps you can find a better time?

Instead of following Flo’s advice by returning to Klorox II, I aim instead for the research base that I visited last post. Presumably, the hint was to make sure that we found the “Primordial Soup” capsule, but we don’t need another trip to K2 to confirm. We lay in the coordinates and are on our way!

Wasn’t the base bigger last time?

We return to the Genetix station only to discover that it has largely been destroyed. Last time we were here, it had three separate domes connected to a central core. Only one dome remains; WD40 confirms the remaining one is surrounded by a debris field. She finds no life signs. She recommends that we beam over to investigate. No one else seems to have a better idea, so we head to the transporter. Just prior to departure, WD40 requests that we search not only for the source of the infection, but also for a means of combating it. She’s quite good at her job! Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for Cliffy…

Oh no, it’s a hilarious transporter accident!

When I beam down, the transporter malfunctions and Roger swaps heads with a fly. His fly-headed self goes running off somewhere and now I’m stuck with a tiny Roger head on a fly’s body. In Star Trek fandom, transporter problems like this are an oft-repeated joke. The first such example is in the original series episode “The Enemy Within”, but that case was Captain Kirk split into two people rather than two beings merging. The only example I am aware of where two beings merged on Star Trek was in the 1996 Voyager episode, “Tuvix”. In that case, Neelix and Tuvok merged into a single being, "Tuvix", while Captain Janeway wrestled with the moral implications of keeping them combined or separating them again. The joke was funny enough that Spaceballs (1987) had a scene where someone using a transporter had their head put on backwards. In any event, even I know that this is actually a take off from the 1986 film, The Fly, where Jeff Goldblum’s character invents teleportation and then immediately merges himself with a housefly. 

What am I to do? My fly-self dropped my communicator on the ground, but I am too light to push the “call” button to reach the ship.

I need to gain some weight.

With no other obvious options, I am left to explore the station. Doing so is surprisingly dangerous: a fish will eat me if I get too close to the pond, a plant will eat me if I get too close to the bottom of the screen, and who knows what other dangers await. As Roger’s “fly body” doesn’t fly straight, it’s easy to wander into either of these obstacles by mistake. An attractive waterfall is to the west. This game loves waterfalls! If you look carefully, there is a slot next to a door disguised among the rocks. Thankfully, being small has its advantages and I pass through the slot easily.

We cannot fly up to see the source, unfortunately.

Lasers of doom? Nope. You can pass through harmlessly.

Inside the slot is a wall of lasers. My initial fear is that I’ll die if I get hit by any of them. I very carefully try to walk through, but the fly doesn’t move that straight and I quickly get hit… only to discover that nothing happens! Further experimentation shows that while most of the lasers do absolutely nothing, a few of them (the middle in the closest and farthest rows, the other two in the middle row) cause gears to move on the far right of the lock. Is that the combination? This looks suspiciously like what I’m going to have to use the punch card to solve later. I notate which lasers tigger gears and which do not before flying through.

The door leads to a research lab containing a computer, empty cages, a few remaining samples, and a wall panel that I am unable to open. Unlike with my push-button communicator, the computer’s touch screen recognizes fly-feet! That is convenient for me, but likely annoying for the real computer operator. The computer contains a treasure trove of game exposition. 

All of the cages are empty. I checked.

Well, that explains all of the missing domes.

The computer explains that the other domes have been jettisoned, but it’s not clear from the debris outside whether the researchers survived or if the domes were destroyed. If I click the “restart” button, I get a happy Genetix reboot screen (“We play God so you don’t have to.”) and gain access to several sections of the computer: Systems, Activity Logs, Projects, and Accounting.

The “Systems” button reveals that I am in BioDome #3; the other two are offline. I access security cameras to see my fly-body climbing into a dumpster (in an area that I haven’t visited yet), the pond area where I arrived, and the waterfall area. Cliffy and WD40 have fixed the transporter and beamed down. It’s not clear whether they know there was an “accident” or not. 

The “Activity Log” reveals that its previous users really enjoyed AstroChicken 3: Henhouse of Doom. Later in the log, we see an intruder alert, a fire in the shuttlebay, and then the depressurization of Dome #1. That is followed by an evacuation order. Domes #1 and #2 were ejected and destroyed, but someone (user “999”) canceled the order in our current dome and prevented its destruction. Where is he or she? Are there other survivors?

Morgan Freeman and George Burns did it well. Who is your favorite actor that “played God”?

