Monday, 21 May 2018

B.A.T. II - Fighting the Machine

By Ilmari

Last time I had just finished creating my B.A.T. agent, Andy Panthro, and released him in the planet called Shedishan, where Koshan trust was trying to get a monopoly for the production of echiatone, a valuable mineral. Based on intro, I had the idea that echiatone could be found only on Bedhin 6, a natural satellite of Shedishan, but I’ve since learned it can be found in small asteroids, created by a collision of Bedhin 6 with meteorites, and even on Shedishan itself, in craters created by former chunks of Bedhin 6.

The intro of the game had given me one simple task: find Sylvia Hadford, the other agent of B.A.T. This was pretty simple, since she was staying in a hotel nearby where I started.

What’s that thing hanging from your hair?

Sylvia gave me my next mission. I was to go to the Automatic Information Center in Minerva Tower and find out the most important deed holders for the echiatone industry of the planet.

And that was all the plot development you’ll get this time. Good night everyone!

But wait. How could I play the game for almost 20 hours and not get any further?

The starting screen

Let’s rewind to the beginning. I spent lot of time getting to know the interface, since I originally hadn't found the manual for the game. The curved symbol at the centre of the screenshot above is my mouse cursor. Pushing the left button of the mouse, when the pointer was shaped like this, opens up a menu with the basic setup, save and load functions. The menu also contains the options to sleep, to advance time for an hour and to open my inventory. It was quite confusing at first to have game commands in the same place as meta commands, like saving and loading, but I am beginning to get used to it.

Food, courtesy from WacDonald

The inventory screen is probably where I’ll spend most of my time in the game. The leftmost part of the screen contains all the stuff I own, arranged hierarchically. You see the arrows? Going up from an item goes to another item, in which it is contained, going down from an item goes to another item, which is contained in it, and going left or right goes to an item contained in the same container. Confused yet?

At the very top of this hierarchy is my body, and right under it are my hands, B.O.B. (I’ll come back to that soon) and whatever items I decide to carry directly on my body. I haven’t yet hit any limits on how many items I can put at that position, so putting items on lower levels seems merely due to a need for making inventory a bit more manageable. I can, naturally, put one item in each of my hands. Furthermore, some items, like backpacks and satchels, work as containers where I can hold multiple items. Finally, some items can hold items of special type, like guns can contain bullets and hot dogs can contain sausages (seriously).

In addition to the items, the inventory screen contains also four icons. The mouth is pretty easy to understand - if I put an edible or drinkable item over it, I’ll eat or drink it. Question mark gives some basic info about an item - if nothing else, at least its value in credits, if it is an edible item, the amount of calories it has etc. The hand appears to be a dropping function. The magnifying glass is the strangest, because it seems to do nothing to items. Instead, it searches the room for any items hidden it. So far, I’ve managed to find only items I’ve dropped in a room, but I am not sure whether the rooms I’ve been in are truly empty or whether my attribute of perception is just too weak.

Let’s get back to the main screen. If instead of left, I press the right mouse button, I access my B.O.B., which is essentially a computer installed in one’s arm. Amusingly, it’s the only thing in the game telling me when I am hungry, thirsty or tired. I guess we computer nerds will become more and more estranged of our own bodies and forget what that feeling of emptiness in stomach means.

The single line shows my heartbeat and the coloured
lines are my levels of hunger, thirst and tiredness 

B.O.B also contains some ampules with drugs I can inject into my system. Since I haven’t the foggiest idea if these substances have some unwanted long-term effects, I have barely explored them. One of them appears to give me night vision, while some seem to give a temporary boost to various attributes.

The most complex thing in B.O.B. is the programming kit. In the first B.A.T. one could write programs. Koshan Conspiracy offers an upgraded, graphical experience. In principle, different terms of the programming language are represented by differently pictured chips, which you can then connect with other chips. A chip like “IF-THEN-ELSE” connects to four other chips - the one that leads to the “IF-THEN-ELSE”-clause, the one containing the IF-condition, the one containing the THEN-result and the one containing the ELSE-result. All programs must begin with a START-chip and every branch of a program must end with an END-chip. Seems simple.

A part of a program. If I am hungry or thirsty, computer will say BEEP.

The most crucial thing I can do with the programming kit is to set up an automatic translation. You see, the original inhabitants of Shedishan, the Shedish, who look like they came out of the Planet of the Apes, speak gibberish without translation. But now I am getting ahead of myself, since I haven’t even explained how to speak with people in this game.

