Deep Space : Operation Copernicus – Part 2

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The escort mission involves escorting the blue and white Orionese envoy ship to a neutral base planetoid. This ship is relatively slow and unarmed and simply heads straight for the planet while I zip around trying to blow up the enemies. I found this to be the hardest of the four missions as it gets tricky to keep tabs on exactly where the envoy ship is. It soon vanishes off the edge of my radar while I’m trying to reduce the opposition. I’m left guessing although the planet we are heading for is visible from any distance so I can aim myself at that, fly flat out and hope to spot it. At no point am I aware of any enemies actually attacking the envoy but it still keeps getting destroyed while out of sight.


After 4 or 5 attempts, I manage to just get it back on screen in time to see it land on the planet which appears to be the key to beating this mission. My class rating is middling but I’m not going to concern myself with that for this playthrough.

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The next mission is to destroy canisters of the deadly Biotek-M microorganisms. On this difficulty level I have to clear two sectors which I was expecting to mean combing the sector looking for them but instead the canisters are arranged neatly in a 3×3 grid.

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This is the easiest mission of the lot and I simply shoot these stationary targets down with either lasers or missiles in both sectors. There are some fighters buzzing around but they are extremely ineffective in this game and I ignore them for the most part. Some of the canisters appear impervious to lasers and I’m forced to use missiles but a new stock is a warp and landing away. To complete the mission, I have to fly back home and land once again.

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The fourth and final mission is to stop the Andromeda sword cruisers attacking Herculis base. These cruisers look remarkably similar to the outpost stations apart from the colouring and the fact they are flying at full speed for Herculis. They don’t shoot back from what I could tell so I simply close in, keep shooting, warp off to the location of the other cruiser and do the same. It’s nearly as easy as the previous mission except that there is something of a time limit while the cruisers fly toward Herculis + touching the cruiser brings instant death.

That appears to be about all this game has to offer. I could try for better efficiency ratings but there isn’t all that much incentive. This has to be the briefest space sim I’ve ever played as I must have got through these 3 missions in under 30 minutes. The graphics weren’t bad considering the limitations and the physics work well. Turning the ship is just like Wing Commander rather than the rotating movement used in Elite and it’s a lot more natural to fly because of it. DSOC takes no real advantage of this though with a distinct lack of enemy variety and far from exciting combat which is usually best avoided. The game also appears bugged at times with my lasers having vastly varying effects and my ship flying backwards during numerous landing attempts which then had to be aborted.

DSOC comes across as being arguably more of a tech demo than a fully developed game. I would imagine from playing it that the simulation was developed first and then a game built around it afterward. This was more or less the approach that was taken for Ultima Underworld as I understand it but there is a whole lot less for the player to get stuck into here. It’s a worthy first attempt and I’d have put more effort into bettering my score back in 1987 but it’s no competition for Elite. I always enjoy trying out old and obscure games though and it’s been interesting to see where Space Rogue sprung from.

Deep Space : Operation Copernicus – Part 1

I’d be extremely surprised if there are many people who have even heard of this game but it’s been high on my wanted list for a long time now. It was the first game from Looking Glass founder and Ultima Underworld designer Paul Neurath who shared programming/design roles with Edward Lerner who would himself later work on Space Rogue & Terra Nova among many others.

Operation Copernicus was published by Sir-Tech rather than Origin in 1987 although Neurath had already done work for Origin as a playtester on Ogre. The game is a space sim/shooter with 3D filled polygons and was quite possibly the first game on a home computer with six degrees of movement to pull that off. It’s a clear predecessor to the later Space Rogue which featured a similar flight engine and added on Ultima 4/5 like RPG elements on tiled maps.

This isn’t exactly the easiest game to get hold of unless you want to pay the hefty price for the one copy that has been sat on Ebay for the last couple of years waiting for someone with too much cash to happen upon it. Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe came through for me though so I relieved them of a copy and a pile of other goodies for roughly what the one game would have cost on Ebay. This one isn’t in quite as good condition mind you but I can live with it.

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It’s an odd package with the game coming in a beige alligator skin effect cardboard box with several stickers glued to the top of it. The box is sealed with a further presidential seal sticker which originally had an A4 sheet stuck to it providing some screenshots and details for the back of the box. On outward appearances it doesn’t make the same sort of impression as a regular boxed game of the time would but at least it doesn’t have the guy in the leather jacket that was on Space Rogue.


