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The Quest For The Worst Adventure Game Puzzles - The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time (Part 1)

Author's Note: Here are links to previous episodes of this series:

Preamble

It's time to talk about adventure games again!
It's time to talk about adventure games again!

It has been over a month since I last published one of these adventure game blogs, but old habits die hard. With this episode, I will be returning to the FMV world of The Journeyman Project, but this time my deep analysis will target the second game in the series. I ended my post on The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime with a proclamation that it was one of the better introductory games to the late-90s FMV era of PC adventure games. I stand by that because The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time is a definite jump in difficulty and features more of the expected "hiccups" of an FMV game. Don't get me wrong; Buried in Time is a game I had a blast playing. Nonetheless, it is undoubtedly the least welcoming entry in the franchise for newcomers or those whose only impressions of the adventure game genre are LucasArts, Ron Gilbert, or Tim Schaffer. I have played these games for almost all my life, and this game still managed to kick my ass, but more on that later.

And yet, I still love this game. As mentioned in the previous episode, you can never claim that Presto Studios, the team behind The Journeyman Project series, wasn't trying their best whenever they made one of these games. With Buried in Time, you get the sense they had a far larger budget to work with and had bigger storytelling aspirations. With The Journeyman Project 1 or Pegasus Prime, you got a story that was a total mess that eventually went to some wild and insane places. Buried in Time doesn't wait to kick into high gear. After starting a new playthrough, you first see an incredibly over-the-top FMV cutscene where a man in a ridiculous spacesuit claims to be you from the future and that your life is in danger. Then, in one of your first "official" levels, you explore a derelict space station before acquiring a sentient artificial intelligence that enjoys cracking turn-of-the-century puns and one-liners! Buried in Time oozes with 90s charm, and if you have any nostalgia for this era of games, that will keep you going while you butt up against some of its bizarre design choices.

The FMV cutscenes in this game need to be seen to be believed.
The FMV cutscenes in this game need to be seen to be believed.

Speaking of which, there are some consequences to Buried in Time utilizing the format and structure of its predecessor but applying it to a grander stage. Much like the first game, you'll need to hop back and forth across various environments and timelines to address roadblocks in subsequent levels. Including the introductory hub world, there are seven levels in Buried in Time, and each features up to twenty or so fully explorable screens that can have trinkets or puzzles where you least expect them. Much like the early Myst games, your playable character can examine any screen you are in using fully rendered 3D movement on an x and y-axis. This design presents plenty of frustrations as you'll often need to find a specific location or screen in the game and then turn down to look at the floor and click a random pixel to put an item in your inventory. However, I predict the game's backtracking will represent most players' prominent source of frustration. If you elect not to have a guide on standby, you'll often find yourself staring at historical monuments or gizmos with no input from the game that the missing piece to what you are stuck on is five to six levels deep in a different setting. Again, if you are asking me what any of this translates to in terms of a recommendation, I would start with Pegasus Prime and see if that game's old-school design is too much before jumping headfirst into the far more ambitious Buried in Time.

Finally, for various reasons, I will be breaking this examination on Buried in Time into two parts. While a quick review of HowLongToBeat might suggest the game is a scant seven to eight hours, that's pretty long for a game of this type. I finished Pegasus Prime and even the third game well under that amount. When you start playing Buried in Time, you'll immediately discover why it's considered the most extensive and challenging entry in the series. The environments and levels in this game dwarf the ones in the first game, and unlike the series' third entry, Buried in Time feels like a full-featured folly. The environments you explore are dense, and their puzzles are far more complex. So, to spare everyone from reading a manifesto on FMV adventure game design, I decided to make things easier. Simply going from the start of the game to its halfway point, I managed to crest at the word total of my write-up on the entirety of Pegasus Prime.

You cannot fault this game for lack of ambition.
You cannot fault this game for lack of ambition.

Ratings Explained: I'm using a continuum ranging from 1 to 10. Puzzles ranging from one to four are accessible sequences or set pieces that can be solved without guides or hints, regardless of your puzzle game expertise. Puzzles ranked between five and six are ones that only intermediate puzzle game players can solve, but beginners can solve in-game through clues, hints, or significant trial-and-error. From seven and above, we get into puzzles that most players cannot solve without consulting outside resources. Also in this category are puzzles that have major accessibility issues.

Gage Blackwood's House (Part 1)

I ended up looking up what the actors in this game did afterwards and it is next to nothing. I think we can agree they all recognized they nailed their first acting gig and realized it was all downhill from there.
I ended up looking up what the actors in this game did afterwards and it is next to nothing. I think we can agree they all recognized they nailed their first acting gig and realized it was all downhill from there.

