Space Station: Oblivion
So this past weekend I just saw the new Tom Cruise movie (Did I really just type that?) Oblivion. Without giving away the plot, It’s a very stylistically designed mind ‘eff’, set in a futuristic sci-fi dystopia. I came away from viewing it questioning a few of the bigger moral questions the movie posed, but I enjoyed the movie. As of this writing, there is no video game tie in. This is probably a good thing, considering how most video game – movie tie ins end up. However, for gamers in the US, there already IS a game called Oblivion. Actually, it’s Space Station: Oblivion. It has absolutely nothing at all to do with the movie. In fact, in the UK, the game is called ‘Driller’.
Driller, or Space Station: Oblivion was released in 1987 for most of the major computer systems of the era (PC, Commodore, Amiga, etc.) both stateside and in the UK (Amstrad and ZX guys, I’m looking at you). I’m not sure why the name Driller wasn’t used in the US, but I’ll just let my 12 year old inner self imagine that some gaming exec giggled.. ‘Driller, yeah I drilled her alright! lol lol lol!!!1!!1!!1!!!” You are an Evathian, a long removed descendant of humans.. When humanity settled on Evath they cleanly sent all their criminals (now called Ketars) to Mitral, a moon of Evath. The Ketars, having been exiled, mined their moon. Ok cool. This mining was done in a rush job over the years with a bunch of platforms built over the surface of the moon. It was such a rush job that the Ketars realized they made a mess. So they quietly sneaked off to a quiet continent on Evath.. not bothering to tell anyone that Mitral was going to explode. Oops.
Enter you.. as a ‘Driller’ you must place a drill on each of the 18 mining platforms, or sectors, of Mitral, relieving gas pressure, which will stop the explosion. Every sector is unique. All are named after
elderly women crystals. Ruby, Opal. Beryl. Some sectors have exploding mines, others have shooting ‘laser beacons’, while still another has a flying craft you can hop into and explore the sector with. There is an in game time limit of four hours, AND limited energy, so get moving! If you place a drill in a wrong location, no worries, you can move it at a cost of energy. Try to be accurate. The first sector has a big ‘X’ marking the spot. You’re on your own for the others. This is more of a slow moving exploratory puzzle game, with the occasional quick reflexes needed for shooting. Laser beacons usually need to be deactivated as opposed to shooting them.
Some people love while other’s hate polygon graphics. How do you feel about StarFox? Every surface here is a single color, with no bit-mapped graphics. At the time, this was revolutionary. They even had a name for it, Freescape. So revolutionary, it’s even mentioned on the title screen. Several other games used this engine. Notably, the ‘3D Construction Kit’ by Domark. (I had this. I successfully made two cubes, then accidentally formatted the program diskettes, losing it forever.) Depending on your computer system, you’ll be greeted with bright colorful, non shaded polygons, or somewhat subdued, non shaded polygons. Polygons, polygons, polygons everywhere! Little squares are usually switched to be activated. The ‘drill’ in question looks like a big rupee standing on end. Enemies are equally detailed, or not. Remember, no textures.
Let me complain for a second about the game control… Wow. Dual control sticks weren’t invented yet, and no one really used two joysticks on the same computer at the time. A shame. FPS games hadn’t really been invented yet, so everything was new. Here, you have ‘movement mode’ and ‘attack mode’ with one stick doing double duty and you could switch by pressing a key on the keyboard. It’s as painful as it sounds. At the time it was mildly aggravating, but going back to it now, it’s honestly a little painful. You’ll get used to it, as I did once more, but man, what a learning curve. Like I said earlier, luckily, this game isn’t a quick FPS game like Doom, it’s more of a strategy, shooting an object results in something else falling or making something accessible by shooting a switch to activate it. Still, it’s crazy control scheme annoys me. There’s buttons for tilting your ship, increasing and decreasing your movement pace, and so on. It gets the job done, and no game at the time offered such control of movement. You’ll need to refer to the manual in order to play, as there’s no ‘in game tutorial’ (Thank God!) Speaking of the manual, this game calls back to the days when you NEED the manual, as there is a hint buried in the manual regarding one set of drilling coordinates! Nice roundabout way of handling copy protection.
In space, no one can hear you scream, so they say. In this case, no one can hear you move. The sound effects here are minimal, but for once that heightens the experience. The lowly PC speaker does a decent job of handling some “Zoing” and “Beeww” sounds. Highly technical terms, of course. There’s no musical score, and thankfully, no sound when you move, as it’d probably get annoying quickly.
Space Station Oblivion is sort of like the Tom Cruise movie. Eye candy (for 1987), it forces you to think, and you wonder what the hell is really going on for most of the game since in some ways the plot feels forced to fit the eye candy. It’s worth a trip down memory lane for this one to see a very popular sci fi – 3d – puzzle game. If not for that, then just try it to see how far FPS style games have come, as to my knowledge, this is the first game to really offer true 360 degree movement that wasn’t tied to a grid. Whatever you do, don’t judge Space Station Oblivion until you give it the Fair Shake!