Monday, November 21, 2022

BloodNet: The Bronx is Up and the Battery's Down

 
Technology marches on. Poetry jams never change.
       
The situation so far: Mercenary Ransom Stark has been turned into a vampire, but he has been saved from full transformation by the cybernetic implant that is also keeping Hopkins-Brie Syndrome from driving him insane. As he tries to find a way to cure his vampirism, he has learned that the vampire who turned him, Abraham Van Helsing, is a board member of TransTech--Stark's former employer, the company that controls the Internet and just about everything else. Stark's only allies are groups of underground hackers, including one run by Deidre Tackett, the creator of Stark's implant. Tackett's followers, the Lost Kids, are protecting something called the Incubus, the ultimate hacking program, from Van Helsing and TransTech. I think I have all that right.
    
My first two sessions resulted in several side-quests and leads. I begin this session organizing them in rough order of importance.
      
  • A faction called the Red Cross Knights is waging a private war against Van Helsing and can be found in the Cloisters.
  • The homeless former employees of TransTech hanging around Central Park want some fiber-optic cable, which I can steal from TransTech headquarters in Brooklyn. A "data angel" named Lenora Major who hangs around Cafe Voltaire can give us security access.
  • A nun named Mother Mary wants to meet me at St. Patrick's. She might know something about the vampires preying on those in Central Park.
  • I have the consciousness of a hacker named Elvis in my decking unit, and I need to find a cybernetic body for him.
  • Rymma Fizz, one of my companions, wants us to swing by Electric Anarchy and pick up her husband, Garrick. Electric Anarchy may have some information about vampires.
  • The leader of the Autonomy Dogs has offered me $40,000 to assassinate the leader of the Hard Metals.
     
I begin the session in the recently-discovered second room of the Abyss nightclub. The first person I talk to, Maranda Armanda, takes offense to my questioning and attacks me with a couple of goons. My party guns them down quickly and loots their bodies. I wasn't expecting a battle in the middle of a nightclub.
       
The post-combat loot screen.
      
Stark's old friend Lash Givens joins the party after hearing Stark's story. (If I want to take Garrick or anyone else, I'll have to get rid of someone.) Stevens has reasonably high statistics in almost everything. There are other mercenaries in the room named Zarah Aviatrix, Bonton Himishaka (who will only work for me if I give him drugs), Luke Monterey, Fantas Goulakas (Stark's rival on a previous job), and Monique St. Clair. 
   
Before I get to my main list, I head up to West 126th Street to Sid and Nancy's, arms dealers mentioned in Stark's notes and in some NPC dialogue (named, of course, after Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen). My experience with combat in the last session makes me want to verify that I have the best stuff, plus plenty of ammunition. The place is weird. I guess Sid and Nancy aren't specific people but the name of the gang; all of the men call themselves "Sid" and all of the women call themselves "Nancy." There are three pairs of people on-screen with those names. One of the Sids has an issue with Nimrod. This is the second time this has happened, so I transfer his inventory to other characters and ask him to leave.
         
I decided to let you live into your 20s.
    
The same Sid buys my extra decking unit for $5,000. His Nancy, who partied with Stark in the past, gives Stark some make-up to make him look less like a vampire. Another Nancy has a Doppelganger to sell. It sounds like it can make a copy of a person in combat. She offers it for a laser rifle, a laser pistol, and a dermal filament, or $4,000. I make the trade.
   
I was frankly hoping for more of a store, since I have so much inventory I don't know what to do with it. I bring up the manual's description of various items and go through my inventory bit by bit. There's way too much of it, but it basically breaks down into:
       
  • Guns
  • Grenades
  • Ammunition
  • Armor
  • Crafting components, which I can't use until I get a toolkit.
  • Decking unit accessories
         
For now, I just make sure that each character has weapons consistent with their skills. Stark's highest combat skills are in melee weapons, and I don't have any good ones, so I leave him armed with a shotgun. We're low on shells, so I also give him a Riot Stopper Stun Rifle and its ammo. Rymma is best with high-tech and bio-tech; lacking any of the latter, I give her a laser rifle and power cells. Slash works best with regular firearms and gets a 9mm pistol. Lash is equal with just about everything. I have more power cells than other ammo, so he also gets a laser rifle. That leaves me with several excess weapons to sell, but I still haven't found a place.
       
