Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Centauri Alliance: Medieval Times

Ignoring the first line, that's a decent bit of iambic octameter.
I realized during some recent session that the opening cinematic has more text than I noticed before. When it got to the credits, I assumed it was over, but it had more to say. Here's the full thing:
In the year AD 2214, in the system Alpha Centauri, six races formed a historic alliance. Their dream: Peace throughout the galaxy. Today, less than three decades later, that dream has become a living reality.

Mysterious events are occurring on the far fringes of Alliance space. Rumors filter back of a mutinous Donsai officer gathering a force of renegades . . . an Alliance armory is looted . . . a border patrol vanishes. Most disturbing, arms dealers report uneasily that components of the legendary Fracytr Fist have surfaced in the black market. In the hands of Alliance enemies, the Fist would post an incalculable danger.

I thought I already had all the components.
Whatever the cost, you must quell the rebellion and prevent any part of the Fist from falling into hostile hands.

In-game, I've heard nothing of this renegade officer. The faction trying to find the first has been given as the Daynab Confederation. We wound the four fingers and the thumb of the Fractyr Fist in the dungeons of Omicron VII, and we learned that the palm was somewhere on Andrini.
As this session began, I arrived on Andrini. Like Omicron, the planet consisted of a starport and two dungeon levels. The starport had an Alliance HQ and an armory, but no medical bay, so when I was wounded, I had to have my body-focused psion cast INSHL ("Instant Heal") and wait for his spell points to regenerate.
"Rumors of the Fractyr Palm are widespread," I was told at Alliance HQ. "Exercise extreme caution." That wasn't much help. I ran through the area with the automap, then descended to the dungeon level, which was dark. I had to cast my mind-focused psion's NITST ("Night Sight") to see, which the game depicts as the word "Light" surrounded by flames, one of many ways that the interface signals that it was intended for a fantasy game.
Undead and beholders are another one.
Combats came along regularly. They are so boring, but I don't try to flee from them because fleeing fails at least half the time, giving enemies a free round to riddle you with bullets. For the same reason, I rarely try to move the party in combat, because that's all you can do that round. My lead character is fierce with a melee weapon, but advancing under enemy fire isn't worth it; it's best to have her use a pistol unless enemies start in melee range or they move themselves there.
For most combats, I just unload with my 9mm weapons. My two psions will get some good mass-damage spells later, but for the time being, their pistols outperform their psionic attacks.
Fairly early on the first level, I wandered into a "crowded room filled with guards." Someone yelled that I was there to "steal the Palm," and they attacked. It was the toughest battle in the game so far, with seven men armed with machine guns. Three of my characters started the battle with empty magazines. The enemies killed two characters in the first round. I reloaded the game, reloaded my guns, and tried again, this time also lobbing a grenade at them. I found a Yellow Badge on one of them when they died. 
Who are these guys? Humans?
Some time later, in an alcove, I found a pile of papers on a desk. One of them included a note: "The complete suit was lost on KW. Raiding parties are on their way to Chronum. The real Palm is hidden behind the impostor." There was a pen with which I could write a note, but I didn't know of anything to write, so I declined. "KW" must be Kevner's World. Now it's not just a fist but a whole suit?
The only way down to Level 2 was by falling through the rotting timbers in an abandoned mineshaft, which I did accidentally. The Fractyr Palms--one real, one fake--were hidden in the southeast corner, protected by two energy fields. One of them halved our hit points when we walked through it. The other simply blocked us.
I'm not quite sure what this image is attempting to depict.
I had to find a generator in the southwest corner and shut it down. I believe there was a technical skill check involved. We then made our way to the Palms, each guarded by a robot. The message above had said the real one is "behind" the fake one, and indeed both of them were in adjacent squares, but I still don't know which one is real and which is fake.
Who needs electricity when you have a "Light" spell?
Some scratchings on a wall said: "When you get the chance, write 'ORACLE.'" We found stairs up to Level 1 (a hidden area with a one-way door leading back to the main part of the level). We went back to the desk we had seen previously and wrote ORACLE in the notebook. This somehow caused a door to appear on a nearby wall. Behind it was an old man. He said he'd identify equipment, but he didn't have anything interesting to say about any of our things.
I'd love to know the mechanism by which writing in a paper notebook causes a door to open.
We also had the option to feed him a keyword. I chose a random word. "You'd better bring me the word from Tonka's," he said. I don't know what that means.
I brought the party back to the surface and to the spaceport so we could return to Lunabase and level up. On the way to the academy, we stopped at the Alliance HQ. "Go IMMEDIATELY to Chronum," the Alliance officer said. I disobeyed orders to level up first, then returned to the starport.
Maybe that's just his way of telling us to get out of his office.
We flew to Chronum without knowing why. Nothing got any clearer when we arrived; the officer in the Alliance HQ there just said, "Welcome to Alliance Headquarters."  The starport had an armory, a medical bay, and not much else. I wasted a bunch of time mapping the rest, but I guess that's been true of every map so far. There was only one square of interest, in the center of the map, that said: "The reactor is sealed off. No one can enter from here." Maybe I didn't go "immediately" enough.
Having found nothing on Chronum, I wasn't sure what to do next. I returned to the starport and decided to go to Kevner's World to see if I could find that "complete suit." The manual notes that Kevner's World is the home of a "humanoid civilization caught in an era resembling Earth's medieval period." Their psionic abilities "have been mistaken for magic and spellcasting." Enemies on the planet seemed like characters and monsters from The Bard's Tale: hunters, paladins, orcs, mages, bards, and dragons. One of the weapons I looted was a Dragonsword. You have to wonder why Michael Cranford didn't just produce another fantasy RPG.
Living the dream.
On Kevner's World, the Alliance Headquarters, starport, armory, and medical bay were all in the same 2 x 2 building. In the rest of the 16 x 16 map, there were only two things to find. The first was Tonka's Tower, the home of the "Great Wizard Tonka Og." A magic mouth wanted my name for admittance, but when I gave it, it said, "Sorry, I don't know you," and kicked me out. I also tried ORACLE and TONKA to no avail.
The second area was the entrance to Zentek's Fortress in the southwest. There was no magic mouth here, so I entered. 
Level 1 was relatively linear, with three branches that each led to switchback mazes. At the end of a corridor was a skeleton whose former host had written something about assembling "the penultimate words from the magic clues."
You guys are taking this medieval theme too far.
Another branch ended in a computer terminal which let me input words. I tried various keywords to no avail, although it did seem to recognize ZENTEK. 

