Saturday 18 February 2017

Gateway - Virtual Reality

Written by Reiko

Broadhead Journal #9: "Seriously, we’re not done yet? Now I’ve got to go activate the whole shield system because there’s a control center at the Vertex in the same star system as the Assassin’s watchtower. If the Heechee had just activated the thing in the first place, this wouldn’t have been necessary."

I'm almost ready to trigger the fourth shield generator, but I still need an actuator cell to fix the controls if I don't want to dig up the one buried by the trailhead.

Getting the actuator cell out of the wreckage is a rather delicate operation, involving multiple tools and quite a lot of technobabble. I'd poked around earlier and saw that the actuator panel looked relatively intact, but was secured with grommets that I couldn't remove. I examined everything again and this time saw that the maintenance crib could be opened, so I did that and found a flange defuser and a grommet wrench. Now I should be able to do this.

Technobabble for Heechee technology.

I remove the grommets with the grommet wrench. Even this step involves some fiddling, as I can't "open" the grommets, or "turn" them, or anything except "remove" them. That reveals the actuator cylinder. I have to open it with "unscrew cap". Inside the cylinder is the actuator canister, which is secured with a flange connector. So I use the flange defuser on the flange connector, which allows me to access the core.

The next step is the trickiest. I don't know if there's a hint somewhere in the game about which way is correct, but I have to use the clips from the actuator discharger on the actuator plug to defuse the core before I pick it up. There are two clips, gray and blue, and two anodes on the plug, "pyramid" and "tetrahedron". Connecting the gray clip to the pyramid anode or the blue clip to the tetrahedron anode sets off the core like a bomb. There's no way to get out of range fast enough. Oops.

So the right way is to connect the blue clip to the pyramid anode and the gray clip to the tetrahedron anode. I'm guessing it's like a strong capacitor. Anyway, with the core discharged, I can pull it out of the cylinder with the calipers and take the cell out [12].

Successfully moving the pet out of the way.

I head back to Rolf's house with all three parts for the shield generator panel. I give the jubifruitus leaves to his pet [1] to get it out of the way, according to plan. Then I move the little creature's mattress to the floor [10] so it doesn't just go right back to where it was and be in my way again.

After that, it's straightforward to put the pieces in place and activate the shield. Points for the individual actions: inserting the lens [20], inserting the lens cover [20], replacing the actuator cell [20], pressing the activation button [25]. The activation itself is exactly the same as the other three.

Rolf's final summary of my actions.

Rolf doesn't say anything when I finish, but as I work my way back toward the ship, he appears again at the mountain trailhead and tells me again his summary of how I did. I tried hard to do everything correctly and avoid harming anything, so he is happy to come with me, if I want to take him. He even says I'm a "good man." Given the choice, of course I'm happy to bring him with me. There's a $1 million reward from his wife for knowledge of him or his safe return, after all.

Rolf follows me back to the ship, and when I return to the station, as expected, I get the $5 million bonus for the shield activation, plus the $1 million bonus for returning him [20]. Now we start Part 3: Endgame. You didn't think it was going to be that easy, did you? There's one more slot for a location code in the ship's display, after all...

Worden's clue about the next step.

When I return from the fourth shield generator planet, I'm immediately taken to an urgent meeting with Leonard Worden, in which he informs me that there's a fifth component to the shield system in a place called the Vertex, a satellite around the same star as the Assassin's Watchtower. It controls and coordinates the four main shield pieces.

He doesn't know the code or the location of that component, but he thinks it's on Gateway somewhere. All he knows is that the Savant, the Heechee computer that gave the original warning about the Assassins, showed him a diagram with four circles arranged around a rectangle that disappears to reveal a silver sphere. Where have we seen a diagram like that before?

The silver sphere, right where it's supposed to be.

