Monday, July 2, 2018

Game 295: 2088: The Cryllan Mission (1989)

The Apple IIGS has less a "title screen" as a "title arrangement of windows."
          
2088: The Cryllan Mission
United States
Victory Software (developer and publisher)
Released in 1989 for Apple IIGS
Date Started: 24 June 2018

As much as I wasn't looking forward to an Apple IIGS game--I always have problems with the emulator--you have to love the background story of Victory Software, formed in Houston, Texas, by the three Pai brothers, whose names all begin with "Vi": Vinay, Vivek, and Vijay. They produced three titles for the under-served platform: 2088, its 1990 Second Scenario, and Secrets of Bharas (1991). Sales of the three titles capped at 2,000, but we need not feel bad for the trio, as they went on to successful careers at Intuit (Vinay) and Google (Vivek and Vijay; things must get tense when they get together with cousin Ajit at Thanksgiving). In a 2016 LinkedIn interview, Vinay described Victory as a "good failure" in which he "learned a lot." Whether the games were a "failure" because they were bad or because there just wasn't a robust Apple IIGS RPG market is something we'll soon determine.

2088 takes place in a Star Trek-like future in which the Earth-based National Space Exploration Council boldly goes where no one has gone before. The titular mission involves investigating what happened to the U.S.S. Houston, with which contact was lost shortly after it discovered a humanoid civilization in the Gamma-Chi sector, on the planet of Crylla. Why the mission is necessary is a bit of a mystery, since the Houston's captain's own logs say that the planet is about to "pass on the far side of the binary stars," which will block deep-space transmissions for at least nine months. Meanwhile, the Cryllans have been nothing but friendly and appear to have no weapons. Nonetheless, the Strategic Defense Division of NSEC has scrambled your team to investigate.
          
Creating a new character.
          
The game begins in a separate application where you create your party and send them to "training." The way the manual describes the latter process, I thought I was in for some MegaTraveller-style character backgrounds, but alas, it's not that complex. The game randomly rolls for five attributes--marksmanship, intelligence, kinetics, dexterity, and stamina--and then allows you to supplement the initial rolls with a pool of points. Certain minimums are needed for the game's four classes: soldier, science officer, nurse, and doctor. Then, once you finish, the game tells you what bonus points you earned during "training." They generally just boost the classes' existing prime requisites [entry just added to the glossary].
       
The new party. Programmers will be happy to see that the game numbers the characters 0-5
       
After creation, your six characters start on the Cryllan landscape with rifles and thermal armor, a few months' worth of food, and no money. It's not clear how they got where they are, since there's no ship nearby or anything. The party soon comes across roads, towns, and people, all of which are so indistinguishable from Earth that you start to wonder if the party ever actually blasted off.
            
Starting out. Who knew that dotted lines in roads were an intergalactic standard?
           
Given that the Apple IIGS was an "almost-Mac," the interface is similar to a Mac in that the game windows can be moved and arranged to the player's preference, and all of the commands are available from menus. (We'll see the same in the next game, Citadel: Adventure of the Crystal Keep, for the Mac.) The game is too in-love with the mouse, requiring it for movement (you click where you want to go) as well as most commands, though a few commands are backed up with keyboard shortcuts using the Apple key.

The basic interface has something of an Ultima-esque feel. Outside, you navigate a large overland world of islands connected by bridges. Occasional enemies appear as icons in the game world. When you run into a town, you enter and open up a larger-scale map.
           
Arriving in a town.
        
If there's one original element to be found in 2088, it's the combat system. When you attack an enemy or one attacks you, you're taken to a 81-square grid based on the terrain you were standing on when you entered. Enemies face you across the field. You set an action for each character--move, attack, rest, throw a grenade, heal another character, or flee--and then hit "begin combat" to execute them all at once. In other words, it uses a Wizardry-style action/execute system with an Ultima IV/V/Gold Box-style tactical window. The grid to the right helps you keep track of who's who.
         
Setting combat options.
         
However, you can eschew all of this by letting the computer fight your combats. This is tempting in the initial stages in which everyone has the same weapons and no one has any grenades. Even better, you can set a number of preferences for computer-controlled combat that together ensure that the computer would have done what you would have done anyway. Since computer-controlled combat is over in about one-tenth of the time, this is tempting. The only drawback I see is that pathfinding is relatively poor, and characters often have trouble moving to a place where they have an uninterrupted line-of-sight to the enemy.
             
