Sunday, August 23, 2020

Buck Rogers: Matrix Cubed: The Fourth Power

I like how the game offers this choice, as if saying "no" doesn't doom you to an inability to finish the game.
           
I ended the first session with two missions: find Dr. Chade on Earth and some gravitational expert in the Venusian lowlands. I decided to do the second first because it seemed more subversive to do the second one first. The setting describes Venus as having been partially terraformed. It's still ungodly hot, with clouds of dangerous gases. Venusians are human, but bio-engineered to handle the conditions. The planet has one spaceport, New Elysium, controlled by the theocratic Ishtarians. The lowlands are the domain of Aphroditian farmers and miners. A third Venusian population called Aerostators "float above the lands and make their living primarily as tradesmen and herders," a statement that raises far more questions than it answers. A non-human population of "gennies" (bio-engineered creatures) called Lowlanders live in an acid jungle and produce Gravitol, which is crucial to space travel. The human population is allied with Earth against RAM, but the Lowlanders will sell to anyone.
        
The party lands an entire map away from our destination.
        
As we landed, SCOT.DOS reported that his scans showed that Lowlanders had been digging extensive mines, which is a bit of a mystery since Venus has no minerals. He also intercepted a radio communication from someone on the planet to Mariposa Spaceport on Mercury, indicating they were also searching for the scientist.
    
Encouraged to move quickly--I don't know why we landed so far away--we made our way across the overland map towards the Lowlander village on the other side. The overland maps in the Buck Rogers series are much like those in Pool of Radiance, Pools of Darkness, and the two Krynn games, except I'm not sure there's much to discover if you were to explore systematically. On the way to the village, we were attacked by "Venusian dinosaurs" that look a lot like T-Rexes. Why anyone would "bio-engineer" such a creature is another mystery, but it reminded me that "gennies" are an easy way to inject Dungeons and Dragons-style monsters into a science fiction setting. On the Earth map later, for instance, we fought giant rats, giant grasshoppers, and something that looks a lot like demons.
      
Why would anybody make these things?
These aren't fantasy creatures clearly designed for a fantasy game. They're "gennies."

        
Anyway, the creatures were hugely dangerous except when encountered in forests, where the dense tree coverage meant that they couldn't really move. They were worth a lot of experience points--like ten times the experience points of random RAM soldier battles.
     
Soon after, a random battle with some Lowlanders (which look like lizard men), accompanied by acid frogs, left my party in tatters. I had to retreat to the ship and use the clinic before setting out again. On the next attempt, I found a Lowlander village that had been destroyed by PURGE, and I got slaughtered by PURGE forces. I didn't have the most remote chance.

The keys to success.
          
I thus reloaded and spent a few minutes circling the outer asteroid rim, visiting spaceports for equipment upgrades. It took a few false stops before I finally found a shop selling grenades. Although they didn't have any explosive grenades, they had plenty of other types, including stun grenades. I bought about 25 of those for each character, running through most of my funds.
       
On the way back to Venus, I won my first battle against a light RAM cruiser. This was good because I was running out of "space funds" to pay for fuel.
        
This fighter has one-tenth the statistics of the RAM cruiser that beat me last time.
           
I found my time on Venus a bit easier with the grenades, but it wasn't at all easy. Matrix Cubed definitely kicked combat up a notch, and if you didn't experiment much with grenades in Countdown to Doomsday, you definitely feel it here. Grenades and other explosives, as we've discussed, are the one way that the authors introduced some spell-like abilities into the combat system. They use much of the same mechanics (and, I suspect, much of the same code) as "Fireball," "Stinking Cloud," and "Cloud Kill" spells from the Dungeons and Dragons titles. For instance, aerosol mist grenades create a cloud that diffuse laser fire and chaff grenades release a cloud of metallic pieces that intercept explosives and rounds from rocket pistols and rifles. You can throw these on top of your own party to prevent these things from getting in, although explosives will still detonate at the perimeter and potentially damage party members, so a slightly safer solution is to have multiple characters throw the grenades in such a way as to surround the party.

