Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare is an interactive fiction computer game written by Michael Berlyn and published by Infocom in 1983. It belongs to the science fiction genre, and is considered by many fans to be one of Infocom's better non-Zork-related titles. Like most Infocom titles, it was ported to most popular personal computers of the day, such as the Apple II, PC, Atari ST and Commodore 64.
The player's character has been embedded within a facility that controls vital systems, such as moving public transportation belts and weather control, for an Earth-settled planet called Contra. During your five-hundred-year tenure, you would normally be kept in stasis while your sleeping mind serves as the Central Mentality for the largely self-maintaining systems. As the game opens, however, you are awakened by severe error messages; something is going catastrophically wrong. Eventually, you discover that the facility has suffered catastrophic damage from an earthquake, and the Filtering Computers are shutting down or becoming dangerously unstable. The inhabitants of the city assume that you have gone insane and are purposely harming the city, as one of your predecessors had infamously done. Your task is to repair the damage and restore the systems to normal states before a crew arrives at the facility to "disconnect" your mind, effectively killing you, to replace you with a clone.
Suspended took a novel approach in its game mechanics; rather than being free to move about and interact with the game world directly, the player's character spent the entire game in a state of suspended animation (hence the title) and could only interact by controlling the actions of a number of robot surrogates. Each robot had its own unique strengths and weaknesses, and would describe the same rooms and objects in completely different terms based upon those specializations. The robots were:
- Iris - The only robot with visual sensors, Iris can provide visual descriptions of locations and objects. As the game begins, however, Iris has suffered a burnt-out microchip and cannot see.
- Whiz - The most technical robot, Whiz is used mainly for interfacing with a central library computer for historical and technical information.
- Waldo - The most capable physical manipulator, with several limbs for grasping and holding objects. (The term "Waldo" was originally coined by Robert A. Heinlein to describe teleoperated robots.)
- Auda - Auda is equipped with sensitive audio receptors and can provide information on sounds and vibrations.
- Poet - A diagnostic robot, Poet can sense the flow of electricity; he tends to communicate in somewhat cryptic language.
- Sensa - Sensa is specialized for the detection of magnetic and photon emissions.
So, for example, Auda would describe a room primarily in terms of the sounds being generated there, Poet would describe it in terms of diagnostics of the equipment there (and phrase it in amusingly metaphorical language), and Iris would provide a visual description. All six of the robots could be given orders in conjunction, and some of the challenges the player faced required that several of the robots work together to solve them.
There was also a seventh robot, an all-purpose multifunction repair robot named Fred, who spent the entirety of the game broken and could not be repaired. (See red herring.)
- A map of the facility and small tokens representing each robot. These were intended to allow the player to more easily keep track of each character's whereabouts in the somewhat confusing layout of the facility.
- Briefing for the Contra Central Mentality, a booklet that provides an overview of the facility, the robots, the computer system, and the player character's responsibilities
- A letter from the Contra Central Lottery Commission Headquarters explaining that the player has been chosen to serve as Central Mentality for the next 500 years
- A Contral Central Mentality Lottery Card
One unique feature of Suspended was that the player's "score" was given in the number of deaths suffered as a result of the malfunctioning systems, rather than a number of points for collecting objects or accomplishing goals. (Obviously, the goal was to minimize this number.)
The game offered three difficulty settings, which affected the number of turns the player had before "disconnection". Due to the complicated series of actions required to win the game and the lack of initial information, however, even the easiest setting is widely considered very difficult. Infocom gave Suspended a difficulty rating of "Expert".
The original package for Suspended featured a life-sized white plastic mask set into the front of the box. This was replaced in later packages by a picture of a face.
The working title for the game was Suspension.
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