Thursday, May 7, 2020

Game 45: Space II (1979)

Space II: The Even More Final Frontier

It's another first for the blog today, as I reach what I believe is the first commercial sequel to a game that I've played before.  I played the original Space back in 2015, and didn't much care for it.  I even somewhat question its credentials as a CRPG: most of the game is spent trading on the stock market and mining planets, and while you generate a lot of stats in character creation, it's not really apparent what effect they have on anything.  It feels more like a loose collection of minigames than anything else.

The original Space was created by Steve Pederson and distributed by Edu-Ware.  Space II, on the other hand, seems to have had no input from the first game's creator.  It was apparently created by a student named David Mullich while he was still studying at California State University.  Mullich will go on to have a pretty decent career in the games industry, creating The Prisoner from 1980, and working on a bunch of games in the Heroes of Might and Magic series.  He also helped create the Empire series, which was a replacement for Space and Space II when they got sued off the shelves by Game Designers' Workshop for infringing on the copyright of the Traveller tabletop RPG.

The original Space offered five scenarios that you could take your character through: "Explore", in which you explore alien planets for resources; "First Blood", in which you can engage another character in one-on-one arena combat; "Trader", in which you fly back and forth transporting passengers and cargo between planets; "Defend", in which you defend a colony from alien invaders; and "High Finance", in which you play the galactic stock market.  None of those are as exciting as they sound.

Space II adds two new scenarios: "Psychodelia" and "Shaman".  It also has the character creation program, just in case you bought Space II without already owning Space.

Choosing a scenario.
Character creation is exactly the same as it was in Space.  You begin as an 18-year-old who is drafted into the military, and you must play through at least four years of training, choosing your various fields of study.  Stats are generated (Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Education, and Social Standing), and you also get a physical and psychological evaluation.  The game will tell you pretty quickly if your character isn't good enough, and gives you the option of starting over.  I must have created over a dozen character before I got one that wasn't hopeless: all of my others were legally blind, deaf, suffering from terminal heart conditions or completely psychotic.  I swear, the Space universe is possessed of the unhealthiest populace I've ever seen in a video game.  Eventually I created a character who was hale and hearty. Sure, he was a pervert who should apparently be kept away from natives and animals, but everyone has their flaws.  I set about training him up in gun combat, brawling and knife fighting, because a sex creep with a knowledge of guns never did anything bad for society.  It was time for Maximus Rocker to be unleashed on the galaxy.

Did you have to highlight it?

The first of the scenarios that I chose was "Psychodelia", in which you go to the Zintarean colony to experiment with various recreational drugs.  The end goal here is to increase your stats, but there are plenty of risks involved.  Here's a warning: this section gets into drug use and suicide attempts.

The sales pitch and the disclaimer.

There are six drugs to choose from: spice (the obligatory Dune reference), quack, OJ, Pepsi, nag and surge.  Every time I've played it I had to start with spice, as you need to build up your experience to try the drugs further down the list.  They don't seem to provide much in the way of a different experience, but it's likely that they have more of a statistical effect on your character.

What's a duck's favourite drug? Quack cocaine!

You choose your drug and a dosage in milligrams, and then your character has a trip which is represented by odd phrases that pop up all over the screen.  Occasionally you get a warning that "something is after you", and are asked if you want to fight back.  Sometimes it's just the DTs, and in that case it's best not to fight.  Once, it was space pirates, and they made off with half of my life savings while I was tripping balls.  Other times I've fought back, and beaten the space pirates up, but as you'll see below fighting back isn't always advisable.

At least it was only half.

Sometimes the things that are after you are the police, who will arrest you in a drug bust, and drag you to court.  Given that the Zingarean colony is the "homeworld of the galaxy's supply of recreational drugs", the narcs must have a really easy job of finding people to bust.  Normally you just get charged for possession of drugs, but if you fight back you'll also get charged with resisting arrest.  The fine is usually a few thousand credits, but you can lower that by bribing the judge.  If a bribe attempt fails, though, your fine will be greatly increased, and for me it seemed to fail more often than not.  I wonder if the Social Standing score has an effect on that?

Receiving my sentence.

The game says that doing drugs has a chance of increasing your stats, but I never experienced it.    Occasionally good aliens come down, and it says that they "increase your memory", but it didn't make any of my scores go up.  Mostly I just saw my physical stats gradually deteriorating.  If my character made a suicide attempt, they would drop drastically, and suicide attempts are pretty frequent.  I think they happen more often if you try to fight when you have the DTs.  Most of the time they're unsuccessful, but once my character did kill himself and it dumped me right out of the game.  I don't know if I've ever played a game where that's happened before, and I'm sure that I care to do so again.

Your mind begins in a normal state, and as you get into stronger drugs it advances to "self-transcendent" and "cosmic consciousness".  Some weird things start happening at that stage.  I'll list some of the outcomes I've had below.

