Planetfall

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Planetfall
Planetfall cover art
Developer(s) Infocom
Publisher(s) Infocom
Designer(s) Steve Meretzky
Engine ZIL
Platform(s) Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, Apple II, Apricot PC, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodore 64, CP/M, DEC Rainbow, Kaypro II, Macintosh, NEC APC, Osborne 1, MS-DOS, TI-99/4A, TRS-80.[1]
Release date(s) Release 20: July 8, 1983
Release 26: October 14, 1983
Release 29: January 18, 1984
Release 37: October 3, 1985
Solid Gold: May 31, 1988
Genre(s) Interactive fiction
Mode(s) Single player
Distribution 3½" or 5¼" disk

Planetfall is a science fiction interactive fiction computer game written by Steve Meretzky, and the eighth title published by Infocom in 1983. Like most Infocom games, thanks to the portable Z-machine, it was released for several platforms simultaneously. The original release included versions for the PC (both as a booter and for DOS) and Apple II. The Atari ST and Commodore 64 versions were released in 1985. A version for CP/M was also released. Although Planetfall was Meretzky's first title, it proved one of his most popular works and a best-seller for Infocom; it was one of five top-selling titles to be re-released in Solid Gold versions including in-game hints. Planetfall utilizes the Z-machine originally developed for the Zork franchise and was added as a bonus to the "Zork Anthology".

The word planetfall is a portmanteau of planet and landfall, and occasionally used in science fiction to that effect.

Plot[edit]

The game starts with the user assuming the role of a lowly Ensign Seventh Class on the S.P.S. Feinstein, a starship of the Stellar Patrol. Overbearing superior Ensign First Class Blather assigns the player to mop decks, not exactly the glorious adventures promised by the recruiters on Gallium. In the diary provided in the "feelies", the player is on the verge of deserting ship. But a sudden series of explosions aboard the ship sends the player scrambling for an escape pod, which eventually crash-lands on a nearby planet. There are signs of civilization, but curiously no traces of the beings that once lived there. Eventually encountering a helpful but childlike robot named Floyd, the player must unravel the mysteries of the single deserted structure on the planet, Resida, and find a way to get back home. As the fate of the planet's former inhabitants becomes clearer, a time limit also imposes itself.

The adventurer does not remain on S.P.S. Feinstein for long. Talking to the alien ambassador and performing the assigned task of scrubbing the floor don't accomplish much. Wandering to other parts of the ship merits demerits from Blather and an ultimately fatal run-in with the Brig unless the player returns to work. Soon, an explosion occurs and an escape pod door opens. The pod safety netting breaks the player's fall and an escape kit is produced, which proves critical to survival. With great exertion, the adventurer swims out of the pod and climbs up to a mysterious deserted base.

By putting together various clues, slowly the player realizes that the nearly uninhabited island is in fact one of the last remaining landmasses on a planet on the verge of destruction. A deadly plague for which no cure existed threatened to kill off all inhabitants of the world. The inhabitants initiated a planetwide project to place everyone under suspended animation while automated systems of robots and computers worked towards finding a cure. Once the cure was found, the inhabitants could be revived.

By the time the player arrives, it is clear that the project is on the edge of success, but the planet itself is on the verge of destruction. The planetary orbit has decayed, leading to massive global warming and an enormous rise in the oceanic levels. Meteorites bombard the planet with ferocious intensity, and the project to find a cure for the plague is itself threatened by the failure of the main computer and repair systems.

Early on in the game, the player finds what at first appears to be the only remaining inhabitant of the island: Floyd, a childish yet endearing robot. He is both a constant source of comic relief (e.g. "Oh, boy! Are we going to try something dangerous?" when the player saves the game in his presence), and also critical in advancing the plotline. Once Floyd realizes that the ProjCon repair robot (aptly named Achilles) is non-functional, and that the Project is close to completion, he performs the ultimate sacrifice and gives his life to retrieve the vital Miniaturization Card from the Bio-lab. As Floyd lies dying, the player sings the "Ballad of the Starcrossed Miner" to him (itself an allusion to the earlier Infocom game Starcross).

The adventurer then uses the Miniaturization Booth to access malfunctioning Relay Station #384 and repairs the main computer by removing an offending speck of dust with a laser. After defeating a giant microbe, the adventurer is informed that the primary Miniaturization Booth is malfunctioning and is rerouted to the Auxiliary Booth. Unfortunately, this puts a room full of mutants between the player and the endgame.

With a biomask and the help of the Laboratory's poison gas system, the player makes it through the Bio-lab but emerges with the mutants on his tail. However, the adventurer makes it to the Cryo-Elevator which is hidden behind a mural. The elevator takes the adventurer to a secret room where the survivors of the infection were cryogenically frozen, just as the entire facility staff is reanimated by the antidote discovered by the ProjCon Computer. The adventurer is proclaimed a hero, Floyd is repaired, and Blather is demoted.

