Saturday, 29 February 2020

Shadow of the Comet – Development Hell

Written by limbeck

So, the last session finished with me recovering from last night's events and Dr COBBLE prescribing me some pills to stop a heart attack. As I get off bed and put on my clothes, I have two goals for the day: get these pills from the pharmacy; and develop the plates from last night, again at the pharmacy. So, without much delay, I gather the prescription from the desk and head out. Oh, I also have a look at the parchment from the ritual, but I cannot read it. Maybe JUGG will be able to help later. Just to be on the safe side, I try to use it very near the desk, but it doesn't work.

Maybe I won't come across Miss PICOTT this time

At the pharmacy, I give the prescription to Mr MATHEWS, the pharmacist, who says it will take some time and goes to the back to prepare my medication. Before that, he pointed me to the door at the back, where his dark chamber is, so I can develop my plates. He also mentioned that I will need to mix the four chemicals to develop the plates.

So, I go to the back to collect the four chemicals. Only there are eight of them. Fortunately, I have a good chemistry education and have the internet at my disposal to find the solution. As you can imagine, neither was really helpful.

...develop those plates. Well, I definitely won't work for them.

The scene in the screenshot played several times, because the chemicals I had in my possession did not really correspond to what instructions I could find online. I spent the better part of an hour reading everything I could about photographic film development and what chemicals are used. I am quite confident that I can pick up analog photography as a hobby again.

However, all this knowledge did not really help me much. My online research suggested that I need to use metol and / or hydroquinone first, then add something to raise the pH (benzene chlorate?) and finally sodium sulphite. This is the process for B&W photo development. I suppose I could add the 'chromogenous', whatever that is, in the end. Black and white works better with astrophotography, as there is not really much colour in space and requires less light on your plate / chip to produce an image. And it can be equally spectacular.

My first try failed, but I could try as many times as I wanted, fortunately. I was convinced that I had to use sodium sulphite at the end, so I tried various combinations, without success. Some more googling suggested that sometimes it helps to add a weak acid to control the development. I tried some combinations using the acids at my disposal (weak and strong). In vain.

In the end I resolved to brute force it. I was pretty sure that the Metol – Hydroquinone were correct, since I had tried several combinations with only one of them to zero success. After a few more tries, I found the correct combination. I will leave it here to spare others of this madness: metol – hydroquinone – benzene chlorate (which is actually sodium hyposulphite) – chromogenous (potassium metabisulphite).

I would disagree

Here, I must say that my first choice was very close to the solution, but honestly, I have no idea how I would have solved that puzzle if I did not have internet access. Maybe if I had an encyclopaedia at home, but again, I don't think I would get the exact combination of chemicals, because some of these were not mentioned in any of the sources I found online. Maybe the art is forgotten, what can I say? On top of that though, the names of the chemicals were different in my inventory and when I used them, adding to the confusion. A hint in the game would have been much appreciated here.

But I digress. After I successfully develop the plates, I am treated to a cutscene in which I slowly go through the developed plates, only to look at a horrid image in the third one, a set of eyes formed by stars looking at me with malice.

Game over. Or not

I naturally faint and I am saved in the last moment by the pharmacist, for just $10. My life is so cheap. Unfortunately, the plate shattered when I dropped it, so I have no evidence to defend my sanity. I collect myself and go out.

Outside of the pharmacy I met some Mr COLDSTONE who warned me not to go to the forest, because “it doesn't agree with some people”. I don't know where I've seen him, but PARKER apparently knew him. Oh well.

I want to head to JUGG's house, but I wander around town a bit first. At the tavern, I buy JED a beer and watch him complain to ZEKE, the bartender, about the quality of his beer. About time I say. Now JED owes me one. In the town square, I see miss PICOTT again, all alone, so I try some small talk. She seems concerned about my pallor but then goes on with her Bible reading.

Technically, I was up to voyeurism.

In order of increasing unfriendliness, I also meet:
  • Miss PICOTT's niece, GLORIA, who is hiding from her aunt and pleads to me not to rat her out. Naturally, I promise her.
  • CURTIS HAMBLETON says that I made a mess and that 'they' know everything. Who are 'they' and what is 'everything'? Fine mess indeed.
  • Outside of the dilapidated mansion, I meet the HAMBLETON boys, who suggest I leave and then go away.
  • I also notice a bug. When I entered the hardware store from the north, I could not move at all. All the other commands worked normally.

