Monday 3 June 2013

Game 32: Neuromancer - The One True Computer Game

Tricky Journal Entry 5: "Today was...well, a bit weird really! It might sound like I'm tripping, but I really did meet a man that claimed to be the Head Monk of the House of Pong today! What's Pong? Well, it appears to be a very simplistic computer game from last millenium, which these monks for some reason consider to be the "One True Computer Game". I went along with Nolan's rubbish, and he ended up sending me on a quest for some Holy Joystick. Oh well, I guess if I come across something resembling that, I might just take it back to him, just to see what happens! I also gained access to the Panther Moderns base today, uncovering quite a bit of interesting information. It's still not clear what's going on, and I'm no closer to getting the cash I need to get to cyberspace. Perhaps tomorrow?"

Not being able to name my save files means I have to take screenshots to remind myself of which one is the most recent.

Neuromancer is a tough game! It’s not so much that the puzzles are challenging to solve. The game just throws an incredible amount of information at you, with little to differentiate between what is vital and what is throwaway. It also gives the player absolutely no motives, so all you can do is explore and try to figure out what the plot is. It’s also by far the trickiest game to date to blog through, since I have to restore and restart regularly. I fear that I’m missing a lot of important information simply because I’m not asking about certain topics when talking to people, but by the time I realise those topics are of interest, I've missed the opportunity and have to go back. As usual, all I can do is push on, and hope that the whole thing clicks at some point. I was going to start this post by covering the oddness that was the House of Pong, but first I need to inform you of a discovery I made after restarting again and playing through to my current position. If restarting before every session sounds like a bitch, well I should point out that it takes a matter of minutes to run through all the actual things that I’ve achieved so far. The vast majority of my time has been spent in bases and on the PAX, yet now that I know the information held on them, I don’t need to go through it all over again (apart from downloading software).

These are the only skill chips described in the manual. You'll find out why I mention this in just a moment.

I was concerned that I’d not managed to procure anything at all from Larry’s Rentals on previous playthroughs, so I spent a bit of extra time there asking questions this time. Just as getting names and nav codes was the driving factor of progress in Mean Streets, the collecting of skill chips and software seems to be the driving factor of progress for Neuromancer, so I’ve started making a habit of asking people if they know anything about them. When I asked Larry about chips, he responded with “I can sell you a CopTalk skill chip. $100.” I guess the game hinted that Larry might have skill chips, since they're all over the wall behind him and stuck in the port near his ear, but I hadn’t known the difference between software and skill chips when I’d first visited his store. CopTalk was one of the skills listed in the manual, so I read up on it to see what it does. “Used in the Real World to disguise yourself by talking like a cop with an Irish accent. This can be useful for interrogating the right people.” That seemed a bit ridiculous to me, but since the chip was only $100, and it seemed likely that the skills listed in the manual were the most important ones, I purchased it.

Now you tell me!

One of the original dialogue options I’d had when talking to Larry was “I’m a cop. You’re under arrest unless you answer some questions.” Larry hadn’t been convinced back then, but I wondered whether using the CopTalk chip he’d just sold to me might help. Now my dialogue option had changed to “I’m a cop, sure and begorrah, and you’re under arrest unless you answer some questions.” Larry clearly isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, since he responded with “Yeah, you sound like a cop. What can I do for you?” I felt like I was onto something, yet the only options I had available were “I’m looking for the Panther Moderns”, “Heard any unusual rumors?” and “Do you know anything about_________”. I told him I was looking for the Panther Moderns, to which he replied “How fascinating. I happen to be looking for a way out of this boring conversation.” I then asked him if he'd heard any unusual rumors, and all he had to say was “Something’s happening in cyberspace. A lot of people are getting flatlined.” Nothing new there! I wondered whether there was a specific topic I was supposed to be asking people about, but at this stage of the game I still didn’t have anything to work with!

Top of the morning to ya, to be sure to be sure! Very convincing indeed!

