Planetfall

Tagged: Game

Videogame (1983). Infocom. Designed by Steve Meretzky. Platforms: AppleII, Atari8, DOS, PCBoot, TRS80 (1983); Mac (1984); AtariST, C64 (1985); Amiga, Amstrad (1986).

The text Adventure game Planetfall is a mildly comic Space Opera, remembered largely for the strong emotional reactions it evoked in many players. At the beginning of the game the player is a lowly Ensign Seventh Class on a Stellar Patrol starship, helping to reunify the galaxy after the collapse of the Second Galactic Union. After some preliminary comic business, explosions are heard aboard the ship, and the player is forced to use an escape pod, which crash lands on an apparently deserted planet. As the player explores their new world, they can discover that the inhabitants are in Suspended Animation, waiting for their robotic systems to find a cure for a lethal plague; the primary narrative in the game is this embedded backstory (see Interactive Narrative). In the game's present, the plot is driven by the player's realization that they have been exposed to the plague, and that increasingly frequent meteorite bombardments may destroy the automatic systems before a cure is discovered.

As is conventional for text adventures, the gameplay in Planetfall is focused on solving various puzzles, which enables the player to uncover more of the backstory and eventually to save the frozen population. To assist the player on the deserted planet, the game provides Floyd, a playful Robot companion. Some puzzles cannot be solved without Floyd's assistance, and near the end of the game he must be allowed to sacrifice himself in order to obtain a vital component. The robot's apparent death is a surprisingly affecting moment, illustrating the potential power of an Interactive Narrative. In the end, however. the player can revive the planet's people, who will repair Floyd.

The sequel, Stationfall (1987 Infocom, Amiga, Amstrad, AppleII, Atari8, AtariST, C64, DOS, Mac) designed by Steve Meretzky, begins in the same comic mode as Planetfall, but becomes steadily darker in tone. The player character has been promoted after the events of the first game, but finds himself trapped in a boring job processing absurdly redundant paperwork. At the beginning of the game he is sent to a space station to pick up a load of "form request forms", accompanied by Floyd. On arrival, the player discovers that all the humans are missing, but many of the robots on the station have turned homicidal. Eventually it emerges that an alien artefact is influencing machines to make them hate and destroy humans, and that Floyd has become affected. In order to survive and prevent the alien influence spreading off the station, the player has no choice but to kill Floyd. While the robot's first death in Planetfall caused grief, this second and irrevocable demise was greeted with anger by many players. Although both deaths are unavoidable if the games are to be won, Stationfall's requirement that players execute Floyd personally was seen as cruel.

Related works: Both Planetfall and Stationfall are loosely linked to Starcross (1982); internal evidence suggests that the former games are set in the distant future of the latter. Arthur Byron Cover wrote novelizations of both games, as Planetfall (1988) and Stationfall (1989). Both books display a rather heavy-handed sense of humour not seen in the games; Stationfall in particular is remarkable for having a plot which bears almost no resemblance to that of its original. [NT]

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