Space Quest III: Pirates of Pestulon
First posted on 11 January 1999. Last updated on 01 November 2011.
By 1989, the Space Quest series has entertained countless adventure fans for nearly 4 years. Previous games of the series, Space Quest I: Roger Wilco in The Sarien Encounter and Space Quest II: Vohaul's Revenge, have gained much praise from both fans and critics. Seeing a winning series at hand, the developer Sierra On-Line urges "The Two Guys from Andromeda", the designers of the series who are known to mere mortals as Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, to create a third title. Space Quest III: Pirates of Pestulon is the result of this calling. It proves to be the most popular and best installment in the Space Quest series.
The story of Space Quest III: Pirates of Pestulon is a strange one. The game picks up right where the last game has left off. Roger Wilco is encapsulated in an escape pod from Vohaul's (now nonexistent) asteroid. Having drifted through space for an immeasurable amount of time, the pod is finally picked up by a garbage freighter. Unfortunately, the freighter does not see the pod to be anything more than another piece of space debris. Roger now finds himself trapped inside a huge freighter, surrounded by the garbage of the galaxy and in an unknown part of the universe. After finding the means of escape by repairing an old space cruiser named The Aluminum Mallard, Roger sets off in search of his home planet Xenon. However, when Roger stops to ask for directions at the planet Phleebhut (after encountering the memorable Fester Blatz), he is accosted by the ruthless bill collector Arnoid the Annihilator. Sent by a scrupulous novelty company named Gippazoid, the droid threatens Roger to pay up for the Labion Terror Beast Mating Whistle which he has ordered in the last game but has forgotten to pay for. Roger is able to defeat Arnoid the droid and escapes. While playing a game of Astro Chicken, Roger uncovers a hidden plea for help from "The Two Guys from Andromeda" themselves! Apparently, they have been taken prisoner by the evil software company ScumSoft and are forced to grind out mindless arcade games. Roger must now set out to rescue his own creators, before he loses his own existence.
The game is created using the proprietary SCI (Sierra Creative Interpreter) language. It uses the early SCI0 engine. SCI0 provides preliminary video (16 color EGA) and sound (AdLib) support, and is still a major improvement over the old AGI (Adventure Game Interpreter) engine which is used to create both previous games in this series. In fact, SCI0 engine is used up until early 1990 when Sierra On-Line finally replaces it with a newer version. The new version, dubbed SCI1, features full soundcard support and can handle 256 color VGA graphics along with a point and click interface. This new SCI is used to create the subsequent games in the series. Space Quest III: Pirates of Pestulon is the first game ever by Sierra On-Line to incorporate sound effects. It contains an impressive Rock 'N' Roll soundtrack, composed by former Supertramp band member Bob Siebenberg.
The graphics are all drawn at a resolution of 320x200 in 16 colors. This is a relatively low resolution even by the standard of that time. Games such as Mean Streets already support the new VGA standard which can handle up to 256 colors. Still, since most systems at that time only support EGA video, most games from that era are made for only 16 colors. Both the graphics and the animations for the game are done by Crowe. Considering the limited graphic resolution, the quality of the artwork is impressive. The artwork even ravels the artwork done in VGA from other games. Just look at the details of the garbage freighter during the intro sequence! One only has to ponder if Crowe has slept during the production of this title.
The game interface is a mixture of the old and the new. Since the mouse is becoming popular in late 1985, Sierra On-Line slowly begins to incorporate the use of the mouse into a point and click interface. The new interface in Space Quest III: Pirates of Pestulon is very limited. The mouse can only be used for moving the character around on screen. Movement control with the mouse is awkward, since the characters cannot navigate around obstacles on their own, forcing most gamers to rely back on the keyboard instead. Interaction with the game world is done entirely through a text parser. Thus, you have to instruct Roger to "look at pulley" and "get paper" (as well as, during times of frustrations, "kill the bloody scorpazoid, you worthless creep" which, not surprisingly, yields less than promising results). The parser is well versed and understands a lot of synonyms, so there is rarely a puzzle that unfairly punishes you if you happen to type in the wrong word.
