Last time out, I took a break from my marathon to play Suspended, a dystopian science-fiction game and Infocom’s sixth title. 1983 marked a huge year for Infocom, a company that had never released more than two games per year suddenly had five. After Suspended came The Witness, a game that Ilmari reviewed last year, and then Planetfall. Although Ilmari already looked at The Witness, I wanted to come to Planetfall with the full Infocom experience so I also played and then wrote about my experiences with that game. You can find it as a special bonus post here. Spoiler: I do not like it as much as Ilmari did.
Planetfall is the first game by adventure gaming legend Steve Meretzky. We’ve seen his work (in various roles) on the Spellcasting series and Gateway; we’ll also be seeing him soon in Leather Goddesses and Rex Nebular, not to mention at least three more stops on the Zork marathon. He came to Infocom as a game tester and, thanks in large part to Planetfall, became one of their top designers. I’m thrilled to be able to experience his first game once again.
The setting is in the distant future. Mankind has been traveling the stars for more than 10,000 years and has settled into a vaguely Star Trek-style system called the “Stellar Patrol”. Patrol members are expected to be able to speak 18 languages but thanks to advances in teaching and electric shock therapy, the brochure says you can learn them all in three days! I am also amused to discover that the future also has the “Deep Space Hero Correspondence Course” for patrol members, perhaps a tiny glimmer of that idea was reused for the Coles’ Hero’s Quest game released six years later. I could go into it more, but it’s hard to write about humor in an interesting way. You can find the manual in the Lost Treasures of Infocom mobile app, available in an app store near you, or just by Googling for thirty seconds. I’ll wait. All set? Let’s play!
Before we begin, the standard disclaimer: I am positive I played this before but I doubt I got very far. I remember an adorable robot named Floyd and his comments when you save that you “must be doing something dangerous”. I know, but probably didn’t experience firsthand, that Syblq qvrf ng fbzr cbvag bayl gb or erfheerpgrq, Frnepu sbe Fcbpx-fglyr, sbe gur frdhry. After that, my mind is a blank but I may remember more as I play.
|We just started and are already at 4451 moves!|
On the next attempt, I play nice and scrub the floor. Scrub, scrub, scrub, turn after turn. At one point an alien ambassador stops by and drops off a brochure that contains the game’s credits. Blather still isn’t happy even though I’ve spent nearly every turn so far typing “clean floor” over and over again. But when the inevitable emergency happens, I am standing right outside the escape pod when it opens. I run in and wrap myself in its protective webbing-- I remember what happened in Starcross when I wasn’t properly strapped in! I’m the only person that made it to this pod-- did a comedy game just start with the fiery deaths of hundreds of characters just offscreen? I hope not! I wait a while as the pod identifies and travels to a nearby planet. It’s almost completely covered by water so the pod takes us down to a region with two islands. The craft eventually comes to rest on one of the cliffs but it’s not a good perch and the pod falls into the water. I scramble out-- picking up an emergency kit and a towel that appear from a bulkhead-- and swim to the surface.
I find myself in an old “Seenik Vista”, a balcony overlooking what might once have been a river system but is now all ocean. The text is garbled, a “corrupt form of Galalingua”. If I have to read this the entire game I think my eyes will bug out. The manual did mention that I will have to be careful to always use the correct words as the game engine does not understand this “corrupted” form, even if the words appear on the screen. I’m going to trust that it’s going to be used sparingly...
Climbing up a winding stair to the plateau above, I discover an abandoned military base of some kind. As I peek through the rooms, it’s lonely: an empty rec room with games still scattered around, multiple dorms and bathrooms, a nearly empty cafeteria. (I do manage to pocket a canteen there.) It feels like a real place but eerily quiet. Rather than give you a blow-by-blow of empty rooms, here's the map I’ve created so far:
|Not to scale.|
One observation: the “moves” counter in the game is quite different than in previous games. All actions seem to take different amounts of time with moving between rooms incrementing the counter by between 10-30 units, that specific hallway jumping it by 60, and dropping and retrieving items taking 5-7 units. There is probably a rhyme or reason but I’m not going to pay much attention to it yet. If I need to map the whole game for how many units of time it takes to go through each exit before having to come up with a least-cost model… I’ll be disappointed. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that!
The eastern section of building is much more interesting. I discover:
- An administrative hallway that is cut in two by a large crevasse apparently caused by a long-ago earthquake. There’s a monitoring room that I can get to that tells me that the library, reactor, and life support are all functioning normally but that planetary defense, course control (?), communications, and project control (?) are all malfunctioning. It’s all in the mangled gibberish so it is a bit difficult to know if I read those labels correctly.
- In a separate part of that hallway, there’s a key hidden in a crack in the floor but my fingers are too plump to retrieve it.
- A “Mech Corridor” which contains a storage room of spare parts (oil, fuses, and some technobabble items), another tool room of spare parts (flask, laser, u-bar, and pliers), plus a machine that dispenses different flavors of acid.
- The mech corridor also has both an elevator and a stairway to access the reactor. The stairs are dark (with grues!) and the elevator requires an access key so I’ll have to find a way in there later.
- A separate elevator bank with both “upper” and “lower” elevators and a “teleportaashun buux”. All three require access cards that I do not have. Isn’t the garbled text great?
|An artist’s conception of Floyd (see below!)|
While researching this post, I found an absolutely amazing artist on DeviantArt who has produced 3D illustrations of Planetfall scenes. I hope you go and check out his work although there may be spoilers hidden in there. I didn’t look too closely outside of the first couple of images. You can find his page here. I’ve also found a few images of what may be Floyd from a cancelled graphical Planetfall sequel and I’ll provide those next week if I can find them in reasonable quality.
While all this is going on, I hit another aspect of this game: hunger and exhaustion. It seems that time is passing for real here and I have to eat one of my rations (a red goo that tastes like cherry pie!) out of my survival kit. I have two rations left so I hope I’ll be able to find more, unless this is the time limit. A bit later, I’m told that I need to find a place to sleep. Remembering all of those comfortable dorm beds, I head back to that side of the base with Floyd and plop myself in the nearest bed. I quickly fall asleep and wake up to Floyd beaming over me. It’s now Setem 7, 11344. Time for a new day! I’m going to go use the lower elevator access key and see where that gets me.
Inventory: ID card, survival kit (with green and brown goo remaining), towel, brochure, scrub brush, uniform, chronometer, canteen, and lower elevator access card.
Time played: 1 hr 25 min
If you haven’t checked it out already, you can find my bonus post on The Witness here. Don’t forget that this is an introduction post, the right time for you to place your score and “what will Joe get stuck on” bets. Since I’m the helpful sort, I will remind you of the scores of the marathon games so far: Dungeon scored 41, Zork I scored 35, Zork II scored 32 points, Zork III scored 42, and Starcross scored 37. We’ve also evaluated a number of Mr. Meretzky’s other games and he’s managed 48 and 51 on the two Spellcasting games we’ve played so far and a stunning 65 points for Gateway. He is officially listed as just a game tester for the latter but there are rumors (perhaps just by Meretzky fans) that he had a larger role.
One final note: do we have any Japanese readers that would be interested in doing a guest post on the Japanese semi-graphical Infocom games that were released around 1992? I believe that Zork I, Planetfall, and Enchanter all received graphical updates to some extent but I have had difficulty tracking down specific information or screenshots.