Battlestar (1979-1984)   2 comments

In the days before the darkness came, when battlestars ruled the heavens…

Three He made and gave them to His daughters,
Beautiful nymphs, the goddesses of the waters.
One to bring good luck and simple feats of wonder,
Two to wash the lands and churn the waves asunder,
Three to rule the world and purge the skies with thunder.

In those times great wizards were known and their powers were beyond belief. They could take any object from thin air, and, uttering the word ‘su’ could disappear.

In those times men were known for their lust for gold and desire to wear fine weapons. Swords and coats of mail were fashioned that could withstand a laser blast.

But when the darkness fell, the rightful reigns were toppled. Swords and helms and heads of state went rolling across the grass. The entire fleet of battlestars was reduced to a single ship.

— From the instructions for Battlestar by David Riggle

Well, we’ve seen a Star Wars game, we’re definitely going to see some Star Trek games, but what about fan games for other franchises, like, say, the 1978 TV show Battlestar Galactica?

From the Internet Movie Database. (The pilot for the TV show was given a theatrical release.)

As the long timeframe of creation implies, this is another mainframe game. The manual page claims it was written “in 1979” so I’m guessing the bulk of the writing happened earlier rather than later. I was also somewhat excited to get to this one, because of this comment (also from the manual):

… it’s slightly less of a puzzle and more a game of exploration. There are a few magical words in the game, but on the whole, simple English should suffice to make one’s desires understandable to the parser.

I was thinking maybe this would be a proto-version of a late-era Telltale game, dispensing with the idea of “puzzles” and reducing things to exploration and action. That’s sort of accurate.

I. The Plot

You awaken amidst chaos.

This is a luxurious stateroom.
The floor is carpeted with a soft animal fur and the great wooden furniture is inlaid with strips of platinum and gold. Electronic equipment built into the walls and ceiling is flashing wildly. The floor shudders and the sounds of dull explosions rumble though the room. From a window in\ the wall ahead comes a view of darkest space. There is a small adjoining room behind you, and a doorway right.

The first phase of the game has you wandering the Battlestar and finding a lot of dead people. Example:

This is the maid’s utility room.
What a gruesome sight! The maid has been brutally drowned in a bucket of Pine Sol and repeatedly stabbed in the back with a knife.
The hallway is behind you.

There is a knife here
The maid’s body is lying here. She was murdered!

Or:

This was the seen of a mass suicide. Hundreds of ambassadors and assorted dignitaries sit slumped over their breakfast cereal. I suppose the news of the cylon attack killed them. There is a strange chill in this room. I would not linger here. The kitchen is right. Entrances ahead and behind you.

And yes, it’s a little excessive. The bizarre thing is

a.) it’s unknown why you survived, given nearly everyone else around you is dead

b.) there are lots of explosions and bodies and stabbings and so forth, but no enemies.

I can chalk up (a.) to dumb luck, but (b.) really started to bother me — I’m still unclear about what was going on. The “cylons” mentioned in the second excerpt are the robot antagonists of the TV series but they are mentioned nowhere else in the game (I searched the source code to confirm this). There are enough knifings elsewhere it doesn’t seem like the main catastrophe is a robot attack. Also, would the “hundreds” of people in charge really decide spiking their breakfast cereal is better than, well, taking charge? Everyone still alive is for the most part mutely running around in panic, except for someone guarding a thermonuclear weapon (which you can activate by shooting it and killing everyone, but otherwise seems to serve no purpose).

All this time, we’re still in our pajamas, or possibly pajamas and a robe.

> i
You are holding:

amulet
coins

= 2 kilograms. (3%)

You are wearing:

pajamas
robe

You are in perfect health.

In the end, there’s not much to do on the Battlestar. You can pick up some items, including the aforementioned amulet

The amulet is warm to the touch, and its beauty catches your breath. A mist falls over your eyes, but then it is gone. Sounds seem clearer and sharper but far away as if in a dream. The sound of purling water reaches you from afar. The mist falls again, and your heart leaps in horror. The gold freezes your hands and fathomless darkness engulfs your soul.

but you can’t talk with anyone or learn anything really. I suppose the intent is to soak in the atmosphere. The only thing to do is to get to a Viper ship and fly off.

