Monday, 22 June 2015

Timequest - 44 BC (Rome)

Written by Reiko

Temporal Corps Private Journal #2: "Rome in 44 BC is both stranger and more normal than I anticipated. I easily find the source of the disturbance in the circus, although thwarting the assassination attempt on Caesar is more difficult. I have an exciting time fixing a broken chariot, winning several chariot races, gaining Caesar’s favor, and defeating a rogue lion. All in a day’s work for this time agent! (I never want to see a lion that close up again…) Somehow nobody notices I don’t belong in this time. Cleopatra seems to be the only one to take any particular notice of me, which is intriguing."

Rome in 44 BC

From the briefing for this mission: “Julius Caesar was stabbed and killed on the Ides of March. After his death, the conspirators in the assassination plot engaged in a bitter power struggle that
split the Roman Empire and eventually led to its downfall. .. Without the power struggle among Caesar's killers, the Roman Empire may remain united and resist all future barbarian incursions. It may, in fact, never fall.”

As Ilmari and Joe pointed out last time, that isn’t very accurate. The conspirators in the assassination plot wanted Caesar dead, so having him die a month early means they wouldn’t have to kill him themselves. Unless he did something particularly significant in that last month, it wouldn’t necessarily change the power vacuum left by his death. And the power struggle was more among Caesar’s followers than among the conspirators (who didn’t gain the power they might have expected following the assassination anyway). During the shift of the Roman Republic to a true Empire, the Senate lost power rather than gained it, and the senators who had led the assassination plot were dispersed and defeated after only a couple of years. Gaius Cassius Longinus ordered his own death after his defeat in the first Battle of Philippi, and Marcus Junius Brutus committed suicide after his defeat in the second Battle of Philippi. The fall of the Roman Empire itself was a lengthy affair and didn’t really have much to do with Caesar anyway: all world powers have gone through the same stages of strength leading to pride leading to moral and political corruption, and the Roman Empire would have been no different in this decline even if Caesar hadn’t been assassinated.

Despite the inaccurate history, I still have a Caesar to save, so I step out of the interkron and find myself in the Cloaca Maxima, Rome's sewer tunnels, full of sludge and rats. Ew. It's just after noon again. I quickly climb out of the sewer and look around. Definitely not in the Time Corps headquarters anymore. The circus is southeast, where the assassination attempt is planned, but there's another passage south, so I check that out first. It's a beautiful park near an academy, but I don't see anything interesting there, so I wander over to the circus.

It's clearly February 15th here, as the new assassination attempt by Vettenmyer is supposed to take place a month before the actual one on the Ides of March. The sign says that the chariot races today will start at 1:00, so I have almost an hour to look around and investigate Vettenmyer's interference before anything should happen. In a real city, this wouldn't be near enough time to do a good investigation, but given that this is a game, and this is essentially the tutorial level (the manual suggests doing this mission first also), that should be plenty of time.

I investigate the gladiator side of the arena first. The northeast exit from the circus entrance leads into the gladiator locker room. Nobody seems to care that I'm there. After one turn, a gladiator sergeant comes in and announces the race schedule and basically tells me exactly what I need to know. How convenient. Races happen every half hour, but the final one is the critical one, where the winner gets to ask Caesar for a favor. Probably the race is already fixed, or Vettenmyer got to all the most likely winners and convinced them to stab Caesar or something. But that more or less gives me another hour and a half before anything critical will happen.

There's also a jar on the shelf of one of the dressing alcoves, which I swipe for five points. It's wrestling oil. I may need to make something slippery somewhere. The sergeant also mentioned a broken chariot that's available if someone wants to fix it. "...all it needs is a new cotter pin to hold the wheel on the axle." Well why don't the circus staff fix it then if that's all it takes?

Broken chariot, anyone?

He also says the chariots are really well matched, so maybe I'm supposed to fix up the chariot and enter the final race myself to prevent anyone else from winning the race and approaching Caesar. That seems like unnecessary tampering with history. What if the gladiator that was supposed to win asked for his freedom and used it to sire a dozen children who eventually left thousands of descendants? But I've got to think like an adventurer, not like a time agent.

Either way, this scenario makes no sense, though. How am I blending in with the natives AT ALL here? For the language, subliminal training was mentioned, which is a handwave but at least they tried. But what about clothing? As far as I can tell, I just dove into the interkron and tumbled out in Rome, and I haven't found any local clothing anywhere yet. The sergeant and the charioteers are acting like I'm one of them. Not, "who are you and what are you doing in here?"