Dazzle grenades cause blindness; gas grenades incapacitate enemies for a couple of rounds; and stun grenades affect a 9 x 9 area with the "Stun" spell. There are three levels of explosive grenades--mini, regular, and efanite. The range of all grenades can be greatly improved with a grenade launcher, although you can only use it once every other turn.
          
Stun grenades are incredibly useful, when they work.
         
I like defensive grenades in theory, but they don't discriminate between enemy and friendly explosives, and they thus prevent me from firing out of the cloud as well as enemies firing in. Thus, I typically only use chaff grenades when I'm outclassed in the explosive department. I could stand to experiment more with aerosol mist grenades and dazzle grenades, but when I'm facing non-robot enemies, stun grenades are so useful that it's hard to justify using anything else. Three or four characters can incapacitate a huge party of enemies with them.
 
They were responsible for my victory in the Lowlander village, where I rescued a small child. The game made me take him in to my party, unarmed and with 8 hit points, just in time for a major combat against PURGE forces. We recognized the child as Zane, who we had saved from RAM forces during events in Countdown. What are the odds. After combat, Zane's father thankfully showed up to take him to safety. He related that the PURGE agents seem to be after the secret to mining Gravitol, but the morons attacked a food-producing farm rather than a Gravitol operation.
         
Do these kids ever grow up?
         
As if PURGE wasn't enough, we also ran into a party of Mercurian forces on the way to the Lowlanders' Gravitol village. Their conversation indicated that they weren't working with PURGE, but neither are they clearly RAM allies, so I guess maybe we have a four-way conflict brewing.

When we arrived, the Lowlander village was abandoned. As we explored the buildings, we saw lots of signs that the village had been deliberately set up to seem low-tech, but often with more advanced technology under the surface; for instance, a "primitive" cooker powered by a "lightweight atomic generator hidden under a hide blanket." Soon we blasted a door into a clearly more advanced part of the city, which contained manufacturing plants for the hide shields and crystal-tipped spears that the Lowlanders carry.
           
This whole village is a front.
         
Ultimately, we made our way to an elevator shaft to the mines below, a relatively linear map. We fought a couple of skirmishes with Lowlander parties before they ambushed us with stun grenades, disarmed us, and dragged us to their leader, Llorok. He had just ordered our execution when an earthquake struck, sending the Lowlanders scattering. Llorok fell down an open mine shaft.
        
I actually try to keep it painless when I kill cattle.
          
Another Lowlander begged us to save him, but we still had no equipment, which was a big problem for the two combats we had to fight at the bottom of the shaft with "Ursadders," some kind of monster that seems like a cross between a human and a slug. We had to fight two battles with these enemies, one against three and one against four, and in several tries I couldn't survive them both. Without any arms or equipment, there's not much you can do but concentrate your attacks and hope the dice go your way. They wouldn't go my way, and for probably the first time ever with a Gold Box game, I considered lowering the difficulty. (I probably should have replaced one of my engineers with a second warrior when the game started.) In a fifth try, I got out with Austin alive, but no one else, which was hardly enough to heal anyone after the battle. In the sixth try, I got lucky with a couple of "backstabs" (hard to do with fists, I imagine) and took my doctor out of the fighting before he could die, and we finally got past the obstacle without the ignominy of lowering the difficulty. I was close, though.
         
The idea of punching these things to death is pretty disgusting.
         
We rescued Llorok and brought him back to his people, who thereafter stopped attacking us. This was just in time for PURGE to invade the base, though.
 
The caverns led to a secret laboratory run by a Lowlander scientist named Leander, who was briefly an NPC companion in Countdown. Leander turned out to be the gravitational field expert we were searching for. The game made a big deal about how we were surprised the scientist making such waves was a Lowlander and not a human living among the Lowlanders, but I'd like to say for the record that I never assumed it would be anything but a Lowlander, so it's my party that's racist, not me.
         
That's mighty progressive of you, SCOT.DOS.
         
The two levels of the secret base consisted primarily of the party saving various Lowlander groups from PURGE forces. At one point, we found a "brochure" on a fallen PURGE soldier, explaining a bit more about the group.