The “Projects” area reveals that the “Primordial Soup” project was to find a way to terraform lifeless planets. (Based on the “Genesis Device” in Star Trek II?) They found a bacterial base for their research and simulated the radiation on lifeless worlds by placing petri dishes behind computer monitors. Naturally everything went wrong: after testing it on mice, the mice became slime mutant rodents. One bit a person and the rest is history. The project log ends with someone called “H.H.” complaining that he has a warehouse full of this stuff that he has to find a way to get rid of.

The final “Accounting” section appears to be a spreadsheet of expenses for the base. We see ever-increasing bribes to Captain Quirk and consulting fees to Madame Zorba. The researchers kept buying larger and larger computers, but whether this was for research or Astro Chicken III (also listed) isn’t clear. Some of these items are interesting precisely because of how they predicted the “future”. Listed hard drives range from 120 GB to 520 GB (with one tiny 213 MB one); in 1993, average harddisks were between 200-300 MB, so this was quite a leap even if they seem small today.  Another line listing a “900000 baud modem” sounds impressive until you do the math and realize that is less than a megabit per second. How could they even watch Space Netflix? One computer uses the far-in-the-future 986 processor, while the Pentium (586) was still top-of-the-line in 1993. (Even the practice of numbering processors like that ended well before the 9s.) Fun stuff, but it does not advance the plot. 

I’m partial to Alanis Morisette in Dogma.

Having thoroughly wrung all of the exposition out of the computer, I leave the lab and fly over to talk to Cliffy. He swats me to death without a second thought. Giving up on that approach, I explore further and discover that “northeast” of the waterfall is the room with the dumpster, but there is nothing to do there. I cannot coax out my fly-self or manipulate anything in the room. I’m stuck. I cannot talk to Cliffy or WD40. I cannot use my communicator. I cannot find anything anywhere that I can interact with that doesn’t kill me. 

After wandering around for longer than I should have, I left a comment on my previous post looking for a hint. Thankfully, Ilmari provided what I needed. I had realized that I was not heavy enough to activate the communicator before, but not that I could find something heavier to activate it with. I had also been killed by a leaping fish before but had not realized that I could do it in such a way that the fish missed me and landed on the communicator. Once the solution was pointed out, it wasn’t difficult to do but it’s not entirely obvious. Sometimes, the fish jumps at you immediately and sometimes it seems to take some time. Sometimes, he eats me and sometimes he misses. A few tries later and I trigger the button to call Flo. 

Gene Hackman? Dennis Haysbert?

Roger informs Flo that he’s been turned into a fly. This is the first time that I noticed that the “talk” command was still activated, but it works! She relays to Cliffy what happened so that he’s expecting me. The next time I fly by, he doesn’t swat at me and we can have a conversation. I take him back to the dumpster to collect the other Roger and he uses the transporter to return us to our own bodies. 

Back to normal!

WD40 scans the area while Cliffy and I explore the lab. Using what I learned as a fly, I punch the business card just right to trigger the tumblers. The only trick is to recall that when we saw the tumblers move it was because I was blocking the laser, so we have to punch holes where we did not see them move. With that in mind, there is no difficulty making it through although Cliffy insists on standing guard outside. 

Since Roger is no longer fly-shaped, we have no problem opening the storage area to collect two containers of liquid nitrogen. Nothing else in the room reacts differently so I hope we’re not missing anything else. When I return, WD40 reports no further life-signs. Whomever manually stopped the destruction of the dome (same as “H.H.”?) must be gone already. After we beam up, Cliffy takes the canisters to create a weapon. Even if we cannot cure the mutants, we can at least slow them down.

Witty remarks in the captions?

Back up on the ship, Spike becomes excited when we arrive; he escapes his tank, jumps on the cryochamber, jumps on the transporter, then repeats. What could he possibly be trying to tell me? While we can believe that “someone fell into a well” (a well known reference to Lassie), instead Roger choses to believe that Cliffy is telling us that we can use the transporter to reconstitute Beatrice without the mutations. How a face-hugger may know this is a mystery. Cliffy agrees to do it! 

I grab Beatrice, killing her the first time because I didn’t unthaw her first. The second time, I unthaw her and take her to the transporter platform. (This isn’t actually very fair: if you use the “hand” icon on the chamber, Roger removes her while frozen and she dies. We have to “look” at the pod first to get the unthaw options.) Cliffy does his magic and Beatrice is healed! While the transporters on Star Trek have been used as medical devices before, the first reference to doing something like this comes in the 1989 episode, “Unnatural Selection”, where Dr. Pulaski is treated by the transporters to reverse a premature aging disease. If it was used as such on the original series, I cannot recall.

Romantic words. 

