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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Mission: Mainframe: Megacorp Madness

I actually am! HOW DOES THE GAME KNOW?!

I ascend in the elevator to Floor 2. I walk three rooms north and find 41 bytes (gold). I meet a janitor and trick him into leaving the room, allowing me access to the file cabinet. I break it open and find 188 bytes and a beverage. I sip the beverage and am informed that it "tastes delicious" so I drink the whole thing. It turns out to be a double martini, and suddenly my character is drunk, meaning that none of the directional keys work and I stumble from room to room. I run into a secretary. I try to trick her but it fails and she attacks me. I fight, but suddenly she teleports me to a different level (I don't know why secretaries can do this). I stumble across two rooms, picking up some bytes. Suddenly the power goes out, so I'm both drunk and in the dark. I mash keys randomly, hoping to find my way to the elevator. I'm sucked up an air shaft and deposited on Floor 8. I run into someone in the dark. I try to trick him. It fails and he attacks. I try to evade but I slip and fall. He steals all the bytes I have accumulated, then kills me. The game tells me I have been slain by an accountant.

This is a pretty typical game. I've cycled through probably 30 characters in Mission: Mainframe. I tried to get clever at the beginning. I was Bond the Spy and Matrix the Commando and whatnot, but it got old fast so I've just stuck with Marlowe the Private Eye. Over and over. I warned you that there wouldn't be many new things I could say about the game after the first posting, but here are a few that I've discovered.

  • The vending machine, where you can buy food, can "eat your money." Nice touch of realism.
  • You can carry up to six office supplies at once, including stamps, newspapers, pens, pencils, out baskets, in baskets, credit cards, and rulers. Each gives a different bonus to offense, defense, or both. But there are also some "cursed" items, like red ink and leaky pens, that damage your stats. You have to pay big bucks to "sell" them to the office supply cabinet and get rid of them.

I am killing secretaries and file clerks with pencils and stamps. This is the most disgusting game I've ever played.

  • Your character ages. My current character, who I've gotten all the way up to Level 4, is now 21. I started at 18. Putting aside the absurdity of the idea that I've been exploring this office building for three years, I wonder if this means the game has a time limit: do I eventually get too old and die?
  • Floors reset when you leave them, and each time it's a random combination of encounters and treasures. I've yet to complete an entire floor because I always get sucked up an air vent or teleported by a secretary, or I nearly die and have to limp back to the elevator and return to the lobby. Somewhere I need to find a key that will get me past Floor 10, but that's not likely to be a pressing problem any time soon.
  • If the power goes out, you can light a match (if you've found any) or find the fuse box (there's one on each level) or just stumble around until you find the elevator.
  • When you find new items, the game gives you the opportunity to test them out before committing. You can "analyze" items, "sip" beverages, and "inspect" file cabinets. The game is remarkably straightforward with its clues from these actions, and I find it difficult to drink the wrong thing or pick up any more red ink.

Level 1 character: Killer the Commando. Descends to Floor 2, immediately finding some stamps (TK). Encounters a secretary but evades her. Finds 90 bytes in the next room. Finds the level's fuse box. Meets an accountant who steals 61 of the bytes and does 50 damage before Killer successfully evades. Sucked up a shaft to Floor 4. Breaks open a file cabinet for 634 bytes. Runs into a room that automatically heals all his hit points. Another file cabinet. Meets an ANALYST. Tries to trick him, unsuccessfully. Killed in two rounds.

Technically, I should point out that when you die in the game, you have the option to hit ESC and try to get resurrected. If it works, you lose all your items, food, strategies, and money, but you get to keep your experience and statistics. It still doesn't sound so bad, but the option only works about 25% of the time, and I've never had it work on the same character twice. Usually, I get this:

It's like losing twice.


Unlike Rogue, your constant need for food doesn't impel you to go further and further down into the dungeon whether you're ready or not. As I've been wary about going too far too fast, I've been lurking around Floors 1-3, trying to build up my character. I am worried about the age aspect, though, so I suppose I'd better get moving.

In general, roguelikes do not reward risk. Compare this with a game like Dungeon Master. In that game, even though I stuck to rules about saving and re-loading, and dying wasn't a walk in the park, I still took occasional risks. When I first encountered Chaos, I threw myself at him. Why not? He slaughtered me mercilessly, but I might have won the game right there. It's happened before.

