From The Adventure Gamer
Written by Joe Pranevich
Welcome back! Last time out, I explored the strange mushroom forest that I was dropped into after the end of the world. This “wabe”, as I think it is called, is a strange place set in the shadow of a gigantic sundial and includes giant bees, an impossible flower garden, a cottage with game design notes, and a half-dozen mushrooms with little doors. But this isn’t The Smurfs: each mushroom appears to have been created by a nuclear detonation. As I closed out last time, I finally worked out how to control the movement of the “sun” overhead to drop shadows on each of the doors. I opened the first door and was dropped back into reality, somewhere and somewhen.
This game remains difficult to write about. My usual style is a bit flippant and just not appropriate for the subject matter, but I also cannot help to be quippy. I’ll try to keep the tone light as much as I can, but this is a difficult game with difficult themes and some of the scenes in this session are disturbing. I had to step away from the game at one point for a few days. Fair warning, but on with the show.
|Ray Palmer seems like such a nice guy.|
When I walked through the mushroom door in my previous post, I arrived in a rickety room filled with equipment that I do not understand. The white door remains open and I can use it to return to the mesa in the wabe, but then it closes immediately after. No amount of resetting the sundial opens the door again so I assume there is no way back. Will I only get one shot at each doorway? Is there a way to know what order I have to take the doors? I hope Mr. Moriarty won’t be too evil about this, but I am prepared for a lot of saving and reloading.
The equipment that I stand next to is radioactive and obviously a nuclear bomb, but I’m not positive which bomb it is. Climbing down the scaffolding, I find myself in a large room with aircraft hangar-style doors. They are too heavy to open, but there’s a button nearby so it’s not much of a puzzle. A second button activates an intercom speaker and a voice informs anyone listening that it is six minutes to detonation. I’d better hurry! I open the doors and head out onto a tropical island. Thanks to the manual’s history lesson, I guess that this is the H-Bomb explosion in 1952. The documentation just says a “remote island in the South Pacific” and I was fairly certain that was Bikini Atoll, but a quick Wikipedia search informs me that the first test was actually on nearby Enewetak Atoll.
Focusing on the present, I notice that the tide is coming in. That voice in my ear sniggers that “Gnomon can tether tide or time.” Whoever he is, he’s less clever than he thinks he is. We start exploring from our vantage point on the south of the island. To the west is a second island with a single coconut tree. Thanks to a mob of attacking crabs, there is no way to get to that island or its lone tree. To the north is an “extension” of wood leading off the island, described as being like a six-foot in diameter drinking straw connecting the facility to someplace offshore. It’s too high up to climb and I do not see a way to access it from the hangar shed. While exploring, a shark follows me around the island, but when I reach the eastern shore he reveals himself to actually be a friendly dolphin! That’s cute, but… er… he’s going to die pretty soon.
|R.I.P Flipper. None under sea were smarter than he.|
Beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be much to do here. After a time, I notice that the western island has sunk under the tide and only a single coconut remains floating in the water. There is no obvious way to fetch it but it screams “puzzle” and must be important for something. I eventually work out that the dolphin is actually incredibly intelligent and fetches the coconut for me when I ask. I break it open with my axe but find only coconut milk inside. What did I expect? A priceless gem? The “milk” leaks out quickly and I restore so as not to lose it. Could that be “good enough” for the potion at the cottage? The magpie said that we needed milk, honey, garlic, and a lizard. Surely, this vegan substitute for milk isn’t “good enough” for a magic potion, is it? With nothing else to do and the timer ticking down, I leave my paradise to its fate and return through the white door.
I do some fast Googling to learn that the island was called Elugelab; the blast destroyed it utterly, leaving only a 15-story deep crater in the ocean bed where an island once had been. The wooden “straw” led to the nearby Teiter Island which survived the blast. There doesn’t seem to be any real-world counterpart to the tiny island with the coconuts; as a tidal island it’s not likely to have appeared on any maps and Moriarty may have just made it up.
When I return to the “wabe”, I immediately try the coconut milk in the potion and it seems to work! I’m not sure how that counts, but I have three ingredients now. I need to find a lizard.
|Princess Peach has seen better.|
The Mushroom Kingdom
With my first trip out of the way and the knowledge of how to open the doors, I take stock of the rest of the portal toadstools:
- The first is in the meadow where I started. It doesn’t open again now but presumably led to Kensington Gardens.
- The second is the toadstool at the waterfall.
- I cannot find the third. I suspect that it is near the boy blowing bubbles and possibly somewhere I need to fly to if I can work out how to gain altitude. Or perhaps the boy is sitting on it?
- The fourth is the one that I just explored on the mesa.
- The fifth is in the garden behind the magpie’s cottage.
- The sixth door is on the moor far to the east of the map.
- I cannot find the seventh, but I expect that it is probably wherever the ferryman takes you.
My guess is that Mr. Moriarty is clever and has made each of the toadstools independent so that you can take them in any order. I therefore try the second one next and am immediately proven wrong: it leads out into Earth orbit with no spacesuit and nearly instant death. Nukes in space? There must be a way to survive there to do whatever I need to do, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have the means yet.
