Saturday 13 May 2023

Homeworld - Two Birds, One Stone

Written by Reiko

Last time we triggered the auto-launch sequence for the Aquila, which is supposed to take the Ambassador to the mysterious artifact that showed up in the solar system recently. We escaped a hit squad at our apartment and arrived at the military base where the Aquila is ready to launch, only to find ourselves in the middle of a full-scale terrorist attack. How do we get out of here?
Mission Aquila is GO.

While I'm back at the tram station waiting for the tram, I hear more chatter from the terrorists about how they're also going to be trying to get to either Mission Control or the Aquila or both, and specifically they're going to be doing it by using the tram system. That could be very bad for me, as I don't see any other way out of here. I do manage to board the next tram unopposed after a couple of minutes, but I'm not sure how much farther I can get!
Riding the tram to the launch pad to fix the Aquila's fueling fault.
Another setback also appears: the automatic Launch Control voice announces that the countdown has been stopped at T-22 minutes due to "a fault in the automatic fuel transfer mechanism during the transfer of liquid oxygen to booster two." Sounds like I may have to try to fix something on the Aquila when I get there. On the other hand, the radio chatter indicates the terrorists may have to go to the lab building I started at in order to pick up the tram, so as long as I stay ahead of them, I might be okay. I'm almost to the next stop when one terrorist says he should be at the tram in fifteen minutes.

I hop off and up to the launch pad for the Aquila. As I get there, the terrorists finally notice that the one that nearly killed me and then got iced, codename Mock Turtle, hasn't said anything for a while. They all have been using codenames from Alice in Wonderland: the base itself is Wonderland, the Aquila is Alice, the coordinating voice is Looking Glass, and some of the individual units are Duchess, Queen of Hearts, Mad Hatter, March Hare, and Mock Turtle.
Arriving at the mechanical room below the Aquila.
I arrive at a mechanical room at the base of the Aquila's gantry, which fortunately has troubleshooting controls which I should be able to use to fix the LOX transfer issue. We have three large pipes, color coded red, yellow, and blue, and a control console. There's also an elevator leading up to the ship, but there's no point going up there yet.
The diagnostic can tell me exactly how to fix the problem, but not how to deal with invaders.
I access the console and check the fueling status: as expected, Tank 2 has no LOX yet, although all the other tanks are full. I run the diagnostic next, which indicates a flow sensor failure. Fueling was halted to avoid fuel overpressure and ruptures. The Recommended Action screen gives the repair procedure: "The malfunctioning flow sensor on the LOX transfer subsystem is color coded with a blue stripe. It should be removed and replaced with a new Model 4220 flow sensor procured from Base Logistics. Estimated repair time (with component on hand): Three minutes. Level of expertise required: Minimum. The electromechanical locks holding all fuel flow sensors in place were released when the system fault was detected. Work can proceed immediately."

That's all well and good, but I don't have a new sensor, nor do I have any idea where Base Logistics is to get one, and I might not have time to get there and back anyway. There's probably going to have to be some kind of jerry-rigged solution to this. Maybe I can just swipe one of the other sensors and switch them, since the other tanks have already been filled? Might as well try it.

After I finish with the troubleshooting console, the radio chatter indicates that since the terrorists know that Mock Turtle has been taken out, they also know that the radio frequency is compromised, so they're switching to a different frequency, called Hotel. I can't listen in on them any more, apparently, because the radio seems to have only two settings other than off. I switch the radio to the second frequency just to see if that helps me at all. It seems to be the frequency for the base's defenders.

The blue pipe is indeed the LOX pipe, as indicated by the troubleshooting, while the red pipe is for Hydrogen and the yellow pipe is for Hydrazine. I don't think the console told me anything about hydrazine fueling, so I'd better not mess with that, just in case, but the hydrogen fueling should be done. I take off the faulty blue sensor and put the red one on instead [10], which indeed was exactly the right thing. I was going to put the blue one on the red pipe, but the system seems to think it's fixed and has re-engaged system locks to prevent any further changes.
The image updates to show the missing sensor and the status of the lever.
The fueling hasn't resumed, though. What do I need to do next? I peer at the equipment a bit more and find a fueling lever set to OFF-LINE, so I push it back to the "ON-LINE" position [25]. "A few moments later you hear the throbbing of the fuel pumps as they draw liquid oxygen from huge underground storage tanks and force it into the probeship booster. The fueling procedure is completed after several seconds." The countdown has also resumed!
High vantage point on the Aquila's gantry platform
I can now enter the elevator (automatically leaving the faulty blue sensor) and ride up to the gantry platform. Unfortunately, I am immediately caught by a squad of terrorists that come out of the elevator behind me. I check the time and find that it is exactly twenty minutes after the countdown was halted and the Mad Hatter terrorist said he would be at the Aquila in twenty minutes, so I guess that checks out. Perhaps I was just too slow in getting the repair done. I don't quite see how I'm going to be able to get the Aquila launched before the terrorists arrive and do something to stop it, though, even if the countdown wasn't halted.

