Tuesday, July 31, 2018

2088: Won! (with Summary and Rating)


A brief and somewhat mysterious victory screen.
          
2088: The Cryllan Mission
United States
Victory Software (developer and publisher)
Released in 1989 for Apple IIGS
Date Started: 24 June 2018
Date Ended: 29 July 2018
Total Hours: 12
Difficulty: Easy (2/5)
Final Rating: 34
Ranking at time of posting: 204/299 (68%)

2088 ends up owing a lot to the classic Star Trek episode "Patterns of Force," in which the Enterprise crew discovers that a Federation envoy has re-established Nazism on an earth-like planet. As usual, questions of language and anthropology (how could a species that evolved on another planet be indistinguishable from humanity?) are avoided in the service of a larger sociological point--and, of course, a cheaper budget.

In the case of Crylla, it turns out that Captain N. Scott Robertson was overthrown by his first officer, Yvonne Smith. (According to Smith's dossier in the manual, she has been suffering from PTSD since the "War of 2081.") Smith enlisted most of the rest of Houston's crew in a plot to overthrow and militarize the Cryllan government, complete with the demonization of a formerly-peaceful minority population--the aforementioned "misanthropes." She liquidated most of the ruling class by claiming that they were misanthropes in disguise (they weren't) and ultimately took supreme power for herself. 
            
The imprisoned captain outlines the mutiny against him.

Part of Yvonne's villain's exposition at the end of the game.
          
You learn the full backstory from a handful of surviving Houston crewmembers who resisted Smith. They're scattered in various facilities around the planet. Each require you to answer a copy-protection question to talk to him, and each has an item necessary for the endgame. The easiest to find of these is in the ruined city of Torphur, where on my initial visit I missed an entire underground with additional NPCs.
         
I mapped the first half of the game world but didn't bother with the second.
           
Crylla consists of two 128 x 128 outdoor maps connected by a dungeon called Cramur. (Or, more accurately, two one-way dungeons called Cramur, since you can't exit once you enter, and the dungeon's exit is at a different place on each side than its entrance.) The starting side has two regular towns, Karkala and Zenetych, the ruined town of Torphur, and a military prison in the former city of Adion. It also has an eight-level network of caves called Draque, but its only purpose seems to be grinding.
           
Meeting an enemy in a dungeon.
             
Crylla's second side has one regular city, Filene, a military prison called Euene, a "dungeon" building called Wycke, and the capital city of Nepenthe, situated on an island. Cramur, Wycke, and Draque are all explored in first-person view. The levels are small and the game has an automap.
           
An automap helps with dungeon levels that aren't all that big in the first place.
             
The outdoor areas and dungeons are swarming with humanoid enemies like soldiers, outlaws, and thieves; robotic enemies like automatons, androids, and battle robots; and monstrous enemies like polymuts and mudactyls. (The game says, sadly, that many of these creatures are "misanthropes" who have become terrified of humanity and are just trying to defend themselves.) You fight approximately one billion combats with these creatures. Thank goodness for the auto combat option.

The tactical grid is somewhat like Ultima V, but with no spells, there aren't enough options to justify wasting a lot of time in manual combat. Even grenades--the one option other than shooting--are more annoying than useful. So mostly you just watch your characters fight, although you can fine-tune the computer's actions with a few settings. After the initial few hours, you have more than enough money to keep a hefty supply of medicine, so as long as you check your character's health levels frequently and prevent them from dipping below a minimum threshold, no combat is very dangerous. You can even stop to heal in the middle of battle.
           
Watching the computer fight my battles.
          
(In a previous entry, I said that if the doctor dies, you have to start over, since only doctors can resurrect. I was wrong about that. Hospitals in most cities do offer resurrection. I based my comment on the one that didn't.)
         
Being able to fully heal during combat makes things a bit too easy.
        
You level up quite rapidly. My characters ended the game at Level 22. They get promotions every 5-7 levels, and my characters ended as lieutenant colonels. You get attribute increases and hefty hit point increases with every level. By the end of the game, some of my characters had nearly 10,000 hit points, and I adopted a policy of checking them every 5 or so combats and restoring their health if it dipped below 3,000. Even then, I ended the game with hundreds of extra vials of medicine and tens of thousands of unspent gold pieces. 
          
Since we can't make transmissions to Earth, who is doing all this promoting?
         
