Written by Joe Pranevich
Last time out, I died. Alexander Morris came to London to unravel the mystery of his brother’s death during the events of the Dracula novel. Despite months of wasting time, falling in love, and doing everything except investigating that death, the situation in London has become frightening. Grisly murders and beheadings are now a regular fixture of the city, including bodies drained of blood. Yesterday, the death of Anisette’s father triggered Alexander to resume his investigation. In one day, we met Jonathan and Mina Harker, visited a pub named for Jack the Ripper, somehow received a Bowie knife by telegram, and bonked an insane person on the head in a nearby asylum. At the end of the night, we discovered our fiancée wandering the streets dressed in white and acting “sexy”. Rather than heading back to her place for some undead special time, she killed us. Game over.
I’ll be starting from scratch again this week. Obviously, I missed something last time– some clue, some event, or some item that would either have prevented Anisette from becoming a vampire or protected me from her. The only problem is that I have no leads. How am I going to tackle this?
I need a plan.
|The game’s starting inventory.|
Plan 1: Trying all the Items
I might need a plan, but I don’t have a “good” one. My first idea is just to play the game again and look for clues that I missed, but this doesn’t really work like that. Exploration in this game is based on the address book entries that we find. Unlike in Sherlock Holmes where you can miss a clue in dialog, Dracula Unleashed makes sure that you know when you have a new place to go. At the very least, playing again will remind me of anything that I might have forgotten in the weeks since I played last. (I’m writing this after both Santa and the Goblins and one more Nord and Bert post and keeping three games in my head is more difficult than it looks.) To make good use of the time, I’ll also try every item that I have in every location to try to trigger a new scene.
I won’t go through it all again step by step, but let me give you a flavor:
- As before, I visit Anisette’s house first. We see the scene where Alexander comforts her after her father’s death (with his dead body still sitting there!). After watching the scene, I re-enter her house over and over again while holding each item in my inventory. Each time, I am stopped by Mrs. Colpepper who informs me that Anisette is not to be disturbed. I cheat and restore the game so as not to waste the time.
- Next, I visit the Newsstand in Westminster. Returning there after I have read the paper triggers a scene where Alexander asks the newsboy if there is a later edition, but the answer is always “no”.
- I repeat this process at the Telegraph office. None of the other items (other than Father Janos’s card) allows me to send a new message.
Brute force is a boring way to play and a boring thing to read, but rest assured that I repeat this method at Holmwood’s home, the Hades Club, Jonathan Harker’s house, the pub, and everywhere else. After taking this approach with every location in the game, I come up empty. Not a single new scene is triggered and I conclude that I’m going about this the wrong way.
It’s not a complete waste of time however! Playing more efficiently than I did before, I was left with time at the end to return to locations to check for for new scenes. We already knew there was an evening scene at the Hades Club (Mr. Stranzikowski’s drunken delusions about his dead wife), but I find one at Anisette’s as well!
|What are you doing with my girlfriend?|
On returning to Anisette after a day of exploring, I discover a woman singing to her, holding her close in a very familiar way. This is Juliet Adams (according to dialog and our subsequent journal entry) and she intends to spend the night with Anisette to make sure that she is okay. I probably should not be reading too much innuendo into this scene, but I do and I am a terrible person for it. Anisette’s house is also well-decorated for the holidays with a Christmas tree and everything. I’ve said before just how well “Christmas horror” can work and this is a fine example of how the background high spirits of the occasion contrasts very nicely with the morbidity of the situation. It’s hard to call this game “well-directed”, but they do a great job playing with that contrast in this scene.
Juliet hands Alexander a red rose and relates her dream from the night before: she dreamed that a woman in white, “like an angel”, stood in front of Anisette’s father as he passed away. She takes this as a great sign that Anisette’s father is newly departed to heaven. Anisette just cries into our arms. Alexander pulls out the white cloth from before (this is the one that her father was holding when he died) and Anisette uses it to wipe her eyes. Juliet sees the cloth and connects it to her dream; it is the same white cloth!
There is so much here to unpack, both inside and outside the game:
- I wager that Juliet Adams could be named for “Julie Adams” who was the lead actress in Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1950. Surely ICOM/Viacom had some horror fans on their writing staff.
- Christmas trees had been introduced to Britain by Queen Victoria’s husband in the 1840s and gained acceptance as a universal custom within a decade or two. They would have been common in 1899 London.
- Juliet knows more about the events than she should. If she did dream it, she must have some deeper connection to Dracula or to the Woman in White. If she is that close to Anisette, it could be something related to the closeness of their friendship. We’ll have to see, but it could also just be a way for the game to hammer home that Anisette is the Woman in White. In any event, it’s quite dangerous and scary for her if she’ll be spending the night, though Alexander doesn’t know this yet.