The inner contents are equally unusual being a mashup of styles of document none of which quite prepared me for playing the game. There is a technical manual which has the details about gameplay (other than the keys) and a solar system map/reference card specific to the version with all the keys on it. The technical manual includes the aims of the game’s 4 missions which were left out of the game itself.


There are two sheets with quadrant maps on them (both doublesided) which give the maps for each of the missions.


And finally a letter from the president and a sort of printed email message from the Terran Defense HQ providing the story for the game such as it is. In brief, the Hegemony of Andromeda has launched an unprovoked attack and I’m the only ship holding them off until humanity marshals their forces. The word hegemony immediately makes me think of Terra Nova but I doubt there is any deliberate link.

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I toyed with whether to go for the C64 or DOS version of this game and ultimately went for DOS since it supports analog joysticks and runs a little smoother. It does mean a CGA colour palette however so there are downsides. On starting the game I get to choose which of the 4 missions I want to attempt and also which of 3 difficulty levels I’m going for (I stuck with novice).

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The first mission is called Outpost and involves collecting Ore from all of the human outposts in the system and ferrying it back to our base planet. I start out flying just above that planet in a view reminiscent of the planets aligning in 2001. The planets appear to be scaled sprites and look decent enough for a game this ancient. Pressing ESC brings up a command menu with the various options available.


The most useful for this mission at least is the map which shows the entire quadrant and allows me to pick a hyperspace destination. Provided I’ve got the fuel I can hyperspace at any time but this eats up fuel which can only be replaced by landing on the base planet. It’s a little similar to Ultima 1’s space section except I can fly between sectors the long way if I wish here.


The attacking hegemony are immediately apparent, taking the occasional potshot at me. For weapons I’ve got a choice between lasers which travel instantly but take ages to grind most opponents down or missiles which seem to kill anything in one hit but travel quite slowly and are limited in supply. There is no means to select a target and the 2D radar isn’t entirely helpful in a 3D world with much searching around still required to find enemies. The radar doesn’t even rotate but instead my ship is shown in the middle pointing in its relevant direction. The hitch here is that it only moves 90 degrees at a time. Lets just say the radar is at best a rough guide of where you need to go.

I don’t strictly speaking need to take on the enemies for this first mission although I do get pop up messages when an output is under attack. If I don’t go and help it, all their ore is stolen. I’ve mainly stuck to missiles for the combat since I get restocked each time I fly back to base. There isn’t much in the way of tactics needed for combat and the best tactic appears to be to get close and come to a halt. Each ship goes up in a small cloud of spinning triangles when destroyed.

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The game uses a Newtonian engine with extremely fast flight possible but a massive amount of momentum to lose when slowing down and turning. The PC joystick controls for this use the two fire buttons for speed up and slow down rather than weapons which seems like an unusual choice but once I get used to L and M for firing my two weapon types it all works. My goal is to fly to all the octahedral outpost stations, dock to get their ore and then fly back to base. On the C64 version, the stations have one side with a triangular entrance which I had to slowly approach and a little spaceman would appear just before docking. On the more powerful PC, this isn’t present and instead I just have to bump into the station at any angle to grab the ore.

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From here, it is back to base to deliver the cargo. Landing on a planet is more complex as I have to guide my ship down to the landing pad. This takes the unusual approach of showing the point of view of the landing tower and my ship flying around in 3D over the 2D backdrop. The fixed viewpoint can mean reversed controls depending on ship orientation but doesn’t prove to be as hard as it sounds as I can literally nose dive into the landing platform for a safe landing.


Several trips later, I retrieve all the ore completing the mission. I’m “rewarded” with a ranking of 3 (1 is the best, 8 the worst) and then dumped straight back to DOS to load up again if I want to try another of the missions. There was talk on the reference card of increased rewards for good enough performances. Class 3 wasn’t too bad and there wasn’t any reward that I could see so I’m not hopeful on this front. I’ll be trying the other 3 missions in later posts anyway.

