Tuesday, July 2, 2024

Whale's Voyage: For Hate's Sake, I Spit My Last Breath at Thee

The most difficult quest in this game is finding a bartender who will actually give you a drink.
The crew of SS Whale has unwittingly become involved in a plot to overthrow the interplanetary federation. During my last entry, the rebellion had decided to ally with a league of pirates, and the crew was supposed to introduce the pirate leader, Sam van Varn, to resistance contact Jenns Nippel. Unfortunately, van Varn got to the meeting first, thought Nippel was a federation spy, and killed him. Van Varn's solution is to implicate the federation in Nippel's death, which apparently can only be accomplished by dumping some broken federation arms and armor at the scene. I neglected to pick up these broken items when I killed federation agents on Nedax, or they never dropped it, or the one who would have dropped it didn't turn hostile. I'm not sure exactly what went wrong, but something did.
Thus, I started this session by replaying the Nedax encounter. This time, I collected the broken items and took them to the meeting on Lapis.
Let's grab this broken stuff for no reason!
I had no sooner dropped them on the ground than Nippel's boss, Wostoc, beamed in. In my last entry, some commenters alerted me that I had spelled the name both "Wostoc" and "Wostock." Well, so does the game. We'll go with the former. Wostoc bought the ruse and blamed Nippel's death on the federation secret service and their leader, General Noth. He and van Varn beamed away.
. . . and put it here, even though without a body, it's awfully suspicious!
Not sure what to do next, we returned to the ship and immediately got a phone call from "headquarter." They just recently learned that before we killed him, the federation spy, Greg Morgan, managed to steal information about the location of rebel bases. The rebellion wanted us to go to Sky Boulevard, infiltrate the federation, and delete the data from their main computer. I frankly don't see how this is going to help. Surely, dozens of federation agents have read this intelligence. They're not all going to forget that the secret base is on Dantooine just because it's no longer in the mainframe. Doesn't anyone have local backups? Printouts?
Nonetheless, we did as we were told and went to Sky Boulevard. My last visit, I had just found a bunch of unhelpful bureaucrats sitting behind desks, and that's what I found this time. I must have looped around the station six times before I finally found the NPC I needed, hiding in the corner of a building. In the meantime, while searching, I happened to pick up a random potted plant. This becomes important later.
The game's insistence on differentiating "Hi" and "Hey you!" continues until the end.
The NPC we needed was named Ergerson, but he wouldn't tell us how to get into the computer room until we gave him an automatic gun. Fortunately, the shop on the station sold them. He said the computer was in the suite of rooms behind Mr. Wellsgolf. This is a perfect example of how the game gates progress in silly ways. I had already met Wellsgolf and already intuited that the computer rooms were behind him, but the game wouldn't let me ask him how to pass until I talked to Ergerson first.
Wellsgoff said I could pass if I brought him a filled blue form. Thus began an "evils of bureaucracy" quest in which I had to ask the two other bureaucrats sitting behind desks about forms. "Sure you can get the blue form here," one said, "but bring me first the yellow form." The bureaucrat with the yellow form wanted the green form first, which was in the hands of the other bureaucrat, who would only hand it over in exchange for the red form. Et cetera. It took maybe six or eight swaps, running back and forth between the men, before I had the blue form. I guess this is the game's way of demonstrating that the federation government really needs to be destroyed, as if it's unreasonable to require a lot of paperwork before you're allowed to access the central government's mainframe.
Ah, the height of evil.
Even after I gave the blue form to Wellsgolf, he wanted 10,000 credits to let me through. Civil servants open to such bribery are a black mark on the federation, I admit.
Wellsgolf opened the door to a suite of rooms, one of which was guarded by a soldier. I tried talking to him, intimidating him, and hypnotizing him to no avail. I tried just killing him, but that summoned the usual trio of deadly guards. I tried a bunch of other things. After an hour, I looked at a spoiler.
It always fails.
The infuriating solution to this conundrum is a) to plant a trap at a particular point a few steps away from the guard, and then b) go to the room in the station that has the fuse box and cut the power to the station. This apparently causes the guard to leave his post to see what's going on, at which point he steps on the trap and dies. This does not summon the trio of guards. How anyone ever figured this out, I'll never know. First, setting the trap only works in one exact point, even though the guard would have to walk down an entire corridor after leaving his post. Second, the door to the room with the fuse box doesn't even open until you've set the trap. 

