The control room. The gray-suited man lies face down by his chair. Roger lies in a mangled heap under the staircase leading up from the platform. Game text: "Well, Line, you've found one more way to snatch humiliation from the jaws of heroism."

Line on Sierra: Space Quest II

August 5, 2014 - Line On Sierra / Shenanigans

After a soul-sucking experience as a fussy cop who can’t drive, Line on Sierra returns to actual adventures in Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge! Since this is a Space Quest game, “adventure” means dying over and over in ludicrous ways. Thanks to advances in technology, I was able to make this a much more embarrassing experience than before.

White text against a starry sky background. Text reads: "As you will recall in our last chapter, you had just foiled the Sariens fiendish plot to rule the galaxy by using the Star Generator as their weapon of destruction. You became a hero by saving countless lives and returning the Star Generator technology into safe hands. Life Was Beautiful"

The game starts with a helpful recap of the previous game‘s plot, which I remember nothing of. I mean, this synopsis says nothing about getting shot or falling off a speeder, so it’s not surprising that it doesn’t reflect my experiences.

Heading into the sequel, I decided to try something new: streaming the game on my Twitch channel as I played through it. The whole thing is up on YouTube if you have that kind of patience! It turns out that parser-based adventure games are THE BEST TYPE OF GAME to stream. These games become ten times more enjoyable with a gang of friendly hecklers following your every move.

Screenshot of two lines from a Twitch chat. First line: "Actwon: Pixelsssssss" Second line: "Harumba: mpreeeeeg"

I realized something after finishing up the game: playing it on Twitch kinda helped recreate my childhood experience. When I say I played these games as a kid, it’s a little misleading. From what I remember, my mom was the one who actually sat at the computer and typed in commands. Me and my brothers would just sit around the computer and make suggestions / argue / get distracted. I tried to play by myself a few times, but mostly the games were too hard for me until I was older. When we’re talking about these 80’s-era games, I remember them as a group experience. Playing on Twitch brought those memories back a bit. I’m super grateful to everyone who joined in. Plus, having some extra heads in the game can be helpful! I mean, sometimes they tell me to jump off a cliff, but other times they have good ideas!

Old-fashioned pixel graphics show a man in a white spacesuit standing on the blocky exterior of a large pink spaceship. Game text reads: "The broom floats away, never to be used again. That makes the third one this week. Wait till your boss finds out."

Anyway, back to the game itself, which starts out with the traditional janitor jokes. Man, I dunno. This whole EVERYTHING LOW WAGE WORKERS DO IS HILARIOUS thing ominously foreshadows the future of game development culture.

Roger Wilco, a white man with light brown hair and a gray-and-purple uniform, stands in a cylindrical airlock lined with white spacesuits and a row of lockers. He walks towards a door.

After a nice little bit of zero-gravity navigation, I ended up in this room full of spacesuits and lockers. I immediately broke out into a cold sweat. I searched every inch of this mess for things I could pick up. I found a jock strap and some other stuff, because 80’s nerd humor. This sort of neurosis kept going through the next room, where I got kidnapped by the bad guy. At first this seemed like I had fucked up and gotten elaborately killed already, but then cutscenes happened and everything was okay.

A bald blue man in a gray space suit with some kind of breathing apparatus sits in a chair in front of a wall of screens and electronic equipment. He is scowling. A smiling man in a suit stands in a tube behind him.  Game text reads: "'My plan was to kill you, but I've had a change of heart. ha, ha, ha... Get it?' He peers down at the hoses portruding from his chest and connected to a life support system. 'Forgive me. I'm a kidder.'"

See? He’s not gonna kill me! I guess he’s the villain from the first game, but again, I remember very little of its actual plot. I think he’s implying that I horribly injured him? Man, I’m sorry! Almost as sorry as I am about that fucking cursor I left in the screen capture.

As in the first game, all this stuff is essentially a prologue; the game proper starts when I crash on a mysterious planet. That’s where things started killing me in earnest.

