Saturday, March 4, 2017

Lucid Martian Dreams

    
No one had quite what I needed on the power issue, so I had to look up spoilers. What I had interpreted as power arcing from tower to tower was in fact a bunch of loose cables flapping in the wind. It took me a while to figure out how to repair them. I ultimately had to use a pair of pliers on a spool of cable, and then use the cable on the disconnected wires. There was at least a half hour of bumbling about before I got the sequence right and was able to do it without killing myself. After I was electrocuted the first time, I wasted a bunch of time trying to psychically manipulate the cable with berries before I realized I had a pair of rubber gloves.
   
"I am a lineman for the fossae..."
     
I confirmed the power was restored to the planet by opening some doors and extending some bridges that had previously been inert. Next, I figured I should probably figure out how to flood the canals. The map showed three power stations at the north pole. The first was close, so I walked to it.

There was a power tower there, but it was covered with vines. I had been waiting for an excuse to use a bunch of weedkiller I was carrying. Only it didn't do anything. I realized I probably needed to use it in conjunction with a sprayer, which I hadn't bothered to pick up. I knew there was one back at one of the landing sites.

I walked back to Olympus and checked out the teleport tube transport system. It was simple enough. Northwest goes to Elysium, northeast to Olympus, southwest to Hellas, and southeast to an area outside Argyre (which remains locked).
    
This should cut down on some of the walking.
    
I figured I'd walk to the landing sites from Hellas, but I found a sprayer in a building there, saving me the trouble. While I was there, I extended the bridge to the other side of the city (half the buildings are on one side and half on the other), explored, and encountered my first Dream Machine, which looks like a dragon's head. It seemed to be broken.
    
The dude standing north of me doesn't really stand out very well.
   
I nearly walked out of Hellas without noticing that there was a man in one of the buildings. My color-blindness has trouble with the congestion of icons--or perhaps it's a problem for you, too. Anyway, he was an actuary named Marcus. He had been kicked out of Olympus for being "tainted" by the Dream Machine, but he seemed sane enough. He told me what I already knew: that most of the humans were trapped in the dream world while the Martians at Elysium took their bodies. He also told me that if I entered the dream world, simply talking to myself would wake me up.
    
This would suck. You'd never bring yourself to throw anything away again.
    
He also suggested that I talk with the Dream Machine by eating one of the berries. I think they're green. Eating them let me "communicate" with the machine, which indicated I would need to put a chunk of radium in the power bin behind it.

I knew where there was radium: in Marie Curie's house in Olympus. I returned there via transport tube and picked it up, injuring and irradiating myself in the process. It turned out I needed to use a pair of tongs and a lead case--both in Curie's house--to handle and transport the radium chip.

Upon return, the chip did nothing. However, the machine had said it needed an "unusually large chunk" of radium, not a chip. 
   
I guess that was predictable.
   
I didn't know where to find more radium, so I returned to my previous quest to restore the canals. I revisited the power tower with the weed problem and used my Round-Up to kill it. That worked, but it didn't seem to make the station operational. The control panel at the station said something about lenses not working.
    
Why would a plant-based species even have a defoliant?
    
I walked to the other two stations shown on the map. At the first one, I found a broken lens. The second had a broken tracking motor. I brought both back to Olympus, asked around, and got Edison to repair the motor. Admiral Peary recommended that I ask Tiffany--of stained glass fame--to repair the lens. Problem is, Tiffany is possessed by a Martian who lacks that skill. The dialogue option didn't even produce a response.
   
    
Okay, clearly I needed to free the humans trapped in the dream world first. The only other Dream Machine I knew about was in Olympus. The door guard, Legrande Couillard, wanted me to find his lost brother, who had been prospecting in the Olympus mines. I correctly guessed that said mines were under Mons Olympus, surrounded by canals but accessible from a "dungeon" beneath the city.
    
Rockworms are animated like the silver serpents in Ultima VI.
    
The caves were full of monsters, including long creatures called "rockworms" that did severe damage and poisoning to my party. As I explored, I found Legrande's dying brother, who bade me take his Masonic ring to Legrande. There were also a few radium chips and--eureka!--two large chunks of radium. Thankfully, I still had the tongs and lead box. I also found a "heat ray" gun that's powered by radium chips.
    