LOOK around, friend! Genetic MONSTERS have taken over! They were made to serve us . . . but instead HAVE BECOME OUR MASTERS! We of PURGE are DEDICATED to ridding the Earth of the EVIL of GENETIC RESEARCH! Join us as we FIGHT TO SAVE HUMANITY FOR THE HUMANS!

The acronym means "Prevention of Unwanted Research and Genetic Engineering." Since I keep getting into battles with them--including freaking dinosaurs--I'm perfectly happy to admit that "gennies" are more trouble than they're worth. Where PURGE's logic breaks down for me is when they say that these creatures are our "masters." I don't recall taking any orders from acid frogs. Everyone associated with the NEO and RAM hierarchies so far have been human--except for the ones that are artificial intelligence. It would be as if some modern world group was not only against cloning sheep but also believed that Dolly was pulling the strings at the U.N.
       
PURGE soldiers trying to steal the secrets to Gravitol.
      
The maps culminated in a large battle against PURGE agents led by a cyborg--I guess they have no problem with that--named Sid Refuge. In a battle greatly assisted by our stun grenades, we killed Refuge and his forces and made the base safe for the Lowlanders again. (I was annoyed because during combat, Refuge had a plasma thrower, but it didn't show up in the post-combat loot.) Leander agreed to accompany us back to the NEO base and help in our efforts with the Matrix Device.
         
When did we tell you about our cause?
          
But just as we were backtracking to the surface, Mercurians invaded. Again, I don't know what their deal is. In the first mission, we had protected the new Sun King, who was supposed to be a NEO ally, but clearly Chancellor De Sade was up to something. The upshot is that instead of just NEO and PURGE to worry about, we have this uncertain fourth variable.

All of the battles against the Mercurians were random, but they were also much harder. They attacked with multiple combat robots, each of which can fire explosive missiles. We protected ourselves with chaff grenades, but this prevented us from using our best weapons against the robots. The battles were long and hard, but finally we made our way back to the surface.
        
I guess this guy isn't dead.
         
As we journeyed back to the ship--again, why did we park so far away?--we came upon Sid Refuge tangling with some Lowlanders as he made his own escape. Apparently, the cyborg can heal himself from near-fatal damage. We'll thus meet him again.
        
The next overland map. We can't visit the downtown buildings yet.
        
After healing, training, and restocking, we decided to head for "Losangelorg" and look for Dr. Chade. Like Venus, L.A. had a sprawling outdoor map with multiple random encounters. We couldn't yet visit most of the places in the city proper, but we spent some time in the "sprawls" (slums) to the north. I love the idea that Burbank and Pasadena somehow turned into slums. (FYI, if you get a quick chance, Google the actual city limits of Los Angeles. A lot of what people think is L.A. isn't L.A., and yet a lot of L.A. is in places most people don't think is L.A. San Diego is arguably even weirder.) At one point, we responded to the cries of some townsfolk and rescued some children from giant rats (called "ratwurst") in a sewer.
          
Even in the future, we can't avoid giant rats.
         
Most of the action took place in a four-story building in the far northeast of the outdoor map. It was a fun map, with a complexity to the encounter options that reminded me of Pool of Radiance. Basically, the area was controlled by three gangs: the Leeches, the Grotesques, and the White Monks. Rumors said that one of the gangs had him, but each gang claimed it was one of the others and wanted our help in battling the others and securing weapons to fight them. Meanwhile, a "social reformer" named Isha asked us to favor none of the gangs and to give the weapons to her instead. All of them promised Chade as a reward.
          
This guy turned out to be lying.
        
We started off favoring Isha, but later evidence exposed her as a RAM agent, so we killed her and instead threw in with the Leeches, led by Loa-Loa. I wish I could tell you I had a good reason, but it mostly came down to Loa-Loa being an attractive girl, while the leader of the Groteseques, "Gargoyle," was a "hideous skeletal boy" and the leader of the White Monks, Wink, was a weird old man. Also, rumors said that Gargoyle was on the verge of a RAM alliance.
            