Roger stands in a forest next to a crashed, smoking hovercraft. A dead body lies face down next to him, and there is another dead body in the hovercraft. Input text: "what is beeping"

Unlike in Space Quest I, this planet has a much more open, exploratory structure that reminds me of King’s QuestSpace Quest I felt like a series of episodes in different locations, but II feels more like one big map with lots of backtracking.

It all starts out very similarly to SQI. I was in a shuttle thing, it crashed, I need to escape. When this happened at the beginning of the first game, there were dead desert screens to three sides of me, and only one direction that lead anywhere with objects. It was open, but in a guiding way. This planet has more of a maze-like feel. It’s not the orderly grid of Daventry: the surrounding bushes are used as invisible walls sometimes, and conceal paths at others. (Remember this for later.) Oddly, I never mapped this game. It took me a while to figure out where I could and couldn’t go, but once I did I found the layout easy to remember.

Anyway, one lesson I took from the original is to search this crashed hovercraft from every angle. This series continues to be remarkably gory, given the graphical limitations. It didn’t really help this time, so I took off.

The same forest scene, but there is now a hole in the ground on the right side of the screen. Game text: "Aaaghh! You fall to the bottom of a concealed pit. You might have survived the fall had you not come in contact with the several 30 centimeter long spikes planted vertically along the bottom of the pit."

This invisible hole that serves no purpose except to kill you when you forget it exists is pretty much Space Quest in a nutshell. I fell into it five times.

Another part of the forest. A small raised area in the background has a red, white, and blue mailbox on it. In the foreground, Roger lies face down on the ground next to some blue flowers. Input text: "am i dead?"

This is when things got a little more King’s Quest-like. I wandered the earth, putting objects in my inventory until I ran into a problem. Something distinctly Space Quest is the environment design, packed with depth and height. Sometimes it takes a little exploring to, say, get to the upper portion of this screen.

After some exploring I got to the “navigate a tiny deadly maze” portion of the game.  This time it’s a giant brain jellyfish that’s guarding some berries.

A clearing surrounded by bushes. The bush in the back is covered with red berries. In the center is a purple blob. Blue tentacles extend from it across the entire clearing, forming a narrow maze. Roger stands in the maze, wrapped up in a tentacle.

This is always a stressful part of any Sierra game. It turns out it’s EVEN MORE STRESSFUL with several people watching you die over and over and over. I think I lost some friends that night. Others did their best to suggest ways out of my dilemma.

Same scene. Roger stands in a different part of the tentacle maze. Input text: "pee on jellyfish"

In the end, I had to defeat this monster the old fashioned way: turning the speed down to a crawl and save scumming. I will be very excited when I get to the first game that doesn’t have a version of this. I remember QUITE vividly from my childhood that my next game, King’s Quest IV, will not reverse this trend. (Police Quest doesn’t count because driving.)

Once I had completed Operation Berrysnatch while crying on camera, I was at a loss for what to do next. I found a swamp…

A dark swamp surrounded by thick trees. Roger is just stepping into the water. Game text: "YUCKK"

…but swamp stuff ate me whenever I went in it. I couldn’t figure out anywhere else to go. Aliens on a hovercraft shot at me every few minutes. Every time I tried to look for a new exit it was all “The foliage here is too dense for you to pass through.”

Another part of the forest. Roger stands next to some truly enormous trees. Input text: "throw tantrum"

So, being the huge quitter I am, I went to the walkthrough. It turns out my next move was supposed to be the highly intuitive “RUB BERRIES ON BODY”.

The swamp. Game text: "You rub the berries all over your body. You now smell like a walking ammonia inhalant."

This lets me navigate the swamp! Of course! Let’s talk about adventure puzzle design.

I’m starting to get, in my head, a rough taxonomy of the types of adventure game puzzle that make me mad and why. Adventure puzzles make me mad when I feel like I literally could not have moved forward without the walkthrough, even after learning the solution. Of course, there’s a few different reasons this can happen.

