Tuesday 17 January 2017

Eternam - Missed It By That Much

written by Aperama

I've literally been staring at a blank page for the last three days having played Eternam. Maybe it's been a week. Or a month. I really can't tell any more. (Technically, I had to stop writing for a month and a half after starting this, but that sentence was already written and is still true – I only have a point of reference because the time is saved on my computer.) Basically, there's the 'art' side of my brain which understands what I've just taken in – it's a game that manages to use surrealism to a point that even Salvador Dali would be impressed. There's the 'comedy' side of my brain which sees the fun of what the creators of this game were out for – there's lots of fourth wall breaking and there's clearly no place that isn't worth going for the sake of a joke. But this game takes those two facts and then forgets what it really needs to be a good game – coherence. Super Mario Brothers explains itself without ever needing to have a lengthy manual or tutorial. You can't go left (the screen ends) but the screen to the right moves. You get killed by more or less anything, so you jump around things, and then eventually land on something by accident to learn that they die when you jump on them. This game lets you kill the first three characters you meet to no obvious negative reaction. I decided not to just because I don't want to get through and find that there's a need to keep them alive. I literally don't know if there is a function behind the option to kill things, and have been given no reason to suspect there is. Vive le France!

That's not to say that the characters don't deserve being murdered with laser beams.
I literally quit after this scene, the first person you talk to in the entire game.
I had to close it. I was worried that my computer would explode.

I'm probably heading too far ahead of myself.. though I'm not at all certain of it. Eternam starts you with a ridiculously 90s introduction screen with several shots of the game and the title superimposed repeatedly over the title screen. We're then given the interface and a shot of Tracy, the lady who is 'helping out' DON JONZ (or as I did to keep some sanity about me, DON ADAMS from Get Smart). She gives virtually all of the plot I've actually put together thus far:

'Welcome to Eternam. If you consulted our brochure, you'll know this is the vacation of a lifetime! You, DON JONZ, are about to visit islands which are highly accurate historical reproductions. Many synthetic humanoids will provide stunning realism, adding to your intense pleasure. If you experience any inconvenience, I'll be in touch. Have a nice stay!!'

Then the game drops you in the middle of a field with a giant rock, or something. I really don't know what it is – I took a screenshot for the intro post, and nobody had any insights as to whether I'd even found the correct start to the game, let alone what the thing might be. The 'look' choice does nothing, nor 'use'. Then, there's Creepy Mc-Creeperson up there, or we can follow a road to a giant house in the middle of nowhere. It has a whole lot of nothing inside as best as I can tell, with the exception of a man who is standing around doing not an awful lot.

The house's occupant also tells us that the Duke's castle is to the east with no other
obvious use for him – not that the game gives you any bearings as to which direction is which

Thankfully, all the game requires is for the road to be followed. Simple enough! Stopping off at the house seemed like a good time to test out the interface. The 'use' command only appears to work as it comes to working with items in the inventory, and as the inventory starts out empty this is not really too notable by this point. The 'take' and 'speak' buttons are pretty self explanatory. The 'look' button is.. well.. what's the word I'm looking for...

Oh, that's the one! 'Useless'!

Actually, there is one practical use to the 'look' command – when in front of shelves etc with no definitive graphic for the item you're searching for (an unnervingly frequent occurrence), a text bar explains what is there. That said, when you're in front of an item where I'm attempting to work out exactly what it is, I usually get 'There's nothing to see!' which is.. yeah, not very handy. This said, the game seems pretty linear from here – there's a single road to follow, and it's the only thing with anything to actually react with. I sincerely hope that I've not missed something on the way there, as apart from this lovely fellow...

I really don't know what to make of the perspective they keep
giving for characters – it is definitely not flattering though

… there simply isn't anything much I can see to interact with outdoors. You can destroy just about everyone with liberal use of the 'fire' command, but again I find myself not willing to do so just in case it leads to any pain later on. There's a tower on the way to the castle that you literally bounce off of (the 'boing!' noise is something I'd expect out of Wile E. Coyote's playbook) but which the trusty 'LOOK' command doesn't notice, the 'USE' command gives nothing of and you can't TAKE or SPEAK to. Annoying, but at least it means for a reasonably straight forward path to follow!

The Ducal castle is less than magnificent.

But at least we know who his pet is!

Entering the castle itself, we're greeted by a very pretty (for the day) little cutscene of a drawbridge being raised. The game then dumps us in the entry room which has a ridiculously large kennel (if you compare it to Don Adams' size here, you'll realise that it tops out over eye height compared to him) and nothing much of anything else at all. Attempting to go the only way available leads to another cutscene where Rex, a huge anthromorphic dog, repeatedly punches Don only for a guard to come out and smack Rex repeatedly and allow us to go forwards. The 'beating Rex' cutscene is also stopped momentarily to assure that he's not really being hurt. How sweet of them. Don asks how much he's being paid only for the guard to explain '30gp' and then realise that he actually needs to hit him harder to get his money's worth. If we'd actually been allowed interactivity, I might have felt a little guilty for encouraging the pain to the dog.

Just to prove that this game really is as berserk as I insist

Heading on through, we find out that Lord Ethelred (I thought he was a Duke!) is 'at the end of the second hallway, in the council chamber'. That should be a reasonably simple task, but this game won't even make that much easy. Not only does actually accessing the end of the second hallway require a fetch quest which involves randomly walking around and LOOK-ing at cabinets and cupboards along hallways, but we have to talk with a skeletal guardian just to enter the place. Turns out he's another person who attempted to perform the 'ordeals' for Ethelred, which we're to do. Why, you ask? Well, because, uhm, uh.. because. I suppose that given the insane premise of the 'VR life' or what have you, it does make some amount of sense – but there's no explanation as to why he's still alive, no mention of magic or even what the end aim for Don is.

