Saturday 9 December 2023

Homeworld - Into the Black

By Reiko

Previously, we escaped the Phoenix Sect using an automated Heechee escape pod, which crashed on a remote ice planet populated by strange crystalline creatures. Now we've got to find a way to get out of here. There's nothing to eat, at any rate, and our behavior so far has certainly not conformed to any standards of finding shelter and resources in a survival situation. I briefly thought that we'd be able to escape using another similar pod buried in a glacier, but it also crashed and is unusable. Whether its occupant died before or after the crash is uncertain, but I was able to retrieve (loot?) its special identity pod, which will surely be important later.
Those tentacles could grab me just as easily as a Kord.
Now I need to find a way of dealing with the crystal tentacle creature that guards the rock cleft to the north. It's clearly dangerous, and I can't do very much with it with what I have. Finally, I go back to the village to see if I can do anything else there. I notice there are some more sculptures I haven't used. I pick up a large gem and go show it to the artist, who first seems afraid of it, and then shows me another story [10]:

Two Kords are exploring a cliff face that is riddled with caves. They peer into many of the darkened caves, and eventually enter one that is half-hidden by great spikes of ice. 
They slide through a long cavern. The light from the outside becomes dimmer as they progress. Just as it seems that they are going to turn back because of the darkness, they spot a red glimmer coming from the innermost depths of the cave. They press on and come upon a lit area.
I found the caves, but I didn't check to see whether every single cave led to death after four steps!
The glow in the room comes from multiple veins of red crystal lining the walls. The crystal is studded with tiny gem-like projections.

One of the explorers approaches the crystal, grows an appendage, and touches it. Instantly, the crystal attaches itself to the appendage. The Kord struggles, but cannot free itself.
This is really creepy.
The crystal seems to come alive. The throbbing red glow becomes brighter, then the color begins to flow like blood into the Kord. After a while, the Kord stops struggling. It is now an extension of the red crystal life-form that lines the walls. A few moments pass, and then the lone Kord turns and leaves the cave.
Do I dare touch the red crystal Kord?
That could be a weapon against the other crystal creature! I hurry over to the cave to check it out. I reach the brink of death, make a leap of faith, as it were, and find the red glow just as promised. I have to travel several more steps north to arrive in the red crystal cave [10]. The crystal is embedded in the wall, except for where the Kord was assimilated, which extends into the room. I easily cut the Kord free with the crystal cutter [10] and take it with me [5]. Fortunately, the red crystal doesn't affect me; I suppose it only affects crystalline creatures.
You know you want it, tentacle-thing!
Gotcha! No more eating Kords for you.
Again I'm automatically brought back to the entrance of the cavern when I leave the crystal cave. Next up: back to the rock cleft. I toss the red crystal Kord at the crystal monster [20] and wait to see what will happen. Although I meant to toss it into the water, I end up tossing it onto the path. It doesn't matter, though, because the monster detects it, grabs it with a tentacle, and begins to consume it. Big mistake! The red crystal entity takes over and converts the whole creature to more red crystal. The monster sinks to the bottom, dead. As I'm waiting for several turns, watching this play out, Kords wander up to see what's happening. They send thankful images at me and cross the bridge, able to freely pass for the first time.
More stone than ice here.
Now I can go see what's up here. Just as in the vision, the worms, which the PC calls "diggles," crawl around and will create the white dust if I scrape a rock with the cutter. Kords are still in the area and will collect the dust, although they stay out of sight otherwise. I head north and find another area with more diggles and a number of lamprey-like winged creatures. One more step takes me to the edge of the cliff face, where a number of very old Heechee symbols have been carved into the rock and then covered with ice. They are hard to read through the ice, but they're also not recognizably numbers or anything useful.
Heechee symbols under the ice...
...are partly destroyed by the tunneling diggle.
I can partly clear the ice from the rock wall [10]. As before, a diggle approaches and starts boring into the wall. Briefly, I feel bad for causing defacement of ancient records, but since they're meaningless, what else can I do? After the diggle passes through, I find that it's broken a hole into an ancient excavated tunnel. It's very dark, so I carefully move forward, but I quickly reach an open hollow inside the mountain without incident.
Arriving at the Heechee outpost.
Here I find a Heechee outpost. The compass blinks, indicating that it has found its target. The escape pod found this place deliberately, as a rescue station, not just landed somewhere random. Too bad the place has been so long abandoned. Let's see if we can get inside. The building seems to have a number of solar reflectors, lighting the area but also attracting the lamprey creatures. The black wall of the structure is smooth except for a small triangular opening. Now I know why I needed to get the Heechee pod: I insert it into the opening, and a portal opens in the side of the building. The lampreys try to follow, but the portal closes behind me [10].
Map of the facility, with incomprehensible symbols.
The inside of the building is made of the distinctive blue Heechee metal. The southern wall behind me is solid (where did the door go?), while passageways lead off in the other three compass directions. A diagram of the facility seems to have been placed on the upper part of the wall above the doorway opposite me. The west exit appears to be a dead end, while the east passage leads to a dark machine room with some kind of remote control, which I take [5].
Controlling the robot with the remote.
When I use it, I discover that it lets me control a sort of maintenance robot. At first I can't get it to do anything, and then I realize that one button causes a nearby door to open. Then I can maneuver it out of its room, along the corridors I visited before, and into the machine room. It also has a grabber arm, but I don't immediately find a use for this ability.
Activating the power for the facility.
I have the robot open a door in the machine room, allowing me to enter a very tall "secret chamber" with a large mysterious columnar device in the middle. The column has a metal plate with a four-fingered handprint melted into it. My hands aren't four-fingered Heechee hands, but I press my hand to the plate anyway to see if it will do anything. It does! The column flares with power and light that travels up the column [10]. After a pause, it travels down the column again, then the facility seems to wake up and start running, with machinery noises coming from the west.