Despite the not so imaginative storyline, the imaginative puzzles in this game more than make up for any deficit. Thankfully, "The Two Guys from Andromeda" are well aware of these concerns when they design the game. The puzzles are clever and cover a broad spectrum of brainteasers. Some require speed and flexibility, while others require long moments of pondering. Granted, there are quite a few numbers of puzzles that are of the reflex jolting variety, but such is the nature of most game designs back then. The puzzles range from such extremes as getting a killer robot to mince himself in a grinder to disabling the cloaking mechanism of a moon. A general problem with the puzzles is that, while they are logical in retrospect, you are often not told exactly what it is you are supposed to do. For example, the game eventually wants you to drop a thermonuclear explosive down a shaft, but it does not tell you why you must do it. It is not until later you find out that you have just deactivated the cloaking device for the Pestulon moon! After playing the game from end to end a couple of times, I gradually get the impression that the story is largely developed around the puzzles rather than the other way around. It is obvious that Murphy and Crowe have prioritized imaginative puzzles and good gameplay over than an overtly complicated storyline.
While none of the games in the Space Quest series can boast a truly ingenious and intricate storyline, the story in this sequel still provides enough framework for timeless comedy. The goal of this game, as with its predecessors, is to make you laugh. I suppose it is for this reason that the creators have not spent such time to develop the story. Regardless, the story is so warped and at times mysterious that one cannot help but find it an act of simplistic genius. At a first glance, the story appears crooked, incongruous, and silly. The first part of the game, up until you receiving the message on the arcade machine, has virtually no story at all. The rest of the game also follows a relatively simplistic plotline. However, when looking at the big picture, you find that "The Two Guys from Andromeda" have successfully redefined the concept of self parody with this title. Who ever thinks of making themselves an integral part of their own storyline? Coupled with numerous twists and pokes to modern day society as well as a few pointed barbs at Sierra On-Line itself, including a 12 year old rendition of Ken Wlliams running a company that Crowe claims to be "the cubical hell that is Sierra in that time period", it gives the story a very rich texture while not being too distracting. It is just sort of there! A great mistakes with comedic story writing is the lack of balance between humor and story. What should you prioritize? An intricate story or a hefty dose of good humor? Much like other great works of comedic science fiction such as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the humor in this title takes the forefront while the story progresses. Space Quest III: Pirates of Pestulon is therefore a fine example of writing which rarely misses the mark and is one does not try to set itself up as anything more than what it is as a piece of comedic fiction.
A common compliant among Space Quest fan is that this game is simply too short. Gameplay can also be challenging at times for players who are devoid of clues and hints. The two action sequences near the end of the game can be difficult for players who are less apt in reflex. Notwithstanding these minor criticisms, the subplot involving Arnoid the Annihilator is perhaps the most widely cited snafu in the Space Quest verse. It is correct that Roger has not paid for the Mating Whistle. However, an examination of the order form that Roger carries around (before mailing it in the Labion jungle) shows the words "...FREE Mating Whistle". This fact is initially uncovered by fans of the series and has since spawned numerous conspiracy theories and other interesting twists throughout the WWWW (World Wide Wilco Web). When the creators of Space Quest are confronted with this discrepancy, Murphy admits to the omission and claims that "...Mark and I both missed it. We didn't think that anybody who bought the game would be looking so closely." Crowe takes the blame for the inclusion of Arnoid, "It was a quick way to link Pirates of Pestulon with the earlier games in the series."
Space Quest III: Pirates of Pestulon stands as a definition of what the Space Quest series intends to be. While the game may not impress anyone with its storyline, the timeless humor, themassive head-on attack of biting sarcasm, the wonderful satire, and the most impressive collection of self parody this side of the western galactic spiral arm all make this sequel an instant classic. The game truly has a board appeal, so gamers from all backgrounds can find at least some amusement with it. Novice gamers should be able to play without too much frustration, while advanced gamers should still be able to find their fair share of challenges. Along with exceptional graphics and sounds, this game is a feast for the eyes, ears, and mind!