Thursday, 18 May 2017

Dark Seed - Stranger Things

Written by Alfred n the Fettuc

Mike Dawson journal #3 : I’ve finally met the strange being that’s sending me messages and clues from the Dark World, the Keeper of Scrolls. With her help, I’ll have to destroy the Ancient Race and save the world… and all of that before the Alien Embryo I have in my brain blows my head off!

Before starting this post I wanted to tell you that I’m pretty sure I’m really close to the end of the game, however I’ve hit another roadblock and considering I wanted to avoid using any more clues and try to figure out one or two things for myself in this game, it might lead to a kinda short final gameplay post. After last post, I’ve spent quite a lot of time running in circles in the game, utterly and completely stuck, before resorting to read the three hints Ilmari left me after my first gameplay post.

I have no idea what a Chanague Cointreauchet is but I’m pretty sure ANY wine from 1961 would be exactly my cup of tea.

Decoded, these hints read as such :

a) He hasn't found a card of a library book within a jacket in his wardrobe. This card opens up a whole new line of puzzles to solve.
b) He hasn't been WITHIN the car, where he would have found a new inventory item and the radio he searched for.
c) He hasn't picked up a pixel-wide pin in the library.

In the meantime, I’ve discovered hint b by myself, as using the “walk” icon on the car works, contrary to the “use” icon. The hint c lead me to a few facepalms, five hours of self-flagellation and seven recitations of “Hail Ron Gilbert”. I’ve passed this screen 45 times or so and I’ve missed the pin on the ground. I agree it’s a pixel-wide one but it’s black so I could (I should) have seen it.

This one.

However, as per hint a, I have only one remark to make : Damn you game! The jacket in the wardrobe is obvious enough and I’ve clicked it over and over only to get the same remark that it’s way too warm to wear such clothes. You have to click exactly on the pocket (which is barely distinguishable) with the eye icon to have any idea something is in the pocket. Click one pixel too high or too low and you’ll get the same remark over and over again, without any idea you’re missing something there.

This lead me to think about the use of hints in adventure games. I think we’re all pretty much on the same page that we need to avoid hints. It’s not like any other game genre where you can enjoy playing even if you know what’s going on. Once you have the knowledge on how to progress in an adventure game, you can’t unlearn it (except maybe with several hits to the head, but this method is quite unreliable) and the knowledge is with you forever. If, lord forbids, I replay Dark Seed in 50 years, I’ll still remember to look into the pocket of the jacket. And that’s something I didn’t find for myself. I remember playing through Day of the Tentacle with a friend as a kid in one week-end, using a walkthrough very often. We still enjoyed the ride and loved every minute of it. However, these solutions stick with me to this very day and I’ll never be able to “properly” play one of the pinnacles of adventure gaming by myself.

So what to do when you’re stuck in an adventure game? I know for a fact that I would have found the pin in the library if I had spent several more hours looking around, but I’m pretty sure I would have never found the card in the jacket, leading to more and more irritation before I just give up the game or look at a walkthrough… Well, enough rambling for now, but I think we have a discussion matter on our hands.

So let’s proceed with the game, shall we?

I’m only putting this screenshot again to be able to compete with Ilmari’s playing of steamy Fascination…

Searching through the jacket in my wardrobe (grrrr), I discover a library card for “The Lord of the Rings” book. Being a good citizen, I realise that this card is probably missing from this fine institution that’s the public library, and proceed to return it at once.

Would it be a Myst-like game, all these numbers would probably be codes for something.

I go to the library (and discover a pin on the ground! double-grrr) and give the card to the librarian. She tells me the book is in aisle C and would greatly appreciate if I could put the card back in it. Opening the book, I find another piece of my predecessor’s diary, who seems to have made some kind of treasure hunt with several clues. This page tells me that “old man Tuttle” (whoever that is) had made a joke and swallowed the key to the grandfather clock. He then died of a stroke only a week later. I think if the guy kept swallowing keys from other people’s home, he might have died from dysenteriae or gastric infection put that’s not the point. The diary page also gave me directions on how to open the Tuttle mausoleum in the cemetery. Onward to the cemetery we go!

Most boring Tomb Raider game ever

In the mausoleum I search through all the urns and finally find one containing a key! I can’t seem to find anything else in the crypt, except I can climb on the roof and observe my house with the binoculars. It doesn’t seem to do anything but maybe something will happen later. I run back to the house with the clock key. We’re back on track!