I feel like there are one too many words there.
    
The monsters killed me before I could exit the cave, but I resurrected back at the module. I sucked up the experience point loss.

Legrande was devastated by his brother's death, but he kept his promise and opened the door to the Dream Machine. Inside, I found a "headset," but the machine was smashed. Between Legrande and Edison, I got the idea that I could repair it by finding a control panel beneath the city. That didn't take long, and Edison patched it up for use with the machine. After spending a while futilely trying to get the Olympus Dream Machine to work, I realized that it really was smashed beyond repair, and the game intended that I use the radium, headset, and control panel back in Hellas.

Even then, it took me forever to figure out how to get the control panel to work. The first difficulty was getting the panel on the console. USE didn't work and neither did MOVE. It turned out I needed to DROP it there. That's not a huge deal except that it's not the way that most inventory interactions work. Anyway, even in place, the game simply told me that "the panel is not installed." I had to look up a spoiler to find out that I needed to use a wrench on it to fasten it into place. That's not very intuitive.
     
I guess I was supposed to extrapolate from "insure the connections are firm."
     
The game is like this in general. More than an RPG, Martian Dreams is a game of inventory puzzles, and it's not consistent in the ways that the inventory is manipulated. To use pliers or a wrench, you USE them and then point to the thing you want to use them on. But to use tongs, you equip them and then MOVE the item as normal. To open a chest, you USE it, but to open a backpack you LOOK at it. To repair the conveyor belt, I simply had to USE the new belt on the rollers, but to repair the console, I had to DROP the new panel on the console and then USE a wrench.
    
That was a little arcane.
    
Some more bumbling before the Dream Machine worked. I had to use headset on it and then put the chunk of radium in the hopper. Then the Avatar had to stand (or sit) in the right place while someone else operated the controls.

After a cut scene, the Avatar awoke in the dream world with no equipment. I was in a small area with five obelisks. It turned out that each obelisk took me to a particular dream or nightmare, where I had to solve a puzzle.
    
In the obelisk world.
     
The first one took me to George Washington Carver. He was in a dream where he was trying to live a Martian's life cycle, starting from a seed. He explained that Martians start as seeds, which grow into plants, which produce pods. The pods are cut open with a "ritual knife" and the adult Martian emerges with the memories of his forebears contained in the soil that he grew in. Carver kept attempting to replicate the process, but cave worms kept eating the pods. He instructed me to plant some defensive pods, water them, and hold off the worms while he experienced the life cycle. I followed his instructions and his dream ended; he appeared in the "outer" part of the Dream World. I awoke in the Dream Machine after he told me that he'd leave the dream world when everyone else could.
    
The Avatar becomes a horticulturalist.
     
Obelisk #2 brought me to Vladimir Lenin. He was standing in an area with piles of rubles insisting that he had to evenly distribute the wealth among 25 people. I picked up all the rubles but there were 253, plus a gem. I re-entered dialogue and explained the problem, and Lenin said that the remainder would be taken for "the state." I had to DROP 25 piles of 10 rubles to solve the "puzzle" before Lenin expressed his satisfaction and took the 3 remaining rubles plus the gem as an agent of the state. The dialogue was a little heavy-handed about this. Yes, we get it: Russian communism was corrupt.
    
This game came out the same year the Soviet Union fell. Coincidence?
    
Obelisk #3 took me to a room with a book on bullfighting and a red rug. Soon, I came upon a scene of a literal bull in a china shop--specifically, a minotaur rampaging through Tiffany's. After some trial and error, I solved the puzzle by using the rug to lure the bull through the door and then trapping him outside. Mr. Tiffany awoke from his nightmare.
    
"Bullfighting at Tiffany's" would be a good name for a sequel.
     
Obelisk #4 was the hardest. It took me to a series of pathways in which I kept getting "dizzy" and the directions would change. I might have to press the NORTH button to go south and the WEST button to go east for a while. Then it would change and I'd have to press EAST to go south and SOUTH to go west, and so forth. The level was riddled with "dream stuff" which, when used, turned into useful objects like weapons and a spray bottle. A vial of green paint found in the level filled the spray bottle.
    
H.G. Wells must not have been a fan of M.C. Escher.
     