Then things get really weird, but first I need to mention …

II. Relative movement

… the most painful aspect of the game. None of what happened above came out remotely smoothly, because the game eschews compass directions.

The compass directions N, S, E, and W can be used if you have a compass. If you don’t have a compass, you’ll have to say R, L, A, or B, which stand for Right, Left, Ahead, and Back. Directions printed in room descriptions are always printed in R, L, A, and B relative directions.

We’ve had movement with relative directions back in 1978 with Mystery Mansion, but it took a mercifully short time to find the compass and have everything switch to compass directions. Here, I have yet to find a compass and I’m a good chunk into the game. Not only does the direction of ahead/back/left/right change as you walk around, it changes sometimes when you just do an action, like picking up an item. You have to watch the room description like a hawk as it changes, from, say

A door is behind you.

to

A door is left.

I stopped trying to “map” in the full sense but just filled my page with a set of room interconnections. I can’t tell you exactly how many times I accidentally went back and forth between rooms when I was intended to go somewhere else, but I’m fairly confident (without exaggeration) it’s nearing the triple digits.

If you accidentally go in a direction that doesn’t exist, you still turn in that direction and cause all the other directions to change (I didn’t understand this until after I was done with the ship). So you might type >LEFT and be told you can’t go that way, and type >LEFT again immediately after and enter a door.

III. The Plot, Continued

So you jump in a Viper and take off — I’m not sure if the frame story is supposed to be you are running away, or being brave and getting help, or what.

You are in space.

You get no directions in space, so you have to wander more with the R/L/A/B system and get lucky. And you really do have to get lucky, because one of the things you can find is a “small blue planet”, where trying to land is disastrous.

You are flying through a dense fog.
A cold grey sea of mist is swirling around the windshield and water droplets are spewing from the wingtips. Ominous shadows loom in the darkness and it feels as if a trap is closing around us. I have lost all sense of direction.

All directions from here are just “You are flying through a dense fog.” The only recourse is to quit the game.

Another possible find when flying around space: a mini-game.

It’s the glory of ASCII combat. You can maneuver your targeting with U/D/L/R and it moves sluggishly, kind of like a game of Lunar Lander; the goal is to hit F (fire torpedos) when the enemy ship is in the center of the screen.

After a couple tries I lucked out and found the real destination:

You are orbiting a tropical planet.

It’s just another planet, only this one isn’t a trap; you can go down and land.

Feather palms outlined by mellow moonlight and a silvery black ocean line the perimeter of the island. Mighty mountains of emerald and amethyst rise like jagged teeth from black gums.

Then there’s a lot of forest and jungle to wander through. If you take a long time night can fall, and you can fall asleep from exhaustion.

You drop from exhaustion…
………………………………………………………………….
You are awakened abruptly by the sound of someone nearby.
A fiendish little Elf is stealing your treasures!
-: shoot elf
The Elf took a direct hit!
You have killed the Elf.
A watery black smoke consumes his body and then vanishes with a peal of thunder!

You are flying through a dense fog.

There is a knife here.

Yes, an Elf. Somehow we’ve wandered into Adventure.

I think making progress now is just a matter of making my way inland on the island. The relative directions confuse me so much it’ll likely be by luck and then maybe … something will happen? It’s disconcerting not knowing if I’m playing a hero or a villain.

Posted February 1, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “Battlestar (1979-1984)

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  1. Apart from the stray word “Cylon”, does this have anything to do with Battlestar Galactica?

    • Good question! I might need to just watch some of the original series episodes to find out, because I’ve only seen the new ones.

      I can say the Vipers are iconic (the design is the same for both series). The tiny ascii enemy ship also kind of looks like a Cylon ship. The idea of most of the battlestars being destroyed (as from the intro text) is also part of the main story.

      A nuclear weapon shows up in the new series, I don’t know if it is in the old one.

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