The Journeyman Project games did the whole blending into local cultures much better, I think. Well, in the earlier games, you're not supposed to be seen at all, and in the third game, the jumpsuit projects the image of a living person as camouflage so that you can interact with people without them being aware that you're a time traveler. You have to capture the image of someone without being seen first, and then you can interact with other people through that guise to capture their images. That makes a lot more sense for preserving history. Timequest is sloppy by comparison.

Anyway, it looks like I need a cotter pin to fix the chariot so I can ride it. I poke my head into the arena and find the chariot just like the sergeant said, with its missing wheel. It's a bit redundant to have the sergeant mention it, really. Back in the gladitorium, I realize the clothing peg is also available to take, so I take it too, for another five points. I suspect I'll be able to use the oil on the chariot wheels for an advantage. There's also a helmet which may or may not be obtainable because it belongs to another charioteer, and a whip which can't be taken because it isn't allowed to be used in the races.

I wander into the stands and look around a bit. I'm a little surprised there's no entrance fee (the sign at the entrance says "Free Admission"), but I'm a bit more surprised when a vendor comes around with focaccia and I can just take some (for another five points). Is there no economy here? Am I just swiping things without paying and they don't care? I guess it's a swipe at the "bread and circuses" concept of the Coliseum, where both were free to keep the masses happy. The crowd is also "enthralled with the events in the arena" but nothing's really happening yet as the first race isn't for another half hour. The chariots are too far away to see anything from here anyway. What's the point, then?

These are terrible seats. I can’t see what’s going on at all. I guess you get what you pay for.
It's hard to tell if a visible object is important or not, but I'm totally not seeing a cotter pin around here anywhere. So I go back through all the locations and try to take anything else available, checking the menu list to make sure I'm not overlooking anything. And amusingly, when I go back to the sewer and try to take the sludge, the game gives me an exasperated little aside about taking everything not nailed down. Point taken, game.

Gratuitous potty joke I totally didn't expect from a time travel game.
In the meantime, I decided to hang around and see what happens if I don't succeed with the mission. The chariot races all finish, and nothing happens for a little while, but then about fifteen minutes after the 3:00 race, the parade of lions begins, at which point one of the lions gets loose and mauls Caesar. So that means the race itself doesn't matter except that if I win it, I can use my favor to ask Caesar to leave before the lion parade so he doesn't get mauled. Or maybe defend him against the lion, although if nobody else nearby was able to do that, what chance would I have?

Anyway, nothing happens to me immediately except that the wristlet that controls the interkron vibrates once. Then when I get back to it, it doesn't work, and I'm trapped in time. The picture shifts and only shows what looks like a grotesque scene in the circus with a very deformed-looking animal of some kind.

What IS that thing?

But there's still no cotter pin to fix the chariot wheel. Overall what I have to do to solve this scenario seems fairly clear, but either I'm overlooking something (probably something stupid), or the tutorial level actually isn't completable without looking around other levels? I feel that would be strange game design.

So I go back to the chariot and start poking at it again. I figure the clothes peg is probably useful somehow even though it's not at all shaped like a cotter pin. I try a number of wordings: "attach wheel to chariot" ("You aren't holding the wheel."), "get wheel" (“It's too heavy”), "put peg in wheel" ("Theoretically possible, I suppose. But definitely a waste of time."), "fix chariot with peg" [Not understood], and so on.

Finally I discover that I can interact with the axle on the chariot, which isn't mentioned in any of the descriptive text, although it's listed in the menu, which I thought I checked for this room before, but apparently not. After that, it's fairly simple. I can put the wheel back on the axle, and then put the peg in the axle to hold it in place. Honestly I can't quite visualize how that works given the original cotter pin mechanism, but the peg is larger at one end than the other, so I guess it stays in place once it's pushed in far enough. I'm just not sure how it's supposed to hold the wheel in place.

Not quite sure how a peg works as a cotter pin...

Anyway, I pour the oil over the wheel too, and then I've got a repaired and well-oiled chariot to ride. When the time comes for the first race, the men harnessing up the horses have some gossip about a guy wearing a laurel crown and antagonizing one of the lions with a whip. That must have been Vettenmyer. I think I probably do have to get the helmet and the whip from the other charioteer somehow, although I'm not looking forward to trying to face an angry lion. First things first, though. With the advantage of the oil, I easily win the first chariot race.

Who’s going to win? Gee, I wonder...

In fact, I easily win all the races, although the last one is written with much more detail and drama and I win by only half a length. Still, I'm escorted over to the Imperial Box where Caesar watches with Calpurnia and Cleopatra. I get 20 points for winning this last race. Oddly enough, Caesar seems to be wearing a gold bracelet with a small time transponder. Vettenmyer must have given it to him, but to what purpose I don't know. I can ask Caesar to give it to me and he will, but a minute later it disappears, just like my own wristlet would return into the future if I took it off. Probably that alerts Vettenmyer that I got to Caesar, though.

