Wednesday 31 October 2012

Game 25: Codename: ICEMAN - Restoration Frustration

Johnny Westland Journal Entry 3: “I have successfully plotted a clear path to the location where the Ambassador is being held hostage. Now I have the unenviable task of guiding the USS Blackhawk through all of the waypoints I entered into the computerized charts table. I’m getting more experienced at directing, diving and controlling our speed, but there is still so much that I need to master. I’ve also used the decoding computer to decode a message from Washington, but I’m having some trouble understanding exactly what they want me to do. I realise these guys need to be cryptic, but given I can’t even figure out how to decode a message from the CIA, I have to question whether I’m the right guy for this operation. Hmmmm...maybe I’ll just play dice with the crusty sailor in the galley instead.”

I ended my last post here, mostly because the prospect of the above was very daunting to me.

Bloody hell! Codename: ICEMAN is brutal! I’ve put another two and a half hours into it and only managed to take my score from a lowly 34 to an only slightly better 47. I assume that at some point this game is going to rapidly dump a huge amount of points on me. There are however two other possibilities, which are that the game is really, really long, or that I’m missing out on stacks of points by just plain missing stuff. I really can’t tell which of these three scenarios is an accurate description of my situation, so I’m just going to have to knuckle down and force my way forward.  Now that I know how difficult the game is, I’m surprised no-one placed a bet against me prior to starting. I’m beginning to think you all have too much faith in me, particularly when boats are involved. I know absolutely nothing about boats, not to mention submarines! Of course, you didn’t know that.

I knew I was in trouble as soon as I noticed my country was all but absent from the chart.

My last post ended with me having just received my orders from the safe in Captain Hawkins quarters. I’d spent ages trying to access the obvious second compartment in the briefcase which held the orders, but hadn’t found a way to do it. In the end, I’d figured the solution must come later, so I prepared myself to map my course from wherever I was to the Mediterranean, where the Ambassador was being held captive. To do this, I had to use the “computerized charts table” on the machine in the control room, cross referencing regularly with the navigational chart that came with the game manual to get coordinates. Understanding and then going through this process took me close to an hour!

So I just have to get to Tunisia. Right! Um...where's Tunisia?

The orders had been pretty specific about what path I needed to take to reach my destination. I had to pass through Bering Sea, Bering Straits, the Arctic Ocean, Greenland Sea, Denmark Strait and the North Atlantic on my way to just off the coast of Portugal. The trick was that I had to map a course through all of these bodies of water using no more than six waypoints. The boat would have to travel between each of the waypoints in a straight line, so each consecutive set of coordinates could not cross over land. Thankfully, the on-board navigation computer would simply not accept waypoints that would require the impossible, so I could cut things as fine as I could, bringing trial and error into it.

I'm gonna make it! I'm really gonna make it!

The first set of waypoints I entered (you can see them on the left side of the display) successfully got me from 30 N 170 W (my starting point) to 36 N 12 W (my destination) on the display, but my maximum deviation of 700 nautical miles was too far from the optimal course. I tinkered until I had a 450 nautical mile deviation, which the computer accepted, but the perfectionist part of me realised I still had an extra waypoint up my sleeve and wanted to do better. I eventually got it down to a 250 nautical mile maximum deviation, which I was pretty happy with. I failed to pay any attention to whether or not I received more points for the accuracy, but I assume I did.

250 nautical miles you say? Is that good?

What I haven’t mentioned in the above plotting description was that my previously mentioned geographical retardation played a massive role in delaying my progress. The navigational chart PDF I have does mention a few of the oceans and seas that the game demanded I journey through, but it doesn’t bother to tell me what any of the countries are in the vicinity. How am I supposed to map a path along the Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland, when I have no idea where either of those countries are on a world map? Needless to say, my friend Google helped me out with my deficiency (I would have resorted to an atlas back in the day), meaning it was only a matter of time before I achieved what no sane person would ask me to do in real life.

Thank you Google! I don't know what I'd do without you.

With the course plotted, it was time to hop back behind the controls and to navigate the USS Blackhawk through said path. Within seconds of pushing the throttle I was informed of sonar contact. Thinking the worst, I immediately turned to the manual to see how I was going to crack out the weapons if needed, but my fears were allayed when it turned out to be a friendly. A message came up telling me that a message was coming through, so I sat back and waited for it. The same message kept flashing at me until finally the game realised I wasn’t going to do anything and game overed me for not doing something about it!


Like usual, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. The manual gave some help around decoding messages, but made no mention of how to receive them. Eventually I tried standing up, and it was only then that I realised one of the two guys sitting near me was a radioman. It would have been nice if the game had given me a bit of a walkthrough of the submarine when I first came aboard, but it looks like I’m going to have to figure out who is who and what is what on the fly. Anyway, the radioman handed me a message from Washington, and a second one from CIA command headquarters. They were just a bunch of letters, so I was going to have to decode them.

