Friday, October 30, 2020

Game 386: Oméga: Planète Invisible (1985)

C64 web sites all show this title screen, but it never came up in the version of the game I downloaded.
      
Oméga: Planète Invisible
("Omega: Invisible Planet")
France
Infogrames (developer and publisher)
Released in 1985 for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and Thomson computers
Date Started: 27 October 2020
     
Oméga is the second of two French adventure-RPG hybrids written by Marc Cecci and published by Infogrames between 1984 and 1986. (I settled on 1985 for both games but am no means certain about either.) Together with Tyrann (1984), they kicked off a French "golden age" of RPG development that lasted until about 1990 and included Tera: La Cité des Crânes (1986), Inquisitor: Shade of Swords (1987), Le Maître des Âmes (1987), and B.A.T. (1989). Forgotten titles from this period are still being found.
    
As with poetry, cinema, and most other forms of art, the French didn't do things like anyone else. Tyrann is admittedly a bit derivative of Wizardry, but most of the games on the list are bizarre. Sometimes refreshingly bizarre, other times just bizarre. Whether through ignorance or deliberate rejection, they seem unconcerned with typical RPG mechanics or challenges. Rarely do they even stick to a consistent set of rules. Instead, I would say they are more concerned with using RPG themes as vehicles for memorable images and plots. I've done my best to cover the actual experience of playing games like Drakkhen (1989), Muryaden (1989), and Saga (1990), but there have been plenty of times that words have failed me. In the middle of a desert landscape ruled by a dragon, I was attacked by something that looked like the silhouette of Sheena Easton as it said "I love you" repeatedly in different pitches. And yet it was somehow weirder than I'm making it sound.
        
God, I miss bars.
      
I used to work a job where I had to read a lot of reports written by other people. The people writing those reports would often use the acronym "NFI," which officially stood for "no further information," but which secretly stood for "no f****** idea." The report-writers would drop it in whenever they were just as confused about a third-party statement as the likely reader of the report. Imagine I was reading crash reports for an insurance agency. The usage would be something like this:
 
Driver reports that as she entered the freeway, she was distracted by "all the pretty lights that were out that night" (NFI) and thus did not notice that the vehicle in front of her had not already merged. She said that she would have stayed on-scene to await the police, but she was intimidated by the size of the other driver's head (NFI) and thus fled the scene.
     
Whenever I play a French game, I feel like I need that shorthand to annotate half of what I describe. Thus, watch for its appearance below.
     
Oméga takes Mandragore's interface and moves it to a science fiction setting. The year is 3010. The universe is being threatened by a tyrant named Naxorg (which sounds like a pharmaceutical company), who rules from the planet Oméga, hidden in an asteroid field and thus "invisible." Clues to its location are found on six other planets. The United Imperium of Planets dispatches a team of four adventurers to solve the problem. This directly echoes the plot of Mandragore, where you had to assemble clues from ten castles.
      
Character creation.
       
The four characters are created from four "races": human, mutant, robot, meerkat (NFI), and cométoïde, which I'm not sure how to translate, but it looks like a living comet. Meerkats, despite their name, look more like kangaroos. Classes for these characters are astronaut, ranger, telepath, pirate, mentat, and xeno-sociologist. ("Mentat" comes from the Dune series--humans trained to think and process like computers.) Finally, the characters' attributes are strength, intelligence, dexterity, knowledge, training, and rayonnemente, which I'm not sure whether it means "radiance," as in charisma, or "radiation." You probably don't want to get those two mixed up. Certain classes have minimum attributes. I created:
   
  • Wicker, a human pirate
  • January, a meerkat ranger
  • Elephant, a mutant mentat
  • Music, a cometoid telepath
    
Gameplay begins in the character's ship, in which they travel north, east, west, and south (NFI) through the cosmos, landing on planets and star bases as necessary. Star bases have seven screens, including an equipment vendor, a food and medicine vendor, a weapons vendor, a bar, and a live music part of the bar in which an all-purpose "buyer" hangs out. Frequently returning to star base is often necessary to buy medicine and food for healing and to sell the valuables you've accumulated (particularly since you only get four inventory slots). As for the weapons and the "psy-amp" that telepaths are supposed to use, I tried them and I don't think there was a significant difference over attacking and using telepath powers without the items.
    
