Monday, August 1, 2022

The Alien (1982)

An entirely original creature, since its a centipede centaur
Welcome back to a surprising return, to Avalon Hill's The Alien. A game I certainly didn't expect to see again, but here we are. So the difference between then and now, is that the manual exists, a modified version rendering some of the controls easier to use, and most importantly, a challenge to finish this. Like I was going go enter here again without a challenge. Being easier to control for this game is akin to saying a new Japanese pistol is less lethal to the user, yes, I believe that's true, but I don't believe that its now good.
Anyway, I doubt I'm going to say anything The Wargaming Scribe hasn't said ten times more intelligently than I. I only came across this game in comparison to early survival horror game Nostromo, which was hardly anything related to survival horror, and offered this as a slightly better point of comparison. I believe one of his commentators, Porkbelly, got the manual and then fixed up the game.

The actual story of The Alien, as opposed to something else you might be thinking of, is that among the alien creatures picked up on a routine creature gathering expedition, is a very deadly, mutating creature, which, naturally, breaks out of its cage, freeing the rest of critters, and begins wrecking havoc on a spaceship. To paraphrase The Gauntlet (1977) "a nothing creature from a nothing expedition". Now, the objective is to recapture or kill the creature. Scratch that, we're killing it. Not even metagaming here, if it broke out once, it'll break out again, shoot to kill.

Not even pretending to be any different in-game
Unfortunately, there are a few things preventing me from doing this. My crew starts the game disordered, scattered among the rooms of my ship, and the man, that is space regulations, tell me I can't kill this thing until its no longer "relatively harmless". Also, there might be a robot on the crew who is ordered to bring it back alive and will refuse to attack it. Its a testament to something that this actually fits the series so well, considering the first official Alien game was a Pac-man clone!

Ah, the garish Apple II color scheme, how I missed you so
Starting off, the game sends you to various screens where your crew are, and a list of whatever objects are in the room with them. Don't be fooled, you can't actually do anything the first time this happens. Its on this screen you can attack The Alien, put something in a cage, and interact with various static objects. You can attempt to do these things, but unfortunately the check to see if that's a valid action happens AFTER you select it. It doesn't affect anything, and that character can still do something else.
The crew is a varied bunch. There are the two command staff, who can allow entrance to certain areas of the ship, work the computer and activate the self-destruct. Then there are two scientists, who can also work the computer, but are the only ones who can do anything with the cages. Finally, three engineers who can build things. Like a flamethrower and possibly other things.
Yes, aliens, plural, because he can clone himself
The first time you can actually do something is on the map, where you can move around, take and drop objects, and construct things. Yeah, I'm just constructing flamethrowers. My plan is to have everyone as equipped as can be, possibly put all the escaped critters back in a cage, and if possible put The Alien in the cold storage room. If I can't do that or kill him...uh...I don't think using the ship's self-destruct mechanism and escaping on a shuttle or something is going to work.
For now all this means is everyone except two of the engineers walk towards the armory, while those two stick in maintenance to build themselves a flamethrower. The problem with this is that the game makes this just so tedious to accomplish. What should take a minute at most now takes a few. You have to press the right arrow to cycle through every possible action or destination. At least for the later it takes out places you can't go. Remember, this is the improved version where the controls actually work.
You can only construct something if you've done nothing else that turn, luckily the other two engineers built the flamers
Unfortunately, there are only two lasers, so I'm going to have to dole out two dart guns. And I can only build 2 flamethrowers, so one person is going to have to use a cattle prod or something. It was nice knowing him. Since The Alien is unlikely to come to us, I decide to do something really stupid and split up. I have one of the scientists begin locking up the creatures, while the captain and the other scientist work on the computer. Apparently the computer has info on this creature and its on a need to know basis. We don't need to know, but one can break the computer.
That was easier than I expected
After building the flamethrowers, one of the fresh wildlife makes his way into maintenence, so I have someone capture it...and it works. I think it might be weird, but no, its completely normal. What is a problem, is trying to lock up a creature when someone is all alone, with two items in their inventory. Like a gun and a cage, which you'd think was necessary. No, the person who grabs the animal is just stuck there until someone brings a cage to lock in it. Or they drop it.
Since doing anything with the computer isn't going well, I have the commander help out with the wildlife...and he's met The Alien. Time to shoot this thing with the dart gun...and he's dead. Looks like its time to stop playing around and start shooting this thing?
"Should we deal with The Alien?" "No, let's talk about how this makes us feel."
OH, I'M SORRY, I DIDN'T REALIZE MULLING OVER HIS DEATH WAS MORE IMPORTANT THAN SHOOTING THE ALIEN! And they dropped all their items! Okay, new plan, the second-in-command is going to stay on the bridge, along with one of the engineers with a flamethrower, while everyone else is going to explore the ship and deal with the creatures. As only the command staff can cause the ship to self-destruct, and neutralizing The Alien is my only objective, whether he lives or dies is irrelevant to me.
I don't think it adapts to attacks I make, but I doubt it'll be vulnerable for too long