I maintain the crowbar would have been an easier solution

Inside the clock I find a plaque reading “Dedicated to John Mc Keegan”. It makes me realise I didn’t know the name of my predecessor before that. Could he be buried inside the cemetery? Sure enough, I find his grave, as well as an use for my beloved alien shovel. Inside it I find another page of the diary. This one contains several pieces of information :
  • My predecessor have managed to bring back some kind of tool that would allow me to break the mirror and stop the ancients.
  • The car in the garage mirrors the alien spaceship somehow and he trapped them on the ground by letting the car fall apart.
  • He has hidden the key in a “special place”
  • The police station is strongly mirrored in the dark world (duh)

Not really sure where I could go from there, I go back to my house and get picked up by the police, as usual when I decide to go out and dig out some graves… That’s where I realise there is now a pillow inside the cell where I can hide my pin, probably in order to retrieve in the Dark World.

Come on, you’re an adventure game protagonist, you usually take everything that’s not nailed down!

Ok, let’s stop for a second there, I need to ramble some more.

Not being able to find the diary page in the library by randomly clicking on books makes perfectly sense. You have to know that the diary page is in the Lord of the Rings book in order to be able to find it. Same thing if you randomly dig every grave in the cemetery, you won’t find what you need in Mc Keegan’s grave. That’s adventure game logic here, opposing the knowledge of the protagonist to the player’s. I accept this. It avoids players to just stumble around some kind of object before they need it. However, what I have a harder time to accept is the randomly appearing objects just because I know something. This pillow is never there before I read the diary page telling me that the police station is mirrored in the Dark World (which I was perfectly capable to realise myself sooner), leading to the impossibility of solving the “pin” puzzle before the “clock” puzzle. It doesn’t make sense and is bad game design as far as I’m concerned. The same example is overused over and over in Cruise for a Corpse and other examples, where you can search the same empty drawer twenty times before something suddenly appears in it “because it’s time”.

Now they release me in an empty room with the gun still on the wall… That’s good police work if you ask me

As per the gun issue, and the dead-end I was facing at the end of my last post, here is the correct order you’re supposed to do things:
  • Don’t touch the gun.
  • Get busted by digging up graves
  • NOW you can take the gun

If you take the gun too early, they get it back when putting you in jail (makes sense) and there is an officer there preventing you from taking it again. Said officer is nowhere to be seen if you don’t touch the gun before being sent to jail. If you go into the alien police station without the gun, the guard just kills you with it, so you’re supposed to do all of this in the correct order. All the other options are dead-ends. Stupid gun.

Don’t get me started on the gun, dude.

So I’m finally in the alien jail, with ALL my inventory (I certainly hope I’ll be able to get back my stuff) and the pin under the alien pillow. I then proceed to pick the lock… and this happens.

What? All of this for this result? At least give me my crackers back!

Before throwing my computer out of the window, I try again and guess what? You have to pick the lock twice for it to work. I don’t know how I feel about that, but I certainly mourn for all the players that just tried this and reloaded, thinking it didn’t work, while you have to do it twice. I think that’s kind of a pervert puzzle but then again, maybe I’m wrong.

Exiting the cell, I encounter an alien prisoner called Sargo, that’s prepared to offer me the gift of invisibility in exchange for his freedom. I give him the pin and he gives me an invisibility hairband that only works once.

Maybe he already has a pin and only tried to use it once nine years ago.

After leaving the police station, I go to the end of the city, in order to enter the heavily guarded building. I put on the invisibility headband the alien Dumbledore gave me and enter the building, which is the great archive center. Turning on the computer introduces me to the Keeper of Scrolls, who was the one giving me hints through the radio all along.

I am the Mother of the Dra… I mean the Keeper of the Scrolls

She then warns me the police in my world is working for the Ancients (I knew it! that’s police harassment! They don’t even let me steal guns and dig graves in peace!) and gives me a microfiche. I then exit the archives before my headband runs out of juice. It’s getting very late (don’t forget you can’t access the center of the alien town before 6:00 PM on the second day) so I have to go back home and call it a day. I’m worried about my inventory, but seem to be making progress anyway so we’ll leave it at that for now, I can always restart later, I getting used to it now.

The third nightmare is featuring Michael Jackson!