When you leave the first star base, you begin navigating through the galaxy. I'm not really sure how to interpret all of the features on the galaxy map. The manual might explain, but I only read it far enough to figure out how to play the game. You start out in an area dense with white dots, which I thought was supposed to be an absurdly dense star field, but you later fly out of that into a blacker area with more sparse white dots. There are red areas through which you cannot fly, as if space had a lava border. The occasional white or yellow "+" doesn't seem to offer anything. Nor do large objects that appear to be suns. Planets appear somewhat randomly in this universe rather than orbiting stars.
     
You don't really expect to see mazes in outer space.
    
If you take too long between stops, you can get attacked in space by a couple of fighters labeled kamikuse and kamikose (NFI).
     
How did they get on my ship?
 
I don't know if my first couple of planetary experiences are indicative of the entire game, but planets seem to consist of a couple dozen screens. Each planet has a theme, and the screens reflect that theme. Altair II, for instance, seems to evoke a post-apocalyptic Mad Max feel, with thugs on motorcycles riding through a dreary, desert landscape.
       
The party fights a biker gang.
      
Any screen can offer up to four living things or objects, listed to the lower right and annotated with letters A through D. These entities can be:
    
  • Intelligent creatures. Some hostile, some friendly. Some humanoid, some not. You can question them, and hostile ones may attack you. In fact, waiting for them to attack first is the only way I can see to tell if they're hostile.
  • Animals. They're almost always hostile. You can attack them, but it's better to hunt them, as you get food for that.
  • Things you can pick up and eat, drink, or "absorb" to restore health.
  • Things you can pick up and sell later at a star base. Sometimes, these items are trapped and you have to disarm the trap first.
  • Quest items.
     
Interacting with these entities and objects is done in the same odd way as Mandragore. You issue a subject-verb-predicate command by first typing the number of the character who will act. You then type the first letter or two of the verbal command that person will execute, and finally you type the object on which they will perform the verb--either one of the objects on the screen (A-D), or one in the character's inventory (1-4). For attacks, you can specify a fourth command, indicating what weapon you want to use.
     
For instance, in the screen below, the two guys named "Michel" are hostile while "Lucie" is not. The roquette refers to the rocket launcher off to the left.
       
The party breaks into a ship and emerges in what looks like a bar.
    
Thus, valid commands, might be:
     
  • 1 AT A: Wicker attacks Michel
  • 3 TI C 2: Elephant shoots (tire) the other Michel with item #2, a laser in his inventory 
  • 4 ST C Music tries to use his telepath ability to paralyze (statuifie) Michel
  • 2 Q B: January questions Lucie. (If you do this, she demands an anise-flavored lollipop, NFI)
  • 3 PR D: Elephant takes (prend) the rocket launcher
  • 4 BO 1: Music drinks (boit) the medicine in his inventory in slot 1
     
Combat usually requires you to repeat the action multiple times. When a combat command executes, the character travels across the screen to the enemy and then back to his or her starting location. The enemy always gets a retaliatory action immediately, so you don't want to attack with a character low in vie. You can specify a weapon when attacking, or not, and so far I've noticed little difference. Enemies seem to remain permanently dead and never respawn.
        
A punk attacks me.
      
I assume there will be some enemies who respond only to mental attacks, as in Mandragore. In those situations, my telepath will be essential. He has three telepathic attacks: paralyze, petrify, and hypnotize. Each involves a sacrifice of 10 vie points, so I figure it's best to use physical attacks unless the enemy simply doesn't respond to them.
   