This cannot all be accomplished in just one day. The adventurer must sleep in a Dormitory each night and eat when nature calls. Taking more than a few days causes the adventurer to succumb to the infection which apparently has ravaged the facility unless the antidote is obtained at the underground site. But even taking the antidote only buys a little time as the planet's water level is rising. To achieve the optimum ending, the adventurer also must repair the three Planetary systems: the Communications System, the Planetary Defense System, and the Course Control System.

Reception[edit]

Softline stated that "the puzzles are good; the character of Floyd is great". The magazine stated that the "game is excellent", but criticized the ending as "unabashed adolescent wish fulfillment ... more like a fairy tale".[2] In 1984 the magazine's readers named the game the tenth most-popular Apple program of 1983.[3] Computer Gaming World called Floyd's role as sidekick "unique" and hoped that future games would add such innovations. It stated that Planetfall was "another excellent adventure" for text-adventure fans, and a good place to start for those new to interactive fiction.[4] Creative Computing wrote that Planetfall "is as remarkable, funny, perplexing, and entertaining a game as you are likely to find anywhere." It praised Floyd as "the most imaginative and cleverly written part of the entire game, Floyd, besides being hysterically funny through most of the adventure, evokes in the player of Planetfall authentic feelings of affection and attachment."[5]

Planetfall has been described as "still lovingly remembered",[6] and parts have been described as "transcendent",[7] including Floyd's death. Meretzky claims that "numerous players" have told him that they cried over the death of Floyd.[8] Softline wrote, "You don't feel like this very often. Maybe after you've read Charlotte's Web. Maybe when they shot Bambi's mother. Maybe when Raskolnikov got religion in the Siberian slave labor camp. But this scene is from a computer game. A game!"[9] A game developers round table on GEnie concluded that Floyd's death was a sad moment that could make someone cry.[10] Floyd's death has been described as directly evoking the player's emotions because the story and gameplay are aligned.[11] The death of Floyd has been described as changing the game to an "evocative theatrical experience" after which "the player feels lonely and bereaved." [12] The memory of Floyd's death remains with players for years and is remembered as a direct experience.[13] Floyd's death "convey[ed] a sense of wonder at the unexpected and touching quality of the gesture."[14] The scene has been described as a minor milestone toward video games as an expressive narrative art. [15] Game designer Raph Koster feels that Floyd's death is "cheating" because it occurs in a cut scene.[16]

Notes[edit]

  • Planetfall was designated in Infocom's rating system as a "Standard" difficulty game.
  • If a player saves the game in Floyd’s presence, he will say, "Oh, boy! Are we gonna try something dangerous now?" [17]
  • Whereas in traditional Zork games the battery power of the lantern is the limiting factor, Planetfall replaced this element with the somewhat more realistic requirement that the player sleep and eat regularly (previously done in the Infocom game Enchanter). In addition, unless the player takes steps to counteract its course, he will become progressively sicker, requiring sleep more often, and eventually die from the plague which infects the previous inhabitants of the planet. The requirement that the adventurer complete the puzzles while returning to the dormitory each night makes the game more difficult, in a way, than the infinite-day format of Zork. (Not all the puzzles can be solved, and determining which ones were impossible, was one challenge of the game.)
  • The concept of a NPC sidekick (Floyd) was also new for Infocom games. Floyd would follow the player from location to location and interaction with him was required in order to complete the game.[17]
  • Reaction to Floyd's in-game death was hailed at the time as a telling sign of the emotional power of Infocom's games. Many players, it was widely reported, wept openly at the scene of Floyd's "death". Apparently, it was previously unthinkable that "a simple game" could move people to such a degree.[17]
  • The success of this game inspired a sequel called Stationfall. The 1987 sequel once again incorporated a revived Floyd, but in a slightly less prominent role. Stationfall was much more grim in tone than Planetfall, and did not sell as well as the more light-hearted original.[17]
  • There are some striking similarities between the concepts of Planetfall (1983) and Space Quest (1986): The protagonist is a space janitor; his ship is destroyed/disabled and he must escape; he crash lands on an alien world and must find a way to escape; and the tone of the game is more humorous than serious.
  • On Resida, the language is English, but spelled with a reformed orthography somewhat resembling that for Dutch. One of the orthography's most notable features is the use of "x" as a thorn, i.e., to spell the "th" sounds (/θ/ and /ð/).
  • In the mid-1990s, Activision (which purchased Infocom), had planned on making a graphical sequel called Planetfall: The Search for Floyd[17][18] or Planetfall 2: Floyd's Next Thing,[19] but it was canceled. It promised "a refined story line by Star Trek: The Next Generation screenwriters." A non-interactive demo for Planetfall 2 was included on the Activision CD compilation Power Hits: BattleTech.[20]

Red herrings[edit]

Planetfall was Infocom's first game to make extensive use of red herrings. Unlike previous titles, it contains a number of useless items, inaccessible locations, and other false clues.

The locked door in the Rec Area can be opened with the combination found in the lab uniform. This area can also be accessed by the teleportation booths. However, the item in this room is not critical to completing the game. Many players speculated that the room contained a paddleball set, but this item does not exist outside of the victory scene, when the adventurer is presented with such a set.

