Archive for the ‘interstellar-war’ Tag

Interstellar War (1981)   4 comments

This marks this blog’s 9th game by Roger M. Wilcox (see: 123, 456, 7, 8). His best from 1980 is (in both his and my opinion) #7, Vial of Doom. He went on a streak in 1981 and finished nine games. They were “private” games only released to the public much, much, later.

Interstellar War is based on a short story the author wrote when he was 15.

Then, a scientist thought to be mad created an advanced form of the antimatter bomb, which was directional and apparently one-way. The fascinating thing about this bomb was that when the center of the explosion was examined, it had poked a hole in the continuity of space that was two-dimensional and one-sided. Essentially, this was a hyperspace bomb! When the bombs were delivered to the five systems, an unusual and unique idea was developed. The idea was to line up the bombs exactly (within a thousandth of a second) between two systems (starting with A. Centauri and Sol), and firing them simoultaneously. Theoretically, this would make a hyperspace “tunnel” capable of shooting craft (and radio) through it at unmeasurable speeds.

Before long, the five systems had links between them in a circular fashion, formina a rather crude pentagon, and trade had become a way of life. Forevermore, light would be considered extremely slow.

(The spelling is as in the original.) Wilcox later developed a Pentagon War universe with extra background materials and a hexmap game.

I browsed but admittedly did not read closely the materials; no matter what I would have been puzzled at the game’s opening.

You are in a jungle full of dead foliage. Visible items:

Dead fern tree.

It’s unclear at the start who the main character is and how this starting place is related to the Pentagon universe, although both things get revealed later. Given the “private game” status it’s possible the author didn’t have any particular in medias res method in mind and just started writing, but this does (accidentally?) make a moment later in the game where everything locks into place more effective.

After climbing the tree and swinging on a vine, I was locked in for a while in two desert locations.

You are in a desert wasteland. Visible items:

Big pile of rocks.

Obvious exits: North


You are in a desert wasteland. Visible items:

Lower half of a body.

Obvious exits: South


You found something.

This yielded me a wrench, but going back to the rocks and trying to whack at them in various ways with it didn’t help. I finally resorted to KICK ROCKS, which buried me in a landslide, but I was able to DIG and get out.

You are in a completely decimated village. The decimation seems to have been caused by a single weapon.

Obvious exits: North South East West


You are on the outskirts of the village. Technology seems to have been practiced and was thriving here once. Visible items:

Dead body.

Obvious exits: North East

The lower half of his body seems to have been blown far away by the same thing that destroyed this village. The upper half was in the process of pulling down a lever in panic just before the lower half got blown away. A sign above the lever reads: “For emergency use only.” The dead body has bled the lever in place.

Well, there’s the other half of the body. I fruitlessly tried applying the wrench in attempt to turn the lever, but the game told me it was “bled shut”.

This was an interesting piece of distraction; clearly, the original poor soul was trying to use the wrench on the lever, but the wrench here gets used in a much different way.

The open map included a shallow pond, an ammonia-filled area (which causes instant death) and a “dangerous whirlpool of sand” where “the sand is swirling fast enough to grind anything”. I also found a bucket and a curious plastic bag.

You’d have to roll around in order to move while inside it. It can be closed, but only from the inside. Inside it is a small valve control, which opens & closes the valve to a pouch on he outside of the bag.

I went in the bag, closed in, rolled into the ammonia area, opened the valve to let in some ammonia, rolled all the way to the pond, opened the valve, and got myself a puddle of ammonium hydroxide. I was then able to use the bucket to get the hydroxide and clean the bloody lever, although it was still “rusted”.

To take care of the rust, I had to drop the wrench at the sandstorm, which melted it, then pick up the melted part with the bucket (…somehow) and pour the metal onto the lever.

Well, the author is trying hard to subvert expectations at least. The transformation of objects was unusual enough it took me a while to get through the above. Pulling the lever teleported me to a spaceship.

You are in a plastic four-way intersection.

Obvious exits North South East West

I’ve explored the ship and found a “peace” treaty, and the quote marks are there in the game…

“We Alpha-Centaurians and humans agree to terms of peace, even though we want to tear each others’ throats out.
James Carter
Both signatures appear reluctant.

…and this room.

You are in the viewing chamber. Visible items:

Your decimated planet.

Obvious exits: Down

Up to here, it wasn’t clear the protagonist had any investment in what was going on; there’s the implication that the vaporized village was, in fact, the one they lived in, which contextualized the previous events in a way I found startling.

There’s an engine that looks like it needs fixing before I make any further progress, and a “suit of titanium armor”. As I’m stuck and don’t want to spoil any puzzles yet, I’m going to stop off here until next time.