Moving on, I head up to 176th Street and the Cloisters. As we arrive, Lash Givens suggests that I "play these guys straight." The game does a good job making the player slightly apprehensive about what he'll find in each area. Sometimes, you don't have much of a chance to scope out the situation before violence erupts or an inescapable dialogue takes over. The latter happens here, as a knight named Sir Fintin recognizes me as a vampire and demands that I explain myself. Stark decides to make fun of the guy's armor (with no input from me); Fintin takes offense and we're soon in combat. Honestly, what's the point of an NPC telling you to "play it straight" when the game is just going to shove dialogue into your mouth? The knights slaughter us with swords and lasers, and I have to start over at Sid and Nancy's. I wonder if better communications skills would have produced a different result.
         
Moments later, Stark would learn the utility of "the armor."
       
Heading back to my list, I decide to try Lenora Major at Cafe Voltaire, way down on Canal. As we arrive, Lash alerts me that I'm "starting to look less and less human." This must be related to my "Bloodlust" meter, which is up to 60%. The next time we get into combat, I'm going to have to bite someone.
         
One of the more unusual "hunger meters" in RPG history so far.
   
Voltaire, "the gathering place of the city's bohemian intellectuals," has a dozen people on two screens. The owner, Duchamp Pynchon, alerts us to an upcoming poetry reading:
       
Ultraviolet will be performing instantaneous poetry fashioned on stage from words extracted from her subconscious by a neural implant of her own design. She runs the output through a graphics program that converts the literal meanings and emotional connotations of the words into holograms projected throughout the room.
      
Stark is unimpressed, but I think that's something I'd go to see.
         
Cafe Voltaire has some memorable decor.
     
Lenora is sitting in the back and offers to hack TransTech's security system and put my "essence" into it for $25,000. That involves me meeting her in the net in a WELL with the code named MAJOR. She says I'll need at least a Samurai Soul Box, but I have that.
     
The second side of the cafe has a bunch of stuff going on. First, Oscar Nandez tells me that the Kafka Conspiracy might be interested in meeting me on West 23rd Street. A woman named Jane Queen Possible (a fun Bob Dylan reference) fills in some more information: the Kafka Conspiracy is looking to destroy TransTech. Joyce Reverb--who talks as if she's narrating a story--characterizes the group as data anarchists.
      
A guy named Cyril Thorpe is jacked into cyberspace. At first, he seems to be talking nonsense, but it appears he's just talking to different people. According to nearby Moliere Ten Street, he's not just a data angel but an "archangel ascending." Using a combination of technology and natural psychic abilities, he can effect permanent psychological changes in people who come to him for help--anything from curing addiction to solving interpersonal problems at work.
          
I could use this type of service.
         
A guy nearby named Gerry Soo, who likes to speak in multiple languages, gives me a note with instructions on how to find Thorpe's well. The note is written in three languages--French, Spanish, and German, and I'm able to figure it out with only a little help from Google Translate: "Curiosity is worthy of reward. I admire those who seek the truth. Cyril's powers can be used for good or ill. Which purpose you serve doesn't matter. Type in the word MIDDLE to meet our mysterious friend."
       
This reminds me of the time I went up to a street vendor in Paris and said, "Deux croque-monsieurs, por favor."
     
Players of 1993 weren't meant to translate it directly. To help them out, the player can consult another cafe denizen named Benny Puzzle. Benny speaks entirely in crossword puzzle clues. At first, I try to construct a grid around them, but Soo tells me that the "across" and "down" parts don't mean anything; it's just the answers that matter. You have to string them together, along with occasional words that Benny speaks directly, to make a sentence. The key part of his narrative seems to read: "Languages are my practice and my life. I work for a company that designs language codes. Place them in your deck and you can learn the major languages. I can tell you that the codes are in a group at address NOUN." 
        
1 down: obtain; 2 across: misplaced; 2 down: eccentric person [pejorative].
     
With three new WELLS to check out, it's time to head back to cyberspace. Tackett's lab is just back up the street, so we head there. Once in cyberspace, I run into another Samurai avatar belonging to someone named Klee R. Wynter. He or she advises me to "steer clear of Zeus." At the first FATS, I enter MAJOR and enter Lenora's well. She has a Dragon Soul Box.
   
She copies all of my "essence" files (e.g., STARK.MEMORY, STARK.PRSNLITY, STARK.PHYSICAL) to the TransTech network, which involves entering commands like "TT\: COPY STARK.* TTSECMAIN.FILE." Lenora stresses that this process will make infiltrating TransTech's headquarters easier but not foolproof.
        
It amuses me that this universe has constructed this unnecessarily elaborate virtual-reality GUI for accomplishing simple things on the Internet, but still has to resort to command lines to copy files from one computer to another.
       
