QotM*: ScaredStrasse – Cosmic Chasm on Vectrex

*Question of the Month is a pumpkin spiced latte without the pumpkin or the latte and more of a chocolate mint thing going on… kind of just a minty mocha, with marshmallows, and a cookie on the side brought to you in your favourite armchair by Later Levels

It has been a while since I last participated in a Question of the Month. That last entry was something of an epic foray in to the world of my roaming imagination and seemed to consume an inordinate amount of my QotM energy. I think it’s about time to venture back in to that QotM world with my take on this month’s question.

For October, the month of the Ween-of-Hallow, the question has a distinctly appropriate spooky vibe and has been set by Megan over at A Geeky Gal; it’s an exceptional blog that I thoroughly recommend you check covering gaming, anime, and general geek-ery. Megan recently unleashed a set of her five personal favourite horror games that not only include some of my favourites, but are a neat place to start if you’re looking to explore her work and read something seasonally-appropriate at the same time.

As always check out the MONSTER POST! over at Later Levels for all the details and to see all of my fellow word-lers’ take on October’s question by looking through the comments. This month Megan asks:

In honour of Halloween, tell me what video game scared you the most. What is it about the elements, environments, music, or characters in the video game that scared you?

I was going to write about the horrors of Project Zero (aka Fatal Frame) on PS2, but unfortunately for me, and fortunately for you, the spiffing Brandon Green selected that as his answer (and it’s well worth a read). I decided therefore to dive much deeper into my gaming history, to a game that scared me as a young child of four or five. I know what you’re thinking, but no, I’m not going to retell the story of that Nightmarish Postman Pat game on Atari ST, we’re going even further back than the ST to a game on GCE’s iconic Vectrex.

Vectrex_machines
Image credit: Marcin Wichary (CC BY 2.0)

The Vectrex is a beautiful product of 1982’s home gaming market; a self contained console with a weird telephone corded four button controller, plastic overlays for each game to colourise the monochrome visuals, and stunning vector graphics CRT display. No amount of photos or emulators do justice to the dots and lines generated from a single electron beam hitting that phosphorescent screen; unlike normal CRT screens, the image wasn’t generated by scanning over the entire monitor but by the beam literally tracing out each vector of the graphics which gives these types of systems a unique visual intensity. It was designed to capture the vector based arcade games of the time and bring them in to people’s homes and we were fortunate enough to have one on loan for a while from my Uncle. So what is the game that scared me so much?…

…Cosmic Chasm…


I gently flexed the overlay and let it expand into place over the screen; a deep red cavern lay before me as I picked up the controller and powered up the console by turning the knurled plastic dial. The first click bringing the console to life and the subsequent rotation raising the volume so that the high pitched whining of the poorly shielded speaker could be heard shifting in pitch as the images on the screen changed. A sudden ripple of raspy bleeps through the speaker made me jump; I was on edge. The onscreen text “Cosmic Chasm” disappeared leaving only the faint ghost of its presence and as it faded so did the room around me. 

A solitary moon floated in the deep blue alien sky. Ahead of me, through the glass of the cockpit canopy, I saw the deep red cave opening and beyond the tunnel sharply descended into the planet’s crust. My hands, already slick with sweat, gripped the control column and as I fired the craft’s thrusters the darkness consumed me. 

vect0003

With the flick of a toggle switch on the console the dynamic visual enhancement mode was activated and the view through the glass suddenly revealed the grainy outlines of the walls of the passage as I descended further in to the planet. The monitor in front of me flashed up with a map of the cave system I was entering. Each chamber was represented by a simple diamond shape, the connecting tunnels by lines, and the core, my destination, shown as a small octagon in the centre. I hit the thrusters again and drifted in to the first chamber; a vast cavern with jagged rocky walls. To the north, south and west I could see entrances to other tunnels with a shimmering force field blocking the way to each of them and in the centre, though the darkness, I could just about make out a small floating metallic orb.

… then they came… 

Their angular ships, slick and silent, inexorably accelerating toward my position. They didn’t seem to be carrying any weapons and for just a moment I couldn’t work out why. Then I realised; they were the weapons. One collision would shatter the canopy and release me in to the toxic alien atmosphere. The moment of hesitation passed and my dual guns let rip a barrage of fire cutting through the first ship, then the second, then the third. I slammed the control column to the left and mashed the fire button to finish off the final two enemies. Each of their ships vanished in a bright flash as they were instantly vaporised. It was quiet and I let out a breath that I hadn’t known I had been holding. 

vect0001

Bwam… 

What was that?… 

Bwam…  

I looked around the cavern but couldn’t see anything. The force fields still shimmered as they had before, the rocky walls were still there, the small orb in the centre was still floating, only I must have drifted a little closer to it because it seemed bigger. 