  • Sometimes you spend a night in social services, which costs a few hundred credits.
  • Once my character flipped out and killed everybody around me, after which the screen filled up with words like "axe" and "Manson".  I got off with a massive fine, which seems pretty lenient.
  • I've had my character get delusions of being the messiah, which resulted in him receiving a few hundred credits worth of offerings.
  • At one point I was contacted by the "lord of many of your worlds", and asked to commune with him.  I answered "yes", and spent ten years talking to a figment of my imagination.

Another week of lockdown and this will be me.

I suspect that there may be some positive outcomes to be found, but after many attempts at this scenario my character had very little to show for it except for much lower stats and an empty bank balance.  There are some interesting results, but I suspect that there's no victory to be achieved here, and it's not worth playing if you actually want your character to improve.

The "Shaman" scenario sees you going to an alien planet to do some missionary work, not that you'd know it at first.  When it begins you're in an ATV, cruising through a forest landscape as trees whiz past you.

Cruising in my ATV.

You can't control the ATV as far as I can tell; all you can do is press a key to stop it and get out.  Once out of the ATV, you're in the wilderness, which is laid out in a grid of 10x10 sectors, with each sector being made up of 10x10 squares.  The entire wilderness is 100x100, which at first seems pretty daunting to explore.  It's not so bad once you realise that the game tells you what's in each sector as soon as you enter.  You just need to explore the sectors in a lawnmower fashion, and soon enough you'll find all of the towns, shrines, and other areas of interest.

Of course, that would be a lot easier without all of the hostile natives.  As you explore you're likely to be attacked by peasants, warriors, shamans and sorcerers.  Maximus Rocker had good physical stats, and was able to take care of the first three without much trouble, but those sorcerers were tough.  At the start of battle you'll be asked whether you want to fight physically, or with magic.  I had a magic score of 0 at the beginning, so I had to fight my early battles with my fists.  Combat is completely automated; there's nothing to do except watch the scores of each opponent go down, and occasionally answer yes or no when asked if you want to continue.  There's no consequence for leaving a battle, or even for being defeated.  I suspect that it might lower your stats, as winning battles sees them gradually increase.

Fighting a shaman.

I spent much of my time early on in this scenario stumbling through the forest, getting into fights, and wondering what the point of it all was.  Eventually though, I found a town, and the options given there led me to the conclusion that I was some sort of galactic missionary.  The goal in town is to minister to your flock, and increase the number of your disciples (which begins at 0).

The town menu.

The towns have different types of societies: I encountered military, horticultural and agricultural.  I'm not sure what difference it makes, but I'd guess that the societies react differently to the various religious practices you can perform.  The stats underneath tell you how well you're doing.  At one point I had a popularity of 6%, and the natives would stone me every time I stepped outside.

Attending the seminary allows you to increase various skills such as healing, astrology, and alchemy.  At the market you can buy charms and idols, some different types of drugs, and even an ATV and fuel.  You can also donate money to build temples.  I don't know what increasing the number of temples in town does, although I think it might increase the amount of credits you earn every turn.

Something tells me most missionaries would not approve of these options.

There are numerous ways to administer the faith, and grow your number of disciples.  Doing so takes you from the rank of Witch Doctor to Medicine Man to Priest to High Priest, and increases your score in magic.  I'll go through the options below.

  • White Magic: This gives you the option of either healing the sick or making a prediction.  If you choose healing, you'll be presented with someone who has the black plague, or "the dribbles", among other diseases.  You either succeed or fail based on your healing skill, and success will increase your disciples.  Sometimes you will be called on to exorcise a demon, If you choose prediction, you have to predict which of the four cardinal directions will bring the best farming, mining, or looting.  You're presented with a range of percentages, but I never did figure out what they meant.  Usually I would just pick a direction at random and hope for the best.
  • Black Magic; You'll be asked to "liquidate" a peasant, warrior, shaman or sorcerer.  The combats here are no more or less difficult than those in the wilderness.  After attaining the rank of High Priest I was able to deal with the sorcerers with little trouble.
  • Drug Usage: Here you can take any of the drugs available at the market: Charisma Drugs, Trance Drugs, and Demon Drugs.  None of them seemed to benefit me in any way.
  • Sacrifices: You can sacrifice either food or people.  Every time I tried to sacrifice food, Maximus Rocker would insist on sacrificing people (probably due to his psychological problems).  Usually the natives are horrified by this, but every time I had them agree to do it the game crashed, so I avoided this option.
  • Preaching: You can preach fire and brimstone, serenity, and family worship.  I spammed fire and brimstone to get my followers up, and I think that's how I ended up with a 6% popularity.
  • Calendric Rituals: You can hold services for harvest, midwinter, or midsummer, depending on the time of year.  You can also hold an astrological service at any time.  Doing all of these were pretty harmless, and I used them a lot to get my numbers up.
  • Consulting Oracles: Every time I tried this I got a message telling me that the oracle was a no show.