I go back up to Level Babe with the secret Heechee door and do the technomagic with the tuning fork again. This time all four circles on the diagram are lit, and the central panel is open. Inside is...a silver sphere [50]. I examine it and find a little gold button. When I press it, the sphere displays a labeled holographic star map. I'm sure the scientists that studied the Savant will be able to decipher the location with this.

I take the sphere back to Worden in the meeting room. Of course it's the right thing. They take it and shortly return with the course code and add it to my badge [10]. Since I did all the other pieces, they want me to do the final mission as well, but before I go, they require me to complete a psych evaluation in the VR lab.

Ever had a psychologist ask you to step on your own hand?

I haven't been back to the VR lab since the beginning, when I broke the beach scene. For fun, I go through the "Surface Psych" scene first. It's merely a session with a slightly sadistic old psychologist who asks me to do a series of random actions like attacking a couch, dancing on his desk, stepping on my own hand, and straightening his papers. In theory, the process is stress-releasing. It is also possible to break the scenario by being uncooperative long enough.

Creepy demon.

When I'm done with that, I turn the switch to "Deep Psych" and enter the password the tech gives me in order to start the program. I appear in a bare cavern split down the middle with a crack. A rope is tied to me, and the other end is tied to a demon. Across the room, behind the demon, there's a huge door that appears to be glowing from the other side. Creepy.

Attacking the demon is too obvious.

Each turn, the crack widens. I pull on the rope, but the demon pulls back and I'm nearly knocked off balance. I jump the crack [10] before it gets too wide, but that puts me on the same side as the demon, which attacks me. If I counter-attack, the demon grabs my blade and pulls me down into the chasm with it, and the program ends in failure. The tech will always give another chance, so I can keep playing with the scenario without penalty.

Somehow I can still jump across the crack when it's nine feet wide. Eventually, the demon is frantic to escape itself and no longer paying much attention to me. I can't reach the bar of the door directly, and I can't stand on the demon. If I untie the rope at any time, the program automatically ends.

Cooperation is clearly the solution.

So the only other thing I can do is lift the demon up, after the crack is so wide that it's not paying any attention to me, and the demon's body raises the bar of the door and allows us both to pass through. The scene ends in success [15]. I guess the psychobabble here would be something about how cooperation is the best strategy rather than isolation or aggression?

The complete list of destinations in the game.

Now I can proceed to the final mission. When I arrive, a satellite pulls me in, and the controls of my ship go dead. No going back until I succeed. Nothing happens at first and I can't tell where I am, so I put on the suit and tentatively open the hatch of the ship. But inside the satellite there's a breathable atmosphere and comfortable temperature, so I leave the suit and start looking around.

I bet my hair is standing on end from the static.

I emerge into a control room full of equipment. The only obvious interactions are with a closed compartment with a button and a closed door. I press the obvious button and everything starts up for a moment [50]. Then it stops, and the compartment opens to reveal a silver globe and a metallic ring.

The globe is attached to the compartment, but the ring is actually a collar like the VR collar I just used. When I wear the collar [5], the globe starts throwing off staticky sparks. I touch the globe [15], which triggers a cut-scene conversation with an AI in the satellite's system. Nevermind that it's a Heechee system and the AI should have been unintelligible. Handwave that the AI is sending meaning directly to the user's brain, perhaps.

The Heechee AI reveals the enemy AI.

The Heechee AI informs me that there's an active Assassin AI program in the Watchtower that has already detected the activation of the shield system and will send an alert to the Assassin race in 23 hours if it isn't stopped. The Heechee AI can alter the message to a standard "all clear," but only if it's physically connected to the Watchtower system. Plus the Assassin AI must be destroyed so that it cannot alert the Assassins in the future. So the one who triggers the shield system also has to counter the enemy AI. The Heechee AI isn't going to allow me to use my ship until I've done that. The plan seems simple, but something always goes wrong with these kinds of things.

Traveling to the Watchtower.