Take the GET GADGET fiasco from Space Quest I. That’s a pretty straightforward parser-guessing issue. I would never have associated those two squares connected by a line with the word “gadget.” If I could have thought of a name for the object, I would have picked it up, and I would never have got stuck at the giant alien head. This is a type of messed-up puzzle that’s really specific to these old parser-based graphical adventures. Modern parser-based games – like interactive fiction games – are almost always text-based in both input and output. If you can see an object, you see what word the game uses to describe it. This issue was specific to the text input, graphical output hybrid form that was something of a historical anomaly (so far).

In other cases, the puzzle just demands a type of thinking that I can’t comfortably mimic. This was the problem throughout Police Quest. I don’t like thinking like a procedural cop, it goes against everything that is fun and pleasant for me, so every single step through that game was like pulling teeth. I think this is often what people complain about when they say adventure puzzles make no sense, but it’s not the most interesting critique, because it’s very individual. I imagine there are plenty of people who find the fantasy-and-folklore logic of King’s Quest as impossible to follow as I found Police Quest.

RUB BERRIES ON BODY has a little bit of that logic difficulty, but there’s something else: it introduces an invisible object. Ok, so, technically you can always see Roger’s body, yes. But it’s not a thing in your inventory, and it has qualities that make it feel less like part of the environment and more like an extension of your keyboard. It’s like a cursor. I would never think to include it in a command like that.

Anyway, now that I had broken the walkthrough seal, I figured I could start moving a little faster. I got to the other side of the swamp and tried to explore my surroundings. This proved as deadly as ever.

A forest scene. A row of large trees is in the center of the screen. Roger is not visible. Game text: "Intrigued with gravity, you take another terminal ride to solid ground. Watch your step, Line."

I noticed back in Space Quest I that the designers of this series are particularly fond of twisty, spatially complex screen layouts with lots of depth. The forest setting of SQII really let them go all out with this shit. Every screen is ringed with a few layers of bushes. Some conceal hidden exits, others are invisible walls. The screen above had a typical-looking horizon line which turned out to be the edge of a cliff. This game makes navigation as difficult as possible. Let’s return to that later. Right now, I’m getting captured and eaten by a lizard man.

A rocky area with a campfire in the middle and an open wooden cage at the right side of the screen, under a rocky overhang. A gray lizard-man sits by the fire, roasting Roger on a stick.

This is a timed puzzle. I’m in the cage for a set amount of time, and I need to find a way to disable my captor before he eats me. This proved an exciting opportunity for Twitch viewers to provide suggestions.

The lizard-man's camp. The cage is still closed and Roger is inside. The lizard-man sits by the fire. Input text: "barter for life with jock strap" Lizard-man's camp. Roger is in the cage. Input text: "train self in ninjitsu a la splinter"

These suggestions did not work, but I was touched by the spirit of teamwork and found the inner strength to escape. Fortunately, I had already picked up the magic item I needed to throw in the lizard man’s face.

Lizard-man's camp. Roger is out of the cage and the lizard-man lies face down next to him. Game text: "You search the large, not mention uncleansed, body of the hunter. There is nothing of interest unless tiny parasites do something for you.

IT’S FUNNY YOU SAY THAT BECAUSE THEY DEFINITELY DO!!

Now that I was free, all I had to do was leave this screen and be on my way! This immediately turned into a brain-jellyfish-sized fiasco. I could not find a way out. The Twitch viewers desperately tried to help me, each in their own way.

Lizard-man's camp. Lizard-man is knocked out. Roger stands on the other side of the camp. Input text: "BURN FOLIAGE" Lizard-man's camp. Lizard-man is knocked out. Roger stands next to him. Input text: "eat hunter" Lizard-man's camp. Game text: "I don't understand 'whiskey'" Lizard-man's camp. Roger stands by the fire. Input text: "burn self"

The answer, of course, is that the bushes in the north conceal a hidden exit and I’m just supposed to walk out like a normal person. Now that I look at the screenshot, it seems kinda obvious that there’s space between them! It’s fascinating that at the time I could not see that gap as an exit, not even a little. I kept thinking I needed to find a way to the ledge over the firepit. As you can see, many ideas centered around the fire, the one animated element of the scene. Just hide things in what looks like background and players will never see it.