Female privilege wins a round.
           
It turned out that the White Monks had imprisoned Chade and his daughter in their lair up on the building's roof. But when we finally defeated Wink and got into the place, it turned out that the father and daughter had escaped weeks earlier. Searching their former cell, the party found a device with a button and materials suggesting that Chade was heading for the desert. As we left, Loa-Loa promised to build a better life for the people in the slums.

A couple of minor encounters on the way out of town suggested that Chade's device was meant to disable holograms. Once in the desert, we headed for the one obvious feature, a large mesa, and found that it was a hologram concealing the old Museum of History.
      
That's an impressive hologram.
      
The building was another 16 x 16 map split into a main building and a mezzanine. RAM forces arrived about the same time we did, and they brought explosives with them. Every battle produced explosive grenades, rocket launchers, and plasma launchers, which we swiped greedily. I had intended to save them for battles in which I needed that kind of firepower, but pretty soon, we had so much that I just started using them in regular battles. Combats become a lot easier when you can "cast" the equivalent of six "Fireballs" every round.
           
The museum has a "Buck Rogers" exhibit.
         
We first met Dr. Chade's daughter, Stefi, who tried to convince us that Chade was dead. Then, we found Chade himself asleep in a closet. Chade led us around the museum erratically, searching for his "notes," while we fought a party of RAM soldiers in practically every room. After we saved Stefi from a group of them, he said he trusted us, but we still had to find his notes and destroy information about his experiments on the computers in the building.
         
At some point, "Dr. Chade's" fusion chamber, notes, and mission became Stefi's, and I'm not sure what happened.
           
Something happened at some point that I missed or misinterpreted. Chade disappeared or died after a climactic battle with RAM forces, and Stefi fled upstairs, barricading herself to avoid being captured while she destroyed Chade's research. Subsequent dialogue indicated that Stefi was just as knowledgeable as her father on fusion reaction, and indeed also seems to be a "Dr. Chade," and I'm not sure which of these three possibilities is the case:
        
  • Stefi was always the "real" Dr. Chade, and people just assumed it was her father because he looked the part.
  • Stefi was always the "real" Dr. Chade and her "father" was just a hologram.
  • The father was the original Dr. Chade, but Stefi is also a physicist, and the father had taught enough of his science to Stefi that she can serve in his place.
          
Stefi shows some spine.
           
Whatever the case, we rescued her and got out of there. Buck Rogers congratulated us on our third successful mission and soon assigned us a fourth: the capture of Dr. Jerod Malcoln, a PURGE weapons scientist, who "has created an explosive gas with the radioactive properties that we need." Rogers asked that we go back to Losangelorg and infiltrate PURGE headquarters on Santa Catalina. Having been to Santa Catalina several times, it pains me to think of such a beautiful place in the hands of a group of extremists. Buck gave us a passcard to get into the central L.A. buildings and said we'd find an agent named Red Carrin in the "Newporg Archology."

I think you're just making up words.
    
Back on the base, I was surprised to find that the store allows you to purchase ammunition reloads for rocket launchers and plasma throwers. Was this true in the last game, too?! I remember never having enough of those weapons, but I also think I discarded them when they were empty. Being able to reload them would have made a huge difference and would have made me feel better about both the difficulty of the games and the economy.
          
Was this possible in the first game?
         
Matrix Cubed is a better game than I anticipated, and perhaps even better than the original game. I'm enjoying the challenging combats, even though grenades are no substitute for the variety of spells in the Gold Box system. I apologize for sounding so down about it last time. Arbitrating the gangs in the second mission was a lot of fun, and I hope that the game continues with this level of encounter quality.

Time so far: 12 hours

76 comments:

  1. A site called HonestGamers looked at this title and noted it to be basically good but challenging with a rating of 4 out of stars. Of course a singular star ratings system can´t really say much. The game is definitely long--in youtube playthroughs this can very much be seen.

