Thursday, December 26, 2013

Buck Rogers: Countdown to Doomsday: Won!

The Earth is safe but Atha the Desert Runner isn't. Such are the vagaries of life.

In my last post, I announced my intention to pursue a side-quest to rescue Atha. RAM forces apparently abducted her from Mars after my successful raid on their Mars base. They threatened her with death unless my party presented itself on a RAM asteroid. Commander Turabian forbade it, but Buck Rogers encouraged me to disobey. He didn't volunteer to come or anything.

Despite the obvious trap, my party found the right asteroid and entered the RAM base. We had to fight a tough battle against a party right at the entrance. As we explored the base, a "Commander Gilbert" taunted us from a loudspeaker.

I sure hope Commander Gilbert is a woman.

It soon became clear that we were over our heads. The battles featured multiple rocket-launcher-equipped RAM bots that took multiple reloads to luckily defeat. There were also numerous traps that damaged the party while leaving no recourse for healing. There was no way back to the ship without first conquering the base.

Ultimately, I found myself in a situation where I had low health and the only explorable avenue was a corridor blocked by an unavoidable combat with four combat bots. After 12 tries I gave up. There was just no way I was going to defeat the enemy.

Unfortunately, "giving up" wasn't that easy. I have the bad habit of just using the same save game slot over and over, and the most recent time that I'd used another was way back on Mars, before I'd finished the RAM base there. I had no choice but to suck it up, repeat those sections of Mars, and get back to Salvation base. This time, I ignored Buck Rogers's advice. RAM had a doomsday laser ready to fire on Earth, after all.

I neglected to mention it in a previous post, but journal entries had indicated that the doomsday device was composed of two parts: the laser itself and an advanced lens, constructed by the Venusian lowlanders. Scot.DOS had suggested that the lens would have to be near the sun to provide enough energy to reach Earth, so it makes sense that the working weapon would be on Mercury.

The Mercury base consisted of a large "merchants' area" at the base and then a tall tower--the "Mariposa Core"--extending upward from one of its corners. The putative ruler of the area was some lunatic calling himself the "Sun King," apparently enamored with French history. I guess RAM was just leasing space for the doomsday laser from him. To even enter the base, I needed the blue passkey from Mars. Once inside the base, I needed the "retinal lockpick" from Venus to get through one of the final doors.

Wilma Deering has been a character in the franchise going back to its origins. She serves as Buck's love interest.

Shortly after entering, I was greeted by Wilma Deering, who told me that the weapon was at the top of the Core. She gave me some advice for navigating the base, but I disregarded it almost immediately and went the opposite direction from where she had instructed. In a corridor, I met a man who challenged me with the phrase "ONE IF BY LAND...." I hadn't encountered the countersign in the game, but knowing my U.S. history, I responded "TWO IF BY SEA." The old man--whose affiliation still mystifies me--suggested I get to the core by infiltrating a parade. I took his advice and made it through the rest of the map with no encounters. This was faster, but I missed mapping most of the area.

Mercury was a melange of odd themes. I wonder if the tabletop RPG makes its culture clearer.

In the lower levels of the Mariposa Core, I found three coins that were necessary to give to the Sun King for his help. An odd plot dynamic, but whatever.

The Sun King himself was a weird character, presiding over a court of followers wearing "outlandish costumes from the French and American revolutions." He greeted me in a powdered wig, waving a French tricolour and insisted that I speak French. I'm not sure how pre-Internet youths navigated this portion if they lacked high school French.

The party admitted that we weren't "the dancers," but he agreed to help us anyway. Apparently, he had grown envious of the RAM doomsday device and wanted it for himself. I took a chance and (lying) agreed to help him take control of the weapon. There was an amusing bit where the Sun King mixed up French with a bit of Spanish and Latin.

That's "trés bon," vous âne.

With one of the Sun King's lieutenants tailing me, I headed to the upper areas of the Core. Scot.DOS indicated I had limited amount of time before the laser fired.

I first shut down the power to the laser so that they couldn't fire. This bought a little time but knocked out the elevators, so I had to use a back staircase to ascend.

I made my way to the chamber housing the doomsday laser and activated its self-destruct mechanism. I'm not sure why RAM built such a mechanism into the device in the first place, but it sure came in handy.

Both in the room and on the way out of the room, I faced battles against RAM gennies and robots. They were reasonably difficult but not overly so--the arrangement of forces facilitated the use of explosive weapons. In general, the entire endgame was very combat-light, and there was no clear "final battle" with a boss-level foe.