You navigate from screen to screen with the arrow keys, though it's sometimes hard to tell which ways are open. You basically have to try all of them.
    
Each character's vie score is a combination of hit points and stamina. Most actions--even failed actions, even trying to walk in an invalid direction--cause you to lose at least one point. Vie is replenished with food, drinks, and "antidotes" purchased on star bases. 
   
Most successful actions earn the character experience, which in turn increases the character's level. I'm not sure what leveling really does, but I assume it increases chances of success in actions and combat. If so, the effect is relatively subtle.
         
My pirate's character sheet, late in this session.
      
The overall goal of the game seems to be twofold. First, you have to amass enough funds in your planetary explorations to purchase détecteur on the starbase. I assume it detects the invisible planet. It costs 3,000 credits. You get this money by picking up anything not nailed down on every planet, then selling it back in the starbase. I made a little over 1,000 on Altair II, but some of that went to medicines.
 
The party pawns a couple of motorcycles in a bar.
        
The second goal seems to be to solve each planet's problem, which gives you a clue. As with Mandragore, solving the problem means picking up a quest object in one place and dropping it in another.
    
On Altair II, the post-apocalyptic biker gang turned out to be a bunch of interlopers on the planet. The natives were terrified and begging for help. In the bikers' bar, I found a "totem" that seemed to belong to the natives, and when I dropped it off on the final screen, I got the first clue.
         
"On the huge menu of the imperium . . ."
         
The second planet I found was odd. Before I could get to the planet, I had to break into a ship in orbit, or on the planet, or something. (A lot of this game involves visual interpretation of what's happening on the screen, and the graphics don't make this process easy.) On the first screen, removing a couple of grates brought me to a long tunnel, and into a computer room on the ship, where a crucifix was lying on the floor. From here, opening an airlock dumped me into what looked like a bar. I had to fight my way from room to room, usually having to open a door or grate (with many failed attempts) to progress.
   
I came into a jail cell where a woman labeled "pin-up" (NFI) was guarding two prisoners chained to the wall. After I killed the guardian, the prisoners told me to beware children. From there, I'm kind of stuck in the ship; I can't seem to find any valid direction to move, not even back to my own ship. I'm sure I'll figure it out eventually, but I ran out of time and thus had to submit this relatively short entry.
   
A pin-up girl, possibly wearing roller skates, guards two people chained to a wall.
      
So far, Oméga certainly doesn't disappoint as a French RPG--it's bizarre, nonconformist, and vaguely psychedelic. If it lasts less than 8 hours, it won't necessarily be a bad use of time.
   
Time so far: 3 hours

51 comments:

  1. I'm assuming The ____ Man is the common element of your party's names this time?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought since it worked for Omega, Planet, and Invisible, I'd go with the theme.

      Delete
    2. Okay, I know of the others, and looked up January Man, but who is Planet Man? The French Captain Planet?

      Delete
    3. That one is a bit more obscure, but The Planet Man was a radio adventure serial in the 1960s. I know it's thin. I would have loved if this game was called Oméga: Piano Invisible.

      Delete
    4. No Particle, Triangle, Person, or Universe Man?

      Delete
  2. Naxorg does seem an insipid name for a supervillain. I think I prefer it backwards (Groxan). Even the Rot13 version, Ankbet, is arguably as good.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe it sounds better in French

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    2. It would be pretty similar but the X would be more of a "gz" sound and most French words don't sound out the last consonant (special cases and words from borrowed from other languages notwithstanding). Na-gz-ahr with a rolling R? Never was good at pronunciation guides ;-p Less silly, I guess.

      Delete
    3. Naxorg does seem an insipid name for a supervillain. I think I prefer it backwards (Groxan).

      "Groxan / You don't have to put on the gred light"

      Delete
    4. My own surreal story with that song occurs when I was in basic training in 1990. I was on a bus with the rest of my platoon, coming back from a couple weeks in the desert, and I had my rucksack in my lap. This song comes on the radio, and I swear the guy is singing, "rucksack" repeatedly. I kept thinking, "this is too weird." It was years before I became aware of the real song and the other shoe dropped.