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  2. "A lot of what people think is L.A. isn't L.A., and yet a lot of L.A. is in places most people don't think is L.A." - that reminded me of China Mieville's novel "The City and the City", which takes place in two city-states that nominally occupy the same physical space (nothing supernatural, just bureaucracy). He derives a lot of fun from exploring the resulting gap between the physical and the administrative locations of things.

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    1. It reminds me of Paradise and Las Vegas

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    2. I live in the upper city district of my town, but I have a postal address from the old city. I've tried to use that to my advantage when ordering from a pizza service that only delivered to the old city, but they refused.

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    3. The City and the City was a clever conceit, desperately in search of a plot and characters.

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    4. I thought the idea was fascinating, to the extent that I think about it at least once a week. But I never finished the book because I thought the plot and characters were boring.

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    5. I don't know, I enjoyed the plot. I thought it quite cleverly married a police procedural with Kafka-style exploration of bureaucratic absurdity. I wouldn't mind a little more worldbuilding in the sense of exploring the difference in cultures between the two cities - but Mieville being a lefty, that might have been the point, that there isn't much of it. I mean, the whole book basically amounts to a meditation on how something as insubstantial and arbitrary as national borders can hold so much power.
      As for characters, I just never cared about those, in any media. Human drama is just not my thing. Now that you mention it, Tyador is very much a blank slate - but that's also probably what makes him work better as the audience insert.

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    6. I generally like Mieville despite being politically opposite to him. I even somewhat enjoyed the very preachy Iron Council, though that one is much weaker than his other Bas-Lag novels, Perdido Street Station and The Scar. They got great weird ideas, interesting characters, and stuff happening. And that's the important part: they not only got cool ideas, they also do something with those.

      The City and the City, and Embassytown are two books of his that have amazing ideas behind them but just didn't grab me as novels. Characters and plot in those just aren't good enough to carry the ideas.

      I wish he'd return to his Bas-Lag setting, the books set there are my favorites of his.

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    7. N.K. Jemisin's "The City We Became" (just released) also explores a lot of ideas around the difference between what people think a city is and what it actually is. With a good bit of Lovecraft thrown in there. Would highly recommend!

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    8. I enjoyed The City And The City, but I was disappointed with the ending. It just wasn't plausible that the villain's 'playing within the rules' would work (and indeed the protagonist ends up getting outside the box anyway

      As for Bas Lag, it's a great mashup that would make a better CRPG than it does a novel. That said, I did enjoy Perdido Street Station for what it was.

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    9. Granted, I'm a big fan of weird fantasy so that's why I have a particular fondness for Bas-Lag. It does get a little silly with the weirdness sometimes (like... cactus people? Really?) but that's why I love it.

      The Scar is my favorite of the three novels and it would indeed make for an amazing CRPG. I wonder if a cactusman character would be immune against the mosquito men, hah!

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    10. Sometimes I have no trouble enjoying media from creators with very different views to mine, sometimes I struggle. I can watch Downton Abbey, I couldn't read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.

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    11. I absolutely love Moon is a Harsh Mistress and like Starship Troopers, but not all of his stuff is for me. Is the Downton Abbey guy notably political, that you would compare it to Heinlein?

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  3. I don't know if you included arcology among the made-up words, but they do appear to have misspelled it.

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    1. "Arcology" was a new word to me until just now.

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    2. I mean, I guess it's still new. It was unknown until just now.

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    3. Must have missed out on Simcity2000 and Shadowrun, then! Both make bold usage of the word.

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    4. Yeah it was one of many words and concepts Shadowrun shamelessly lifted from William Gibson's 'Neuromancer' (not that he invented the term, but he popularised it).

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    5. It's a pretty common term in sci-fi, especially cyberpunk. In games I remember Deus Ex Invisible War having one chapter set in an arcology.

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    6. Unlocking the earliest arcology in Simcity 2000 was one of the (depressingly) high points of my youth. The "new" Simcity has them too in the 'Cities of the Future' expansion, but they're not as impressive somehow.

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    7. Fun fact: the term arcology was coined by the Italian architect Paolo Soleri. He actually (sort of) built one in Arizona. It's called Arcosanti. You can visit.

