Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Game 46: Countdown - Exploring Sanctuary

Mason Powers Journal Entry #2: “Okay, this is getting beyond a joke. This place is a fortress! There are guards at every turn, and all I'm running into is a bigger headache than the one I started with. I found a blanket to help out the freezing man in the interrogation room, and he told me some things about what I've gotten myself lost in. Sanctuary seems to be a no-mans-land of throwing away and forgetting about old CIA problems.. and I think I'm considered one, now. I've loaded up on just about everything that I could find, and I had an interesting conversation with my treating physician, who didn't even seem worried that I had him at knife point! Or maybe he was just too drunk to notice. I've got a slate to clear, though, as I'm just sure I didn't kill Chief McBain! I've loaded up on everything that I could find, and in following the example of Barney Sacnussen from the room down the hall from me, I'm in the basement and ready to get out of here..”

Boy, do I ever.. the graphical glitches are strong in this one

Oh, I can already feel the hackles rising high as I continue my exploration of the Sanctuary. No music, relentless random deaths from just opening a door (You can't look through the door to see if it's safe beforehand, it's entirely based on time) and the fact that a digitized scream hits every time you leave one of the cells/closets is enough to make me want to push this far, far away. Spelling errors, too – there's actually an item that changes spelling from when you grab it to when you have it in your inventory.. This game definitely needed some QA!

The SCAL-PAL! It's your plastic pal who's fun to be with? It's also a knife..

However, I'll quit nitpicking and get on with it. I've already discovered that the pixel hunting prediction has come into play, but that's neither here nor there. There's one floor over your starting area, and two under. I started by going up the stairs, where there are two guards. One of them stays by a door, essentially making it impossible to get through – the other has a short patrol through a pair of corridors, making him hard to avoid. I started to the door that opens to the top half, where I found a whole bunch of supply lockers! I immediately knew what I was looking for, using the key from Mason's room to unlock and find a bag. Looking at the bag opened it, netting me Mason's wallet (with Chief McBain's address and three bucks), but I snatched the bag quicksmart too. Never know when you'll need a bag, a rope or a knife in an adventure game.

Yeah, this guy is truly working for the government

The only other interactible room that I could find in here was the room down the bottom of the screen, where I discovered that I don't actually have to be closeby to open/goto places! This is a huge boon when you instantly get a gameover screen every time a guard walks into you, I'm sure that I don't have to tell you all. Regardless, the room is yet another storage room, this one seeming to contain more office-styled items. I found a rat and a rat trap, immediately making me want to snatch the rat up somehow. If this is possible, I'd love to know – but I don't think so, unfortunately! I also found a crowbar sitting on a ledge (which took about four passes to actually notice) and a National Geographic from the 1950s. Looking at it three times, I was sure that I needed to be doing something with it, and discovered that to read a book you have to OPEN a book to read it. It had an interesting little tidbit about how somewhere in Turkey, there was a monastery that was converted into a hospital in World War II. Apparently, there's a labyrinth underneath! Escape plan!

Obligatory maze section? I think so!

Due to the guards severely limiting access to the top floor, I went down to the floor beneath the one I started on pretty quickly after looting them. I was rather expecting to find a medical gown etc that I'd be able to wear to infiltrate, but that wasn't to be – instead, I sat around trying to learn the schedule of the lone guard on the (what I'll call ground, I think) floor. There are a few more useless seeming rooms within, but nearly the first room that you encounter on your left (which is really the way you have to approach it given that all of the guards move counter-clockwise, and all of the rooms are rectangular) is Dr. Farouk Hashish's office. At last, a chance for some answers!

I don't think he means us well! Well, he won't when he's awake

In his room is possibly the best newspaper headline ever. I'd pay to see it in reality

But more importantly, the one I reckon I'm going to be going after is finally named!
Jack Quinn, Mason Powers is coming after you!

I try to interact with the good doctor, but he's out cold enough that talking to him just receives a 'oh, go away' statement. So, I notch this one down to later, snatch the keyring I see on his desk and quickly begin to circle again. Another few rooms of nothing ensue, including another random guy in a straitjacket that seems to be of no real help. In one of the operating rooms is a box of 'emergency supplies', which evidently just means 'a flashlight', which I pocket – and in the next is the obvious solution to my angry doctor's problem.

I've got a knife, a flashlight and a bag. If I get a rope, I may not need any more items in this game

Collecting my knife and continuing the arduous process of circling back to the doctor's room, Dr. Hashish finally gives Mason a little leeway and begins to answer a few questions. I'm quite annoyed that the game won't let me point out the bleeding obvious, as he's written up a proforma stating that something horrible (has already) happened to me – but it chooses to instead be confused when I try to 'hassle' him. Still, some interesting tidbits come from him as he explains that the Sanctuary is, to quote, “a 'safe' hospital funded by the CIA's black box fund. (We) take care of those employees who have become troublesome or who have become an embarassment to the company. No one in Congress even knows about this place.”

The information this guy gives me is worthless enough I really want to just follow through with this scalpel.
Also: great beard/moustache combo!

After drilling everything out of him that I can muster, I'm left with a bit of a dilemma. I'm not sure if I should be trying to knock him out with my crowbar or something – clearly, he can just call the guards or do whatever he likes as soon as I take the knife away! I'm sure by this point that I've probably missed something, but I don't really know how to fix it.. so I click 'leave', ready to load one of the dozen saves that I've already set, and he.. goes back to sleep. Well, there's that problem solved! I peek about quite a bit, being convinced that I've probably missed something or another – and move a painting, discovering a combination to a safe. This makes me look for a safe, and I find an extra two thousand dollars in cash! (And this is 1990s money!)

