Thursday, September 28, 2017

Game 263: Chaos in Andromeda: Eyes of the Eagle (1991)

     
Chaos in Andromeda: Eyes of the Eagle
Denmark
Kirk Moreno Multimedia (developer); On-Line Entertainment (publisher)
Released in 1991 for Amiga, 1992 for Commodore CDTV
Date Started:  21 September 2017

This is the first time I'm offering a pre-game header block, and we see a couple of new things in it. First, this is the first Danish RPG that we've seen--and one of only two on my entire list, although I originally had it as a UK title (for the publisher). There could be others that I've incorrectly labeled. The other new element is the "Commodore CDTV," which I'd never even heard of until today. It was apparently a short-lived console/PC hybrid, based on the Amiga, and Chaos in Andromeda might have been the only RPG released for it. We have to be grateful for that release, however, as it's the only way that I have a manual, courtesy of reader Alex A. I have not been able to find any documentation for the Amiga version.

I don't know what the CRPG scene was like in Denmark in 1991, but Chaos in Andromeda has no clear origin. The attributes are D&D standard (strength, dexterity, constitution, intelligence, wisdom, charisma) with the addition of intuition and quickness. I suppose the interface vaguely recalls the MegaTraveller titles, but not so much that I'm convinced the developer played them. There is a vague similarity to Japanese console games, but not in any of the mechanics.

The backstory is either poorly translated, written by someone with a poor command of English, or deliberately written to be weird. The game takes place in the future, amidst an interstellar civilization called the "Ralon Universe." Humans are a minority, dominated by a race called "Berounars." (For some reason, the documentation calls sentient beings "capes.") A government faction or organization called CAMASC is seizing power. (Covenant Against Moral and Scientific Corruption.) The ruler of CAMASC seems to be called Dmar'Kne--I'll leave it to you to puzzle out that anagram--and they've been trying to gain influence in the Andromeda system. A terrorist group called the "Moon of Or'Yim" has been opposing CAMASC and has recently used (or is being accused of using) chemical weapons against a civilian population.

Into this chaos, CAMASC has decided to bring an agent, and for some reason they're using technology to snatch their chosen hero out of the distant past and bring him forward in time. Something about the "technology and health of mind" of the past era providing "conditions for the development of personal qualities vital to our needs." I warned you it didn't make any sense. I don't know if the whole "time transfer" thing is supposed to be taken literally, or more as a metaphor for the player moving forward in time to play a science fiction RPG. Anyway, shortly after the transfer through time, the ship retrieving the agent is attacked by terrorists and the agent, in a gruesome scene, loses his eyes. Fortunately, the future offers cybernetic replacements. No word on whether they came from an eagle, but there is some language about how I'll be able to see more with the new eyes, and clearly there's supposed to be some link here to the subtitle.
      
This part of the backstory seems needlessly complicated.
      
The backstory is fleshed out during the character creation process in which the player gives the agent a name and assigns a pool of points to each of the eight attributes, which can be set anywhere from 1 to 18.
      
Character creation.
      
The agent's first (only?) mission is to go the planet Koranis 12 and find a missing scientist named Noko Yai. The manual notes that he might have been kidnapped, might have disappeared on his own. Either way, I'm to bring him back or kill him if he refuses. I'm also supposed to destroy any chemical weapon production facilities on the planet.
      
A brochure I found later in the game tells me about the planet.
      
The game begins as the Ralon Navy ship Concorde V touches down on the surface of the planet and the PC steps outside. His pilot is running around the area and has a few lines if the "Talk" button is pressed: "Good luck, Ace"; "Rember the stuff we unloaded on the platform"; and "I only had to bring you here and await orders from above." Other buttons, all of which have redundant keyboard commands, are "Look," "Barter," Get," and "Mood." The last one is an odd option, changing the character's face from a neutral expression to a snarl, signaling hostility to everyone around him. I don't know what actual uses it has in the game, but if done near the pilot on the starting screen, the pilot attacks and easily kills the agent.
       
Setting out. The ship is gone when you leave this screen and return.
      
The manual offers an overhead shot of Koranis 12, and I have no idea whether this is just the starting area or the entire game world. It depicts a number of tunnels, pathways, and buildings to explore, and I tried to move about in a systematic manner.
      
The map of the starting (only?) area given in the game documentation.
     