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    8. I used to live about an hour away from Arcosanti. It's a fascinating place to visit even if it will never truly be completed.

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  4. "rescued some children from giant rats (called "ratwurst") in a sewer."

    And I guess the rats call the children "bratwurst".

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    1. I'm fairly certain those rats were a failed genetic experiment by German fast food restaurant owners.

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    2. Random gaming reference: The bratwurst joke is one of the (for me) easier riddles in "Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It" from Infocom.

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  5. The authors need a better reference book.

    So on Venus, we get tribes named after Aphrodite (the Greek equivalent of Venus) and Ishtar (the Babylonian equivalent), and then the third one is called aerofloater? Because they float, get it? Give me a break...

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    1. I think it might have been an awkward pun on Eros.

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    2. If they can't tell the difference between Eros and Aphrodite, they still need a better reference book.

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    3. Real-world astronomers gave the names "Ishtar" and "Aphrodite" to the two main continents ("terrae") of planet Venus. Unfortunately, Venus has just two continents.

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    4. Almost all Venusian features are named after things associated with Aphrodite, Venus, other cultures' names for the planet, or goddesses of various cultures.

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    5. ...which is why the real-world Venus DOESN'T have anything called aerofloater, yes :D

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    6. Would it not rather make sense? Those who live on Aphrodite continent, those who live on Ishtar continent, and those who float in the air above all continents...?

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    7. Maybe the Icarians, after Icarus, for those who fly?

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  6. Yes, it was possible to refill plasma throwers and the rocket launcher in the prequel, see here.

    They do take out much of the difficulty of combat, just like Delayed Blast Fireball did in the fantasy games, especially when the game starts throwing them at you so early.

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    1. Combat Round 1: All six party members fire their rocket launchers.

      Combat Round 2: All six party members switch weapons to their backup rocket launchers, and fire those.

      Combat Round 3, If Necessary: All six party members skulk around the battlefield and finish off (what's left of) the survivors with Mercurian needle guns.

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    2. I think I totally missed that in Countdown. I remember running short on those items and complaining that they were hard to find. I don't think I would have made that complaint if you could just reload them. I might owe the original game a bit of an apology.

      Snorb, what you wrote is almost verbatim what I wrote in the draft of the third entry. Once you have those items, combat becomes extremely predictable. However, it's not as simple as switching to backups in Round 2. When you go to equip a rocket launcher, even if it's one that you haven't already fired, the game still makes you wait a full round.

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    3. I don't think you could get 12 rocket launchers in Countdown. If I recall there were maybe two and two plasma throwers (if that many). I can't recall specifically in Matrix but I think it was a similar scarcity (though I could be wrong). Also, at least in Matrix Cubed I remember the tougher enemies using chaff grenades which would cause your rockets or plasma to immediately ignite. Fine if you were at a distance but not so great if the combat started at melee range as they often did.

      Also due to their only holding 10 rounds each, you did have to watch your ammo. If you used them every combat they wouldn't last till the end of the scenario.

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    4. Plasma throwers were standard equipment for Mercurian Leaders, which I believe appeared in random encounters, so it was possible to acquire as many as you wanted.

      Rocket launchers were indeed finite, found only on the pirate ship, and in the Juno sidequest.

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    5. In Countdown, I specifically raided the Mercurian Heavy Cruisers because leaders were on there. I wanted to get their plasma throwers.

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    6. Never thought to farm plasma throwers like that in Countdown. Don't think I really got into the enemy ship boarding until Matrix. That is a nice incentive / reward for capturing a heavy cruiser (maybe even a bit on the OP side)!

      As an aside, always thought it was odd to fight Mercurian ships in space. The documentation said they were neutral.

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    7. You definitely had to wait until your characters were leveled up enough before attempting it with good gear. OP is right two, once you get three or four plasma throwers, you were good to go on most battles.

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  7. Venus being a primordial, swampy place is something that shows up in early sci-fi a fair amount, and sometimes there were indeed Venusian dinosaurs. So I suppose they could have been going for a 50s pulp thing here, rather than just being lazy.

