Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Cyborg: Won!

At the end of my last session, I was stuck in a dark observation module, unable to perform many meaningful actions on my limited supply of matches, and no clue what do do next. I would need a hint to make further progress, but first, I wanted to check something out.

The lizard man at the start begs for "food for the truth," and you are supposed to feed him some bugs, but this doesn't work in the original Apple II version of the game. You don't need to do this to win, but I temporarily switched to the Commodore 64 version just to see what he had to say.


None of his answers are especially interesting. He says the forest is artificial, but I already knew that. He says that I have a great responsibility here, but offers no further details on that. He says that he himself escaped from a deadly catastrophe, and warns me of a robot.

What's more interesting to me is that this dialog menu anticipates the branching dialogue trees that I've come to associate with mainstream graphical adventures. It's not fully formed here - there's no branching, just a single menu, but the seeds are here, for the first time that I know of.

Back to the Apple II version, I consulted a solution file again. I had previously guessed that you needed to wear sneakers in order to climb the tree - correctly in retrospect - but when I tried the game told me this wasn't possible, and I (incorrectly) assumed this wasn't a valid action at all.

What you need to do is go to the part of the forest where a string is looped around the tree trunks, cut it with the laser, get the pieces, and then lace your sneakers. Then you can wear them.

This is, IMO, a perfect example of a servicable puzzle gone bad thanks to poor feedback. Granted, it would have been easy to solve with any amount of signposting, but the total absence of it does not make it hard in a good way.
  • There is no indication at all that the sneakers are missing their laces.
  • Scanning the sneakers only reveals that they're "nice looking."
  • Asking the cyborg's opinion just makes him tell you that he prefers them in blue.
  • As mentioned, when you try to wear the unlaced sneakers, you get a generic "I can't do that" message with no indication why, leading me to think that this just wasn't programmed.
  • Cutting the string, which I had tried before, slices it into "several pieces," which suggests the string has been made useless. It certainly does not suggest to me that the pieces can be used to tie your shoes - that calls for exactly two strings, no more, no less.

At the top of the tree there's just a prickly fruit which can be peeled with the laser and eaten for more bio energy, but nothing to move us forward. The next required action is to walk through the doorway in the forest, which allows us entry into a gymnasium now that we're wearing shoes.

Once again, this is a crummy puzzle thanks to a lack of signposting. The shoe requirement only makes sense in retrospect - the singular clue is that you can see a wooden floor through the doorway. Walking through the door barefoot simply causes an invisible force to scan you and push you away. A sign or a voice saying "footwear required" would have been appreciated.

The gymnasium is a small diamond-shaped area, with a rusted-shut trapdoor in the ceiling that can be reached by climbing the gymnastic rings suspended from it, and a large, steam-filled cabinet. Entering the cabinet, I took some damage, but also found a set of infrared lenses and a "mini-droid."

With the lenses installed, I could explore the darkened modules without fear of running out of matches.

Near the top of the gravtube is an opening to a duct junction, but it quickly becomes too narrow to climb through. It seems there should be a way to have my mini-droid explore here while attached to my harness, but I couldn't find a way to meaningfully interact with it. All it does is annoy me with nonstop one-liners as I explore the decks and corridors.

I am unpleasantly reminded of Planetfall.

In the hydroponics room, there's an energy-boosting peach, and a devastated wall of electronic paneling, from which a single wire can be acquired.

In the observation module, a small doorway to the south can't be entered, but dropping the droid here causes it to enter and return with a pressure suit. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a way to wear it, and as usual, scanning it and asking the cyborg for advice is useless.

In the yellow corridor north of the main junction, there is a conspicuous metal grill and no obvious way to interact with it. Further north, a beaker can be taken from the laboratory, and filled with liquid oxygen leaking from equipment nearby. To the east, sickbay wraps around the lab, and a cylinder can be entered by breaking its glass entry panel, but all I found inside was an inoperable lever labeled "physical restoration cycle."

A red corridor leads to a hallway running north and south. On the north end is an ultrafiche reader, but I couldn't find a way to operate it. It has two slots, and while it accepts the card, this has no immediate effect, and inserting the ultrafiche doesn't seem to do anything. At the south end is a power-crystal sitting on a balanced scale - taking it triggers a deadly laser booby trap, but it can be safely swapped for the cube, Indiana Jones-style. This item isn't consumed, but stays in your inventory. A wall in this hallway can be scaled to the bridge, where the controls are broken and inoperable, and a single functional viewscreen shows capsules of people in cold sleep.


The sleepers' chamber is found to the south of the cargo hold near the dormitories. The cyborg informs us that these passengers are here to populate the planet below. Soon a malfunctioning Roomba attacks by bumping into my shins repeatedly, causing some damage, and I put it down with a laser blast.

At the very end of this chamber is an engineering section, where an iguana plays with an instruction manual.

