Aldebaran III (1977)   3 comments

This is another game by Peter Langston using the Wander system. (For those who haven’t read about it yet, Wander is a system for writing text adventures originally from 1974, before Crowther and Woods Adventure.)

The first Wander game I played, Castle (original version 1974, current version 1978-ish) felt a bit conventional; without the oddness of the parser it’s not obvious it’s a “side branch” in the history of adventures. This is not the case for Aldebaran III.

Aldebaran III is based on the stories of Keith Laumer, and specifically his intergalactic diplomat Jame Retief. Hence, it’s the first adventure game where you are playing a well-defined character, rather than “yourself”.

You’re this guy, or at least Richard Martin’s imagining from the cover of Retief!

Keith Laumer was a diplomat himself (stationed in Burma) and consequently this is a bit like Ian Fleming and John le Carré going from working in intelligence agencies to authoring spy novels. His stories about Retief are satirical and contain jokes that are (apparently) funnier to those who have been in the real-life diplomatic corps.

Just Imagine …

You are traveling as First Under-secretary to the Ambassador for the Corps Diplomatique Terrestrienne, (CDT). Your direct superior, Mr. Magnan, has managed to duck out of the action and leave you as sole assistant to his superior, Ambassador Pouncetrifle. (The Ambassador is a classic bungler and would, if left on his own, mess things up badly.)

You have been sent to Aldebaran III where you are to avert an uprising against Terran nationals expected at the end of April.

The “Just Imagine…” is a strong cue that we are, in fact, roleplaying, a fact emphasized further by checking the papers we are holding:

READ NOTES
Page 1
Aldebaran III is an eighty-four percent earth normal planet which revolves around a brilliant red star, (Aldebaran, or Alpha Tauri). A III has an atmosphere consisting of 52% nitrogen, 26% helium, 20% oxygen and 2% other gases, (by volume). The period of revolution of A III is 18.628 Earth Standard hours which is expressed in local time as 24 hours. The axis of A III tilts less than a degree with respect to the ecliptic, (47.6′), providing virtually no variation in season and length of daylight, (sunrise is at 6:00 Aldebaran Standard Time, sunset at 7:00 p.m. A.S.T.).
… (the notes continue, but your interest wanes)

Note the last part “your interest wanes” — the character you are playing is bored, which is a good way even in modern games to avert having to write a lot of text for something that should be book-length.

The satirical approach to procedures from the original stories appears in the game, at least in this early encounter:

You are in a low-roofed customs building with long tables stretching between a door at the east and a door at the west. A large sign reads

+---------------------------------+
|    --> SHOW PAPERS HERE <--     |
|     --> PAY DUTY HERE <--       |
|  HAVE YOU ANYTHING TO DECLARE?  |
+---------------------------------+

in a dozen languages. A serious-looking customs official is eyeing you.

“Your papers, pleese”, lisps the official

SHOW PAPERS
“Hmm, a Terry” mumbles the official
“Have you anything to declare?” snaps the customs official

NO
“If you really have nothing to declare you may leave.”
Customs
W
“I don’t believe you’ve declared that credit card”, admonishes the official.
Customs
DECLARE CREDIT CARD
“Yes”, says the official sliding it down the counter and muttering to himself, “credit card — five credits”.

The parser is still as broken as Castle’s (I keep typing GET but the verb is unrecognized, it insists you use TAKE) but the main character still makes the experience feel weirdly modern.

I don’t know how long / difficult this is, I suppose we’ll find out next time!

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Posted July 13, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “Aldebaran III (1977)

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  1. I played this one not so long ago, and I had to tinker with the source code a little to be able to complete it. It’s possible that I missed something, but as far as I can tell the game can’t be won without first being fixed.

    • This was true of Castle too (I just browsed the source and figured out the endings I missed and wrote about it since it was close).

      • Yeah, I also did the same for Castle, but the problems there were a lot more extensive rhan those of A3, and harder to pinpoint. You shouldn’t have any trouble fixing A3, but hit me up if you need a hand.

        Nathan P. Mahney

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