Preview - Return to Planet Fall [Unreleased]
Lately, the computer adventure game market seems to be a contest to see who can come up with the best rendered graphics and who can hire the best band to record the CD stereo soundtrack. It's hard to believe that, not too many years ago, the field was dominated by text-only games. These products had only one aspect that kept them selling: great stories. There was no question that the dominating company in this text-game universe was Infocom. While they were best known for the Zork fantasy games, another of their most popular products was a hilarious science-fiction comedy adventure called Planetfall, and its sequel, Stationfall, both written by Steve Meretzky.
Meanwhile, on another consumer electronics front, the Atari 2600 was kicking the butts of all the other home entertainment systems. The credit for this can not go entirely to Atari, however. Everyone knew that the best games for the system were produced by an independent company named Activision. Most folks bought the 2600 so they could play games like Pitfall and MegaMania. They sure didn't buy it for Space Invaders.
Flash forward 10 years, and Steve Meretzky is still very much in demand in the computer game world. His work has been compared with that of Douglas Adams. (Appropriately enough, since the two of them collaborated on the text game version of Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.) Infocom no longer exists, but Activision is stronger than ever. They bought the rights to all those great Infocom games, and had a major hit on their hands with a graphic continuation of the Zork series, Return to Zork. Now, they're hoping to enjoy even greater success with Return to Planetfall: Floyd Strikes Back.
For those unfamiliar with the original Planetfall games, Floyd was a robot with the enthusiasm of a ten-year old. He followed the player around everywhere, not being very useful, but always eager to play a quick game of hider-seeker. Floyd was easily the most popular character in the entire text-game medium. In an uncharacteristically tragic moment in Stationfall, the player must kill Floyd to save the universe. Many players wrote to Infocom testifying their tearful experiences playing those last moments of the game.
The new game's content is very much in keeping with the humor of the original series. The player returns to his unnamed role as an Ensign Seventh Class, working this time on an interstellar cruise ship overrun by yuppies. So, not only do you have to perform menial chores from scrubbing floors to filling out requisition forms to clearing glasses at the piano bar, you also have to deal politely with tourists in Hawaiian shirts. Fortunately, your good robot friend Floyd has unexpectedly returned from the dead, and he is as eager as ever to accompany you on your adventures. Yes, adventures. You didn't think the whole game would be kitchen duty, did you? Among other things, you get to uncover an ancient robot religion, a secret scientific technology that could transform the universe, and an insidious plot to reduce all human life to a zombie-like existence, much like your current job.
Of course, however good the story, this wouldn't be much of an update if the new Planetfall was nothing but text. The graphics on Return to Planetfall are nothing short of spectacular. Activision promises a cast full of celebrity actors to flesh out the population on board the cruise ship, and all through the game. As this cast list develops, you can count on IE to keep you posted. On top of this, there's lots of beautifully rendered animations that bring Meretzky's twisted vision to life.
Speaking of Steve Meretzky, he is the designer of this latest Planetfall installment, but his other current projects have kept him too busy to write the entire game. Instead, Activision brought in the team of Hans Beimler and Richard Manning, the head writers from the recent television hit Star Trek: The Next Generation. One of the things that made "Next Gen" really stand out, not just as science fiction, but overall, was the excellent scriptwriting. Since the show's conclusion in April, it's hard to imagine a better choice of writers to follow in Meretzky's rather imposing footsteps.
Between the phenomenal graphics and the cast of celebrities, not to mention the ever-important writing, Return to Planetfall seems likely to be successful, both economically and artistically. Activision plans to release this update in the second quarter of 1995.