The last battle of the game.

When I activated the self-destruct, the Sun King's servant flipped out and ordered me to deactivate it, shrieking that the Sun King "doesn't want the doomsday device to be destroyed!" When I refused, he ran off, warning that "the wrath of the Sun King is upon you!" I thought this meant I'd face his forces on the way out of the base, but I never heard anything about it again.

The self-destruct initiated a countdown, and I had just enough time to make it to the pod bay on the level below (fortunately, I had scouted it first), hack the computer to assign my party to an escape pod, and blast my way out of the base. Behind me, the doomsday weapon blew up.

Wilma Deering picked up my pod and returned me to the ship. We returned to Salvation for a series of congratulations from Wilma, Buck, and Commander Turabian. Here's the full end-game text:

Wilma embraces you all. "You've succeeded in the most important mission in NEO's history," she says. "You've saved the Earth, and crippled RAM. They've lost their allies as well as their doomsday device. No one will be fooled into trusting them again. You are all heroes to NEO, and I hope that you'll stay with us for a long time. Your mission is over."

As you exit the airlock, you are greeted by a large mob, led by the base commander. He hushes the cheering crowd and speaks: "Welcome back You have saved Earth from the evil scourge of Holzerhein and his RAM confederates..."

Buck Rogers appears from nowhere and interrupts Turabian: "I just wanted to shake your hands and thank you for saving Earth and all her people. With people like you, RAM doesn't have a chance."

The crowd cheers and you are led to a celebration party.

And that was it. The game let me continue to play, and I suppose I could have tried to clean up some of the side-quests. My party never did make it to Level 8, so it wouldn't have been wasted time (assuming I'll use the same party for the sequel).

I had fun scanning the adventurer's logbook to read the fake entries. There were a large number that would lead the player to think that Scot.DOS was actually a RAM spy, or even Holzerhein.DOS in disguise. Several others would have led the player to make poor choices with key NPCs. The journal was frankly showing its age in this game. So much text, including long passages, was presented on-screen that a separate journal seems superfluous.

After winning, I also consulted some external materials and discovered that Holzerhein.DOS isn't just a computer AI but rather the downloaded consciousness of Simund Holzerhein, who while living was a rich Martian. Because Holzerhein can be literally anywhere that there's a computer, he can direct much of RAM's operations personally, without the need for a lot of bureaucracy. The game was very vague about the nature of Holzerhein, but perhaps it fleshes him out in the sequel.

GIMLET time!

Futher Reading

  • My first, second, third, fourth, and fifth postings on this game.
  • The Wikipedia entry for the game setting. It better outlines what's going on with Holzerhein.
  • The Museum of Computer Adventure Gaming History has the clue book for the game (large file size).


  1. Did you notice what happens when you throw a chaff grenade at a rocket-wielding robot?

    It's such a useful trick that I expect I picked it up from someone else.

    Doesn't work with plasma throwers, though.

    1. Yeah, One of the common mistakes is to treat chaff\mist grenades as items you throw at yourself. - They block line of fire, not damage, so dumping them on top of a target is great for harvesting explosives on venus.

      Shame they don't last long in a vacuum.

      The other trick with the combots is to hug them - The AI is a bit flaky about friendly fire and sometimes lays off the AoE if it'll risk clipping another unit. It also saves you all that stupid running about in zero-g trying to revive people.

      .....which is probably quite gruesome, and hilarious at the same time.

    2. Best trick in the game! Position those clouds just a bit in front of them and they'll still try to fire but get caught in the explosion. Works on grenades too. With carefull chaff positioning, rocket launchers, and a lot of luck, it's even possible to win Talon's bridge battle.

      There's one old exploit I remember from this and the other Gold Box games. You've been playing a while and leveled a bunch. Go to that menu that lets you add or remove characters from the party and remove them all. Now start a new game or load a save from before a difficult battle. Remove those characters and add in the one's you removed earlier. Now you have a much better party to fight Talon with.

    3. Well, hell. I learned how to use the grenades by watching the enemy, and they always threw them at themselves. That would have made a big difference.

  2. Yeah, those four combat bots were nasty; the second hardest combat in the game AFAIK. This was my own reaction when I first encountered them:

    "Seems it's not possible to do the optional Rendevouze mission on Juno without maxed out stats. At one point my party is surrounded by four combat and assault bots with Plasma Throwers and Rocket Launchers and if I'm lucky one of my guys can react before hell is unleashed.