Right, let’s get to the House of Pong! On entering, it was clear that things were about to get weird! There was a screen on the back wall with the game Pong on it, just waiting for two brave contestants to grab hold of the large red joysticks on pedestals in front of it and do battle. There was also a mysterious man, robed in red, standing with his arms crossed as though guarding something precious and sacred. “This is the House of Pong, a quiet and restful place occupied by Pong Monks who spend their days meditating on the Mysteries of the One True Computer Game. Nolan, the Head Monk, is here to greet weary travellers as they come through the door.” Nolan asked me whether I’d come to worship the One True Computer Game, and the available responses I had were humorous to say the least. I actually tried choosing mocking answers such as “Worship a computer game? Get real!” and “Oh, sorry, I thought this was the massage parlor.”, but the end result was me being banished from the House. The “correct” response was “I am but dust on your feet, O Great Nolan. I seek to learn the ways of the One True Computer Game.” Nolan then told me that “Apprentice Monks must contemplate the mysteries of the One True Game for 20 years before they are allowed to play.”

Things just went from a bit weird to truly outrageous!

Once again I was given the option to go along with Nolan or to blatantly mock him (“20 years! Are you out of your mind! It didn’t take me that long to play Wasteland!”). After I told Nolan that 20 years was a bit longer than I’d planned to wait, he very wisely advised me that “It is a long and hard road, but one that must be travelled. A caterpillar does not become a butterfly overnight.” My character was clearly getting impatient at this stage, so the least mocking option I had was “All right. You must be leading up to something. What is it? I have to make a fool of myself, right?” Only then was I given my quest: “Before you may become an apprentice Monk, you must go on a Great Quest for the Holy Joystick. Then the Masters can play Pong again. Our Joystick is worn down to a nub! Then I’ll teach you Zen and Sophistry.” Right! Once again it seems that game developers in the eighties just weren’t confident enough to take a dark theme and run with it. They were always adding quirky humour (think Manhunter and Mean Streets), assuming that fans of classic Sierra and LucasArts would not be satisfied without it. The House of Pong took it to a whole new level of silliness!

It feels like it might just take me that long to get through this one.

I still hadn’t explored the whole Chiba City environment at this point, so I continued to travel east, knowing that I could always get a shuttle from the Spaceport once I ran out of locations. The next location of interest I came to was the Matrix Restaurant. This was the location General Armitage, the man that had given me $10000 to work for him, had told me to meet him outside of, yet I’d not seen anyone there apart from a lawbot. Perhaps I was too early, or perhaps I was too late! I had taken a fair amount of time to go to the meeting point. Ignoring that possibility for now, I set myself to check out the restaurant. The description told me that Emperor Norton (whose name I recognised from the bulletin board) and King Osric were there, in deep conversation, but before I could even consider talking to them, I was kicked out for not having a pass! It appeared that the Matrix Restaurant was for members only, and I wasn’t one of them. General Armitage still wasn’t waiting for me outside, so I continued on to the east.

I don't recall Neo facing these sorts of issues!

Eventually I came to what looked like a dead end. There was a barrier made up of red lasers, and a machine on the wall demanding to know by which company I was employed. I had no idea what to answer, and figured an incorrect one might be detrimental to my health, so I decided to turn around and go back from whence I’d come. Now that I’d finally checked out all available locations in Chiba City (at least for now), it was time to go check the PAX and try to access some more bases with my upgraded Comlink software. I made my way back to the Gentleman Loser and accessed the PAX. There was no new articles and no new messages on the bulletin board, so I jacked in and operated Comlink 2.0. There were a few bases I hadn’t been able to access using 1.0, but the first one I tried was the Panther Moderns base. I was now able to get in, and I used my Scout 1.0 software to find out that there are only 2 access levels to the base. I only knew the first level password, but that gave me access to 1. Software Library, 2. Modern BBS, and 3. Send Message.

