Saturday, December 24, 2022

BloodNet: It's Christmas Time in the City

I'm off the "naughty" list.
BloodNet is a harbinger for a type of game that is going to become increasingly common in the 1990s. It's so plot-heavy that it's tough to write about. I can't imagine that any previous title has featured as much dialogue. (If any game came close, it was the same team's Challenge of the Five Realms.) There's no way to summarize it without losing a lot of the details. 
Summarizing it is particularly difficult for me now, because I'm writing over two weeks after playing the part of the game that this review covers. I got busy with end-of-semester stuff and wasn't able to stick to my usual schedule, which put me behind The Adventure Gamer's coverage. For all these reasons, forgive me if I elide a bit as I try to piece together what happened.
When I wrote last time, Ransom Stark had just completed a burglary at TransTech headquarters and made off with a bunch of stuff from different floors that other people wanted. The party's inventory was bursting with that stuff, plus various weapons and armor. Here we come to my first problem with the game: figuring out the best weapons. I've mostly been trying to equip people with weapons that match their highest skills, but I don't know if that's the right approach. If a character has a firearms skill of 75 and a "high-tech" skill of 64, I'm not sure that means that a 9mm pistol does more damage than a laser rifle. Normally, you'd check this sort of thing by comparing combat damage, but this is complicated in BloodNet since a) combat is so rare, and b) weapon damage is affected by type of opponent and armor. More on that in a bit.
I thought being a dragon would be cool, but I just look like Figment.
I had saved the game in Deirdre Tackett's old lab, so before doing anything else, I jacked into cyberspace. I knew I was going to have to give up my new Dragon Soul Box eventually, and I wanted to experience it.
The Black Aggots gang had given me the WELL code ANTIBODY, asking me to find a drug database there. Otherwise, they would have to take Van Helsing's contract to kill me in exchange for the same. I went to that address, but I could only find yet another piece of C. Flyer's mind, not any database. Granted, the latticework is so visually complicated that I could have missed it, but I clicked around almost everywhere.
It doesn't help that random shapes are constantly floating around.
I then tried to go to TTHEAT, TransTech's security hub, whose address I'd received from the Doom Pilots. I immediately got a warning about "incompatible hardware" and got booted out. Finally, I met another avatar named Dreg, an old friend of Stark's, who gave me a program for crashing cyborgs. I found yet another C. Flyer piece in there somewhere, too. I spent a while wandering from screen to screen looking for the Lost Kids and the Incubus program they're protecting, but I had no luck. I probably need another WELL code for that.
Why would you design your security interface to look like that?
With my sack overflowing with toys, I set about the city distributing them, to varying degrees of success:
  • Central Park: I had intended to give the fiber-optic cable to the "mayor" of shanty town, Kimba West, but he was completely gone. The second screen had been taken over by vampires, who attacked when I approached. Vampires are unkillable with normal weapons, so I had to reload.
  • Electric Anarchy: Phracktle K. Oss congratulated me for assassinating TransTech's security director. He gave me $10,000 and the TTHEAT password I already had.
It was an assassination, but it was a "nice, clean" one.
  • Also Electric Anarchy: Auntie Matter took the one of several TransTech security badges and gave me a Wrath Ray. 
It's becoming clear that there are multiple ways to accomplish the same things in BloodNet. There are several quest items that you can either find or buy. Several quests give you the same information. There are also items like the Wrath Ray that you can either find, buy, or assemble from parts. This is all a good thing.
  • Also Electric Anarchy: Phree Thaught took the Dragon Soul box in exchange for a canister of sleeping gas. Oddly, even after giving it to her, I still had the soul box in my decking unit, so I guess I didn't have to give it up after all.
There was a kid named Chuck hanging around with Electric Anarchy. I don't remember talking to him before. He asked for the list of Tackett's associates that I had looted from the security director, then introduced himself as one of Tackett's Lost Kids--the only one who didn't enter cyberspace permanently to guard Incubus. After Chuck programmed the WELL, Deirdre gave him an implant that made him forget its access code. He doesn't know how to retrieve that information, but he thinks that something is important about the large pendant that Deirdre was wearing the last time he saw her: "Deirdre never wore stuff like that." He joined the party. He has very poor combat skills but extremely high cyberskills. He also has 85 "Innocence," an attribute I can't imagine the use of.
Only in a fictional world would you find a correlation between heavy Internet presence and "innocence."