Beginning the third day, I’m pretty confident I’ll finally be able to make good progress and maybe stop the Ancient race now that I have the microfiche. I take an aspirin, a shower and run to the library. I’m sure the microfiche contains tons of Ancient knowledge and a cunning plan to be able to stop the Alien menace once and for all! I turn on the library microfiche reader and…

What?

I’m sorry guys, but that’s a bit much here no? You go to the very end of a Dark Alien world, bypass a deadly security guard to gain access to the Great Archives. You encounter an alien superior intelligence that calls itself the Keeper of the Scrolls, you’re supposed to save the human race with its help, and it gives you a microfiche containing what? A tip page from a TV magazine telling you to hide your valuables behind a stone?

There is only one way for this whole game to make sense, it’s if Mike is totally crazy and the Dark World is just a part of his imagination. I certainly hope it’s the idea here, because it would mean the game is kinda brilliant instead of totally and utterly dumb. It would explain the shovel, the messages through the radio and this stupid microfiche. I guess we can always assume it’s the correct explanation, we’ll see if the ending hints anything in this direction…

So, assuming to what we learn in this VERY IMPORTANT ALIEN MICROFICHE, I’m guessing John hid the key to his car in the cellar so let’s go back there and wrap this madness…

As soon as I enter the house, the doorbell rings and the postman brings me another gift. On a side note, I’m pretty sure that the postman didn’t come in one of my playthroughs, probably leading me into a dead-end situation once again. I’m unsure if it’s relative to one of the things I’ve done or if the game is buggy.

Then again, if I’m crazy, who’s sending me these gifts?

On this another playthrough, I had the police waiting for me on day 3, meaning I couldn’t use the front door and had to go out using the rope I tied to the balcony on day 1 (leading to yet another dead-end if you didn’t use it before getting your inventory stolen), but this time the police is nowhere to be seen… Weird… Maybe I was faster this time, or, once again, maybe the game is just buggy.

I go to the cellar and, sure enough, I find a set of car keys under a rock. I go to the garage to try them on… The engine turns over but won’t start. Ok I get it, it’s the cell lock all over again. I try the key again…

And again and again…

But no can do, the car doesn’t start. I might have missed something here but I don’t see a car battery or some gasoline in this game… The keys don’t seem to do anything in the Alien version of the car either… So that’s it, another roadblock. I’m pretty sure I’m also to the end, so it might lead to a very short post next week once I figure it out, but I don’t want to see another hint if I can avoid it! Cheers me up guys, it’s time to explore pixel by pixel once again!

Session time : 3 hours 30 minutes
Total time : 6 hours 30 minutes

Inventory : Axe handle, loose rock, car keys, stupid alien microfiche

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!

6 comments:

  1. "There is only one way for this whole game to make sense, it’s if Mike is totally crazy and the Dark World is just a part of his imagination."
    You are going to LOVE Dark Seed 2...

    And don't worry about the hints, it's almost impossible to get through Dark Seed without them. I'll give you couple if you still need some help:

    1) Lbh pna chg FRIRENY guvatf haqre gur cvyybj.
    2) Fbzr pnef jbex jvgu rgunaby.

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    1. "Here Mike. This will explain everything."

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  2. I've always felt that any game that requires or incentivises you to go out outside the game in order to complete it is fundamentally badly designed. That applies whether it's a Final Fantasy game with weird unlockables from doing things you would never think to try without a walkthrough, or a puzzle game that neither sufficiently leads you to its solutions nor includes a hint system within the game. Every time a player looks for external hints, that's not the player's failure, it's the game's failure.

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    1. Depends on the player, Greg. I'd argue that modern players are probably more likely to look up a puzzle that doesn't quickly make sense to them which could well after a touch of mulling over. The temptation of the Internet knowing all is very much real. I remember I struggled with Day of the Tentacle largely because of a time travel related puzzle. I felt so accomplished when I realized the game wanted me to depend on an object changing state (no spoilers as I'll not risk someone having not played) - in this day and age, I think I just go straight for walkthroughs far more often than is legitimately needed.

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    2. I agree. As I said in my post, the overuse of walkthrough completely ruined Day of the Tentacle for me. I would give a lot just to be able to play it "properly" and feel like I've beaten the game instead of walking right through it. I think the use of walkthrough should only be as a last resort, in a case of "that or I'm throwing the game out of the window". However sometimes, the temptation can be too strong...

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  3. Wow! In that library they already had "The Lord of the rings" in 1933. Those aliens sure must travel in time along with the plane shifting.

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