Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Centauri Alliance: Black and Blue

The party finds a transporter. I guess that's a big deal in this universe.
To combat an insurrection or invasion, the agents of the Centauri Alliance have assembled the remnants of an ancient weapon called the Fractyr Fist (thus keeping it out of enemy hands), plus a suit of armor and a helmet. An Alliance officer sent us next to Tau Eridani for unknown reasons.
We got off the transport ship and entered the Alliance Headquarters on the planet. "Search the city for information or clues," the officer said, "and then travel to Veladron II and do the same. Enemy interest in that system has provoked great speculation."
I guess I'll start kicking down doors.
The spaceport itself was the typical 16 x 16 map with occasional battles. We left once to return to Lunabase for leveling. Other than the spaceport, the Alliance Headquarters, a medical bay, and an armory, there was nothing to find except an entrance to the Knave's Club [sic, probably], where my entry option was to S)eek Training.
What followed were the two best levels of the game so far. They were authentic fun, and I was glad I had pressed forward in a relatively (until now) blah game to experience them. The moment we entered, we got the instructions: We had to reach the end of the maze within a time limit, which turned out to be about eight minutes at 100%. If we failed, it said, we'd be returned to the entrance unharmed, but a character could only try 3 times and still receive the prize.
I took a save state at the beginning of the first level and returned to it every time the game timed out while mapping. It didn't occur to me at the time that I was cheating, but since I timed out way more than three times, I suppose I technically should have lost. This would have been very tough when the game was new. The first level requires you to navigate through a maze of teleporters and one-way walls to reach a specific teleporter. I don't know how you accomplish this without carefully mapping, but I timed out at least four times in this area alone.
The first level of the Knave's Club test, with a path through the teleporters.
Once you reach the correct teleporter, you find yourself in a long hallway with rooms off to the side. Entering any of these rooms triggers a riddle. This is the first one I got:
There are 3 ways of traveling between Lunabase and Kevner's World. By Passenger Carrier the trip takes 20 hours and costs 750 credits. A charter flight takes 10 hours and costs 1,000 credits plus 10 credits per passenger. Alliance starships are free but take 30 hours to get from Lunabase to Chronum, and 15 more hours to get from there to Kevner's World. If you are in a hurry to get to Chronum, your best bet is to begin your trip on:

1) Passenger Carrier
2) Charter flight
3) Alliance starship
I didn't really understand this riddle. The talk about credits must have been to confuse the player into thinking that the answer involved any variable other than time, but someone in "a hurry" just cares about time. Still, the game doesn't tell us how long it takes to get to Chronum by the first two options. I answered "Charter flight" assuming that if it's the fastest option to Kevner's World, it's probably the fastest option to Chronum. It also works if you have to travel using the methods listed here: the passenger carrier would be 20 hours to Kevner's World, then 15 from Kevner's World to Chronum, assuming the reverse trip is the same. The charter flight is only 10 + 15, which beats the 30 hours that it takes to go direct from Lunabase to Chronum on the Alliance starship.
A correct answer dumps you into an adjacent hallway, where you have to find another teleporter and then a stairway down to Level 2.
I have no idea what "turn at the third" meant.
Level 2 starts with a long corridor that spills out to an area with alcoves, each with part of a poem. A message as you enter tells you to "give the ancient his numeric request." The poem reads:

Beyond the one
Of venture's gate
Respect the lie
And doubt the straight

What's past is done
Like sudden hate
You'd best be off
Before you're late!

