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Aldebaran III: Finished!   Leave a comment

Wayne Barlowe’s rendition of our hero.

Last time I was supposed to find a “xyller”, “yangst” and “zwerf” as well as deliver 15 credits to “The Rep” who runs the government.

The next obstacle was a bridge, where only one item could be carried across at a time; at the other end of the bridge was a graveyard which doubled as a maze. All three of the quest items were hidden there, where I had to dig the objects out by shovel.

Also, the graveyard included a completely optional scene with a vampire, which feels like it was ported in from an entirely different game.

You’re inside an ancient crypt of oddly familiar design. It is dark and gloomy here with cobwebs hanging from every wall. Although there are no religious articles visible there is a large black coffin sitting on the ground. There are doorways to the east and west.
OPEN COFFIN
The lid seems to give a little …
and then springs off as a small bat escapes from the coffin.
You hear footsteps approach from behind you …

In any case, once attaining the necessary items, it’s required to cross the bridge again. However, you can’t leave the xyller alone with the yangst, or the yangst alone with the zwerf; otherwise bad things will happen:

As you watch, amazed, the yangst turns a muddy, opaque brown and starts to spin, rolling toward the zwerf which, in turn, melts into a green, viscous fluid and starts seeping into the ground!

The yangst is now spinning madly and rolls over traces of the zwerf which seem to boil away on contact!

After the last trace of the zwerf has been vaporized the spinning yangst slows to a stop and resumes its alabaster translucency.

After safely crossing the bridge, I found the subway tokens I had to leave behind stolen. (I had to induce this — they were in the room description, but picking them up resulted in an empty inventory.) They *seemed* to be necessary to get out of the area.

You’re on a street of gleaming white plasmeld. There is not a spot of dirt anywhere. A lovely building of slightly alien design is visible to the west and a bridge is visible to the east. There is a gate set in the wall with a small slot next to it.
You notice a fleck of dust fall from the sky only to be deposited in a hidden chute by mechanical hands.

The “mechanical hands” are a clue.

DROP DIRT
An alarm sounds and mechanical hands roughly grab you while they swiftly clean up the mess and then drop you back on the subwalk platform.

No, “dirt” isn’t otherwise an object. This is one of those Adventure-did-it-better things; items or even characters in Aldebaran III might be usable without them being separated as items in the game. While commands can be tagged to specific objects, a lot of them are coded directly into the rooms.

Another quick example; when going WEST from one room, this occurs without warning:

You’re in jail, the warden has taken your keys away, (natch), so you can’t get out…

You can BRIBE your way out of the situation, even though it’s not obvious from the description above that the warden or anyone else is hanging around to give money to:

Fortunately you’re a slick talker and get away with a very small bribe, (and your keys).

Here’s the actual source code:

#99 In Jail
You’re in jail, the warden has taken your keys away, (natch), so you can’t
get out…
help m=Nope
bribe v<6.1 m=”You don’t have any credits to bribe anyone with…”
bribe 21 v-6.1 t+keys m=”\
Fortunately you’re a slick talker and get away with a very small bribe,
(and your keys).”

Back to the main gameplay: after escaping the “clean” area into the subway, it’s only a few steps away to the Rep, and the conclusion to the game:

You are in the presence of the Rep.
GIVE XYLLER
“My Xyller!”, he exclaims.
GIVE YANGST
“My Yangst!”, he crows.
GIVE ZWERF
“My Zwerf!”, he coos.
GIVE CREDITS
“You Terries aren’t so bad after all”, admits the Rep as he flicks a switch that cuts the power to all the androids that were leading the uprising, “Why don’t you stay for dinner?”. Which, of course, you do.”

I’m not sure why this cover is so gritty compared with the rest.

I think we sometimes take for granted how good the 350-point Crowther and Woods Adventure really is. As a starting point for the text adventure genre it established a vocabulary of verb-noun interaction that led later imitators to have some grounding. Nearly every action involves a reasonable use of an object that the player can see, and the interaction with characters like the dwarfs is limited in a way that suited the parser.

It may have started a penchant for light source timers, treasure hunts, mazes, and general fantasy randomness, but at least it was (and still is) quite playable as a game.