One of my squads captures some wildlife, but unfortunately The Alien walks onto the bridge. Good thing that flamethrower still works, but knowing my luck it won't next time. I gather my men back onto the bridge, and The Alien takes out the engineer with the flamethrower. Worse, the lasers don't work on it. Without any other option, I have the second-in-command activate the self-destruct sequence.
The escape out to the shuttles is mostly uneventful, save for a close call one of the engineers have. The laser might not have done any good attacking, but it'll drive it off. Once inside the escape shuttles. Then the long wait, while every turn the Apple II's horrendous speaker makes a beeping sound. I really can't do anything except wait for every single movement sequence the game forces me through, while the ship slowly prepares to destroy itself. The Alien isn't on either shuttle while this is happening. So did I win...? Technically?


 A brilliant light show occurs...

I wonder if someone ever said yes on this screen
And I won! Yes, I think this went well enough to call a victory. The crew's superiors are probably going to be immensely butthurt about all this, but I think that's a small price to pay for victory. Never did figure out who the robot was, probably the captain or one of the scientists. Although, I have to admit, this was the first time I went through the game in its entirety, I didn't exactly know what I was doing or how long it took The Alien to mutate and I still won. I suspect this is entirely because The Alien never managed to make its way to either shuttle, so I'll attribute this to luck.
It does seem like there's very little skill in the game. You're basically just hoping you can reach The Alien before it turns invulnerable. Its incredibly easy for the game to end with the PCs all dead. I was thinking about how you could improve the game so it'd be fun, you know, beyond improving the interface. Expanding the early game time for one, since it seems like you barely have any time at all in this game. Not having the game stop because a crew member got killed for another. Might as well strip naked and slather yourself in bacon grease if we're going to do that. I was thinking you could have 8 people play the game together, so that at the correct time the robot could start killing the humans while The Alien tries to survive, but crap, getting 8 people together for this kind of gameplay sounds horrific.
I'm not going to give this a rating and a number, simply because this is crap. Its ugly, its slow and tedious, and any fun to be had is buried so far beneath its awful presentation its not worth finding. Frankly, everything I've played from publisher Avalon Hill has been a waste of a good board game brand. And that includes a few titles that I decided not to cover. Talk about an annoyance. Still, because I don't really want to return to this again, let's also talk about the Japanese version, released a year later, by porter Kiya (who basically just did Avalon Hill titles) and publisher CRK Research Institute. You've heard of the later, under the name of CRI, yes, those people. The ones credited in nearly every game over the past two decades.
Usually the Japanese title screen is more impressive, not so here
Its very slow to load, only coming on a tape file. This version is actually quite easy to control, press a button to select your character, then press a letter to perform an action. I'm going to go over the relevant information, in case you too are foolish enough to play this. Because you should at least play the nicest version.

I haven't translated everything, because not everything is important
Who do you pick?

@ナニモシタイ (Do nothing, in the FM-7 version, you have to press the key right of P, whatever that is on your keyboard)
A:ケージ ニ イレル (insert in cage)
B:ドウブシ ヲ ツカマエル  (capture animal)
C:エアロック ヲ アケル (open airlock)
D:エイリアン ヲ コウゲキ (attack alien)
E:エイリアン ヲ コウトロール (capture alien)
F:コンピューター ヲ ソウサ (operate computer)
G:ケンキュウヨウケジ ヲ カクニン (laboratory confirm, probably inventorize)
H:フネ ヲ ハナレル (leave the boat)
I:ケンキュウヨウケージ ニ ウツス (describe the captured animals)
J:ジバクソウモ ヨ ソウサ (operate self-destruct)
カノジヨ ハ ナニヨシマスカ? (Pick one)
This ship looks like a failed Star Trek prototype
The ship is more simply put together than the last one. You can correspond the locations to the ones used in the Apple II version.

Items, in the right box:
レーザー (Laser)
マスイジュウ (Dart Gun)
ドクガス (
カエンホウシャリ (flamethrower)
ケージ (cage)

1:オパーリン センチョウ
Captain Oparin (That is the actual name, A Russian composer)
2:ピアジェ コウカイシ
Navigation officer Piajie (Piaget, apparently)
3:ソンダク コウカイシ
Navigation officer Sondaku
4:イェイツ イシ
Doctor Ieitsu (Yates or Yeats)
5:ルルス ケンキュウイン
Researcher Rurusu (Lois or Luis)
6:ブラウン キカンシ
Engineer Buraun (Brown? Braun?)
7:ウィナー ギシ
Engineer Uinaa
(0 skips to the next possible scene)

The interesting bit here seems to be that the game doesn't quite match up with what the original version had as its crew. Couple of things to note, I have no idea what the cast's names are. I guessed on some and looked up others on the Japanese Wikipedia. I literally have no idea what some of these names could possibly be. I thought that Oparin might have been O'Brian, but I realized I just misread the word. Then looking at some of the translations, I realized two things. These were all decidedly not Japanese names, and secondly, they all had taken names from poets, scientists and composers.
Oparin is a Russian composer, fairly obscure. (EDIT, I misremembered back when I first wrote this, he's actually a Soviet biochemist)
Yeats is an English poet, who you probably actually know.
Piaget is a Swiss psychologist.