Combats also get easier as your equipment improves. There are six types of common rifles and lasers (sold in shops) plus five other types that you can find on the bodies of high-level enemies. By the end of the game, you're absolutely swimming in excess weapons. There are five types of armor, and you have to buy separate pieces for chest, back, forearms, upper arms, thighs, shins, and head. You rarely find armor. Rather than purchase my way through the entire scale, I just waited until I had enough for "heavy" everything.
          
Different types of armor available. For some reason, you can't sell armor.
          
Once you have enough money, you can also buy transports. First you need transport papers, which can be obtained in some dungeons or by killing guards. There are several classes; some work on land, some on water. You can buy one for each character or everyone can pile into one, but once you're in a transport, the game uses the transports' weapons in combat instead of your own. These can be pretty powerful, but transports are such a pain to get in and out of (and you can't take them into buildings) that in the end I didn't find them worth it. Enemies often have their own transports.
             
An exhaustive transport list.
         
Exiting my sea transport on Nepenthe Island. Lots of foes await me.
           
The opening stage ends when you're strong enough to assault the military prison at Adion. You use grenades to blast open the gates and to disable the force fields around the prison cells. You fight packs of guards, free a few Cryllan resistance fighters, and meet Lance Corporal Mick Yaya, who tells you part of the backstory.
          
Blowing up a shield generator.
          
Once through Cramur, you basically repeat this process in the prison at Euene. The city has been turned into a huge mad scientists' lab, where ghoulish experiments are conducted on prisoners. Most of them are insane. But Lieutenant Vidya Chang fills in more of the history and gives you another key item.
          
Dead bodies in front of mind-control chair at Euene. The game let me do a little role-playing and blow up the chairs with grenades.
          
This NPC had been in the chair a few too many times.
            
The last crewmember to find is the captain himself, N. Scott Robertson, who is imprisoned in the fortress of Wycke. You have to navigate up and down eight levels of interconnected elevators to find his cell. Once you hear his story, you have all four items necessary for the endgame: papers to enter Nepenthe, an entry card to the Broadcast Room, admission codes to access the computer, and "final transmission" codes to reach Earth.

A sea-based transport from Filene takes you to the island on which Nepenthe sits. There are a couple dozen groups of guards in the city, but they don't attack you if you don't attack them. Yvonne Smith has anticipated your arrival and has slain the entire population of the city. Bodies are everywhere.
             
Alone in the destroyed city.
              
After you destroy a door with a grenade, you find Smith in your path. She has a long villain's exposition that basically boils down to "I did it for the lulz." She's both impressed with what she was able to accomplish and contemptuous of the Cryllan population for being so easily deceived.
            
This sounds like absolutely no one I know.
            
She knows you're there to kill her and doesn't put up much of a fight. She attacks alone, and it was over so quick I didn't even get a screenshot. There ends up being no real "final battle" in the game.
            
The game gives you no option to act on her request.
            
After defeating Smith, you head up to the control tower behind here and simply "talk" to the computer. As long as you have the four items in your possession, the game ends with the simple message at the top of this entry. I'm not really sure what I've accomplished, though. Sure, Smith is dead, but there's a brainwashed, armed, and ruined civilization behind me. And what did I "transmit," exactly? A report? A request for reinforcements? Unfortunately, as we'll see, the Second Scenario doesn't really answer these questions.

The plot, though recycled, is decent. It's more than most games of the era provide. But while the game does a decent job adapting Ultima IV and V NPC mechanics, combat and exploration, the game becomes fundamentally too easy after just a few hours, and combats are more annoyances than true challenges. Too much time is wasted trying to find locations: Wycke is hidden deep among twisty mountain passages, for instance. A lot of the game feels padded.

In a GIMLET, I award:
           
  • 5 points for the game world. As I said, it's a reasonably well-developed mystery, even if the "exactly like earth" trope is a bit tiresome.
          
Revisionist historians preach in the city of Filene.
          
  • 4 points for character creation and development. Creation options are limited, and your characters feel more like a blob than six separate people, but development is satisfying and rewarding.
  • 5 points for NPC interaction. Talking with NPCs is vital, and the dialogue is well written. But there are no dialogue options or role-playing options in these interactions.
            
Captain Robertson makes a sad point.
           
  • 2 points for encounters and foes. Enemies aren't very memorable, differentiated only in how powerfully they punch. There are no non-combat encounters or puzzles in the game.
  • 3 points for combat. It has some innovations, particularly in the options you can set for auto-combat, but there aren't enough tactics to make it interesting or challenging. At least it's quick.
  • 3 points for equipment, consisting primarily of basic weapon and armor upgrades.
             
Checking my group inventory towards the end of the game.
           