No need to be rude about it!

I made my way down to my quarters and cranked up the decoding computer I’d seen earlier. It asked me for primary and secondary word keys, so I entered FH-E-D and FF-E-H (these were the two codes the radioman gave me that made up the message from Washington). To my surprise, this resulted in nothing but gibberish. I read the book on decoding that I’d found on the bookshelf and was shown a list of letters with numerical values assigned to them. OK, so all I had to do was match the letters with numbers, and enter the result into the decoder. 15-2-4 and 11-2-5 would do the trick! Nope, gibberish was once again the result. At this point I turned to the manual once again, where I found my answer.

That's it!? That's the Navy code book?!

It turned out that the resulting numbers I’d come to represented pages, lines and words in the manual. This gave me a primary key word of STEER and a secondary key word of 4100. Entering these into the decoding computer gave me the following message: “Contacting fisherman...Locate fisherman’s net. Signal your presence by placing a bottle in net. When way is clear...Fisherman will remove bottle. Receive next communiqué at next waypoint.” Huh?! What the hell does that mean? What’s “fisherman’s net” referring to? I really had no idea what to make of the message, so I decided to decode the CIA one, hoping it would make more sense.

So how do I decode the decoded message?

Feeling confident with the decoding process, I used the code book to come up with 4-3-2 and 81-1-5. There was one major issue with that though! There was no page 81, or anything close to it! WTF? I went through all my screenshots, trying to find how I was supposed to decode the CIA message, but came up empty handed. I skimmed through the manual again, but also found nothing there. I was well and truly stumped! I clung to the hope that somehow the answer would become apparent at a later stage and decided to see what would happen if I now got back behind the controls and continued through Bering Strait. I was able to push ahead, following the Captain’s instructions, until we came into contact with another vessel.

Sure, let's crack open some beers while we're at it!

The captain suggested he and I go “topside for some fresh air while radio is making contact”. We climbed the ladder and appeared topside for a nice looking sunset, but something was wrong. The captain looked through his binoculars and mumbled for a while, then gave them to me. Through them I saw two Russian destroyers, and moments later the Blackhawk was ripped apart by a torpedo. OK, so what did I do wrong? Was I supposed to make sense of the Washington message and do something? Was I supposed to figure out how to decode the CIA message? Was I supposed to disobey the captain’s instructions while navigating and take a different path? I just didn’t know the answer, so I decided to explore the submarine. To this point I’d not really had the opportunity to do so.

Oooohhhh...pretty!!! Those Russian destroyers look amazing in the sunset!

While exploring, I found a room I hadn’t come across before. There was a galley downstairs with a chef cooking burgers in a kitchen. On a table was a bottle of rum. Was this the bottle I was supposed to place in the “fisherman’s net”? Surely that statement was code for something else. When I tried to pick up the rum, a man appeared out of nowhere and challenged me to a game of dice. If I could beat him then he’d give me the rum, but if I lost he’d take the remaining cash that I didn’t even realise I had. With no other options available to me, I agreed to his little game. The dice game was a cross between Yahtzee and Poker, with each player rolling five dice out of a cup. After both players have a roll, the player with the best “hand” becomes “boss”. The best hand is decided as you might expect, although straights don’t count for anything.

Would you be interested in telling me what happened to that wall over there?

Whoever becomes “boss” then decides whether they will roll any dices again, and if so, which ones. Once the roll is complete, the “boss” can then decide whether to call the other player or end that particular game. If they call the other player, that player gets one last chance to roll a better “hand”. When a player wins, it counts as a “leg”, and if they win twice, it counts as a “horse”. It didn’t take me long to win a horse, which in turn meant the bottle of rum was mine. Interestingly the man then asked if I wanted to continue betting for money alone. I thought what the heck (anything to avoid getting back behind the controls) and set out to add all the guys cash to my pockets. I won some and I lost some, and in the end it took me about thirty minutes to finally win enough horses to rid him of notes.

Notice I'm on 47 points.

It’s worth noting at this stage that I’d been saving my game fairly regularly, and as soon as I lost a couple of horses in a row I’d restore. The last time I restored a message popped up rather directly asking whether I was saving my game to avoid losing! Was that a random message or was the game counting how many times I restored during the gambling section?! Well, I had an opportunity to find out because this guy was still not willing to walk away. He now offered me an electronic device (that apparently neutralises magnetic fields) for a chance to win his money back! Well that was unexpected! I agreed, and the battle of dices continued. In a stroke of bad luck, I lost the next two games, and subsequently lost everything! I hadn’t actually realised we were playing one game with everything on the line, but I don’t think I would have done anything differently had I known.