The level culminated in a meeting with H.G. Wells, who insisted he was surrounded by invisible Martians. Sure enough, after I talked with him, footprints appeared everywhere. I had to spray the Martians with green paint and then try to kill them with the weapons I'd managed to find. But there were a lot of them, and they kept killing me (causing me to wake up) before I could kill them. Eventually, I realized the secret to use some telekinesis berries to acquire "dream stuff" from otherwise inaccessible locations. Those batches of stuff turned into an elephant gun and ammo, which allowed me to kill the Martians much quicker. H.G. Wells woke up.
    
Spraypainting and killing invisible Martians.
    
The fifth obelisk took me not to a human dream but the collective dream of about half a dozen Martians hanging out in a grove. This was the first time I saw a Martian character portrait. They mostly told me what I already knew: that Raxachk had destroyed their race with a plague; that the Martians in Elysium had possessed human bodies over the Hellas Martians' objections; and that I would need to help the Martians by growing new bodies so that they'd leave the humans'. They also told me of one of their kind named Kaxishek, who was researching "a new type of body that would be immune to the effects of the plague." He had a laboratory at the north pole.
   
Tell me something I don't know, alien.
   
Between the dialogues in the dream world and Elysium, I think I have enough information to find the materials necessary to grow a Martian. I'll explore that next time.
    
A Martian gives me the location of some seeds.
   
Other notes:

  • I ran out of bullets ages ago. I suppose I should find time to trade some Oxium at the trading post, but my characters have been doing okay with melee weapons. 
  • In Hellas, there was a big gong and a gong hammer. I tried it out. Nothing happened.
   
We'll be right back with more...stuff.
    
  • The green berries don't seem to let you talk to very many pieces of equipment. I tried several.
    
The power tower has nothing to say.
    
  • The developers continue to waste opportunities with NPCs. George Washington Carver did have a response to PEANUTS, but Lenin had nothing for STALIN, TROTSKY, MARX, TSAR, or RUSSIA. Tiffany didn't respond to GLASS or BREAKFAST. H.G. Wells had nothing to say about ELOI, MORLOCK, TIME, or MOREAU.
    
He wrote the book this year, so there's no excuse.
    
I'm warming up to the game a little. The puzzles in the dream world were fun, and I like the way they referenced the characteristics of the real-world NPCs. But this is beginning to feel a lot more like an adventure game than an RPG, and the inventory inconsistencies are irksome. I'm hoping I'm at least somewhat close to the end.

Time so far: 22 hours
Reload count:


31 comments:

  1. In fact, IT IS an adventure game with some RPG elements. The dream world was my favourite part. Next post will be the last, you are close.

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    1. Two posts, I'd say. But maybe I'm wrong. The part I'm thinking of, which takes a lot of game time, doesn't take much describing.

      Either way, we are approaching the end, so allow me to make one comment of very important (and spoiler-free) warning about a bug that can complicate one of the later dreamworld trips. Read this bit carefully, Ches!

      Each bit of dreamstuff, as you will have noticed by now, is designed to turn into just one type of item. Dreamstuff weighs very little. Some of the items you dream up weigh - a lot. Be very careful when using dreamstuff with a big inventory. If you dream up an item that your inventory cannot hold, it actually doesn't appear at all (you still get the message about it, but it's not in your inventory). This can be game-breaking, if the item is required for a puzzle. I learned this the hard way!

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  2. In many ways, the Ultima series became much closer to the likes of Quest for Glory than it did remain a traditional RPG. A decision I particularly loved, although they could have reduced the combat a lot in this particular game.

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  3. I know I'm probably alone in this, but I really didn't like the turn the series took after U5. Just something about that entry was magical, and every step after was in the wrong direction.

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  4. If he only stole 1% of the loot, it's actually an underestimate of how corrupt Russian communism is!

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    1. In 1895, he was just getting started mentally.

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    2. I feel that we need to know more about the relative value of the gem and the money to decide how corrupt this is, as well as eventual use thereof.

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  5. In the devs defense I'm sure Lenin didn't have a clue who Trotsky and Stalin were at this stage since all he had done in our time at this point was get kicked out of college for student protests. Trotsky had not even joined yet. And Stalin was always a johnny come lately. Still nice that the game is actually getting back to the cows. Yaknow...this whole thing feels like someone had a weird idea for a game about Mars....and then someone came along and said "oooooo but what if we set it in a jules verne science universe but with lotsa historical figures around yeah....and we can add in the Avatar so we can rope people in with the Ultima brand!"