The hand of death
And sudden fate
Upon your head
Rests like a weight
The "ancient" is a grumpy old man sitting in the final alcove who wants the "terminal rhyme." I tried the ends of all the stanzas and got it wrong before I realized that the initial message had said to give him a numeric response. All the stanzas rhyme with eight, which was the correct answer.
The answer opened a door to a huge maze of 1 x 1 rooms, most with one-way doors. Again, I timed out maybe 5 times trying to map it all, but I don't know how you find your way without doing that. You have to make your way to a teleporter in the middle of the maze to reach one towards the end.
After that, a few more long corridors lead you to your reward: a couple thousand experience points and the opportunity for one character to learn one of three skills: alien biology, battle logic, or starship piloting. I thought that was an awfully mean thing to make me choose without any knowledge of what they do or how they'd be useful, but it turned out I could repeat the maze and get all three. I gave "Battle Logic" to Morella, "Starship Piloting" to Vir, and "Alien Biology" to Turhan.
I feel like all of these would take a long time.
I faced different riddles on the second two tries. Both required me to interpret a set of syllogisms, and they were relatively easy, but like the first one, they had a lot of unnecessary details. For instance, the first one read:
All agents who pass the Test carry lasers. None of the agents in the Alliance carries a laser or works for Daynab. If Renfrew passed the test, Jack works for Daynab. If these things are true, which one of the following MUST also be true?
I didn't have to get past the first option ("None of the Alliance agents have passed the test"). The parts about Renfrew and Jack were unnecessary.
The potential answers.
There were no battles in the Knave's Club, so after getting my rewards, I moved on to Veladron II. The Alliance officer there had nothing for me but a welcome, so I started exploring. The port had no armory, so when I ran low on ammunition, I had to go to other planets.
The only special encounter in Veladron II was a shuttle bay.  A sign read: "Alliance Shipyards. CAUTION: Wear vacuum suits at all times." I didn't have any vacuum suits, so I had to again leave to go buy some. When I came back to take a shuttle, I had three choices: Old Human Freighter, Manstrak Troop Carrier, and Arcturian Space Ship. I tried them all in order.
Why do I want to visit any of them?
Each option took me to a separate map shaped like a ship, with a large rear engine section tapering to a nose cone and, ultimately, a cockpit. The human and Manstrak ships both had ruined engines, as messages conveyed. I tried using my Manstrak's technical abilities to repair them, but that didn't seem to be an option. The aft sections were also highly radioactive and killed my characters in a few steps if I insisted on staying within them. Neither ship could be started up. I didn't know that my goal was to try to start a derelict ship. I wasn't even sure why I was exploring derelict ships.
This is the first time in the game so far that the map wasn't exactly 16 x 16.
Both ships had lots of battles with rats, for which I was grateful because I needed the experience. As we've previously discussed, combat is almost identical to The Bard's Tale II or Wasteland except that it takes place on a map of hexes. There are several maps, but they don't have anything to do with the actual terrain.
About 50% of battles start with at least one enemy party in melee range, which I prefer, because my melee character is terrifying. My back 4 characters do maybe 5-7 points of damage per single shot with their weapons. (I still have them armed with Berettas because they're the only ranged weapon I've found that will hit up to four hexes away.) My human, skilled in sidearms, does about 15-20 points to a group with his Uzi (but only from 2 hexes away or less). But my Donsai warrior does about 60-80 points of damage with her Keenedge Sword. It's mostly wasted; no single enemy has that many hit points. I really wish melee attacks worked on a group. The few "boss" enemies who have had nearly that many points start so far away that you'll kill your party trying to get into melee range.
Why couldn't I have hit two creatures once each?
Moving in general is extremely unbalanced. If you decide to move your party closer to the enemy, that's the only action you can take that round. The enemy gets a free salvo of shots, and if there are more than a few of them with ranged attacks, that's instant death. Meanwhile, if an enemy decides to move in combat, and he goes before any of your characters, all subsequent attacks are wasted because when you attack, you attack a hex, not a specific enemy. Why don't enemies have that problem?
Oddly, what I just said isn't true about NPC monsters who join the party. They even get to attack after the party moves. Early in this session, a Braktalian joined the party and proved curiously long-lived despite having only 10 hit points. He pops off a group damage ranged attack at the end of every round, and more than once, it made the difference. Even better, very late in this session, a "Fractyr Mech" joined me. He gets to attack multiple groups of enemies each round. They're worth the experience points they take from the rest of the party.
I had mentioned at the end of the last session that combat was getting harder. It started to get easier again as my two psionics acquired spells that targeted groups of enemies rather than just single enemies. I also had enough money that I could buy multiple shield belts in between missions and pump everyone's "Shield" value up. That kept me alive until late in this session, when enemies took a huge leap forward.
Andra softens up the rats for the rest of the party.
So the Human Freighter and Manstrak Troop Carrier were good only for that rat-based experience, but the Arcturian Space Ship--the smallest of them--had working engines. When I reached the helm, the game asked who I wanted to try to pilot it; I chose Vir, to whom I had given the piloting skills at the end of the Knave's Club test.
We started to move, but then Vir announced that there were no maneuvering thrusters. So all we did was move forward a bit, then crash land on Veladron's moon. 