This only works in this one location.
This puzzle is a perfect example of the lost opportunities and horrible plot design represented by Whale's Voyage. What do you imagine that a good game, like Wasteland, would have done here? It would have offered a lot of potential solutions drawing from the skills of the characters, right? You'd have an option to demolish a nearby wall with an explosive (which I tried), to charm or deceive the guard (which I tried), to sneak past the guard (not possible with this engine), or simply to defeat him in combat (which I tried). There are ways that the solution could call into play skills that are otherwise useless, like "Identify Opponents," "Hypnotize," "Paralyze," "Brainblast," or "Intimidate." Instead, you get one stupid option.
It's an odd-looking fuse box.
Let me mention at this point that every time I've been successful at something in this game, one or more of my characters has leveled up and been given a selection of skills. By the end, they all had almost all of their available skills. This is my assessment of the skills:
Actually useful: "Identify Weapons" (gives you exact statistics), "Automatic Reload," "Heal Wounds," "Resurrect Member" (although you don't have enough psi power to use it until very late in the game), "Set Traps," "Manipulate Computer" (several times, though I think you can use a toolkit instead).

Questionable: "Identify Opponents" gives you statistics on opponents you don't have time to stand around scanning for statistics, plus who cares what their numbers are, since you have no choice but to fight them anyway? "Scan Dungeon" doesn't do anything the scanner doesn't do. I never got "Hypnotize," "Paralyze," or "Disarm" to work.