Stuck again, I turned to the solution, which said I must smash the trapdoor. Up here is a cowering female lizard called a "togram," (Margot spelled backwards?) too fearful to interact with. You must "pet togram" to gain her trust. This opens up a dialog menu that actually works in this version, but reveals little except:

  • She is from a faraway land and there are others like her
  • She doesn't like this place
  • Other humans are nearby
  • Beware of the "smada."

Back to the walkthrough, to wear the suit, you first must REMOVE all items that you are wearing. Including the lenses and ID card. Common sense to an extent, I suppose, but I still feel the game should give more feedback than "we can't do that" when this action fails.

With the suit on, I went outside the airlock, and played a simple but awkwardly controlling minigame, where you must move around the ship exterior in quasi-3D space and repair a breach in the cargo bay and return before oxygen runs out.

The hold is another chaotic MOTLP with no apparent exit. Room descriptions are all permutations of rubble and debris. The starting room has a visible ship to the east, but there was no apparent way to reach it even after mapping out the maze exhaustively in Excel. The maze is, in fact pointless, and there's no need to enter it at all - by pouring the oxygen over the rubble in its first room and dropping a lit match, you blow open a hole in the debris. Well played, game.

A friendly reptile by the ship explained he was the captain and apologized for crashing into my hold. He said that I was nearly done with my quest, but I had to kill the snake and smada before I could land, and also made the oddly specific request for a moldy piece of bread. This had been part of a room description in the dormitories, but it did not indicate this was an object you can take.

At this point, my hunger levels were critically low, and I had to restart and play more efficiently. I caught up in a matter of minutes (after cranking up the emulator CPU speed), and got the bread, but feeding the lizard served no obvious purpose.

Turning to the guide again, it instructed me that the ultrafiche reader must be turned on in order to use it. The reader is described as having two slots, but there's no button or switch to operate - you just type "ON READER" and take it for granted that your protagonist figures out how to do this. This sort of action directly contradicts the ingame help, which says that only concrete verbs with objects seen in the description are recognized.

My mission was made clear, but I was still stuck. The next steps of the solution were first to smash the robot I shot in the sleepers' chamber and cannibalize its power cell, and then give the iguana my shoelaces to distract it, and get the manual.

This manual is a dial repair booklet, and one of the controls in the bridge is a broken dial for awakening the sleepers. Just as in Oo-Topos, you need a number of parts to fix it, and the manual isn't telling you what you need. If you ask the cyborg's opinion about the items in your inventory he will identify needed items, but this doesn't help identify any of the ones you don't have.

The items needed are:

  • Repair manual
  • Tools, found in the sleepers' chamber
  • Solder, found in a locked chest in the dormitory
  • Power crystal, found in the red-striped hallway
  • CPU, found by the reptile
  • Wire, found near the hydroponics room

Also as with fixing the ship in Oo-Topos, the parts have to be on the floor, while the manual and tools have to be in your inventory, and if anything is wrong, the command "FIX DIAL" will result in "WE CAN'T DO THAT."

One last challenge remained - killing the smada. Turns out it's hiding inside the grill in the yellow corridor, which just needs smashing. Serves me right for not smashing everything in sight. After shooting the smada with the laser, I returned to the bridge and threw the autopilot switch.

The cylinder in sickbay, I found out later, can be operated by opening the panel latch with tools, then opening the panel, stepping in, and closing it before pulling the lever. This heals you, but isn't really necessary to win the game.

GAB rating: Average. Cyborg is a tighter, more focused game than Oo-Topos. Apart from its two pointless mazes, nearly all of its rooms serve a purpose. Berlyn's dedication to making a plot-based sci-fi adventure is admirable, though the execution has its issues. The cyborg interaction aspect is so underused it almost might as well not be there - I don't think consulting it about opinions on the location gave useful feedback even once - and forcing me to type commands like "SCAN AREA" and "SCAN BODY" in place of "LOOK" and "INVENTORY" just felt like contrivances; the feedback rarely gave the impression that I was doing anything more than looking with my eyes. I'm supposed to be a high tech cyborg, so why don't I feel like one? NPC dialog likewise seems completely unnecessary, giving no useful information except for learning the arbitrary requirement that I kill a snake and smada before finishing. And Cyborg has its share of bad puzzles and interface problems that just made me mad when I had to resort to a walkthrough to solve them.

In 1982, Berlyn would collaborate with Harry Wilker to port Cyborg to the Atari 400 and Commodore 64, and they would release two arcade-style games for Sentient Software; Congo and Gold Rush. I won't be playing either of these. The next game on the list is Berlyn's first for Infocom, in which he finally has access to a sophisticated game engine free of the restraints of BASIC.

My map - both mazes are simplified:

1 comment:

  1. What is the *deal* with these writers and their unsolvable puzzles? It's all over the place in these games.


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