Retro Gaming: Planetfall part 1

(This is part of my journey going checking out Planetfall. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

planet1It’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.

planet2Love this ad. This was back when you sold games to players with a MIGHTY WALL OF TEXT. Of course, it’s a text adventure game, so what better way to appeal to your target audience?

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.

pf1Behold! Advanced computational entertainment!

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.

pf2OK, 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.

pf3Let me hop into my time machine and make that order happen!

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:

pf4You 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…

pf5I miss boring! Take me back to boring, please!

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!

pf6From now on, I’m making it my mission to smell everything in this game.

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.

pf7It 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?

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3 thoughts on “Retro Gaming: Planetfall part 1

  1. Shintar June 24, 2015 / 2:39 pm

    I’m pretty sure that dying frequently is part of the fun in a game like this. Wouldn’t want all the descriptions of different death options to go unseen!

  2. Redbeard June 24, 2015 / 5:29 pm

    Ah, good old Planetfall.

    I remember my dorm hall friends and I playing this game, huddled around a Commodore 64, on a Friday night. If you can imagine people playing cards, getting buzzed, and trying to figure out logic puzzles in a bizarro world of an evening, that’s what it was like.

  3. Spagomat June 25, 2015 / 7:17 pm

    Nice to see someone going back to the classics. Planetfall is one that I started and abandoned back in the 80s, then finally tried again finished just a few months ago! Good luck!

    I highly recommend a program called Trizbort, specifically designed for drawing adventure game maps. http://trizbort.genstein.net/

    Next time you’re up for some Infocom, I’d suggest Lurking Horror. Knowing your love of TSW, I think you’ll be happy with it. Another personal favorite, more narrative and easy than most Infocom games, is Plundered Hearts.

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