Posted July 2, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Interstellar War: Safe for Peace   6 comments

For those not versed in the ways of Star Trek, a brief supercut of technobabble from Discovery:

Starting in the Next Generation days, writers would often put “(TECH)” in their draft scripts to be later filled in by the science advisor AndrĂ© Bormanis. With technobabble, the audience does not need to understand the actual content of what is being said; it only needs to be conveyed that the characters have confidence in what is going on.

In interactive form, having the audience not understand how things work is significantly more of a problem. Infocom’s Starcross (1982) managed fairly well with the inclusion of realistic physics which could be sussed out by a canny player; Interstellar War’s second part of the game, on the other hand, mostly feels like “magic”.

I left off last time having teleported onto a ship orbiting above the main character’s destroyed planet, and a “treaty”. The room with the treaty also had a red button marked “limbo” and a gold button marked “fire” which did nothing. A bit of poking around yielded a computer room with a “chip shunt”, a “engine room” with an “empty drive box”, and a “vacuum oven” where it’s possible to die in colorful fashion.

You are in a plastic room beside a vacuum oven. Visible items:

Pulled-down lever. Open oven door.

Obvious exits: West

Through a window in the door, you see a red glow.
And the heat comes out! You’re fried!

A storage room included a magnetic bottle, field-charged tongs, a lightning rod, and a suit of hardened titanium armor.

Technobabble Moment #1: In the engine room, there’s valve which releases “fusile deuterium” from the engine; in normal circumstances this kills you, but if you’re holding the magnetic bottle, it gets contained inside. There’s no reason to suss this out other than just experiment.

You are in the engine room. Visible items:

Window into engine. Large knob & valve. Empty drive box.

Obvious exits: North

A stream of fusile deuterium shoots out from the engine, and is instantly pulled into the magnetic bottle.

This is still pretty easy to run into accidentally, but here I was terribly stuck and had to resort to periodic checks at Dale Dobson’s walkthrough. (He himself had to check the source code for some things.)

The first thing I missed was that the titanium armor lets you go back to the sandstorm that melted the wrench from last time, and enter it. I admit a failure to visualize; I didn’t think of the sandstorm being an extra “room” it was possible to enter.

You’re right on top of a dangerous whirlpool of sand. The sand is swirling fast enough to grind anything.

Obvious exits: South

You are in the sandy whirlpool. Visible items:

Piece of silicon.

Obvious exits: Up

Technobabble Moment #2: Once you have the silicon you can take it back to the vacuum oven, turn on the oven, and end up with … still the silicon, but also some transistor crystals.

Through a window in the door, you see a red glow.

The glow from the oven window ceases.



You are in the vacuum oven. Visible items:

Piece of silicon. Transistor crystals.

Technobabble Moment #3: You can then take the two items and MIX which obtains a computer chip, which is then usable at the chip shunt. This fixes the inactive red and gold buttons. The gold button fires a missile which flies harmlessly into space, while the red button complains the engine isn’t working yet.

A missile streams out from this space ship, and travels harmlessly into space.

Technobabble Moment #4: To fix the engine requires dropping the bottle with fusile deuterium, getting out the lightning rod and typing THROW ROD.


It flies into the air, catches a bolt, and brings it down to the bottle.

The bottle becomes a “reverse-charged bottle” in the process.

Technobabble Moment #5: Now the bottle can be inserted into the empty drive box at the engine, and the engine is now described as full of antimatter. So (begin Trek monologue here) fusile deuterium combined with lightning obtained by throwing a lightning rod should generate sufficient antimatter to run the drive, Captain! (end Trek monologue)

A tunnel of seemingly infinite length forms in front of your ship, and it is suddenly whisked into it. Stars pass by at tens of thousands of times the speed of light for a few minutes, and then the “limbo” travel draws to a close.

This flies the ship into a confrontation with the enemy! Fortunately, we have the arsenal of freedom:

A missile streams out from this space ship, and misses the enemy ship!
The enemy ship returns fire with its own missile!
Your point defense laser system knocks it out of the sky just in time before it reaches you!

A missile streams out from this space ship, and scores a direct hit!
In a soundless concussion of light, the entire enemy ship is enveloped in a thermonuclear fireball!
You’ve made the systems safe for peace! … For now.

This would have been mostly satisfying without the technobabble blitz. The usual “fix” would be to add more description to the various items so that, e.g., it’d be clear that the lightning rod was a thing you throw. I realize intent was likely to force the player to experiment; while experiment can on occasion be satisfying, the overall narrative effect was of the main character blundering into a working ship.

From the first-draft script for Voyager’s episode Parallax, season 1. You can see the use of (TECH). Image originally from an eBay auction.

Posted July 3, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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