Anyway, I finally collect myself and head to JUGG's place. Outside it I meet WILBUR. Was he at JUGG's? The door was locked, so I don't really know. Maybe he killed JUGG? There is nobody at the Archives, so the murder scenario seems very likely. Maybe I need to find WILBUR and have a chat. He didn't respond to the Talk command when I confronted him in front of JUGG's house.

Staring contest

I return in front of JUGG's house and I exit to the right, following WILBUR's path. Indeed, I can follow him as he enters MYER's store, stops in front of the counter for a bit and then heads out. I try to follow, but he has already disappeared. Clearly I need to look at the store. I do, and find a key at the counter, which I quickly pocket. I suspect that this is the key to JUGG's door, but why would WILBUR drop it here? Is MYER an accomplice? The plot thickens or I am becoming increasingly paranoid.

As predicted, the key opens JUGG's front door, after an unnecessarily long cutscene of trying to turn the key in the lock. When inside, the first thing I notice is blood on the floor. I am a bit disappointed there is no mention of it when I Look around.

As I head to JUGG's bedroom, I feel that I am being set up for a puzzle, because I find and pick up a statue of a baby (on the desk), a statue of a young man (in a cabinet) and a statue of an old man (inside one of the butterfly displays).

There is more blood in JUGG's bedroom, but what is more important, I can now pick up a number of books from his shelf and bookcase. The books are called: Youth, Beyond Chaos, The Old Man and the Sea, The Invisible Man and the Mystery of the Pyramids.

This time the puzzle made sense. I put the statues in the place of the books most relevant to them: Baby for Youth, Young Man for Invisible Man and Old Man for Old Man and the Sea. Not that the game let me put them anywhere else. Once I replaced the other books in their places, I got the satisfaction of a secret passage being revealed.

Honestly, I thought I was trying to open the door hidden behind the curtain

Going through the passage takes me to JUGG's secret library. The library is full of occult books, the likes of which I have probably not heard before, unless I was deep into the study of ancient and forgotten cults.

Oh! There is also a dying JUGG. I try to call for help, but he stops me, saying that he still has enough life in him to help me. I give him the parchment from the ritual and he translates it. It is the most common unpronounceable quote about Cthulhu.

Fortunately, there is a translation

He then goes on into a Cthulhu Mythos exposition about the GOOs who ruled Earth before man and the deluded cultists who try to bring them back. Apparently the Stars Are Right and the passing of the comet in 2 days the guardian of the portal that could bring these GOOs back will materialise in a stone circle. He throws in some names, Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep, Yog Sothoth and Dagon. These should be the ones to worry us.

He also gives me some hints. I should read the NECRONOMICON, a book so horrible that drives people mad just by its words, so that I can find the formula to stop the guardian. I must read it here. On his desk there is also a note about someone who can help me. I must read it only in the safety of my room.

Finally, he speaks about the dead sorcerer NARACKAMOUS. This was the name that the Native American used.

This guy, in case you did not remember

After the exposition is over, I pick up the Necronomicon and the message. And I am stuck as I cannot do anything with them. Again. Apparently I need a key for the Necronomicon. I try to find some hints in the other books of the library, but nothing works with anything. Of course, I cannot read the message before I go to my room and I cannot leave JUGG's place before reading the book.

Another 20-30 minutes and 2 rage-quits later, I find out that it was a pixel-hunting solution again. The key was under the carpet in the next room. In retrospect it makes sense, but again I must remember to press L with every step I take.

I mean, why wouldn't I lift everything not nailed down. It's an adventure game

I use the key on the Necronomicon and get some more knowledge. The book speaks about Yog Sothoth being the portal and the key and provides guidance on how I should stop him from coming to Earth. Then I try to get out and I burn to death, because I stupidly forgot to put the book back on the desk.

Before I go on, I must say something positive about the tools at my disposal, and that is the Notebook I carry. I have omitted it in previous posts, but it is very helpful for people like me who rarely take notes when playing. It keeps track of important goals or gives subtle warnings. For example, it warns me that, now that JUGG is dead, I will probably be the prime suspect for his death. More on that in a bit.

Having learned the secrets about how to stop Yog-Sothoth from returning, I now need to get back to my room and read the message from poor JUGG. Only one route seems to be open though. In the others, there are cultists waiting for me and the policeman takes me to JUGG's home and arrests me for murder. I suppose I am summarily led to the chair or the noose or whatever they used these days. Maybe the plank.

