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deepspace.zip *
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Requires a TADS interpreter. Visit IFWiki for download links.
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* Compressed with ZIP. Free Unzip tools are available for most systems at www.info-zip.org.

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Deep Space Drifter

by Michael J. Roberts profile and Steve McAdams

Science Fiction

(based on 7 ratings)
2 reviews

About the Story

Stranded in deep space after running out of fuel, you luck upon a nearby space station. When you get there, though, the place is abandoned, and strange things seem to have been happening lately. And if you can make your way off the station and reach the planet below, that's when things get really strange.

Game Details

Editorial Reviews

Baf's Guide

You are a deep space explorer in distress who docks on an abandoned space station seeking rescue. Structurally, DSD is split into two parts - the first one taking place in the station itself, and the second - on the planet the station is orbiting around. The first part has a nice (albeit non-exceptional by modern standards) setting with not-too-hard puzzles (I'd got the feeling they were intended as appetizers for the next part). The second section of the game effectively is a sketchily implemented bunch of puzzles; the puzzles themselves, however, are of top quality - very elaborate, logical, fun to solve, and immensely satisfying.

The development process for DSD has been described by Mike Roberts in his TADS manual, and I agree with him in that the entire game reflects its history. I'd especially recommend it to beginning IF-authors, since it shows pretty clearly that even a great authoring talent, and excellent programming skills won't help you if you don't plan your work thoroughly.

-- Valentine Kopteltsev

The part of the game on the space station is good, with quite a bit of atmospheric details and generally good puzzles. But down at the planet things are less convincing. Everything is deserted, but no real reason for this is given. Several of the puzzles here are also very time-consuming and tedious. Among these puzzles are the game's two infamous mazes.
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Deep Space Drifter is a science fiction tale which should appeal to all adventure fans who enjoy a real challenge and appreciate well written text and cleverly constructed, original puzzles spiced with just the right touch of humour. To have produced such a work as well as the TADS utility with which it was implemented is worthy of the highest praise. With a bit of fine tuning and, of course, some lavish product packaging, Deep Space Drifter could very nearly pass for an Infocom title of the mid '80s, something like a Planetfall/Starcross hybrid. Need I say more? (Neil Shipman)
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I found the start of DSD very good indeed and was looking forward to more of the same once I reached the planet. The mazes however spoil this, for me anyway. I do not object to the odd maze, I even enjoy small to middling sized ones - however twisty amd turny. The 130 location jobby here though could easily have been done in at the most half the size. The second 'maze' was the last straw after this although I do admire the idea immensely. (Richard Hunt)
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Number of Reviews: 2
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
The Maze Walker-Througher, February 26, 2022
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: Escape, SF

Phew! Someone heard you! When adrift in interplanetary space, chances are slim that anybody would hear your distress signal in time. You received the coordinates, you probably have just enough juice left in the fuel cell. So yeah, very fortunate to be underway to that big... distant... abandoned... space station that is now being pelted with debris... and fired upon by a giant laser from the planet's surface...

Hmmm... Maybe not that fortunate, but you either dock here or die in your broken down spacecraft.

The space station in Deep Space Drifter is a compact and effective puzzle-space. A small number of rooms to explore, each with a clear function. Enough objects lying around to get a notion of the backstory and aid in some nifty puzzles. And there's a robot! The environment is sparsely but adequately described, and every few turns the narrative voice informs you that the station is shaking around you as a result of an explosion or an impact. While these messages help with the sense of being in a larger and quite vulnerable place, they do become repetitive to the point where you just skip them.

I dropped my inventory a lot in this part of the game. And not because I typed DROP a lot. I didn't methodically investigate, so I don't really know if it's a bug, if you lose your inventory each time the station gets hit, or if there are an inordinate amount of actions that implicitly DROP ALL (SIT does this for sure), or a combination of all the above. What I do know is that I often arrived at my destination ready to tackle an obstacle only to find that I was empty-handed. That involved some backtracking.

Since the space station is abandoned and empty, just refueling your own spaceship won't work. So, in the next part, you go down to the planetary surface. The game from this point on is very uneven.
I loved zipping around the underground tunnels in the shuttlecar (yes...) There are two very satisfying puzzles. There are also two very large mazes. And that's a pity. I thought both mazes had a really good concept that was drawn out far into tedium and boredom. I frankly didn't care anymore and went with the walkthrough. The concept could have been kept intact, and the mazes shrunk down into 10 room navigational/timing puzzles that would have been more engaging.

Some good puzzles, some good fun, but ultimately not enough.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
The IrkMaster 2000(tm), a top of the line model, April 29, 2024

Deep Space Drifter is another historically-significant game that has aged very poorly. Its place in history seems to be roughly akin to Curses, in that it was produced by the author (Michael J. Roberts) of its development system (TADS), presumably motivated by the twin goals of producing a game of the type the author liked while also serving to exercise said system.

The first time I played this, the PC died from explosive decompression after opening the hatch that apparently connects the cockpit directly to the outside. (It was not clear from the skimpy description that yours is a single-room spaceship.) The second time I played it, the PC died of sudden asphyxiation after the ship runs out of air in 20 turns. OK, then.

There are only two meaningful actions to take in the opening vignette -- pressing two buttons. In doing so, your ship will be automatically docked to a space station that serves as the first half of the setting. Since there's nothing of interest to do on your ship, it seems that, as a matter of design, one might as well have started the story with the docking sequence already accomplished.

Within the first few turns, hunger and sleep "puzzles" announce themselves. The problems to be solved consist only of locating food items and a place to sleep. You cannot sleep in your pilot's chair pre-docking because you're too worried about your survival, but you can take a nice refreshing nap on the couch in the "main room" of the exploding space station. The primary purpose of requiring sleep seems to be to deliver a dream that will serve as a clue later on. There is no purpose to requiring food.

