Thursday 8 June 2023

Homeworld - Ghost in the Machine

Written by Reiko

We've just been collected by a huge alien artifact as we attempt to fulfill our diplomatic mission. No way out at this point except to explore the artifact and try to figure out its purpose. But before that, I can gather some supplies from the ship.
We're well-stocked on medical supplies.
There's a medikit cabinet in the room with the cryo chamber. In it I find where I apparently stashed the radio from the terrorists, which I don't need here. I also find a bandage, a hypo unit [5], an autodoc, and a vial [5]. I'll definitely be prepared if I get injured somehow!

The hypo is interesting, as it's apparently an automatic hypodermic needle preloaded with medicines. I'll look more at that later if (when) I need it. (Chekhov's hypo here, guys - someone's going to get injured and need an injection of something!) The autodoc is an automatic blood pressure cuff and diagnostic tool. If I wear it, my pulse is 80, my temperature is "98.6F (NORMAL)" and my blood pressure is 128/69. Sounds like I'm healthy!. Finally, the vial contains alcohol with C2 disinfectant. We're all set to be a nurse, apparently.
This bulkhead construction on the Artifact...
...looks a lot like this construction on Gateway.
I open the probeship's door and jump out into an alien blue corridor, the same sort of alien blue metal that we've seen on Gateway. The empty corridor leads north to some kind of large cargo bay with more corridors leading off in different directions and a pod above, reachable by a ladder.
Creepiest dentist’s chair ever.
I'm just going to go in order and test the corridors and see if I get anywhere interesting. All the blue metal corridors look the same. We came in from the south. The southwest corridor goes nowhere, but the west corridor leads to a "Dream Room" with something that looks like an examination table/seat with a metal arm positioned over it. I can sit on the couch, but I can't do anything with the arm at the moment.
Mechanical spider weapon! Run away!
The corridor to the north is a little different because there's some kind of sensor that looks like a strange eye looking at me. If I don't move, a huge alien robot comes through an opening in the wall and starts approaching me. Unfortunately, this is a very dangerous robot, but fortunately, it stays in the corridor, so I'm safe back in the cargo bay. I just can't go north before the robot appears.

The northeast corridor leads to another blue bulkhead, but this one is locked with a keypad bearing the same Heechee numbers as in the Gateway ships. I don't know the combination, though. The east corridor leads to a "Terminal Room" that's much more angular than the half-organic looking blue corridors. It's some kind of control room with displays and consoles. There's also an access panel that I can open [5] to reveal an empty receptor. The screens are dark, so probably the receptor needs some kind of power source to make things work. The main console has twelve buttons, but none do anything yet.

I see several puzzles and curiosities, but no solutions yet. The last direction is up, and in this storage room high above the cargo bay I find the most interesting thing of all: someone to talk to!
What's another human doing here? I thought I was supposed to be the first?
An injured woman slumps in the corner of the room, nonfunctional. She's got a name tag, conveniently, so we can know that her name is Diana Tolson. Her injury is probably infected; she can't have been here all that long, or she wouldn't still be alive, but why she's here at all will have to wait. Here comes Nurse Robinette to the rescue! I knew we'd have to do this, but I didn't realize it would be this soon.

First, of course, we put the autodoc on her. Pulse is rapid, temperature indicates high fever, blood pressure is high, and it also detects an unknown toxin or venom as well as high white blood cell counts indicating infection, as I thought. She's in bad shape, but we can probably help her with the medikit supplies.

I can put the bandage on her leg, but that won't do anything for the toxin or the infection. We need to use the hypo to give her appropriate medicine. Its blue dial can be used to set which medicine to inject, from these choices: insulin, adrenalin, antiviral, antibiotic, antitoxin, tissue regenerator, and sedative. We'll probably want to give her antibiotic, antitoxin, and possibly tissue regenerator. The next question is how much: the green dial sets the dosage. Well, she's in bad shape, so I'll just give her the maximum dose and see what happens. (I am not a doctor - please do not use this section of the game for medical advice of any sort beyond standard common sense!)
Finishing Diana's treatment.
After I give her a dose of antibiotic, her temperature immediately decreases to 103.6, still quite high but not critically high, and her white blood cell count falls as well. After another turn, her temperature is only 101.7, and the infection seems to be under control [15]. Now for the antitoxin. As I reset the hypo, her temperature declines again to 99.9. Immediately after the second injection, the toxin levels detected by the autodoc also start declining rapidly. After a couple of turns, the toxin levels are down to 10% of a fatal dose [15], and Diana regains full consciousness and awareness of my presence.

Immediately a cutscene begins in which Diana tells me her story, how she got there and how she got so injured.
Diana shakes her head and slowly gets on her feet. As she stands up, you see a green crystal cube on the deck that [had] been previously covered by her body. Diana notices you for the first time and looks at you blankly for a second. Then her eyes widen. "My God! You're human!"

You smile at her and nod.

She stares at you and shakes her head sadly. "I'm glad to see you, but I also feel sorry for you. You're just another fly caught in the web. And believe me, the analogy is a good one."

