Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Futurewar: Stuck in the Future

Remember in my last post, when I was worried that I might be playing Futurewar for months on end?  That this game would consume all of my free time and monopolise the blog, just like several other PLATO games have done before?  That the orange glow of PLATO would once more become the only warmth in my drab, grey life?  Well, nothing to worry about folks, because for now I'm done with Futurewar.

Unfortunately this doesn't mean that I've completed the game.  I'm not even sure what completing the game entails, aside from making it all the way to the bottom of the underworld.  No, I haven't finished it, but I have hit an impasse.  For whatever reason, the stairs down from level 7 (The Battle Zone) won't let me pass.  When I enter, the game goes through its usual process of loading the next level, but then it just dumps me back in level 7.  So I'm stuck, with no way forward.  I've left a message in the game's note files, and I see that the creators have responded to stuff there as recently as January.  There's a good chance they might fix the problem, assuming it is a problem that needs to be fixed.  After all, it could be that there's something I need to do (like maybe gain more experience points) to advance.  I don't know, and I'm not going to keep playing just in case.  I'll check back in on the game periodically to see if my question has been answered, and maybe one day I will have completed the game.  Today... is not that day.


I managed to fully explore all of the human-occupied zones, as well as the War Zone and the Battle Zone.  There's nothing particularly noteworthy to find in any of these levels, and I suspect that there won't be any special encounters in the lower levels either, except perhaps at the very bottom.  All I found were hazards like radioactive waste and sewage, random encounters with mutants and robots, graffiti, and stairs leading down.  Even so, I was rather enjoying the process of mapping.  The levels are mostly quite open and not all that time-consuming to explore.  There are also no spinners, teleporters or darkness zones, so it's a lot less frustrating to map than a lot of later games will be.  My only gripe on this score is that the Barbarian Zone wraps around, but the coordinates are off by one when you cross from one side of the map to the other.  I'll put all of my maps below, so anyone who wants to can take a look.

American Zone

Guerilla Zone

Barbarian Zone

Martian Zone

Cyborg Zone

War Zone

Battle Zone

The game never ramped up in difficulty like I expected.  Once I found some armour, I was untouchable to all but a few enemies, and the vast majority of those that could hurt me were only doing 1 or 2 points of damage per hit.  There was just one enemy that I feared: Man-Beasts.  For some reason, while all of the other monsters were trivial, Man-Beasts could hit me for around 30 points of damage per blow.  At level 30 my current character Dutch has 169 hit points, and that doesn't last long against a group of Man-Beasts. I learned to run away from them the hard way.  Thankfully, Man-Beasts are only found in the Cyborg Zone and the War Zone, so once I was done mapping those I never had to deal with them again.

The monsters I encountered can broadly be grouped into four categories: human soldiers, mutants, robots, and giant bugs/larvae.  (I guess there are skeletons too, but I can classify them as former soldiers if I want.)  It's very much a charming hodge-podge of late 1970s pop culture.  The robots include R2-D2 and Cylons from Battlestar Galactica.  The mutants include one called an X-Man; the character from the X-Men that it most resembles is Cyclops, so I don't feel too bad gunning down hordes of them.  The monster sprites (if they are sprites, I'm not sure how the graphics of PLATO work) look good, and some of them even have animations, moving their mouths and such.  That surely must be a first for a CRPG..

You can also hit CTRL-H during combat, and it brings up the complete stats of the monster you're fighting.  I was tempted to go through and catalogue them all, but that would be a little too much work. I wouldn't risk it against the Man-Beasts, anyway.

