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Video Game / The Colony

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The Colony was an Action-Adventure First-Person Shooter written by David Alan Smith and released by Mindscape in 1988. It was originally an Apple Macintosh game, but there were also DOS and Amiga ports.

The player is a Space Marshal answering a distress call from a distant research colony, and his ship is damaged en route. After crash landing on the planet, he makes his way over to the colony, to find the colonists missing and the station overrun by aliens. The player explores clues left in the environment, penetrates to the deepest levels of the colony, and hopefully figures out a way to escape alive and prevent the alien infestation from spreading further.

The game showed a first-person perspective of a 3D world drawn out of opaque polygons, rendered in real time, and navigated using the mouse. Considered to be ahead of its time, it can be viewed as a Trope Maker for First Person Shooters (where games like Battlezone and Maze War were Ur Examples, and Wolfenstein 3-D and Doom were Trope Codifiers.)

The game's creator David Alan Smith has posted a retrospective blog entry about the game's development. Smith was in heavy pursuit of the "virtual world" concept and went on from The Colony to create Virtus Walkthrough, a 3D modeling program for architecture, the first program offering real-time 3D tours of building plans.

The author gives a tour of the game on YouTube here: part 1, part 2

Abandonware, so be prepared to break out your emulators.

This game contains examples of:

  • Abandoned Laboratory: The setting.
  • Action-Adventure: At turns the player could be exploring a large environment, solving puzzles, or fighting an alien that appeared around the next corner.
  • A.I. Breaker: When you bumped into an enemy it would turn around to face you. Actually, it didn't quite turn around to face you; it turned to the opposite direction the player was facing. So if a hard-to-kill enemy was bothering you you could turn around and bump into it backwards and it would then turn to face away from you!
  • Alien Geometries: Some parts of the colony don't make sense in three dimensions.
  • The All-Seeing A.I.: Averted. Enemies could only see you if you are standing in their line of sight or you bump into them. It was rather creepy to watch the eyeball on one of the aliens slowly pivot around until it fixed on you.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Various journal entries and documents viewed on computer terminals throughout the colony.
  • Console Cameo: Scattered around the colony are desks with computers on them whose screens you can read for clues. In the Mac version the computers looked like Macintoshes. In the DOS port they looked like IBM PCs.
  • Contagious A.I.: One of the game's creatures managed to act like this in real life, due to a bug that was squashed before release. It would eat its way through the walls of the level and wander off the game map—into the rest of the computer's memory, eventually causing a crash when it found some "juicy" code to modify.
  • Copy Protection: You would have to translate a sequence of shapes into numeric code using a sliding paper device included in the game box.
  • Essence Drop: When you shoot an enemy it reverts to an egg-like form which your Powered Armor can conveniently absorb as energy. You'd better do this, too, or the alien will re-emerge from its egg shortly.
  • Faceless Eye: Most of the aliens possess one. Some just are one. And the icon the program used on the Mac was a floating eye.
  • First-Person Shooter: If Maze War and Battlezone were Ur Examples, and Wolfenstein 3-D and Doom were Trope Codifiers, then The Colony may have been a Trope Maker. It was one of the earliest games that allowed free-form (as opposed to Faux First Person 3D) movement around a mazelike indoor environment, with multiple enemies that could spring from any corner. Several elements of setting and plot would recur in the Doom, Marathon, and Half-Life series.
  • Holiday Mode: On December 25, the potted plants become Christmas trees.
  • Homage: The planet's surface which you must traverse to get from your spacecraft to the colony entrance deliberately looks a lot like Battlezone.
  • In-Vehicle Invulnerability: Inverted. While using the forklift you cannot fire your weapon. And you need to carry some things quite a long way.
  • Inventory Management Puzzle: You can only carry one thing at a time with the forklift. It gets a bit complicated getting some of the things you need out of the hard to reach areas of the base. Teleporters are involved.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: You win by rescuing the cryogenically frozen survivors, re-powering your ship, taking off and nuking the planet from orbit.
  • Just One More Level!: Acknowledged in the author's retrospective.
    Many people took months of daily play to complete it. I was told by more than one person that I had caused their divorce.
  • Late to the Tragedy: You're there too late to save any of the colonists except for a few children who were placed in cryogenic pods.
  • Nintendo Hard: The author states "it turned into a pretty good game, though it was much harder than it should have been." For example there are at least four different ways to die before you even step off your own spacecraft. "It got harder after this."
  • Noob Bridge: To get off your spaceship, first you need to put on your space suit, then go into the airlock, then close the inner airlock door, and only then open the outer door. Many players got stuck coming up with this sequence.
  • No Smoking: One of the early ways to instantly die is to even touch a cigarette (which is, bafflingly, lit and sitting in an ash tray for you.)
  • Press Start to Game Over: Three of the ways to die in your own spaceship. Most egregiously you can die by pressing the unmarked button that launches your planet-busting bombs — the button that looks just like the one next to it that turns on the lights. Then there was the aforementioned cigarette. There were also floor plates that would fatally electrocute you if you stepped on them.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: A brief excerpt from Gustav Holst's The Planets.
  • Shout-Out: A few:
    • The forklift is based on the loader Ripley pilots in Aliens, and even uses a sound effect sampled from that movie.
    • To 2001: A Space Odyssey: There is a recreation of David Bowman's bedroom, complete with The Monolith and an audio sample of "my god, it's full of stars!"
  • Sinister Geometry: Although partly determined by the limits of rendering power at the time, there is something unnerving about an enemy that's a floating Platonic solid topped with an unblinking eye.
  • Skippable Boss: The queen is Nigh-Invulnerable, but can be beaten if you're Crazy-Prepared.
  • A Space Marine Is You: Either a Trope Maker or an Ur-Example. You, the Silent Protagonist, are a "Space Marshal," piloting some kind of police and/or military ship. You are responding to a distress call from a remote outpost. Your ship runs into a Negative Space Wedgie enroute which may or may not be an enemy attack, and you crash land near the underground base, which, it turns out, has been overrun by aliens. Fortunately you are equipped with Powered Armor and an energy weapon. You explore and fight your way to the depths of the overrun underground base to discover what happened, rescue survivors, and finally re-power your spacecraft so that you can take off and nuke the site from orbit.
  • Teleportation: There are some, that you can carry around with your forklift, that get used in a sort of transport puzzle. The purpose of the research colony was to develop teleporter technology. The colonists were apparently working on teleportation technology. You have to use it to solve some puzzles. And it turns out it was a Teleporter Accident that brought the alien queen from another dimension.
  • Wide-Open Sandbox: You are never explicitly given an objective; you must work out what to do by exploration and clues scattered about.