Thursday 16 February 2017

Eternam - Sunshine of the Spotted Mind

written by Aperama

Eternam is getting to the point where I repeatedly ask myself a simple question: 'why?' The problem is the direction of this query. At first, it was 'why would the developer do this'. This is actually a fairly common question as I look into games, particularly with a critical eye turned towards things given the relative age of the games we're playing here. Using the 'latest technology' at the time is often the explanation for a relative drop in quality (e.g. the FMV revolution to truly kick in some time soon on this blog). I'm past asking that question, as the answer to that is simply not one I have the capability to understand. I don't operate on that 'either crazy or genius' level and likely never will. The question I'm now asking is 'why am I even playing this?' Even with the impetus to complete the game for the blog, I'm struggling heavily with that question. The other bad games I've played here have at least had the saving grace of being short – this feels like it's gone on forever already! There are things that make you appreciate other, finer things. One might read Hamlet and find that they're encouraged to watch it as a live play, making their appreciation for the artistry of the performers that greater. Eternam on the other hand makes me long to read Twilight for its incredibly deep and emotionally strong female protagonist.

It is, after all, a game that has us watched by our robotic overlords
I could be again a little unfair here. I stuck out the entirety of 'Stomaca' purely because I didn't want to leave on a Request for Assistance post. This game might just not be the sort of game you can play for very long without feeling sick to the pit of your stomach (a). Anyway. Game. I start off by being escorted into the University (of what, I hear you ask? No idea.) It's essentially a town controlled by robots, or at least run by them. It's never made particularly clear as to who is a robot and who isn't. The game even calls itself a Westworld-like 'fantasy theme park' with robots, but the game never really goes into it deep enough for me to worry or care. Entering the University means being taken through an IQ test. Amongst them are questions along the lines of 'in question 5, which option was the one you chose?', 'at the end of the intersection, do you turn right, stop or turn around?' and my personal favourite, 'how do you think you did on this quiz?' If you get under a certain number, you get sent back to Dorsalis. Some of the questions are actually helped by ingame knowledge (the name of the first island, the name of the Duke's son for instance) – some just require you have information at hand (when was Halley's Comet first discovered).

I accidentally said that Marie Curie theorised the photon
 as opposed to Einstein, so probably deserved this

I would rather have an alternate path through the game involving
making the robots explode a la
Space Quest 3's Arnie-bot, though

After a touch of Googling over the less obvious questions (I couldn't say which planet has Titan or Triton as a moon without looking it up as the only ones I'm certain of are Phobos and Deimos thanks to Doom), the game spirits us into what I'm going to call a “car thing”. I just don't know what better to call it, and the game again never references it at another point. It takes us down the 'roads' that litter Stomaca. I'd quite have liked to use them once more to skip all of the random Space Invaders play, as the critters in Stomaca took me from 99 health to 38 in what felt like a couple of seconds as I left my computer unattended for a moment. The 'car thing' takes us to the Future City, which is a huge bunch of sci fi parodies and an elevator.

I think those plants are actually from Dragon Ball Z, aren't they?

To fully display its disdain for us, the game gives us a 'nostril eye view' of Don Jonz

The entryway involves a whole bunch of things you can't interact with. I feel I struggle to explain how annoying this actually is. To be precise, the whole city is littered with robots who walk by and in spite of looking similar to the ones which let us into the University are universally non interactive. It's just another annoying design choice to adjoin to the fifteen thousand little niggling issues of Eternam, though. Essentially, the whole city is a dialogue puzzle. Well, I call it a 'puzzle' – really, it's the equivalent of what I'd call pixel hunting in most other games. We have a keycard given to us for passing the quiz in the University, which lets us into one floor. This floor leads to another with another card and so on. The first floor (-1. Not 'basement', 'b1', 'lg' or any such seemingly logical term) has one interactive person who gives us a card to the 'hotel' floor because the 'heating is broken down and we can go get ourselves a cold drink'.