Scanning a pair of Slime-Mutants

The game has a wide variety of weapons and armour, but I only found a few of each.  For armour, I found baseball caps, bullet-proof vests, flak jackets and ballistic vests.  The ballistic vest seemed to be the most effective of those, but even the lowly baseball cap was enough to make me nigh-invincible on the levels I explored.  I found three types of weapons: clubs, rifles, and a sub-machine gun.  None of my characters were able to equip the club, and the rifle is just the default weapon that a new character starts the game with.  I was able to use the sub-machine gun though, and I was pleased to see that equipping a new weapon changes the look of the gun barrel at the bottom of the screen.  It even fires multiple bullets per attack.  Unfortunately, I found the sub-machine gun a little glitchy.  It kept defaulting back to the centre aiming position, and it wasn't as accurate as the rifle.  I ended up switching back to the default weapon, and then that character died, so I don't even have a sub-machine gun now. Weapons have been the hardest item pick-ups to come by.

I also found some other items that aid in exploration.  The first was a flashlight, which took me a little while to figure out.  In my last post, I'd mentioned that I was able to see the locations where there were encounters.  That doesn't last; there are levels that are dark, and on those the encounter locations are hidden.  If you use the flashlight, however, you can see them, and it also lets you see more squares into the distance.

The other items I found were a metal detector and something called "super-hearing".  The metal detector will tell you when there's a mine on the square in front of you.  At first I thought that there was nothing I could do about these mines but avoid them, but eventually I tried shooting them.  Much to my surprise, it worked.  The super-hearing enhances an ability that you already have.  If you press shift-H, it brings up a display that shows what's around you for about three squares in every direction.  With the super-hearing that range increases.  Unfortunately, both of these items stopped working for me after a while, and I'm not sure why.

Using my hearing. The o is me, the E is a base, the m's are monsters
and the x is a mine.

I'd been finding money after some encounters as well, but as of my last post I hadn't worked out what it was for.  There are no shops, at least none that I encountered, so it seemed to be pointless.  An old D&D-head like myself should have worked it out faster, but eventually I twigged that the money you take back to base converts into experience points, at a rate of one experience per dollar.  If I ever doubted this game's CRPG credentials, I have none whatsoever after figuring that out.

Aside from the occasional Man-Beast encounter, I hadn't been discouraged in my mapping by combat, but I had been blocked by hazards such as sewage and radioactive waste.  Some of my first few characters had died after walking into them, so I was reluctant to try it again, but once I'd exhausted all other mapping possibilities I had to bite the bullet.  With enough Hits I was able to survive walking through them, and explore the areas I'd missed on my first pass.  There wasn't really anything to find beyond them, but filling in my map was satisfaction enough.  There are still some infuriating areas that I can't get to, because they're blocked by pits or rubble.  Apparently I can get past those with a jetpack, but I never found one.  (Oh, and the squares that I thought were fire last time were actually rubble.  I blame that misconception on the game's Help file, which mentions the former but not the latter.)

Here's the current status of my character:

I gained a level while I was getting some screenshots for this post.

That's about all I have to report on the game, I'm afraid, unless the current game administrators come to my rescue.  I've tried going down every set of stairs on the first seven levels.  I've tried falling down every pit.  I advanced myself to level 30 on the off chance that would unlock access to the lower levels.  None of that worked, which is a shame, because I've been enjoying the game.  I think I was appreciating having something to sink my teeth into.  As much as I complained about the length of time that the other PLATO games took to beat, something like that is a lot more satisfying than the string of one-post games I've been on lately.  I was getting into the challenge, and the tension of perma-death.  Perhaps I'll be able to get back to it in time, but for now there's nothing for to do but move on.  (I won't assign a RADNESS Index just yet, though. It's possible I'll be back at Futurewar sooner rather than later.)

NEXT: My next game is Mystery House, the first of the adventure games on my Priority List.  I've also been replaying some of the earlier games from the blog, so expect some more back-tracking posts on those.  I'll try to schedule those as a bonus, rather than as replacements for my now-standard Sunday/Wednesday posts.


  1. The Martians clearly came in peace. They designed their whole environment to look like a smiley-face.

    Maybe your metal detector and super-hearing run on batteries or something and have a finite number of uses. Although most RPGs (of a slightly newer vintage) would have just had the item disappear from your inventory once you used it up.

    1. Looking at the game's note files, it looks like the "items stop working" thing is a glitch that hasn't been ironed out yet.