Sunday, July 8, 2012

B.A.T.: High-Tech and Low-Life

The agent finds Bourbon Street.

The title comes from a quote in Wikipedia's entry on cyberpunk, a genre with which I am not terribly familiar and will probably never really love. The atmosphere reminds me unfavorably of Blade Runner, and I know I'm risking the wrath of thousands of commenters in saying that I never liked the film and the crapsack world it depicts. Cyberpunk always seems unnaturally pessimistic. Take this computer that my B.A.T. agent has lodged uncomfortably in his arm (wouldn't it catch on things?):

I've given up trying to feed and water myself during my exploration phase, but I haven't really noticed that it makes a difference.

Would I really need a cybernetic attachment to tell me that I'm hungry? All of the other stuff that this computer does, and a lot more, I could happily accomplish with the iPhone in my pocket, thanks. At first, I was going to question how I could possibly shower with this thing, but of course one of the defining characteristics of cyberpunk is that no one ever appears to bathe.

A wretched hive of scum and villainy.

I'm on the fence on the game itself. On one hand, I like the note-taking and mapping that accompanies a good adventure game. On the other, the interface is very confusing. Many times, you cannot return the a map screen using the same path that you took to leave it; for instance, the path from the pub to the astroport is north, but the path from the astroport back to the pub is west. That's fine: plenty of adventure games do this. But it's very difficult in this game to figure out what directions you can go from a screen. Certain directional arrows only appear when hovering over about four pixels of the screen--pixels that don't seem to depict a passageway or door--so it's extremely easy to overlook certain paths of movement.

It took forever to find this path (see arrow on the left) back to the starting area.

A few hours ago, I was ready to give up on the game, but I realized I'd been playing badly. I somehow expected that this game, as an early hybrid, would be very quick--almost more like a demonstration than a real game--so I got impatient fairly quickly. When I slowed down and started keeping detailed paperwork, I started to enjoy it a bit more. At this point, I've mapped 21 unique areas and 8 shops and buildings within them. It's tough to come up with a precise number because the window tends to sub-divide into sections of areas and then buildings within those sections.

A specific theater within a cinema within a quarter within a neighborhood.

I've yet to see much in the way of the RPG half of the game. Maybe a little in combat, which I will describe anon, but so far, unless it's happening in the background, I've yet to use a single skill (pick locks, climbing, mechanics, truck) that the game showed me on the character creation screen.

What are these attributes actually for?

Combat is rare in the game, but it's very deadly unless you're quick. When it starts, the game gives you a few seconds to equip your weapon and shield, and then you start blasting away, simply by clicking on the enemy's portrait. There are no tactics involved. As far as I can tell, the only benefits to defeating foes are that a) you survive, and b) you get some "experience." Then again, I've yet to see what experience actually does for me.

Thusfar, all of my combats have come in the form of random attacks by robots. I have to react too quickly to those to take screenshots, so I deliberately attacked some harmless aliens to take the shot below. I guess you could play the game "evil" and attack every alien and robot you see, but that probably has long-term consequences.

1) I didn't notice the "Escape" button until just now. That may come in handy. 2) You cannot shoot the helpless fleeing people on the side of the screen. I have tried.

Combat is made a little less deadly through shields, which I purchased at a shop in an alleyway.

After each battle, if injured, I have to head over to the doctor's office and get "surgery" to get back to normal.

This guy is going to buy a summer home on Corellia thanks to me.
This has drained my cash fairly quickly, but on another screen, there's an arcade where you can play a memory game and win some back. You then have to convert your "credits" into local cash at another machine. I'm not sure if the different types of money and conversion serve any plot purpose later.

"The bizzy game" is kind of fun, but it gets harder and harder as you play along.

The memory game isn't the only mini-game. On another memorable screen, I entered a dance club and met a woman named Lydia who asked me to dance with her. I didn't realize the dance screen was a mini-game in which you have to alternately click the right and left mouse buttons to "dance" (the image changes to show your PC busting all kinds of moves, which was moderately amusing).

I'm having flashbacks to my prom.

After failing the first time, I reloaded and danced like a pro. Lydia said she'd accompany me throughout the city, but I haven't seen a sign of her since then.

I don't know. I could never be with a woman who spaces punctuation like that.

I otherwise haven't made a lot of progress. In a bar, a woman told me that a "stickrob" (a type of robot) was talking about Merigo...