The red rose also gets me thinking about the Harker’s home again, as Mina Harker was trimming roses when I visited her last. I take the rose to her but get the same message that they are unavailable. Oh well.
|If only we could have picked this up earlier.|
I still have time, so I continue to search for scenes that I missed. I cheat a bit and use a saved game so I can check everywhere without running out of time. That method snags me two further locations!
The first of these new scenes takes place at Mr. Holmwood’s home. Arthur is unavailable as he and Mr. Stranzikowski are having a meeting someplace, but I am able to speak to his wife. She explains that Mr. Stranzikowski was once a talented composer but has fallen on difficult times since his wife, Ilyiana, passed away. She narrates a story of a carriage accident in “Borgo Pass”. This accident (apparently caused by wolves in the illustration, but not in the dialog) resulted in the death of his wife. However it happened, it was gruesome enough that she had to be brought back to London and buried in a closed casket ceremony. He apparently had family in London for her to be buried with, although neither his nor her name sound English. Considering this against Mr. Stranzikowski’s drunken confession that he believes his wife is still “alive” and haunting the streets of London looking for him, we can perhaps assume that the casket was closed because there was no body?
Researching Borgo Pass further, I learn that it is generally called Tihuța Pass today and sits on the border between Transylvania (in Romania) and Moldova. This pass was mentioned in the novel Dracula and has become famous for the Dracula-themed tourist attractions, including a “Castle Dracula” built in 1976. It’s apparently also a great spot for scenic hiking. I don’t know if I’d put it high on my list of places to visit, but it sounds fun!
A carriage accident during a full moon!
Looks much less spooky on Google Maps.
While there, Alexander volunteers to deliver the package to the Harkers’ that was left this morning. Their carriage driver was supposed to deliver a birthday present to little Quincey Harker before he was brutally murdered, although the package remained (apparently) untouched in the carriage. I hope that the package doesn’t contain Dracula bait! I immediately try to take it to the Harkers’ home, but get the same servant blocking the door. I also search to find the meeting between Arthur and Mr. Stranzikowski, but no dice there either. I still find him sleeping in the Hades Club; perhaps the meeting is over already.
The final new scene that I discover is at the Saucy Jack. Alexander sits in the pub looking depressed, before hearing the howling of a wolf outside. This is the Strand in London and very urban in 1899; hearing a wolf must be very unexpected!
This is more or less how I feel not being able to survive the night yet.
A wolf stalks a cemetery.
Alexander turns to a nearby patron to ask what the sound is. The man, dressed as a sailor, tells us the story of the “Demeter Wolf”. He first saw the animal onboard a ghost ship in a storm; the human crew were dead, save for a zombie-like captain. The ship was sent, he claims, by the devil himself. Why the devil charters sailing expeditions is left as an exercise for the reader. The wolf escaped the ship and eventually (somehow) made its way to the city where the sailor encountered it again: he and a friend were attacked by it in a graveyard. His friend was killed and he, mercifully, has no memory of what happened except that the wolf unexpectedly had human arms. Was it a werewolf? The whole story seems sketchy to me, starting with seeing the wolf on-board a ghost ship and then happening to be attacked by the same wolf on shore sometime later. There may be more to the story than he knows, or it may just be distracting folklore that has nothing to do with our game!
No matter your view on the wolf or on the Borgo Pass, my time is up. Anisette inevitably comes to kill me around 9:30 PM and I find no more evening scenes. Even so, I have some good leads! Although I was unable to deliver the present to Quincey Harker, just knowing how to get the present is a step up. I also learned about a meeting between Arthur Holmwood and Mr. Stranzikowski that I should find and listen in on. One challenge remains that we the player know more about what is happening than Alexander does; we have to take him through finding the clues to discover the vampirism without dying while doing it.
You have no idea how many times I’ve watched this scene now.
Plan 2: Take Really Good Notes
My first plan to do everything over again and blanket the game with trial-and-error item use wasn’t a complete failure because I found three more scenes, I still have no idea how to not die, nor am I sure there are not even more scenes to be found. For my second “plan”, I decide to just take very good notes, being especially careful to notate if I gained any items or address entries in each scene, as well as what time I watched it. This could allow me to skip less important scenes and (I hope) find slots where I can deliver the present or catch the secret meeting. This game makes it very difficult to be sure that we aren’t missing anything,
For my next playthrough, I do it all again. Here is a snippet of my notes:
- 7:00 AM: Game Starts.
- 7:05 AM: Anisette’s Home. 5 minutes to travel there then watch the scene where Alexander comforts her (30 minutes). Leave at 7:35.
- New Item: White Cloth
- 8:30 AM: Telegraph Office. 55 minutes to travel there. 15 minutes to send a telegram to Father Yanos. Leave at 8:45 AM.
- No new items or locations, but probably required to get the return telegram and Bowie Knife later.