It soon became clear that Andromeda is something of an adventure-RPG hybrid, with what appears to be numerous inventory puzzles. I say this cautiously because I'm getting the "inventory" part all right, but not the "puzzle" part. Meaning I'm picking up a lot of stuff but not finding much use for it. You can't see objects in the environment, but the "eye" icon opens up when there's something for you to look at, and a message explicitly says "there is something here" when you've stepped near an item. The radius isn't very large for finding such items, so you really have to poke around into every corner and crevice.
     
It's a good thing I checked this little corner. The rope turned out to be a key quest item.
     
The character started with a "shortblade" and a suit of "Fhron-armour," which afforded an armor class of 2 (unarmored is 1). Later, I found some "yolted armour," which bumped me up to 3. I also found two other weapons, a club and a carpenter's axe, but I don't know how to tell which weapons do the most damage.
      
The game's inventory screen.
     
Some of the miscellaneous items I've collected include a fishing rod, a brochure about the planet, a medallion that's supposed to bring luck when you rub it, a souvenir "Amorf" tree, a pile of ashes, a pile of sand, and a "Rose of Reunion." Some of these things I bought from NPCs with my growing number of credits. I had so much stuff by the end of the session that I was running up on inventory limits.
    
Yeah, that's a message you want to see in the third hour.
     
Some items are meant to increase your statistics. I've found two batches of "natural spinach" that each increased my strength by one point. News reports increased my wisdom when I read them.
     
I purchase some souvenirs in what I guess is a shop.
     
NPCs roam about the map, and walking near them often triggers an automatic dialogue. So does walking into their houses. If they don't speak to you spontaneously, you can try to engage them with the "Talk" button, although in doing so I often get the mysterious message, "Your appearance prevents communication."
     
Are you trying to say that I'm ugly?
     
The interface is a bit maddening, because NPCs or environmental messages often pop up by surprise, and hitting any key dismisses them or moves on to the next screen (if it's a multi-screen dialogue). Since you're not expecting the message, you accidentally immediately dismiss it if you're holding the directional arrow. I have to keep reloading and seeing what I missed.

I get attacked at regular intervals by what seem to be randomly-spawning enemies, none of whom are named, and the icons are too small to really figure out what they're supposed to depict. Combat occurs either on the main screen or in a sub-menu of (oddly) the inventory screen. If you fight on the main screen, the game shows what Alex A. characterized as a "big ball of violence" (link to the TV Tropes page). You have no options but to stand there and let the computer duke it out.
     
Fighting on the main screen.
     
Fighting from the inventory screen is more tactical. You can set a shield icon over the part of your body that you want to defend, and then click on the parts of the enemy that you want to attack. I've had much more success fighting from this screen. In fact, combat seems a bit too easy; a lot of the enemies only have 1 hit point and thus die in a single hit. Post-combat, health regenerates slowly but steadily from walking or even just standing.
     
Fighting from the inventory screen.
     
I fought probably 20 combats in this session. Victory gives you both credits and experience points. Once I crossed 1,000 experience points, I moved up to Level 2 and my constitution increased by one point.
     
My stats after my first level-up.
     
The special encounters are mostly bizarre and nonsensical, and if they're in service to a larger plot, I can't figure out what it is. For instance, right outside the area where your ship lands, I encounter an old man and a young woman that he introduces as his daughter. The daughter makes me uneasy, and looking at her makes me faint. When I awaken, the NPCs are gone. Later on the same path, I "feel the presence of many people gathered for a holy ceremony, but see none." What?
      
What does that even mean?
     
In a "temple to the ancient gods," a priest lectures me about the limitations of physical strength, then pours me a drink that makes the character run around randomly (out of my control) for a few minutes. Travelers around a fire talk about a feared and respected rebel leader named Snowdancer. A man rushes up to me and says that "they" have killed the daughter of "Two-Dreams" and that there will be a holy meeting in the caves for all "true believers."
     
Why are you telling me?
      
The best I can piece together, there are a decent number of colonists in the area, but corporations and/or government entities have stomped over them while setting up facilities for chemical warfare, thus inspiring rebellious factions. I keep getting directed to the "City of Nimne" and the "Dungeons of Ghima."

In one house in the north of the area, I encountered a man who looked like me and introduced himself as the object of my quest, Noko Yai. He claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack and asked if I remembered it, then the screen then depicting a flashback of my character getting his cybernetic eyes. He then vanished into thin air.
      