Fine-tuning auto-combat options.
         
The computer does a decent job lining people up uselessly behind each other.
        
After combat, the doctor or nurse can instantly heal anyone to full strength with something called "GammaPlasma." You have a limited supply, and I assume I'll have to buy more eventually. If a character dies, a doctor (but not a nurse) can resurrect him with something called "TanaShanti" (the Internet suggests this is Hindi for "body peace"), but he suffers with low attributes for a day or so. Combat delivers experience points, money, and occasionally equipment.
       
The doctor heals injured party members.
          
That said, who are these people? Why am I fighting them? How does their hostility jibe with the Houston's report of a peaceful, weaponless population? Did the Houston crew arm them? Corrupt them? Are they remnants of the Houston crew? The game doesn't pause for such questions.
           
Do the Cryllans just happen to have the same name structure as Earthlings? Or is Willy from Earth? You'd think that would be the first question we asked.
          
Things don't get any clearer when you enter the towns. They're like regular towns in a typical fantasy RPG with shops and NPCs, but it's completely unclear whether these are aliens or remnants of the Houston. They sell weapons, armor, food, and other goods for a currency called "terraens," which sounds a lot like they come from Earth. NPCs so far have just been normal people who complain about their work and offer a few hints about how to navigate the landscape. So far, I've found nothing about the Houston or even clues whether I'm talking to Cryllans or humans.
          
Where did the Cryllans get all these weapons?
         
I haven't gotten very far, but I figured it was time to get the blog re-started, and I was otherwise having difficulty motivating myself to play. I'm having the same issue I keep complaining about with top-down games where the terrain is a bit too large and there's no easy way to map it. (The science officer's "Terrain Scan" covers only about 40% more than the regular window.) I tried to cheat by looking for a map online but couldn't find one.
           
This would be more helpful if the regular window didn't already show, like, 6 kilometers.
          
A funny thing about the dialogue. This gets into a stereotype but it's not exactly a negative stereotype so I hope no one's bothered. I have two Indian co-workers, one close enough to call a friend, and I've noticed a particular pattern to his speech. If I say, "Hey, want to grab a drink tonight?," a typical American might answer, "Nah, thanks, my son's got a baseball game." That would be the end of it. But Ayan or Lakshman will respond with entire paragraphs, each expanding in more detail on the central theme.
         
No. No, I'm sorry, I cannot go. I would like to go but my son is playing in a baseball game. My son is very proud of his accomplishments on his baseball team, and he would be very disappointed if I were not there to watch his performance, so as much as I'd like to, I will have to ask your pardon on the drink. You must understand that it is very difficult for an Indian boy to find acceptance on an American organized sporting team, and that . . .
           
At some point I have to tell him, Ayan, man, I get it, no problem, because otherwise I'll get his whole family history, and the history of baseball besides. Anyway, I never knew whether this particular speech pattern was unique to these two men or something commonly found in Indian culture. I still don't know for sure, but I broke out laughing when I saw the NPC dialogue system in 2088, which not only features the same sort of dialogue but structures it as such. An NPC will introduce a topic and then you can click on "More Detail" and see him re-state the same topic but with a couple more details. More often than not, you can click a third time and still get no new information, but more words. At least, that's how it's gone for the few NPCs so far. It means I mentally hear all the dialogue in a typical Indian accent.
              
Rala Mahana takes a long time to say, "Listen up."
         
I'm assuming a lot in tying these observations together, since as far as I know the Pai brothers were eighth generation and fully Americanized. If not, this game may be a "first," in that I don't remember any Indian names among previous game designers (at least, not lead designers). I have some hope that even if the game turns out to be boring and derivative, I'll at least be able to identify cultural influences like Hindi source words and expansively redundant rhetoric.

37 comments:

  1. "Meanwhile, the Cryllans have been nothing but friendly and appear to have no weapons." So they're just Cryllin'?

    Good to see you back, Chet. I could use any kind of distraction during this heatwave (even though it's around 80°F, which most Americans would laugh at).

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think you mean Ajit, not Agit.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ack. What a way to screw up the joke.

      Delete
  3. I haven't gotten very far, but I figured it was time to get the blog re-started, and I was otherwise having difficulty motivating myself to play.