Notice I'm still on 47 points? This game is stingy!

Anyway, the bastard took the money and ran, leaving me with no option but to restore back to that final bet. My worst fears came true when a message popped up saying “Now lad I won’t be playin’ with ye restorin’ every time you lose. That be cheatin’!” He then took everything and left. Damn it! Oh how I wish I knew that when I started the gambling section. There were a couple of times I restored there were I really didn’t need to. To start the whole thing again would take the majority of an hour, and there was no guarantee that I would win this time around. I’d been overwriting my “gambling” save game too, so I had no earlier save game to go to. I couldn’t believe that the game would be this cruel, and thought it likely that the rum was all I really needed. Perhaps the device was a bonus item, but not really required? Either way, I once again couldn’t see how any of this was going to help me get past the Russian destroyers. I decided to go to the readers for some advice.

Sierra smashes down the fourth wall

I’d asked to be told if I was a “dead man walking” during my last post, and while no-one seemed confident enough to say I definitely was, there were a couple of things I’d missed earlier on in the game that I was informed may or may not make things difficult for me down the track. Was I facing one of those situations now? I decoded Lars-Erik’s first hint (using ROT13, not my decoding book!) and read “is your ID card yours?” That seemed a very odd question to me! Of course my ID card was mine! I’d already used it to gain entrance to the Pentagon and to pass the guards inside. Surely they would have noticed if my ID wasn’t...hang on a second...I hadn’t noticed my ID card in my inventory for quite a while. It certainly wasn’t there when I was trying to get into the second compartment of the briefcase. No, I didn’t have my ID card! I didn’t have any ID card at all!!!

Hey...who stole my ID card!?

I restored to a few older games to try to figure out exactly when I lost possession of the card, eventually figuring out that I didn’t have it once I left the Pentagon. Did that last guard I showed it to hold onto it? Yes he did! I failed to notice that he took it after the first two guards merely looked at it and gave it back to me. Not only that, even if I had of asked him for the card back, he would have given me the wrong one accidentally. Wow, you've really got to pay attention during that part of the game! How would the card help me in my current situation anyway? I decided that it probably wouldn’t, so I read Lars-Erik’s second hint. “You’re missing something from the island. A good spy never stops at just a dance.” The game let me leave the island without having everything I needed!? That’s brutal! Was I really going to have to start again!? Ilmari and Fenrus both suggested I didn't, with Ilmari adding in ROT13 that both of the hints are only required to “crack the CIA codes”. Well at least now I didn’t feel so stupid about not being able to crack them!

Joe was nervous working his first day of employment in the Pentagon!

What to do??? Start again or simply ask for the answer to cracking the CIA codes? Feeling sorry for myself, I continued to take in the reader comments, eventually coming across another Ilmari hint in ROT13. “CIA codes require adding three to every number.” I have no idea how anything I might have found on the island would let me know that, but the game gave me absolutely no hints that I’d missed anything or for what purpose I might have needed it. So, for the sake of the blog, I’m going to ask some questions. 1. Do I need the device? 2. Do I need the ID card? 3. How was I supposed to know how to crack the CIA codes? 4. Is decoding the CIA message going to be enough to help me get past the Russian destroyers? 5. If not, then can someone give me a hint as to what I'm supposed to be doing? Oh dear...I’m afraid I’m not doing very well with this game.

What happens if you just take the Major's ID card?

Session Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 30 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've asked some specific questions at the end of the post, so you're all welcome to answer them, preferably without giving anything else away.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Game 25: Codename: ICEMAN - Navigation Education

Johnny Westland Journal Entry 2: “Well, after my lovely vacation in Tahiti was cut short, I find myself in the thick of an international crisis. General Braxton informed me on my arrival to Washington that I would indeed be required to take part in a rescue operation of Ambassador Richard Loyd, and that my involvement would include the use of a high tech submarine called the USS Blackhawk. I hopped onboard the Blackhawk at Pearl Harbor and have since been able to put my lessons in the operation of the control board into practice. Only now do I know the true location of the Ambassador, and it appears I will now be required to navigate a specific course to the Mediterranean. This isn’t what I had in mind when I was lounging on the beach a couple of days back!”

(sigh) much for my vacation.

Either Codename: ICEMAN is a really tough game, or it’s possible to complete the game without solving certain puzzles. At least, that’s how it’s appearing to me right now. It’s strange really, because the game feels quite linear, but my brief experience with it and the comments from readers suggest otherwise. Maybe I’m already a dead man walking and I just don’t know it yet! I’m giving you all permission to tell me if I’m definitely facing a dead end in this game, but please make sure you’re right before doing so. I’d hate to restore and play through part of the game again only to find out I could have made it unassisted in the first place. Why am I giving dead end announcement permission for this game when I wouldn’t normally do so? Because I really don’t like the idea of playing through the submarine parts multiple times!