Nowhere near Murry from Monkey Island 3, that's for sure!

The skeleton says that the ordeal that 'finished him off' involves a 'gaze to be avoided'. From here, I more or less went through places randomly. I found a power point, a man who was very angry to have me in his room, a power point which zapped me, a match, a train (the Medieval Express), a warning that I'd not be allowed into the Duke's rooms if I didn't bring a 'sweetmeat for the secretary'..

'A train? What?' Yes. A train.

Perhaps this is merely knowledge that anyone from Europe has in the back of their minds, but the term 'sweetmeat' makes me think of, I don't know. Candied ham or something. Google clarified that it's more of a term for just generic 'sweets' in archaic English, but still. After this mental image of a ham covered in glossed sugar like a candy apple, I was already doomed. I note 'mental image' here because there is absolutely no inkling as to what these items might be – I found it on a shelf, but there was no real way of knowing what I was picking up. As I fully see the possibility for this game to come up with items that are completely out of the norm (as they have both scifi and fantasy tropes to fool around with), I am very very worried over this!

An example of how in-game items are displayed when they're actually discovered
– you have to 'look' to find it, but after that there's no pixel hunting

Or similarly, the 'inventory' screen. I'm glad the game at least has
the common decency to state that 'sweetmeat' is a bizarre term used

Hopefully, Eternam also includes an in-game hint guide like Space Quest 4

There's so much more to speak of in the castle, truly. Unfortunately, not much of it is actually stuff I want to talk about. For instance, the statues have a little bit of random conversations with themselves. I'm not going to recap it as I believe it to be all 'jokes'. The game's level of inanity means that it is very difficult to know exactly what is of actual need to pay attention to and what is just there for fun. A janitor in one area of the castle weeps about being fired from his job building boats and does it in rhyme. A reference to an archaic French poet or a reminder on who to go to in order to move the boat found elsewhere in the castle (built indoors but without a way to actually remove it from the second floor room it is in)? No idea. Anyway. On to the Duke.. Lord.. Let's just call him Ethel, the Red.

In a complete turnabout of likelihoods, he is also insane

We get a map of Eternam, at least.. or I think it is?
(No point of reference makes it useless anyhow. It looks like a dinosaur to me.)

He has a lot of treasures – they seem largely useless

Ethel lets us know that there's an ordeal 'somewhere in his castle'. Great. Real helpful. He has a small chair of advisors who are snickering at our chances (which counting Ethel makes a group of four), a cartographer in the next room over, a treasure room and a doctor. The doctor has an x-ray machine. Walk into the x-ray machine and at first it just shows off a skeleton.. and then zaps me dead. On being vaporised, we wake up in the bed next to the machine with a doctor standing over us – it turns out there is no permanent death on Eternam. Just random death. He gives us the 'creepy old German' routine, and a clock appears to show that a few hours went past during Don's unexpected death and rebirth. Healing? I don't know. He was a skeleton.

Least expected death in a fantasy adventure game of 1992 award is won right here

The game shows a closeup (literally closes in on) Don after this,
with a 'shocked' expression on his face. I mean, it's unexpected, sure!

Before I get to the 'ordeals' which is likely where I'm ending (I technically got through two, but want to play around with the third for a bit before I talk about them) I'll give a little more information on the castle. There's a door underneath a set of stairs (which is where the 'ordeals' come into play – expect to start the next post with another skeleton head talking to us). Upstairs is a super-slippery floor which almost leads to skating into Ethel's 'apartments' unintentionally. The guard there doesn't like the thought of Don going in because his boots are dirty (leading to a humorous shakedown where he ends up with his own body's length in dirt falling free). There's another random treasure room with a broken mirror and some questionable sculptures and a court jester standing next to the aforementioned indoor boat in yet another room. There's lots of creepy 'closeup shots' of characters which feel almost entirely like they're just trying to show off the pictures they've put their effort into creating – I mentioned them earlier, but I have to again. I don't know what to make of all of this. I really don't.

I don't know why, but this image somehow reminds me of The Fool's Errand, the old PC puzzle game. Just me?

A fitting image to end on

Time played: 1 hour
Mental age increase after playing: Minor dementia

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. That said, I'm only so frightened of spoilers. You can virtually leave all of them written in plain English and they'll still be about as incoherent as if they were written in ROT13. I might give you CAPs for them. Or not. This game makes me flighty.


  1. Yeah, the game is pretty much similar wacky humour from start to finish. I guess it's down to your taste, whether you feel it's just too silly or whether you'll just laugh through it.

    BTW, I am sure you'll get a compass at some point in the game. That will help at least with the directions.

  2. That last image...is that what it looks like? :0

    1. Finger is not what I thought of. I'll just hope it's a finger.

    2. There's a nail on top of it, so it must be a finger.

  3. The sequence of coloured shields on the longboat scream out as being relevant to a puzzle. If they turn out not to be and they're just random, mark another strike against the game design.

    I do like the idea of the lines linking your character to the object he's looking at (or talking about). Shame this was never used (to my knowledge) in any half-decent franchise, as it would have solved a lot of problems.

    1. Shadow of the comet is quite decent :)

  4. Here's what I want to know: What the heck is a "medieval camera?"

    1. Camera obscura, perhaps? Or then just a pointless anachronistic joke.