Written by Reiko
To be honest, I stalled out for a long time on this section. Partly it was due to being busy, and partly it was too many puzzles that were more fiddly than fun, and finally it was a matter of not even being able to find the endgame areas for a long time. I think I must have missed triggering a scene that was required to be able to get to the next stage after finishing all the earlier puzzles, and I only found it after painstakingly rechecking every room multiple times.
I look at the map to orient myself and see that it looks like there are four unsolved rooms left, plus the back stairs and the main upstairs hallway. There's the rectangular area off to the side on the main floor that looks disconnected from the rest of the house. There's the lab adjacent to the ornate room and the chapel, which I already know is the microscope puzzle. And there are two rooms down at the left end of the upstairs hallway.
When I walk into the room at the end of the hallway, I find a sort of display room for a collection of dolls. A scene triggers where the dolls speak with the voices of children, confused and terrified. Uh-oh, this is awful. The dolls beg to be released, but I can do nothing for them. They must somehow be the children that bought Stauf’s toys.
Instead, I turn my attention to the puzzle on the table. It's a picture split into a 3x3 tile arrangement, each tile of which can be cycled through the nine possibilities for the picture. The catch is that an entire row or column has to be cycled at once. The odd thing about the image is that it looks like a ruined version of Stauf's mansion. The cliffside path leading to it looks exactly the same, down to the chunk missing on the left side, as the path leading to Stauf's mansion on the title screen at the beginning of the game. But in this picture, it looks more like Stonehenge or something, having been broken down to little more than ruined pillars.
The image is puzzling, but the actual puzzle isn't. From the initially scrambled arrangement, I manage pretty quickly to shift the tiles such that they all showed the same tile image, then I shift the second column forward one and the third column forward two. That sets the first row correctly and establishes the offset in the other rows. After that, all I have to do is shift the second row forward three times and the third row forward six times, which snaps the correct tiles into place. Stauf's quip: "Hey! That's not cricket, is it?" I'm really not sure what he means by that.
Another scene plays when I'm finished with the puzzle, this one between Temple and Elinor. They seem to have heard the same thing I did, with the children's voices. Elinor recognizes one of the voices as a girl named Samantha who used to live next door to her, but got sick. Temple spells it out for us: the children's spirits have become the dolls. I'm not entirely sure if Stauf made the dolls and then somehow transferred the children into them. I suppose it would make a sort of twisted sense if the toys he made captured the children and then he reacquired them after the children died or disappeared and added them to his collection. Anyway, Temple says there must be one more child, the last guest, and he and Elinor agree to work together to find him before the others do.
I look around the room and discover that I can enter the dollhouse off to the left. I go through the little door and end up in a new room, the nursery, full of toys for young children. This seems to be a one-way trip, though. If I turn around and go through what looks like a full-sized door, I end up back in the upstairs hallway in front of the ornate room. Behind me is what looks like a door, but I can't go back that way, as it looks like there might be a hole in the floor. So the only way into the nursery is through the dollhouse, but then the door back goes to the hallway, which is weird.
In the nursery, I can click on the box in the corner to trigger a ghostly dog appearing and barking, but it doesn't really do anything. The puzzle, appropriately enough, involves those large painted wooden letter blocks that used to be ubiquitous in children's toyboxes. They're in a drawer off to the right, and when I trigger the puzzle, they appear in another 3x3 arrangement. Stauf assures me, "Three little words. That's all it takes." Sure, Stauf, easier said than done.
The puzzle starts with this arrangement:
DAT YOB TEG
The words seem pretty obvious since they're all just backward: TAD, BOY, and GET, and arranging them in a sentence would give GET BOY TAD, which is what everyone seems to want to do. That means that I need to shift the letters into this arrangement:
GET BOY TAD
However, that's somehow not at all easy for me to do. The letters rotate along rows and columns, Rubik's cube style, and there are a lot of possible arrangements. I never did master the Rubik's cube, and even if this is only two dimensions, somehow the proper strategy eludes me. I fiddle with it for quite a long time and always end up with arrangements like this, where it's almost right, but just two of the blocks are switched:
GTE TAD BOY
GET BOY TDA
GET TOY BAD
Frustrated, I leave it for a while and wander around, looking for anything else I might have missed. Back in the kitchen, I find two more strange scenes. When I first walk in, a short scene automatically plays where children's voices mock Tad, daring him to walk through the house. He then appears, standing on the sink to the left and jumping off into the kitchen. A couple other voices are briefly heard, but nobody else is visible in the scene.
After that, when I walk in, turn around, and face the first door again, I notice an optional scene that can be triggered at the stove on the other side of the kitchen. Heine is standing at the stove (this time dressed in red instead of green, so I initially thought it was Elinor, but the subtitles say Heine), stirring a pot. Suddenly the liquid in the pot pulses and rises up into the shape of Stauf's face, which demands that she "bring him to me." I assume he means Tad. Heine faints, collapsing to the floor, and Stauf laughs.
Not having found any additional puzzles or anything, I pause playing at this point to think about the block puzzle for a while. Eventually I decide to implement a brute force solver, because I am struggling to solve the puzzle normally, but I'm still solving the puzzle without getting any outside help from anywhere, this way. My specialty is databases, so I decide to use Access to implement my solver. Here's how it works. Feel free to skip down to the next game screenshot if you are allergic to math or coding.