Stupid country can't manage without me for a couple of weeks!

At the end of the first post I’d just received orders to leave my vacation behind and make my way to Washington. I’d organised a dinghy to take me off the island of Tahiti and was about to board. Once I did so, the next thing I knew I was on a plane, 45000 feet above the South Pacific. A couple of clicks later and I found myself hopping in a car to leave the Dulles Airport, but only after I showed the driver my ID card (which I thankfully had picked up from my room in Tahiti). My chauffeur drove me to the Pentagon, where I exited the vehicle and entered the landmark building. The game had started very slowly, but it seemed ultra keen to get me into the thick of things now.

Which is just as well driver! Just as well!!!

Inside the Pentagon I was required to show my ID card again to the guy at the front desk, and then again when exiting the lift on the floor I was to meet General Braxton. This is where you have to question whether aiming for realism is really a goof formula for entertainment. It’s very possible that someone of John’s status would be required to show identification numerous times during their day, but making the player of a computer game do it three times in a couple of minutes is bordering on annoying. I eventually entered a room where General Braxton stood ready to brief me on the situation. There was another man in the room too, seated in one of the three chairs available, although I had no clue as to who he was.

Look, I'm trying to move on ok. Can everyone please stop reminding me!

Braxton began by informing me that “intelligence has located the compound where the Ambassador is begin held”, but that “for security reasons, that information will not be disclosed in this meeting.” As expected, it’s my job to rescue the Ambassador as part of a covert operation with codename...yep, you guessed it...ICEMAN. I am assigned to the nuclear attack submarine, USS Blackhawk and will rendezvous with the boat at Pearl Harbor. After telling me the papers authorizing my assignment were in the folder on the table, Braxton then told me I am to report to a man named Jonathan Hawkins, Captain of the USS Blackhawk, and that the mission details are locked in a safe on Blackhawk.

Well-conceived? Feeling pretty good about ourself are we?

Finally, Braxton added that I should “commit the numbers 134 to memory”, before handing over to the other man in the room, Forest Collins of the Central Intelligence Agency. Collins then used the two displays at the front of the room to show me firstly the compound where Ambassador Richard Loyd (that’s the first time his name was mentioned) was being held, and then secondly an image of a female agent that I am to make contact with. Apparently she will be dressed as a Muslim and will have in her possession a map that will direct me to the compound. The briefing concluded with Collins giving me the coordinates I should head for in the Blackhawk and then giving me some information about the Electronic Noise Cancellation Transducer device that separates the boat from other attack subs.

A Muslim you say? Well that shouldn't be too hard to pick out from the crowd!

This was a lot of information to take in, and I’m really glad I took screenshots on the way to refer back to later. I imagine players in the eighties would have been hastily writing all the details down on sheets of paper. As soon as I picked up the folder off the table and left the room, I was once again aboard of plane, this time heading for Pearl Harbor. Interestingly, I was informed that “you carefully review the orders temporarily assigning you to the USS Blackhawk”, and yet I as the player wasn’t shown anything. I assume this is a bit of a hint that now would be a really good time to peruse the manual, and if it’s not it should be! I’d have my head in it for most of the next half an hour!

Go to Pearl Harbor and get on a submarine. Further instructions await you there. Overwhelming indeed!

On arriving in Pearl Harbor I was once again faced with a driver waiting for me at the airport. This time he wanted to see my orders, presumably so he knew where to take me. I showed them to him, and was then transported to the USS Blackhawk. As soon as I arrived, I knew it was time to reach for the manual. There was certain to be a correct protocol when boarding the submarine and communicating with the officers. Indeed there was, and I followed strict instructions on saluting the flag, saluting the officer of the deck, requesting permission to come aboard, and finally presenting my orders. I criticised Police Quest for this sort of “puzzle” and I have to do the same here. It’s educational to know exactly how things work in the world of police and navy officers, but I’m sure you’ve noticed that I haven’t actually made a decision or attempted to solve anything in this entire post so far!

In the navy! Yes, you can sail the seven seas. In the navy! Yes, you can put your mind at ease.

After entering the USS Blackhawk I was taken to my quarters, where I was left to explore. Typing “look around” revealed there were a bunk, closet, desk and bookshelf, so I investigated them all. I found and picked up a vernier calliper from the desk and a book about Decoding from the bookshelf, and then turned my attention to the computer on the desk. It seemed to be a decoding system, requesting primary and secondary word keys along with a code. I had none of those things, so I simply pressed enter a few times. You can see below the result of my effort, which is mildly humorous. I imagine Al Lowe would have come up with something a little more creative, but this is not his game.