Finding The Gage Blackwood Action Figure - 2/10 - During the game's introductory cutscene, a version of your character from the future warns you about a grand conspiracy. You discover that your character is under house arrest in the present timeline for committing "crimes against the space-time continuum." Before your futuristic doppelganger departs, he relays that he hid a special message on how to prove your innocence and "reveal the truth" about what's happening in the world of The Journeyman Project 2. What that happens to be is an action figure stacked on top of your bookcase that, when clicked, plays a Mission Impossible-styled story summary. It's a bit on the contrived side, and the learning curve on how to control the game isn't the best, but it is a decent enough tutorial puzzle. Along your way, you interact with other pieces of furniture that either exist as pure window dressing or fill in some gaps in the game's worldbuilding. Overall, it's a manageable pixel hunt.

Using The Enviro-Projector Room To Collect Shopnet Order Numbers - 4/10 - Here's where Buried in Time's design may make or break for most people. The message I mentioned earlier warns Gage Blackwood to explore their apartment to "collect all of the resources necessary to prove your innocence." That one line is your only clue that there are two inventory items in the apartment which, if not collected, will result in you being unable to progress the story. These items are a can of aerosol cheese called a "Cheese Girl" and a translation BioChip. Where Buried in Time complicates things is how you unlock the ability to possess these items. You first need to enter your living room, which is siloed away from the kitchen, and then use your home entertainment system. While watching the news, you must record these items' shipping/order numbers while observing their advertisements. The lack of signposting makes this a jump-up in difficulty from the previous puzzle. Worse, one of the advertisements is for a music album that has nothing to do with progressing the story. It also does not help that the order numbers for these products are incredibly long. Correspondingly, if you fail to write the codes down quickly, the game transitions to the news, thus causing you to restart the whole process. If you enjoy some FMV-based goodness, this isn't that bad of a time. It's not an impossible task once you understand what you need to locate, but an annoying one nonetheless.

It really is a shame this franchise tapped out by the third game.
It really is a shame this franchise tapped out by the third game.

Using The Replicator To Order The Cheese Girl And Translate BioChip - 2/10 - The good news about collecting those order forms is that the next part of the process, ordering the goddamn things, isn't that hard. All you need to do is find the food replicator in your kitchen, which is impossible to miss and select the "ShopNet" mode, where you can search for and order the necessary items. The one added step that caught me off guard is that you also need to select the "Replicate" button to create the items and add them to your inventory. I thought the process of ordering them added them to your inventory automatically when I first played the game. Also, in the case of the Cheese Girl, you need to reorder one-time-use items if you misuse them, which can involve a lot of backtracking thanks to the game's trail-and-error adventure game design. More on that in a minute.

Farnstein Lab (Part 1)

Have no idea what you are looking at? Well, you are not alone!
Have no idea what you are looking at? Well, you are not alone!

Using The Cheese Girl To Navigate The Vacuum Of Space - 2/10 - Similar to the first game, once you get into the timeline jumping part of Buried in Time, it presents four possible locations you can jump to at any time. The lucky news with Buried in Time is that, IN GENERAL, no energy meter ticks away after you warp to a location. The lone exception to that is the Farnstein Lab which, because it exists in space, features a time limit (i.e., a rapidly dwindling oxygen meter) that does not exist in other environments. To make matters worse, even upon entering the space station, you discover the entire facility has been depressurized. This time limit continues until you find a way to pressurize a room you are in, but the station can only do that once. If you accidentally select the wrong room, you must warp back to the apartment, reorder a Cheese Girl, and try again from scratch.

As a result, Farnstein Lab is my least favorite level in Buried in Time by a country mile. Things are not off to a great first impression when, after warping to the station, you discover the coordinates to the entrance are wrong, cannot correct them, and need to use the Cheese Girl to propel yourself to the space station. After doing this once, it becomes an automatic reaction upon warping there. However, your first experience involves fumbling through the inventory system and seeing which items allow you to move forward. Also, where you use the can of cheese determines the direction you move. If you use the can of cheese, a one-time-use item, in the wrong place, you need to warp back to the apartment, reorder it, and try again. As I said with the previous two puzzles, it is not necessarily hard, but it's fiddly, and the time limit makes it more nerve-racking than it needs to be.

Much like the first game, you spend a lot of time looking at computer terminals.
Much like the first game, you spend a lot of time looking at computer terminals.

Pressurizing The Capacitance Array - 4/10 - After using the can of cheese to propel Gage to the entrance of the space station, you need to open an airlock and continue moving forward into a large room until a sentient artificial intelligence starts yelling. What I find especially heinous is how some of these screeds are required unskippable cutscenes that eat into your time limit. While in the main room, you need to take note of a sign that says "Capacitance Array." When using a computer terminal, select that room when given the option to pressurize one room of your choice. There's also a metal bar you can pick up blocking a door you will need to use later. As I warned earlier, there are dozens of rooms to choose from on the terminal, some you cannot even enter, and if you misclick, you will need to restart from the beginning. Moreover, the computer terminal is easy to miss as it blends with the environment's grey and black palette. With a time limit running in the background, finding it is undoubtedly stressful. Luckily for all involved, after pressurizing the room, you no longer need to worry about the time limit as it has a steady flow of oxygen. This puzzle is a little on the hunt-and-peck side, but it is acceptable in my book.