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    1. Basically, early astronomical observation had deduced the Venusian atmosphere, which allowed them to conclude that it was a world where the greenhouse effect had run amok. It wasn't until the latter half of the twentieth century that probes got close enough looks to realize just how dramatically they'd underestimated it.

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    2. Very much so. And I'm sure read SF from that era which actually had people living in the atmosphere because the surface was so hostile.

      Gene Wolfe never did Venus (except in passing in Shadow Of The Torturer) but if he did I bet it would have been like that.

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    3. If I recall, HP Lovecraft wrote a scifi story set on Venus where the main character could only go outside without a helmet because his hair was long enough to block some of the acidic rain.

      Other than that (excusable, pre-exploration sci fi), I seem to remember that it was a fairly successful space horror idea whose sci fi element was completely bolted on.

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    4. Yeah, I even had a legit astronomy book from the 50s at one point that speculated that life on Venus must have been at the point where dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Alas, the Soviet Venera probes then arrived in the 60s and revealed that there were neither jungles nor dinosaurs hidden under the Venusian cloudscape.

      The German SF series Perry Rhodan, which started in the early 60s, had of course the then still up-to-date hot, steamy jungles filled with dinosaurs readers expected. This later caused untold problems, and I'm not talking about the protagonists having to fight a Russian army invading Venus. Nowadays (the series is still running, with a new novella being published each week) people quietly avoid talking about Venus.

      The publishers also rebooted the series as Perry Rhodan Neo: The new series always had Venus like it is and also "updated" other outdated science facts.

      There's also a re-edited version of the original series in bookform. The re-edits retconned most of the bullshit that was either really confusing, aged terribly or was plain-out wrong (like Venus, the Dinosaur Planet) out of existence.

      But now the bad news: Most attempts at bringing the series into English failed. So if you can't read either German, Japanese, French or one of the few other Non-English adaptations, you're shit out of luck. (There is a short novel series that was translated, though. In case you want to try it out.)

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    5. Sad to hear about ret-conning.
      They should have gone with the alternative solar system instead; the classic pre-Space Age Solar System where Mercury has a hot and cold side and only a narrow band of land that is livable, a hot and wet Venus, an almost lifeless Mars with a once great civilization that build the canals (never mind the whole idea was based on a bad translation of Italian "canali"), and where the moons of the gas giants could be colonized.

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    6. Oh, all that happened eventually. Thanks to various catastrophes, the colonies of the gas giants had to be re-colonized several times, for example. And Mars turned out to have had their very own precursor civ (though totally unrelated to the canals)

      Hell, thanks to German SF-authors being heavy into mysticism, even Atlantis shows up: It was real and got bombed by aliens. From another universe.

      Centaurs were also real and had guns. (Perry Rhodan is very pulpy when it isn't trying to cram every science article an author has read during lunch into it.)

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  8. Why would anyone genetically engineer dinosaurs? Haven't you seen Jurassic Park, Chet?

    Now granted, I doubt anyone had the plan to erect a dinosaur zoo on Venus. But still... dinosaurs are cool. Why wouldn't you wanna make them?

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    1. But why stop at dinos? Why not go further back, to giant shrimp and other fun stuff?

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    2. Well it's not like the game has you explore the entirety of Venus! Who knows what lurks in other biomes?

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    3. Venusians were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.

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    4. Nah, space games and movies have taught us that planets always have a single biome.

      "Imperial Officer: Lord Vader, the rebels have fled the ice planet of Hoth. After going to the swamp planet of Dagobah, Skywalker has rejoined his friends on the desert world of Tatooine. And now the rebel fleet is massing for an attack on the forest moon of Endor."

      Delete
  9. The appearance of demons in this game reminds me rather unfavorably of Star Trek V.

    I'm surprised Chet would consider a punk/alternative girl like Loa-Loa attractive, although I guess there aren't many points of comparison in RPGs to this point. Most games on this blog either never attempted in-game sex appeal or failed rather badly. (And yes I'm aware that that statement was at least partially a joke on Chet's part.)