From what I’ve seen so far this is an extremely quirky little game that is kind of fun but extremely basic compared to what was to come later. Elite on the BBC Master arguably played better than this but they are quite similar in combat mechanics. DSOC certainly has the better looks with its filled polygons and has extra features like sprite rendered asteroids to fly through just like Wing Commander from a few years later (except these are perfectly spherical and don’t rotate). It’s a game that has some character at any rate and I’m certainly intrigued about the rest of the it although with only the 4 missions it is going to be short-lived. I’ll be upping the difficulty level to intermediate for the next mission, Escort.

Ultima Forever – The Flattening

I expect most readers will have seen photo’s of these already but this arrived in the post yesterday:-


It’s the collector’s edition of Ultima Forever as shown by Paul Barnett on Youtube last month. These were initially created for the press and development team but are now being distributed to those who took part (or almost took part in my case) in the Ultima Forever Alpha some time back. We’ve already had a map and set of tarot cards each which was a really nice gesture. I really didn’t expect them to be sending out more but could hardly turn down the offer.

There has been a slight snag with the packaging these were posted in and they haven’t exactly been arriving in new condition. I’m sorry to say that mine is no different and predictably arrived squashed:-

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The collector in me hates to see boxes being needlessly mashed like this. The contents at least are pristine with a cover letter, extra large tarot cards, a USB drive credit card (empty) and an all new cloth map with added black weep. The new map material is fantastic quality putting all the older games to shame. It’s a really nice package and I wish it had been better prepared to make it’s way in the world before being set free but it’s another generous gesture on the part of Mythic sending these out at all. I feel well disposed to Ultima Forever already without having had the chance to play it.

Ebay sellers please take note what happens when you put fragile boxes in bubble wrap envelopes. By way of further example, here’s what happened to a copy of Kingdom O’ Magic I bought a year or two back after explicitly asking the seller to send it in a box. It wasn’t worth all that much but I still haven’t managed to find another one:-


I’ll quickly mention that I added a scan of PC Zone Issue #2 at the start of the week. I was going to scan #3 today but instead the Gabriel Knight 2 guide book will be taking its place on the downloads page sometime later.

Death Gate – Part 4

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The world of stone turned out to be the most interesting so far by virtue of the more serious tone. The story slowly unfolds throughout and to start with the only people I encounter add dead servants raised through the arts of necromancy. These are easily manipulated as they are only a shadow of their former selves so not very intelligent. I especially like the puzzle where I have to get by a giant snake by commanding a particularly dumb but large zombie to grab it. Unfortunately he’s too dumb not to let go without constant instruction so I have to steal a children’s book off a zombie nanny, persuade her to follow me by telling her I know where her book is, then handing her the book back open at the appropriate page for her to read out a nursery rhyme all about snake grabbing. She reads this over and over giving me all the time I need to sneak by.

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I eventually learn that all the cities former inhabitants left to seek help from the ruler of this realm (the Dynast) when the water started drying up. I sail off to find him but when I arrive he poisons me for my troubles and throws me in a cell to die. I’m not alone as yet another prince is in here in exactly the same predicament. He is the ruler of the city I just came for but didn’t get the response he’d hoped when he came for help. The Dynast plans to get all the information he needs from both of us by raising our corpses from the dead as his servants.


This leads to another quirky little puzzle. I’ve learned a possession spell by this point and use it to transfer my soul into the body of the Dynast’s hunting hound who is hanging around the cells. I know the antidote we need is in a clear bottle but the dog only has black and white vision. Paying close attention reveals that the coloured lines on the tablecloth behind all the bottles are obscured behind all but one meaning that must be the clear one.

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Once cured, I escape with my new Sartan buddy to where all his people are hiding out. Behind an illusory wall I discover the remains of the realms first Dynast who I discover obliterated himself so he couldn’t be brought back from the dead. In an impressively evil scheme of his, it turns out that the staff carried by all Dynasts was created by damaging the Colossus of this world. The Colossus was all that provided water and life to its inhabitants and has been leaking magic ever since leading to the sorry state of the realm now. The staff now acts as a conduit for the remaining magic making the Dynast unchallengeable. If that wasn’t enough he also instituted the realms fondness for Necromancy at the time despite knowing that every time it was used someone else would randomly die before their time. This random death knew no barriers across the worlds hence the dead Sartans I found some time back.