Useless: I never found a place in the game to use "Search for Traps," "Detoxicate Member," "Identify Essence," "Use Essence," or "Search Tracks." "Check Honesty" gives you a numeric score for the person you use it on, but what does that mean? "Value Item" doesn't do anything a trip to the store doesn't do.
On what scale? What possible value is this?
I have no idea why there are no skills relating to things like combat and flying the ship.
While we're talking about the characters, their attributes have been increasing with every level up, so that's good.  For instance, Ishmael started with a strength of 23 and a speed of 15, but by the end of the game those values were up to 119 and 118, respectively. But each character also has an "Honesty" statistic that increases with leveling. How does that make any sense?
Anyway, we got the guard to walk into the trap, then cut the fuses. The station went dark. I guess I was supposed to use my "Infrared Device" to make my way around, but I did it just fine in the darkness. We got through the door the guard had been guarding, and I used my bounty hunter's "Manipulate Computer" skill at the computer to delete the data--no login or password required. We beamed off the station just as the lights came back on.
What does that mean? What kind of trap was it? Are we seeing a body? A guy in a cage?
The rebellion had given us a number to call when the job was done, so we did. Our contact was in the middle of inviting us to a meeting on Inoid when the line went dead with a scream. Meanwhile, we received an S.O.S. from another ship asking us to help rescue him from federation attackers.
Of course, that's what I do when I want someone to think I've died so they never call me again.
Battles have been rare for the past few hours. With all the upgrades that I bought for the ship, they've also been relatively easy. I didn't realize until this battle that you need to raise shields every round, not just once at the beginning of combat, for them to have an effect. I suppose that's a measure of how easy the combats have been that it didn't hurt me to figure that out so late.
The War Computer also lets you do a "quick combat" with most enemies, with the game just telling you the outcome. I always win, but I always take a little damage, which costs money to repair. When I fight the battles myself, I rarely take any damage. Of course, since you get no experience or money or anything for random space battles, there's no point in fighting most of them at all. You can just flee during the first round.
The federation fields a ship called a "big dounut."
There was no fleeing this one, however. It wasn't very hard. I think I had to defeat 5 ships. When it was over, the federation's would-be victim called to thank me. He introduced himself as Max Schimmel, and he told me about a secret pirate base called Louis 17, on an asteroid between Nedax and Inoid.
I traveled to Louis 17 and found even more ship upgrades, including a cloaking device, a holograph, and something called an "instant bomb" that I paid nearly $1 million for and never showed up as an option in any future combat.
It took me nearly 5 minutes of trading to make that money.
We took the glider to the surface of the asteroid, which had craters and skulls and bestial faces carved into the ground. The "Neo" logo was also there. The main city was called Shame, and we beamed directly there. There were only three people to talk to in the city: a bartender, a shopkeeper, and Max Schimmel. The bartender had again run out of drinks--there literally is no place in this game to get a goddamned drink. I'd certainly be in favor of rebelling against whoever was responsible for that. The bartender blamed the vacant city on the fact that "everybody is gone to the great discussion about the revolution." Glad they invited us.
I love that someone took the time to carve that skull out of the landscape.
The shopkeeper claimed to have the best weapon money could buy, which turned out to be a "plasma thrower." I bought one for my soldier along with a bunch of clips. He also had for sale a "Roomscanner Pro," which I nearly overlooked because it looks like a regular Roomscanner. This one shows a dot where there's a person, however, which is perhaps the most useful thing you can buy in the entire game. I would have killed to have one of these for the last 12 hours.
I also bought a bomb, but it was too heavy to carry, so I left it sitting on his counter for most of the rest of the game.
When dots started appearing on the screen showing both the party and NPCs (as well as, later, enemies), I had a sense of déjà vu that, after some thinking, brought me back to Sentinel Worlds: Future Magic (1988), and I began to wonder if there might be some influence there. The games are mechanically very different, but there are a lot of thematic similarities, and the automaps look very similar even if they work very differently.
From the next session: the scanner shows a bunch of enemies waiting to kill me on the other side of this wall.
At this point, I got stuck. I got stuck for so long that I nearly threw in the towel and wrote a "Summary and Rating" based on YouTube videos. I had no leads on what to do next, and after trying to find one for over an hour (and solving the alien quest, incidentally), I looked at walkthroughs and LPs on YouTube and still couldn't solve it. Everyone said that Max Schimmel should have more dialogue options than he had with me. I couldn't get him to cough up the next hint.
While I was trying to figure it out, I visited the alien ship to remind myself what they were looking for. Some kind of "essence," they had said. I didn't expect that I had anything that would help them, but I decided to do that thing you sometimes do in adventure games where you just try everything. In this case, I got it on the third thing: the random flower pot I had picked up on Sky Boulevard. "We can use that flower to produce the needed X-109-E essence," the aliens said. "Thank you very much!" All of the characters leveled up, so that was helpful.
I don't know what he meant about this "wares" line, so I probably missed an additional reward.
I visited a bunch of other locations. I found the second city on Louis 17, Wocony, before I was supposed to, but I got nothing out of the visit except an odd request from a woman (the game had us hail her with the dialogue option, "Hi! Pretty woman!") to find her a vibrator. I chuckled at this, assuming that the unfortunate Austrian developers had made an embarrassing fehltritt in translating some common word like, I don't know, "screwdriver." But later when I found one for sale on Lapis, it was pretty clear from the visual that it was, in fact, a vibrator. I brought it back to her and she complained that it didn't have any batteries. So that was a waste of time.
The sense of humor of adolescent male game developers always makes an appearance.
Anyway, something that I did in all my bumbling about loosened Max's lips, because when I returned to check on him one more time, he had new dialogue options related to my "kidnapped" contact. (I guess that's how we were supposed to interpret the "Aaaargh!" over the phone.) He said to check with his contact Erasmus, a guy with red hair and sunglasses, in Wocony. This only got me another five minutes into the plot, as Erasmus refused to talk with me, shouting "Get out of my way!" every time I approached.
Back I had to go to walkthroughs and videos. Here's the solution (again, how did anyone ever come up with it?): You have to proactively, for no reason whatsoever, give a random object from your inventory to Max. I gave him a bottle of wine. This prompts him to say, "If you want to talk to him [Erasmus], bring him a red sardine!" Irene got me a punching bag for my birthday this year, and I promise you it got a good workout that night.
Notice that I'm in the inventory menu, not the dialogue menu.
Now where was I supposed to get a red sardine? Well, apparently I was supposed to remember that hours and hours ago, on Lapis, an NPC named Krueger had promised he could get "anything we need." I had to look that up in a walkthrough, too. I returned to him and paid him 100 for the red sardine.
Why didn't we just use this guy for everything in the game?
Back to Wocony. We found Erasmus and gave him the red sardine. He told us that the secret service has a hidden prison in the city of Dymy on Arboris. I'll save the rest for next time, but suffice to say that in trying to rescue our contact there, we accidentally killed him, and the only alternate save I had was from before we got Max to cough up the information about Erasmus. Since I didn't know what actually triggered those dialogue options, I was in for another session of screwing around the solar system for a while until Max decided to talk.
When I started playing this game, I thought that the interface would be my biggest issue. That is clearly no longer the case. After 14 years and 500 games, we've seen some bad games. I don't mind a bad game. I can forgive a bad game. I cannot forgive Whale's Voyage. It is not just bad; it is actively contemptuous of the player's time and effort. I do not say this lightly, but if I were rich enough to have money to waste, I would find a way to get revenge. No lie. Nothing violent and nothing cruel--we're talking about a video game, after all--but I would pay someone to track down all of the developers and find clever ways to waste enough hours of their lives to equal at least a full work week. An American one.

Time so far: 17 hours


  1. Red sardine is clearly a joke on "red hering", so more infantile humor (Note that secret of monkey island did a similiar joke, but much, much better, because you found the red hering first).

  2. Have the developers go through some bureaucratic fetch quests as punishment.

  3. Hah, a Passierschein A38 quest, nice. Reading through your series makes me think that there are some good ideas in the game, but wow, it's infuriating even as a reader, so I can only assume how it must be as a player. Clearly, the idea of a space trading sim with conspiracy plots has been done much better (2003's Freelancer comes to mind immediately) - I wonder if Whale's Voyage 2 is going to be an improvement? (Haven't played either WV game)

    1. Yes, the forms / bureaucracy task seems a pretty obvious reference to the animated movie The twelve tasks of Asterix (German title: Asterix erobert Rom).