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  10. "...the one way that the authors introduced some spell-like abilities into the combat system. They use much of the same mechanics (and, I suspect, much of the same code) as "Fireball," "Stinking Cloud," and "Cloud Kill" spells from the Dungeons and Dragons titles."

    Funny you should come to this conclusion. If you listen to interviews with TSR alums Tim Cask and Gary Gygax (especially Cask) they'll claim that spells in D&D were meant to convert real world weapons like poison gas, flamethrowers and hand guns into their magical equivalents i.e. stinking cloud, fireball and magic missile.
    Being big time wargamers and the slow conversion of their games from massive historical battles to massive fantasy battles they needed a way to approximate real world weapons into the spells their favorite characters used in the books they read.
    I guess this kind of thing goes in circles.

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    Replies
    1. That is an interesting insight. Fortunately, the makers of D&D let their minds expand and thought of plenty of spell options that DIDN'T have analogues in real warfare, too.

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    2. Yup, I believe the early Fireball rules in D&D are taken almost directly from the rules for catapults/cannons in "Chainmail", which was the wargame precursor to D&D.

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  11. "It would be as if some modern world group was not only against cloning sheep but also believed that Dolly was pulling the strings at the U.N."

    They're out there somewhere

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  12. Alas, that park-your-spaceship-and-walk-to-the-site thing is still very common in scifi. Sometimes it makes sense, most often it does not.

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    Replies
    1. I liked that in the Mass Effect series, the writers typically tried to justify landing where the party landed. If you were in for a hike, you would typically be told why.

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    2. I wrote an infiltration scenario for a pulp sci-fi campaign where the PCs had the option to hang out with their pilot the night before the mission started. Depending on how hard they partied they may end up landing quite far from their intended LZ or even crash. Refusing to carouse with the pilot left him apathetic to the PCs so he'd only do the bare minimum to get them to the LZ and pick them up after the mission.

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  13. The D&D gold box games had spell variety, true, but how much of the offensive spells did you actually end up using? Buff spells are another matter, of course; I don't think the Buck Rogers games have anything like that other than the anti weapon clouds that force you to always use needle guns.

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    1. I'm not very familiar with D&D's 1st edition beyond the Gold Box games, but didn't a lot of the cooler spells get added in the AD&D 2nd edition? Things like contingency, time stop, imprisonment, several power words etc.

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    2. While 2E certainly added a lot of spells over its long print run, most spells from its initial Player's Handbook (including these particular spells you mention) are all from first edition.

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    3. Right, but the gold box games only ever really implemented some of those, and it was almost never worth using anything but delayed blast fireball (with delay always set to zero).

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    4. Yeah my only frame of reference for 1st edition is the Gold Box games so there's probably a lot of spells that didn't make it into the game. 1st edition had plenty of supplements already AFAIK, so a lot of more interesting spells were probably first published in supplements or in Dragon Magazine and only made it into the basic books in 2nd edition.

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    5. It may surprise you to learn that there are numerous "interesting" spells from the very first 1E book (not the supplements) that were nevertheless not implemented in the Gold Box games.

      That includes Contingency, Time Stop, the Power Word spells, and quite a lot of others. No, these spells are not originally from 2E, and no, they are not from supplements or Dragon magazine either.

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    6. Ah, thanks for the info. Gold Box's spell implementation was much more limited than I thought, then.

      Delete
  14. Sorry but this game looks super mega cool, like an 80s explosion of pulp scifi. I really need to play it.

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  15. I remember not liking this game very much, but these posts make me want to give it another try. It was a long time ago, and I might just not have approached it in the right frame of mind.

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  16. Where can I find a copy of this game for PC?

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    1. GOG sells it.

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    2. I wish GOG had it, but they don't. The only place I have seen it for sale is on eBay.

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    3. Sorry, my bad. I forgot that the Buck Rogers game have some licensing issues and are the only Gold Box games not for sale at GOG.
      But you be aware they they are available other place, so don't abandon hope.

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