Jim's three year old son came up with some cracking jokes for the game

I walked into the bathroom and looked around, but couldn’t see anything to pick up or interact with (other than using the toilet and the sink). I therefore left my quarters and reappeared in the control room. Here I met Captain Jonathan Hawkins, who directed me to the control board where further instructions would follow. I sat down at the controls and looked at the stupendous amount of levers, buttons, lights and monitors. Before I even had a chance to refer to the manual, Captain Hawkins started giving me directions. Not directions on what button to press or lever to pull, but directions to travel and depths to dive to. It was going to be entirely up to me to figure out how to do what he was instructing, and any mistake led to mocking game over messages.

Wouldn't it be better to have an expert at the beginning of the mission!? It's not like it's an important mission or anything!

What followed was about thirty minutes of head scratching, trial and error, and numerous saves / restores. I “learnt” how to direct the submarine, control the speed and dive to certain depths, and controlled all of it with the mouse. Click the mouse button and hold it down on a lever, then pull it in the direction you want it to go. Moving them the exact amount is the key, but probably the most challenging aspect was that when I was urgently instructed to dive, I kept doing so without closing the hatches. I looked over every marked section of the control panel in the manual (there are 33 different parts of the control panel that are listed and described), but none of them had anything to do with closing the hatches. I eventually tried simply typing "close hatches" in a desperate hope that it would just happen. “Using the PA system you order the hatches closed”. Well, I guess that could be considered a puzzle...right?

So that was a short trip!? Oh dear...

When we finally reached our destination and I managed to stop the submarine successfully (it took a few attempts), the captain tapped me on the shoulder and said “meet me in my quarters, Westland. It’s time to open that briefcase”. Next thing I knew I was watching as the captain opened a safe in his quarters and removed the case, then placed it on the table and opened it. Inside was an envelope, but I was also informed that “something looks odd about the top section of the briefcase. Looking closer, you can definitely tell there is a second compartment in the top section of the briefcase.” Before picking up the envelope, I had a shot at opening this second compartment, but the game simply didn’t respond to anything I commanded. It didn’t understand “open compartment” or “use calliper on case” or anything I could think of. Strangely, when I tried to access my inventory to see what else I had to use I was faced with a “sorry, not enough memory” message! Is that a joke?!

There are jokes and then there are intentional wind-ups. Let me look at my frickin inventory!

I knew from an earlier save game that the only things in my inventory were the code book and the calliper, neither of which seemed to help me get into the secret compartment. Perhaps I would need to find an item later in the game and come back to it? I picked up the envelope and opened it, revealing a navigational chart (presumably the one I have in PDF version) and a set of orders. The orders directed me to the Mediterranean, and more specifically 12 degrees longitude and 36 degrees latitude, no later than 0700 on the 29th of January. I need to rendezvous with the CIA agent at an oasis at 1000 hours the same day, and the orders then informed me that my route should include Bering Sea, Bering Straits, Arctic Ocean, Greenland Sea and Denmark Strait between Greenland and Iceland, and that I then should proceed south through the North Atlantic and east through the Straits of Gibraltar. Bloody hell!

Yeah sure, I take that trip all the time. Shouldn't be an issue.

Once I’d finished reading the orders, the captain took them to be destroyed and locked the case back in the safe. If I was supposed to have accessed the second compartment already, I’d failed. The absence of a game over message gives me hope that I will get another chance down the track. From what I understand, I now need to get out my map and figure out the exact coordinates of the proposed route, and then enter them all into a computerized charts table in the control room. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun, and if I have to direct the submarine halfway around the world, I’m unlikely to enjoy the experience. Still, as usual, I’ll give the game every chance to impress me. I can’t say I feel impressed so far, particularly as I just wrote a post covering an hour of play where I logically figured out absolutely nothing. I feel like a spectator, or a puppet at best.

Of course I will! Right after I translate this book out of Old Babylonian and write an equation that merges the laws of quantum mechanics and general relativity!

Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 00 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've asked to be informed if I'm definitely heading towards a dead end. Please be certain before announcing anything though. Thanks!

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Kickstarter Alert: Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption

Most of you would already be aware that Lori and Corey Cole have a Kickstarter project up for a new game called Hero-U: Rogue to Redemption. I could try to describe what it is they're up to, but instead I want to encourage you all to pop over and check out the video, details and huge range of rewards on offer. It should be quickly apparent that Hero-U will be more RPG than adventure game, but then that was always Lori's interest to begin with. Despite Hero's Quest being one of my favourite games of all time (we'll soon see if it stands up to my nostalgic memories), I'm happy to see the couple making the game they want to make today rather than the one they know for certain that their fans would want.