"I assume you're from Gateway - that's where Jack and I came from. I'm afraid you won't get to meet Jack. He was my partner, but now he's dead."

"Jack and I crewed a prospecting ship from Gateway. Our ship came out of Tau Space next to this enormous artifact, and Jack and I had the same reaction: We're rich, rich, rich. We kept thinking that as the tractor beam locked on and pulled us in. We were deliriously, gloriously happy until we realized the controls on our ships had gone dead and that there was no way out of this thing."

"Oh, there's plenty of food and water. A dispenser down one of the corridors spits out CHON food, er, Carbon-Hydrogen-Oxygen-Nitrogen blocks. Tasteless, but quite nutritious. Survival wouldn't be a problem if this ship - or whatever it is - weren't haunted by the spider. 'Along came a spider, and sat down beside her'. It's horrible. I think it's some kind of robot or waldo unit. I know it isn't organic."
Diana knows all about the spider robot.
"The spider robot lives in the central corridors of the ship, the corridors that link the forward section of the vessel with the part we are in now. The spider only appears where there are sensor eyes hanging from the roof. I think the spider itself is blind, but it somehow uses those external sensors to see. Jack and I spent a number of months on board this ship and we avoided the spider and stayed alive. Then we got a little cocky and our luck ran out."

"I saw the spider get Jack. We were exploring the front of the ship, and we got trapped. The spider came. It attacked him first. It... cut the top of his head off. Then, while he was still alive, it stuck these probe things into his open skull, almost like it was drinking. When it finished and started after me, I ran away. God, it was awful."

"Anyway, now you're caught in the web, too. I can fill you in on the tricks of surviving here and tell you as much as I know about this place." Diana smiles gently and touches your sleeve. "And thank you for bringing me back. I think I was pretty close to dying."
Imagine the research that could be done using the resources of this ship.
Now that Diana's almost entirely recovered, I can talk to her again and ask her a few questions starting with "How are you feeling?" (Much better, and of course the implausibility of my appearance just in time to save her life is lampshaded.) and "How did you get injured?" (She and Jack were exploring the zoo area and got caught by the spider robot; the venom was from insect stings.) I can also give Diana a dose of tissue regenerator, which helps her wounds to heal more quickly. That doesn't give me any more points, but she does happily thank me again and comment on how painful her bites were.

I can bring up a second menu of questions as well. Diana thinks that the zoos indicate that the artifact is intentionally collecting specimens of life from various star systems it visits. It must have some really good artificial intelligence running it, if she hasn't found any actual aliens on board in all the time she's been here. She also tells me about a red crystal rod she has in a box that's the key to getting into the zoos. In theory, I could get there either by the north corridor, guarded by the spider robot, or by the northeast corridor, which is blocked by that locked door. She doesn't know the combination either. Tricky. Also, she doesn't know what the green cube is for, but thinks some other prospector might have brought it and then died. I have some ideas though.
Collecting more items.
First I open her Heechee box [5] and find the red crystal rod she mentioned [5]. I also take her water bowl [5] because why not, I guess. I know I'll need it if I get points for taking it, after all! She seems to be all right now, so I leave her there to rest while I go see if I can find a way into the zoo area.

I take a closer look at the green cube, which seems a lot like a power connector with three metal prongs. I go back to the terminal room and try putting it into that receptor in the access panel. Bingo. Everything lights up. [15].
The three pins on the back of the cube fit neatly into the plug receptor on the crystal matrix. The instant that the cube is seated, bright pulses of green light flow along the crystal pathways of the matrix. They flow from the sides to the middle, converging on the cube. They all arrive simultaneously, and the cube shimmers and glows as vibrant green light dances inside it.

A few seconds later you hear a whir and a series of clicks. All of the secondary display screens arrayed around you come to life with flickering green patterns. The lights set into the ceiling begin to glow softly.

Then the main display screen on the console comes to life with a swirling pattern of hexagonal shapes. They are soon replaced by an animated graphic of two intertwined spinning hoops. The computer, if that is what this thing is, seems ready for business.
Everything is now lit up and working.
I sit down in the chair and look at the screen, automatically pushing the first button. This brings up another interactive device screen in which I have a conversation with the image of a young Japanese woman, Miki Akiro.
Miki's introduction.
She says she was originally from Osaka and became a Gateway prospector but got trapped on the ship on her fourth mission. Then she reveals that she's really only a digital version of the Miki who was killed by the spider robot we saw, which also scanned her brain patterns and uploaded her to this computer. She even considers herself to be a ghost.

It occurs to me that if that's what the robot usually does, then perhaps we can also talk to Jack, Diana's partner. First, we can ask Miki some more questions. She tells me that the robot serves the Oldest One, the intelligence living in the central computer and running the ship. As I thought, there had to be a strong AI to run such a complex operation.