...but every stickrob I can find says he just arrived in town or offers something bland.

Yeah, that's oodles of help.

There are only a few overt mysteries that I cannot solve or places that I cannot pass. Namely:

  • There's a payphone but I don't have any idea what number to dial
  • An entrance to "Miss Kortakis's" compound is guarded by The Guardian from Ultima VII. I can't pass without an invitation.

Is that some kind of vampire peeking up at the bottom?

  • There's an exit to the planet's surface, but I need the credentials of a pilot or technician to pass.

And pick up that can!

However, there are plenty of places that seem like they ought to have more going on--including a multi-screen museum, a cinema, and a police station--so I'm partly worried that I just haven't clicked on the right places. My plan, thus, is to revisit every screen and carefully hover over every pixel and make sure I haven't missed anything. I'll also re-talk to every NPC, but so far they've been mostly worthless. Light hints of the "consider spending more time in the X area" variety are appreciated.

Given the nature of the game, you'd think there would be more to do in the police station.


  1. I'll not jump on you for hating Blade Runner, but it seems there are a couple of things going on here

    1) Our technology has surpassed what the 80s writer thought the future would be like: Most of this stuff you can do on an iPad or Android tablet, without implanting it into your arm. There are blood-glucose metres for athletes and diabetics that work in this way, with a small needle then an external readout, no need for giant bolts in your arms. However, I have seen ideas for eInk tatooos, that you place a display In your arm, like a tattoo that would also be a screen.

    The other is, it seems to embrace the cyberpunk aesthetic, without much discussion of the underlying ideas. Cyberpunk is overly pessimistic as it is supposed to be a metaphor for what is happening today, a warning for what will happen if we don't change our ways. Cyberpunk isn't about lots of computers and implants; It is about giant corporations exploiting people and bribing governments so heavily they can do whatever they want without regulation. It is talk about how greed will choke out society, people become more alien to one another, etc. It is a way of stepping back, saying 'This isn't a story about today, it is science fiction', and then telling a tale about where society is going through metaphor once you have established some emotional distance.

    Frankly, with all the discussion about how exploiting the American healthcare system (or lake thereof), collapsing economy and frightening wealth disparity I'm hoping to see some new, TRUE cyberpunk works coming out soon.

    Sadly, the genre was killed by over exposure. People embraced the asthetic instead of the ideas, writing stories riffing off Gibson and Stephenson without understanding what they were trying to say. So people have random implants, as shown above, without any of the message or symbology associated with them.

    1. Random EncounterJuly 9, 2012 at 2:44 PM

      I hope that you meant being "afraid to see some new, TRUE cyberpunk works" as that genre has done fairly good work on migrating to real life as it is.

    2. Well, I'd like to see the genre revived. Mostly it has moved on now, as it quickly became cliche in the 90s. I'd like to see some science fiction written today with the same themes and ideas, but perhaps less pretension and more clear plots.

    3. I don't know if 'Rollback' and 'Flashforward' by Robert J. Sawyer (fellow Canadian) are up your alley (or you probably already read them) but I enjoyed them quite well. My mom also liked 'Wake,' but that one didn't click for me.

    4. Random EncounterJuly 10, 2012 at 3:17 PM

      Ahh.. In fiction. Thought that... nevermind.

      Don't think genre needs much reviving, if you accept post-cyberpunk genre which might a little more than 20 minutes to future (or to some other direction.)

      Keeping the topic in CRPGs, have to include the upcoming Shadowrun Returns and CD Projekt Red's Cyberpunk that we'll be enjoying next year.

  2. "consider spending more time in the X area"

    X = arcade

    1. Man, you guys are mystifying the hell out of me. As far as I can tell, the only thing to do in the arcade is to play that "bizzy" game. I thought based on your comments that I needed to keep playing and something would happen when I got to a high enough level, but all I've been able to do is win money. Not that that's bad.

    2. I think you give Stephenson et al too much credit. Cyberpunk seems to me nothing more than teenage nihilism.

    3. As ooli mentions the hint below it isn't just the right place but the right time.

    4. Banshee: You've never read Cryptonomicon, have you? I don't think most teenagers would talk about signal decomposition and the ideas behind formation and game theory. I think a lot of the later works were just nihlims, and it was certainly a theme in the originals (Gibson, not Stephenson, he was optimistic, post-cyberpunk). However, there was much more to the message, that particularly appeals to people of my age and political leanings.