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    1. No, I think the Jules Verne thing came first, and then it eventually crystallised into a game set on Mars. After all, they had just done Savage Empire, which was in many ways an Arthur Conan Doyle adaptation - and the game was very self-aware about this. Now, I'm not sure what made the developers go from Arthur Conan Doyle to Jules Verne, but it seems a given that this was the path of development, rather than "well, we just did South America, let's do Mars". It may also have been a case of "well, we just did a literary sci-fi, now let's do a movie sci-fi game", since Martian Dreams references so many sci-fi elements besides Verne, and many of them film-based.

      I think Warren Spector's past as a film scholar may have been a significant influence here. Spector gave up on university at some point during the writing of a PhD (not sure how far along he was), but clearly he would have a solid film background. I wonder if this is also why his in-game alter ego is a Dr. Spector - obviously, he traded his PhD dream for another, but you can never quite forget the disappointment of not fulfilling abandoned plans.

      What Martian Dreams and Savage Empire really makes me wonder about, though, is the Arthurian Legends game that never got made, and which was going to be the third Worlds of Ultima game. While apparently this game morphed into a full-blown Arthurian RPG (rather than an Ultima spin-off) before it was cancelled, it's interesting to think about what the original concept may have been. Was it going to be as full of literary references? Chrétien de Troyes, or more modern authors? It surely would have been a funny old game, given that Ultima itself was so Arthurian in inspiration. Would King Arthur be Lord British...? Would Shamino, Dupre, and Iolo be knights of the round table? We shall never know.

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    2. Considering how they used the "historical" characters here and The CRPG Addict's Arthurian Expertise....he may have dodged a sore arm. On the other hand we may have lost an extra interesting analysis. On the gripping hand we did lose out on a game to play at all. I am now vaguely confused and somewhat sad.

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    3. Whatever I feel about this game, I don't think I would have minded an Arthurian game with the U6 engine.

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    4. To expand a bit: Arthurian Legends was supposed to be based on the U7 engine and, as mentioned, wasn't going to have the "Worlds of Ultima" label. (Both Savage Empire and Martian Dreams sold pretty poorly, so it's no surprise Origin intended to drop the label.) There's a lot of good background in this interview with Sheri Ray, one of the designers.

      Like a lot of folks, I find the "what could have been" of a cancelled project like that kind of fascinating. Pity there hasn't been more to appear in public (unlike, say, the Lost Vale design doc which surfaced a few years back).

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    5. What *I* find fascinating is how they are going to avoid drawing parallels between Arthurian Legends and Ultima when both are set in Britannia. And have towns called Skara Brae and Britain.

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  6. You say that the dialogue with Lenin was heavy-handed at pointing to the corruption in the Soviet system. It's been a while since I played the game, but I didn't come away with that impression at all. The game presents you with a legitimate (if overly idealistic) problem -- how to distribute wealth that cannot be equally divided. If you accept Lenin's claim that he's a legitimate and trustworthy representative of a state acting in the interests of its people -- and IIRC the dialogue doesn't give you any reason to think that he's not -- then handing the remainder over to him is a good solution. That said, if you already know a bit about history and have made up your mind that Lenin is not to be trusted, the game actually accepts alternative solutions. For example, you're free to dispose of the remaining wealth yourself by casting it into the void or (at least for the money) by burning it.

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    1. I guess but Lenin has about 4 pages of dialogue where he justifies taking the excess money. It definitely has a "doth protest too much" feeling.

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    2. Cool that you can toss the remainder, though. Somehow, I didn't think of that.

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    3. I wonder if the game would have accepted alternative solutions, such as no piles, or 25 piles with 1 ruble.

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    4. Or no piles and just hand it all to Lenin...

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  7. As a gamer that primarily play(s/ed) either Adventure Games or RPGs, hybrids like the late Ultima series, Hero's Quest (QFG, if you must), and Star Control 2 were always my favorites, even if the execution wasn't always perfect.