    I feel your pain. Coming off a chronoblogging break on a difficult-to-play game is the worst.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I looked ahead like five games and none of them seemed gripping so I sucked it up.

      Delete
    2. Don't despair, Wizardry VII is coming near!

      Delete
    3. It's almost like he planned Wizardry VII to be on some sort of significant numerical milestone for the blog.

      Delete
    4. Wizardry VII, while good, may be as frustrating as the current offering. In both cases, I see a mash-up of fantasy and science fiction that does not work well.

      Delete
    5. You know, I actually didn't engineer that. It just happened. If I was trying to put a landmark game at 300, I probably would have gone with Ultima VII.

      Delete
  4. "characters start on the Cryllan landscape with rifles and thermal armor, a few months' worth of food, and no money. It's not clear how they got where they are, since there's no ship nearby or anything."

    Sounds like the plot of Annihilation.

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  5. I take it characters move only one square per round? I don't like turn based combat systems with simultaneous movement. It seems kind of interesting at first, but it can easily mess up your tactics and eliminates more depth than it adds.
    Cyper Knight for the SNES and Vandal Hearts 2 for PS1 used a similar system and I couldn't get into either. Though if characters only move one square per round the effect is probably minimal, which leaves the question: why bother?

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  6. Regarding their dialogues, yes.
    Indians, in general, tend to drag out short sentences into paragraphs.
    It's more of a courtesy, really, since short responses are viewed as curt in Indian culture.
    If you allow them, they can either weave a beautiful story, sell you sweaters in summer or interrogate you into confession of a crime you never committed.

    They seem to like to talk while weaving their head in an Infinity motion as well. Probably meaning that they can talk forever.

    Just a personal experience from being in contact with many of them on a weekly basis.

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    Replies
    1. It´s actually a pretty well established criterion for characterising different cultures. What you´re referring to is the high / low context form of communication. See for example:

      https://online.seu.edu/high-and-low-context-cultures/

      Indians of course being more on the high context side of the spectrum.

      Source: married to an Indian certified intercultural coach :)

      Delete
    2. Key sentence in this context is probably: "In high-context communication, a message cannot be understood without a great deal of background information." -> context information around it which is required to assess the relevance, trustworthiness etc. of the message.

      The other aspect is the non-verbal communication part where additional information and context is given by gestures, tone etc.

      Having lived in India for several years I can absolutely testify to this need to be verbose and give context in addition to the key content. And yes, that was additional context to assess the relevance of my statement :)

      Delete
    3. I am an older white guy and I find I share this exact same tendency. I don't answer questions, I tell STORIES. I don't simply answer "yes" or "No"- I explain WHY I am answering yes or no, so you understand the context of my answer.

      Or as I like to call it, "Why use 1 word when 500 will do?"

      Delete
  7. looks good for its time with nice structure and plot. too bad about mouse navigation. good to read you again Chet.

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  8. Another interesting aspect is that many of the Indian co-workers I've had like to use their middle finger to point at things. I've explained why to a few of them. "You probably want to be careful doing that..."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know I am not your mother Adamantyr old chap, but you need to keep working on Realms of Antiquity and steer clear of the highly addictive blog of the Chetster!

      Actually... I'm kidding... sorta... G

      Delete
    2. It's research reading his blog! And I am working on it, it's just slowed due to a lot of other RL stuff plus I'm in a rather unfun "code from scratch" phase. :P

      Delete
    3. I admire your moxie... If I started a similar program of that size and magnitude, several millennia might pass before I finished! Of course... I'd have to dust off my ancient BASIC and PASCAL knowledge, dump it from memory and learn a real programming language before starting!

      Delete
  9. The latest post is a sight for sore eyes! Frankly, I'm like a crack addict without a hit when you don't post for more than 3-4 days! Hope you keep us going for years yet...

    I have had many good friends whose families were from India, and heck, plenty of friends and colleagues straight from India and Andreas Mattern makes a great point about high and low context cultures!

    ReplyDelete
  10. I've mapped top-down games in emulators using Photoshop or Gimp and macros. Like, the emulator is somewhere on the desktop, copy a rectangle from position X to Y and paste it into the tool. This way you always get the same part of the map view. Then you place the map image in another layer, merge it with the incomplete map on another layer and continue mapping.

    This way I made this map here: http://vgmaps.com/Atlas/NES/index.htm#KaijuuMonogatari

    Yeah, it could use less player avatar representation, but I was too lazy for that.