    With no in-combat healing (in Dark Queen of Krynn one Heal spell could turn a battle) and no way to increase STR, your stats and derived abilities (initiative, carrying capacity and movement, and HP) play a larger role in this game."

    I actually restarted the game at this point, with better characters (higher STR), and saved Juno for last, before the final showdown on the Mercury base. I eventually was able to defeat the Fearsome Four by drowning them in Chaffe Grenades and then destroy them with Needle Guns and Heat Guns. Of course, like all the hardest battles in the Gold Box games initiative is of paramount importance to success.

    Oh, and Gilbert is indeed a woman.

    Since you can continue on after having won, you should try to tie up that loose end. Sadly, it does not seem to be possible to encounter Talon and his gang again, though.

    1. I'm actually not in any better shape than I was before, since I didn't hit max level in the final base. I'd have to grind for a while before trying the asteroid again. Seems like a lot of effort to clean up one side quest.

      Nice to have my experience confirmed, though. I wish I'd understood how to effectively use the grenades sooner.

  3. Congratulations!
    The scenario and the plot sound rather interesting. Too bad that combat has apparently gotten much simpler, or the game would have been a quite innovative improvement of the gold box template.

  4. I'm not sure what's more annoying: the game assuming that you're an American/you know American history or the game assuming you know French.

    Personally, I know enough French to get by, but the bit about 'one if by land, two if by sea' would've had me stumped.

    1. That wasn't really necessary to get through the map. I think it was just a bonus if you understood the reference.

    2. I thought that phrase was rather famous, even if you're not Americano.

    3. ->
      I thought that phrase was rather famous, even if you're not Americano.

      Pretty sure 99,99% people outside of USA never heard of it.

      I just checked it on wiki, some person said it before some battle in one of internal was in usa.

      For sure noone would know this phrase.

    4. As a european and a history buff I must say I never got this. It's not even general US history book material as I've read numerous US histories from different perspectives and have never heard of it.

    5. Also European and a bit of a history buff, also never heard of it previously! In Europe you would have to be specifically studying American history (as opposed to general history) to have been taught this.

    6. Or just watch that Nicolas Cage film, 'National Treasure'. Though I am unsure if it was shown outside the USA.

    7. I've heard of it, because we get so much US TV. That said, my understanding is a lot of events about Paul Revers's ride are rather inaccurate. Something about his horse losing a shoe and someone else finishing it or something?

    8. Not sure if it's different in the PC version, but on console just answering 'oui' will result in a positive response.

  5. Anybody think it was funny that the 'Sun King' was a fan of the French *revolution* and was waving the French republican flag? A fleur-de-lis would have fit better.

    Then again, since he mixes up French and Latin, maybe the point is that he's an idiot and doesn't pay attention to these things...

    1. Buck Rogers opens up a history school in the game's sequel and sets all the historical wrongs right. You form a party of janitors and impoverished substitute teachers tasked with keeping all of the restrooms and cafeterias clean.

      The game utilizes a day/night cycle and at night you can heal (a 'shower' in the game) and level up in the various staff rooms. As the game progresses your party is sent to the higher floors of the school, where older (and therefore more difficult) students reside.

    2. My original caption for that image said something like, "I wonder if he knows that the real Sun King's descendants were beheaded by the people who designed that flag," but it turns out that the tricolour has a more complicated history than that, so I let it go. The point is well-taken, though.

  6. I suspect the journal entries in the manual thing was a feeble attempt at a copy protection mechanism at this point. Obviously they could have large amounts of text just fine.

    Anyway, a great playthrough of a game I have not seen much about. Keep up the good work.

    1. I always wonder how much of it was that and how much was the designers fooling around.

      Overall the Gold Box series was one of the more 'professional'--no inside jokes, AD&D rules and setting followed as closely as possible...

    2. A few years late, however...

      Don't forget; This game was released for the Commodore 64 too, and you still didn't have any more memory to play with than when Pool of Radiance was released.

  7. Heh, great article title, I didn't see that coming! When you posted "5", I figured you were going to do a countdown, but this ending was perfect! Kudos, Sir!

    1. Yes, this the best play on words since your hint about beating Nethack. Good one!

    2. Thanks. The "5" in the first one was just an estimate, but it ended up working out well. I didn't have to jigger anything.


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