Wednesday 15 November 2023

Homeworld - Ice and Fire

By Reiko
Part III - Rescue: the start of the second half of the game.
Last time we escaped the clutches of the Phoenix Sect for a third time by triggering a Heechee escape pod on the Artifact, sending us off to who knows where! We've got a new world to explore. I hope I'm wearing something warm enough, because this world looks very cold. The ground is covered with ice, and the ship has crash-landed, softly enough that I don't seem to be injured, but hard enough to have damaged its systems.
Our first look at the new world.
An access panel is open and the drive mechanism, while visible, is completely inscrutable, so no help there for now. Maybe I can find another way off this place? It looks quite inhospitable. I find some kind of metal clamp nearby, also from the ship, as well as a compass. Finally we have some reason to know which way is north, although I don't see any other use for the compass at the moment. Still, I take it [5] and the clamp [5]. You never know what might come in handy to escape an ice world.

With that, we are at exactly 700 points out of 1600, so still not even halfway through the game from that perspective, but halfway in terms of the four named sections of the game. Later achievements tend to rack up points more quickly, though.

I wander off in one direction to start exploring the area. At first I find nothing, but as I start examining things, a cutscene suddenly triggers:

You catch a flash of reflected sunlight in the corner of your eye. Turning toward it, you discover a strangely shaped ice formation. When it moves, however, you realize that the formation is not ice, but something quite alive - crystalline, but organic nonetheless. The thing reminds you of a spinal cord, ripped from a vertebrate's back and set into motion like a reared-up snake. Tiny arcs of electricity course throughout its body, and sparks fly into the air. It slides gracefully over the frozen ground on myriad tiny appendages, closing the distance between you.
These crystal aliens are kind of cute.
It stops and tilts a flat, head-like appendage toward you. Sunlight filters through the crystal plate and dances on the surface. The light separates into a spectrum of colors, like a prism, but then resolves into pictures - moving pictures. Somehow, this alien is harnessing the surrounding light to display a tiny scene.
Here the cutscene shifts to a partly animated one.
You recognize the picture as the place where you stand, sans your escape ship. Suddenly, you see your ship streak out of the sky and crash into the ice.

In the scene, the hatch opens and you step out. It seems that what the creature is depicting are the events that have just occurred.
It's Robinette Broadhead, in the flesh!
Here we actually see a figure that's supposed to represent the main character. As far as I remember, this is the first time the PC has been depicted on-screen in either game.
The alien enters the scene. He shows you the tiny images in his head appendage, and then leaves. You follow along. These events obviously have not yet happened, so you surmise that the creature is picting the actions that it would like to see you perform.
A village of crystal spinal cords.
I don't see any reason not to follow the creature, as it seems mostly harmless so far, so when it moves off, I follow in the same direction, and after a few minutes, it brings me to what seems like a village of the creatures. We're now calling them Kords for their similarity to spinal cords.

Amusingly, we even see young of the creatures. They don't seem to talk, but they communicate with each other by displaying pictures the way the first one just did. A child Kord asks an older one for a stick by displaying a picture of it, and then the older one gives it a piece of its own body. So the creatures can manipulate the shape of their crystalline structure as well as controlling what light does when it passes through them.
The elder's very bare home.
The Kord that guided me here leads me into a large sheltering structure carved out of ice. Inside is an ancient Kord. How the PC can tell that a particular creature is much older when they're all made of crystalline bone-like pieces, I'm not at all sure. In the image, it looks a bit cracked, I suppose, analogous to wrinkles? At any rate, the guide seems to respect this one and explains to it how it found me. Then the old one approaches and begins to tell me its own story.
A Heechee escape ship, very much like yours, plummets out of the sky, trailing fuel. Upon impact with the icy surface, the fuel catches on fire and explodes. The blast creates an enormous crater, hundreds of meters in diameter.

Over time, an ice glacier reclaims the crater. It slowly crawls over the entire area, completely hiding the ship.

Some time later, a great tremor fractures the glacier. A crack spirals outward from the center. Aftershocks widen the crack and create others. Soon, a maze of passages riddles the glacier.
The Kords show some cleverness in finding the center of the crater.
A party of Kords enters the maze of passages. As they hike along, they pause at every intersection. One of them drops a ball and they watch to see which exit it rolls towards. Each time, they follow this path.

Eventually, they arrive at the center and find the escape ship buried under tons of ice. The Kords create cutting tools and, working tirelessly, excavate a pit around the ship. As the pit deepens, they build a ladder to help them enter and exit easily. 
The ship appears completely intact. They try to get inside, but cannot seem to open the hatch. Eventually they abandon the attempt and prepare to leave.
Creating an exact replica of an object is an extraordinary ability.
Before they go, one of the Kords carves an exact likeness of the ship, including all symbols and markings. Carrying the carving before them, the Kords wind their way back through the maze of passages and return to the village.
The guide disappears after the elder's story is over [10]. Well, that's fortuitous. That story seems to indicate that there's another Heechee ship available nearby, which might be able to get me off this rock, if I can get into it.