For those of you that are not aware, Corey gave up his time a few months back to answer a bunch of questions here at The Adventure Gamer. I say we head on over to Kickstarter and thank him for his generosity by helping fund his new project. Now who's with me!?

These guys played a huge role in a lot of our early gaming lives, and are a massive reason why this blog exists in the first place.
Below is a post Corey recently put up on I'm sure he won't mind if I repost it here.
"Would it make more sense to make a game “much like” Quest for Glory?  Hard to say.  In any case, between the original Hero’s Quest and Quest for Glory 5, development budgets ballooned from $250K up to over $2.5M.  Even if it was “only” $1.5M, that’s too much to ask on Kickstarter.
You can’t step into the same stretch of river twice.  The Quest for Glory games were a unique combination of Lori’s and my background with the tools we had available at Sierra.  If we had been working for a company with different tools, we would have made an entirely different game.
In fact, when I designed Castle of Dr. Brain - using those same tools - I would argue that *it* was an entirely different look and feel from Quest for Glory.  Based on reviews and comments, people seem to think it was just as fun.  Did lightning just happen to strike twice in the same place, or did I actually know something about designing games?  A little of each, I’d say.
We tend to look at games, films, etc. with the unique perspective of being able to see the finished product.  Will Hero-U be as much fun to play as Quest for Glory (pick your favorite number)?  That’s impossible to tell.  Filmmakers all think they’re making great films, but only in hindsight can we find out which ones were right about which of their films.  Peter Jackson did an amazing job with Lord of the Rings, but I found his King Kong disappointing.  Am I looking forward to his take on The Hobbit - knowing that he’s changed a lot of things?  You bet I am!
What Lori and I will promise is that we are putting the same work and dedication into Hero-U as we put into each of our other games.  We still have the same “gamers sensibility” that we applied as a yardstick each time.  Hopefully we’ll be funny.  Hopefully the dialogue will work as well as it did in Quest for Glory.  Is it possible we’ll get this one wrong?  Sure it’s possible - but I don’t think it’s the way to bet.
Of course, you can always “wait and see”.  But then the game might not happen at all.  It’s pretty much up to you, the players, to determine the fate of Hero-U.  If you want higher production values, support at a higher level and get more of your friends to support the project.  For now, we’ve designed a minimalist style that can be implemented within a reasonable budget.  It’s more important to make sure that we can complete the game than to promise a level of polish that we won’t be able to fund.
It’s all about the story… and the puzzles… and the characters… and the game mechanics… and the play balance. :-)  Those are where we’ll be spending our time.  In the meantime, the only promise we can make is that we will work hard to create the best experience we can.  Really, that’s as much as anyone can promise."

Sunday 21 October 2012

Game 25: Codename: ICEMAN - Vacation Cessation

Johnny Westland Journal Entry 1: “Damn it! Can’t a guy have a well deserved vacation without the whole world going to hell?! There I was lounging in the sun in Tahiti when Russian-supported terrorists decided it was a good idea to take the U.S. Ambassador to the Middle East hostage. That’s understandably pissed the president off, who’s ready to press the big red button if the ambassador isn’t released unharmed. General Braxton has called me back on duty to help resolve the issue, so I’ve not choice but to head back to Washington for further instructions. I get the feeling I’m going to need another vacation after this is over!”

I tell you what, after the last couple of months, I'd kill to go to some tropical island like this one

I’ve played over an hour of Codename: ICEMAN so far and there’s already much to tell. Not so much in the way of progress, although that has been fairly constant, but in the way of technical details and plot development. I’ve already mentioned it in the introduction, but I’ll repeat here that I very well could label new technical features as the first time they appeared in an adventure game, when in fact they had already appeared in games released earlier on in 1989 that I haven’t played yet due to the alphabetical nature of my list. I’ll also mention straight up that I haven’t yet reached for the manual once, which has put my initial concerns about Codename: ICEMAN at ease. I assume that will all change once the submarine sections arrive.

Doing so in a retro adventure game will have to do I'm afraid

The game begins with a brief intro describing the peaceful and beautiful island of Tahiti, where Lieutenant Commander John B. Westland (that’s me) is currently enjoying some well deserved leave. I then found myself in control, lounging on the beach. The very first thing I noticed was a magazine sitting on the small table next to me, so I picked it up and read it. In it was an article about the North African country of Tunisia, and how it was suddenly of interest to numerous countries due to a global oil shortage. The second thing I noticed was a blonde in a bikini smoothly strolling along the beach. Of most interest was the way my character’s head turned to watch her as she walked past, which I assume was scripted, but the whole scene reminded me of Leisure Suit Larry when I’d been expecting Police Quest.