I couldn't equip Auntie Matter's Wrath Ray, so I took it to the Cybersurgery Group to see if Dr. Austin could implant it. He could. It goes on the head and somehow channels anger into a laser. I gave it to Stark.
It probably looks stupid, like an ioun stone.
  • Doom Pilots: Sis Konfigg took the Level 4 Security Cloak she wanted and gave me the access code to the Bank of New York: NYVAULT. 
  • St. Patrick's Cathedral: Mother Mary had asked me to meet her there ages ago. She was there with a Brother Complicitus, who explained that TransTech was trying to have them evicted from the last Catholic church in New York. TransTech had somehow acquired the deed. The threatening letters come from a William Dougan, assistant to Walter McCalaster. I picked up some crosses and holy water before heading out. I gave the cross to the high-faith Chuck.
I continue to be impressed with the game's novel approach to graphical perspective and style. Note that the "camera" in this scene seems to be pointing down from the middle of a chandelier.
At this point, I was just trying to complete my tour of the city's locations. The next location south was the Plaza Hotel and its Hellfire Club, to which I had received a pass in the last session. The Hellfire Club was confusing--multiple rooms with multiple NPCs. They seemed to be a mix of people cosplaying vampires and actual vampires. There were rumors of creepy practices in the back rooms.
A reporter named Eleanor Salem threatened to "out" me as a vampire unless I brought her a vial of blood from the back rooms. A vampirophile named Renfield (a Dracula reference) wanted to join the party, but I was full. An enemy of Van Helsing's named George Yatchisin gave me a TransTech security badge (too little, too late). In one back room, I found the aforementioned Walter McCalaster hanging around with what seemed to be some prostitutes. He just told me to leave when I talked to him.
An all-purpose dialogue option for Stark.
In another back room, there was some love triangle going on that seemed to be riffing on Gilda (1946). The woman in question was named Larisa, and she was slowly going mad. Her older husband, Braque Picaro, insisted on pumping both of them full of drugs to enhance their intimate experiences, while her younger lover, Griff Spater, insisted on using high-tech toys. Both blamed the other for Larisa's growing disaffection and insanity and wanted me to do something to "cure" her of the other's influences. I frankly didn't take good notes here and I hope it's just a silly side-quest.
That's going to come in handy.
Finally, I reached the "inner sanctum" of the Hellfire Club, where actual vampires mixed with people who thought they were just pretending to be vampires. Both types of people drank freely from the vials of animal blood scattered everywhere. I picked a few up and found that they reliably removed Stark's bloodlust without the need for an actual victim.
Right. "Just like a real vampire."
A vampire named Linda Blaue, who had converted to vampirism for her vampire lover, Gi Sang, offered me half an amulet that, coupled with the other half, could somehow lead to a reversal of vampirism. She said the other half was in the possession of someone named Wyche Gibbon. But Gi Sang, standing next to her, laughed at the idea that the amulet would work
One of the real vampires was Bertrand Foucault, the founder of the Hellfire Club. He said he had lived in Manhattan since 1801. "Not since the autumn of 1836 has anyone suspected that a vampire stalks Manhattan's streets," he said, so he's a bit annoyed that Van Helsing has created a bunch of new vampires, alerting everyone to their presence. "In a city of twenty million, he has actually created a vampire plague. His lack of restraint endangers all our kind." Rather than help me destroy Van Helsing, he said he wants a new machine created by TransTech that synthesizes human blood cells, allowing vampires to feed without killing. Whoever owns it could hide until things blow over. He said if I would get it for him, he'd share it with me, "and together we can wait out the storm."
Stark is as tactful as always.
I already had the device from my last visit to TransTech, so I gave it to him. Instead of upholding his end of the bargain, he immediately attacked. As he was a vampire, I was unable to damage him with any of my weapons, and he slowly destroyed my entire party. I had to reload.
Until I somehow get the soul blades from the Red Crosse Knights, the only weapons I have to fight vampires are a few stakes. There's something going on in combat that I don't understand. There's an option to "Choose Weapon" so that, theoretically, you can change weapons in the middle of combat, but the option never shows all of the weapons that I have. It does not show stakes when I have firearms equipped, and it doesn't even show all firearms. The only way I've been able to match the right weapon to the right foe is to reload after a failed combat and then equip myself with the right weapons before trying again. I don't know whether this is a bug in the game or whether I'm missing some interface element. One consequence of this is that I have no idea how I'm supposed to use grenades, as they are also not listed in the "Choose Weapon" dialogue.