- 9:25 AM: Hades Club. 40 minutes to travel then met with Goldacre (30 minutes). Leave at 9:55 AM.
- 10:25 AM: Holmwood’s Home. 30 minutes to travel there and then see the scene about his dead carriage driver (15 minutes). Leave 10:40 AM.
- New Address: Harker’s Home
- And onward and onward.
Once again, narrating all of this would be boring, but I continue all the way through to 9:15 PM when I learn about the Demeter Wolf at the Saucy Jack Pub. One day documented and what did I learn? Only that three events (so far) seem to be unnecessary: both scenes at the Hades Club (Goldacre being upset at my membership and Mr. Stranzikowski’s drunk story about his wife), plus when I was rejected by Jonathan Harker at his office. I do not know whether the scene with the Demeter Wolf story provides an item or an address because I do not survive long enough after witnessing it to check.
A ship of the damned brings a monstrous wolf to England, but I still die before bedtime.
Plan 3: Optimize the Route
Using those detailed notes, my next task is to optimize my route. I can probably also speed things up by being careful with the cab rides. Reviewing the timeline, I’m too often taking a cab for 55 minutes or more at a stretch, when doing things in a different order would be more efficient. Beyond that, I don’t have a strategy except to see if giving myself more time allows me to find a scene that I missed. Worst case, I’ll get more time to explore at the end of the day (and discover if the Demeter Wolf story gives me any items or addresses.)
To talk through my thought process:
- I still immediately go to Anisette’s house. She, like me, lives in Notting Hill and getting to her place takes only 5 minutes.
- From there, I know that I have “productive” scenes at the Telegraph (King’s Cross), Holmwood’s Home (Westminster), and the Newsstand (also Westminster). It’s 45 minutes to Westminster or 55 minutes to the Telegraph. We should do Homewood and the Newstand next.
We don’t have to trial-and-error these! The game provides a map that allows you to select two locations and see how long it will take to travel between. It’s not easy to use, but I can take the data out to build my own easier-to-understand version of the map. I cannot imagine too many players bothering to do this, but this is what I do when I have no other leads to go on.
The in-game map is pretty, but you can see only one route at a time.
I find this layout much easier to understand.
With a nice diagram, I make myself a journey planner. For example, if I go from Notting Hill to Westminster and then to King’s Cross, it takes an hour and a half. If I do the same but start at King’s Cross, it takes ten minutes more. Careful reading also reveals shortcuts such as being able to get from Westminster to King’s Cross in only forty minutes if we stop in the Strand first. Is it necessary to optimize the game so much? Most likely not, but I hope that transiting faster through the scenes will reveal something that I missed. Even with the planner, making an ideal route is rough. For example, it seems right now that doing the Telegraph before Saucy Jack is the right order, but then we learn (at the pub) that the bookstore is right near the telegraph office. Suddenly, we should have done it the other way! I’m learning so much, I almost want to speedrun this game… if only I knew how to win.
Being this efficient actually causes me trouble in my route and I have to abandon it part way. I end up getting to Anisette’s house at 1:15 and too early for her “evening” scene. This tells me that I need to build into my plan a better schedule for all of the scenes.
Out of that thought comes a new idea: what if I play this game like Deadline?
“Simultaneous events don’t happen, they are isolated temporally.” - They Might Be Giants, “Weep Day”
Plan 4: Mapping Temporally
It’s been a long time since we played Deadline (and Ilmari was the one to officially cover it for this blog), so to refresh: it was a text adventure where we have to solve a murder. Most importantly, it was one of the first games where every member of the (large for 1982) cast operates on a fixed schedule, moving from room to room and having different conversations at different times. If you don’t happen to be there when the clue happens, there’s no way for us to solve the case! Mapping that game was both physical (a map of the grounds) and temporal (building a schedule for who did what and when). Sometimes I did this by following characters around, but other times I would just plop myself in a room and type “wait” over and over again to see who showed up. It was tedious, but once I had the schedule it was much easier to piece together the mystery.
For Dracula Unleashed, we don’t have NPCs to follow around, so I employed the second strategy.
Starting at Anisette’s house, I repeatedly entered the scene, waited an hour, and entered again. Most of the time, I’d get the message that Anisette wasn’t able to see me right now, but I also found the two scenes that I already knew about. It could be that other scenes would require me to hold a certain item or do something else first, but just starting with this map would be something.
For Anisette, the schedule was simple:
- 7:00 AM - “Alexander Comforts Anisette”. After seeing it, we’ll be told by Mrs. Colpepper that Anisette is unavailable.
- 3:00 PM - “Singing to Anisette”.
Only two scenes, and at 9:30 PM I die… but not in the usual way!