Level 2 led me to three magic mouths, each with a phrase:
  • "I smell a rat behind the spot where Zentek sat."
  • "A foe so far that never could we ever spar."
  • "The game's the thing wherein you feel the deadly sting."
A fourth magic mouth asked for a password, which I didn't have. I did note that ZENTEK is the penultimate word of the first phrase, so I figured the computer on the first floor wanted the words ZENTEK, EVER, and DEADLY. The problem was, I couldn't find any way to get back up to the prior floor. There were no stairs going back up at the location where I had arrived--and without the password, there was no way forward. I don't know whether that's a bug or whether I missed something. Either way, I looked up what would have happened had I fed the three words into the computer. I would have gotten the password: NAVATH. I used it to open the way to the next level.
I should mention that by this point, I'd acquired a couple of allies. First, I found a genie bottle at the end of a battle with some half-orcs. Using it summoned a genie to fill a party slot. Then a vampire asked to join the party. Both of them have powerful magic attacks if they can get close enough.
How does this look different from a vampire desiring to eat my party?
Level 3 was linear, but confusing enough that I mapped it manually. There were a lot of teleporters that sent us on one-way trips between individual sections of the map. It culminated in a long eastern corridor full of squares that drain health and psionics. The damage done by both can be undone by simply waiting for spell points to recharge and casting healing spells, but psionic ones come with a twist: If a character gets to 0 psionic points, he becomes stunned, a condition that (I think) is only fixable by visiting the medical bay back in the starport. 
My map of Zentek's fortress.
The end of the level had two special encounters. The first was a message that said Tonak's middle name was BUNT.
The second was an encounter with Zentek himself, wearing the Fractyr Suit. It took me about 6 reloads to defeat him. He was capable of some devastating magic spells, plus he could summon "stone men" which themselves had powerful magic and could kill characters with one hit in melee range. Vir was out of commission from the psi-draining squares; there was no way to avoid them or save him. Ultimately, genie and vampire were crucial in the successful battle. I ended up losing the vampire anyway.
That's quite a pose, Big Z.
Killing Zentek got me the Fractyr Suit. I had to go back through the psi-draining squares and health-draining squares to find the exit; fortunately, it teleported me back to the first level, two steps away from the stairs to the starport. I visited the medical bay and got everyone healed, then took a ship to Lunabase so I could level up. 