I created a simple table with an ID column, a sequence column that just holds the letters in order as a string, and a column to hold the list of moves that will get to that sequence. Then I made a form to display the sequence data in the 3x3 grid format with a button to trigger the automated search. I thought about making a simulation of the puzzle so that I could manually make moves and test sequences right on the same screen, without having Stauf shouting at me constantly, but I decided I would just make the solver bit first and then see if I needed the simulation. It turned out that the solver worked perfectly, so I never bothered with the simulation part.
The code to run the search was the more complicated bit. I won't belabor that process. Suffice it to say that I really did brute-force it by making a list of the twelve different possible moves (shifting each row left or right or shifting each column up or down) and then having the code loop through that move list for every arrangement in the table, adding any new arrangement to the table with the moves required to get to it, until it found the goal.
I seeded the table with the starting arrangement, "DATYOBTEG", so for the first round, the code checked each move and added each of the twelve new arrangements to the list. Then it moved to the first secondary arrangement and did it again. Obviously this added a lot of new arrangements very quickly, but after the first round, it wasn't adding twelve new arrangements each time because some moves would reverse whatever had been done previously, so some resulting arrangements would be duplicates of ones already in the table. In fact, the second round would add exactly 11x12 or 132 new arrangements, because each time one of the twelve moves would shift the letters back to the starting sequence.
It wasn't terribly efficient, but it got the job done. I left it overnight to crunch as long as it needed and came back to find that it succeeded. The code checked 128,519 sequences and added 179,675 new sequences to the table before it stopped, having found the GETBOYTAD arrangement with a move list of "1U2D1L2R2U3D1R3L". That means shift the first column up, the second column down, the first row left, and so on, for a total of only eight moves, if you know which eight moves to do. I have a note in my code that there could have been as many as 134,217,728 different arrangements (I don't remember exactly how I got that, but I think I must have calculated the number of different orders of nine letters given that two of them are the same letter), so it's a good thing that it only had to check about a tenth of a percentage of them to find what I wanted.
I also checked the generated table to see whether the script had reached the arrangements I mentioned before, with just two blocks switched. It had, and oddly enough, every single one of those arrangements could be reached with a move list of only seven moves. Clearly it wouldn't be enough to make only one more move from those to get to the correct arrangement, so something about the way I was trying to go about it was just not working. It makes sense that the correct move sequence would be an even number of moves if the wrong arrangements happened from an odd number of moves, though.
Solution in hand, I go back to the game. I execute the eight moves of the sequence my solver found, and it works perfectly. Back in the nursery, I get a scene where I hear a baby crying, with a man, probably Stauf, bending over the wide ledge by the far wall. Then I can trigger an additional scene there, where the view zooms in on the ledge. The baby appears, with a narrow doll lying next to it. The baby screams, and then the doll lifts its arm and puts its hand over the baby's face, suffocating it. Before they disappear, the baby goes blue and still. I can zoom in on the ledge again, but nothing further happens. Perhaps this is part of the ritual by which Stauf transferred children into dolls.
That finishes this area. The only other thing I find in the nursery is an incredibly creepy jack-in-the-box. Ugh, why would anyone ever make such a thing for children?
Now I have to tackle the microscope puzzle, because I've not found anything else anywhere to do. I still have no idea how to get to the disconnected room on the first floor.
One of the times I move through the chapel to the lab, I look around a bit more carefully and discover that I can focus on the piano set off to the left of the altar in front. There's a ghostly event I can trigger that causes a skeleton to appear and play the piano for several moments. Or maybe that’s an organ? It’s rather dim in this corner and hard to see.
Back in the lab, I restart the microscope puzzle again. It seems to be deterministic in the sense that if I make the same moves, it will make the same moves, so I play around with some ideas that initially seem less than optimal. The opponent seems to want to just extend from the upper right corner to start. I discover that if I hop my lower right corner's blob toward the corner that isn't extending, the lower left one, I can maneuver to just the right distance to trick the opponent into jumping where I want.
Specifically, I jump once horizontally, and then I extend diagonally. That gets my blobs close enough to wipe out the lower left corner on the third turn. To prevent that, the opponent jumps in desperation, turning one of my blobs, but it's not close enough to get to the right place to turn both. I still have one there, which I can use to turn all of the opponent blobs in that clump. After just three turns, the layout looks like this, and I already have a distinct advantage:
Then I start extending from the other corner diagonally. The opponent's blobs are already close enough to jump, so it does, again turning only one of my two blobs. I extend and turn all of the connected ones. The opponent still has a couple of blobs in the corner, but I again am just close enough that it decides to jump instead of extending. I repeat the process twice more, turning everything back each time the opponent jumps to me. Before my final move, the grid looks like this:
I have now won the microscope game/puzzle. Anticlimactically, although Stauf shouts "No!" when I win, nothing else happens when I exit the puzzle. The upper level is now all marked as complete, except for the hallway and stairs, and the lower level is also complete except for the disconnected room. What to do next?
I wander back downstairs and look around. Turning back to face the stairway, as when I first began the game, I suddenly notice there's a new event I can trigger on the stairs. The view turns downward, and it looks like I start falling through a portal in the floor. Everything fades to black, and then a crazy Stauf head spins around and I appear in a completely new room. Is this the disconnected area? I can't tell where I actually am from the map, but I guess if I solve a puzzle here and the disconnected room is marked complete, then I'll know. I suspect it is because using an otherwise nonsensical portal neatly avoids any need for an outdoor area to get the player between the main house and the outbuilding.
The last two puzzles were quite involved, so I’m going to pause here. Tune in next time to find out what kind of room I've reached through this strange portal.
Puzzles solved: 3 (total: 19) No additional on-screen deaths except for the baby.
Session Time: 4 hours 30 minutes (including a couple of hours of database development) Total Time: 11 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!