    Even by the Addict's metrics, Adventure elements are important to any RPG: NPC interaction, encounters that often take the form of puzzles, plot integration (i.e. storytelling), etc.. I think the question is just where do you draw the line?

    I can't think of any other series that could be said to have originated the modern sandbox RPG. These inventory-based situational puzzles, though awkward, pushed this aspect of the U6 engine further than U6 did.

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    1. As much as I love Martian Dreams, I will disagree here. When it comes to inventory-based puzzles, Martian Dreams did not do anything that hadn't already been done in Savage Empire. It's true that Martian Dreams had more of a particular type of inventory-based puzzles than Savage Empire did before it, and some of them were more interesting than in Savage Empire (others - the opposite), but ultimately it was Savage Empire that really pushed the U6 engine, while Martian Dreams just followed through.

      There is one thing Martian Dreams did add to inventory puzzles that wasn't there in Savage Empire, though, and which seems genuinely innovative - as can be seen in this previous chapter of the game, in some circumstances the game allows you to grow a plant from seed to fruition.

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    2. Sure, but U6 (even U5, a bit) had inventory puzzles, too, so it's not clear that Savage Empire really pioneered it any more than Martian Dreams. But, and I guess this is an opinion that reasonable CRPG addicts can disagree on, those games really didn't sell those capabilities of the engine as well as Martian Dreams. All the bringing Mars back to life plus all the dream mini-quests did a better job, I claim, of showing off that the engine could be used for detailed Adventurey puzzles.

      Isn't growing a fruit about the same as baking bread to, err... fruition?

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    3. Well, I was mainly talking about development of inventory puzzles within the constraints of the U6 engine - after all, if we were talking inventory puzzles in general, then surely there's precious little originality in all of Ultima, what with adventure games pioneering most things in this regard.

      I will explain what I mean about Savage Empire. U6 had simple item-with-item or item-with-environment interactions. Most Martian Dreams item interactions are of this kind as well. The only one that really breaks out of this mold is the plant-growing, which involves multiple items interacting with the environment, and changes over time rather than an immediate result.

      Savage Empire, meanwhile, had you crafting weapons long before the concept of crafting was even invented. Think about the complexity of putting together a grenade in Savage Empire: 1) break a stick off a tree. Find a riverbank, 2) use the stick to dig up clay. 3) Shape the clay into a pot. 4) Put the pot into a kiln or fire to harden it. Then, 5) get flax off a yucca plant, and 6) weave it into cloth. 7) Tear the cloth into strips with a knife, and 8) dip into a tarpit in order to produce tarred cloth strips. Meanwhile, 9) obtain another branch, and 10) burn it into charcoal. 11) Use a wire screen to extract sulphur from sulphur pit, and 12) obtain some potassium from crystal gardens. Then, 13) combine charcoal, sulphur and potassium in a mortar, and 14) grind them into gunpowder with a pestle. Finally, 15) place gunpowder in fired clay pot, and 16) add the tarred cloth strip to the filled pot, and at last you've got a grenade. That's sixteen steps in the production process of one item! Now, granted, many of those intermediate items can be obtained ready-made, but it is an extraordinary complexity of item combinations. And Savage Empire tries to ensure that there are multiple ways of achieving these things - you might cut the cloth with a bowie knife, an obsidian knife, or scissors. You might dig up clay with a branch, or with a "proper" digging stick. You might fire your pot (or bake your tortillas) in a fire, an oven, or a kiln. Oh, and of course, if you do want to bake those tortillas, you'll need to first collect some corn, and grind it into corn flour first. Fortunately, the developers didn't know about that aspect of Mexican cuisine where corn has to be first soaked in a special solution, then dried, and only then ground down into a special flour called masa, because you can bet they would have implemented this - and the system would have easily supported such a production chain!

      Yes indeed, Savage Empire went all out with inventory management puzzles. Martian Dreams is highly developed in other ways; it's got a longer and more sophisticated story than Savage Empire, and it's got an extraordinary array of NPCs with extraordinary dialogues (even if they don't respond to queries about morlocks :) ), and some extraordinary NPC-related quests (i.e. the dreamworld stuff described above). But on item management, it just doesn't compare. The only time it comes close is when you're growing things, or when you're repairing machines with a couple of parts and a tool, like seen in the dream machine example.