What the heck? There's another Japanese-made game, whose name escapes me, which had as its NPC portraits images taken from a book on Nazi Germany and the Golden Age of Hollywood.

0:ナニモシナイ (Do nothing)
1:イドウ (move)
2:モツ (take)
3:オク (drop)
4:ツクル (construct)

Anyway, I'll do what I did last time and have my officers grab lasers and hopefully then track down The Alien before it becomes too powerful to deal with. Just move to the armory, which is L, with Oparin.

Oh...I can't. At least I think I can't. Arujaanon is a bit above my pay grade, but mausu is something very obvious. Mouse. Except...huh? Does this mean that there's a mouse in there or that its poisonous? Surely the captain can enter the armory! Well, I try Piaget...and that O corridor is poisonous. Okay. Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. The other officer can't move either. Maybe I need to reset the game?
No, I can't move. At all. All 3 officers refuse to move anywhere, giving various statements, about the alien, about cages, its all so strange. I suspect one of three things is happening, the emulator I'm running this on, xm7dash3452a130423, which I got from the Neo Kobe emulator collection on the Internet Archive, is glitching with this game. The other two involve the game, firstly that it got damaged in the preservation process, or that its copy protection acted up in the preservation process. Either way, I've done all I could. Looks like The Alien part 3 might just be in my future after all.

I think another strategy game is going to be in this blog's future. Based on a different 1970s film that has been ripped off so many times. You might be able to figure out the movie, but you'll never figure out what it is I'm going to be playing come October. Next up, Gravitar and the conclusion to 1982.


  1. Ah, thanks for that. I found the game bad, but with Porkbelly's changes not absolutely terrible. I think if it somewhat fun exactly once.
    Thank you for the coverage, even if interrupted, of the Japanese version.

    So far, the only 2 decent Avalon Hill games I played were VC and Close Assault, but the latter needs board and counters to be played properly. Everything else is subpar, if not terrible.

    1. I know for me that Apple II games tend to be a bit troublesome to blog about. I don't have nostalgia for the system (and thus its quirks) and I have to manually crop every screenshot I take. Thus every game feels like an unfortunate event I have to deal with rather than a possibly entertaining experience.
      That said I figure even with the changes its not going to be very entertaining to most people. Minor but constant slowdowns are acceptable if there seems like a good reason for it, but when the game has them for selecting menu items it can be a bit much.
      Frankly, if I didn't dread it a little, I'd say that was a good candidate for translating back in the English. Felt less like a port and more like an enhanced remake for all the 5 minutes I actually played it and not figuring out what the game meant.

  2. Ah, also. If I wanted to make the game more interesting, I think I would do three changes :
    - The Alien does not grow with time but ONLY by eating either characters or animals (and early on, it is not strong enough to kill a human, except isolated ones).
    It would force the player to make a choice early on between trying to go for an early kill or trying to protect as many animals as possible to limit the alien growth.
    Of course, making the whole process of capturing the animals easier is going to be a must have.

    - Another change I would do is a system of blocking movement, eg if you move in a room and the alien is there, your movement stops, and guess who will get to attack you ?

    - Finally, the alien has a hive that never moves but can only be found by exploring each room (it is not displayed on the "radar"). Attacking the alien is very unlikely to kill it. Instead, it will wound it and force it to retreat to its "hive" by the most direct route at double-speed, where it will recover. The alien can be either killed there, or intercepted and finished off in its flight as per the "blocking movement" rule above.

    With those three changes, the early games would be a lot better. Do you split your group to capture the animals quickly ? If you do, one of your weaponless crewmember may be intercepted by an alien and killed (crewmembers with weapons are going to be able to fend off the alien). Do you escort your animal care-takers ? Efficiency goes down the drain. Do you go for the early kill ? Do you allocate people to find the hive early on? If you wound the alien, do you try to finish it off, or do you use the additional time to secure more animals ? ...

    I believe it would make a much superior game - one where you take decisions.

    1. Didn't see this comment originally, apparently it tripped up the spam filter, despite me having that off.
      That sounds like it would actually be a fun experience. There would actually be a strategy to it instead of just dumbly rushing towards things in the few turns you seem to get to deal with the alien before it becomes an invincible killing machine. And at a certain strength level the alien could break the animals out of the cage to eat them. And capturing the alien would no longer be wasting the player's time!
      I guess this removes the whole multiple aliens bit though, not that that's much of a loss.