Former Agent Mason Powers locates his retirement fund

I've got a keyring, and there's only one location left – I try the next stairwell down, which has a single room in it – it's the basement alluded to in the National Geographic from earlier. And.. the keyring is worthless. Hooray! It's worth noting that you can't look at items when they're in your inventory, making it quite difficult to tell what you're holding onto. So, here begins my frantic pixel hunting quest. I've got several items, and the only things that are holding me up now are conversations. I try everything in my inventory to interact with Leonard Spaulding's radiator/heating pipe, figuring there must be something obvious lacking in my approach.. and sure enough, after about an hour and a half of hearing that horrid scream and dying later.. I find a blanket in the janitor's closet. I'm not too happy about this – but as soon as I get it, I know to go straight to Spaulding..

This would have been a great hint if I'd not already wildly clicked on everything, Leonard-..

Leonard doesn't really have too much to say, essentially explaining everything that Dr. Hashish has already spouted out – he's from the opposing view, of course, telling me how the Sanctuary is just where all of the 'problems' that the CIA have go in order to have them disappear. I include the name Barney in the above screenshot intentionally, though – I remembered seeing this name in a previous room that I was rather convinced didn't have much of interest in it, espousing it as another 'red herring' room in the previous playthrough post.

I knew I remembered that name!

I quickly berated myself for not thinking to move the painting, and discovered the cryptic text 'at night while they sleep, passed the fire and into the wall I creep'. Past, perhaps it means, but.. well, I have an idea of what this is getting at, given the amount of radiators and such that are in the hospital! A boiler room or something of the like is my immediate guess. Still, the fact that the basement is locked is the issue.. but Leonard told me that Barney is presumed the only person to have actually escaped Sanctuary, so I'm sure that the solution is in this room by this point. I look under the bed, in the toilet, double check all of the writing.. and then see that the 'pillow' is an interactible. Chastened, I move it, grab the key and immediately run down to the basement, where I'm ending my journey for the time being to recoup my sanity..

Please let the maze be simple..

As my undying commitment to share the pain that is adventuring with you all, my inventory summary as of the end of this playthrough:

A coat hanger.
Mason's wallet! Complete with ID and convenient address of the guy Mason supposedly killed.. eep.
The SCAL-PAL of justice (+3)
A keyring (my intuition says it's for Farouk's car, as Leonard mentioned that he's the only one who doesn't live on-site)
A flashlight (Maze crawling!)
A crowbar (More maze crawling!)
A bag (For good luck!)
A pair of scissors (Because.. well.. they were there. Never know when you might need them.
Cash ($2003. Don't know in what currency, given I'm supposedly in Turkey – but it didn't say 'lira', either.)

Session time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Total time: 3 hours 30 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s 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. To aid my sanity, I am now thinking of my game as "Danger Man" and yours as "The Prisoner". John Glames and Mason Powers are merely two codenames for the same CIA agent, disgraced because he failed to save the world from the crisis in Santa Paragua.

    1. If that's right, then Jack Quinn must be an exact double of Mason Powers, hiding behind a monkey mask.

  2. The game does get a bit more tolerable, when the Sanctuary is finally left (at least you are not killed every five seconds), although there's still lot to complain. The conversation system is one thing I find annoying: sometimes it seems you just have to guess the right combination of hassling, bluffing etc. to get anything useful out of the characters. "Hassle, bluff, hassle" - no, nothing; "bluff, hassle, hassle" - now I got it!

  3. This sounds nasty, but then it has an intriguing element to it that should help you persist. I hope progress becomes less painful in your next session.

  4. Why can't you just stab the bastard in the neck and scalp him with your scal-Pal?

    1. By the looks of his receding hair line, he could well be called Scalp Al. *runs from the flood of rotten tomatoes*

      I was a bit surprised to learn that scalpal is actually a word (adjective "pertaining to scalp"). And this was even more perplexing:

    2. Trust me - I tried. The first use got him to talk, and you can't double threaten him. It's a hospital anyways. I really don't see why we can't at least take a finger. He could always get it reattached!

      Were it not for the era in which the game was created and the repeated misuses of words (your instead of you're) along with minor typos being an endemic problem within the game, I'd almost say that the game was just run through a word processor. But I'm fairly sure there weren't any real word processors with automatic spellchecking back in 1990 - anyone want to challenge that one?

    3. I actually owned a program in the late 80's that you ran your document through and it picked out spelling and grammar errors. I would never have made it through college without it. However, technically you are right, I don't remember any word processors with the capability.

    4. I'm pretty sure my trusty WordPerfect 5.1 could spellcheck without breaking a sweat.

    5. A review of Wordperfect from 1984 talked about the quality of the spellchecker, so I'm assuming they were common by then.

  5. Like any experienced adventurer, in the past I've had to suffer through many pixel hunting sessions. That crowbar and those blankets are particularly infuriating examples.

    On the subject of references, did anyone else catch the nod to Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth? We had our obligatory James Bond reference, but this one I found delightful.

    1. So that's why Barney Sacnussen sounded so familiar!

    2. In a later post, it's revealed that his CIA codename is 'Thor'. I've been utter years since reading Journey to the Centre of the Earth - any idea if that's related, or just someone messing around?

    3. Mmmh can't think of any relation, except that maybe they're all Nordic?

      @Ilmari: it didn't really click for me until I started finding his initials everywhere. Then I remembered: oh right, "Barney Sacnussen" the spelunker... :-)

  6. Oh, go stick your head in a pig! (I'm sure there are other Hitchhiker's Guide fans in the readership.)

  7. "In his room is possibly the best newspaper headline ever. I'd pay to see it in reality."