I go back out to the main village location and interact with the young Kord for a while. It's playing with its stick by banging it on things and rubbing it on its own head. If I show it items, it tries to make a copy of them from its body but always fails to make anything useful. I can’t trade it for its stick or anything either. Probably I won’t need it.
A rather disorganized museum.
The next location I find is an "Ice Garden" containing many intricate and detailed sculptures, some of tools and such. I take a basket and a cutter, in case they're useful, and examine the rest. On the bottom of the sculpture of the Heechee escape ship, which is probably the same one mentioned in the Kord's story, I find markings showing a Heechee number [5]. This is probably the code that will get the hatch open, once I find the thing. (On a reload, I discover that the code is randomized each time, probably when the ship sculpture is examined for the first time.)
They're so quick at making the crystal replicas!
In an adjacent area to the south, an artist works, making more ice sculptures. I show it the ice cutter that I just picked up, and it makes me a crystal version from its body [10]. Having the more durable crystal version, I automatically drop the ice version, which shatters. I hope they didn't need that for their sculpture museum. The same thing happens with the ice bowl: I trade it for a crystal version.

Both the cutter and the bowl are finely and precisely made, but both were made almost instantly by the substance of the Kord. What do these things eat, anyway? It also seems odd that durable crystal versions of objects can be made easily by the Kords, and they just give them to me, while they carefully carve fragile ice versions of things to put in their ice garden.
Looks like a meeting of Kords.
Off to the east of the village, I find a shallow pit with several Kords gathered around it. The pit contains nothing but some sparkling white rocky dust. When I examine it, one of the Kords notices me and shows me a new story.
Four Kords sit around a shallow pit filled with white dust. Three of them insert their tails into the dust and absorb a small quantity. The fourth merely waits. When the three have finished, they all leave.

The Kords arrive at a spring inhabited by a huge crystalline monster. A sheer cliff rises beyond the spring, and a rock bridge connects the near shore with the top of the cliff wall.

The Kord that did not eat any of the white dust steps onto the bridge. Suddenly, a crystalline tentacle whips out of the spring, wraps around the Kord, and draws it underneath the surface. A few moments of violent thrashing are followed by a sudden stillness.

The creature settles down to eat its meal, and the remaining Kords race up the rock path. The beast pays no attention to them as it feasts on the self-sacrificing Kord.

The three Kords enter a stone forest. Strange ice-covered rock formations poke out of the ground, and large worm-like creatures crawl aimlessly between them.

The first Kord produces a cutting tool. With it, he scrapes the ice from the face of one of the rocks. Instantly, one of the worm-creatures attaches itself to the exposed stone surface and begins to chew its way into the rock. After a few moments, a thick white dust starts to flow out of the worm's hindsection.
Now we know why the young Kord was banging a stick.
A dark, winged creature suddenly swoops down from the north. It dives towards the Kords, talons outstretched. Immediately, the second Kord produces a stick appendage which it bangs against its crystal head. Something about this action causes the flying creature to veer off and fly away.

The third Kord manufactures a crystal bowl appendage. It scoops up as much of the white dust as it can. When the bowl is full, the party of Kords leaves.
Nothing further happens after the story is finished [10]. I can't do anything else with the pit, though. This dust seems quite valuable, considering that one of the Kords seems to have to die each time they go get some. If I approach again, a Kord just shows me the same story again. The message is clear: leave our dust alone. Whatever it is.

From the village, I try wandering north, but that just leads to the Kord shelters, which are all too small for me. That's it for the village area, it seems, but the area around the village is somewhat confusing, with multiple similar areas called "Ice Plains." So I start mapping, I think for the first time in the Gateway series, because that's what I do in text adventures with confusing areas.
This creature eats Kords, but Kords eat rock dust?
The ice plains are rather more extensive than I had first thought, given how compact most of the previous areas have been. The main area runs to more than 30 locations by the time I'm done. Along the way, I find a number of small caves in the ice mountain, but they seem to be just a distraction. As I have no light, they get darker and darker until, if I go far enough, I run into something and die. I also find the hot spring with the crystal tentacle creature that guards the place where the Kords get their rock dust. I don't know how to pass the creature yet. However, I can fill my crystal bowl with the spring water, which may be useful.

On the far west side of the plains, I find the glacier maze that the Kords showed me. It's an even larger area of identical rooms. I know how to deal with mazes, though. More mapping! In all seriousness, while I did in fact map the entire maze, mostly because I was curious about exactly how extensive it was, it's not at all necessary to do so.
Pouring water to thread the maze.
I don't have a ball like the Kords used to judge the tilt of the floor toward the center, but I do have a bowl of water. When I try pouring it in a maze room, I end up pouring just a little bit, which forms a rivulet that trickles toward the center, accomplishing the same thing as the ball [20]. Any fork in the path can easily be identified using the water, and in fact, the correct path only encounters four forks. The full map, below, shows that the glacier is a 10x10 square of locations.