I can't find a way to exit a WELL without exiting cyberspace entirely, so I do that and then re-enter. I don't need Benny's translation code to find Thorpe, but I figure it might come in handy later. On my second visit, I run into Zeus, who also has a Dragon Soul Box. He brags about his powers and mocks me, then demands I come to his headquarters at NYU to confront him. If I beat him in some kind of contest, I'll get all his decking equipment and information. Otherwise, I won't be able to visit cyberspace again.
   
For now, I find a FATS and enter NOUN. I'm immediately confronted by a logic puzzle that demands I put the various hacker gangs of New York in a specific order based on a series of clues. I like logic puzzles, and this one isn't very hard. I enter the correct sequence and enter the WELL.
      
You have to interpret "cannot tolerate" as "are not adjacent on the list."
  
At first, the only thing I find is another "C. Flyer" file, but a search reveals the "Babel Code." I grab it and use it, which introduces it into the language center of my brain. It's a good thing I solved this puzzle because my translation of Soo's note was off: the WELL code I want isn't MIDDLE but rather MEDIUM.
      
Yo deseo que ce soit so einfach.
       
I make a third trip to cyberspace, half-expecting Zeus to block me, but he doesn't. I enter Thorpe's WELL. He tells me that he can help me, but I need to find a material object belonging to "whoever is at the root of this difficulty." That's all I can do for now, so I exit.
   
Stark's "Bloodlust" is nearly at 70%, and Zeus did challenge me to some kind of combat, so I head to his headquarters in an NYU dorm room in Washington Square. It's empty when we arrive. "Looks like we've been had, folks," Lash comments. A girl named Paula DiMigglio is sitting at a computer. She says that she doesn't really have anything against me; she just wants my help and thought a challenge was the best way to lure me. In exchange for information on TransTech, she wants me to rescue her friend, Banks Verbatim, who has been trapped in a TransTech "data cage." She knows the cyberaddress code (SOFTBALL) and the password (NINJA).
         
i didn't expect "data cage" to be so literal.
       
I'm not sure what I can do that she can't, but I give it a try. I find myself in a construct that looks like a literal cage. Banks is here, begging for help. His body is dying on the outside (wherever it is), and his Soul Box is decaying on the inside. But to get him out, I'll need a "data cage key," which I can find in--you guessed it--TransTech's headquarters.
   
I'm worried about my "Bloodlust," now at 72%, but I head over to TransTech anyway. Maybe I can find an unsuspecting guard.
          
Looks like the Hudson got some new bridges.
        
I head across the river to the only location not in Manhattan. No sooner am I in the lobby than an "Entry Drone" kicks me out, saying I don't have a clearance badge. No one mentioned that as a requirement.
    
Back on the map of Manhattan, I decide for some reason that rather than going back to my list of clues, I'll just work my way up from south to north. My first stop is a revisit to the Autonomy Dogs. When I speak to the leader, Sabaccatus, he's so annoyed that I haven't killed the leader of the Hard Metals yet that he attacks me. I try biting during the ensuing combat, but the enemy just breaks my grip every time, and Stark is killed.
         
Is "victim" the right word? They attacked me, after all.
      
Reloading, I visit the Autonomy Dogs again. This time, I preemptively bite Sabaccatus before speaking to him. This works. In full view of his gang, I kill him instantly and "dispose of the body." My "Bloodlust" goes down to 0%. But my implant warns that I've lost a bit of my humanity, and sure enough, that's down to 91%. After a couple more failed attempts at combat, I decide I can live with the loss of humanity, but I'm worried that Sabaccatus is important, so I murder one of his flunkies, Briss, instead.
       
The kind of screen that lets you know you've lost an eighth.
    
Time for a check-in with Will over at The Adventurers' Guild. He also discovered the "second screen" thing somewhat late and also visited Cafe Voltaire. He also visited Sid and Nancy and got the instapigment. While reading his account, it occurs to me that maybe I can use that to avoid being recognized as a vampire. I try it and it works, although the game warns me it will only last for a day.
     
I hope that isn't the only bottle.
     
I'm able to visit the Trinity Church Cemetery without instigating a combat. The leader of the gang there, Louella Travesty, is having her people dig up the recently-buried so that they can ensure they're not vampires. She gives me a clove of garlic. A member of her gang, Christian Proel, gives us a stake.

I have similar luck when I visit the Cloisters at the other end of Manhattan. Stark is still a dick ("You guys an S.C.A. chapter in your spare time?"), but I'm able to enter safely and talk to the members. The knights each carry soulblades, "a lethal merging of quantum physics and metaphysics." They kill vampires, but only if ritually bonded to their owners. 
        
Stark makes some new friends.
        
There are five triangles offering exits to different cloisters from the knights' courtyard. I blow my cover when I enter one of the rooms and don't cast a reflection in a mirror. I'm able to kill the knight in the room, but I figure that's not what I'm here for and I reload, avoiding his cloister.
    