    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 2, 2024 at 10:19 PM

      Fascinating! That video gave me flashbacks to getting my residence permit in Germany.

  4. " 'Intimitate' selected opponent (as per the sixth screenshot)? Hmm, I guess none of your opponents finds you attractive enough to get intimate with you and that's why the spell always fails. Have you checked your characters' 'attractiveness' attribute values?

    Since the aliens could use the flower to produce the needed X-109-E essence and then ask you not to forget to take your wares, maybe there was some extra essence for you to pick up which also could lead to using 'identify essence' / 'use essence'?

    I wonder if you just missed the batteries for the vibrator somehow (or they'll still show up) or if that's an indirect reference to / play on Maniac Mansion with its [ROT13 in case anybody reading this hasn't played it yet and still wants to] punvafnj naq zvffvat tnfbyvar sbe vg? Which already got directly referenced in Lucasfilm Games' 'follow-up' Zak McCracken and the Alien Mindbenders.

    1. No, in a previous post Chet says you can store trade goods on the alien ship, so this is a reminder to take them off I assume. (Chet’s clearly forgotten.)

  5. "It took me nearly 5 minutes of trading to make that money."

    Does this allude to your efficiency as a trader, or is the economy of the game completely broken as well?

    1. I think in some of the previous posts Chet showed how some broken mechanisms allow the player to build up huge amounts of money, despite there being no use for such wealth. Having a useless weapon as money sink seems very consistent with the game's spirit.

    2. Yeah, I didn't mean that I was highly skilled at trading. Once you know the buy and sell values at each planet, which are fixed, you can figure out a "get rich quick" scheme between any two ports.

  6. Hmm, given your last paragraph I guess it's good you're not one of the reviewers of 'The Adventurers Guild'. My understanding (those of them also present here might confirm / correct me) is that at least earlier adventure games often had similarly infuriating combinations of linearity / gating and unintuitive solutions to advance which regularily lead to "let's just try everything everywhere (i.e. combining all items, giving each inventory object to each NPC, going through every dialogue option with everyone) until something somehow works".

    Now, if this was advertised as more of an RPG / trading hybrid and since we are in 1993, I can understand your frustration, even though it sounds a bit harsh ;-).

    1. Moon Logic is almost the defining trait for point and click adventure games. Some are much better than others about it, but I invite you you read up on Old Man Murray's rant on Gabriel Knight 3 ("Death of Adventure Games") and then I'd like to point out that the GK3 mustache puzzle probably doesn't even make the Top 10 of worst adventure game puzzles.

    2. @Busca, early adventure game design isn't really like that, they tend to be more open-ended with various puzzle you can tackle in various orders, even if there's a theoretical "right" order. What you're describing is more of a '90s to present thing, which has tended to favor linear games far more. Desperate attempts to find the solution by bruteforcing things can be done in any adventure though.

      @Menhir, link to a guy whose post would be deleted here for rule 5 aside, moon logic is greatly oversold by people who dislike the genre. Much like how you don't need to be some tactical genius to win at strategy games, a real world pilot in a flight sim, etc. Not every bad puzzle is moon logic, and not every puzzle you can't immediately figure out is bad. The Gabriel Knight puzzle mostly runs off real world logic, just real world spycraft stuff that Gabriel would know and most players clearly didn't.

      Moon logic does exist, but people seem to use it to describe any puzzle they didn't immediately figure out. More often than not, I feel like people just can't accept that they aren't very good at games and rather than coming to terms with that, blame the game.

    3. Another thing is that in adventure games you are expecting to solve these puzzles and the interface is (hopefully) suited to them. If you have to do some trial and error with using something in different locations, at least there aren't that many locations. Whereas with the trap puzzle here, there are many things you can do that don't work, and many squares you could conceivably put the trap. Not to mention many items that you could have bought in the shop where you bought the trap.

      An adventure game would usually leave you with just the trap and a few other things in your inventory, and just a location or two near the guard, and not a bunch of verbs like "charm guard" or "fight guard" or "set explosive" that don't work. So it'd be more reasonable to expect someone to work out what they could do. And this for a puzzle that has a bit of logic, unlike the X-109-E essence.

      Another issue is sitting down to play a cRPG and being faced with this kind of puzzle. I'm a lot more tolerant of difficult jumping in Celeste than I would be if it suddenly popped up while I was trying to do a crossword puzzle.

    4. I'm not sure the genre matters. If you enjoy that sort of "puzzle," then you enjoy it. When there's no way to figure out the solution in-game; or no practical way apart from brute forcing it, that's not fun for me.