      Either way, the really interesting (and somewhat sad) question concerning these games is: if an inventory management puzzle causes a tree to fall in a forest but nobody plays the game... who cares? We can agree that both games did really interesting things in this regard, but sadly, at the end of the day, neither will ever get the credit for it. Heck, even U6 is barely remembered in this regard - anyone I'd ever heard talking about baking bread and the like in an Ultima game, always seemed to be talking about U7.

      Perhaps the greatest claim to fame that SE and MD can make is that had they not been developed, allowing Origin to mess around with these different ideas, U7 would have been a far poorer game?

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    4. That special solution is soot (or other alkaline solution) because untreated corn leads to b3-vitamin deficiency and treatment is also required to make maze a starch flour in the first place.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nixtamalization

      Nixtamalization typically refers to a process for the preparation of maize (corn), or other grain, in which the grain is soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution, usually limewater, and hulled. The term can also refer to the removal via an alkali process of the pericarp from other grains such as sorghum.

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    5. I praised the elements of the engine that Jakub is talking about in both my U6 and TSE reviews--without realizing the complexity of the "grenade" steps. I agree that it's pretty awesome, but Ultima has a way of introducing engine possibilities that don't actually do much for the average player's experience. It would be nice if smashing a chair had some tactical advantage in combat, for instance--or if combats were hard enough in the first place that it made sense to spend time making grenades.

      In some ways it reminds me of the physics of Oblivion and Skyrim, where you can pick things up and drop them to the point of being able to position individual limbs on dead enemies. Yet most players probably get through the game without using the "pick up" option once. What's the point in creating an engine of such possibilities and then making them such a tangential part of the gameplay?

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    6. I think this is because there is a bit of a conflict between open-worldliness and the notion of core gameplay in open-world RPGs. On the one hand, an open-world game should provide lots of possibilities, alternative gameplay mechanics and the like. On the other hand, this also means allowing players to go through the game using the simplest possible means. The result is a paradox: physics in Oblivion and Skyrim had to be rewarding to the player, but also unnecessary to the player in case a different approach was chosen. The same is the case in the Ultima series - yes, it's cool that the player can bake bread, but what happens if they just want to hack their way through the game? A few simple inventory puzzles are acceptable, but the more complexity there will be, the more difficult it becomes to play using what seems to be considered the default play style.

      The grenades and firearms of Savage Empire are an excellent case in point. They are required to solve a couple of puzzles in the game, but beyond this, effectively useless. Well, ordinary firearms are powerful weapons, of course, the best in the game - but the flintlock rifles you spend so much effort manufacting out of bamboo? Surely, most people who even bothered to go through the effort of producing them, ultimately reverted to the plentiful, adequate, and unfussy melee weapons.

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    7. Not trying to be corny here but I learned so much about corn today.

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  8. In the screenshot where you're asking Wells about "morlock" you appear to have actually typed "morloch". Don't know that it would have made much difference with the correct spelling though.

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    1. I was wondering if anyone would notice that. No, it doesn't make any difference. The game only pays attention to the first four letters.

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    2. Intended solution to a bear blocking the way: "scream (at) bear"
      Typed in by a frustrated player and accepted by the game as the correct solution:
      ...Something else.

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  9. I have to say I've been particularly fascinated by your second at Martian Dreams. I've never know quite what to think of it myself. Reading about Martian Dreams once again brought Bad Blood to mind. I haven't played it in over 25 years, so my memories are quite foggy.

    The connection between the two games is a bit ephemeral. Both have a post-apocalyptic setting, are fairly linear games, aim for some kind of awkward subversion of genre and contain a lot of walking. I may overemphasize the similarities. The late 80ies and early 90ies had a lot of wacky games. I kind of want to like both more than I do, because they clearly are ambitious games. It's just that both are ultimately a bit too incoherent for me to have ever truly enjoyed.

    I noticed that according to Mobygames the designer/writer of Bad Blood is the game director for Martian Dreams. Both are of course by Origin, and also Warren Spector was producer for both. Perhaps I'm not entirely delusional.

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  10. As a note, I've finally gotten Mara to start reading this blog. I meant to leave the comment on the current post, but I'm not sure I'll get the before drifting off to sleep, and I wanted some record of IT to see if and it so, how long, before she catches up with me.

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