Now the machinery room is all lit up. One platform holds a yellow crystal under a transparent shield with beams of light. One wall of the room is displaying symbols in red. I'm not sure what to do with these yet, so I look around a bit more.

The supply room where the robot was stored is otherwise empty and uninteresting. The third exit from the map room is more interesting, though, as it leads to a hangar containing a Heechee ship. This will probably be my ticket off this planet, if I can start it up. I poke my head into the cockpit and find that the controls are dead, except for a screen blinking a yellow symbol at me. It's the same symbol on the top of the map diagram, apparently. The screen is positioned above a small control box near the hatch with a slot near the bottom. Maybe this is like an ignition switch where I need to find a key to put in the slot to start up the ship?
Lampreys swarm the hangar room.
Another device with a yellow crystal and a transparent shield sits in the hangar. Also, a small access tunnel extends to the north. I'd better bring the robot in here to check that out, as I can't fit. I maneuver it from the machine room, through the map room and the hangar, and into the tunnel. Two steps to the north, I find what looks like a door with a hatch, or maybe a button. It's hard to tell in the red-tinted robot view. I try the robot's grabber arm and am surprised when that causes the roof of the hangar to open, allowing the many lampreys outside to swarm in [10]. Their presence drains the facility of power, dimming the lights. That seems problematic.
Orange symbols - each color has a different pattern.
I wander back to the machine room and notice when I step in that the symbols are green, and then turn orange. They were red earlier, with one notch on the meter below the screen. At orange, the meter displays four notches. I also notice that the yellow crystal is severely cracked and making noise, which keeps the lampreys away. I keep waiting for a few minutes to see all the colors; purple has six notches; green has five notches; yellow has two; blue has three. So we have a sort of color hierarchy or sequence: red -> yellow -> blue -> orange -> green -> purple, with a different set of shapes shown on the screen for each color.
Breaking the crystal to drive the lampreys away.
Not knowing what to do about the crystals, I next fiddle with my inventory for a while and find that if I hit the tuning fork, the crystal vibrates but doesn't crack any further. If I hit it in the hangar with the other crystal, that crystal vibrates and cracks and starts rattling like the other one, which drives the lampreys away again [25]. Oops? But I did get points for it, so I guess it was the right thing to do. I'm sure we don't want lampreys around when we're trying to launch the ship, if they eat power. But we had to open the hangar so that we can get the ship out.
Finally we can leave this iceball!
I also discover that the screen inside the ship is no longer displaying the yellow symbol; instead, the panel is open, with six buttons corresponding to the colors displayed in the machine room. I've left the robot there, so I use the control module to see what color is being displayed currently.