I'm not sure what I'm doing to be honest. Do I even have a job? Why am I walking in this direction?

The Software Library contained three bits of software to download, being Comlink 3.0, Mindbender 3.0, and Chaos Videosoft 1.0. Unfortunately, I received a message informing me that my deck was incompatible when I tried to download the latter two, meaning I was only able to upgrade my Comlink software to the third version. The Modern BBS section was very valuable though, with a bunch of messages similar to the PAX bulletin board. The first one was from Modern Yutaka to everyone: “Cowboy named Chipdancer owed me a favour. Broke into the Hosaka base with Comlink 5.0, used “FUNGEKI”, and then added my name to their employee list. Received paychecks for six weeks before anyone noticed. Only risk was walking in to pick up check.” I wasn’t certain whether FUNGEKI was the link code or the password, but I wrote it into the spreadsheet nonetheless. It looked like I might not be able to attempt this piece of fraud until I had Comlink 5.0, not to mention that I had no idea where I would go to pick up the check. The second message was from Modern Miles to everyone, and mentioned that Julius Deanes knows about cryptology and has some hard to find skill chips. I’d asked Julius about hardware and information, but not chips. I marked it down to do when I next paid him a visit.

I tried connecting to link code FUNGEKI, but it told me there was no such link (rather than incompatible link). That suggests it's not a link code at all!

The third message was from Polychrome to everyone: “Screaming Fist has Easy Rider 1.0 in their base. Let’s you cross zones without having to go to another cyberjack.” I assumed that Screaming Fist was the name of a base, but I didn’t know the link code or a password to access it. I also had no idea what “crossing zones” was all about. The fourth message, from Lupus Yonderboy to Angelo, was really quite cryptic: “Mr. Who paid us on the SENSE/NET gig. He’ll remain a Mr. Who, not a Mr. Name. He understands now. Chaos is our mode and modus. Our central kick. Stories to be told, offline in the meeting room. All you have to do is ask.” Hmmm…who is Mr. Who and what is SENSE/NET? Where is this meeting room? The fifth message very possibly gave me the answer! Larry Moe (of Larry’s Rentals) sent a message to everyone saying: “Don’t worry about the meet room, no wilsons will get past me. If you’re Modern, you’re in. Good place for biz. I’ve got CopTalk now, Lupus has Evasion. See you on the other side.” So that’s why I had dialogue options to ask Larry about Modern Panthers! The door behind him must lead to the meeting room! I vowed to question him further when I next visited his store.

Are you sure it wasn't Dr. Who? This seems like the sort of place he might turn up.

The sixth message from Polychrome to Modern Miles was pretty useless, giving me the first level password for the Cheap Hotel, but the seventh one seemed more promising. Modern Bob sent a message to everyone with the following: “I have the link code for Hitachi and the SEA. If anyone’s interested, leave me a message.” I wrote myself a reminder to do that, then checked out message number eight (from Modern Jane to Lupus): “Congrats on burning Gemeinschaft. Heard the fire was so small they don’t even know who started it.” That meant nothing to me, so I moved onto the ninth and final message in the Modern BBS section. It was to me! Matt Shaw wrote to say that “Word of warning: some dumb Wilson just got fried by jacking into cyberspace from the Loser’s outlet. His first (and last) try. The ICE is softer at the bases you can reach from the Cheap Hotel’s jack, so brush up on your cyberspace techniques there first.” This Matt Shaw guy sure seems to want to help me out. This was yet another thing that I was going to need to remember, so I wrote it into my spreadsheet.

Wilson? Wilson!!!!!

