4MBlog: Looking Back At ‘Rescue On Fractulus’

It’s A POST about games that are not ours! 

Rescue On Fractulus was released in 1984 by LucasFilm Games, who would of course go on to become Lucasarts Entertainment. It appeared on pretty much all the popular platforms of the time such as the Atari 5200, ZX Spectrum, Apple II and the Commodore 64.

It was one of my very earliest gaming memories. It is a game which we owned on the Commodore 64 and it was picked up at some car boot sale for probably 50p or something. No doubt one of many, many games that we would have grabbed but one of the few to actually work. Or at least, one of the few that I actually had the patience to wait to see if it worked.

If that sentence is confusing to you it might be because you are not old enough to know that the Commodore 64 used cassette tapes. You would pop your game into the cassette deck and it would then load over what seemed like several hours. Usually after 10-20 minutes (longer or shorter depending on the game!) the splash screen would appear and you would be in business.

One of the games that thankfully worked was Rescue On Fractulus; it is possibly the first game that ever genuinely scared me. According to the Wikipedia page I linked earlier, it was one of the first games to really scare players. It certainly caused me to crap my pants. Not literally. I was potty trained by ten.

What was the game about then? Well, you were a spaceship pilot and were tasked with rescuing your fellow pilots who were stranded on the planet of Fractulus, hence the hugely imaginative title. You flew around in cockpit view across the barren terrain on the lookout for these downed craft. Once you spot one, you have to land and wait for the pilot to hop on board. You had to lower your shields in order to let the pilot get close to the ship, then unlock the airlock door to let him in. Simple enough right?

Nope wrong. Sometimes the pilots would actually be fucking aliens in disguise so they would run up to your ship and if you spotted they were an alien then you would turn your shields back on. If you did not spot they were an alien then they would try and smash their way into the cockpit. Worse, if you were dumb enough to let the damn aliens into your ship, they would just smash the whole place up. Why did they do this? I have no idea. There may have been an elaborate back story in there but I totally didn’t catch it. As a ten year old I just assumed that the aliens were dicks.

This then leads nicely to the scariest moment of my childhood. I am sure you can kind of guess what happens. Now at this time, I shared a room with my brother and sister and so any extended, peaceful gaming sessions were hard to come by. To get around this I had decided to wake up at like 5am and have the C64 all to myself for a few hours. Once the game had loaded, I made sure the volume was super low and preceded to whizz around Fractulus rescuing pilots and incinerating aliens. It was amazing. I was utterly lost in this world and having the best time.

Then it happened. Maybe I had gotten tired or maybe I had just gotten cocky. The hotshot pilot who thought he had tamed this cruel alien world. What an idiot. I had spotted a pilot in need of rescue and so I landed and lowered my shields. At this point, I assume I was so casual about the whole thing I didn’t even consider the possibility that my passenger-to-be was anything other than 10 pixels of human.

So when the alien leapt on the window, I froze. I panicked and didn’t turn on my shields. Ten-year-old me was seconds from virtual death. The alien burst through the screen and it was all over. My mission failed. How many lives would now be lost due to my mistake? Ten-year-old me felt the burden of their deaths. Also, he was probably super tired.

I remember sitting there in the total silence of my house at 6am and could not believe what had happened. My heart was racing and I stared at the screen in shock. It was brilliant. Up until that point, the primary emotions I had enjoyed from playing games were either amusement or frustration. For the first time a game shocked and scared me. Looking back at the screenshots of the game now, it looks just awful. But that is the power of video games, isn’t it? You can lose yourself in these worlds, even if they look terrible. The right game overrides its shoddy graphics and transports you into its world. (I say ‘shoddy graphics’ with the benefit of hindsight of course, at the time it was all quite revolutionary!)

I would love to make a game that paid homage to Fractulus but would settle for a game that at least makes a ten-year-old to very nearly pass out from shock at 6am in the morning.