Beatrice is saved, but very weak. She also reveals that someone removed her underwear while she was in the chamber, but doesn’t know who did it. Droole? Cliffy? And how could someone have done that while she was frozen anyway? She asks to be put back into the cryochamber to rest, perhaps because this ship doesn’t have a “sick bay” and the authors didn’t want to animate her sleeping anywhere else. 

WD40 has a plan: we will board the Goliath and cure as much of the crew as we can with the transporter, using the revived crew to secure the ship as we make our way to the bridge. (That this sounds exactly like Droole’s earlier plan isn’t mentioned.) We only have a 29% chance of winning, but that is better than a 93% chance that StarCon will be destroyed if we do nothing. We’re going to use the EVO pod to float across unseen. Will that work? I don’t know. Only way to find out is to tune in next time!


Time Played: 2 hr 0 min
Total Time: 11 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: 3260 of 5000 (65%)


Before I close out today, I want to extend a short plug for Nathan Mahney’s new blog, “Chronology X”. Nathan’s “CRPG Adventures” is one of the blogs that we feature on the sidebar, but this new project is an attempt to build a chronological guide to the X-Men comics. Yes, it has been done before, but rarely with this level of obsessive detail. Nathan also maintains blogs about Dungeons and Dragons modules and “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style books, if those are more to your liking. (I haven’t checked if he covered the Zork books yet…) As you know, I’m a sucker for comic books and I am also doing a read-through of 1960s-era comics, so his blog has been right up my alley.


  1. HH is the final sector you need to travel to in Space Quest 1. This is likely a reference to something or a Sierra inside joke.

    And yeah, definitely Alanis.

  2. I am sure the next person to read this is already thinking of typing this, but the whole EVO scene is straight out of 2001, with Dave going to retrieve Frank after HAL kills him. The viewpoint, hands on the controls and even the shot of Cliffy floating is almost copy-and -paste. In fact if you hadn't asked that some-one mentions it I would have guessed it to be part of the joke that you "don't know 2001"... frankly I am still suspicious it might be and the joke really is on me. Ah well, then so it be.

    From the first screenshot I actually thought it was the Goliath jettisoning it's trash and that we were in for a "hiding in their trash" bit from Star wars, which would have tied nicely to the space garbage-man theme.

    1. Oh, this is shameful... I've read the book, but never sat through the whole movie... So, yes, I'd miss a visual gag like this. (And even the book was twenty years ago.)

    2. As far as I can remember the book would not have helped, the book and the film are 2 totally different beasts. And while understandable that you missed it without having seen the film I would really recommend it, it's slow by today's standard but remains one of my favourites, it is one of THE milestones

    3. It should also be noted that 2001 is one of the creator’s favourite films, and so there’s references to it all over the Space Quest games. It is worth watching but just be prepared that it is long and very slow, even compared to other films at the time. A lot of the plot is just insinuated as well which is… a choice.

  3. Actualmente, Jeff Goldblum's The Fly is a remake of a movie from the 50s starring Vincent Price

    1. I meant Actually. Damn spanish autocorrector

    2. the previous movie also has a more straight-up swap of human head on fly body and vice-versa! The Cronenberg one is one of my favourites tho.

  4. Hey guys! I won! It make take a few days to get it all written up, especially as my "R" key seems to be having some difficulty. But we're just about ready to put this one to bed.

  5. Perhaps I would've enjoyed this game more if I was familiar with Star Trek. No, not everyone has seen it (especially in Europe?). As I said before, I found this to be less memorable than IV but otherwise better.

  6. Unnatural Selection is also an awesome song by Muse, and about six minutes long.

  7. I agree that the asteroid field sequence is most likely derived from The Empire Strikes Back, but I do want to add that the Star Trek animated series wasn't that hard to see in the early '90s—Paramount released it on VHS in 1989 and on laserdisc the following year.

    1. You would still be talking about something on the order of a $300 commitment if you wanted to consume them that way. Collecting TV series on commercial video tape releases was an act of considerable dedication, beyond even a majority of "serious" fans.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. VHS tapes were typically targeted at the rental market; I'm not even sure whether the TAS tapes were ever released as retail "sell-through" titles, though given Star Trek's popularity I'm guessing they were (the Memory Alpha wiki mentions a reissue in 1995, which I suspect was the sell-through release). The laserdisc version was a straight-to-retail release as was typical for the format, though it was pricey (a six-disc set with a $150 MSRP). But the trade in bootleg tapes was already a staple of fandom and I wouldn't be surprised if the number of people who saw the animated series that way outnumbered those who saw it through legitimate VHS copies.