In the other cloisters Sir Anias is mourning his dead brother, killed in a battle against vampires in Brooklyn Heights. The brother's chestplate was left behind, and Anias wants it returned for enshrinement. A knight named Sir Dominick gives me a serum that will make my blood poisonous to vampires. Archabbot Herscehl asks if I want to join the knights. I say yes, and he directs me to the armory for weapons, but that's where the mirror is. Sir Sebastian also sees through my disguise and orders me out of his chambers, but he doesn't attack. I swipe his rosary beads. Sir Helveticus offers me $25,000 to find his younger brother, who got into drugs. Lady Remington gives me another stake, and I also find some cruets of holy water.
        
I'm having flashbacks to the first time I met my father-in-law.
      
I hope my account hasn't become too boring. I'm eliding a lot, particularly the quirks and personalities of the various NPCs. I know I've already said this, but there's a huge amount of dialogue; at times, the game feels more like an interactive novel than something you "play." From both an adventure gaming perspective and an RPG perspective, I've started to notice some of the many things that the game lacks, starting with any sense of interactivity on the screens. All you can ever do is "Look" to get a description of the area and "Search" to find hidden objects. There are no buttons to push, puzzles to solve, or even ways to use objects. It doesn't even matter where you stand when searching or talking to NPCs.
  
While you occasionally get a "Yes/No" option, there are no dialogue choices. Stark says what he's going to say. Talking to NPCs is the only way that the game moves forward. But on the positive side, the writing continues to be acceptable, the world-building and use of themes admirable. 
    
Before wrapping up, I check in with Stark's skills. Since the game began, he has gained 5 points of strength but no other attributes. The only skills that have increased are "Faith" (+5) and "Will" (+5). None of my combat skills have increased despite several successful combats. In other words BloodNet is like every other Paragon title, in which skills and attributes increase rarely and unpredictably.
    
My first priority for the next session will be finding a merchant. I know they exist because Will's narrative mentions something like that. I have no more inventory space. I wonder if I can use a central location like Tackett's lab as an inventory storage location, or if items disappear if left too long. 
    
Time so far: 8 hours
   

41 comments:

  1. "I hope my account hasn't become too boring."

    That's a resounding no.

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    1. Seconded. Your writing style and humour already keeps it from that for me even though it indeed has to be challenging with so much text in the game.

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    2. I'm really enjoying your reports from this one! It seems like such a rich atmosphere even if it does lack some interactivity. Shadowrun on Genesis was my first RPG and I'll always have a soft spot for 90s cyberpunk. It was a time when we all thought the internet would be cooler than it actually became.

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  2. Also, besides 'Escape from New York', I'm constantly getting reminded of 'Strange Days', an early Bigelow flick, which depicts a similar cyperpunk-esque near future revolving around all sorts of mind chips and murder.

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    1. That's an interesting comparison, since Strange Days is something that came out after this. Perhaps someone on the film was influenced by Bloodnet? Although that said, having seen/played both, I don't see it too much beyond vague cyberpunk themes and the protagonists being burnt out. Strange Days feels very much like the present (according to the mid-90s) with a tiny bit of the future glued on, something that disappointed me when I watched it.

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  3. I think the "Sid" and "Nancy" is a reference to "Sid Vicious" who was the guitarist (I think) of the punk band called "Sex Pistols" in the 70's and "Nancy Spungen", his girlfriend.

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    1. idiot me - just saw the exact point in your blog where you say that.

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    2. I had to wonder if the character named Verbatim was due to a package of Verbatim floppy disks on the shelves when they were thinking of names... A very common brand in that era!

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    3. I guess we'll know for sure if his friend Memorex shows up.

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    4. There are SOME who call me... verba... Tim?

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    5. I kind of wonder if "Gerry Soo, who likes to speak in multiple languages" is a reference to the Mary Sue/Gary Stu character archetype - that type of character often includes extreme multilingualism among their incredibly accomplished abilities.

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    6. I don't know about that one, but I'm sure there are lots of other references I'm missing.

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    7. I'm hoping Mother Mary turns out to be a Queensryche reference myself.

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  4. Funny coincidence, there exists a twenty years old canceled British vampire TV series called "Ultraviolet" whith Jack Davenport and Idris Elba no less which I found very promising. Too bad it got canceled after only 6 episodes.

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    1. Ultraviolet was good fun, although I haven't seen it since it was first broadcast, so I have no idea if it holds up.

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  5. Just saw the headline - and now have the song in my head for the next 20 minutes...

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    1. While certainly not the song referenced, it made Renegade by Styx play in my head.

