As we left off last week, I had just entered the 2031 simulation for the very first time with a set of tasks to complete, nine events or places that I need to make recordings of, and return them to my boss/creator, Dr. Perelman. I had mapped out 30 locations, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. This is a big game, the first that has come close to the 150+ rooms of the original mainframe Zork. Welcome to Rockvil, the “Jewel of the Quad-State Area”!
|Even without obstacles, this took several hours to map.
I spent hours mapping out every location in the city. I count just shy of 150 distinct locations, but I may have missed some here or there. The map that was included with the game helped a great deal, but it was designed to be insufficient. For one thing, the map is of Rockvil in 2021, but the simulation takes place a decade later and some features have changed somewhat. It also fails to document the majority of the stores and alleyways in the game, the warren of pedestrian passages through skycar lots and parks, and all of the other twists and turns that are so critical for getting from place to place quickly. Was mapping all of this necessary? I honestly have no idea. The manual recommends mapping so I am treating this like a traditional adventure, but it remains to be seen how I will use it as the game progresses.
Let me walk you through the city as I came to explore it, starting in the center, heading southwest, and then working clockwise:
- The game opens in Kennedy Park, a green space in a downtown business and administrative district. This is where we find “Main Street”, city hall, a hospital, a post office, a courthouse, and a public library. There are also restaurants as well as buildings that we cannot (yet) enter. The eastern side of the area includes Rockvil Mall and “Heiman Village”, an enclosed mixed-use residential/retail area. Although we have a mall, we can’t seem to buy anything there although there are “joybooths” that I can play around with later.
- A college district, Halley University, is off to the west and includes low-cost restaurants for students and places to hang out. We can visit the dorms and a lecture hall, but there’s not too much to do. It is bordered to the north by Halley Park and a museum.
- North of there and a bit clockwise, we reach a district with entertainment options including a zoo, a stadium (with three skycar parking lots!), and an aquarium. In the outskirts of town, we also find an overcrowded prison and a high school. Despite what my 1985-self may have thought, those two are not the same thing. The school has its own large athletic field nearby. Also hidden away in this area is a Methodist Church and a dental school.
- In the far northeast of the map is a military base that I cannot enter and the international airport before it reaches the river which makes the eastern boundary of the simulation. The river incidentally is the Little Missouri River, a real river in the Dakotas. More on that in a bit. This northern part of the river is home to a cultural district including a symphony, several theaters, and a cinema overlooking a river park. This is also the location of “Bodanski Square”, the only place in the city where you can buy a newspaper. At the southern edge of this area is St. Michael’s church and a large cemetery.
- The southeast and south sections of the city are “the other side of the tracks”, literally. A seedy pier area contains a bar and a pool hall, while further south is the power station, industrial areas, and warehouses. Houses here are row houses in the north, but quickly becoming run down tenements as you head further south. There is also a strangely-nice used bookstore tucked in here, the only bookstore in the city. The text even remarks on how strange it is to find such a great little bookstore in such a seedy area.
|They don’t have Google Maps in 2021.
Although we explore Rockvil in 2031, Meretzky keeps the sci-fi to a minimum. It’s not retro enough to be retro-futurism, instead just a light coat of future-paint on top of 1985. Cars are largely replaced by aircars, although our character doesn’t appear to own one and the streets are still designed for terrestrial vehicles, including a highway to the west. Cash transactions are gone, entirely replaced by credit cards. Even the city’s stock market is closed thanks to the advent of electronic trading. And yet, that’s pretty much it. My character (as we will see in a bit) doesn’t own a computer and still uses a standalone word-processor which must have seemed quaint even in the 80s. This makes the environment feel relatable even though it is 46 years later, although some of the choices are mildly distracting to someone in 2018. Overall, it comes together to good effect.
|Alas, I doubt we will have flying cars by 2031, but at least we have the Internet.
This both confirms some things and confuses some others. The “future” 2031 is an extrapolation of my (Perry’s) life had he continued living in the simulation to 2031. He has a wife and a kid. Was Jill a real person? Is she a conscious AI like Perry is? Or just a construct? If it took 10 years to simulate Perry to his 20th birthday, and this is a continuation of that original simulation, how did they get to 2031 in such a short time? Does Perry have memories of the last ten years? Or is he just as surprised as I am to find that Jill is his wife? How does he feel knowing his girlfriend is not real? How does he feel knowing his baby is not real? There are a ton of implications in this exchange that I cannot even begin to fathom.
With the city mapped, I start gathering up the rest of my recordings. For the most part, they go quickly:
- My first goal is to attend a court in session, but it just underscores that I’m not sure I’m doing the recordings properly. Once at the courthouse, there is a woman there being charged with petty theft. I cannot talk to her or the judge as they are (naturally enough) pretty busy. Do I need to stay for the whole trial? How much of it do I need to record? I wait around and it does not appear to be a scripted event, so I just make a recording for a few turns and leave. I hope that is sufficient.
- I find a government official to talk to at City Hall. He seems happy about the way things are going.
- I head up to Bodanski Square next and the city’s only newspaper stand. I buy the paper and record myself reading it. It seems that President Ryder (!!) has ushered in a decade of amazing prosperity and economic growth.
- I watch “Upbeat Patrol II” in the cinema, or at least the first 15 minutes of it. Apparently it is too boring to sit through. I hope that is enough.