  • 3 points for the economy, strong in the first couple hours but too rewarding later.
  • 2 points for a main quest with no options or side-quests.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. The former two are adequate. The interface is reasonably intuitive, but I didn't like the lack of keyboard shortcuts for certain menu options, nor the way that the main window lost focus every time a message popped up.
  • 4 points for gameplay. It's mostly non-linear from beginning to end. There's an obvious order but not a required one. The difficulty is a bit too easy, and nothing makes it replayable, but the length is only slightly too long for its content.
           
That give us a final score of 34, about average for its era, hovering right around the "recommended" threshold. I feel like the game needed more work on its mechanics to go along with its story.

Victory Software apparently felt the same way, because they did an unusual thing in releasing 2088: The Cryllan Mission—The Second Scenario, which is not so much a sequel as a "version 2" of the original. It shipped with the same manual, though with an addendum, and the same backstory--the crew of the Houston has gone missing on Crylla, and so on. But the addendum promises that the maps and that the story itself have changed, with different plot twists and a different resolution. There are also a number of changes to the mechanics and interface.
          
The game's production values were better than the typical "indie" title.
           
In his e-mail correspondence with me, Vivek Pai talked about some of the difficulties facing independent game developers in the 1980s. The game sold for a crazy $69.95, but most of what they made went to costs (including a full-color game box and manual), contracted artwork, and advertising. He said that they conceived of The Second Scenario primarily as a way to get rid of their stock of unused boxes from the first game, which they accomplished by printing up a bunch of gold stickers that said "The Second Scenario--an entirely new game!" and slapping them on the boxes.

I'll get to The Second Scenario eventually during a 1990 mop-up (I found out about it after completing the year), but I'm more interested in the Pai brothers' third and final title, The Secrets of Bharas (1991), which draw upon some authentic Indian themes. After that, discouraged by sales--it didn't help that the Apple IIGS never really took off as a gaming platform--the brothers made some half-hearted attempts at PC coding before ultimately scattering to various university and technology company positions.

It's good to be back on track. If I can finish Citadel this week, I'll be over a major hump. Let's see.

18 comments:

  1. I wonder how many individual Star Trek episodes have been "loosely adapted" this way?

    As mentioned, this game is heavily related to "Patterns of Force", and the first Might and Magic game is openly (as in, the game all but tells you straight out) inspired by "For The World Is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky".

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    Replies
    1. A lot, I think. For example, the *We Happy Few* may be inspired by “The Return of the Archons”.

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    2. Reading a summary, that game (assuming there isn't a different one of the same title that you're actually talking about) seems to be more inspired by Orwell and Huxley than by "Return of the Archons".

      The key difference is that the Landru society is stable, just not growing and evolving because Landru has imposed an effective stasis on it. The "We Happy Few" society isn't merely "not growing", but actively dying.

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  2. The fact that crappy games like this cost $69.95 in 1988 dollars is why I never felt bad copying that floppy.

    Slapping a sticker on it and calling v1.1 a new game? Because they had boxes left over? That's so self-centered, what jerks.

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    1. This game doesn't sound like it is "crappy," based on Chet's review, so I'm not sure what you're talking about. I'm also curious to hear what you think of the modern trend of remasters and re-releases, since that's what it sounds like this v1.1 was intended to be.

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    2. I would imagine that most people buying the v1.1. release didn't already own the original. The "entirely new game" thing was probably needed to persuade stores to carry the game again.

      Of course, some people may have ended up buying both versions, and would be understandably very sore about it. A critical difference between this, and modern remasters/rereleases is that unlike remasters, this one does have that "entirely new game" sticker on the front, which sure doesn't sound like a mere remaster.

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    3. Harland, I assume you paid the full $69.95 for Ultima V released in 1988. It was not a crappy game.

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    4. Those prices seem kind of bonkers. In the '80s I bought games for the Spectrum and IIRC they were about EU15. In the late '80s there were many budget releases for about EU2.50.

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    5. No I copied Ultima V because in 1998 $69.95 was money I did not have. So many people have no concept of money being dear. They were raised in an environment of plenty and have never had to worry about money. If they want something, they pay for it. It must be nice to have that kind of privilege.

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    6. Actually, many are raised in households where you don't get everything you want. You save up from allowance, summer jobs, etc. Stealing is wrong and not being able to afford a video game is no excuse for piracy.

