(This is part of my journey going checking out Planetfall. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)
It’s been a long, long time since I tackled a text adventure from my GOG library — Zork, to be precise. I remember being really excited to play it and then disheartened when it was confusing and lacking any real narrative thread.
Still, it’s been weighing on me that I really needed to give another text classic a try: Planetfall. This was one of the most famous of the Infocom titles, created by Steve Meretzky back in 1983. It was quite influential for several reasons, using humor and a well-written companion to create a memorable impression on players. The lead character as a space janitor was clearly an influence on Sierra’s later Space Quest.
Yet I’ve never played it. It’s on my gaming bucket list, titles that I feel I must at least try sometime in my life.
So here I go with Planetfall for the very first time. Time to start drawing a map! I expect that this will be charming for the first two sessions and a pain in the butt thereafter.
So I begin my adventures as a janitor — sorry, “Ensign Seventh Class” — scrubbing the floor of a ship. After typing “scrub floor” a few times, a slimy alien ambassador slithers by, mucking up my beautiful work. ARGH.
OK, that genuinely made me laugh out loud. Sorry, 1983-era game. I didn’t me to disparage you. Of course, a list of usable parser words would be helpful. Hm, help. Wonder if typing help will pull up a list.
I pause and look up a copy of the manual, since this is the internet and everything is on here. I do find a PDF of the 47-page (!) book and print out the page that has some common commands.
I want to say that it’s more than a little disconcerting that there’s a “MOVES” counter at the top of the screen that’s constantly ticking down with each command I write. Currently it’s at 4,518, so I think I’m good for a while.
The alien ambassador makes a few weird comments, offers me some celery, and then slithers off elsewhere. In comes my boss, Ensign Blather, who is a total dink:
You can’t blame me for trying, right? Also, I don’t know what kind of outfit I’m part of, but this guy straight-up murders me in a serial-killer fashion for hitting him. That calls for an investigation.
I reload and start exploring the ship, which really ticks off Blather. After screaming at me and making me do push-ups, he throws me into the brig. Smashing. At least there’s graffiti on the wall to read, most of it limericks about Blather. Guess he’s not very well-liked.
Wow. This is boring. Hm, what to do… what to do…
Ah crud. I’m guessing my survival rate is not going to be high, sitting here in this cell. Sure enough, a couple of explosions later and I’m toast. Two deaths so far and I haven’t even left the ship!
I’m having a devil of a time getting off this ship. So if I go anywhere, Blather accosts me and I run the risk of getting thrown in the brig. I have to stay near the escape pod for when the explosion happens and get in before the bulkhead crashes down. The game won’t let me in there before the explosion happens, so there’s a timing issue here.
It takes me a couple of tries, but I make it into the pod in time. I take note of the game’s description of the safety webbing, something I should probably use before this thing gets moving. Tied in, the pod automatically ejects and starts searching for a crash landing site. Why the pod can’t just float in space and issue a distress signal is beyond me. Guess that would make for a boring game.
Long sequence short, the pod crash-lands on an ocean planet with very few islands (fortunately we get near one). The pod teeters on a cliff as I struggle to get out of the webbing, grab the few supplies in there, and get out. Of course, by now it’s fallen into the ocean and I have to swim out and then climb up a cliff. No sweat.
All alone, I stand shivering on a balcony of an alien world. What have I gotten myself into now?