Five of us take on the ancient vampire. I'm not sure what the difference is between "body" and "torso."
With stakes equipped, I was able to kill Foucault and then convince his contracted doctor, Gawesque, to inject me with the cells. My notes are confusing here, but I think I'm going to have to return to Gawesque every time I want a new injection, but as long as I can get back to the Hellfire Club periodically, I won't need to feed on any more humans. Plus, I have all those blood vials. I can't remember if I mentioned this before, but above a certain bloodlust percentage, the game continuously shrieks at you when you engage the icon menu. It will be nice not to have to live with that any more.
It would have been nice if these results were in a list rather than a paragraph.
All told, there were more NPCs and more text to read in the Hellfire Club alone than in most entire games. I probably only mentioned a third of the NPCs in this coverage. So it was a bit of a relief when I was back on the road again. I moved south to Bellevue Hospital and groaned to find another dozen or so NPCs in two rooms. According to a nurse, Karl Gavin, most of them had fried themselves in cyberspace. "We pump 'em full of muscle atrophy preventatives and give 'em therapy. What's the point? All the king's men aren't gonna be able to put these unlucky fools' minds back together again."
Another artful shot.
One of the unlucky fools was Charley Flyer, pieces of whose mind I'd been finding all over cyberspace. His wife Ellen sat by his side. I wasn't able to figure out how to do anything with them during this visit, but I'm not sure I have all the pieces. One of the chambers allowed party members to rest and heal--all except Stark, who apparently needs "a coffin lined with soil from his homeland." I picked up some medical devices and moved on.
I think the hospital room had more stuff to pick up than any room in the game so far.
Having now explored every location that the game has offered so far, I returned to TransTech to see if I could find William Dougan, who's been threatening St. Patrick's with his letters. Sure enough, there was a new option for his office in the elevator. (You'd think they would have locked down security after my previous two visits.) Dougan protested that he was just acting on behalf of McCalastar, who Dougan didn't like. "If McCalaster were out of the picture and I was in, I could help you." He suggested that I find a way to show McCalastar the True Meaning of Christmas and soften his heart.
You can almost hear Bing Crosby saying these lines.
Wait . . . sorry, I confused this with one of the movies Irene is watching in the background. What Dougan actually suggested was that I find incriminating evidence of McCalastar's "tawdry affairs," which Dougan could subsequently deliver to his wife, a TransTech executive, who would then likely remove McCalastar from his position.
I'm a little stuck at this point. My open quest items are:
  • Try to find this Wyche Gibbon, get his half of the amulet, and see if there is any cure to vampirism found in the pieces. I'm not sure if this amulet is related to Deidre's pendant that Chuck wants me to find. If not:
  • Find Deirdre's pendant and see if it helps restore Chuck's memory as to where the Lost Kids are.
  • Find a way to restore the pieces of his mind to Charley Flyer.
  • Figure out how to get into the TTHEAT TransTech security hub.
  • Steal the Multichannel Transmitted from the Icon Robbers for the head of the Kafka Conspiracy. I think that to do this, I need to use Phree Thought's SomnaVapor, but I tried it at some point, and the game said that I would need to protect myself from the gas before it would work.
I thought vampires didn't breathe.
  • Access the Bank of New York (NYVAULT), although I don't know why.
  • Figure out a way to turn McCalaster's presence in the Hellfire Club brothel to "evidence" that I can give Dougan, thus saving St. Patrick's, thus getting Mother Mary's help dealing with the vampires in Central Park, which I'm not even sure is important anymore.
  • Find the rest of the cyborg parts needed to download Elvis.
  • I still never found the "cage key" necessary to free Banks Verbatim from TransTech's custody.
  • Find that drug database for the Black Aggots. I'm out of leads on that since it wasn't in the given WELL.
  • Find some way to get soul blades from the Red Crosse Knights. I think the problem was that too many of them still recognized me as a vampire despite the face paint. Maybe I have to cure my vampirism first. Or maybe I just have to kill them?
I have no particular leads on any of these things, so I'm just going to have to revisit past locations and see if there's anything new.
This is not the sort of game for which you want to take a three week break in the middle of playing. This is, rather, the sort of game that you want to play in long, closely grouped sessions. Well, nothing to do about the past. I'll see if I can regain some momentum this week and hopefully bring this to a close.
Time so far: 16 hours


