From: "Christopher E. Forman" (

NAME: Oo-Topos GAMEPLAY: 1 or 2-word commands
AUTHOR: Michael Berlyn PLOT: Strictly rudimentary
EMAIL: ??? ATMOSPHERE: A few nice touches
AVAILABILITY: Commercial (Sentient Software) WRITING: Minimalist
PUZZLES: Not overly difficult SUPPORTS: C64, Apple II, IBM
CHARACTERS: Lifeless obstacles DIFFICULTY: Medium

[This review is based on the Apple II version of the game.]

"Oo-Topos" is an oldie but a goodie. It was written billions and billions of years ago (to be exact, 1981), during the dawn of the home computing era. It was also the very first game written by Michael Berlyn, before he went on to write "Cutthroats", "Infidel", and "Suspended" at Infocom. (Incidentally, to add to the recent "Where Are They Now?" article in April's "Computer Game Review," Berlyn also worked at Accolade for some time, where he did the "King's Quest"-like "Altered Destiny" a few years back, and was also part of a team which created Sega and Super Nintendo games -- he worked on the original "Bubsy," for instance.)

The plot is very straightforward as sci-fi stories go: You were transporting a shipload of scientific equipment and a serum to cure an Earth- bound plague, when aliens caught your ship in their tractor beam and grounded it on their homeworld of Oo-Topos. You begin the game in a cell, having forced the door open, and must escape the prison, collect the scattered cargo, and locate the necessary parts to put your ship back together.

You interact via a two-word parser superimposed on a minimal interface -- there's no prompt, just a cursor, and the text spans 40 columns, all in caps. Still, it looks more like the Infocom format than the Scott Adams adventures -- "Oo-Topos" has full (albeit rather sparse) room descriptions as opposed to a simple room name and a list of objects, which makes it feel less mechanical. Even so, there's not much of a command set. There are no synonyms, it's impossible to examine room scenery, and you can't even examine objects unless you're carrying them. (There are a few exceptions to the last one.)

According to the sleeved package the game comes in (mine has a $32.95 price tag still attached -- wow!), Berlyn spent a year and a half writing and programming the game. The writing is passable for such an early effort, but it's very prosaic, nowhere near the level of Berlyn's books. (He's had four science-fiction novels published: "The Integrated Man," "Crystal Phoenix," "Blight," and "The Eternal Enemy.") Players get little sense of wonder as they wander the corridors of the alien prison, as the text suffers from the sparse minimalism of early adventures. The aliens themselves are particularly lifeless, serving only as obstacles to impede the player's progress.

The puzzles, though no doubt original at the time, are pretty simple by today's standards. A 2-word parser doesn't allow for something as complex as, say, the Enigma machine in "Jigsaw." Don't forget that the game had to fit on a 180K single-sided floppy as well. Much of the game is derivative of the original Crowther and Woods Adventure (when you die, you're resurrected, but your possessions are lost, etc.). A few bits of text pay humble tribute to Adventure (such as eating the food -- you're told that it's "pretty tasty food"). Most puzzles embody the characteristic cause-and-effect logic -- setting up conditions so a solution can occur -- but there's no veil of atmosphere or plot to conceal the fact that these are simple logic puzzles.

Sprinkled throughout the game are a number of drop-an-object mazes. These are hard, no two ways about it. You'll have to make maps if you expect to get through them. Maze-haters will likely become fed up very quickly. But, considering that the game's date places it in the company of "Adventure" and the "Zork" Trilogy, I'm willing to let that slide.

Despite these criticisms (which can largely be excused because the game is so old), I had a lot of fun with "Oo-Topos," and have scored it accordingly, breaking several rules of the SPAG rating system in an effort to keep it from being slighted. If you can appreciate the adventure game at its most primitive level, you'll enjoy "Oo-Topos." I felt a little thrill in watching the red disk-access LED on my Apple II light up, as I waited for the next location to be loaded into memory. "Oo-Topos" is a piece of I-F history, a nostalgic trip down memory lane, a perfectly preserved relic from an age of computer gaming whose mystical aura can only be recaptured by those of us who were there to watch the computer adventure grow up.

-- C.E. Forman