    5. I guess 'puzzles' like the potted plant, bottle of wine, damaged armor (why would anyone leave that behind after successfully killing JN when it points to the perpetrator?), soldier/trap/fuse and red sardine reminded me of descriptions I'd seen of this phenomenon, but now that I check, it's indeed only about the random combinations, without the linearity/gating:

      The Digital Antiquarian named 'Making puzzles that aren’t solvable through logic or even intuition, only through brute force' as the very first of his 14 Deadly Sins of Graphic-Adventure Design, using an example from 1986 and stating: "The tedious try-everything-on-everything-else mode of play to which it leads has dogged graphic adventures in particular for decades."

      And Adam Luoranen in his piece about Adventure game puzzles we have known and hated on Adventure Classic Gaming had a category of 'Puzzles that badly succumb to the basic forms of adventure game puzzle design':
      "Adventure game puzzles tend to fall into an unfortunately limited set of forms. Perhaps the most basic and prevalent of these forms is "use inventory object on other object". Early adventure games are arguably little more than a long succession of this same puzzle format. Players gather various objects which are apparently unrelated or useless and store them in an inventory for little apparent reason other than simply that the game permits them to do so, only to later discover that a key puzzle is solved by the mere act of using a particular object they have randomly collected. Such puzzle solving processes require little reasoning other than liberal application of the classic adventure game adage to "pick up anything that is not nailed down", then randomly trying to use different objects in each situation until a useful response is found."

    6. The thing is that those are (a) bad adventure game puzzles and (b) far worse when it's not "try one of these six things that you've picked up, most of which you're pretty sure have some specific use, in one of five locations" but "try one of twenty things that you've picked up or purchased, any of which might be random combat buffs, in one of twenty squares on the map for any given puzzle, not to mention the twenty skills you have, some of which seem like they should have some application to the puzzle but have no use whatsoever in the game."

      Maher's Deadly Sin 2 is relevant here. A good adventure game won't bury you under so many objects that you can't tell what's useful--if it has red herrings, that's because with enough thought you can figure out what actually will help. Doing this kind of puzzle in a cRPG makes it pretty much inevitable that there will be many items that have no puzzle-solving function. Which makes it much harder to figure out which item you need to use when the clues are bad or nonexistent.

      Your initial comment made it seem like you thought the puzzles here were not out of line by the standards of adventure games, but trust me, they are. There's a reason eight-bit warrior's walkthrough ends "This game is absolutely horrible. I can't believe I wasted a week's worth of nights in Tamil Nad playing this garbage."

    7. I wonder if puzzles of classic adventure games - the good ones, even tough, not moon-logic ones - are akin to riddles in pre-computer-game era. You know, the riddles that seemingly have no logical answer whatsoever, but if you're personally familiar with the concept you can more or less easily guess what is being talked about in a riddle. Take, for example "A precious gift that has no end, but no beginning either, and in the middle it has nothing". Not too hard of a riddle, but imagine asking this of someone coming from a culture where there was never a tradition to make and wear rings? So, a good riddle reflects on some real-life experience of a person answering, you have to know what egg is to answer a riddle about "a treasure of gold in a doorless, windowless vault" - and so, good (not moon-logic) puzzles rely on the very same experience. But by the very same virtue they become "moon-logic" for someone who never had such an experience, while remaining common-sense-logic for those who did. Being smart, clever or intelligent is not as much related with all of this as you may think (mini-games of picking locks or hacking terminals in immersive sims require more of a conventional intelligence in any case).

    8. "Eight-bit warrior's walkthrough." I clicked on that. Thank the gods that I finally see someone else complaining about the control scheme. I just finished reading a bunch of reviews for the game, and I thought I was losing my mind. You thought graphics were what you should focus on!?!

    9. Of about a dozen German reviews I checked, only one really complains about the controls; most others mention it, but basically shrug and continue. I guess these were the times when people were willing to endure more for their entertainment as they didn't have online stores with 150,000 games to choose from.

      However, one reviewer also recommends to simply use the keyboard. But since that review is from an Amiga magazine, I can only suspect that this option somehow wasn't ported to the PC, as little sense as this makes.

    10. That's probably part of the issue. Also, there's a wealth of reviews out there on WV for the different versions (most can be found through HOL and Kultboy): Amiga, PC, PC CD-ROM, Amiga 1200, Amiga CD32 console. I have the impression those for the last three were mostly focusing on whether the game made enough use of the additional graphic and sound possibilities these new(er) platforms / media offered or - in the case of the console - were merely happy there is an RPG/ trade / adventure game available for it at all.

      Nevertheless, browsing through them I do see quite a few complaints about the interface, e.g. several in this collection of Amiga reviews: Amiga Format, CU Amiga, both Amiga Joker reviews (German).