- I do the “riding public transit” goal next and record a trip on the subway. In the process, I realize that I missed several of the subway stations. I end up riding both the Red and Brown lines to the end and marked several Tube stations on my map.
- For the “eating a meal” goal, I pick a fancy restaurant off of Bodanski Square. I have to request a table and sit down before I order. Other than payment in advance (and like $65 for a soybean salad), the recording is easy to capture although the whole event took too long. I should have grabbed some fast food.
- The Church Elder at St. Michael’s is thrilled how church attendance is climbing and the moral fiber of the country is improving.
- Finally, I visit the power station. Strange that there are no workers or anyone to stop me from looking around, but I capture a recording of it anyway. Good thing I’m not a terrorist or something; they really should hire some guards.
Just as I finish, I get a message that the recording buffer is full. Whew! Made it just in time. I’m not sure what would have happened if I did not capture all of them in one go; I would hate to have to do them all over again.
I abort the simulation and return to the project site. I have to wait around a long while as there was nothing new in any of the locations I could access, but eventually Dr, Perelman informs me that they are reviewing my recordings. This time I try to sleep to make it go faster. Dr. Perelman wakes me up to tell me that I need to visit his office.
He has good news! Everything is great! My research shows that the Plan is going to work and Senator Ryder will be passing it into law soon. The President is still against it, but our efforts will have convinced him to sign it. We won!... right? Well, not quite yet at least. Now that we’ve run through it all, the Simulation Controller was able to make the environment even more accurate. All this sounds very fishy to me, as if the books are being cooked. Was the first simulation rigged in Senator Ryder’s favor? If so, by whom?
|How many parts do you think there are?
|OMG! ASCII art!
Answer: No! I wait long enough and Perelman tells us that the Plan has been approved… but he has a funny feeling about it. Something doesn’t sit right. Unfortunately, he’s too busy to assign me any tasks right now and just hopes that I am keeping busy. That attitude sums up my experience with this game nicely
With nothing else to do, I re-enter the simulation and this time I am given a choice: I can select to “visit” either 10 or 20 years into the future. I return to the 10-year / 2031 simulation first to see how it might be “more accurate” than before, but I do not find any differences. After a bit, I abort and switch to 2041 instead.
I couldn’t keep myself from checking up on Jill and the baby. I arrive to find that our “baby” is now 11 years old and playing on an electric toy. Our apartment doesn’t have enough bedrooms and he sleeps in a curtained-off area in the living room. Just like last time, Jill is painting and she asks about whether I heard from my agent recently. Moments later, the door is burst down and the Border Security Force raids the apartment. They overturn everything, leaving the house in shambles, but they find no illegal aliens. They apologize and leave, but Jill is shaken. I comfort her as best I can and clean the room a bit. This gets her back to normal, but it’s hard. Protections against illegal searches appear to have been weakened in favor of a zero-tolerance policy against undocumented immigrants.
What am I supposed to be doing exactly? Should I gather all the same data again? Wait for additional instructions? With absolutely no idea what to do, I follow the same list and make the same recordings as before. While some things like the restaurant and power station are more or less the same, there are some differences. The newspaper has an article about how there is lower than expected food production due to environmental problems, plus it seems slimmer than usual with less actual news. President Ryder still has a 71% approval rating, although no mention is made that he’s been in power now for more than a decade. I learned last time that “The Plan” included extending Presidential terms to eight years and I expect that must be how he’s held onto power. I still have some recording time left when I am done, so I also capture the new Church of God’s Word headquarters and informational pamphlet, plus the drug bust at the university. I abort the simulation to see what happens.
I emerge from the simulation and it’s evening; Dr. Perelman has gone home for the night. I “sleep” and dream of Jill. I suppose that having an 11-year old son you never met before is emotional even for an AI. Or am I supposed to think he now has memories of his kid growing up? I’m very uncertain on that point. It almost seems mean-spirited that he’s in love with, and had a pretend kid with, someone that doesn’t really exist. In the morning, I receive a notification that there is now an IRS auditing system installed in the PRISM system, although I have absolutely no idea why. Maybe now that I’ve helped them approve the plan, I’m going to be an AI with a second career as a tax auditor?
Once Perelman arrives for the day, I tell him about the recordings and he agrees to look at them. A few hours later, he grabs me and tells me that he and the others are concerned. They want me to collect more data from the simulation and report back. It sounds like I discovered the plot! Even better: the simulation is now open to 2061. I wonder how much worse it will be then...
Time played: 5 hr 50 min
Total time: 8 hr 00 min
|The course of the Little Missouri River.
As you are no doubt already aware, Rockvil, South Dakota isn’t a real city. In our reality, there are no large cities in northwest South Dakota although Mr. Meretzky did give us a few clues to help us pinpoint where the city would be. The most critical of these is the river that borders the simulation to the east, the Little Missouri River. This is a real river, although small enough that it isn’t even labeled on Google Maps for its entire course. That river runs from south to north from its head in Wyoming, through Montana and South Dakota, before joining the “real” Missouri river in North Dakota. Despite being the longest river in North America, the Missouri never receives as much acclaim as its cousin the Mississippi. I mostly know of it from the folk song “Oh Shenandoah”. Give it a listen!
|Little Missouri River near Camp Crook, SD. (Image from Google Maps)
|This looks vaguely familiar...
Next week, I’m off to 2061. I’m not sure how many time periods we are going to explore, but I look forward to finding out.