The robot only sees in shades of red, but the shapes on the screen tell me what color is being displayed. By the way, this makes this puzzle very colorblind-friendly, because it doesn't depend on identifying the color itself. The text always tells you what color is being displayed when you're in the room observing the screen directly. You don't have to know what "orange" looks like to type "press orange" when you know that the "orange" pattern is being shown.

Since the pattern is orange, I press the orange button, and that's all it takes for the ship to lift off [50].

Now we launch into a very long cut-scene, possibly the longest in the game for total non-interactive time.
The ship tears away from the small frozen world. Soon, the planet is only a glowing coin far behind you. As the ship exits the planet's gravitational pull, the faster-than-light drive kicks in. Stars blur and you are catapulted into dark space.
Here we get an animation of the ship entering Tau space and traveling against a starry background.
You'd heard that some Heechee ships were targeted to orbit black holes - the Heechee seemed to have a fascination for them - but you never expected to emerge from Tau space right next to one! Your surprise turns to panic when your ship sails straight for the center of the swirling maelstrom!
Technomagic allows us to enter a black hole!
The ship begins to shake. Unseen forces pull at the walls, and the seams start to buckle. You fear that any second, the ship will crumple and entomb you in a coffin of Heechee metal. Then suddenly, the shaking stops. You notice a small coil starting to glow - the same seemingly insignificant coil that Earth scientists have puzzled over for decades. As the glow becomes stronger, the ship stabilizes. The black hole opens its maw, and the ship slips easily inside.
This is an utterly nonsensical and yet beautiful illustration.
As you leave the event horizon behind you and come out into the core of the black hole, the space in front of your ship is ablaze with light. Puzzled, you stare through the viewscreen until you realize that the light is coming from thousands of stars INSIDE the Core!
A distant view of a Heechee city, a view that we only get to appreciate very briefly.

Before you can collect your thoughts, the ship dives into an entry path towards a nearby planet. The atmosphere buffets the ship for a few moments, then the ride smooths out as you sail over an alien city - not an ancient, dead city of decayed ruins, but a city full of light and motion - a city that is unmistakably Heechee! 
The ship drops into a long, vertical tunnel and touches down as soft as a feather. You take a deep breath and go to open the hatch, but before you get there, it pops open and an alien creature steps into the cockpit.
Our first glimpse of a live Heechee!
Although the creature is amazingly similar to humans, at first all you notice are the differences. The alien is hairless. A tan hide is stretched taut over ropey muscles and bone. The eyes are large and contain pupils shaped like plus signs. He has no ears to speak of, and his nose isn't much more than two slits. His forehead is oversized and imposing. You look down and see that his thin legs are set very far apart on his pelvis, and between them hangs a tan pyramid shaped pod! Without a doubt, you have met your first live Heechee!

The Heechee makes a few quick noises - nothing like any language you've ever heard. When you don't respond, he makes a series of incomprehensible gestures. All you can do is stand and stare. Eventually, he tires of trying to communicate with you and he gives you a gentle shove towards the hatch.
This sort of couch should look familiar from the first game.

You climb out the hatch and down the ladder. A crowd of Heechee have surrounded the ship. They press toward you, gawking and staring and chattering in their strange language. Your companion follows you out of the ship and pushes his way through the mob, indicating that you should follow. He leads you into a building, and then to a quiet, sterile room with a couch in the center. 
He motions for you to lie on the couch. The items you carry are all taken away. Something cold is attached to your head, and then things get blurry. It feels as if information is being sucked out of your brain. Time passes. Then a painful stream of knowledge suddenly comes screaming into your mind. 
You lose track of time as this cycle is repeated over and over. 
After what seems like hours, the cycle stops. Your Heechee friend is there, and when he speaks to you, you are amazed to find that you understand him. "Please rest here. The High Council is discussing the information you bring. You will be taken to them when they are ready for you." He contorts his face into a grotesque expression and leaves, closing the door behind him.
The Heechee Council room, with some kind of digitally projected Heechee ancestor.