Bwam

The orb’s surface rippled and it suddenly grew in diameter. I stared in amazement. 

Bwam…

It grew again. My heart began to beat loudly in my ears. I needed to move. I needed to get out of this chamber. I hit the thrusters and propelled myself toward the southern force field. The on-board computer whirred and clicked flashing up a warning on the display. The hull wouldn’t survive touching the forcefield. The computer predicted that my only chance was to use the high strength drill bit positioned on the nose of the ship to penetrate the field; activating the drill might then disrupt it enough to overload the system. I brought the craft to a stop a few metres in front of the crackling field. 

Bwam

Behind me the orb grew once more, it was relentless and now encompassed about a third of the chamber. I fired the thrusters and nudged the craft forward. This needed to be precise. The drill bit had to be in the field, but go too far and that cracking mess of electrons would disintegrate the ship. Sweat dripped from by brow on to the control column. 

…Bwam…

A blue flame licked out from the thrusters once again and I edged closer. Electricity arced from the field to the tip of the drill bit. One more tap on the thrusters and the drill bit was squarely in the field, sparks and flashes dancing around it. I allowed myself a small sigh of relief then hit the button to activate the drill. With a sharp snap the field vanished and the passage lay silently ahead of me. 

…Bwam… 

The thrusters roared and the map display showed me travelling down one of the passages toward another chamber. I careened in to the new chamber and came to a stop facing another of those small orbs. 

Bwam… 

I barely had time to come to terms with this new growing monstrosity when out of the darkness the enemy descended on me once again. They converged on me from all sides. Instinctively I raised the shields. The angular ships ricocheted off that protective bubble and flew backwards across the chamber, seemingly enraged by the obstruction. My craft pirouetted neatly to the right, I dropped the shields, and iridescent beads of light ripped out of the twin guns once more. Three of the ships vanished before I brought the shields back up to deflect the final two ships that had regrouped and charged from my left. Once more I span around and eliminated the aliens. 

…Bwam… 

My heart still racing from the encounter I pushed on to the next force field and the tunnel beyond. I made my way through chamber after chamber, blasting ships, destroying force fields, and with each cavern the constant unflinching threat of a growing orb expanding rhythmically outward threatening to crush my ship if I lingered too long. 

vect0002

Finally I entered the core and, after defeating the handful of sentry ships, the chamber was silent for once. In the middle lay a web of metal and light surrounding the reactor; my ultimate target. Carefully I turned the craft’s back to this structure. My heart was still racing, I knew the escape would be close.

I took a deep breath and released the bomb. 

Instantly a panel in my cockpit began to emit a steady beeping indicating that the countdown had begun. My mission was complete, but I still needed to escape the cave system. The thrusters leapt in to life and my head slammed backward into the chair’s restraint as I rocketed from the core into one of the passages and began retracing my steps. A few seconds later I emerged in the previous chamber; its central orb now occupying more than half the area. 

Bwam… 

… and still growing. I deftly orbited it and flew down the next passage and in to the next chamber. Here the orb was bigger still and I wrestled with the craft’s controls to guide it around the orb, the gap between the orb and deadly chamber wall now only two to three times the width of the ship. 

My ship accelerated toward the final chamber before the passage to the planet’s surface. Here the orb was truly massive. I wrenched the control column to the right and took the ship into the gap. Sparks shone in the dark chamber as the underside of the craft grazed the cavern wall and I stared upwards at the orb barely two metres above the canopy. 

…Bwam… 

… One metre… I willed the ship to move faster, my breath was ragged, my heart pounding, I could see the entrance to the final passage appear ahead of me. I was going to make it. 

…Bwam… 

GAME OVER

… and then I was four or five again, sitting on the carpet in front of that small black box. Heart racing, palms sweaty. With a trembling hand I turned off the system and pulled out the cartridge. With a satisfying clunk I pushed a different one in to the slot. 

The racing game wasn’t as scary. 

3 thoughts on “QotM*: ScaredStrasse – Cosmic Chasm on Vectrex

  1. Spiffing. No one has called me spiffing before, I kinda like it 🙂

    Bloomin heck, the Vectrex. I’ve only ever seen them at EGX, in person and they look like pretty darn cool especially for the time they came out.

    Great answer to the QOTM! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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