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Suffice to say, I repair the Colossus killing the Dynast in the process and leave the realm in civil war behind me as I head to the fourth and final realm of water.

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This realm is where the Sartans were to live in the original scheme. I find a city when I arrive protected by a ward rune which I promptly corrupt. At this point, the ultimate villain of the game makes their entrance – a particularly nasty dragon called Sang-Drax. He has me paralysed with his aura of fear so I have to transfer my soul into the dog which is now following me around and make a run for it while the dragon toasts my old body to a crisp.


I’m not in dog form for long. I run into the now open city where the Sartan cast a spell to return me to my old shape at the expense of the dog whose body I took. Sang-Drax puts in another appearance at this point. Aside from having to power to cripple mortals with fear he can also assume any shape he wishes. He takes the final world seal, changes into my shape and promptly takes my ship so that he and Xar can go and reform the world killing most of the remaining inhabitants in the process.

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Luckily the Sartans have another ship they can lend me so I can go and save the universe. They don’t offer to come along and lend a hand of course and I have to head back to the last place I should want to go – the Labyrinth. The vortex where the reunification will take place is located right at it’s very centre. The Labyrinth isn’t exactly hospitable with tigermen and man-eating plants to contend with.

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I puzzle my way past all of these saving a village of Patryns in the process, kill off a giant ant monster only to come face to face with Sang-Drax again. At this point I use a rock which I’ve been carrying around most of the time since meeting Zifnab. It summons him and more importantly his dragon so the two can do battle. Sang-Drax escapes badly wounded and Zifnab transports us all to the vortex to continue the chase.

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The vortex provides the climax to the game with some intriguing puzzles on the way to its centre and then a final showdown with Sang-Drax. I manage to convince Xar that I’m the real Haplo and reunification is a bad idea at which point Sang-Drax fireballs him to death. I have to carry out the ritual on my own, the first part of which is placing each of the world seals in the appropriate spire.

Each seal placement unleashes a torrent of that element on the platform I’m stood on. I’m inside a protected area but I can use this to slow down Sang-Drax as he takes different forms against me. The order I have to go here is fairly apparent. What is less apparent is which of the numerous runes I need to select to carry out the final ritual. I should have paid more attention to Xar earlier in the game and I’m reduced to trial and error. I know it’s one of six mentioned in a book I’m carrying and number 4 does the trick.

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In another FMV of dubious quality Sang-Drax is destroyed and the worlds are connected through the Death Gate hopefully helping all the races from here on out, except my own who are still mostly trapped inside the Labyrinth. This may suggest a possible sequel which I’d be playing next if it had ever happened.

It may not come across in my write-up but the story started to come together in this second half of the game. The ending was suitably climactic with the ending stages throwing numerous challenges at me. It did seem a little strange in a graphical adventure how it would go into describing half the events through text instead of showing them. It’s definitely not something that would have happened much in Lucasarts or Sierra games but it does mean that the developers could concentrate on the playable parts of the game instead and this clearly paid off. It’s arguably a little too easy but there is no flab here and it still took many hours to play through with far more puzzles packed into it than most adventure games I’ve played. I’d definitely recommend this one highly – I’ve not enjoyed an adventure game as much since Gray Matter and Death Gate beats it easily in the gameplay department.

What started me playing this was allegedly to see if I could form an opinion on Tracy Hickman’s work after he joined the Shroud Of The Avatar team. I would guess that Death Gate strayed way too far from the source for me to attempt that but there were some interesting moral conflicts in there and enough complexity to the world and it’s characters to suggest that the novels would be well worth a look. I may give them a go some time but right now there are still games to be played. I got my SNES modded yesterday so I ought to play around with that a bit. All this electronic tinkering has been going so well I’ve decided I’m going to attempt to recap and de-buzz my Vectrex next but it will be a week or two before I get my hands on all the parts I need. In the meanwhile, I’m about 15 years overdue to play Descent Freespace.

Death Gate – Part 3

There is a theme starting here but the world of fire isn’t all that fiery and is instead full of giant trees populated by elves. As the base of all these is a huge citadel barred by a locked door with three symbols on it. A quest for these 3 items has to be imminent.

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I go off to talk to the elves living high in the forest and befriend one of the children by giving away a doll I picked up in the last world. They then invite me to a meeting the children have arranged with a wizard out in the woods.


