Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Game 46: Countdown – The Plot Thickens!

Mason Powers Journal Entry #4: “God, it feels good to be out in proper fresh air again! I'm not counting scaling the side of that cliff, anyhow! The old piece of junk I was in didn't take me very far, but thankfully it got me to a train station, and that's all I really needed. I took the eight hour train from that godforsaken place in Konya, Turkey – and I've ended up back in my old haunts of Istanbul, where the CIA has its Middle Eastern HQ. I'm probably a fugitive in their eyes – but thankfully, nobody knows I'm gone yet! So I've had plenty of time to examine McBain's apartment, and have had plenty of memories shoot back to me. It's all so clear, now – I was waiting for a third agent, Scorpio, to debrief, when that bastard Fontaine shot my Chief down – and then went for me! I was able to jump out, then got hit by the car... ugh. I managed to find McBain's hidden computer... now I have a better idea of what's going on – a terrorist organisation named Black December is hoping to take out a major US landmark, and McBain was close to finding the truth. To cut to the chase, I'm back in my apartment, trying to find all of the evidence I can to first chase down McBain's killer, and then uncover what's behind this whole Black December plot!”

Travel in this game isn't too painful at all. Though I was so hoping to travel by Indiana Jones' red line!

Having found my way out of Sanctuary, I'm glad to say that even though I'm only technically blogging about two or three screens in this instalment, the game has picked up massively. You might notice the timer in the top right of each screenshot – that's been wearing down on my psyche a touch, so I've been trying my best to shave all of the extraneous time spent double clicking on everything that moves through massive save scumming. It's not actually unreasonable to do – and I now have a savegame coming out of Sanctuary that leaves me with only an hour of the ninety-six I've got to complete used up. I'm also quite enthused as my score has gone up quite quickly concurrently – there might be a fair bit more to the game, but I'd say I'll be able to manage my way through without this worry. There are two forms of transport (one which you don't have straight out of Sanctuary, being plane travel) – trains are slower, but cost less. I do like this slight tension created by the game, but don't mind saying that I'm not going to be paying much heed to it for all of the savescumming I plan to continue doing. I'm not letting this one sneak up on me, dammit! (The timer is actually indicative of real playtime, with the exception of travel taking hunks out of your time limit pre-established in the manual.)

“I suddenly remember McBain came from a wealthy family and had a lot of style, but this place is incredible...”

I decided that I should start with McBain's apartment (yes, this is supposedly an apartment!) as I figured I'd probably get more info out of here. Long story short, there are quite a few interactable objects in this place. You can fiddle around with the light switch, you can look at things.. well. Everything in this place seems to be a one-room puzzle, more or less – there's not an amazing amount to it, but I don't like to think of that as necessarily a bad thing. First and foremost, if you're like me, you'll look at the blood or the glass.. which is bad, as you get the same old non-skippable cutscene from the last playthrough from seeing blood. This is, to put it very mildly, annoying. However, if you look at the glass, and you'll get the following text: 'Fragments... the window... shattered glass! It's all so familiar. Now I remember.”

“The assassin who shot McBain turned the gun on me! Someone must have known about the meeting and they were after anybody who was there. McBain was expecting someone else. Was it Scorpio? Or was he the one who fired the shots..”

There's plenty more to do in here, though, but two of them irritated me as I feel like I stumbled upon them almost entirely through the benefit of luck. Well, one being luck, and one being the experience of playing this game telling me to interact with every single object using the first four functions available (USE is only to use an item in your inventory, GOTO just either moves you through or to somewhere, and TALK, TASTE and TRAVEL are all pretty self-explanatory.. I'd be surprised if I even find a use for TASTE.) So, the more obvious is the huge statue standing in the bottom left corner of the screen.

Secret passage? Check!

Actually, I'm not quite right on this account. It's not a secret passage, per se. You move the shield, and the centre of the statue opens to reveal a keyhole! Of course, I'm up to the pixel hunting task here, and I'm thinking it's in the desk, on the bookshelf.. who knows. So I'm clicking around (finding an encoded note on the desk that the game alludes to can be decoded by something in my apartment, a 'travel kit' on the bookshelf that has a false passport and five thousand dollars in various denominations – score, I can take planes now! Even though it's a bit creepy that McBain had a passport that obviously had my picture in it.. well, I won't dwell.) But no, it's none of these. When I moved the bookshelf, I was astonished to not find a key or something similar hidden behind.. but another safe! Yeah, I wasn't so sure of what was really going on.. let's just save the five minutes of screen sweeping for you all and explain this: see those shards of glass over the chair on the right? The top two are glass. The bottom one is a key. If I hadn't clicked on every last thing I could find, and hadn't accidentally swept my mouse over this? Again, likely request for assistance. This game is not awfully fair. But what it lacks in fairness..

It makes up for in explosives. The next line of this also says 'Use Only Under Adult Supervision'. Thanks, Access!