He doesn’t seem sane to me…
Normally when I die at the end of the night, I would be bitten by Anisette in the street. Instead, we found a different death scene: Alexander walks down a street listening to carolers. A lunatic leaps out at us and throttles Alexander to the ground. We know the man is a lunatic because he helpfully spends much of the time screaming about how sane he is. Alexander dies and the game ends, but is this different death scene a clue?
Could it be that Anisette becomes a vampire not because of something that we didn’t do, but rather something that we did? I saw this by skipping every scene but two, but nothing jumps out at having led to her vampirism. It would hardly make sense that a trip to the Saucy Jack would turn her to a life of undead-ness! (Given how her father died, she seems to be on that road already, but we don’t know what triggers her to kill us in specific.)
I put aside this line of thought for now and make the same “map” for the Hades Club and Holmwood’s Home. There are still only two scenes each:
- 7:15 AM - “Goldacre Hates Me”
- 2:00 PM - “Mr. Stransokowski is Drunk”
- 7:45 AM - “Carriage Driver Dead”
- 3:00 PM - “Arthur at Meeting, Get Present”
We have a general pattern of an “afternoon scene” and a “morning scene”, but notice that the times are not exactly the same. It means that I am correct that I will need to check every scene every hour. I expected to find a second scene at Harker’s house or office to return the present, but no luck:
- 8:20 AM - “Worrying About the Carriage Driver”
- No evening scene!
- 9:10 AM - Informed he has not come in yet.
- 3:00 PM - “Harker Rejects Us”
- 8:00 PM - Harker is gone for the night.
Everything goes smoother with presents.
This triggers a “eureka!” moment because I realize that I have been making a fundamental mistake: I had already gone to Harker’s office to be rejected and THEN I try to re-enter with the present. That’s what I did at the telegraph office and it worked fine. The game however is slightly more clever and I need to have the package in hand the first time I see him. This requires me to juggle my schedule, but it’s no problem. I do that and… success!
The resulting scene at Jonathan’s office is similar to the first, except that Alexander enters bearing gifts. Harker is still too busy to talk to us, but the package warms his heart a bit and he gives me a present, a cross necklace, to give to Anisette as a present in return. He says that it once comforted Mina. Knowing vampires, a cross necklace must come in handy! This is great, but it also proves that all of my earlier brute force attempts were wastes of time. If I am to brute force again, I’d have to save and restore after going to every location. That would take forever. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
I take the necklace to Anisette and trigger her “Singing” scene again:
The same necklace as the ghost captain? Is there a connection?
This scene is so identical that I initially think it failed; I only noticed the change (while fast-forwarding) when my notebook entry was different. When we have the necklace in hand, Alexander gives it to Anisetts right after Juliet narrates her dream. She takes it, but it’s a small moment and the scene quickly transitions back to Juliet’s confidence that she had seen an angel. After doing this, I am still killed at night by the crazy guy, but that’s because I was just playing the minimum number of scenes to see if this worked. I play the whole game again, working this into my pattern.
When I make it to the asylum, I recognize the “sane” guy as the very same that I conk on the head when I enter. By taking him out just then, I prevented that death. A short time later, the clock strikes 10:00 PM and I am still alive! I survived the night! I grab the Bowie Knife from my house (it arrived by telegram somehow) and have one more scene that I need to see.
You have no idea how difficult it was to see you tonight, Dr. Seward.
The caretaker at the asylum had asked me to come back later tonight to talk to Dr. Seward, but he was never available up to the moment that I was killed. Having finally cracked that puzzle, he is happy to see me. It’s a short conversation, but the doctor reveals that while the inmates are often like this before a full moon, they are worse than usual. He implies that he has seen them acting up like this once before, but he doesn’t clarify. He discusses three inmates in specific, but my ear perks up when I hear that one of them is “Renfield”. If I’m not mistaken, he was one of Dracula’s thralls in the original book. He asks me to come back after breakfast to learn more.
The time is now 12:10 AM on December 29! I survived the night and go to bed. I have the same nightmare with the wolf, but I still wake up refreshed and ready for the second day. I expected the plot to thicken, but it was surprisingly difficult for me to get this far. I certainly made it harder on myself than I had to, but I had to stumble upon the mechanics of the game the hard way. Could I have missed more things on the first day? Knowing how the objects work now, it’s a strong possibility. Could I have found a more positive outcome with Mr Goldacre or Mr. Stranzikowski? Should I play again?
I’ll decide soon, but for now I’m off. My next post will be the finale of Nord and Bert… as soon as I figure out how to win.
Time played: 4 hr 20 min
Total time: 6 hr 55 min
Inventory: Father Yanos’s card, “AHM” handkerchief, picture of Anisette, “London Museum Guide” book, Anisette’s prescription, “Tales of Evil” book, Jonathan Harker’s business card, blackjack, white cloth, Bowie knife, red rose
Better than dying!