Within the hour, he returns and escorts you into an imposing room. Other Heechee sit in tall chairs around you, and in one of them you see a huge glaring disembodied head. Your escort leaves, and you feel very much alone.

The creature directly in front of you speaks. "Welcome, human. My name is Phthisis. I am First Seat of the Council." He gestures to the disembodied head and says, "To my right is Fogram, representative of the Ancient Ancestors and advisor to this Council." The head continues to glare at you.
I'm going to summarize the rest of the Council discussion, because there are only tiny variations in the images as the Heechee argue, so screenshots would be mostly pointless, and it spans at least a dozen more paragraphs, making this part of the game feel just as interminable as this sort of meeting actually might be.

Phthisis, the First Seat, has introduced Fogram, the projected head, and then introduces Convergence, the Second Seat. Phthisis has to be the diplomat between Fogram and Convergence. Fogram immediately sees our presence as a threat now that we know where the Heechee have been hiding from the Assassins all these millennia. Convergence is much more sympathetic. Unfortunately Phthisis announces right off the bat that yes, Fogram's right, we really can't leave, due to the potential for leaking the knowledge of where the Heechee are to the Assassins.

The question at hand is only what will become of us. Are we a prisoner, or can we learn to be a part of Heechee society? Fogram thinks we'll cause riots if we start talking to people about how the Heechee are forcing us to stay, allowing our whole race to probably fall to the Assassins. Convergence thinks that they can't just imprison the first representative of another sentient race to encounter the Heechee. The question goes to a vote in the Council, and while the result is close, they decide that we can be a lecturer as long as we say nothing of the Assassins or Earth's situation involving them.

Convergence kindly takes us back to the ship and sends us off to our new quarters, warning us that the device allowing travel through the black hole has been disabled. The third quarter of the game ends on a despairing note as we go to sleep while remembering that the Council said, "Never again will you leave the Core."
Our home away from home, possibly permanently.
Next time we'll start our new job as a lecturer to the Heechee, explore the city a little, and try to get to know Convergence a bit more, while contemplating our existential crisis resulting from being stranded in a literally alien culture permanently. At least they gave us the language.

Score: 1000
Deaths: 21

Inventory: Heechee pod (wearing: blue coverall)

Session Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 14 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 know Morpheus mentioned it on your last post, but I'll say it again... these are some nice graphics. They always do realistic, serious looking graphics in all their games, even the goofy ones like the Spellcasting series. Probably because of the formal look of the text interface, it always works visually, every time. Even though this isn't my type of game, I love looking at these posts for the visuals.

  2. I am honestly impressed that they put in a plot reason for landing near another Heechee station. Too many films, games and books would have just made it lucky that you did. It should be obvious but I am impressed that they thought it through so thoroughly, this is the kind of attention to detail that turns a decent story into a great one. And I agree the graphics are lovely, I'm really enjoying this series!

    1. Just because there technically is a logical reason doesn't make the first half of the game have any more of a coherent narrative arc. The first game has a way more satisfying overall structure of slowly building your career even if the planets themselves are unrelated.

      In the end of this section the plot finally gets interesting instead of the protagonist being thrust from one scenario to the next. Still, that doesn't fix the pacing problem of the Phoenix Sect terrorist subplot being on hold for a long while...

  3. This is so easy to get wrapped up in, especially with your writing style. The game itself seems pretty dense with information and I'm not sure I'd have the patience to play it myself. Looking forward to what comes next!

    1. Thanks for the compliment! I'm having fun with the next part myself. It can be quite plot-dense, yes, probably even more than the first game.


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.