So, after using the largely invisible key in the statue, the fireplace opens to reveal a secret computer! And, more importantly, explosives. Lots of explosives. Five lots of explosives. Before I let my pyromania speak up, though, I'll explain what the computer has to say verbatim - “Possible strike points for Black December's latest terrorist operation 'Thunderbolt': A) Washington D.C./Lincoln Memorial, B)New York/Statue of Liberty, C)South Dakota/Mt. Rushmore”. I've had 'Black December' in my ask about listings for a little while now from the newspaper on the floor in the doctor's office, but it wasn't clear enough for me to fully understand that Black December is the generic terrorist organisation within this game. I presume they get their name from their assassination of Santa. Oh, who am I kidding? There's only so much more of this I can take..

The game literally takes ten in-game seconds for the payoff

Hidden inside the safe is a box filled with a dossier of Iraqi agents working in Israel – it seems a rather bizarre thing to hold onto, but being a secret agent (who has just blown the living poop out of his boss's palatial apartment), I naturally get Mason to snatch up the evidence and run along to his apartment.. 

“My place is plain and practical. Basically, it's a particle board and Elmers glue design.” (And has a photo of my ex-fiancee on the ground. Not creepy at all!)

The first thing anybody in their right mind would notice coming into this room would have to be the annoying as sin squawk that reverberates through one's brain. Yep, that's a bird cage in the corner. And yep, it's a parrot inside. Being a game with no music apart from the opening guitars, it's impossible not to notice when a sound effect suddenly attempts to deafen you. Again, it's time to go rummaging through the room, though. He's got a pile of work sitting on his desk - “Case files on a terrorist group known as Black December. … A handwritten note on the side of the page says, 'Who is Stormbringer'?” Continuing, there's a bird cracker on the table, a battery on top of the TV, a toolbox hidden in the cupboard above the sink (with pliers and wire cutters inside), a key to the bird cage hidden underneath your pillow (why hide a key to a bird cage at all? Ask Mason Powers, international spy of not bothering to wash his clothes for days on end.) But clearly the thing we came in here for was the item to help decode the message left on McBain's desk. It's explained in the manual – you've got a 'Standard Agent Issue Computer Access Device' known as the CAD. (In this instance, it's hidden behind the pot plant on top of the fridge. Mason Powers, ladies and gentlemen. Security is #1 with this guy.)

Aww! (There have already been four Bond references to this point by the game itself, just for clarity)

So, we need to find Mason's password. I actually tried several obvious ones after pulling up the manual section which lists the CAD – it's an in-game puzzle, though. 'Mason', 'Powers', 'Password', 'Company', 'CIA', 'Secret', 'Agent', 'Secretagent'.. no dice. No, Mason has a much more sophisticated design towards hiding his passwords..

Open parrot cage. Give cracker to parrot. Key to desk drawer falls out of parrot's mouth. Why? Not sure.

This may indeed be one of the least coherent puzzles that I've ever seen in an adventure game. Give me Nikstlitslepmur any day over one like this, I say! Still. At least so long as you thought to move the pillow and can as such unlock his foul-mouthed parrot (whom he has taught the phrases 'Drop dead, wimp!' 'Loser!' 'Feed me!' and 'Mason's a butt!' - he clearly has high self confidence), you're pretty likely to put two and two together and realise the cracker is for the parrot. Now, with 'dolphin' to unlock my way into the CIA's files.. I receive an email. Pretty spiffy for 1992! “Mason: McBain was right. There is someone inside the agency working for Black December. I have my suspicions about who it is, but I need time to verify them. I will contact you later. - Hakeem Ababash, 10/1” 

The CAD already has the makings of one of the most interesting parts of this game

The CAD has three functions. It'll tell you if you've received an email when you're at the travel screen or on the first time logging into it, you can ANALYZE objects in your inventory (only a select couple – you can't, for instance, ANALYZE the SCALPAL) – in the above screenshot, there's a picture of analysing the note found in McBain's office, which reveals a new name of 'RACHAL AKURE' to add to our list. It also allows us to RESEARCH the dossiers of the characters who you've unlocked the names of through dialogue. Through this you learn a couple of things – one, that Stephen Lucas, A.K.A. Scorpio, is.. well. That can't be right.

McBain told us to 'GET SCORPIO'. Problem? The game's set in October of 1992.. and he died in January of 1991!

You also learn a little bit about a few of the other characters. Amongst this little repository of knowledge is the meaning behind 'Stormbringer' – it's the notion, largely held by Frank McBain, that there is a mole inside the CIA working for the terrorist organisation Black December. The CAD looks like it only has one set of information to work off of, which is a little bit disappointing, but it's nice to get a few little pictures etc as it comes to these people. Anyhow, I'll end this update here, even though I'm a little bit further ahead – this just seems to be a nice, neutral spot to stop.. so! My new inventory is now ludicrously large..