The death scene at least offers some hints as we arrive, dead, at the ferryman’s river. This time, we have a coin and use it to board the boat to the great beyond. Other than that, I don’t glean any further hints how to cross without dying so I restore and try the next mushroom.
|As a kid, I visited the Psygnosis offices in Cambridge. It was amazing. By coincidence, I later worked in the exact same office long after they had moved out.|
I take the fifth door next and arrive in what appears to be an elevated shack on the Siberian steppe. It’s cold and gray and someone is speaking in Russian on the loudspeaker. Google fails me and has no idea what “dyevianatsat minut” means, but Infocom was likely using either a nonstandard (or simply outdated now) romanization. My guess is that they meant “devyatnadtsat’ minut” (девятнадцать минут) or nineteen minutes. Plenty of time, right?
I climb down from the shack and immediately step on a rodent underfoot. In fact, the ground is mobbed by hundreds or thousands of creatures all racing to the northeast. They “look something like hamsters, with long brown fur and beady eyes”. Should I follow them? Or see where they came from? I try heading “upstream” against the tide of creatures, but Russian guards kill me so that’s not the way. I follow them instead to discover a cliff edge where the rodents are jumping off in apparent mass-suicide. Only then does the game tell me what you already figured out: they are lemmings! Of course, lemmings don’t actually jump off of cliffs, right? That’s just an urban legend spread by an old (faked) Disney documentary?
At the cliff, I discover a single trapped lemming in a fissure. I rescue it but it quickly bites my hand and disappears into the mass. If I release the magpie, I can grab it and then stick it in the cage. Is that a good trade? Do I need the magpie for anything? Remembering back last week, I did not get any points for it (only for the cage) so maybe not? Also, lemmings are not lizards even if they have the same starting letter, and even if the potion took coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, that would be too much of a stretch. I find nothing else of interest on the tundra. I even jump off the cliff once but just drown in the frigid Arctic water. Once there is nothing left to do and the countdown is presumably getting close, I head back through the door.
Doing some real-world research, I learn that I wasn’t on the Russian steppe after all: the Soviets did their nuclear testing at a site in Kazakhstan. I was close enough though since that was part of the Soviet Union until 1991 and Moriarty would likely not have seen it as a separate country. The test site was 100 miles west of Semipalatinsk (now called Semey) and the region sees many health problems thanks to all of the tests performed there. There doesn’t seem to be any real-world analogue to the cliffs as the nearest bodies of water I can find to the test site are frozen lakes around 25 miles to the northeast according to Google Earth. Am I looking too deeply at this? Absolutely. I’m procrastinating writing the next section.
|A spoonful of sugar helps the deep existential dread go down?|
The sixth door is my only remaining choice, located on the moor just north of the ferryman’s river. Stepping through, we find ourselves in midair and falling fast. Unlike in the space section, we have a few turns to experiment before we land with a splat and I have an idea what to do: open the umbrella! Doing so slows our descent enough that we land safely in a children’s sandbox. Writing this section is choking me up, so I’m going to pause by just giving you the room description:
We know what’s about to happen and it’s devastating. I gather together my things and discover that I can really only move east towards the shelter without being caught. Inside is a disgusting and rough hewn bomb shelter, filthy and smelling of urine from the people that had to relieve themselves while waiting out the terror outside. It’s an awful thought. There’s a spade on the ground which I pick up, but otherwise there’s nothing else to do.
I leave and discover that a girl is now playing in the sandpit. She spots me and nearly runs to her teacher, but then she spots my umbrella and her curiosity gets the best of her. I can tell that she wants it, so I hand it to her and she runs off into the shelter to play. Could she be the scarred woman in London? Do I even want to consider that?
There is still nowhere else that I can go safely, but seeing folded paper cranes in a nearby school window gives me a thought. I follow her into the shelter and hand the girl my unfolded origami crane from the beginning of the game, the one that gave me the message to go to the Long Water by 4 PM. She folds it back into its original crane shape and I gain three points. It glows with a strange energy. I return outside and the crane grows into a giant living paper bird. I climb on its back and it takes me up to just outside the white door, still suspended in midair, where I can leap off and through. Whew!
From a game perspective, that was an interesting segment and very much “on rails”. If I had not brought the paper or umbrella with me, I could not have progressed, plus it was really only two rooms that I had to move back and forth between to advance story segments. More than any other section of the game except perhaps the first near-future in London, this paints a human face on the misery of the bomb. Honestly, this section wrecked me and I needed to take some time off from the game. I’m really not cut out for reviewing this type of emotional experience. This game hurts. I don’t even care that I don’t know if that was Hiroshima or Nagasaki, I’m done and need to move on.
|“You can either look at things in a brutal, truthful way that’s depressing, or you can screw around and have fun.” – David Spade|
Calling a Spade, a Spade
With no more toadstool doors to explore– I haven’t found the third or seventh and the second one kills me immediately– I resolve find places in the wabe where my new items might be useful. I still have up a spade, a lemming, and an open coconut. It takes some experimentation, but I’ll skip my failures and move straight to the good part: I can open the crypt in the cemetery!