      Also, you replied to the wrong comment.

    5. I'll concede that i replied in the wrong comment. Sorry. I stand by my low opinion of cyperpunk though. YMMV.

  3. I've never heard of this game, but am really enjoying the play-through documented here. I do enjoy cyberpunk, and the French-style (seems a bit strange!) mixed with the sci-fi setting looks pretty cool to me. I'm looking forward to further installments.

  4. "I've yet to use a single skill (pick locks, climbing, mechanics, truck) that the game showed me on the character creation screen."
    You won't.

    "What are these attributes actually for?"

    "Then again, I've yet to see what experience actually does for me."
    It'll remain that way.

    It's really not a CRPG in the slightest, even though it was intended to be one during development. My guess is that it was rushed out the door, while the focus during development was on the graphics. It's the only explanation I can come up with, anyway.

    Having said that, it's really not a long game. There are only a few steps to solve and it's therefore beatable in less than an hour. In fact, as soon as you progress a bit from where you are now you'll be nearing the final part already. So I'd probably keep at it if I were you.

    As for subtle hints on what to do next, there are a few things you can do right now in no particular order. You were told to find a stickbob and so you should definitely follow that up. As far as I know the alien type is random each time you play the game, so there isn't a set NPC in a set place to talk to in order to progress.

    Someone else mentioned to spend a little more time in the arcade. Wise words.

    1. Well, that's depressing news. If that's true, I feel a bit cheated.

    2. To be fair, (some of) the attributes do influence how much time you have to prepare before each battle to get your gun and shield ready.

      Food and drinks are important, though: if you look at your second screen shot you can see that your life potential is quite low, and it will slowly get lower if you don't eat and drink anything. Once it gets to 0 you will obviously die.

    3. The GameFAQS walkthrough claims Reflexes also improves your odds at stealing.

    4. You can export your character to B.A.T. 2 which will be a full-fledged RPG!

      No... I'm just kidding.

    5. You never know. We might see a Kickstarter any day now.

    6. B.A.T 2 exists, it's called The Koshan Conspiracy.

  5. I remember playing this game briefly. About the only thing I remember is the arm computer. I don't think I got very far.

    I admit that I never cared for Bladerunner either. Not sure if I have ever made it through the movie without falling asleep. I do like the novel it was based on. Which really wasn't cyberpunk, as it predates the genre by a couple of decades. And the movie removed and changed enough to make it pretty different.

  6. For me, it doesn't matter very much that you have different tastes than me (except for liking CRPG:s). As long as you continue to write well and entertaining. And describe the games you are playing fully so that it is easy to see what the games are about.

  7. Oh the wonders of pixelhunting... I've never been a big adventure game player either, although I've enjoyed some of them.

    It's a pretty game though.

  8. From a walkthrough I read after you began the game, it seems the hours you go to a certain place matter... Good luck finding the right hour and the right place. It's an adventure game (= stupid puzzle)

    1. Well, that's an important hint. I didn't realize some events were time-based. Ugh. That means I probably have to revisit every area every hour or something.

  9. I suppose I am intrigued/piqued by Crapsack Worlds... I was totally invested in the bleak, polluted worlds of cyberpunk classics like Blade Runner, Android, Robocop, The Terminator, Videodrome, Dark City, Matrix, Johnny Mnemonic, etc. Of those, I think Blade Runner and Dark City were perhaps the most fully realized worlds. Highly debatable, though. The Blade Runner adventure game was very well done.

    1. Random EncounterJuly 9, 2012 at 1:23 PM

      Speaking of Cyberpunk themes movies - R. Talsorian's former webpage (which can still be found online, at least for now) has series of reviews/articles about them from Escape from New York to The One - Starting here:

  10. Can't say I have much interest in this game. Doesn't really strike me as a CRPG based on your descriptions...more like an adventure game.

    I'll be awaiting the next game.

  11. A little detail, the sixth of January 2174 will be a Thursday! Cudos to anyone who reads this comment on Thursday 1/6 2174 if the blog survives that long on some cache or something! That image said Monday, but it will be Thursday.

  12. Random EncounterJuly 9, 2012 at 5:21 PM

    For completely different topic...

    GOG has Legend of Grimrock -50% discount for 48 hrs.


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