Freaky
      
I have run into a few dead ends. A circle of stones led to an underground area, but passage is blocked by two NPCs who won't move and who kill me in one hit if I attack. In the southern areas of the map is a compound where I get attacked by a mob and killed every time I approach. The overhead map provided by the manual shows an entire area to the west that seems to be blocked by mountains, and I can't figure out how to reach it. A passage in the mountains is blocked by rocks. One building has a mail slot in which some item is stuck, but I can't find anything to fish it out (the fishing pole doesn't work). A "sacred altar" clearly wants me to do something, but I don't know what.
      
This robot blocks passage into a building. I don't know what he wants.
     
On the main screen, there are spaces for what at first I took to be three other party members. At one point, though, an NPC offered to sell me a "D-probe" for 60 credits. I purchased it, and when I activated it, it took up one of the slots. I couldn't view its stats or inventory or anything, but I could send it around to do some scouting (it wouldn't cross water, unfortunately). Switching to the probe shows a much more zoomed-in area. Other than moving, it apparently can't do anything except self-destruct.
     
The world through the eyes of a probe. He doesn't have the Eyes of the Eagle.
    
In one house, an old man told me that Noko Yai was last seen in Nimne, and I'd need a password to get into the city. He gave me a "cartridge" that he told me to attach to "Weather Station Zendor" to get the password.

The weather station was on a mountain peak on the other side of a bridge. When I initially crossed the bridge, it collapsed and killed me instantly.
       
     
In one of the few inventory puzzles I was able to solve, I used a rope to strengthen the bridge and was then able to cross.
     
I'm not sure how I did this without stepping on the bridge.
      
Once I got to the mountain peak, I inserted the cartridge into the weather station and got both a weather forecast and a password to Nimne, wherever that is. So that was a bit of a victory.
         
This feels like a reasonably large step on the main quest.
      
Andromeda is a very weird game so far, and like many hybrids, a bit unsatisfying as an RPG. Since it's so poorly documented online currently, I feel a certain obligation to see it to the end, but I can't promise it will hold my interest if it turns out to be too large or too long. If anyone has played it before, I'll be happy for ROT-13'd hints on the puzzles because I really don't want this one to drag.

Time so far: 4 hours
Reload count: 15 (3 from combat deaths, 6 to experiment with inventory items, 6 to see missed messages again)


38 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. "If they don't speak to you spontaneously, you can try to engage them with the "Talk" button, although in doing so I often get the mysterious message, "Your appearance prevents communication.""

    I'm taking a wild guess here. Try talking to them without weapons and armor equipped.

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    1. Or maybe that's what the mood action is for?

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    2. The "mood" action seems to be a way to force combat with someone who isn't normally hostile. There's no way to just "attack" in the game. You have to make them attack you by being a jerk.

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  3. My guess is that the game just rolls a die against your Charisma score, and a failure leads to the "Your appearance prevents communication" message.

    I'm saying this because, having played it for some time, whenever I get that message I usually spam the "Talk" command until I get a different line (or a "Nobody seems to listen" if that NPC just has nothing to say).

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  4. Maybe the self-destructing drone can clear the rocks blocking passage?

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    1. Good thought, but no. You have to find some special boots.

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    2. I'm curious now if these are boots of climbing or boots of kicking.

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  5. I don't know whether it's so in English, but many languages have idioms that have something to do with "eagle eyes", meaning particularly sharp eyesight. I don't think you're supposed to take the title literally. I also have a suspicion that this weird encounters may have something to do with PC's eye implants, and maybe are hinting that he shouldn't trust what he sees. I mean, it could be a logical plot point (like e.g. a certain episode from Black Mirror's 3rd season)

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    1. The same expression does exist in English. When I said "no word on whether they came from an eagle," I was kidding, but in English we would more likely say "eyes of an eagle" than "eyes of THE eagle." The latter makes it sound like the titular eyes are the object of a quest or something.

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    2. Ah, coming from a language that doesn't have articles, it's hard to spot this ;)

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    3. You have no articles? When a guy does something particularly awesome, how do you convey that he is "THE man" without simply making a factual statement about his gender?

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    4. if you google "language that doesn't have articles" you get lots of articles about the subject

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    5. Umm, it's complicated. You can never translate things like that directly. Basically, there are two words for "man", one is neutral and another is colloquial/vernacular (it originallyy referred specifically to a peasant man). So you say either "true man!" or just "man!" (with adoring intonation), in both cases using that colloquial version of man. But in some circles it'd be considered rather vulgar (not to mention sexist).

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    6. Latin doesn't have articles either. The Romance languages adopted the demonstrative ille, illa, and illud to create articles (el in Spanish, le in French, il in Italian, etc.).

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    7. Again, my disdain for emoticons has created trouble.