  1. Christmas came early! :-) Welcome back!

  2. "Wait . . . sorry, I confused this with one of the movies Irene is watching in the background."

    A+ joke.

  3. Still, the NPC names make this sound like the MAD-magazine parody of a serious cyberpunk story.

    1. It really does take away from what appears to be an otherwise compelling narrative

  4. I know it's off-topic but:

    Happy holidays, merry Christmas and an happy new year to everybody!

    I don't comment much because more prepared people have already said, probably better than I would, what I was going to say but is always a pleasure to read you all along Chet's post

  5. Fun entry, despite the difficult circumstances surrounding it. If this game were a person, it would make me uncomfortable!

  6. I've seen it mentioned in another blog that there's no way to equip grenades, or change weapons during combat. So at least you're not the only one. I guess these were just features that were neither fully implemented nor removed from the final game.

    1. That's one of the biggest problems with the game (and really with all of the games from these devs). They really want to implement a sophisticated, complex RPG system but lacked the time/budget/ability to properly develop the various subsystems.

  7. Happy to see you're back on Bloodnet Chet! But wow this game is starting to seem like too much of a good thing. I still love the atmosphere though and it's nice to take a break from the orcs and elves for a while. I probably sound like a broken record but if you decide to do another console side-quest while you're in 1993 I'd be very interested in reading your thoughts on Shadowrun on SNES. I feel like it captures the cyberpunk atmosphere with a bit more focus than Bloodnet.

    1. I have no clear stance on Chet's no-console-games policy, since he'd crossed it several times himself, but I will attest that SNES Shadowrun was probably the most interesting and ambitious game ever put together for that platform.

    2. It's far from perfect but it was so gritty and immersive compared to the jrpgs flooding the market at the time, and it has vampires LOL. The matrix on the genesis version was so much better though, even better than the Shadowrun Returns trilogy IMO.

    3. The Genesis version is better in a lot of ways but the SNES version is fun. Don't really love the combat in either of them, though.

    4. The Genesis Shadowrun is one of the best Cyberpunk games imo, though the combat isn't really good. The SNES game id good but more like an Adventure game RPG hybrid, maybe close to Bloodnet here.

    5. Never was able to get too far in any, so taking this opportunity to load that wonderful retro machine called ps vita with the mentioned games

    6. I think I struggled with the interface and I'm not a big fan of action combat, so I never got far either. But the atmosphere of the game was great. I'd love to see it played, as it's pretty much the only chance to see a Shadowrun game here - and the main character plays a role in a later PC RPG. On the other hand, there are enough 1993 non-console games already.