Can I just stay and talk? I'm half naked here after all

These drawers don't open until you walk right up to them,
 then press the 'up' key.. unlike much anything else in the game

I'll fall slightly out of the chronological order I took through here because as per usual, Eternam managed to hide something in plain sight. See, after going through floor -1, there's new access to floor (+1? I'm not sure how the math works here). It gives a little bit of information, like 'the Commander is on floor 2', and a 'hotel room' which resembles a set of bunk beds. It also has a set of drawers which allow us to get to floor 3 – but as per usual, a lack of communication as to the control scheme means that unless you know you have to physically walk 'into' the drawers, there's no way of knowing they open. I only encountered it by fluke after traversing the entire island. Regardless, two leads to four if you're clairvoyant, made the game, looked at a walkthrough or had a minor psychotic break which involved trying to get Don to walk into walls to see if his life meter fell down.

This game isn't dated, at all

Ditto with the 'Twilight Zone' references

There's actually a bit going on in the 'Computer Center' on floor 3. Again, there's a lack of interactivity throughout, which makes things pretty painful to get through. There's a receptionist on each floor. If there's some purpose behind them I don't get it. They do at least say which floor we're going towards et al, which is only helpful in that they could have just used signs and been just as effective. There's a room adjoining the receptionist with no obvious purpose other than to date the game (people talking about the huge 'megabytes' they're dealing with) and another which holds a pair of time-shifted computer programmers. They're working on a video game called Eternam, and they're looking for a way out so they can finish their game.

If I don't save them, does the game implode?

This is what a burning pump station looks like

Kirk and Spock are at least good to tell us the distance to the end of the world

After speaking with them, I started wandering around further and found another card. Great, I figured – just keep climbing. This lead me to level 4. Level 4 is the 'Command Center'. It's something closer to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise than anything else. It leads to a huge 'viewscreen'. I almost got trapped in this, again. It's the first person mode, only without an obvious way to escape. You can't move back or forwards, it's just like a stationary pair of binoculars. Swinging around in the 180 degrees of vision offered, there are a couple of obvious landmarks to take note of that only pop up as is when you view them through it. The 'pumping station' is on fire / billowing out smoke, and there's another gash in the landscape which doesn't appear when you walk where it would logically be. The way to escape the viewscreen is to hold the 'down' arrow (not hit it – hold it down). Why? Because it is. I worked this out after about five minutes of trying random key commands. This game really needed mouse controls! Moving back, 'the captain' and 'Mr. Spot' come out and tell us that the pumping station being on fire is bad. Go figure – it's going to blow up the entire island. We need to go fix it.

Another show of 'the joke wasn't funny to start with' here

Note the timer – this was about two minutes or so real time, I believe

Given I've referenced that I fell slightly out of chronological sync here, even if there was supposed to be some difficulty found in the timeframe given.. I had none. Saying I'd followed the path as it was clearly designed, the problem is again that the game virtually doesn't even have puzzles. It just has slightly strange interactions that fall together by walking into a room for the most part. Knowing where the pumping station (which could be a way off of the island but doesn't end up being) is, I ran straight there. Don walks up to it, says 'nothing I like better than watching a specialist at work...', punches the controls and then the timer and fire stops. A robot who was sitting behind the fire pops out and tells us we're tourists, and explains that there is no longer any transportation to Paw, the next island. He says we need a boat. We do not need a boat, for the record.

Can't caption. My brain is wrapping itself in a ball and choking itself

The path to the next island (again, we've literally solved nothing and have had no leads to what we're actually doing aside from a couple of mentions of Mikhal Nuke) is.. okay. Let's just take a break. I'd like anyone reading this to say that the solution clearly involves the following:
  • go back in time
  • find Neil Armstrong as he lands on the moon
  • get him to take two computer programmers from twenty years in his future back to Earth in his space shuttle
  • unlock a toilet teleporter
  • find a 'starmap' so he'll do it, because apparently he can't find the planet he is literally circling
This is literally the solution, just for your collective information. There's a weird pool thing. I figured it was the 'teleporter' the game mentions elsewhere both in Dorsalis at the black market and via not-Spock – it isn't. Instead, after saving the pumping station, not-Kirk and not-Spock are willing to chat with us. One gives a keycard that will let us talk with the Commander on level 2 (which gave me literal no information) and the other tells us that the transporter which is supposed to be on level 5 was relocated due to 'necessary architectural modifications'.

