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Video Game / Robot City

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Robot City is a first-person pre-rendered mystery video game, developed by Byron Preiss Entertainment in 1995. Based closely on the Isaac Asimov novel series of the same name, primarily the second book.

You are Derec, a man with no identity, memories, or even name. You have crash-landed on a distant planet, which contains the eponymous Robot City, the perfect society for robots and humans alike. However, two other people got here while you were unconscious: Dr. David Poole and his assistant, Katherine Burgess, along with their robot companion, Alpha. Dr. Poole has been murdered, and the robots, knowing you are the only other human here besides Katherine, have pinned you as the prime suspect. Now you must explore the city to prove your innocence.


Robot City contains examples of

  • Amnesiac Hero: Derec has no memories to go on, period, when the game starts, and doesn't even trust his own nickname. The robots who accuse him assume that he's blocking out memories of the murder.
  • Apocalyptic Log: the computer inside the Compass Tower, which describes in precise detail what will happen when the city becomes unstable, potentially rendering it uninhabitable for humans before long.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Dr. Avery made Robot City from a plastic-steel compound that could be programmed by the central computer into creating virtually anything, from the smallest piece of furniture to the largest building, and even the very robots that inhabit it.
  • Asshole Victim: David Poole. He treated the robot inhabitants as if he was their master and caused the city's problems to begin with.
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  • Base on Wheels: In times of emergency, like now, the city's command center detaches itself and flees underground to protect itself from input.
  • Beeping Computer: Used in the server room at the top of the Compass Tower, and played for dramatic effect at the Core Computer and Dr. Avery's lab.
  • Canon Foreigner: David Poole is a new character created for the game, as the original novels only featured Derec and Katherine.
  • Chaos Architecture: Due to the city's abnormally shifting state, this will often happen while you're exploring it. One passage you went down will be different when you turn around, or back alleys will become dead ends. This phenomenon stops after you fix the city's network, though.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: One malfunctioning robot that was traumatized by Dr. Poole's murder comes off as this, spouting random quotes while stumbling through the city streets. Alpha can temporarily fix it with the proper cube installed, allowing you to properly interrogate it for information.
  • Colonized Solar System: Katherine and Poole were from two heavily colonized planets, the former from Aurora, and the latter from Solaria. People who live off-Earth in general are called "Spacers".
  • Computer Virus: Dr. Poole had created a virus that would destabilize the city's network and eventually force it to break down; he died just after he uploaded it through an unprotected access port.
  • Condensation Clue: Turning the thermostat in your apartment all the way up reveals a message left by Dr. Poole for Katherine on the bathroom mirror.
  • Data Pad: Dr. Poole's journal is made up of "Smart-Pages", written using a stylus.
  • Developers' Foresight: When the Core Computer is stabilized, the terminal in the Compass Tower and even the console in your apartment update to report this.
  • Diegetic Interface: 3/4 of your HUD consists of rotating panels for your Dialogue Tree and inventory, while the other portion accesses game settings and your com-link with the Supervisor robots, complete with ID info on whichever robot is speaking to you, in person or otherwise.
  • Epilogue Letter: Each ending is capped off with an email, pondering the implications of the ending in question.
  • Escape Pod: The Massey G-85 Survival Pod, which you begin the game in. It comes complete with food, drinks, a music library, and even an In-Game TV.
  • The Faceless: Dr. Avery, the creator of Robot City, who spends the entire game monitoring Robot City from presumably an off-world spacecraft. When he finally talks to you at the end, all you see is an audio graph of his voice. Averted with you, however, given that some of the endings show your full body. Even more so in the original novels.
  • Featureless Protagonist: In-universe with your character, having no identification other than a label on your jumpsuit reading "Derec", which doesn't help much, being the name of a company that makes jumpsuits. Furthermore, your tissue, facial features and DNA have no match in any database. The original novels even had an ID code on his jumpsuit that was only a test code. You are able to talk, at least.
  • Food Pills: A justified example, as the robots know little about human anatomy, and so the only nutrition you can get after leaving your pod are a pair of pills containing an entire day's nutrients.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: Your escape pod has food and drink options, but regardless of your choices, the former is delivered through a tube, and the latter intravenously, complete with artificial flavoring.
  • The Game of the Book: Based on the novel series of the same name, with some elements changed.
  • Ghost City: Compared to the novels, Robot City proper is mostly devoid of activity. The only robots you'll come across in the open are the occasional worker robots in the streets.
  • Grand Theft Me: Supervisor robots have the ability to temporarily take remote control of other robots for certain situations. Exploring the city and its computer logs reveals that one of the supervisors took control of a worker robot to kill Dr. Poole, without having to do it himself, though it still broke the First Law of Robotics.
  • Improvised Weapon: Dr. Poole's cause of death was blunt trauma to the neck, and exploring the city turns up blood on a Calvin Wrench, a tool which was assigned to a worker robot that mysteriously stopped working.
  • Jump Scare: The Hunter robots, who can appear out of nowhere and send you straight back to your apartment, as you're not allowed to be wandering the city. There's no telling where they'll come from, and getting caught too many times results in a game over.
  • Kent Brockman News: If you choose to watch a news report in your escape pod, a reporter mentions Avery proposing his amazing city to the Auroran government, then disappearing after they turn him down. The reporter also starts rambling about his personal life in between other reports on Aurora.