Using the spade, we pry off the lid to see the corpse of the “Wabewalker” (me?). This was well-hinted since I was told earlier that I needed more “leverage” to move the lid and a spade is certainly leverage. I had hoped the grave would be empty, but instead I look down at a “great missionary or explorer” in his final rest. I hope this game does not go all Infidel on me. The corpse is wearing a burial shroud, a bandage around his head, and two strangely colored boots: one red and one green. Like any good tomb raider, I strip the corpse and take all of his stuff. His mouth hangs open once the bandage is removed and I discover a silver coin inside. Fare for the ferryman? The boots each have a strange (but empty) recess at the tip of the toes. Do I have to hide something in them? With the corpse thoroughly desecrated, I’m nearly halfway through the game: 49 points!
While exploring, I also get the brilliant idea to float the Bubble Boy’s bubble out through the “space” doorway. Amazingly, it fits! The bubble immediately freezes to create a protective shell and that somehow keeps us from dying in the cold vacuum of space. Unfortunately, there is no way to control the bubble and the white door drifts rapidly away from us. After a time, a satellite comes closer and then departs again without letting us do whatever we are supposed to do. There is briefly a Star Wars-style laser destruction of a missile, but nothing to do except wait it out and die. There are still things that I am missing before I can conquer outer space.
|What happened to the other five stories?|
Desert Island Decameron
I wear all of my burial clothes and the ferryman lets me on the boat! He takes the silver coin as payment (but not the London 20p one) and deposits me across the river. There is no entrance to Hades or two-headed dogs, but there is a small island with the expected toadstool on it. When I arrive with the seventh symbol set on the sundial, I emerge into another rickety shack next to a large metal ball covered with wires.
There are voices outside and if I leave prematurely, I am killed– more on that in a minute. But if I explore the room first the voices eventually leave. I use that time to try to open the bomb via an access panel that I discover on the side, but no dice without a screwdriver. I even try using the London coin, but it doesn’t fit. A book sits discarded on the floor, the Desert Island Decameron. Doing some Googling, I discover that it is an “unconventional anthology of humor”… a strange thing to find in a room with a giant bomb, but perhaps one of the guards needed a little light reading while he considered the hellscape that he was potentially helping to create. Inside is a bookmark with a poem on one side and a diagram scrawled on the other. I get four points for reading it so it must be important, but the only part we can “see” in text is the legend: “RD=DET, BL=POS, ST=INF, WH=GND”. My guess is that we are looking at a wiring diagram and an explanation on how to defuse the bomb. In any event, it’s useless without the panel being opened.
Once the voices are gone, I exit and climb down the ladder. At the bottom is a padlocked box… and our friend the roadrunner! He’s finally back in his natural habitat and seems happy to see me. He even drops the ruby at my feet! I pick it up to gain a few more points and from this moment the roadrunner follows me around. I cannot open the padlocked panel, even when I try to smash it with the axe or spade. Letting the lemming go doesn’t help either and I do not see any lizards here.
I’m going to pass on delving too deeply into my explorations of the New Mexico desert for now, except to say that we only get a few turns before we die and even with successive restores I do not find much of interest. I suspect that I am here before I am ready; maybe I find a way to slow down time? Maybe by defusing the bomb at the beginning, the test is delayed by a few minutes and I can explore further before dying?
Perhaps more importantly, this is the message that I get when I inevitably die:
The real Trinity test, which I am certain is where this gate has taken us, did not nuke the state of New Mexico. It was relatively modest as far as later bombs were concerned and so something must have happened to change history. Have I finally stumbled on the plot of the game? Did someone or something interfere with the Trinity test to make it even deadlier than before? It’s a great twist if that’s what happened and I am eager to see how the game continues.
For now however, I am stuck and have a few open problems to solve:
- I have yet to find the third toadstool. I thought it was by the Bubble Boy, but since we use the bubble to go to space I was probably mistaken. I will have to search for it since there’s something I missed someplace.
- I do not know what to do with the wight, either to help it or kill it. Could the crypt’s skeleton key by the solution to the lock in New Mexico?
- I do not know what to do in space.
- I do not know what to do with the magnetic meteorite.
- I do not know where to find a lizard. It seems most likely to be in New Mexico, but I doubt it given that even if we find a way to reopen the doors, I don’t seem to have a path back across the river to the main part of the wabe.
I did manage to get 70 points, but I’ve reloaded now to before crossing the ferry so I will have to get some of those again.
Time played: 2 hr 15 min
Total time: 7 hr 25 min
Inventory: bag of crumbs, small coin (20p), silver coin, red boot, blue boot, bandage, burial shroud, credit card, wristwatch, birdcage with lemming, broken coconut, and silver axe. (Not all being carried at once.)
Score: 70 of 100