      Delete
  3. after reading that insurance report I find myself wondering if the lady was high when she crashed and high again when she responded to the insurance company...

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    Replies
    1. I was utterly making that up. My job wasn't reading crash reports. I was just trying to find an analog.

      Delete
    2. And a great analog it is! :)

      Seriously, this is one of the funniest couple of paragraphs I've read on your blog. If there's ever a CRPGAddict Netflix documentary, imagine this as an episode intro, narrated by Stephen Fry.

      Thanks for the laugh! ;)

      Delete
  4. These golden age french RPGs had too much imagination for the computers of that age.

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  5. "cométoïde, which I'm not sure how to translate, but it looks like a living comet."

    It was only as an adult that I finally learned, in a medical terminology class giving me a crash course in Greek and Latin, that the "-oid" suffix -- despite what decades of science fiction had prepared me for -- simply means "looks like the thing described in the prefix". "Sigmoid" means "looks like the Greek letter Sigma". "Humanoid" simply means "human-shaped". Cometoid? Your description hits the sweet spot.

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    Replies
    1. Asteroid means "star-like".

      Is -oid used differently in science fiction?

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    2. The "oid" suffix means "resembling," not necessarily in appearance alone. I would think that one is a living thing and the other is not is a big enough difference that "oid" doesn't quite cover it.

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    3. Granted, "it's a comet-person, DUH" is an answer that merely raises more questions, but they can be deflected in an ineffably French way. Ne kest-i-on pas mah genius level d'imagination!

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    4. So technically the Betazoids from Star Trek shouldn't look like humans, but like the second letter of the Greek alphabet

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  6. Buck, its valid use in SF (asteroids, androids etc.) gets diluted from extra-SF use (factoids... bits of information that only resemble facts?) and unrelated SF misuse relying on the SF sound of the suffix (fittingly, if you ever played Space Quest, you may have spent some buckazoids. How does a synthoid differ from an android?)

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  7. I think "Carte" actually means "map". As in "cartographer."

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    Replies
    1. 100% what it means in this context.

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    2. Yes, the caption was supposed to be funny.

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  8. Perhaps the "anise-flavored lollipop" is really supposed to be a piece of licorice?

    Kinda love the absurdity of a child hanging out in a bar, asking for candy from people *actively engaged in a deadly brawl*

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    Replies
    1. Aniseed-flavoured lollipops are a thing in France. Cf.:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_sucettes

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    2. Following that link was definitely instructive.

      You can count on the French for saucy double entendres.

      Delete
  9. "Kamikose" and "kamikuse" sound like "kamikaze", Japanese suicide bombers. Graphics require some interpretation, of course, but if those fighters are the guys in white, then they look like they could have been someone's idea of samurai armor - one even appears to be waving a sword.

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    Replies
    1. You're probably right, but I was hoping there was a better explanation.

      Delete
    2. I decided to throw those into a Japanese dictionary to see if they have any meaning, accidental or otherwise. Unsurpringly, the whole words brought up nothing, but splitting them in half I found out that "kamikuse" can translate to "divine vice". The other one's nonsense though, so I seriously doubt they intended for them to mean anything.

      Delete
    3. it's somewhere in the manual - they're Naxorg's stormtroopers who can teleport directly into your ship.
      NFI.

      Delete
  10. Almost every screenshot of this game looks like a dance party in progress!

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    Replies
    1. I scrolled back through the shots. Audible laughter was produced.

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  11. Sorry, I forgot to send you the files. Anyway, you already went past the point where I experienced the game-freezing bug, so I guess you have the working version.

    There is one WALKING DEAD SCENARIO, though. I will write it in rot13: Va gur Invffrnh Snagôzr (Cunagbz Fuvc), ubyq ba gb bar henavhz. Whfg yvxr va Znaqentber, gurer vf bar cynarg/qhatrba gung pna or fbyirq jvgu na vgrz sebz n qvssrerag cynarg/qhatrba.