More importantly, Miki has a plan for helping get us all out of here. She wants me to defeat the AI, reach the bridge of the ship, and put a course code for Earth into the navigation system. She knows the navigational systems are in the forward part of the ship, past the science area in the middle, which is probably what Diana was calling the zoos. Miki thinks I'll need to pull all of the green cores out of the computer system to disable the AI. Plus she outright gives me the code to the locked bulkhead door to the northeast. Apparently there are zoos on both sides of the ship, but the ones to the northwest are from planets with poisonous or unbreathable atmospheres, so there's no point trying to go that way.
This guy might have a useful tip.
When I'm done talking with Miki, I can try talking to the other personalities in the computer. Some of them don't speak English, so I can't even have a conversation. An Egyptian man does speak English but was only on the ship for two hours before being caught by the robot, so he knows very little except the fact that it's possible to temporarily blind the robot by shining a bright laser gun at its sensors. One woman seems very confused and thinks that I'm her John and starts confessing how much of a mistake it was for her to buy a Gateway ticket. An older woman seems to be giving a lecture on space colonization and doesn't respond to me except when I ask questions related to her lecture like a student might.

One man from Louisiana, Roland, encountered another woman, Bridgitte, and they survived for a while on the ship. Bridgitte even guessed the combination to the zoos and they managed to get into one of the areas; Roland was astounded at seeming to be on another planet inside the ship. But Bridgitte also tried going into the toxic side and got too much exposure to the toxic atmosphere, which made her crazy and reckless. She ran afoul of the robot spider and Roland also died trying to get her away.
We get the story from Roland...
...and later find Bridgitte also.
Later I find Bridgitte as one of the other digitized presences. She starts out a bit vague about what she thinks happened to her but then can tell me her story pretty clearly, which matches what Roland said. She demands I tell her where she is before I go, so I have to tell her that I think her body's dead and she's just a scanned brain pattern. She seems shocked because she doesn't feel dead, but sadly signs off.
Yes, we've seen Diana. Why can't we tell her about him?
Finally, the last presence, probably the most recently digitized, is Jack. He tells me briefly who he is, confirming that he was Diana's boyfriend, and asks how Diana is. I can tell him that she was sick but is better now, which seems to comfort him. He knows he's been killed and digitized but otherwise has very little to say. I thought I could at least let Diana know that I talked to his "ghost,” but when I check back with her, she has no new dialogue options so I can't tell her about him.

There's been a lot more plot and dialogue in this section than I had expected. We've really gotten ourselves into a sticky situation here, but with the information from all the people that arrived before, maybe we can find a way out. Too bad nobody has ever escaped before. Gateway never knew that one of their codes actually went straight to the Artifact.

Next time we'll go use Miki's code and explore the zoo. Will we find familiar animals or alien ones?

Failing to avoid the robot results in surgical torture. (#9)
Injecting myself twice with insulin when I'm not a diabetic causes hypoglycemic shock. (#10)
Injecting myself twice with adrenalin overloads and stops my heart. (#11)
Since I was testing the hypo, I found that it's also possible to fatally overdose on antiviral, antibiotic, and antitoxin, but I'm not going to count those as separate deaths as they don't have different specific effects. The tissue regenerator does nothing for me since I have no injuries. And the game doesn't allow me to inject myself with sedative, amusingly enough. Also note that it is possible to cause Diana to die from overdosing on the wrong drugs as well. It's not an ending, but it would result in not getting the points from curing her as well as missing all of her dialogue.

Score: 240
Deaths: 11

: metal bowl, crystal rod, vial, hypo unit, white badge, tuning fork, slip of paper

Session Time: 1.5 hours
Total Time: 4 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. Sounds like an interesting game. The 'digitised personalities' are a nice way to make the game world feel less cold and uninhabited without the implicit complication of incorporating them as full-fledged NPCs.

  2. You have reached the part of this game that is most directly based on Beyond the Blue Event Horizon, the second novel in the Gateway series: the enormous alien ship that traps smaller ships. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the ship in the game is based on those aspects of the ship in the novel that weren't too blatantly used in Infocom's Starcross. For example, the ship in this game has no color-coded corridors, even though the ship in the novel had them, because thay were a prominent feature in Starcross; for another, the ship in the novel has a huge intelligent spider-like robot that is in charge of the entire ship, but since Starcross already had a huge intelligent spider-like alien, this game has a huge non-intelligent spider-like robot and an unrelated artificial intelligence that is in charge of the ship.

    1. Wow, how have I not encountered Starcross before? I may need to briefly check that out. I know Joe Pranevich was doing an Infocom series and covered it years ago, but I didn't read the posts at the time since I hadn't played it. Honestly I found the spider robot to be one of the most memorable parts of Homeworld, so it's just as well it was changed from an alien to a robot.

    2. I wonder if the 90s sci-fi movie Event Horizon is based on the Gateway novels or if it was some kind of homage or just a coincidence. I am asking because I didn't watch that movie nor read the book

    3. Well, "event horizon" is a standard term in black hole physics, so it gets used a *lot* in science fiction involving FTL space travel. I very much doubt there's a more direct connection in this case.

    4. The Event Horizon film has no links to this at all, though more than once I've seen it described as working as a prequel to the whole Warhammer 40,000 universe.

  3. The hypo unit is so very well implemented! No spoilers, but it's definitely one of my favorite puzzle solvers in the game.

  4. The casual creepiness and description of the violence inflicted by that spider robot is really effective. That would have stuck with me if I'd played this as a kid.


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.