After reloading, I head back to my room through the city square. Apparently safe, I read the message from JUGG. I cannot understand much, other than that I need to look at a map of the area and that the person that can help me lives “where the three colours float and 100 messages leave”. Both of these clues lead me to the post office, where I have previously seen the map and sacks of undelivered mail.

But first: the obligatory Miss PICOTT scolding

When I arrive at the post office, the map is not in its place. I ask the lady behind the counter, which is more helpful this time. She says that David UNDERHOUSE borrowed it. He lives above the post office and has a keen interest in Native American history.

She also gives me some of her personal views on the matter

I go upstairs and meet Mr UNDERHOUSE, who is confined on a wheelchair. Considering that the only way to his room is via the stairs, he is practically at the mercy of whomever brings him food. Nevertheless, he is well versed in local myths, the Natives' culture and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Considering that his lookalike was a big racist, this is a big awkward

After a short discussion, he lets me look at the map and explains to me that the Stone Circle I point out is at an old Indian cemetary, which he was really keen to see before some locals broke his legs. I also learn that the NARACKAMOUS I met is supposed to have died 70 years ago, but it's possible that he is still alive because he belonged to a branch of the Mic Mac tribe that worshipped He Who Howls in the Darkness, Nyarlathotep. But of course this is just a story. Right?

UNDERHOUSE gives me another task, and that is to bring him a diary from the Mayor's safe. The combination has to do with the Bible and Evil. I would assume 666 but that would be too easy, right? Or I can ask the Bible expert in the town: Miss PICOTT.

I conveniently meet her outside, but I receive a royal scolding about getting into fights (to save WEBSTER) and spending time drinking alcohol in pubs (ZEKE's watery beer barely qualifies as such). She is also unwilling to lend me her Bible to mend my delinquent ways.

I will stop this session here. Next time I will try to get into Miss PICOTT's good books and stop Yog-Sothoth. I feel that the second task is easier than the first.

Session time: 2:30
Total time: 6:00

Sanity lost: 5 from looking at the plate / 3 from reading the Necronomicon
Total sanity lost: 12 (there's definitely something hiding in that corner. MORE LIGHT)

PS. Bonus death scene: If I tried to visit the lighthouse before I develop the plates, I see WILBUR passing through the fence and the two gorillas warn me not to come closer. If I do, I get shot.

Not the fastest draw west of Pecos

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. Dammit, you were able to develop the photos without walkthroughs or asking for assistance. Does researching real world knowledge not count as assistance? If so, there goes my bet.

    1. I can give you half your bet, because I was this close to asking for assistance. If you have no idea at all, you have only 1,680 combinations to choose from. Seriously though, I don't know how somebody would solve this without bruteforcing it in the 90s. Who would they ask? Did encyclopaedias have such information?

    2. I gave it some thought, and libraries. I don't know why it took me so long to think about, since I regularly visit one. The problem is then if your library has a book on old-timey photography. Or in a few cases, if someone else has the same idea as you.

  2. Yeah, I stopped at the photo plate part. I don't really enjoy trying to learn amateur photography in my spooky game about stopping an uncaring being that will atomize me upon its release. Well, I don't enjoy that if its also a pain to move around.

  3. Congratulations on getting this far without a request. That's truly impressive. I actually got through the development puzzle by semi-brute-forcing it with just one hunch to guide me: the chemicals have three different colors, and I thought I'd try using them in pairs. I got the right combination on the third try. Couldn't tell you now what it was,though!

    Meanwhile, the puzzle with the statuettes and the books basically solved itself. I had all the objects in my inventory and was just walking randomly around the room, following the laser sight (get) as it appeared. The game magically put everything in their correct locations. After one of these replacements, suddenly a secret door opened! And there was much rejoicing.

    Embarrassingly, what REALLY stumped me was that on entering the secret room it simply didn't occur to me that JUGG was actually ALIVE and that was not his lifeless corpse lying on the floor... I mean the game doesn't tell you a thing when you enter his secret library. Nothing. The protagonist is equally cavalier about the dreadful scene he's stumbled upon. He'd sooner complain about the poor taste of the decor than acknowledge the human bleeding to death before him. You can even flick through a few books and he'll comment on the contents in a very casual tone. Not that JUGG is any help, mind you. He just lays there, still and silent, with nary a moan to betray his sentient condition. In short, I stupidly assumed JUGG was dead, and spent half an hour trying a lot of stuff, including LOOKing at him from every possible angle... when all I had to do was to say "sup". Lol.