Good thing we got those vacuum suits.
We exited the ship and poked around the moon until we found an entrance to "the airlock of what appears to be a room of ancient construction." We took an elevator down.
What if we hadn't ineptly crash-landed on this moon? That was a bit of serendipity.
The resulting four-level dungeon was easily the hardest in the game so far. The first level wasn't so bad. It just had a few teleporters. But starting on the second level, our psionic abilities didn't work. That meant no healing, no light (after the most recently-cast spell wore off), and no use of SPSEN to identify our location. 
The game knows damned well that it's not going to work later, either.
It wasn't long before I was mapping in the dark. Level 2 had a bunch of corridors in concentric rings that spilled out into a long north-south corridor with multiple squares that sapped psionics, then stunned the character if psionics got below 0. Even if I cast light spells just before going downstairs from Level 1 to Level 2, they ran out while I waited for my psionic points to regenerate in between those traps. Those traps have to be the worst aspect of the game.
To make it worse, enemies starting on this level were much harder than anything I faced so far. They were capable of as much melee damage as my own melee character, and they often killed my characters in a single round. I had to reload so many times it was shameful. The only good news is that the few battles that I won were worth a lot of experience.
I pushed forward on Level 3, mapping by sound alone (the game makes different tones when you move forward, go through a door, or run into a wall). There were a couple of squares on this level that auto-healed, which was nice. I reached a stairway down before I'd mapped more than 25% of the level, so I forced myself to finish it, which turned out to be a good thing. In the north-central area was a single square with a switch. It opened a door to a central area, ringed by psi-draining squares, in which I found "strange globes of power" hovering over " a table of seamless black metal."
Any character had an option to put all his items on the table. Most of them had all the items melt before their eyes. For some of them, "some of the items glow with a dull blue light, but nothing seems to happen." Those characters had pieces of the Fractyr Fist. I reloaded and moved all the pieces to Morealla, then had her use them on the table. It told me that "the fingers and palm are knit together in a fantastic interplay of pyrotechnic energy." When it cleared, only a Fractyr Fist remained.
I assume the fingers aren't knit together, or this is a Fractyr Mitten.
Eager to try it in combat, I gave it to Morella. Do you know what it turns out to be? A melee weapon. That's it. It still targets only one enemy, not at range, but now doing 120-130 points of damage, which is about 100 more than any enemy requires. It has no special abilities that I can find. This has caused an intergalactic war? A particularly powerful set of brass knuckles?
I went downstairs to Level 4, where my psi powers were still infuriatingly blocked. I did my best to feel out a map, but the level had teleporters, and without any way to determine where I'd ended up, I soon lost patience, broke down, and looked at a map in Shay Addams's Quest for Clues III. Somehow, looking at a hint in an era-specific hint guide feels less like cheating than using a modern one. It got me through the level, minus about a million reloads for battles that didn't go my way.
Eventually, I reached a holographic message from a long-dead alien race. They looked human but either wore blue racoon masking around their eyes and on the pates of their skulls or their skin had that natural color.
Long forgotten, our civilization has only left the barest traces of a once mighty people. Focused inward upon ourselves, we have learned that any true power must come from without. So we have left these places, in search of a Greater Being than ourselves. Our legacy to lesser civilizations is such outposts as this, and the knowledge that a greater truth does, in fact, exist. Oh, by the way, you are now given an item to facilitate your exit from this place. Well done, friends and fellow seekers.
I think your legacy is going to be that gimp mask you're wearing.
The item was a "Mattermit Pass."  The face popped up again later in the level:
Our greatest technology of all has been the ability to immediately transmit matter across vast distances of space. Using a special loophole in relativity theory, we have developed a method of instantaneous travel with little energy expenditure. While much of this technology has been stripped from this place, our mattermission facilities remain. Use them wisely, and one day, such technology will bring you to a great appreciation for the vastness of the created cosmos.
I'd do anything to get out of this darkness.
We had a chance to use the pass when we came upon an elevated platform and had options for blue, red, and yellow. I chose blue, and we found ourselves in an unfamiliar starport. The game also mentioned we had received experience bonuses. We explored nearly the entire starport map--which had no Alliance HQ, no armor, and no medical bay--before we found the starport and received indication that we were on Keppa Var, the forbidden planet. Unfortunately I couldn't find anything to do there. The only special encounters were 1) an ancient shrine, where the only thing to do was to read the message, "You have apparently entered an ancient shrine"; and 2) a hatch in the floor that wanted a password I don't have.
I blasted off, took the shortest route back to Lunabase, leveled up, and refreshed my gear. At the Alliance HQ, I got an "INVASION ALERT!" and was ordered to go to Epsilon Indi, so I guess that's next.
At least I can punch whoever's invading!
Aside from mapping in the dark, I enjoyed this session. The game kicked it up a notch in quality and distinguished itself from its Bard's Tale roots with cool levels and memorable puzzles. I feel bad about calling it "sad" last time. It's an honest effort that succeeds more than it fails, and if it looks and feels a little old . . . well, when has that ever been a problem on this blog?
Time so far: 18 hours
Playing out of: Duty giving way to enjoyment.


