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!
YOU HAD PLENTY OF TIME TO TELL ME I WAS SUPPOSED TO GET THE MESSAGE
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?!
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.