Groups of 1-5 people, consisting of both Shedish and human, walk around each room of the game. When I take the pointer to such a group, it changes into a mouth, and by pressing left mouse button, I can open up a window for interacting with the members of the group.

Some characters have creative names. Best I’ve found is Ket’Chup

Before going through the options, I’ll note that there are four levels of emotion characters might have, indicated by their speech bubbles. A regular round speech bubble is neutral. If I do things the character doesn’t like, their speech bubbles become first spiky and finally turns red. At that moment, they are pretty likely to start a fight, if I continue pestering them. Sylvia has been so far the only character with flower decorated speech bubbles, but I guess by being nice it could happen with other people.
  • Chat: I have various topics to discuss with people. There appears to be at most few stock lines for each topic, if we don’t count the ever repeating “I don’t know much about that”. Even Sylvia hasn’t anything to say about these topics that I couldn’t hear from someone else. I think I’ve now find out pretty much everything I can discover with this option.
  • Give: I guess I could make people really like me, if I gave enough good stuff to them. So far, I haven’t managed to do this.
  • Recruit: Again, an option that hasn’t been useful. Everyone just says that they prefer to be alone. I guess I should try to make a person really positive about me, before this worked.
  • Buy: With this option, I get to see person’s inventory and choose what I would want to buy. They suggest a price and I can either accept it or not. Buying happens with galactic credits, which I have on my credit card, given to me by Sylvia. Shedishan has a local currency with coins of different values, but surprisingly you cannot use them for buying anything, you can just sell them for credits.
  • Sell: I get to choose what to sell and the price I want to sell (not completely freely, but from a list of possible prices). Usually they’ll buy anything for a little bit under the market value.
  • Steal: I’ve gathered from CRPG Addict’s and Aperama’s posts that this didn’t really work in the first game. In Koshan Conspiracy, it works sometimes and I have the feeling my character is getting a bit better with it. I’ve noticed stealing is a lot harder - and more risky - the more aggressive the person is. I don’t get to choose what to steal, but the game just pulls randomly some inventory item from the person. I did manage to work my way around this. Firstly, I just give a bag to a person. Then I start the buying interface, but use it merely to put all the items the person has to his new bag. Finally, I just steal, and if I am lucky, I get the bag with all that it contains. I’d like to see how this works in real life.
  • Fight: This one I’ve pretty much just avoided. In the game setup I can choose whether the fights are more action-based or strategy-based. In effect, I’ve just quickly pressed the escape button, which humorously makes my character literally run through few rooms.
In addition to learning the interface, I’ve been doing some exploration. Shedishan may have been originally peopled by Intelligent Apes, but in 2121, a human expedition led by billionaire Zygor Kyle landed on the planet. At first the two species lived peacefully in their own settlements, and Shedish benefited from the technological influence. Then Kyle was assassinated in 2130 by Azis Anga, an opposing aristocrat. Anga then tried to conquer Shedish settlements, but was finally defeated. Since then, the higher echelons of the Shedishan society have been in the hands of Shedish, although human still had a relatively good standing. The lowest place in the hierarchy is occupied by Ilyens, a less intelligent relatives of Shedish, used practically as slaves.

Azis Anga had apparently been quite enthused with the Roman Empire, and so the culture of the planet bears distinct resemblance to that era of Earth history. The capital of Shedishan is called Roma II, the planet is ruled by an emperor and a senate, there are praetors etc. They even make their prisoners into technoglads (glads being short for gladiators), who have to fight for their lives in arena.

The system of movement is quite similar as in the first B.A.T. Each room has hotspots leading to other rooms - and the ever moving crowds tend to hide those hotspots. The movement is not always logical - if you’ve moved right, moving left won’t necessarily take you to same position. Furthermore, the screen tends to divide into small parts, signalling that I am going further in somewhere. All of this makes mapping a confusing experience.

 I am currently in the lower left window, which is
a movie theater you can see at the top part of the screen

Roma II seems to be a big place, and I have only explored the tourist sector, where the game begins. Other sectors could be reached with express-via - the local subway system - and a journey through costs 300 credits. There’s also a possibility to rent a spaceship with 5000 credits, but I haven’t tried it yet.

The tourist sector has some places which seem mere decoration, like the movie theater above and a disco. It is mostly filled with what you’d expect to find in a tourist sector: hotels, restaurants and various shops. The restaurants and shops offer a limited version of a similar interaction as the crowds of citizens - you can just chat with restaurant/shop salesperson or buy/steal from them. Rather amusingly, it seems a lot easier to steal from shops than from random people on streets. With salesperson, stealing lets you access their inventory, which almost always contains some plastic bags or other containers.