Aldebaran III is hard to play because it demands actions from the players out of a possibility space that is too large. The ambitions for character interaction got overextended. With *very* specific commands you can get some interesting conversation, like

“Want, want, want! You Terries never talk about anything else!”

(Terry = Terran = Earthling)

but in general characters come across as brick walls.

It feels skeletal. Many rooms in the source code don’t get used.

#328 Police Headquarters

#329 Stellar and Park Place

#330 Stellar and Alabaster

#331 Stellar and Zero

#332 Stellar and Laser

#333 Stellar Street

#334 Crystal City Information

The overall impression is one of failed ambition. While I appreciated the humor and ideas of Aldebaran III, but I can also understand why it fell into obscurity.

Posted July 19, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Aldebaran III: Player as Conscience   2 comments

I once discussed with the game Warp the idea of looking for the future in the past; that often “a work’s innovation is lost because the work itself is obscure or the implementation of a promising concept was badly done.”

The same can be said for works that were ahead of their time, but not so far ahead their ideas haven’t been replicated. Aldebaran III hints at a relationship between player and character that arguably doesn’t appear again until Infocom’s version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1984) or possibly even Plundered Hearts (1987).

Unfortunately, in 1977-1978 the ideas were there but not the technology.

Last time I mentioned some notes which end with “(the notes continue, but your interest wanes)”.

You can keep reading:

READ NOTES
Page 2
The ruling species on Aldebaran III is a large, six “legged”, (actually “pseudopoded”), mammal with a roughly Humanoid torso and a perfectly spherical “brain-case” containing, in most cases, a brain the size of a filbert. (In a few, exceptional cases the brain is believed to be quite large. This increased “brain-power” has no effect on intelligence but is believed to provide the ability to alter body appearance at will.)

This continues (using more READ NOTES commands) all the way until past Page 6:

At this point the notes trail off into meaningless scribbles and, thinking back, you vaguely remember an interesting interlude with some rather illicit drugs and two stewardesses on the trip here … Ahhh … Anyway, going back to the beginning of the notes …

Let me be clear: this is a large infodump and not good game design. Still, this reflects the idea that the player is not just “role-playing” but is actually the “inner voice” of the character, forcing him to read through the notes that he wrote when clearly … distracted.

Somehow in the stories he is highly competent anyway.

This sort of plot demands quite a few characters, but the coding is so skeletal it’s hard to get anything at all to happen. For example, early on you encounter a bar:

You are in the dimly-lit Spaceport Bar on Aldebaran III, which appears to be nearly deserted except for you and the burly bartender whose eyestalks keep twitching suspiciously in your direction. A large sign hangs over the door to the south.
BUY DRINK
It cost 5 credits and tastes like kerosene but you slurp it down!
S
With an amazingly graceful movement for someone his size, the bartender leaps over the bar and blocks your exit while pointing at the sign!
READ SIGN
The sign says “Jsu Snarret POTE kirs meawed jokero quakonk!”
(obviously some local dialect).

It turns out you can do this:

BRIBE BARTENDER
The bartender solemnly folds your offering into his apron and leaves
something sitting on the bar.
Spaceport Bar
There is an electronic all-dialect dictionary here.

Upon which you can now use the >TRANSLATE verb:
TRANSLATE SIGN
Checking your dictionary you discover that the sign says:
“Due to new liquour law all Terrans MUST show papers before leaving!”

Showing papers results in a silly in-joke:

SHOW PAPERS
The bartender checks your papers and grunts in amazement.
You are in the dimly-lit Spaceport Bar on Aldebaran III, which appears to be nearly deserted except for you and the burly bartender who has brought you a drink, (on the house), after learning that you are a user of UNIX software.

but also means, separate from the bribe, you can also do this:

ASK FOR HELP
The barkeep feigns ignorance, but leaves something lying on the bar.
Spaceport Bar
There is a map here.

The map gives an important “secret word” where if you don’t have it you’ll get stuck on a conversation later. I’ll jump to that conversation in a moment, but first, note the improbability of coming up with BRIBE, TRANSLATE, and ASK FOR HELP completely unprompted. Not only that, but the bribery in order to get the dictionary has to happen *before* getting the map. Otherwise the game just gives the message “You can’t do that now.”