    The key under the carpet was a mixture of pixel hunting and "new object appears in random location". No clue, no reason to look down at that specific spot. It made me reach for a walkthrough for the second time and it soured me even more on the game.

    Still, I trudged on. The music is nice. I'm currently a bit further ahead and I'm totally stuck again, but this time I think I'll wait for your next post :-)

    1. I agree about the statuette puzzle. It was not much of one. If you fooled around long enough, you would get through. Still, I liked its simple logic. I don't see who would leave these statues lying around after they stabbed JUGG though.

      As for the lack of feedback, I would definitely welcome some more text when entering a room for the first time. As I said, there was blood everywhere and Parker didn't even blink, or so I surmised from repeatedly pressing L and getting nothing.

      Thanks for playing the CD-ROM version by the way. I said I would try and play it for comparison, but reading your comments, I am afraid I would rather watch the Colour out of Space with Nicholas Cage, mentioned below.

    2. Adventure games, where keys are either hidden behind elaborate traps that require an intimate knowledge of a specific translation of Beowulf, or simply shoved under the nearest carpet. With the exception of Police quest nobody simply leaves their keys on the counter or hangs them up with the others.

      What I would like to see in a game is where you cannot find the keys not matter where you look, until you examine your own hands and realize you had been carrying them around all the time.

    3. Had the dotted lines been extended to apply to all hotspots to indicate you're close enough to interact with one, the game's interface would've actually been quite good. What a missed opportunity.

  4. "Black and white works better with astrophotography, as there is not really much colour in space"

    Except for those times when there's a Color Out of Space (now a major motion picture starring Nicolas Cage)

    1. Until you mentioned it and I googled it I did not realize it was also a HP Lovecraft adaption. Nice tie-in there!

    2. I should have gone into marketing! ;)

  5. Somewhere in this section I lost patience with the puzzles and interface and started consulting a walkthrough almost constantly.

    Something about the game kept me playing though, so it was doing something right.

    1. If I didn't have to play it by the book, I would be all into the walkthrough by now. I am into adventure games mainly for the stories, so if it is too damn difficult or unfair, I have no guilt looking into it. I don't remember how I solved it back at university times (almost 20 years ago), but I am pretty sure I had looked up the development puzzle in a walkthrough.

  6. Looking at all the comments, it looks as the photo development puzzle has earned a nomination for the Lament Configuration Award for 1993.

    1. The Needle's Eye may be more appropriate - as I've understood it, Lament Configuration is for puzzles whose premise is silly whereas Needle's Eye is for those that are too difficult. Developing photos makes sense within the context of the story.

  7. Hey guys: the final Trinity post is HUGE because there was more game left than I thought and that's on top of covering the final rating. I had hoped for tomorrow, but it will be a couple of days yet. It should be able to make the next slot.

    On the bright side, it is over and you'll get the "Won!" post very soon.

  8. The photo development puzzle is indeed horrible as their is no hint anywhere, breaks a basic rule of puzzle desing in adventure games as you need to seek external knowledge. Just an observation, i am not sure if the designers wanted to help in some way with the colors of the chemical bottles, they are in pairs (Green/Purple) :

    Development Phase:

    metol -> Green
    hydroquinone –> Purple

    Fixing Phase:

    sodium hyposulphite -> Green
    potassium metabisulphite -> Purple

    I also encountered a bug outside of the dilapidated mansion where you meet the HAMBLETON boys; if you press L, you just try to go past them and you get stuck 4ever.

    1. Back when I played the game, in the time before the pandemic (a month that feels like a year ago), I did notice that the chemicals were colored in pairs so I tried putting them in that order and was actually very surprised to see that it worked! I think the colors were indeed intended to be a (very subtle) hint.

      As for the Hambleton boys bug, yes I did encounter that one among a plethora of other little annoyances.

  9. Could this be a very obscure reference to “Maniac Mansion” where you first have to overcome the green and later the purple tentacle and also need to develop some photographs at some point? Probably not. Although, you never know, it’s a Lovecraft game after all (y’know, tentacles).