  1. I regret to inform you that the mask and cap on the green-skinned long-dead alien's face are, in fact, purple.

    I do wonder if there was supposed to be a way to *not* have to do that whole thing in the dark...though the fact that the levels had full-heal squares suggests that they were at least expecting you to be doing them without full access to your psionics.

    1. This might sound a little too futuristic, but hear me out...
      what about carrying flashlights?

    2. "Everyone is so dependent on their light-giving psionic powers that nobody makes flashlights anymore" seems appropriately realistic and futuristic. Maybe someone will make an RPG set in an apartment building filled with smart homes, where you have to go on long quests to find ways to open doors that the smart home company didn't ship with knobs.

    3. Hey, there was a movie with exactly that plot starring Willem Dafoe, let me check...

      'Inside' (2023, V. Katsoupis). I'd reckon they'd still build flashlights into their space suits in whatever how far developed and psionic sci-fi setting, because that makes supreme sense (space being dark, and so on...).

  2. I never played this game, but from similar dynamics in Bard’s Tale 2, you might try to find a non-psionic source of light. Are there lamps or torches in this game?

    1. The only things I've found are welding torches, which I thought provided light, but they didn't work in these areas.

    2. Keeping you blind in a maze seems deliberately hostile to the player in a way that we rarely see anymore, thankfully. What if you were deaf and couldn't hear the sound cues?

  3. Some nice anti-riddles in there, 0/10 points, moving on...

  4. Personally I love using period appropriate guides, I keep a ton of scans of guides and magazines to turn to when I want help... plus a GameFAQs archive but that's a bit less appropriate for this era

  5. This was an interesting read - again. May be I should give a chance this game. If I could stand the emulator.

  6. Black and Blue? Wasn't it White and Honey-Yellow, though? :D

  7. With each post, it looks more and more like a very solid game with very solid sci-fi credentials (as of late 80es). Too bad it didn't get ported to the PC, so it had very little long-lasting influence.

  8. I think that the "redundant" riddles may have several variations of the question that would produce a correct answer, which is why not all information is used.

  9. It seems almost impossible to win the maze challenge fairly. What happens if you fail it? If you can't get the Spaceship Piloting skill, can you even get to the other dungeon coming from the Arcturian ship? This seems like you would be missing a huge amount of the content!

    1. Each character can attempt it three times, so if you fail it three times, you probably have to roll up a different character. You could also quit without saving and try again; the game doesn't save to the roster disk unless you do so manually or if you're outside of a dungeon.

    2. But would the game really become unwinnable this way? It seems cruel to hide an essential Piloting Skill behind a seemingly "optional" trial.

    3. I don't know. I should have tried piloting the ship with someone who hadn't received the training.


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