Trying to leave the coffee shop without paying

In one shop I managed to steal couple of these fancy phones. If only I had some numbers to call to

The place where I really spent my time was the local game hall.

Instead of roulette or baccarat, I got to choose from games called Tubular, Quattro and Idam.

I haven’t really understood Tubular, and even the manual didn't really help. It seems to be some sort of puzzle game with water running through pipes and reservoirs. There are some valves that I can open and close and so regulate the flow of water. The goal of the game is simply to even the water level in different reservoirs, but what I am really wondering is what causes game overs, and this has halted my progress. I once managed to beat a level, only to get killed playing just few seconds of the second level.

Quattro I can at least understand. It’s essentially a Breakout clone, the difference being that you now have four paddles to control. I can also understand that I’ll never be very good at this sort of game. There’s two possible control systems: in one I use only left-to-right -movement of mouse to control all the paddles, while in the other I use it to control one pair of paddles and forward-backward -movement to control the other pair. The first version was perhaps a bit easier, but I still failed to get past the second level.

Chidam is a version of Chinese checkers, where I control three colours and computer three colours. My expertise in said game was earlier restricted to playing it with my daughter. In those matches my primary directive was to let her win (trust me, on the long run it’s good for your sanity, if you can avoid any tantrums), so I hadn’t really had to pay any attention to strategy. It was then no surprise that I did appallingly bad with the first few games. Since I desperately needed some cash - I am pretty sure 10 000 I got from Sylvia wouldn’t last for very long - I started to study the art of Chinese checkers. I read articles about best opening moves, basic strategies etc. I was steadily improving my skills.

Unfortunately, my opponent still had the annoying tendency to win.

Then the solution hit me - why should I try to beat the computer, when I could just let it beat itself? I nonchalantly opened up another Dosbox and started another game of Chidam. The game lets you do a null move, so it was a simple trick to let the computer do the real opening move - and then I could just copy its move to the other board. I did manage to screw up couple of times and do a wrong move, and since it’s not possible to save the game during Chidam, I had to start it all over - it was pretty boring, since the computer never varied its opening strategy. Then finally I managed to do a solid run and beat the computer fair and square - well, as fair and square as you can, while you are cheating.

Having finally shown the might of human intelligence against mere machine, I had managed to double my minimal bet of 500 credits. With an assured winning strategy in my hand, I decided to raise the bets. The maximum bet the game now allowed was 9500 credits.

And the computer gave me nine free moves.

I loaded and checked if I could have done this before the first game I won. Indeed, then I could have raised my bet to 10 000, and I would have got ten free moves - one move for every full 1000 spent for betting. In chess terms, that’s equivalent of removing your opponent’s queen and one of the rooks. With these odds, I could not loose. My reward was again double of my bet. I don’t truly understand how the game hall allows this - no sane casino owner will change a roulette wheel to one with better customer winning chances, if customer multiplies his bet. Well, I won’t be complaining, I now have 20 000+ credits, which will hopefully last me through the rest of this game, since the Chidam table is now permanently closed.

Session time: 18 hours 45 minutes
Total time: 18 hours 45 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. This time, the game appears somewhat fishy, so I would be more than happy to know about possible dead ends. And if someone knows, do tell me whether I have to find out how to beat Tubular.


  1. The programming subgame was a necessity in BAT 1 but essentially never felt fun or necessary - just giving a freaking interface that actually says "You're hungry - want to eat?" or "You see a huge bug eyed monster. You have five seconds to place your language chip in - is he a Gerblorgensnüccher or a Flabergoony?"

    Does the interface feel like you don't know where you're going and everything that is happening is largely random? I really felt that way during the first, particularly at the start.

    1. Yeah, here the programming seems also a bit unnecessary. Only thing you must do, is to have the translation going on, if you want to read anything else but gibberish. Even the hunger/thirst warning is a bit optional, since it's just easy to feed the PC regularly. I guess you could do all kinds of fun programs to speed up the game, but I am not really into that type of thing.

      Well, there is a feeling of being lost, but that's mostly due to the movement system, which just makes the whole game unmappable - say, I've been to a certain store dozens of times and I still have trouble finding the directions. Plotwise, there has been clear direction - first, you have to find Sylvia, who instructs you to go the Central Computer. After that, the game opens up a bit, but so far there has been more or less clear clues to pursue, although I am now finding that all the leads have dried out (more on all of this in the next post). I did do first a detailed mapping of the main game area, before following the obvious plot trail, and I noticed that there are few location specific hotspots triggering certain events, which means that you can get ahead of the plot before actually getting there, but that's a minor complaint.