    7. The SNES had a killer library. To say that its most ambitious game was "probably" a licensed point & click adventure sure takes... something.

    8. It is fair to say that it's a unique game on the SNES. I'm blanking on any other real cyberpunk games on the platform. It does lean more towards adventure than RPG though.

    9. If Chet ever does play Shadowrun on Snes, there's a rom mod that adds mouse support for combat, making it much, much smoother

  8. Only in a fictional world would you find a correlation between heavy Internet presence and "innocence."
    Well, while its glossed over in-game, isn't "that stuff" more associated with those machines you had to protect from a serial killer in character creation? And even in the future people probably try to hold their language around kids.

  9. Regarding the camera angles, it’s interesting to me that framing a digital camera like that in the 90s and even early 2000s was considered ‘unreal’ or at the very least ‘uncinematic’ because it was hard to put a real film camera in those locations. There are of course famous film exceptions, but it was done sparingly. Now, however, digital cameras and drones allow Directors to move and place cameras however they want, and we are far more used to seeing from a chandelier perspective (as an example) so it’s really interesting to look back at this and see how far they were pushing the framing of scenes in this game, and that it works.

  10. It seems that you are stuck mostly on actual puzzles or because you are missing items to solve them.

    That’s where this game is challenging and would definitely need more polish; compared to a normal adventure or CRPG, it’s difficult to tell which items are part of a puzzle's solution and which just weapons/combat items, it’s easy to miss an item because there are three millions of them scattered throughout the game, it’s difficult to tell which quest is part of the main story, which ones are side quests and what is just fluff.

    Two vey light hints, about the knights: gurer ner bayl gjb gung lbh pnaabg sbby, gur byq thl gung vf noyr gb qrgrpg lbhe “rivyarff” nf n inzcver naq nabgure gung pnaabg frr lbhe vzntr va n zveebe orfvqr uvz: obgu ner chmmyrf gb or fbyirq.

    About Kimba West missing in Central Park. Gung ybpngvba punatrf qrcraqvat ba jrgure vg’f qnl be avtug gvzr.

  11. "Why would you design your security interface to look like that?" - I suspect that you meant this caption as a humorous aside rather than a real mystery looking for a solution, but the concept of security software having a threatening, even monstrous appearance in virtual space is a well established cyberpunk trope, a sort of digital Cerebrus. Or were you commenting about the image being one that may induce more pity than terror?

    1. You can't take anything he says in the captions seriously.

  12. Some ROT13 hints to get unstuck, especially since it's been a while since you played:

    Nudge in the right direction: Gur GenafGrpu frphevgl puvrs jnf n dhrfg vgrz cvangn. Gurer ner gjb guvatf lbh pna qb evtug abj jvgu uvf ybbg gung jvyy zbir guvatf sbejneq. Gnxr n ybbx ng rirelguvat lbh sbhaq gurer.

    A more direct hint: Gurer fubhyq or fbzrjurer arj ba gur jbeyq znc lbh unira'g zragvbarq ivfvgvat lrg.

    Another more direct hint: Lbh ner ubyqvat gur pbzcngvoyr uneqjner gb tb gb gur GGURNG jryy.

  13. This probably counts more as the game being opaque rather than a puzzle solution, so i'll just point out that WELLs can be searched much like physical locations can.

  14. When you do your final summary can you please discuss the quality of the writing and if the story was "fun" to read?

  15. Welcome back, hope you had some good time to refresh your mind.
    This game here is very much drifting into the adventure category. In comparison with RPGs, adventure games are more about the minutiae of doing things how/what/in combination with than the more story-driven RPGs.
    Makes me wonder if every detail has to be mentioned, but then, if you experience them, why not... Your comment on the Hellfire Club here makes me wonder how you would cover Planescape Torment's Brothel of Slaking Intellectual Lusts...
    I guess after this trifecta of difficult games you're playing now, you should treat yourself with something more joyous.