I restore back to the mechanical room and think about this for a minute while I efficiently redo the repair. This time the gantry platform is clear. I notice that from the platform I can see the tram line. If the terrorists are riding the tram, maybe now that I'm here, I can blow it up with the grenade before they get here?
Inside the Aquila, hiding from the grenade explosion.
With quite some trepidation, I pull the pin on the grenade and throw it at the tram tunnel. I'm alarmed to see that the description seems to indicate that I've just dropped the grenade below the gantry. Am I going to blow up the launch mechanisms, or worse, myself? I quickly enter the ship as the countdown reaches T-15 minutes and press the red button to close the hatch. (I later check, and it closes automatically at T-5 minutes if you don't do it.) "You hear a distant rumble as the grenade detonates far below." [15] Well, that's a good sign, and we're still alive.
T-10 minutes, and the tram is destroyed, ruining the terrorist plan.
Then we get even better news: even though they know the radio is compromised, the terrorists break radio silence to say that the tram system is down. It worked! Actually, that's odd: they shouldn't go back to the previous frequency to say something like that, but it's useful for us. They go back and forth a few times and decide that the operation is completely hosed and they should pull out. I also check later and find that I can pull the pin and drop the grenade at the launchpad's tram station and then get back up to the ship in time to avoid the blast. There's no going back down to the tram line after the grenade's been detonated, though: rubble blocks the ramp.

At this point, as long as I stay inside the ship, the autolaunch is completely automatic and successful. The announcements warn that crew should all be in their seats before takeoff, but again it's automatic to jump into a seat at the last minute if you don't sit down earlier, so there's no failure state here. Now we get a rather lengthy cutscene about our launch and trip into space.
You can hear and feel the dull thunder as the powerful rocket engines below you throttle up. The ship trembles for a moment as the booster engines build thrust, and then the ship starts moving. It rises from Pad Tango Three, slowly at first, then picking up speed. As the ship accelerates a giant hand begins pressing you into your seat.
The pressure builds as the ship's rate of acceleration increases. Soon the skin on your face is being forced back over the bones as you are subjected to the equivalent of seven gravities. The brutal punishment continues for what seems like an eternity. You are barely conscious when the ship's computer announces booster separation. The rocket engines stop and there are two thumps as the boosters are kicked away from the probeship by explosive charges. Your weight vanishes.
You breathe a sigh of relief and gaze outside the heavy crystal viewports in the front of the ship. The view is breathtaking. The probeship is angling across the magnificent blue curve of the Earth. You can see the rich blue of oceans, the ochre of deserts, the fractal bumps of mountain ranges, and the puffy white of cumulus clouds.
There is a brief hiatus while the probeship autonav systems compute the course to the Artifact and the fusion pulsedrive engines warm up. Then the fusion torch ignites and the acceleration is back, this time at a manageable one gee. The probeship makes one more orbit around the blue crescent of Earth, gaining altitude and preparing to head out into the far reaches of the solar system.
You rise from your seat and head back to the cabin. You flush the gas mask out of the ship, put the radio in the cabinet above the cryo capsule, and take some time to relax after your ordeal at Romeo Delta Two. Then you contact the Gateway Corporation, tell them of your intention to complete the Ambassador mission, and prepare the cryo capsule for use. There is nothing left to do but enter the cryo-sleep capsule for your four month trip to the Artifact.
Sleeping the trip away.
You climb into the cold, high-tech coffin and drift off into an uneasy slumber. The slumber turns into the deep trance of cryo-sleep, a state that is one small step above death. While you sleep the probeship rides a radiant blue plume of star fire. The methodical mind of the autonav system controls the ship's course as it speeds away from Earth and towards the mystery waiting for you outside the orbit of Pluto...
I’m quoting all this because I just love the turns of phrase in the description: “a radiant blue plume of star fire” and so on. At this point we get a very brief video of the probeship flying around Earth and toward deep space.
You wake from the deep, dreamless cryo-sleep trance with the annoying chirp of the proximity alert in your ear. After pulling yourself out of the cryo-sleep capsule, you head for the flight deck.

When you get to the flight deck, you shut down the alert and take stock of the situation. The probeship is hanging in the majestic black void of deep space. According to the instruments, the ship has been decelerating for the last few days and has killed most of its motion relative to Earth. You are 3,000 Astronomical Units (446 billion kilometers) away from Earth. The space around you is empty except for the object that triggered the proximity detector: it is dead ahead, a few hundred kilometers away.
You ask the probeship's computer about the target. The answer makes you shiver. The object is six kilometers long and half a kilometer across at its widest point. It has a mass of more than three million tons. Its shape is too regular for it to be a natural object: this thing is artificial, an artifact of some kind. The Corporation was right.