I guess I should have trusted my gut feeling and just abandoned this game, but I wanted to see it through, so I started to consult the walkthrough. Most everything that counts as gameplay involves overcoming simplistic "tab A in slot B" obstacles, in a setting whose realism is limited solely to creating challenge-less difficulty (such as an inventory limit, and the need to lug around a single heavy power source). As Rovarsson's review notes, even keeping hold of your inventory is an annoyance in itself. Most old school games in this vein interject plenty of humor as a consolation for the frustration created by the arbitrary roadblocks, but the humor here is restricted to a long series of "___Master 2000(tm)" jokes. (Ironically, one line that I thought was an amusing throwaway joke about a fuse being "conveniently" located on the roof of a space vehicle turned out to be an accurate description of the situation. It stopped being funny.)

I'm generally OK with the old school style, which is often exclusively composed of this type of interaction. However, the network of interlocking tasks and obstacles that present themselves are usually intertwined with a narrative progression, such that advancing through even simplistic puzzles rewards the players with a steady progression through the story. That's not what happens here. Quite often, there isn't even a non-standard response to indicate that a significant action was special in some way.

The few puzzles that require thinking seem very much under-clued. (Spoiler - click to show)Can you guess that the red square is the one that controls the landing shuttle, or that it's the one you need to modify with the mysterious computer? Can you guess that you need to provide the security robot with the vacuum cleaner (hope you brought it along!) in order for your program switcheroo with the cleaning robot's tape to have a useful effect? Do you care to decode the black box of a reactor control system whose buttons are unlabeled but apparently execute nonsensical functions?

This game's writing style seems close to that of a Scott Adams game. (I've never played those, so I'm making this comparison based on second- and third-hand knowledge.) Room descriptions are so brief and unevocative that they don't even count as thumbnail sketches -- they barely meet the minimum functionality of listing the location's general type, exits and key objects (if any). Object descriptions mostly serve to confirm that the object exists as something interactable.

Lest you think my treatment above unduly harsh, allow me to quote a passage from the TADS 2 Author's Manual that describes the development of the game:

"After formulating the basic plot of the game, and mapping out the portion that takes place on the space station (roughly the first half of the game), we started implementation. We had a basic idea of the second half of the game, but it wasnít even mapped.

Implementation went well for a while, but as we got further along, we started to run into details in the first half of the game that were dependent upon details from the undesigned second half. We improvised some details, and left others for later. As we did this, a strange thing happened: we started to realize that there were holes in the plot, and weird little inconsistencies that hadnít occurred to us until we needed to think about details. As a result, we started to change our basic ideas about the second half, which led to even more inconsistencies and plot holes. It was like digging in sand, and before long we decided to throw out the entire original plan for the second half and start over.

However, we had so much time and effort invested in the space station that we didnít want to throw it away. Instead, we tried to design a new second half that fit in with the existing first half. From this point on, the battle was lost. We went through a series of essentially unrelated plots for the game, trying to fit each new plot to an even larger set of existing implementation. Weíd plan a little, implement it, then discover that the plan wasnít working and would have to go - but the programming work we did would have to stay. The swamp, the cave maze, and the shuttle represented so much work that we couldnít contemplate throwing them away, so whatever we came up with had to include them somehow; for a brief time, we were actually going to make the swamp a 'Swamp Simulator' because it was the only way we could make it fit.

In the end, we were totally sick of writing Deep Space Drifter, but refused to let the project die before it was complete for psychological reasons. To me, this attitude shows through in the last half of the game; I think thereís a room on the planet whose description is something like this: 'This room is very boring; you can leave to the north.' In fact, I think the entire game reflects its history: the space station is full of things to do, it has some nice running jokes, and itís stylistically consistent. The planet, on the other hand, has an empty, barren feel; itís spread out and thereís not much to do. The only parts that are interesting are essentially unrelated to each other and to the story in general, a reflection of having been forced into the game whether they belonged or not.

Iím not saying that Deep Space Drifter is a bad game - I like the space station a lot, and the puzzles on the planet are very elaborate and elegant. But the game has some serious flaws, most of which I attribute to the long, chaotic process of design and implementation.

Having gotten to the end via the walkthrough, I can't even begin to imagine having fought my way through this piece without "cheating." Can you guess your reward for having worked out a ridiculous "puzzle maze" that takes over a hundred moves to complete in the walkthrough? (Spoiler - click to show)The villain is chased away by a space beaver. You get to learn through dying just when is the best time to launch from the planet in an escape ship. Then you are picked up by the space highway patrol and thrown in the brig for operating an "unspaceworthy" vessel. Nice.

The amateur historian in me feels compelled to give this work at least two stars for recognition of its landmark status in 1990; in the aftermath of Infocom's demise and amid the general collapse of the commercial market, this game surely demonstrated that it was possible to produce large-scale, programmatically-complex works comparable to those that had set players' expectations in the preceding decade. However, there is nothing to recommend this work in terms of entertainment value, and the bulk of the educational value that can be gleaned from it is more easily obtained from the quote above than from the work itself.

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Deep Space Drifter on IFDB


The following polls include votes for Deep Space Drifter:

Bound by human frailties??? by Stickz
I'm looking for games where the PC is faced with needs like eating, sleeping, and thirst. Unusual inventory limitations. Things that make them appear a little more human.

This is version 4 of this page, edited by Edward Lacey on 11 March 2013 at 7:26am. - View Update History - Edit This Page - Add a News Item - Delete This Page