      Others who were also not happy with it were The One, PC Player (German) or Power Play (German).

      If you go to more recent, not contemporary, reviews, like the one mentioned above, it's even stronger. The walkthrough on gamefaqs by 'whowasphone404' says it's "a complete chore to play", CrookedBee called the exploration/combat interface and controls "TERRIBAD!!" and two of the last comments in the Kultboy forum (below the reviews overview for the game) do strongly complain about the interface as well ("from hell").

      So you're not that alone in your frustration ;-).

    11. I didn't realize Chet wasn't playing with the keyboard the entire time, which got me curious since I distinctly remember playing it with the keyboard. So, I got a copy off a reliable site and checked until gameplay.

      Keyboard controls work here too. The numpad worked completely fine for me. You might need to toggle numlock on and off, dunno if the actual arrows work too, my keyboard is a little wonky in that department. Not going to comment on anything else besides them physically working, no idea if there are shortcuts Chet missed for most actions or anything, just that it is an option in DOS.

    12. The mustache puzzle is one of those things which sounds far more insane when described than it actually is in context. It also kind of hand-holds you step by step through the process of solving it.

    13. Coincidentally, just after posting the link to the walkthrough, I cruised over to the site where I play Brogue online (brogue dot broguelikelike dot com) and noticed that eightbitwarrior has the most recent win in one of the older Brogue versions. I'm not sure if (like me) they're more of a roguelike specialist than a cRPG player, and if that affects their view! Not that either kind of player seems to like this game.

    14. I"m sorry if I gave the impression that I'm playing without the keyboard. I am playing with the keyboard. The problem is that the keyboard controls just mimic a joystick. Yes, the numberpad works fine for movement. The problem is that in order to do anything else, you have to a) hit the SPACE-DOWN ARROW keys at the same time to get the cursor into the control panel at the bottom of the screen; and b) then arrow around to your chosen command, which might be nested in a sub-menu, which is a huge pain even when you're not currently being blasted by weapons and almost impossible when you are.

    15. Lorigulf's remark on how a simple riddle can be nigh-impossible if you're from a different culture reminds me of that infamous glowing plate puzzle from Zork 2 that no one in Europe was able to solve.

      Gur chmmyr jnf gb ernyvfr gung lbh'er fgnaqvat va n onfronyy qvnzbaq. (Juvpu vf fvyyl ertneqyrff; vs lbh jrer npghnyyl, culvfpnyyl gurer vg jbhyq or boivbhf!)

    16. For what it's worth, Jason Dyer reported that there are clues to that puzzle that don't really on the culturally specific knowledge at all. The thing that made the puzzle infamous is apparently the way the puzzle is clued in the Invisiclues.

      The Topologika game Quondam contains a puzzle that one of Jason's commenters described in a way that sounded like it required much more specific UK cultural knowledge, not to mention the illogicality you've rot13ed:

      Gurer vf n "O.E. gnxrnjnl fnaqjvpu" gung xvyyf lbh vs lbh rng vg. Nccneragyl guvf vf n Oevgvfu Envy gnxrnjnl fnaqjvpu naq gubfr pbzr va genafcnerag uneq cynfgvp pbagnvaref, fb lbh unir gb BCRA FNAQJVPU gb trg vg bhg bs gur cynfgvp va beqre gb rng vg fnsryl. Ohg gur zrffntr sbe rngvat vg gur jebat jnl fnlf "Lbh rng gur fnaqjvpu naq vgf pehapul bhgfvqr" fb gurer'f n ovg bs n pyhr gurer creuncf. Naq bs pbhefr, vs gur Gbcbybtvxn tnzrf jrera'g pbafgnagyl gevpxvat lbh jvgu vapbzcyrgr qrfpevcgvbaf, vg jbhyq or pbzcyrgryl boivbhf gb lbhe ningne gung gur fnaqjvpu jnf va n cynfgvp pbagnvare. Guvf vf abg fbzrguvat V'z gbb obgurerq nobhg orpnhfr svthevat bhg ubj gur qrfpevcgvba vf gevpxvat lbh vf trahvaryl cneg bs gur sha.

      Nevertheless my reaction to the description of that puzzle was to post a table flip emoticon and declare I was not accepting any more complaints about needing to be American to solve the Zork II puzzle.

      (By the way I don't solve these games myself, I just read along with Jason's blog and sometimes offer off-the-wall attempts at solutions in the comments.)

    17. Really, you have to use geek code on old Adventure games not even covered on this blog?

    18. @PO: Sure, why not? Better safe than sorry, some people (including myself) might not yet have played some old adventure games, but plan or consider to still do so. And what's the harm? If you're interested, de-ROT13 is just a click or at most a couple away. If you're not, why would you care?