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    8. Sardinian uniquely gets its definite article from ipse/ipsa/ipsum.

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    9. I had no idea about Sardinian using ipse. Thanks for that Charles. See Addict? That's not trouble. That's the dissemination of knowledge.

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  6. Hmmm... maybe this was designed as an example of what not to do in terms of game design?

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    1. I think Chet would say that by this time, another example was unnecessary!

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    2. Actually, compared to other sci-fi Chet played so far, this seems to be one of the more competent ones (weird plot aside).

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  7. Not much of a Danish RPG scene at all, we mostly got English language games and the odd local spin-off of such.

    We were a bit more inspired by the likes of Runequest than D&D, so there's that.

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  8. This is the first time I'm offering a pre-game header block

    And it's much appreciated. Thanks.

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  9. Between the grotesque close-ups on eye trauma and the adventure game puzzles, I wonder if there was an Elvira: Mistress of the Dark influence? The independently-controlled drones are reminiscent of Captive too, for that matter.

    Either way, it looks like you have your hands full here. Hopefully it starts becoming more fun for you.

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  10. The CDTV wasn't a console/pc hybrid as such. It was, like the Philips CDi, an attempt at a "multimedia device" but no one really knew what that meant at the time, so what we got was something that looked like a stereo system component, but plugged into your TV. It played music CDs and also video CDs -- remember them? -- and was supposed to be a glimpse of the future, except the future went in a different, PlayStationy, direction.

    Inside the big black box it was more or less am Amiga 500+ and you could add a keyboard and 3.5" disk drive to it to make it a into an Amiga, albeit a big, boxy one that cost more than the real thing.

    It wasn't great and probably deserves to be forgotten.

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    1. There are a number of videos on YouTube regarding all retro consoles, a few of them are really good. One of my favorite channels is Lazy Game Review s or LGR. He's anything but lazy and devoted to his hobby. He has a video on the CDi.

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    2. Oops, forgot toention there are videos on the CDTV as well done by other retrogaming hobbyists.

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  11. CDTV had ecs chipset from A600 and cd32 had aga chipset from A1200.

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    1. Yes, the CDTV and A600 shared the ECS chipset, but the CDTV was launched in 1991, a year before the A600.

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  12. The mood setting is a first at least. I've only played one other game, Sentient, that had that feature. That one is more adventure game though.

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    1. There's also Perfect Assassin, a terrible point'n click adventure that lets you select from three different moods or postures in conversations. I think it was dominant, neutral and submissive or something along those lines.

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    2. Daggerfall had polite, blunt and neutral stances in dialogs. Was a pretty pointless feature though, IIRC.

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    3. I should go back to try out Daggerfall. I remember having a demo of it, said demo crashing every time I tried to go through an arched gateway (might have been a town), and never buying the game.

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    4. Starflight had mood settings for alien encounters: friendly, hostile, obsequious. Admittedly not a traditional RPG, though.

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    5. I think Star Command did as well.

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  13. The shot of the ship landing is so Amiga it hurts. The style, the rounded edges of the ship, the top-down view of the men, all of it just screams Amiga.

    That map of Koranis 12 reminds me of the bird totem in Faery Tale Adventure. Also very Amiga-looking. Hopefully there are more than one-line NPCs in those towns.

    Fishing rod? But there's no fishing minigame? Where's the fun in that!

    Attitude when talking to NPCs is probably cribbed off of Starflight or independently reinvented. I'm sure some NPCs only get the right reaction from the hostile persona, and so on. That's one of the things I liked about Starflight, "Friendly" wasn't always the best posture.

    Someone else brought up RuneQuest, which is something I don't see enough of. It was a popular game back then, with good reason. The system was tons better than D&D, had a hit points system that made sense instead of having people fighting at full strength at 1hp. I wish it had had more influence, but it's hard to eclipse D&D at the top of its game.

    The D-probe probably comes from another Amiga game where you played a probe in an RPG-like game.

    The inscrutable nature of the game and general unfriendliness with regards to where you're supposed to go is also very Amiga. They really skimped on documentation on that platform, and valued cool looking games over well thought out games. The result is games where you have to be thinking along the same lines as the designer, otherwise you're going to be baffled by the whole affair. And this is bad enough with fellow Americans, add foreigners to the mix and it becomes much more inscrutable. I remember wanting to *understand*, wanting to be a part of whatever hivemind was creating these games, but just totally failing as it was completely out of my experience growing up in the suburbs.

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  14. If nothing else there seems to be some kind of interesting history here with this one.

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