I can't say I wouldn't have had a look myself, but our hero needs to learn the art of subtle perving

After standing up, I discovered that I was fairly ripped, so if Codename: ICEMAN does indeed have any similarity to Leisure Suit Larry, I’m bound to have more success than the little battler. The comparison was made even more obvious when I looked at the next girl that walked past, only to be shown a close up of her in a love heart, with “whew, what a hot lookin’ native girl!” splashed across the screen. I found a shirt on the back of my chair, so rather than waltz around showing off my abs, I decided to put it on and go check out the hotel. It was then that I discovered something that I’m pretty sure hasn’t been in any game on the list so far! I could walk diagonally!

If it wasn't for the word ICEMAN at the top of the screen, I might have thought I'd loaded Larry III instead!

You might be thinking that all Sierra games have given the player the ability to walk diagonally using the number pad keys 7, 9, 1 and 3, but in Codename: ICEMAN this action is visually represented by Johnny actually walking on a diagonal angle rather than appearing to walk horizontally while moving diagonally. Unfortunately, and I’m not sure if anyone can help me correct this, this new feature seems to cause some significant problems when using the directional keys, at least it does through DOSBox. Often when I press the up arrow key, Johnny walks diagonally, randomly selecting either NW or NE directions. I can’t see any pattern to it, but I've not choice but to use the mouse for movement rather than the keys (which is fine, but thought I'd mention it).

One small diagonal step for man, one giant leap for adventure games

I noticed a newspaper machine outside the hotel, but since I didn’t have the fifty cents (don’t they use the French Pacific Franc in Tahiti?) required to purchase one (or any possessions at all for that matter), went inside instead. Inside the hotel was a counter with a native woman behind it and a few noticeable signs. Here I discovered yet another technical feature of the game. I tried typing “look”, the way I always do in every room of every Sierra game. If this command doesn’t give me a description of my surroundings, then “look around” normally does. In the case of Codename: ICEMAN, typing “look” gives you a description of whatever item is in the line of sight of Johnny. So when I was facing the counter I was told about the “beautiful native girl behind the counter”, but when I was facing the small table at the front of the room I was told that there was “a flower centrepiece on the table”. That's cool I guess.

While these close-ups served a different purpose in Larry games, I do find they help to give more character to those people I can interact with

Typing “look around” did give me a description of the room at large, although it was a very simplistic one. “This is the Hotel Lobby”. It seemed I was going to need to use a combination of the two, and that I would be able to look at specific things without having to type the full sentences all the time. Why type “look at sign” when you can just make Johnny face the sign and type “look"? Anyway, that’s enough technical discussion; let’s get on with the game. I wasn’t able to get into a conversation with the local girl, but I was able to get my room key from her. The only other interesting things I noticed in the lobby was a sign with a phone number for Nosinkhy Dinghy and a door leading to a bar called The Chi Chi Bar. I thought I’d take a peak in the bar before trying to find my room.

6969? Seriously? Al Lowe wasn't involved in this?

The bar scene was all too familiar. A bunch of tourists seated at the bar having a drink and nice looking women invitingly sitting alone at tables. It screamed Larry, and I couldn’t help but go through the same procedures I would have had this really been an Al Lowe created game. The blonde at the bar seductively said “Hi big fella, sit and join me. I’m drinking Mai Tais.” as I walked of course I did! Unfortunately she paid no attention to me after I bought her a Mai Tai, and I’m not even certain how I did that given I had no money on me at all. I then focussed on the blonde and the brunette, who were both sitting alone at tables.

The Test: Does he like blondes or brunettes?

As soon as I tried to chat up the blonde, she informed me that her husband would arrive shortly. He did too, taking a seat at the table. This left only the brunette to trial just how much Larry had really been injected into this game. The answer seems to be "a lot!", as I was given a close up glamour shot of the girl, complete with animated sparkling smile. I tried to sit in the vacant chair in front of her, but no matter where I was standing or what I typed, I kept being told “You’ll have to find a seat.” I attempted every angle I could until suddenly, despite being positioned absolutely nowhere near the table with the blonde, her husband got up and belted me for trying to pick up his girl. Game over, and I had a feeling I was wasting my time trying to seduce women in a Jim Walls game.

At this rate it may take more than daring mockery to make me restore too many more times

Still, I couldn’t help but wonder what the bar scene was for, so I had one more attempt at achieving something. I asked the brunette to dance, and was then a spectator to one of the funniest eighties throwbacks ever, with both man and woman busting out every move that you haven’t seen since Rick Astley was high in the charts (and I don’t mean YouTube charts). Once it was over, the brunette and I walked off the dance floor and reassumed our conversation-less positions at the table. Intrigued as to how far I could push it, I tried kissing her, only for her to slap me and leave the bar. By this point it was becoming more and more obvious that this was all a distraction. I’d received no points at all for any of it, and it just didn’t feel right that I’d be bedding women in this game. I left the bar behind and went in search of my room.