Maximus Rocker has a mind of his own.

It didn't take me long to figure out how to succeed in gaining disciples: you just need to spend plenty of time in the seminary advancing your skills.  It takes a few years of your character's life, but in real world time it's pretty quick.  I advanced each of the skills available there twenty times, and after that my religious ministrations were very successful, and I was able to become a high priest in no time.  I couldn't really see the point of doing so, though; you don't get to keep any of the money that's earned, and I don't think your increased magic stat can affect anything in the other scenarios.  Much like "Psychodelia", it didn't seem to me that "Shaman" was a worthwhile way to advance my characters.

I decided to "lawnmow" the game world, just to see if I could find anything else.  I came across my ATV, where I'd left it.  I found a bunch of other towns.  I found a spaceport, which you can use to leave the planet and save your character's status.  Finally, just as I was thinking there was nothing left to do, I found a shrine.  Later on I discovered that you can't enter until you've reached the rank of Priest, but at this point I was able to go in.  Inside I was confronted by a demon.  It's stats were higher than mine, but fighting it with my magic I was still able to defeat it.

About to fight a demon in a shrine.

After the battle I found a key, and the shrine disappeared.  Well, if there was a key there had to be a lock somewhere, so I kept on searching.  Soon enough I found another shrine, and another key.  And not long after that, in sector 8-5, I came to the foot of the Holy Mountain.

Finding the Holy Mountain.

I tried to enter, but I was told that I needed three keys.  I figured there'd be one more shrine for me to find, but there were another three, for five shrines in total.  I entered them all, and killed all of the demons before returning to the Holy Mountain and getting my victory message.

Eternal life without shoes?

It's not the most verbose ending, but it's somewhat gratifying to find that the Space series does have some sort of an end goal beyond amassing more and more wealth.  I wasn't able to access Maximus Rocker after this, unfortunately, so I didn't get to take that eternal life into the other scenarios.  I guess he spends all that time on a mountain, or in the presence of god, or whatever it is religious people do when they achieve transcendence.

Taken as a whole, there's a definite theme to Space II, which is something I'm not used to dealing with in games of this vintage.  Both scenarios see you achieving transcendence of a sort, or at least attempting to do so.  In one the means is via drugs, and in the other religion.  One leads to debt, potential suicide, murder, and other nasty repercussions.  The other leads to eternal life.  It strikes me as something of a backlash to the drug culture of the late 60s and early 70s, although I'm not sure how deliberate it was on David Mullich's part.  Regardless of his intentions, it gives Space II more complexity than the other games in this blog so far, at least thematically speaking.  As a game it's not quite such a success, but I should save that for the RADNESS Index.


Story & Setting: The story of a retired military person out to take drugs or become a missionary is certainly novel, and it earns a little bit extra due to the minor thematic depth I mentioned above.  The setting is quite piecemeal, but there are amusing little snippets and suggestions here and there that hint at something more.  Ultimately it doesn't cohere, though.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Characters & Monsters: There are plenty of characters in these two scenarios: the police, Judge Quentin Qualude, the space pirates, the various natives both hostile and friendly.  There's very little that can be done in the way of interaction though, and none of them display much in the way of personality. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Aesthetics: It's a mostly text-based game, with some odd beeps here and there (the drug bust siren is particularly startling).  The writing raised a smile now and then, but not enough for me to give it an extra point. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Combat: The combat in both scenarios plays out automatically, and there's not much you can do about it.  It also has a curious lack of consequences, which does make it feel fairly pointless.  Rating: 1 out of 7.

Mechanics: In terms of your statistics and how they affect things, the game keeps things fairly opaque, so it's hard to know how well they're being implemented.  The controls for the game are mostly a series of menu options and yes/no questions, but it performs adequately enough. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: "Psychodelia" doesn't have any sort of end goal that I'm aware of, and if it does the random nature of the scenario makes it very difficult to achieve.  "Shaman" has some minor challenge at the beginning, but once I figured out what I was doing it was very easy to complete.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Fun: If I'd stopped playing this on the first day, I'd definitely be giving this one a minimum score.  The randomness of "Psychodelia" doesn't make for enjoyable gameplay, and I had no idea what I was doing in "Shaman".  Finding the end-game of "Shaman" gave me a small amount of fun though.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The above scores total 12, which doubled gives a RADNESS Index of 24.  That puts it one point higher than Space, surprisingly, but I do generally enjoy games that have an ending more than those that don't.  Overall, Space II is sitting equal 39th out of 51 games, and equal 16th out of 21 CRPGs.  As for the question of whether it truly qualifies as a CRPG, the "Shaman" scenario puts that to bed.  It has level advancement and stat-based combat, so I'd say it definitely makes the cut.

NEXT: I'm still playing Rogue, obviously.  Next on my chronological list is Haunt, another mainframe text adventure that sounds pretty wacky.

1 comment:

  1. There were some weird little oddball games in the days before the big commercial companies moved in...