    19. And more to the point, PO, what do you think you were contributing there? You've made my day slightly worse, if that makes you happy.

      (Thanks for stepping in, Busca!)

    20. (Shakes his head in disbelief)

    21. "The problem is that in order to do anything else, you have to a) hit the SPACE-DOWN ARROW keys at the same time to get the cursor into the control panel at the bottom of the screen; and b) then arrow around to your chosen command, which might be nested in a sub-menu."

      That's... ridiculous. (Also shakes his head in disbelief.)

    22. @matt w: Coming back to "number of items" and "number of places to check if you can use them" - I guess the decisive element you mention to me is good vs bad - or at least padded - (adventure) games / puzzles.

      Especially in some older adventure games, the amount of space with no use other than having to check and cross it, could be substantial, just to stretch the game's length and boast about its size [ok, no adolescent humour jokes, please]. An extreme example is Time Zone which by the Digital Antiquarian's count has 57 items spread over more than 1300 rooms with "large, tedious-to-map grids of empty rooms in virtually every zone you visit".

      Another one is Snowball which was advertised by Level 9 as being a "massive adventure" with "over 7000 rooms" - of which over 6800 are essentially identical and mostly not needed except to illustrate you are on a massive colony spaceship.

      And if you combine such a number of rooms and objects with a -text parser- ... let's just say "guess the exact combination of words the author thought of in this specific spot" can be as infuriating as some puzzles in WV have been to our host.

    23. @Busca: I've had a hard time explaining why I loved parser games until I learned what the difference between an "open list" and a "closed list" is. Basically, an open list is a world of infinite possibilities where you can build any phrase you want, where a closed list is combinatorics, where there is N verbs and M nouns and you have MxN nouns. The point is, brain works differently with open lists than with closed lists; that's what makes people love tabletop RPGs over computer-based ones: you can not only do N different things in a round, you can do infinite different things in a round (most of them will do nothing still, please use common sense), and the DM will react to it accordingly, as opposed to a computer which will not understand you. At least, until GPT bots and Ai Dungeons came to be...
      Even if later I learned that the open list in parser games was, in fact, an illusion -Sierra games, for example, had an inner list of N verbs and M objects - it still allowed for the input of a lot of different phrases which kept this FEELING that you are in a dialogue, kinda. Come to think of it, these games were what started me on the road of learning English, since it was "full immersion" method =) Still, to react on any input in a sensical and logical manner would require, again, ChatGPT to be included in the game. Nowadays ChatGPT can be used to play a sort of dream-like parser adventure, but there is an other problem with that - it does not generate any puzzles, plot or whatever, it simply generates a caleidoscope of fantastical scenes, from time to time forgetting the details of characters, character names, etcetera... Still, it realizes the true open-list "parser input", as opposed to a masked closed list in old adventures.

    24. How did I not have Jason's blog in my side bar?! It's there now, anyway.

    25. @Busca: Time Zone is also widely considered an example of How Not To Do It. I'm sure if Chester were playing and reviewing that, he would be quite scathing, and reasonably so! Though Jason Dyer found it not so bad, partly because most of the puzzles were not "drop this specific thing in this apparently innocuous place and trigger a timed event" but "find an iron bar somewhere and use it to lift that cement block."

      As for Snowball, Jimmy points out that you solve a puzzle to figure out which rooms you need. It doesn't really make the combinatorial explosion you'd get if you needed to do something in one of the 6800 empty rooms. Though as Jimmy also points out, the designers didn't do themselves any favors by trying to make the 7000 rooms a selling point.

      Now if you want some really infuriating adventure puzzles, I can recommend Christminster's opening puzzle for having to coordinate surprising actions in widely separated locations (though there's a fair amount of cluing), and for an excessively large game... well, just read through Jason and company's playthrough of Ferret.

    26. For what it's worth, that sandwich puzzle/reference would probably go over the heads of most British people these days. There hasn't been a British Rail since 1997.

  7. Hmm. I wonder whether there's another factor besides sheer wastefulness responsible for putting you into rage mode. I'd say we've had plenty of games with little respect for the player's time; "Bard's Tale III" or "Fate: Gates of Dawn" come to mind immediately, maybe the "Abandoned Places" games or "Knightmare", and various titles with too many pointless dungeon levels which I'm too lazy to look up right now.

    From my own experience, I feel this urge to, uh, enact some kind of revenge on the developers particularly when the game lures me with a promise; it acts as if there's fun to be had, it shows interesting ideas and clear potential, which makes me endure and hope that this potential manifests. Until the moment where it shows its true colors and basically shouts "Na-na, got you, I suck!"