Why is this in the game?

There was nowhere else to go within the hotel, so I went for a stroll up the beach, assuming that my “room” must be some sort of hut, away from the main building. It didn’t take me long to come across a bunch of them, and each hut appeared to be numbered. Which was mine? When I looked at the key in my inventory, it had a clearly marked number 6 on it, so I used it to enter hut number 6. While there were numerous things to look at in my hut, there were very few that I could have any meaningful interaction with. The drawer next to the bed contained an ID card and some loose change, which I eagerly picked up. There was a phone on top of the drawer too, but the only number I’d come across so far was on the Nosinkhy Dinghy advertisement. I tried calling it, but there was apparently no-one in the office at that moment.

Great! Now how do I know which hut is mi....oh...never mind!

Within the closet I found my clothes, but any attempts to put them on (or even pick them up) were met with “It’s much too hot here for a suit”. I figured they weren’t there for nothing though, so I typed “look at suit”. “It’s a nice dark suit with 2 front pockets” was the response, and further investigation of the pockets revealed a little black book in one of them. I picked it up and looked at it, discovering two phone numbers within. The first one was for a General Braxton, while the second was for Gigi Boloni. I quickly walked back to the phone and dialled General Braxton for no particular reason. He wasn’t home, so I dialled Gigi. There was no answer there either. Hmmmm...the only thing I could think of that I might now be able to do was go back to the hotel and buy a newspaper with the change I'd found in the drawer, so that’s what I did.

I wonder how many players failed to check the pockets? It's not completely obvious!

I inserted my fifty cents into the machine and collected my newspaper. Reading it awful lot really. To summarise...the cold war between the USSR and the United States is getting nasty, with a Russian-supported terrorist group called Jaharah Khommini Sieb Abdul having taken the United States Ambassador to the Middle East as hostage. They’re demanding ten million dollars ransom or the Ambassador will be killed. The U.S. has responded to Soviet naval build-up in the Mediterranian (sic) by ordering its 7th Fleet into the area. The U.S. President has vowed to take an aggressive military stance if the Ambassador is not released unharmed. I’m guessing that I’m going to have some role to play in a rescue attempt!

The "cold" war is "heating" up? Oh I get it!!!!

I couldn’t help thinking at this point about Canageek’s recent comments on how silly the plots have been in the majority of these retro games. If the plot continues in the sort of fashion hinted at so far, then this game might have the serious tone and storyline he’s been looking for (if you ignore the sexually focussed elements). We’ll have to wait and see! Reading the newspaper gave me some information that will no doubt become relevant soon enough, but I was still standing in front of my hotel in Tahiti, wondering how I was going to get myself into a position where I could be of assistance to my country. All I could think of is that I needed to call either General Braxton or the dinghy hire company, and that one of those calls would lead to me getting off the island. I went back to my hotel and tried both with no success. Hmmm...was there something I was supposed to do in the bar after all?

I really hope my January month off work doesn't end up like this!

As I entered the hotel on my way to the bar, the woman behind the counter called out to me: “Oh, Mr. Westland, I have an urgent message for you!” I can’t say I love this sort of plot progression tactic, where the player has no real logical motivation to do anything or be anywhere, and instead is required to walk around until they’re in the right place at the right time. I guess in the game’s defence in this instance, there are really not very many locations that you can visit, so you’re bound to be where you need to be at some point. The message was: “Call immediately! General Braxton.” Given I’d already called the guy twice, including an attempt made just a couple of minutes ago, I was none too pleased to read this. Sure, I understand that adventure games often contain this sort of linearity, but a little bit of flexibility wouldn’t hurt would it?

Can you send this back to General Braxton? Message: "Answer your bloody phone!"

I rushed back to my hut and called General Braxton, who answered this time of course. He apologised for cutting my leave short, but told me to get my ass back to Washington ASAP. Due to the sensitive nature of the scenario, I was given no further information before he hung up. Let me is the time to call Nosinkhy Dinghy? Too right! I informed the hire company of my situation, and they told me to meet the dinghy in front of the hotel entrance. Taking my leave from Tahiti seems to be a fitting place to take leave of this post. I realise that I’ve spent a long time describing what has resulted in only 15 out of 300 points, but now that I’ve covered off the initial technical details, things should progress much quicker from here. Wish me luck in Washington!

Next post: Tahiti airport. See what I did there?

Session Time: 1 hours 00 minutes
Total Time: 1 hours 00 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: I've written a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!