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    2. Oh Mama, I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law~

      Good song.

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  6. The characters portraits remind me of the odd yet creative meshups you see these days from AI (midjourney&co).

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  7. Did you finally run out of cleanup games? I only see 1 upcoming game not in 1993?

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    1. No, there are still a ton of them. But I was encountering so much dreck that I changed my selection algorithm to prioritize 1993 games.

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  8. One of the demerits for this game versus the structurally very similar Challenge is that Ransom is such an unappealing character. He has basically no redeeming qualities and is constantly saying obnoxious (or worse) things without any player input. I'm OK with games putting you in a situation where you often have to choose between ethically dubious options (VtM: Bloodlines and Tyranny both do this), but the lack of real choice here hurts.

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    1. Perhaps both my memory and Chet+Will's descriptions of the game are failing me, but Ransom always struck me as a burnt out morally ambiguous person in a very unpleasant world. That said, I'm not sure I would say that even if he was that it would be a bad thing. Main characters with distinct personalities beyond "the hero" in RPGs are rare, and jackass even moreso.

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    2. The game doesn't do anything with that, though. Ransom's moral grayness doesn't cause issues for him to deal with. He doesn't reflect on it at all, despite the nature of the storyline being very ripe to offer a dilemma: actively stand against evil or be devoured by it. Depending on who he's talking to he's a committed foe of TransTech or a total mercenary.

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  9. Regarding using the command line to copy, it may seem incongruous considering the elaborate GUI, but as a programmer I don't find it implausible. When I'm working it is not unusual for me to sometimes opt for a command line interface even when a GUI is available. If you know the commands you want to run, it can be faster.

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    1. I basically never use a gui interaction for things that can be done on the command line. Even leaving aside speed and scriptability, with a gui I always have some anxiety that I'm going to drop something in the wrong place or trigger a ui idiom I didn't intend

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    2. There's a RPG/hacker sim Midnight Protocol that came out a year or two ago. In it all the controls are execulted via a command line. Normally, the game is turn-based, but there's a difficulty option to make it real-time.

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  10. This is one of those games that always struck me as being super fascinating but an enormous slog to actually play, so it's quite fascinating reading your account of it.

    So many skills and theoretically roleplaying options looks like it's right up my kind of alley but like you've voiced your own reservations I was always suspicious that it would really come to much. So put me another in the no category on whether this is boring, I'm quite eager to see what your verdict is.

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  11. I don't know French or Spanish well enough to comment on them, but the German in that note is terrible. The grammar is completely wonky and some words have typos.

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    1. What the correct German would be:

      Welcher Sache du dienst, k├╝mmert mich nicht. Gib das Wort Mittler ein, um unseren... (ends there)

      Translated: Which cause you serve, I do not care. Enter the word mediator, to [missing verb] our...

      Translation while preserving the errors of the badly written German:

      Which causer you serve, care nope not. Ender the word mediator, to...

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    2. The grammar looks fine actually except for the missing capitalization. Which makes me wonder if it's intentional, how can you get the grammar right but the spelling so obviously wrong?

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    3. "Welcher sacher" is wrong, should be Sache. But I guess they thought since it's "welcher", the noun should also have the r. The translator was likely not a professional, probably someone on the team who had German at school and thought, yeah, that's good enough to write a short sentence for the game!

      Note to Chet: the word used here, "Mittler", means "mediator", not "middle". That might be of relevance.

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    4. I probably wasn't clear in the description, but whatever the original German, French, and Spanish say, once you get the translation module, the character reads the note as if it were written in English. So while mittler may mean "mediator," the in-game translation gives it as MEDIUM, and I'm sure that's what the WELL code is.

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    5. I filed "sacher" under spelling error (and chocolate cake). Fits right in with "gi(p/b)" and "(n/m)ich". From a beginner I'd expect an error like "Welche Sache du dienst...". In a modern game, I'd have said maybe it's to trip up autotranslate, but in a 1993 game...

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    6. The part in spanish also has typos. It should be "los poderes De cyril pueden seR usados para bien o para mal".

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  12. This game is very intriguing. I get strong World of Darkness vibes. The main character is a vampire, but the NPCs and setting remind me more of Mage: The Ascension. Pity there was never a Mage CRPG.

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  13. Love the names of the characters and places in this game.

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  14. I initially read "Archabbot Herscehl" (in which I think there might be a typo for "Herschel") as "Archbot Herscehl". An Archbot (or Archrobot) priest for a cyberclergy would be a fun idea, though it risks drawing obvious comparisons to Futurama.

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  15. The names all sound like they're from the sitcom Toast of London.

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