It’s like the author had a transcript in mind and coded it, but there wasn’t enough flexibility for all the parts to show up in actual play. This is not even referring to guess-the-verb, exactly; it’s more like the rules of adventure-play not being codified when it comes to character interaction to know some of the 100 possible reasonable actions that might be useful.

Later, you encounter a church:

N
As you pass through the door it silently swings closed. You’re in a magnificent seven-sided room with rows of pews in concentric heptagons facing the center. A door to the south is tightly closed. A small, gnarled native is standing in the center of the room and looking expectant.
TALK TO NATIVE
You can’t do that now.
ASK FOR HELP
“Why should I help you? I don’t even know who you are”, the native states.
House of Worship
SHOW PAPERS
“Papers can always be forged” he counters.
House of Worship

I have *no* idea how one is supposed to summon the next command without looking at the source code (as I had to do). Maybe it’s a reference to the stories? It’s the only way to make progress:

WHO ARE YOU
The man’s face turns purple with effort as he answers,
“My name iss Igna…
my name iss Ig…
Arrrrgh! I cannot lie here, my name iss … R. Nixon Shilth!, To defend yoursself, soft one!”
So saying, the man crouches as if to leap at you…
ATTACK MAN
As you battle with the man he starts to fade in and out and finally undergoes an amazing metamorphosis into a beautiful woman!

“Ignarp’s the handle”, she says, “Thanks for distracting Shilth while I regained control. I’m afraid I foolishly let him slip a Groaci drug into my prune juice which left me bound by a metamorph- dominance spell which I couldn’t break without a little distraction. I’d be glad to return the favor …”
You’re in a magnificent seven-sided room with rows of pews in concentric heptagons facing the center. A door to the south is tightly closed.
A beautiful woman is standing in the center of the room looking expectant.
ASK FOR HELP
I’d like to help you, whoever you are, but I’m not sure I should…

If you didn’t get the map earlier, you won’t know the the secret password. Even if you *did* get the map, it’s not all that obvious it applies here:

AXOLOTYL
So you’re Retief from the CDT? Perhaps you’d like to hear the story behind the Aldebarran anger at Terrans?
YES
Another day passes…
Mr. Shilth, whom you’ve already met, is interested in acquiring the grounds on which the Terran Embassy stands to subdivide into condominiums for vacationing Groaci Peace Enforcers. Because the land can’t be bought while the Embassy still occupies it, Shilth is hoping to have the Terran Embassy forcibly removed. Disguised as a native trader, he sold a set of “Native Art Objects” to your Ambassador Pouncetrifle. Unfortunately, the objects were stolen from the Rep’s Meeting Hall, the one truly sacred spot on Aldebarran III, which the thieves desecrated with obscene slogans. Ambassador Pouncetrifle learned of all this when he proudly displaying them at an Embassy reception. Naturally the Ambassador was imprisoned. After much verbal footwork the Ambassador convinced the Rep that the whole matter might have been a misunderstanding. The Rep graciously agreed that matters could be set to rights by the return of the objects and the payment of a token fine of 1,000 galactic credits. Shall I go on?
YES
The Ambassador paid most of the fine with the 985 credits he was carrying with him, (having expected to make further art purchases), and was released from confinement to gather the remaining 15 credits and the missing objects. Returning to the Embassy via Park Place the Ambassador made the mistake of trying out his Aldebarran-English phrase book on a native he believed to be participating in a quaint street fair. He has not been heard from since, but the deadline for returning the objects is only 29 days away and Shilth’s agents are reported to have stolen the objects again!
If you can find the missing objects and present them to the Rep with the final 15 credit payment he may be able to help avert the uprising.

The three objects are:
a pale Xyller
an alabaster Yangst
and a green Zwerf
They are rumored to be hidden in an isolated area near Pont St. Michel.

That’s about all I know about it.

I have found all three, and the process is a little absurd, and the Xyller will eat the Yangst if you leave them together alone. (I swear I’m not making this up.) I’ll get more into that in my next post (where I’ll hopefully have won the game as well).

Posted July 17, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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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!

Posted July 13, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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