While we are waiting for the wizard to arrive, I rescue a young elf prince who has tried to climb down into a bottomless pit called “The Maw” but only got as far as the first ledge. After rescuing him with a clothes line, he then wants me to help him win the heart of a human princess. I have to get the elves staff which has been cast into the Maw so that she will take him seriously as a leader, find him a gift for her and give him the right words to say. A typical day in the life of an adventurer…


About this time, the wizard Zefnab shows up and turns out to be a living Sartan. As soon as he catches sight of me he disappears with a transportation spell which I immediately copy to follow him.

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He isn’t exactly friendly what with our races being sworn enemies but feels safe enough to talk due to the fact that his giant pet dragon is sat next to him. He has a whole lot to say about how the Sartan plan was to get the mensch (humans, elves + dwarves) on each realm to exist in unity and then unite all four worlds. This doesn’t sound so evil considering these are the bad guys in this story – I can see a betrayal of the Patryns coming before the end of this game.

Most of the characters in this realm are played fairly straight, Zifnab on the other hand is clearly out for laughs with all sorts of references to the real world and generally “zany” dialog. It may just be me but this falls absolutely flat and isn’t even remotely funny. It would have come across better just reading the dialog here and the voice acting isn’t doing it any favours.


After exhausting all conversation options I take Zefnab’s transportation disk, throw it into the maw, and then cast a transportation spell to see what is at the bottom. Turns out it’s a giant people eating spider which is conveniently ignoring me for now. With some fire and a jar of honey, I set some giant insects on it which in a bit of species role-reversal kill off the spider leaving me free to plunder the staff and get out of there.


Having managed to help the elf woo his love, I now get both of them as companions and they carry two of the 3 pieces I need to open the citadel door between them. Zifnab explained earlier that this door was a test to see when the races had united and the Citadel was intended to be a place for all of them to live together.

That means I need to get the hammer from the dwarves. As luck would have it, I find one tied to a tree by a fourth race called the Titans. This race was created by the Sartans to run the Citadel once it was open but in the meanwhile have gone a little mad and started worshipping a crystal Sartan relic and generally squishing anyone who goes in their part of the forest. I won’t go into detail but in a convoluted series of puzzles, I steal this crystal which has the rune for the next world, get the rescued dwarf to bring me the hammer and open up the Citadel for one and all to live in it.

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The world seal I’m looking for is in the Citadel. Zifnab actually thanks me for what I’ve done while pointing out the duplicitous nature of the overall Patryn plan and my part in it. Xar is certainly coming across as ever more evil every time I take these seals back but this being an adventure game I only have the one course of action still available and it’s off to world #3 – stone.

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This world turns out to be reasonably stony after all, although it has a whole lot more fire than the previous realm. Everyone in it appears to be dead but still walking and talking (just about). I left it here for now anyway and will be back with this world as and when.

If anything, I’d say that this game got a little easier in this last realm. I hardly got any new spells and the bit that had me stumped the longest was at the start where I didn’t realise that I could go back to my ship and fly to a second location. There was a half decent if simplistic backstory in this realm which could have played out better if Zefnab had a different character. It should have been a tense meeting with my first live Sartan, not a series of desperately unfunny fourth wall breaking dialog. Later scenes did manage to build a bit of tension when I stole the crystal artefact and had a horde of angry titans on my tail.

The characters in this realm were a little more rounded and the overall story arc is starting to take shape. This story doesn’t look like it will be the games strong point unless it develops further – it always feels like I’m just scratching the surface of the world enough to solve my immediate problems but I’m not really learning about it. This game could really do with reams more of unnecessary text to pad out the characters and world (a la Longest Journey).

The puzzle and game design have continued to be excellent though and it’s still a joy to play. Splitting the game into these bite size chunks may hurt the story but it keeps the adventuring tight and focussed. I really am enjoying this one and it’s up there with any of the better adventure games I’ve played. Unless it goes badly wrong, this is essential adventure gaming from what I’m seeing and deserves to be far better known.

Part 4 may be delayed as I’m hoping to be modding my SNES today for multi-region + 50/60 Hz. I got my Megadrive done last weekend but with the SNES I’ve been waiting for a gamebit screwdriver to arrive in the post so that I can actually open it up.