    1. That location in Torment is exactly what came to my mind when reading about the amount of text in Bloodnet. I don’t think I ever spent so much time in a single location in any game just reading dialogue.

      Although I would think Ultima 7 should have more dialogue than Bloodnet already, of the games Chet played… maybe it is more interspersed between exploration and combat, while Bloodnet has sessions where all really you do is talking.

      The (somewhat) upcoming Serpent Isle is also extremely verbose.

    2. Each NPC in BloodNet is way wordier than NPCs in Ultima VII tend to be, plus they spit out a lot more at once. It's like if every NPC gave you the Fellowship speech when you first talked to them. But Ultima VII is a much larger game so it probably does have more dialogue in total (and it also has a lot more to do that isn't reading dialogue).

    3. Disco Elysium is pretty much Brothel of Slaking intellectual Lusts: The Game. The writing is even better and the conversations have dice rolls in them. It's in my top 5 RPGs.

      The non-combat route in Age of Decadence is another textravaganza. A good one, too.

      Writing about them might require a different approach. I think Chet's blow-by-blow works when the blows are few, but I feel like Bloodnet needs to be zoomed out a bit more. That said, picking out which plot beats you need for the story to flow is probably more resource-intensive, rather than less!

    4. BloodNet is a really short game. I think he's already zooming it out as far as it can handle. The game's mission tree is very flat in a way that means that you probably won't be clear on what's main plot and what's sidequest until the game is already nearly done.

  16. I'm sooo waiting for Planescape, as that's my favorite CRPG. But I prefer story over mechanics...

  17. I'm not sure what the difference is between "body" and "torso."
    Assuming that isn't in jest, I take "body" to mean that it will attempt to damage any one of the body parts listed below.

  18. peeking in real quickly from my chronological read-through to say merry christmas and happy new year to you and the other commenters here.

    hope everyone had a great day.

  19. I would also like to say happy New Year and thank you for all the great reading!

    1. Agreed, may this new year be better than the old.

  20. Happy new year rpg fans


I welcome all comments about the material in this blog, and I generally do not censor them. However, please follow these rules:

1. Do not link to any commercial entities, including Kickstarter campaigns, unless they're directly relevant to the material in the associated blog posting. (For instance, that GOG is selling the particular game I'm playing is relevant; that Steam is having a sale this week on other games is not.) This also includes user names that link to advertising.

2. Please avoid profanity and vulgar language. I don't want my blog flagged by too many filters. I will delete comments containing profanity on a case-by-case basis.

3. NO ANONYMOUS COMMENTS. It makes it impossible to tell who's who in a thread. If you don't want to log in to Google to comment, either a) choose the "Name/URL" option, pick a name for yourself, and just leave the URL blank, or b) sign your anonymous comment with a preferred user name in the text of the comment itself.

4. I appreciate if you use ROT13 for explicit spoilers for the current game and upcoming games. Please at least mention "ROT13" in the comment so we don't get a lot of replies saying "what is that gibberish?"

5. Comments on my blog are not a place for slurs against any race, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, or mental or physical disability. I will delete these on a case-by-case basis depending on my interpretation of what constitutes a "slur."

Blogger has a way of "eating" comments, so I highly recommend that you copy your words to the clipboard before submitting, just in case.

I read all comments, no matter how old the entry. So do many of my subscribers. Reader comments on "old" games continue to supplement our understanding of them. As such, all comment threads on this blog are live and active unless I specifically turn them off. There is no such thing as "necro-posting" on this blog, and thus no need to use that term.

I will delete any comments that simply point out typos. If you want to use the commenting system to alert me to them, great, I appreciate it, but there's no reason to leave such comments preserved for posterity.

I'm sorry for any difficulty commenting. I turn moderation on and off and "word verification" on and off frequently depending on the volume of spam I'm receiving. I only use either when spam gets out of control, so I appreciate your patience with both moderation tools.