The Commander lives in a palace.. by 1980s standards

This is Eternam's idea of a 'clue'

So, having learned that what is on Level 5 is not a teleporter, I decide to walk into it anyway – after all, why not. Instead, it turns out to be.. a toilet. I think the logical jump here is supposed to be that as such, the toilets are teleporters. Make sense to any of you? Congratulations, you're probably French. This was again not something that I discovered because I thought of this either clever and funny or psychotic solution, but rather because I was stubbornly trying still to avoid a Request for Assistance from the two of you who are still morbidly curious enough to look in on the play of this game. Walking into the hotel toilets back on level 1 leads to the huge black monoliths I found back on the previous two islands which I was busily rebounding off of. This gave me the idea of trying out the black market back on Dorsalis in an effort to actually make some use of it – turns out, he has a star map which Mr. Armstrong (never named but implied) is after.

I'm crying here

Through this completely inane and largely unrelated series of tasks, the programmers back in the Computer Center are transported back to their original timeframe (or possibly have to wait twenty years between 1969 and the game's development, leading to both of them likely warping time). They give a rather brief 'see you then', which lead me to try with not-Kirk again – he lets us know Don can go to the next island through the teleporters. Toilets. Toil-a-porter? If I set fire to my computer hard drive will it burn the game from my brain? Only one way to find out the answer to both questions!

Well, it's definitely no Tardis, hey Hugo?

Time played: I'm nearing the 8 hour mark.
Mental age increase after playing: I'm fairly sure my brainwaves now resemble that of a coma patient

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. I can't be spoiled anyway. I have altered time itself. I have conquered the moon. Maybe just post a whole walkthrough in the comments section? Just for science and all.


  1. ...Want some rye? *Course* ya do.

  2. "It's never made particularly clear as to who is a robot and who isn't. The game even calls itself a Westworld-like 'fantasy theme park' with robots, but the game never really goes into it deep enough for me to worry or care."

    When I played this game, I got the impression that only those "grey people", like that game programmer, Tracy and Michael Nuke are "real people" and others are more or less just androids. Even the barbarian image of Don Jonz is just some sort of - I don't know, costume?, interface? avatar? I am pretty sure that at some point you can see an image of the real person behind "Don Jonz" and he's definitely one of those grey characters.

  3. I have now read your post three times, and I still have no clue what actually happens in that part of the game. How is it possible that Neil Armstrong suddenly entered the story?;)

    "The first floor (-1. Not 'basement', 'b1', 'lg' or any such seemingly logical term) has one interactive person who gives us a card to the 'hotel' floor because the 'heating is broken down and we can go get ourselves a cold drink'."

    In Central Europe all elevators that go below ground are labeled -1, -2, -3 etc.

    1. I've played the game for closing in on ten hours now and I've no idea either, Lupus. :)

      Good to learn about international elevator conventions. I'm most used to "b1" (basement 1) et cet era.

    2. >I've no idea either

      Good, I was wondering if I was too stupid to understand these posts.

  4. Not that this game has been a model of consistency up to now, but this post felt like reading about a totally different (yet equally unimpressive) game

  5. In the last 6 months or so I've read every post made since the beginning of this blog. I've been doing it by reading one game at a time, starting each from when the first post was made. With this game I've had to splice in games in my future reading order so put off reading these posts - that's a lot of games (I'm up to the start of Dune/KGB now - 5 months blog time). I've had the next two posts for this post open for weeks. I'm closing them now. I'll never read the whole blog, and I'm okay with that. This game is too awful.