One way I can be pretty certain that the player was never meant to map the glacier is the minor bug I found whenever I got to a dead-end in the path. Most locations say "Cracks in the glacier lead east and southeast." Or whatever the exits are. Locations that are not dead-ends always have at least two exits, but dead-ends only have one, and they will say, for instance, "Cracks in the glacier lead and west." The code doesn't take the "and" out when there's only one exit. Players using the water to guide them will never see this, though. In fact, I discover later that if you don't make wrong turns and only follow the water, then the game will automatically jump you to the next fork rather than making you follow every step of the path. This is an exceptionally considerate maze implementation.
Map of the Kord ice planet area.
In the map above, we landed at location [v], the Landing Site, but I actually started mapping from the village at location [a]. You can follow my progress around the area by the alphabetic progression. Every location with an asterisk is a dark cavern, and the hundred rooms of the glacier are off to the west. The creature in the hot spring is at location [r].
Reaching the center of the glacier...

...and falling into the pit.
At the glacier's center [10], I find the crashed ship in a pit, just as the Kords had shown me. However, the ladder they built to get down into the pit was only built for their weight, and breaks under mine [5]. Whoops, I might be stuck here for a while. Fortunately, I wasn't injured in the tumble. In the meantime, I'll investigate the ship.

It's definitely a Heechee escape pod of some sort; it's nearly identical to the one I rode here in, although this one looks a good deal older, as if it's been stuck in ice here for centuries. The hatch code is somewhat visible under the ice, but can't be read. It's a good thing the Kords made an accurate reproduction of the ship, including the code. I punch it into the access panel [10] and open the hatch.
Desecrating the dead is apparently a required action here.
Inside, I find an actual Heechee body, long dead. Probably the ice has preserved it somewhat, but it has clearly decomposed over the years. The body is depicted in the room's image, but there's not much of a description of it in text, as it's meant to have degraded enough that it's hard to tell what it was supposed to look like. In theory, this would be an amazing find, able to tell us much more about what the Heechee were like, but there's no way for me to take it with me or do any detailed study of it here.

The only thing I take is some kind of glowing pyramidal pod [10], which is the only other object inside the ship. While it can be opened, it's empty, but the text makes it clear that it seems to be some kind of important personal effect. I vaguely remember why it will be important later, but I really don't know why it seems to be so important now that we're encouraged to take it. Morbid curiosity, if nothing else, maybe. If you came across a tomb on a deserted island with some kind of memento of someone who died but no other indication of who it was, would you take it with you as you try to get back to civilization? I suppose I would, as it would likely have archaeological and historical significance.
Extracting the corroded clamp from the crashed ship.
At any rate, it hardly matters unless we get out of this pit. There's not much in here to work with, really. I'm carrying the crystal bowl of water, crystal cutters, the tuning fork from much earlier, a metal clamp I found by my ship, a compass, and now the Heechee pod. I'm not touching that corpse any further. However the access panel of the ship is still accessible and not completely covered by ice. I open the panel and find a corroded metal clamp, similar to the one I'm carrying.

I can't immediately pull it out, though, as it seems to be on and humming. The text specifically calls it a magnetic clamp, which indicates that the magnetism can be turned on and off. I press the button on it, which turns it off, and now I can pull it free of the ship.
Launching myself out of the pit by the power of magnetism.

I don't have to wind my way back through the maze; exiting the center automatically brings me back to the glacier entrance. Again, very considerate. So I have a Heechee pod, but other than that, I'm not really sure what all that accomplished, as I still don't know how to deal with the crystal creature. One other thing I noticed is that the compass points toward the rock cleft room with the creature.

Next time we'll sort out what to do with the creature so we can find a way off this ball of ice and get somewhere more interesting.

Unceremoniously smashing my head in a dark cavern. (#21)

Surprisingly, this is the only death so far on this world. It's inhospitable, but oddly not that dangerous. As long as you're not a crystal creature, at least. My coverall must be amazing if it’s protecting me from the weather here.

Score: 835
Deaths: 21

Inventory: tuning fork, compass, crystal cutter, crystal bowl (holding water), Heechee pod (wearing: blue coverall)

Session Time: 2.5 hours (at least half an hour for mapping)
Total Time: 12 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. I really dig the look of the ice planet. Nice representation of the stuff in a pixel environment. The creatures are neat too, even if they're just weird spinal cords. Communicating with a creature that doesn't just already understand your language is an underrated puzzle.

    1. You know, I forgot to comment on it, but the game is actually doing some subtly clever things with those graphics, at the cost of slowing itself down a bit. Most of the Ice Plains locations use the same background image with various objects overlaid onto it, including a variety of ice protrusions. I didn't show more than one of these, so it wouldn't be apparent from my screenshots here.