Back to Kevner's World, where TONKA BUNT OG got us past the magic mouth and into Tonka's fortress. 
I spent too long trying to find an anagram in here.
Tonka's place was two levels. On the first, we found a message that said: "Directions: Inverted logic . . . visit the three sequentially." This seemed to refer to three squares on the east side of the map, each of which contained a message. I didn't write down two of them exactly, but they were something like this:

  • "The hand reaches for the sword."
  • "The sword clears the sheath."
  • "The blow is struck."
Thus, I had to visit the squares in that order to tell the story and open the teleporter to the next level.
Arriving on Level 2, I was greeted with a message from Tonka. The long and annoying level only had two things. One was a message that: "The secret is contained in KNLAKRA." The other was an encounter with Tonka, wearing a Fractyr Helm. This encounter came at the end of a very long passage in which every other square had a psion-draining effect. If there's some way to protect against these, I haven't found it. Even resting for long periods along the way, I couldn't make it to Tonka's door without Morella getting stunned.
What kind of a name is "Tonka," anyway?
Tonka was about as hard as Zentek, which means it took a lot of reloads and my genie did much of the heavy lifting. Half of my success in difficult battles comes down to enemies making stupid decisions for multiple turns in a row, such as trying to use psi attacks with limited range when we're too far away. We finally got lucky with a sequence of those, killed Tonka, and took the helm.
Back at the Alliance headquarters on Kevner's World, the representative told us information might be waiting for us on Tau Eridani. But we went to Lunabase first to level up. It really is quite annoying that we have to do that. Then we returned to Andrini to feed that weird keyword to the Oracle. All he said was, "Why didn't you say so in the first place?" I have no idea what that accomplished.
Because it's a nonsense word that means nothing?
Combat is getting a little harder, so I probably need to take some time to grind a few levels, perhaps exploring some skills that I haven't been prioritizing. I also keep finding items with charges, but rather than taking the time to figure out what they do, I've mostly been selling them. 

At this point, I've explored about one-third of the worlds, so I guess I'm about one-third done. I haven't been able to find the right words to describe what it's like to play this game. It's not bad--it's about as much fun as The Bard's Tale--and some of the puzzles and navigational challenges are okay. There's just a general sense of cluelessness about the thing. If this were a shareware game, I'd call it "spunky," but it came from Michael Cranford and Brøderbund. It doesn't seem to be winking at its own obsolescence; indeed, it seems to be convinced that it's actually a good game. It so earnestly repeats things that worked well in a previous era, and it shows no awareness of anything else that happened during the intervening period, like Might and Magic or Dungeon Master or Pool of Radiance. It feels a little sad, frankly.
But I'll stick with it and see how it goes. Maybe there are surprises on the other worlds.
Time so far: 11 hours
Playing out of: Still duty, like the kind of duty that forces you to read your 11-year-old son's "novel" even though it's full of cringe.


  1. I'm not ROT13ing the first couple of because you are past them.

    "The only way down to Level 2 was by falling through the rotting timbers in an abandoned mineshaft,"
    If you have the Yellow Badge in your posession, a door wirh a less traumatic access to L2 does become available in NE of L1.

    "Maybe I didn't go "immediately" enough."
    Correct. I originally did the same as you and in doubt I reloaded an earlier save, and indeed you are thrust in a mission involving the reactor melting down on Chronum, if you go there "immediately". I can't say if there is any effect on the main story or not, but I would guess not, since I don't remember getting anything more than experience out of it.

    "If a character gets to 0 psionic points, he becomes stunned, a condition that (I think) is only fixable by visiting the medical bay back in the starport."
    N CP Grpuavpvna jvgu gur Ovb fxvyy jvyy erpbire fghaarq punenpgref, nygubhtu vg'f cerggl zhpu gur bayl guvatf gurl ner tbbq ng, fvapr urnyvat vg'f fb rnfl

  2. "The problem was, I couldn't find any way to get back up to the prior floor."

    Maybe you need a MALE?

    1. It really looks like an intended softlock, happening if the player does not give the correct puzzle answer.

    2. Maybe you need a MALE?

      Is that a quote from The Tracksuit Owner's Guide to Seduction?

    3. Nah, it's Major Levitation from Bard's Tale.
      Word on the streets in Skara Brae is that when the greybeards of the magic guild cast a MALE and it fizzles it's known as a FEMALE.

  3. Have you tried the Oracle identify equipment after feeding him the word?

    1. Yes. I didn't experience anything. Maybe I just gave him the wrong equipment.

  4. I'm not quite sure what this image is attempting to depict.

    I suspect I've missed a joke somewhere, but I see a hexagonal corridor with a fuzzy field type thing blocking it.

  5. The closed fist on the second screenshot seems suspiciously similar to the House Steiner emblem from the Battletech universe.

  6. Tonka is used as familiar form of female name Antonia in Croatia,and probably other south slavic languages

    1. And they made popular toy trucks back in the day... not sure if they are round.

  7. "A little sad"

    I think you did find the right words to describe this :-)
    Like you said, not actually terrible, but just like an aging band that had a couple of hits and is stuck peddling them forever, with ever diminishing returns. And credibility.

  8. Who are these guys? Humans?

    From the color of their shirts, and their helmets, I think they are Commander Keen's parents. Just saying.


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