  • Late to the Tragedy: After the robots tear you out of the escape pod, you fall asleep for 12 hours, during which Dr. Poole's murder takes place. As such, the robots think you did it in that intervening time.
  • Logic Bomb: This is almost to be expected when a robot violates the Three Laws, and often results in "positronic drift" if they can't overcome it.
    • An early-game example shows up if you ask DARLA about leaving your escape pod. She can't let you out because the uncertainty of what's outside would conflict with the 2nd and 3rd laws. This is sidestepped by one of the city robots tearing you out of the pod by force.
  • Look Behind You: At some points, you can distract the Hunter robots before they capture you by saying, "Look! The real killer is behind you!", allowing you to get away from them.
  • MacGuffin: Like in the books, the Key to Perihelion is a very valuable artifact, being a hand-held teleporter that can send its user anywhere in the universe. Dr. Avery had intended to use it to eventually copy Robot City to other planets for colonization, and you can give it to Katherine to help both of you leave the planet, if you choose to do so.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: You are placed as the prime suspect for Dr. Poole's murder, as the Laws of Robotics forbid any robot from killing a human. Naturally, it's up to you to prove your innocence by exploring the city for evidence.
  • Multiple Endings: You can let Dr. Avery blow up Robot City with enough time for you to leave in a shuttle with Katherine, disable a computer that triggers the self destruct sequence and allow Robot City to continue, and still leave, or you can stay with her on the planet to run the place together.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: If you equip Alpha with his Defense skill cube, at the end of the game you can watch him effortlessly pummel Avery's guard robot, and even rip out its power core!
  • NPC Roadblock: You have to negotiate with several robots to enter sensitive areas.
  • One-Way Visor: Alpha and the Supervisor robots have these for vision sensors.
  • Powers as Programs: Alpha can be customized with special cubes that add extra abilities.
  • Randomly Generated Levels: One of the game's drawbacks. The city's sectors change as you walk around, and the only areas that don't are often hidden among the random ones, making navigation a chore at times.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Despite you being the prime murder suspect, the Supervisor robots are willing to listen to your side of the case as you find more evidence around the city, and give you access to more of the city over time, to help you do so. Averted with the Hunter robots, however.
  • The Reveal: When Avery's guard robot scans you with a DNA analyzer, stating that you are him. Minutes later, Avery himself explains that you're actually a clone of him, whom he placed in the DARLA pod as a test subject to allow the city's robots to understand humans.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Almost every robot in the city, especially the Supervisors. Helps that positronic brains allow them to act more easily like humans.
  • Robot Antennae: Alpha has two small antennae on both sides of his head, which you have to reattach when repairing him at the beginning.
  • Robot Republic: Robot City's ultimate purpose, to form a culture that integrates robots and humans as peacefully as possible.
  • Self-Destruct Mechanism: Dr. Avery decides to use this to obliterate Robot City itself, just after you save it, on the basis that the project had been exposed to too much outside interference by Poole and Katherine, and he'd rather start the whole thing over from scratch. You do get the option to stop him, though.
  • Sinister Geometry: The city's buildings are largely geometric shapes with very little in terms of windows, doors, or decorations, though somewhat justified given its unfinished state.
  • The Smurfette Principle: The only machines bearing feminine personalities are DARLA and the Witness robot that analyzes Dr. Poole's body. Every other robot is male.
  • Story Breadcrumbs: Dr. Poole's journal is scattered in 6 pages around the city, revealing his examination of it, as well as his plans. It stops on one word in the 6th entry at the exact time of his murder. These pages can be hard to find due to their small size and how they blend into the background.
  • Spaceship Girl: DARLA, the AI of your life pod. She's programmed to be a therapist of sorts to keep you calm while awaiting rescue.
  • The Tower: The city's Compass Tower, where the Supervisor robots have their headquarters, and where Dr. Avery managed the city itself. It's also a major landmark in that it towers above the other buildings - to the point that the upper floor is above the clouds, and is one of the few parts of the city that doesn't change shape.
  • Take Your Time: You can fool around with the escape pod's functions as much as you want, since the robots won't pull you out until you press "Nothing" in the main menu.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: Being based on the Asimov universe, all robots in-game follow the Three Laws of Robotics. You even start the game carrying an in-universe handbook on the subject.
  • Underground Level: A mine below the city, late in the game, where you have to find the moving core computer in its tunnels using a large mining robot.
  • The Very Definitely Final Dungeon: Dr. Avery's laboratory, hidden in the Compass Tower. It can only be accessed after you fix the city itself, and it finally reveals who you are.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: Deceiving or harassing the robots too often makes them lose your trust, and the game in turn.
  • Voice with an Internet Connection: Katherine leaves prerecorded video messages for you on your apartment's computer.
  • When It Rains, It Pours: At certain points, sudden thunderstorms will start, increasing depending on how many screens you've moved. They can turn into flash floods which wash you back to your apartment if you hang around for too long.
  • Who's on First?: One of the worker robots calls you "Mr. Derec", then if you tell him, "No, it's just Derec", he says, "Hello, Mr. Just Derec." It only escalates from there, and you can even end it with "This conversation's already too silly for me.".
  • You All Look Familiar: Due to the limited CGI of the time, most of the robots you meet are sparse in variety. Worker robots have a number of varying paint jobs, while the Supervisors all have the same silver chassis, compared to the books where each one is different. The only way to tell one robot from another is by its ID info, shown on your comlink.
  • You Are Number 6: Each robot has a model number, but some also have names of their own.