    On Strategywiki.org I published a full translation of the game text. It might be useful. I also tried to render some French-language puns. https://strategywiki.org/wiki/Om%C3%A9ga,_plan%C3%A8te_invisible/Text_transcript_and_translation

    When you finish the game, please check out the walkthrough I wrote on Strategywiki.org . I tried to avoid puzzle-spoilers: I wonder if I did it well.

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    Replies
    1. Son of a bitch. I already sold them all. Does that really mean I can’t win, or just that I can’t finish one of the planets?

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    2. Just that you cannot finish one of the planets, and thus miss its "element" hint. Either you restart the game, or google the hint, or you guess it (this time, it is much more fair than Mandragore).

      Delete
    3. I might need a clue on finding the damned planet. I have the detecteur and the clues. I've found a circular patch inside the asteroid belt that seems promising. There's a base there. The clue suggests I should go forward ('north'?) three times and then right four, but nothing makes the planet show up, and hitting "P" does nothing. Have I misled myself?

      Delete
    4. According to an old European tradition, if you want to undo something, you should say its name backwards.

      Delete
    5. Are you giving me a hint for the right moment? I can't even find the planet. I even started over with the default party to ensure that I picked up all 6 clues, but that didn't work. I don't think finding the planet has anything to do with saying anything backwards.

      Delete
    6. Never mind--I got it. That's ridiculous. How would anyone have known to do that? Is there a hint I missed in the game somewhere?

      Delete
    7. That hint was nowhere in the game, I had to google the solution. This puzzle is at the same unfair level as Mandragore's "IN DEMONEM".

      Delete
    8. I recently replayed "Shadow of the Comet", a French graphic adventure from the early 90s.

      One puzzle has you selecting 4 chemicals out of 8, to develop some photographic plates you need to advance the plot.

      Nothing in the game or the manual gives you a clue of what the correct chemicals are: apparently, you were supposed to look it up (I imagine in your local library given the year of release).

      Adding to the fun, one of the chemicals was transated incorrectly from French...

      Delete
    9. Back then we still had to develop photographic images ourselves, so of course we knew. ;)

      Apart from that, it was a pretty neat adventure.

      Delete
  12. About some "NFI" moment:
    * The space map seems based on the sky as seen from Earth, therefore "North, South, East, West" refer to the sky coordinates from ou planet. It makes sense... a little bit... Anyway, it is weird that the Empire is supposed to be the size of the universe (about 90 000 000 000 light-years), but all the planets are related to stars within 250 light-years from the Earth.
    * "Kamikuse" and "kamikose" are puns on "kamikaze". How did they get on your ship? The backstory in the manual explains it: ship-to-ship teleport.
    * Anise-flavored lollipop? I think all the characters in those rooms are supposed to be children. Possibly a reference to the movie "Village of the Damned" (itself based on the novel "The Midwich Cuckoos").

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had to kill Lucie to get out of that room. It's nice to know she was a child. That really enhances the game.

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    2. I assumed all the human-like enemies on the Ghost Ship were ghosts or undead. So, the undead children were supposed to be creepy, talking childish and trying to kill you.

      Delete
    3. All Miss Universe winners were from a single planet.

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  13. This is a very moebius kind of scenario. French pop sci-fi was just.... extremely weird, I don't know why

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    Replies
    1. Surrealism had a profound impact on Francophone culture – both mainstream and counterculture.

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  14. That title screen looks as it's from the Amstrad CPC version (which, as a system, was more popular in France than the C64). Relatively high resolution (320x200), 4 colors (in this case, black, yellow, purple, and green), no ZX Spectrum-like color clash: it describes the CPC's "mode 1" perfectly.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe the sites did what I did--they couldn't find one for the C64 so they just grabbed one for another platform.

      Delete

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