I go through the door into the travel pod, which takes me to the Watchtower just as the Heechee AI said. When I touch the globe on the other side [15], I feel intense pain. Then when the hatch opens, it seems to turn into a normal doorway instead of showing me the place where I'm supposed to put the AI collar in order to stop the alert.

A woman appears at the doorway, cheerfully escorts me inside, and confiscates the collar and my gun. She explains that everyone in the party is a prospector who stumbled on the coordinates accidentally and is now being held here by the Heechee for some reason in total comfort. She hands me a credit card for use at the party's entertainment booths and walks away again.

The mysterious woman tries to distract me...

It's an interesting story, but it's total BS. First, there's no reason for the Heechee AI to hold anybody there that hasn't activated the shield and triggered the attention of the Assassins. Second, how would that many prospectors have randomly chosen those particular coordinates out of the thousands of possibilities?

Third, why are all the visible people beautiful women? The majority of prospectors we've met have been men, as you'd probably expect for a dangerous and solo occupation like interstellar prospecting. And especially if many have been here for a number of years - the description says the clothing represents a cross-section of generations of prospectors. Very few would be young and beautiful any more.

Cue Admiral Ackbar.

In other words, it's VR, and it's a distraction from my mission. The Assassin AI is trying to stall me. I need to break the simulation like I did with the beach scene. This VR scenario is a good bit more sophisticated, but it's got to have a weakness.

The party has three different games: ball throw, guess your weight, and wheel of fortune (roulette), and they're all rigged so that you win. There's also a poker game, but it's high stakes and doesn't let me in. Other than buying into the games, the only other thing to spend money on is drinks at the bar. But I can't get anyone drunk (even me) and I can't multiply drinks like at the beach, so that's not useful.

Implied adult content, for those that are curious.

Also at the bar is a completely obliging woman and a completely available back room *cough*. I think that's the only adult content in the whole game, though, and it's merely implied.

Guess Your Weight!

Ball Throw with magic balls.

There are some other oddities that help identify this as VR: the bot at the guess your weight game addresses me as "Madam" (and then guesses my weight at 412 pounds, which would infuriate any woman, so I really don't know why you'd have a game like this at a party populated mostly by women). That bot also wears spectacles but constantly bumps into things. The game that each exit leads to sometimes changes. If I throw the ball from the ball throw game at the bot, it actually changes direction in midair to hit the bottles.

Trying to lose at Wheel of Fortune.

So the point of the VR party is to keep the player winning so he stays occupied. If I can find a way to lose, that might disturb the AI's programming. The games are all rigged, but the wheel of fortune doesn't prevent me from making more than one bet. But if one number wins, then all the other numbers must lose...

GameBot: electronic mind blown.

All the NPCs start looking panicked after I make a second bet. The wheel spins, but tries to stop on one of my numbers and then swings to the other. The contradictions break the scenario [25]. Yay! But we're not quite done yet. Find out next time what else I have to do to destroy the Assassin and save humanity.


If you attach the clips to the actuator backward… (#15)

Score: 1290 of 1600
Balance: $22,541,450
Status: Orion Program (green badge)
Missions: 11
Shield Generators: 4 of 4
Deaths: 15

Session Time: 1.5 hours
Total Time: 12 hours 0 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. I liked Rolf - it was nice to spend time with a character that got more development than anybody else in the game. His planet was also a good contrast to the other planets which were pretty much all hostile to some degree.

    1. Dorman was the nicest planet, really. Only the beast was hostile there, and he was avoidable and/or manageable. Several of the creatures on Rolf's planet were dangerous. You can't even sleep outside.

      I agree that Rolf is a great character. He reacts to what you do in a way nobody else does.

  2. This remains a game it would frustrate me to play (as is the case with all text-parser adventures) but other than that I really love the design. The different themes of the planets, the character of Rolf, and this breaking-the-simulation bit (which was even well foreshadowed at the start, with a reminder before you leave the station). Good stuff.

  3. "then darkens to a color seen only in the reaches of interstellar space"

    Um... black? That would be black, right?