- Coat hanger
- Mason's wallet
- Scalpal
- Keys (this seems to be call 'regular' keys, given that the game suggests that Mason enters both apartments without forcible entry)
- Grappling hook
- Flashlight
- Boots
- Bag
- Old wine
- Box (I believe I picked this up along with the passport and cash on the bookshelf – it just sorta appeared)
- Box (of the Iraqi agents working in Israel variety)
- Fake passport. Still creeped out.
- Cash ($5903 – gained 5000 in McBain's apartment, but lost 100 on the train to get there.. sweet deal?)
- Four doses of plastic explosives – supposedly lethal within 15 metres. Short of the SCALPAL, this seems like the only way I have to deal with the deadly 'Fontaine'?
- The CAD
- One Ni-Cad rechargeable battery, found on top of Mason's television. Doubtlessly stolen from a remote control.
- Pliers. Handy for.. plying.
- Wire cutters. I'm worried that I'm going to have a bomb diffusing scene a la Police Quest 2..
- Note with hidden message to Rachel

This screen actually makes me feel excited to play this game, finally! I didn't die once during this update!!!

Session Time: 0 hours 45 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours 00 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. Unrelated: It seems Ron Gilbert is launching its own kickstarter to make a graphical adventure LucasArts style. Here is the post from Gilbert's blog (http://grumpygamer.com/kickstarter) and here is the kickstarter (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thimbleweedpark/thimbleweed-park-a-new-classic-point-and-click-adv?ref=nav_search). I can already see the comparisons between this and Broken Age...

    1. They really have made it look a lot like Maniac Mansion. Not a great sign for me, since I would have preferred something a little more like Monkey Island 2. I have no particular nostalgia for Maniac Mansion either (I was probably playing Sierra games instead).

    2. That's some pretty steep budget (US$375,000.00?!) they're looking at for a game that looks like it could be accomplished at 10% of its price with today's technology.

      And if they're trying to make it old school, why would they have an Easy and Hard mode? I don't remember Maniac Mansion having any modes at all.

    3. Yeah - the retro style isn't doing it for me for a recent project - I can understand blocky graphics if it's a budget concern, but as a stylistic choice - I'm not a fan - I know others will disagree though so I think it will still work.

      I'll take a wait-and-see approach with this one. Looks like it will be funded so far. I may end up backing it but for now I'm undecided.

      And, it's now added to the sidebar!

    4. It just seems too far out. From their pie chart, they'd need more than $230,000 to do the coding (for a game that can be created by modding Maniac Mansion http://www.moddb.com/engines/scummvm/games), design and art (there are plenty of Deviantart artists who would work for $20,000 for a whole YEAR just to do the art for that kind of money). Seriously, I'm not backing it no matter what. I might buy the game when it's out but... WTF?

  2. Enpury Nxher vf na nantenz sbe N Unpxre Yher. Qba'g snyy sbe vg, Znfba!

    1. Lrnu, ohg gur rapbqrq abgr npghnyyl ernqf, pyrne nf qnl, 'ENPUNY'.

      Naq zber vzcbegnagyl, Znfba vf sne gbb varcg gb or n 'unpxre'. Uvf vqrn bs xrrcvat crbcyr bhg bs gur ybbc vf gb fghss n PCE qhzzl va uvf orqfurrgf. Ur vf gb Wnzrf Obaq jung gur Unzohetyne vf gb gur Znsvn.

    2. First the SCALPAL, then RACHAL. Who was in charge of spell-checking this game?

  3. This is the place where I began to like the game (at least for a small moment). I just kept wondering why Mason never changes the white hospital clothes to anything less noticeable (apparently the security in the airports was so bad in nineties that no one ever thought to check a passenger that looked like he's on the run from some institution).

    1. Exactly. You're bumbling around the middle east and Europe on a fake passport in conspicuous clothes. Okay, you can't find anything that will fit. Sure. But you visit your own apartment, end up literally seeing clothes in the corner and instead of letting you change into them he essentially goes 'Eww, really? They're DIRTY!'

      He's constantly disparaged for how average/iffy he is, and not letting you change his horrible habits doesn't make things any better for the game's case!

  4. Self-defenestration is just too cool for words.

  5. I'm going to make a bet that you, the one with amnesia, turned out to be... part of the terrorist organization group Stormbringer!

    Dun Dun Dun!

    1. Nah, that's a little off. The terrorist group is Black December, and their operation is Thunderbolt.. the plan to destroy Mt. Rushmore, the Statue of Liberty or the Lincoln Memorial. Stormbringer is the codename of the mole(s) in the CIA. God, it'd have been easier if they'd just call them 'mole', 'double agent' or 'sneaky so and so(s) who are being very naughty'. Most importantly, the KOTOR-styled twist just wouldn't fit. Mason is simply too inept.

      The story is very much the best part of this game, and I don't blame you for being a little confused - I've been both playing and writing about it, and I'm still a little lost!

  6. Nice to see the game opening up a bit. That parrot puzzle made me laugh.

    I don't recall ever needing the taste action in Mean Streets (I used it for fun though). Surely it will have a use at some point in this game.

  7. No one pointed out the rather obvious James Bond reference, though I guess it is way too late.

    Stormbringer is possibly a Micheal Moorcock references though: It was the name of Elric's intelligent, bloodthirsty sword.