Now that I’d read all the messages on the board, it was time to send a message to Modern Bob. I created a new message and simply typed “hitachi and sea” in the body, then sent it to Modern Bob. As soon as I chose to view the messages on the board, I could see a new message from Modern Bob to me. All it said was: “Got your message. Hitachi link code is “HITACHIBIO”. SEA link code is “SOFTEN”. Regular Fellows link code is “REGFELLOW”. I already knew the last code, but the first two were new. Unfortunately I didn’t know the passwords to access either of them, so they wouldn’t be much use to me at this stage. Once again, while this post covers a fair amount of information, it doesn’t actually cover much game time. I fear that I could be going at this for a while! I should also point out that my screenshots tell me that I have actually spent upwards of seven hours, on and off doing stuff in Neuromancer, but the vast majority of that time has been spent switching between writing posts and trying things out as I think of them. For that reason, despite this session really only taking 30 minutes, I’m increasing the total game time by an hour and a half. That's probably a more accurate amount of actual game time.

Microsoft decided to keep things simple for Outlook 2058

Session Time: 1 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 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 not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. It's almost to the point where I want to give you some hints about your next steps, but you're still making progress so I guess I'll shut up a bit longer.

    Considering where you are now, you're also going to stay confused for a while. ;)

    1. I know your feeling, I have the urge to shout out "why don't you try this?" But blogging just makes playing really slow in a game like this. I am sure Tricky will soon solve one of the few puzzles in the game.

    2. The interesting thing here is that it's really easy to actually overestimate the game. As you said, "one of the few puzzles in the game". Because it throws everything and the kitchen sink at you it's hard to know what's a puzzle and what's just fluff. And this game has a buttload of fluff.

      The few things that are puzzles and that you need to do are just buried under so many extra choices and information.

    3. I kind of liked the fluff, but I tend to generally enjoy games with lots of additional and optional content, like databanks with useless information.

      But the lack of puzzles did bother me, because in the end, the game didn't feel very adventure gamish. BTW, how would people categorise Neuromancer? The CRPG elements (skills levels etc.) in the game are very light, so it doesn't fit even that category.

    4. It doesn't fall squarely into any particular genre. If I were to relate it to other games, then I'd say it's closest to interactive fiction with graphics. It feels very light on elements for CRPGs, adventure games, and simulations.

    5. The real world parts are plainly adventure game, even though it's short and with few puzzles. The rest (the cyberspace bits) for me seems like a somewhat boring arcade game with JRPG influences.

  2. It's good you're still collecting information. There's a lot to take in. I do wonder if you will actually get stuck at all. I kind of stumbled through the game quite a bit.

    I wasn't before, but now I'm considering joining you for The Colonel's Bequest. I need the practice.

  3. I don't think I've seen the bundle announced here yet so...

    Latest Indie Royale comes with Primordia and Richard & Alice, both recent point-and-click adventures with very good reviews.

  4. Sorry if this has been posted already, but the latest Bundle in a Box contains the Blackwell series and Hamlet (among other non-adventures):

    Minimum price is 2 bucks!

  5. Nice Castaway reference there.

    These adventure games kind of remind me of Tears for Fears. They wrote these incredibly dark songs (Mad World, Shout), but they coupled it with these 80s pop tunes that took a lot of the bite out. When you hear a cover today by someone willing to go much darker with them (Gary Jules and Disturbed respectively) they are a *lot* darker, but people just weren't ready for that in 198X.

    We seem to be having the same problems, in that people are having ideas that the genre just isn't mature enough to support.


    A Vampyre Story: Year One is an episodic prequel to the PC game A Vampyre Story.

  7. There's a new adventure game on GOG, and it's one that's on the playlist (already Accepted).

    Anyone played Inherit the Earth?

    1. Looks great! Reminds me of the more recent Jolly Rover

    2. Yeah, I have it. I got stuck pretty early though. That's one I kept trying again in the '90s thinking "Maybe this time I will figure out how to get further." I never did. I either missed something dumb, or it's pretty tough. Might be time to give it another shot (and possibly save face).

  8. New game on Indiegogo looks absolutely fantastic:
    Too bad it's not a pure adventure game, as it's a hybrid adventure/action adventure. Still, it's different!

  9. Oh, I should note: No true Pong fan would play with a joystick. They'd play with a proper dial controller.