Over the next few minutes your ship approaches the Artifact using the Hydrox maneuvering thrusters. The object comes into view first as a long, dark sliver. Details begin to appear as you get closer. The thing is not only artificial, it is a starship. A starship as big as Gateway itself. The probeship closes on the huge alien ship, preparing for a flyby at close range.
Cutscene showing the relatively tiny probeship approaching the huge artifact.
Before you can finish gawking at the mind-blowing starship, a lance of blue energy spears out from the aft section of the alien vessel. It connects with the probeship, and all your ship systems fail instantly. Screens go dark. Instruments freeze. The protective filters over the flight deck windows activate automatically, blocking your view outside. Blue arcs of electricity play over the control consoles, frying the electronics.
There is a moment of silence, and then you are thrown backward by a violent jerk. The probeship is being pulled towards the alien behemoth! You feel more than hear a subsonic rumble, which escalates until it becomes a bone jarring vibration that shakes every corner of the probeship.

You sit in the darkness, eerie blue light playing over the view screen, your guts resonating to the terrible, low frequency reverberation as your craft is reeled in by the giant alien ship.
Eventually the vibration stops. There is a series of gentle bumps, and then the back-ups for the power systems kick in. You scan the instruments. The news isn't good. Maneuvering thrusters are down. So are the pulsedrive engines and the navigation systems. The lightband communication systems detect no carriers. Life support is failing. The filters for the windows seem to be stuck on, and you can't look at what is happening outside.

Even though you can't see out, you have a feeling you know where you are. With a growing sense of dread you look at the consoles. The few working instruments confirm your suspicion. The first clue: there is a breathable atmosphere outside. The second clue: the proximity detector can no longer tell the difference between the mass of your ship and that of the alien starship. You are inside the alien vessel!
Time for more exploration!

Next time, we get to explore the Artifact! I hope it's less dangerous than getting here was. How many times did we almost get killed? I’m not even talking about the actual deaths the player can trigger. I mean, there was the hit squad, the soldier that got iced while literally aiming a gun at us, the nerve gas, the bomb we detonated, and the rocket launch. What’s next?

Caught by the terrorist squad on the tram after starting the autolaunch. (#5)
This was what I thought was going to happen before, but it didn't happen until after starting the autolaunch, and only when I kept riding the tram past the launch platform back to the research center (it's circular). This is a much blander ending than the buggy ending I got before, in which I was apparently “simultaneously filled with lead, lasered, flayed by flechettes, and roasted by particle beams.” Ouch. Compared to that, this feels like a default bad ending that never got rewritten with the actual ending text. We’re just killed by “bad guys.”
Caught by the terrorist squad on the gantry platform. (#6)
Hanging out on the gantry platform until the ship takes off. (#7)
Exploding the grenade up on the gantry platform, destroying the ship and killing yourself. (#8)
The last two deaths award 300 bonus points for keeping the ship out of the hands of the terrorists, but playing the game normally doesn't give you those points. To be fair, neither one would be easy to accidentally trigger, as you have to deliberately wait on the platform for the rocket to launch, or deliberately trigger the grenade and leave it on the platform. I’m amused that the deaths were implemented, though. The game could have disallowed dropping the grenade on the platform, for instance, but instead we get these sort of partial wins. Essentially the player is rewarded for winning Part I, but not in a way that allows continuing further into the game.

Score: 135
Deaths: 8
Inventory: white badge, tuning fork, slip of paper

Session Time: 1 hours
Total Time: 2.5 hours

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks


  1. Interesting solution with the grenade. I just dropped it inside a tram carriage and let it go away, which disables the tram system but keeps the station intact.

    1. Oh, that's a good idea! Good alternate solution.

    2. That's not an "alternate" solution, it's the intended one, because that way the tram gets destroyed before the terrorists switch frequencies, so then it actually makes sense that you can hear them talking about it on the radio (assuming I remember correctly, it's been something like 15 years since I played this game).

    3. That makes sense. I honestly never thought of that, not this time and not when I played before. I can see how it would make more sense to just destroy the tram, but somehow I'd forgotten that I even had to stop the tram system until after the point where I could leave the grenade in the tram. So it's good that it's still possible to destroy the tram system after you get to the platform, even if it isn't ideal.

  2. Also, I didn't knew about those last two deaths! I'm impressed by the fact that they though about it.

  3. Well, this has managed to keep me invested. I reckon my initial score guess was probably far too low now.

    And on a totally different note, this post coincides with me having read the whole blog so far! I started reading around the start of 2022, I think, and it's taken me until now to get here. I've skim read a few things (sorry) and played along with several games as i reached them. I loved what this blog is doing, I love the variety we get from the different styles of reviewers, and am really looking forward to everything to come. There are lots of classics I've still not played!

    1. Thanks for the encouragement. Glad to have you with us! Congrats on catching up.

  4. The propellant loading puzzle, with its faulty sensors etc. caused me some PTSD from following the build up to the Artemis I launch with SLS last year.


Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of the reviewer requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game...unless they really obviously need the help...or they specifically request assistance.

If this is a game introduction post: This is your opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that the reviewer won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return.
It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All score votes and puzzle bets must be placed before the next gameplay post appears. The winner will be awarded 10 CAPs.