    BT3 and Fate, for instance, communicate pretty clearly that from a certain point, everything was pointless, and the rest of the game will generally be pointless, too. You stop here, you won't really miss anything. Whale's Voyage seems at least original and promising enough that there -might- be something behind the next corner. Which gives an inane resolution a very special taste.

    (Come to think of it, the interplay between a game's promises, the player's imagination of what they might encounter and the eventual resolution could make for an entire posting, maybe in connection with the question on how in-game lore might raise a sense of apprehension in the player.)

    1. If I had thought about this for three minutes longer, I could have summarized this train of thought as the "denial of expected gratification", which is unlikely to be a new concept. See also: "Error 37"; "Lost"; the ending of "Magic Candle II"; I hear GoT also suffers from this, but there I stopped after season 1 anyway.

    2. Oh boy, don't get me started on Lost. Maybe it didn't help that I'm not a religious type, but the last season was pure BS. Like, shoving it right in your face that none of the many open questions will ever be answered.

    3. Rage mode or not, I'm all for breaking up the usual routine by having one more post reflecting about the nature of crpg's, be it the denial of expected gratification or something else, as we had them before, maybe that'll put things in perspective.

    4. AlphabeticalAnonymousJuly 2, 2024 at 7:32 PM

      Lost and the remake of Battlestar Galactica, and their frustrating inability to deliver satisfying closure, essentially turned me off of modern TV-style media for ten years or so. My loss, probably, but --- like Whale's Voyage --- I somehow felt cheated or played for a sucker.

    5. @Fireball : there is no "maybe", it is quite obvious that the 5th season of Lost was tailor-made for a religious/spiritual audience. I enjoyed it, especially the conclusion.

      Still, my absolute favorite was season 4. It is a rare example of time-travel fiction without plot flaws. Changing the past is a huge plot flaw, period. I was very happy that Lost did time-travel right.

  8. Is it possible that the difference between "Hi!" and "Hey you!" is somehow supposed to represent the difference in German between greeting someone with formal and informal pronouns? This game is German, right?

    The bureaucracy segment reminds me a bit of the Traveller tabletop module Stranded on Arden, which puts you on a planet where combat is near-impossible and the players have to wangle an exit visa from a bunch of varyingly helpful bureaucrats. But that module did allow for alternate solutions and roleplaying and wasn't just a maze in disguise.

    1. There's a qualitative difference between the two greetings in English, too. The bigger problem is that if you have only four dialogue options, you can't waste two of them on greetings. In any event, nowhere in the game do they provoke a different substantive response.

  9. Up next: The Addict plays a brand new RPG, where the player has to avenge himself and punish some game developers who have wasted his time. No combat, but some devious scheming.

    Hell, it might make for a better plot than the one you're stumbling through right now.

    Your entries on incompetent games are among my favourites. Sorry for your suffering!

    1. I know at least one game that is strictly about going to a game studio and beating up all the designers; not an RPG though.


    2. Hey Chet, you spent "only" 17 hours on it so far (plus maybe a couple more to finish it as I infer from this entry you won the game already) - didn't know the American work week was that short (assuming you'd be applying "an eye for an eye" in hours) ;-).

    3. What is the virtue of a proportional response? Let the word ring forth from this time and this place, if you waste the CRPG Addict's time, any time, I don't come back with a proportional response. I come back with total disaster!

    4. Ha! Pitched at the perfect level where it rung a bell, but I didn't fully remember where from. Imagine if instead of obvious Python/Tolkien/Trek references, CRPGs had been dotted with subtle West Wing references...

    5. I suppose your whole blog is like this, with a decade of captions that are often deep cut references that tickle the people who discover they have a shared cultural touchstone with you and everyone else can pass over without incident. That's the way to do references. (I've just been reading your Darkside of Xeen series and seeing how not to.)

    6. I get pretty obscure sometimes, but yeah, I figure either you recognize it or you just glide over it, no harm done.

  10. It's a shame the game isn't as good as it could have been, because I find the concept kind of amazing. Lots of things you can do with the setting, and first person multiple character RPGs are woefully underutilised in the game scene. I don't know if it was a lack of time, money issues, or just plain old incompetence, but this game deserved so much better an execution.

    1. To be fair, Neo Software (later Rockstar Vienna) made some very good games that are known at least in the German speaking market, none of them RPGs though. Der Clou! and Die Völker comes to mind.

    2. That Anon was me btw, somehow things got screwed up.

    3. Both versions of The Clue had an English translation, no idea how popular they were, but you can find an open source port of the Windows one online. The DOS version was kind of neat, but suffered from a problem where it wasn't very clear on how you took out guards.

    4. That is a theme of my final entry, Macress--all of the promising elements that were largely wasted.

  11. Is it possible that if your characters have a higher honesty value than an NPC, then the game lets you know that the NPC is not being honest with you?


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