Line on Sierra: Space Quest II
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
Unlike in Space Quest I, this planet has a much more open, exploratory structure that reminds me of King’s Quest. Space 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…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.”
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
And like, you say, that, but then you’re like
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Rope shenanigans: 3
Acid trap: 2
Fell from a thing (that’s all my notes say?!): 2
Was near a mushroom: 1
The horizon: 1
Eaten raw: 1
Going right left: 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