Once I got out, I got shot at from a hovercraft a few more times and ended up in a little minigame interlude about swinging on a rope. Gotta have some minigame interludes! Then I got murdered by some small pink aliens.

At the bottom of the ravine. There is a cave opening to the left and a large pile of boulders in the middle of the screen. Two small pink aliens with big eyes stand on the boulders. Roger lies face down on the ground in front of them.

And got murdered by them again. And a couple more times. I kept trying to like, sneak by them by hugging the lower edge of the screen, but no dice. So, walkthrough. And wouldn’t you know it, it’s A RANDOM THING I WAS SUPPOSED TO DO WAY BACK AT THE BEGINNING OF THE GAAAAME

A forest area with one large tree in the center, with vines hanging from its branches. Roger stands by the tree, and a small pink alien stands on the opposite side of the screen looking at him. Game text: "Before disappearing through a tiny hole in the brush, the little creature gives you a long glance."

Oh boy. This is getting to be a thing, Space Quest. Turns out I was meant to encounter this alien friend hanging from a tree and rescue him, making his friends like me later on. Naturally, the tree was hidden behind some bushes that looked like a wall. So it goes. I started throwing a tantrum about having to replay the game, when someone in chat kindly pointed out that I should at least check if I could just backtrack in the map and trigger the event late. This worked, thank god, so the Twitch experiment paid off as far as I’m concerned.

This is a funny little thing. It’s like something from a movie plot: the hero helps someone out in Act I, and is rewarded with unexpected help with an impossible bind in Act II. If you encounter the impossible bind without the first step, it’s pretty unclear what’s happening! It reminds me of the other ways in which Space Quest feels a little more cinematic than the other Sierra games of this era. It wants to produce some typical comedy-adventure story beats, which leads to some awkward and interesting experiments.

After I made friends with the pink aliens and escaped their village I ended up in a cave maze. I was a little nervous about navigating a maze with an audience, so I started babbling about how whenever I’m in a maze in a game, I just always turn left every time, going left is the best, etc.

FUN FACT ABOUT ME: I cannot distinguish between right and left all that well?? My sense of direction is fine, but I can’t translate between directions and the words “right” and “left.” If I need to give someone directions or follow theirs I will usually take a wild guess and succeed 50% of the time. This was not one of the times I succeeded. After a confused Twitch viewer pointed out that I was turning right every time, I was so embarrassed that I fell off a cliff and died.

A dark underground cave with a winding river running through it. A waterfall at the end plunges into a deep-looking hole. Cartoony sound-effect text reading "AAUGGH!" emerges from the hole.

After escaping this harsh exploration of my minor neurological issues I made it to a weird structure that I thought I needed to sneak into, all stealthy-like. But it turns out this was more of a violence situation.

Roger crouches behind a bush facing a metallic tower structure. A guard stands on the structure, being hit in the face with something. Game text: "You cleverly use the athletic supporter to sling the rock at the guard. It makes serious contact with the side of his head. (We like the way you think.)"

And like, you say, that, but then you’re like

A close-up view of Roger sitting in a space shuttle cockpit. There is a joystick between his legs. Trees are visible outside the window. Game text: "I don't understand 'crotch'"

and I’m not sure we’re on the same wavelength at all.

I escaped the planet in a tedious flight simulator where the main challenge was guessing what all of the buttons were called. As usual, I was immediately captured by the enemy mothership. I ran around picking up objects and avoiding traps for a while, then encountered the story’s love interest.

Roger stands in a long, narrow corridor lined with what look like jail cells. At the left of the screen, a xenomorph-like alien with large red lips runs off.

This sexy xenomorph escaped from prison, kissed me passionately, and ran away. This turned out to be the most important thing that happened to me in the entire game.