In violation of established conventions of interactive fiction, it is unnecessary—and, in fact, impossible—to bring a light source to light up the dark areas of the map. The game dangles a lamp in the player's face, but it is absolutely impossible to retrieve the lamp and explore the darkened areas; the character dies first from a lethal dose of radiation. Only modifying the game file can allow the player to get the lamp safely. This reveals that all dark locations include such messages as, "You should not be here.", and, "You have just found a major bug."

Feelies[edit]

Beginning with 1982's Deadline, Infocom included extra novelty items with their packaged games called feelies. Included with Planetfall was:

  • A Stellar Patrol "Special Assignment Task Force" ID card (about the size and shape of a credit card). The ID number printed on the card is the telephone number of MIT's student newspaper, The Tech, which was in the way of a prank by Meretzky.
  • 3 interstellar postcards
  • A Stellar Patrol recruiting manual, "Today's Stellar Patrol: Boldly Going Where Angels Fear to Tread"
  • A short diary kept by the player's character (in the Solid Gold release, an in-game object included in the player's starting inventory rather than the packaging)

The level of main character backstory contained in the feelies is a noted departure from the AFGNCAAP endemic to the other games in the Zork genre.

Book[edit]

The book Planetfall written by Arthur Byron Cover, uses the game image on the cover, and is marketed "In the bestselling tradition of THE HITCHHIKER'S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY.[21]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Planetfall at Adventureland by Hans Persson and Stefan Meier
  2. ^ Durkee, David (July–August 1983). "Planetfall". Softline. p. 22. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  3. ^ "The Best and the Rest". St.Game. Mar–Apr 1984. p. 49. Retrieved 28 July 2014. 
  4. ^ McPherson, James (April 1984). "Micro-Reviews: Planetfall". Computer Gaming World. pp. 43–44. 
  5. ^ Schultz, Monte (December 1983). "Infocom does it again ... and again". Creative Computing. p. 153. Retrieved February 26, 2013. 
  6. ^ (Murray 1998, p52)
  7. ^ Ardai, Charles (Aug–Sep 1987). "Titans of the Computer Gaming World / Part IV of V: Ardai on Infocom". Computer Gaming World. p. 38. 
  8. ^ Meretzky, Steve (2008-03-04). "The Creation of Floyd the Robot in Planetfall". Retrieved 2008-06-19. "This worked out better than my fondest hopes, and numerous players over the intervening years have told me that they cried at this point in the game." 
  9. ^ "Call Yourself Ishmael Micros Get The Literary Itch". Softline. Sep–Oct 1983. p. 30. Retrieved 29 July 2014. 
  10. ^ Adams, Ernest (1999-02-12). "Designer's Notebook: How To Be Weird". Gamasutra. Think Services. Archived from the original on 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2008-10-07. "Several years ago there was a debate in the game developers’ round table on GEnie (remember GEnie?) about whether or not a computer game could make you cry. ... The answer the GEnie crowd came up with was, yes, a computer game can make you cry: consider the death of Floyd the robot in Planetfall. ... Eventually, however, Floyd gave up his life for you, and there was no way to avoid it. It was a sad moment." 
  11. ^ "By aligning the story with the gameplay, you evoke the emotions in the player directly, without having to appeal to a sometimes vain hope of sympathy. ... Examples range from the classic "Death of Floyd" in Planetfall, where a selfless robot helps your character--you-- directly..." Sheldon, Lee (2004). "Noah Falstein, Writer/Designer". Character Development and Storytelling for Games. Thomson Course Technology. p. 109. ISBN 978-1435461048. 
  12. ^ "At this point the game [Planetfall] changes from a challenging puzzle to an evocative theatrical experience. The escape from the planet continues, but without Floyd's company the player feels lonely and bereaved." (Murray 1998, p53)
  13. ^ "The memory of Floyd the Robot's noble self-sacrifice remains with players even years later as something directly experienced. 'He sacrificed himself for me,' is the way one twenty-year-old former player described it to me." (Murray 1998, p53)
  14. ^ "Even those who speak of it less personally ('When you get to that room, he goes in to save you") convey a sense of wonder at the unexpected and touching quality of the gesture." (Murray 1998, p53)
  15. ^ "The death of Floyd is a minor milestone on the road from puzzle gaming to an expressive narrative art." (Murray 1998, p53)
  16. ^ Koster, Raph (2005-12-07). "The Pixar Lesson". Raph Koster's Website. Raph Koster. Archived from the original on 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2008-10-07. "...they’re not given to us by the game at all, but by cutscenes. The death of Floyd the Robot in Planetfall is an example of a cheat like this...." 
  17. ^ a b c d e Maher, Jimmy, "Let's Tell a Story Together: (A History of Interactive Fiction)", v. 1.02, Chapter 5
  18. ^ Screenshots from Planetfall: The Search for Floyd from the INFOCOM Homepage (unofficial fansite)
  19. ^ Page with a mock-up of the cover for Planetfall 2 from the Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe
  20. ^ Planetfall 2: Floyd's Next Thing from DOS Museum
  21. ^ Cover, Arthur Byron (1988). Planetfall. Avon. p. 298. ISBN 0-380-75384-7. 

References[edit]

External links[edit]