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  11. Christ almighty. For eight years, I've managed to avoid the mistake I made here today. I suppose it was bound to happen eventually. If you don't know what I'm talking about, great, ignore it. If you DO know what I'm talking about and you want this blog to persist, DEFINITELY ignore it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not knowing what you're talking about is destroying me inside.

      Delete
    2. I was just about to write you, when you started deleting … Close call! And good luck for the next 8 years!

      Delete
    3. Arrrrrrgh, this is sooo tantalizing!

      Delete
    4. Knowing my real name isn't going to come as a revelation for anyone because I'm not famous. I don't use a pen name because I care that YOU know who I am. I do it because I have a lot of clients, and at any given moment I'm delinquent on something with at least a couple of them. The last thing I need them to see is that I somehow had 4 hours to spend mapping a dungeon while their report is overdue by two weeks. That's like posting Facebook photos of your beach holiday when you've called in sick to work.

      The moment that a Google search for my real name and pen name together produces a result, this blog comes down, so if you're one of the few who saw those comments, please do not screw around with them.

      Delete
    5. The addict divulges enough about his own life that he's not some mysterious figure. The only thing he doesn't divulge is his real name, and we even know the precise reason for it. It doesn't matter whether Irene calls him Chet or Dave.

      Delete
    6. It'd be funny if one of Chet's closest friend is actually his fan but both will grow old and die never knowing each other.

      Wait, that's not funny.

      Delete
  12. It becomes even easier to appreciate Starflight when you take into consideration the context of most other sci-fi RPGs at the time and even years after; it's very frustrating that they largely seem to play just like their fantasy counterparts, just with a hasty renaming of weapons to sound more science-y.

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  13. I may be one of the few cheering for your next entry, Citadel! I was Mac-only for most of these classic years, so my experiences are limited and sometimes obscure. A couple of non-spoilery notes:

    1. There's a cheesy way to make this game pretty easy. Not a cheat, really, but sort of like farming Murphy's Ghosts in Wizardry 1 for a while, except more beneficial. I took advantage as a young man, but I assume you won't want to, or not too much. I honestly can't remember how difficult the game is without it, though, so I guess if you're getting stuck it's good to know there's a definite way to overcome.

    2. The spell system in that one is interesting, combining symbols in a proper order to unlock and memorize spells. The game manual gives you several and makes it sound like there are a bunch to discover, but there's only one more. I found that one in-game, and kept thinking I must have been missing something. I spent hours working through permutations of the symbols, looking for other spells, and was pretty disappointed when there were none.

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    Replies
    1. I'm not sure you'll like my first entry if you really liked the game.

      Is the "cheesy way to make this game pretty easy" creating extra characters and taking their gold?

      Delete
    2. Not a big deal. I liked playing it simply because it was available to me, when not many RPGs were. I don't think I got it until 1995, and my first reaction was disappointment that the game was B&W, even though the box cover/ad was colorized, and most Macs were color by then.

      I did enjoy it, but it's as much the nostalgia and familiarity as anything. Seeing the "nursery" of character creation, the store with the out of stock items, etc., brought back so many old associations I could almost feel my brain tingling.

      Delete
    3. Oh, and the "cheesey" way wasn't anything so bad as gold-farming extra characters. There's a legitimate in-dungeon encounter with a very valuable reward, and it's repeatable. There is possibly a kind of combat bug that makes that particular combat survivable early, but sometimes it's hard to tell what's a bug, or what's poor decision making, or unintended consequences.

      Delete
  14. stepped pyramidsJuly 5, 2018 at 9:05 PM

    The tactical view of combat is a decent idea. A lot of games of this era that tried to do an overhead view tended to have trouble distinguishing allies from enemies. Especially SF games where a disproportionate number of fights are likely to be humanoid vs. humanoid. I feel like a game really has to knock tactical combat out of the park to justify a UI that complicated, though. A lot of RPGs don't really manage to pull off a combat system good enough to justify being more complicated than Wizardry or Rogue or, hell, Ys.

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  15. Clever how you paid homage to the Pai brothers by naming all your people "Vi-something" but also drew all the names from Skyrim. Based on this and your use of Brandon Sanderson characters for Citadel, I wonder how many other references and in-jokes I miss in your party names.

    ReplyDelete

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