Part 2: RacketeerPart 2: Racketeer
Last time, Uncle Smoke gave us a photo of the A-Liner's first flight to auction off to the Metallicans for money to help outfit the B-Linker. Let's go do that.
Here are our would-be buyers, all of whom have more money than sense:
You know, given that Uncle Smoke stole the A-Liner, I think we may be auctioning off photographic evidence of his crimes.
Oh well. I'm sure the statute of limitations is long past, and it's not like the Metallica is in the jurisdiction of our home continent, anyway.
Items can be sold for between 1 and 9 green chips, and we can sound out our buyers before we actually commit to a price. Let's try that out.
You know, we are an 11-year-old child, fresh off the airship, from a rural backwater, and a fleshbag bumpkin... and here we are greeting a society of robots as equals without any hesitation, bold as brass. We're honestly kind of badass. At this point in his career Harry Potter was still spending unwise amounts of money on unwise amounts of candy. Maybe Uncle Smoke knew what he was doing, after all.
...this is consistent with a mid-20th-century-tech-level farmboy walking into a futuristic civilization and having no problems.
Good grief, this concept is straight out of a Golden Age Heinlein novel.
I get the impression that Metallicans are supposed to basically be the Mire Folk, but robots; the novella and the manual make it clear that normally Mire Folk speak with their antennae in a sort of semaphore-like sign language. It seems like the Metallicans are entirely capable of talking, though.
With a reaction like that, 7 chips was clearly lowball. I bump it up a bit for the final price. They hem and haw, but then...
... Before preparing for this LP, I had not actually played this game in over 30 years. I still remembered "Fizpa wizh?". I will carry "Fizpa wizh?" to my grave.
Here's a video of the sale sequence. I do like how they managed to get Celeste-style tone-bending speech out of the PC speaker here.
But that's just one sale. I'm going to need a lot more chips, so I'll be repeating this process of visiting Smoke and auctioning off his stuff ten more times. Sometimes I overshoot on the price and have to offer a lower one to get a sale...
And sometimes they refuse my final price anyway.
In these cases, those shiny bastards just straight up steal the item you priced too high.
Every time we pick up a new item from Uncle Smoke, he gives us some new advice and a random item. The advice comes in sequence, and the items are random. The amount of green chips the auction house is willing to pay for each item is also random and seems to be inconsistent even if you get the same item twice.
: My old trunk is full of stuff from my travels.
: The robots like to steal your items at the auction.
: After you buy everything for your balloon go outside.
: Try to figure out how to sell to those finicky robots.
: Out there are many huts where the Traders live.
: There are 25 different cultures. Each one is different.
: Traders will sell you Amazing Thing clues for chips.
: In some cultures a red chip is worth 4 green chips.
: In some cultures a yellow chip could equal 2 red chips.
: The value of chips is different in every culture.
: Going to the right cultures you can collect a lot of chips.
Sounds like we're being pushed to wildly abuse arbitrage opportunities here, and he's not kidding; the first time I beat the game, I accidentally crashed it because I'd managed to amass more chips than it actually knew how to save in the save file... and instead of saving out -32,767 chips or something it just crashed at the point it was going to save.
Here's a list of all the items he can give you, mined from its data files:
- chunk of Night Rock
- Popberry tree bark
- wicker basket from the A-Liner
- glass fragment from the Glass Mountains
- Gaxonfrax tail feather
- white rubber snow
- silver hair from the Being
- jar of red smoke from the Being's fire
- rare pink chip found in the Otbrak
- piece of nylon from the A-Liner balloon
- zirconium baby rattle from ZyZy
- Jave gerbil fur
- petrified tar beetle from Fondef
- hailstorm photo from Camawhy
- jar of Popberry rind from Hogaan
- colored sand from Odask
- Laska snakeskin
- Popberry branch basket
- rug made by Muffijians
- Beribey Trutix shell
- Mire Crab photo from Logretch
- Nutrile chip bracelet
- Gaxonfrax egg
- dried Muhill mushroom
- rare Bunchmark photo
- braided belt made by a Fastak trader
- petrified clamshell from a Treliss bog
- bent fork from a Kertoff family
- ant from Sloping mire
- ancient Fongole book
- tape recording of a Jave trading session
- umbrella made in Paelasia
- original A-Liner plan
- earmuff woven from Popberry bark
- book bag used by Thomizek children
- candle made by Watersi traders
- fossil of ancient Solvaque fish
- teacup used by a Maxaze family
- photo of a nest of a Gaxonfrax
- Otbrak soil sample
- gravity fuel gauge from the A-Liner
- take-off photo of A-Liner's first flight
- Odask diary bought from the head trader
- Mire Crab crust
Most of these things are references to beings or cultures that actually exist in the game, or that are actual callouts to his adventures in the novella. It's a nice touch.