Now the trick is defeating the lion. A guard nearby drops his sword when the lion approaches, and I can pick it up, but that's not sufficient. I remember the horse handlers gossiping about the man wearing a wreath when antagonizing the lion, though, and wonder if wearing Caesar's wreath would help. I ask Caesar for his wreath, which seems to be rather audacious, but he honors the request, and I get five points for it, which indicates I'm on the right track. When the guard drops his sword, I grab it again and this time specifically attack the lion with it, killing it in midair.

The ladies look horrified, but Caesar just looks bored.
Maybe he’s used to assassination attempts already. Too bad the next one succeeds.

Caesar is very grateful, of course, and gives me his bracelet in addition, but oddly enough, Cleopatra whispers that she wants to meet me later. The triumphant crowd quickly carries me out of the circus though, and the gates are closed. I get thirty points for successfully saving Caesar. I now have a total of 90 points, with one of the ten missions completed. Just like when I asked him for it specifically, the bracelet glows and disappears a minute afterward. Now I'm sure that's a signal to Vettenmyer that I'm on his trail. Probably nothing I can do about it though.

Next time we'll take a look at the other locations in 44 BC.

Session Time: 1 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 2 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. "Cleopatra whispers that she wants to meet me later" ... ooh la la!

    1. Yeah, exactly. You'll see the outcome of that meeting next time.

  2. When you mentioned the poop joke, I remembered something. I don't know what's your stance on the various "funny" messages some developers like to put in their games, but here's a list of suggested "fun things to try" in the Rome, taken from the official hint book of the game (I don't recollect what the actual results are, but none of this should be spoilerish in any fashion):

    Look at the sludge in the Cloaca Maxima.
    Take the sludge. Drink it.
    Attack Calpurnia.
    Kiss Caesar.
    Kill Caesar.
    Ask Calpurnia and Cleopatra about each other.
    Ask Cleopatra about Caesar.
    Ask Caesar about Cleopatra and Calpurnia.
    Ask Caesar for himself.
    Kiss Cleopatra both before and after asking Caesar for her.
    Kiss the charioteer in the gladitorium.
    Pour oil on yourself. Pour the oil on somebody else. Pour the oil
    on the ground.
    Take the sword from the Praetorian guard before the lion breaks

    Here's some more "fun things" of a more general sort:

    Attempt to have an amorous encounter with yourself or with
    inanimate objects.
    Cheer in each of the cities (especially in Mexico) as well as the
    Mount a person.
    Climb the walls.
    Knock up a character.
    Make love to yourself.
    Put something under something else.
    Suck an object and then answer the question yes.
    Turn on one of the males in the game.
    Talk to yourself.
    Give yourself a command.
    Greet an inanimate object.
    Kill me.
    Turn on me.

    1. Nice! I'll have to try some of those.

    2. Make love to self? As in; onanism? Or does it require pulling and then shoving an appendage into an orifice?

    3. Kenny: It's not very explicit, the game just answers "why you little narcissist". "Kill me" is a bit more innovative: the game is worried if you are depressed, asks couple of times, whether you are really serious and after answering it "yes" each time, it dumps you to DOS.

  3. This is certainly an entertaining game to read about, but if the parser is awkward it might not be so easy to write about. I'm reminded of Quantum Leap, and now desperately want a QL game.

    I'm also somewhat amused that you appear to be doing lots of potential damage to the timestream by correcting the actions of Vettenmyer. Will someone else be sent to clean up after you?

    1. I know! It gets worse, actually. I can't imagine this is the best way to correct the original damage. I can only assume that as a low-level time agent, the PC isn't experienced enough to find less intrusive ways to fix the problems.

  4. That.. thing.. that supposedly mauls Caesar kinda looks like a half-bison, half lion. A bion? Lison? I'm not sure, but it definitely looks mutated.

    1. Maybe they mean to imply that the would-be future Romans in the alternative timeline use genetic manipulation to produce weird animals for gladiators to fight.

    2. The horns make me think "water buffalo." But the fangs...

    3. No un-deformed water buffalo has three horns like that...ugh.

    4. Where does it say that deformed beast is what mauls Caesar? I don't think the game shows the lion at all in the pictures. I agree with Ilmari, that sounds reasonable that it's a genetically manipulated monster for the arena.

    5. I think it's just a regular lion with offensive barding as tribute to "Oebgureubbq bs gur Jbys" (ROT13 in case you haven't watched the movie and I really don't want to spoil the freaking ending of such a great show to you guys).

  5. I've hit comment sections I'm not subscribed to, so I think I'm finally reading new posts...