In Mission: Mainframe, on the other hand--just as in Rogue--losing that gamble doesn't just mean you have to reload; it means you have to start over at Level 1 with a brand new character. That's a sobering risk. Thus, the only way to progress is to play it very safe, to keep wandering early levels to build up your character. Even then, you're not guaranteed anything. The longer you play, the greater your odds of getting drunk, or getting lost in the dark, or teleported to a level you can't handle.

I know this all sounds negative, just like my review of Rogue, but despite how frustrating the game is, it's also insufferably addicting. I keep dying, and I keep creating new characters. Long past the point at which it would have made more sense to be doing something else.

I'm back home now, though, with my second monitor and a stable Internet connection, so I think it's rather time to throw myself back into Le Maitre des Ames. I don't know if I'll have another posting on Mission: Mainframe or not. I certainly don't expect a "Won!" posting--honestly, has anyone ever won this game without cheating? Although I did with Rogue, it took me four months, and this game is harder than Rogue.

On another note, I finally got around to doing what some of you had been encouraging for almost a year, since Ultima II: see Time Bandits. The film is quite possibly--and I say this with great affection--the dumbest movie I've ever seen. But its influence on Ultima II in terms of the cloth map, time travel, and the dimension doors is quite obvious, and I'm glad I saw it for that reason. More important, David Warner did a fantastic job in an early example of what ought to forever be called "the David Warner role." Between Time Bandits, Tron, Time After Time, Gargoyles, Star Trek: TNG, and of course Baldur's Gate II, he really has mastered the part of the pontificating, pseudo-intellectual, vaguely absurd arch villain.

12 comments:

  1. Given the 1984 date, this might be the first "parody RPG" along the lines of Barkley, Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden and Cthulhu Saves the World.

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  2. I didn't realise David Warner was the voice of one of the characters in Fallout too. He gets around a bit.

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  3. As for parody games, Ultima II beats M:M by a couple of years.

    Acrin1, I'll have to do a special posting on voice acting as soon as I start getting into games that use it. I don't know about anyone else who reads my blog, but I've been nursing a decade-long crush on Gray DeLisle.

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  4. Ultima II has some comedy but that's different from making the entire experience comedic.

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  5. I know. I was trying to be funny. Ultima II is so bad that I regard it as a parody of CRPGs instead of a CRPG itself.

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  6. Oh man, thanks for bringing up "Barkley: Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden". That game is BY FAR the most amazing game to ever grace this earth. Ever.

    CRPGaddict, please tell me that once to get to 2008/2009 (can't quite remember when it came out) in thirty-nine years or so you'll feature "Barkley: Shut Up and Jam: Gaiden" on this blog in all of its glory.

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  7. I promise, but it wouldn't hurt to remind me when the date gets close.

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  8. I've been trying to find a copy of Mission: Mainframe, but am getting nowhere. How did you get to be such a lucky dog?

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  9. And I certainly wish I had to 'sticktoit' required to play games like this. Sigh. I stay at home (disabled) and take care of my wife (also disabled and terminally ill) and kids and I STILL don't have the sticktoit required to play these games all the way through.

    A fun roguelike is "brogue"- very good one.

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  10. Dt;Isc- found the game off the mutant bastard inbred monstrosity that HOTUd has become. Now added to my way-too-0big list of roguelikes to play.

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  11. That's where I got it, too.

    I'm very sorry to hear about your wife, but my guess is that taking care of her and your kids probably overwhelms any "time savings" you'd get from staying at home.

    I also think gaming--especially CRPG-ing--requires blocks of UNINTERRUPTED time, which I'm guessing you don't have a lot of. I have trouble playing when just my wife is lurking around; hence, I do most of my playing and blogging in the middle of the night.

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  12. I don't have a ton of uninterrupted time, no :) , and that may well be the problem. I also have bad insomnia because of pain and depression issues, and I too find that after 11 PM is when I get the most "stuff done".

    I find that those games I get the most done in are those that are action-RPGs: Fallout 3, Two Worlds, the like. But they do all the hard stuff for you- mapping, journals, quests, everything. I just have to point my avatar for movement and smack the "hit monster with heavy piece of sharp metal" button :)

    Good work on your latest posts!

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