Anyway, now that we've got a solid chunk of chips, let's go outfit the B-Liner. To the Galactic Store!
The "Catalogue" is just a couple pages in the manual, alas, and not a full-scale feelie like we'd probably get a few years later on.
The store itself is a giant hallway with little offshoots for aisles, sort like a cosmic IKEA:
We can move our shopping cart (the box) around with the arrow keys to go head down various aisles to see what we can see. That gets us a separate view:
Checking the Catalogue, we see that "DIR-?" and "High?" are heading and altimeter instruments for the B-Liner. Those sound pretty useful.
Given the amount of speculation in the thread so far about how exactly "Uncle Smoke" got that name, I'm just going to leave this prompt here without comment.
We get "High?" with no difficulty and proceed to the rest of our purchases. Uncle Smoke did tell us we should buy everything for our balloon, after all.
In an also nice nod to the backstory, though, we don't have to buy the Autopilot. After all, that was how we got here, wasn't it?
Oh boy, POSIX! We'll be able to run a modern OS on the B-Liner's computer!
But no. Uncle Smoke wasn't merely advising us to buy everything for our balloonhe was advising us to buy everything for our balloon. The Galactic Store is also full of expensive garbage that is useless to us. POSIX is an electronic trash destroyer that costs 25 green chips. Everything useful only costs 7-10, and the only ones that cost 10 are DIR-? and AutoP.
Now, if we didn't have the manual, because we were filthy pirates or because, more likely, we were small children playing the game on borrowed time at a public library, all would not be lost. The B-Liner's controls are clearly marked and attempting to use something you haven't purchased reports the very thing you did not purchase, so poking around the B-Liner's controls and onboard computer would get you a list of things you definitely wanted to buy.
But even then, you might be tempted by the 23-chip TURBO or the 29-chip LIFT 5. Those sound like they might beef up your balloon quite a bit. But no. TURBO is a robot toothbrush. LIFT 5 is a spare elevator button. Probably not coincidentally, LIFT 5 is the most expensive item in the game. No refunds!
But you know what was a coincidence? "Posix." POSIXthe IEEE standard that specifies a somewhat handwavy, non-trademarked Unixwas not released until 1988, and didn't even start until 1985, two years after this game came out.
These looks like extremely valuable pieces of software that will in no way corrupt our youth. Into the cart with you both!
As we make to leave the store, we can see how far we've come:
Even in 1983, we knew how 3D was supposed to work. At any rate, 11 trips to the auction was enough to get enough chips to buy everything in the catalog that the B-Liner can equip and that we didn't already have. That's pretty good luck, all told; I think I only had three items that didn't sell for over six chips. That means it's time to go back to the B-Liner. We take the elevator all the way up and...
We can control the jetpack with the numeric keypad. However, the keys control our acceleration direction, and they are sticky. If I tap right, I'll begin accelerating right and keep accelerating until I tap left, at which point I will cruise until I tap left again to start slowing down. It takes some getting used to, but it's not terrible.
One fun thing about the PC port here is that if you look closely at that animation, you'll see that we turn blue when we're in front of Metallica's entrance panels and also become black-on-white instead of white-on-black when flying in front of the B-Liner. It keeps you visible, even with just a 4-color palette, which is pretty nice. But what's also nice is that it's getting this effect for free.
You see, the PC doesn't have hardware sprites the way the Commodore 64 or the NES did. However, it did have (at least if you had a CGA card installed) dedicated VRAM for the graphics RAM and you could work with it pretty quickly, and with pixel-level precision, without much hassle. You didn't get the insane mathematical backflips necessary to compute pixel operations on the C64, or the weird "memory holes" like the Apple had. The only weird bit is that even and odd scanlines are in different chunks of VRAM, but even that isn't weird when you remember that displays were interlaced so this was actually "just store the pixels in the order they'll be coming out".
So our "sprites" aren't actually getting drawn on the screen. Instead, it's a mask where black and white pixels trade colors, and red and blue pixels do likewise. The nice thing about that is that you "erase" the previous frame just by redrawing it in the same place. That's a big part of how it's getting animation speeds as smooth as it is; it never has to redraw any backgrounds.
Well, not until the whole screen changes, anyway. We fly over to the ladder and hit the spacebar, and this takes us into the B-Liner's main cabin:
There's a lot to take in here. As we get our bearings, one question burns in our minds:
... A robot toothbrush? Is that a toothbrush for robots or a toothbrush that is a robot?
Probably both, to be honest.