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    7. So you had the money for a PC but not software? Interesting dilemma to be in. But did you ever consider just Not having that game? I grew up in a slightly different era where I also had access to a PC at a young age but didn't actually have any money for games but I was fortunate enough to have cheap or free shareware games to play. But I never thought "man I sure am entitled to just copy and/or download whatever I want because the prices are too high for me." I just didn't play those games, at least not until years later when they were on sale.

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    8. My entire project here relies on a kind of piracy. It's wrong but not horrifically wrong. I can't justify copying newer games when I was younger, but just like everyone else I knew, I did it. Getting on someone's case for 1980s software piracy doesn't make a lot of sense. But then, neither does aggressively defending that piracy.

      Let this thread die if we can't all be cool.

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    9. @Gerry

      There are many reasons for the price disparity.

      The first is media. 90% of ZX Spectrum games were released on cassette (cartridges were expensive, and the disk drive for the Spectrum sold very poorly), which were extremely cheap to purchase and duplicate (cassettes stored data as audio, so you could easily copy a cassette game with a basic stereo - I've done it as an experiment), which drove the cost way down.

      CRPGs like Ultima V were distributed on floppy disks. Floppies were considerably more expensive (due to them not being also a popular music distribution format), and required at least a computer with two disk drives to duplicate - which would be slow. You could, of course, produce them faster with specialized equipment, but this was fairly costly.

      Add in disk-based copy protection (where present), and the fact that the majority of CRPGs came on multiple disks, and you have a hugely higher material cost just for the storage media.

      After that, most CRPGs came with maps, elaborate manuals, and other costly accessories. This also added a lot to production costs.

      Finally, and most importantly, most of the budget ZX Spectrum games were mass-produced junk turned out in a few days, while a CRPG like Ultima V was an expensive, full scale production that a major company put a full year (or more!) and significant company assets into.

      This set the baseline price, and pretty much any CRPG that wasn't explicitly a cheapo budget title followed that baseline, even if the costs didn't justify the pricing.


      Console RPGs had it far worse. Not only were cartridges fairly expensive to begin with, an RPG required a lot of extra RAM and ROM in the cart itself, plus the battery-backed save memory. This is why many console RPGs retailed for $100 dollars at the time, which (along with Nintendo's censorship policies) is a big part of why so many never got translated.

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    10. My entire project here relies on a kind of piracy. It's wrong but not horrifically wrong.

      I think at this stage in the games' life cycles, you're doing the designers a real service by helping their work be documented/remembered, and possibly attracting new customers should they choose to re-release a game you review or make a new one. (There's a reason that copyright takes pains to carve out fair use exceptions for research and commentary.) Of course it's always nice to send in the shareware fee for a game you liked and played a lot.

      This is why many console RPGs retailed for $100 dollars at the time, which (along with Nintendo's censorship policies) is a big part of why so many never got translated.

      Do you mean $100 in yen? The only console RPG I know of that reached that price point in the US was Phantasy Star IV. Even EarthBound, with its big box, was only $70.

      I would have been thrilled to know someone to trade disks with as a kid. I also would have been thrilled to have the cash to afford any of the games I read about in magazines! Now I'm a content creator, and have occasionally had my work used without permission -- which makes me smile, quite frankly: at this stage in my career, and on a personal level, the interest in my work matters more to me than the lost revenue.

      Ultimately I struggle to get too worked up about the rights and wrongs of IP infringement, including my own, when people are going without clean drinking water or medical care, or when children's opportunities and outcomes are so heavily predicted by the incomes of their parents.

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    11. Earthbound was later, in the SNES era (and terrible marketing sent it quickly to the bargain bin, despite it being a solid contender to ). I was mostly referring to the NES era (contemporaneous to the games being discussed). I'm 99% certain that Dragon Warror was priced that high, because one of my copies came with an old receipt tucked into the manual. My understanding is that Final Fantasy I was at a similar level, but finding price points is oddly hard. I know for certain that Super Mario Brothers 3 (which required much less hardware in the cart) was still priced at $49.99 in 1992, 4 years after it hit the market.

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    12. A receipt would be great evidence if you can dig it up. We do know that Dragon Warrior was going for $50 when Nintendo started giving it away with Nintendo Power subscriptions later in 1990.

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    13. Unfortunately, it was far too faded to photograph (it was barely legible, as is to be expected from 30 year old thermal paper receipts) and I tossed it out. That's why I can't give the exact number - it was somewhere between $80 and $99, but I don't remember for sure because I mentally rounded it up.

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  3. I'm cool letting it die. It was really just his incredulous tone that was hard to take. Back to appreciative lurking I go.

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