A large control room with windows in the back showing a view of space. In the center is a raised circular platform with computer equipment surrounding its back half. In the center sits the bald man in the gray spacesuit, with tubes leading from him to the computer equipment. A yellow beam from the ceiling is zapping a Roger-shaped static cloud. Tubes filled with identical men in suits line the chamber.

I finally made it to the villain’s lair, which has some fun design going on. I guess his evil plan has something to do with unleashing the guys in tubes, who are used car salesmen, because 80’s nerd humor. I hate even looking at these things. They are anti-comedy. They are absorbing every funny joke I ever heard in my life.

Close-up view of some computer equipment: a keyboard, a large "OFF/ON" switch, and some green monitors. Two large pink tubes come out of the equipment. Roger, looking very small, is in a squished pile next to the tubes.

Thankfully, the villain immediately shrink rayed me and I had to go on a tiny adventure in his life support machinery! He squished me a bunch of times, but I eventually managed to shut down his organs. It was pretty dark! Tiny Roger had some cute animations jumping around on that keyboard, though.

Immediately after beating the boss, I fell off his diagonal staircase and died.

The control room. The gray-suited man lies face down by his chair. Roger lies in a mangled heap under the staircase leading up from the platform. Game text: "Well, Line, you've found one more way to snatch humiliation from the jaws of heroism."

This game really uses that “enter your name” field to the best possible advantage.

But LITTLE DID I KNOW that I was about to find an even more dramatic way to completely ruin my game! Upon exiting the boss’s lair, I ran around the ship a bit more looking for an exit. Before I found one, I suddenly and violently gave birth to a baby alien. Indeed, my sexy xenomorph friend had (obviously, in retrospect) knocked me up, which started a timer. After the timer ran out, the alien burst out of my chest and died.

Now listen, I had encountered the sexy alien QUITE some time before going through all the rigmarole about beating the villain and escaping his lair. Probably the fuckers set the timer to go off right around the time you got to the end of the game. It was late, only two brave souls were left on the Twitch channel, and god damn did I not want to have to repeat all that.

What followed was some of the tensest minutes of videogame playing I have ever lived through. I consulted the walkthrough for the fastest path to my destination and did my best to race the clock. I got all the way to the end, which involved some timing shenanigans to avoid a robot guard while sneaking into an escape pod. I flubbed the landing and died again. The third time through, I turned the processor speed to its slowest setting and made it, seconds and pixels away from death.

A narrow corridor lined with escape pods. A hamburger-shaped robot with legs faces Roger, who sits in one of the pods. The pod door is closing. Game text: "Upon entering the escape pod, you quickly take your seat."

It may have been less exciting because the graphics were clicking along at like five frames a second, but just think of it like I was diving into the escape pod in slow motion.

Roger sits in a small space shuttle which is flying towards the viewer against a starry sky backdrop. Game text: "PHEWWW!! You're going to have to stop cutting these escapes so close, Line."

True that! Immediately after getting in the escape pod I jumped into a stasis chamber. I think this means the next game is going to start with me landing on some planet, years from now, and an alien baby immediately bursting out of my chest. GAME OVER

THINGS THAT KILLED ME IN SPACE QUEST II: THE POWER RANKING, HOLY SHIT HOW IS THIS SO LONG

Jelly brain: 37 times
Hovercraft sniper: 8
Pink guys: 7
Robot friend: 6
Fell in a hole: 5
Cooked, then eaten: 4
Failing to hide: 4
Drowned: 3
Rope shenanigans: 3
Swamp: 3
Acid trap: 2
Fell from a thing (that’s all my notes say?!): 2
Mpreg: 2
Was near a mushroom: 1
Spores: 1
The horizon: 1
Eaten raw: 1
Whirlpool: 1
Going right left: 1
Pixelized: 1
Squashed like a bug: 1
Diagonal stairs: 1
Punched to death: 1
If your friends told you to jump off a cliff, would you? Yes: 1

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Comments

  1. Andrew Cole says:

    Oh my god, you are still so many games away from the Quest for Glory series and it is KILLING me.

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