Exiting The Docking Bay - 5/10 - The artificial intelligence from earlier introduces himself as "Arthur" and states he is willing to help you if you assist him in leaving the space station. The first step towards completing this involves exiting the main room and exploring the station's docking bay. Unfortunately, a force field-based conveyor belt system prevents you from entering or exiting the room quickly. Here, you take note of the directions the force field throws you and find the correct directional inputs to get to the other side. There are a few ways for you to select the wrong directions and end up right back at the entrance. Also, the game's first-person perspective makes it even harder to get your bearings straight, and the lack of visual variety makes it impossible to tell if you are making progress. This puzzle reminded me of the ice skating levels in Chip's Challenge but on crack. It's still a puzzle you can brute force if you get lucky, but it can become an incredibly frustrating task if you are not in a position to take notes.

I LOVE futuristic checkers!
I LOVE futuristic checkers!

Opening The Lock To Arthur - 3/10 - When you make your way to the docking bay door, Arthur greets you and asks again if you are willing to help him leave the station. Once you agree, he directs you to a room called "The Nexus." When you first open the door to this room, Arthur provides the answer to the numerical lock that stands in your way (i.e., 32770). After prying away a few layers, the inner part of the Nexus displays three red lights on the top and three green lights on the bottom. You move the dots so they leap over one another (ala checkers) until the green and red dots have swapped places. It's a simple logic puzzle, and if you end up in a fail state, the puzzle resets itself. Just be careful as you have entered a new room that is not pressurized, and the time limit from before is back, but luckily reset to its starting level. This callback might be a reach, but this puzzle is reminiscent of the Leap of the Locust puzzle in Jewels of the Oracle. If that reference means anything to even one person on the internet, please let out a yelp.

The Mayan Temple & Caves (Part 1)

I have no idea if Presto took the time to use historically accurate Mayan hieroglyphics, but it would be cool if they did.
I have no idea if Presto took the time to use historically accurate Mayan hieroglyphics, but it would be cool if they did.

Using The Translate BioChip On The Maya Script At The Temple - 2/10 - As is the case with every single Journeyman Project game, your first time exploring the Mayan temple is brief. In the Journeyman Project games, there is always at least one level wherein your first rodeo is to warp into the level, fiddle with one thing, pick a random item up, and leave. The first step here is one of the more enjoyable storytelling moments in the game. Using the Translate BioChip and Arthur, you can learn about the ancient Maya and their religious practices as if you are using Microsoft Encarta. The trick is to use the translation tool on the four edges of the temple and take note of the gods and sacred animals mentioned in the script.

I forgot to mention this earlier, but Buried in Time improves upon the first game by boiling down your necessary BioChips to just a half dozen. This improvement makes exploring environments and interacting with items more enjoyable and accessible. The real issue here, and from this point forward, is how you feel about Arthur and his wisecracks. If ever there was a part of the game that dates it more than its use of FMV, it has to be the turn of the century pop culture references he interjects into the story if you choose to interact with him. The key word is "choose." You can elect not to use him beyond the story sequences that require him.

In a normal playthrough, you will be using this statue a lot.
In a normal playthrough, you will be using this statue a lot.

Using The Maya Combination Lock To Drop To The Caves - 5/10 - Getting to the bottom of the temple is something you will likely do several times in a single playthrough. Much like ordering the Cheese Girl, it becomes an automatic process with practice, but figuring things out the first time is a chore. Inside the temple is a Maya version of a combination lock. On one side of the wheel are symbols of animals, and on the other are dots and lines resembling the Maya counting system. The trick is to remember the scripts from earlier and recall which numbers match with the correct animals. You do not need to use the machine more than once; all you need to do is set one animal symbol to the correct number. With this out of the way, you need to find a bowl of water and place the bowl in the hands of a statue at the temple's entrance. This action will trigger a trap door that will lead to the underground cave system or immediate death. Because this puzzle involves a decent amount of lore and mythos building, I did not mind it though it is worth mentioning that leaving the temple complex results in a "Game Over."

Picking Up The Copper Medallion - 2/10 - Remember when I briefly mentioned how some of the puzzles in this game utilize 3D movement and require the player to look up or down to pick up random items? This sequence is one such example of that. After dropping down into the cave system, your only task is locating a skeleton and snatching the copper medallion in its clutches. You are free to explore the caves, but the doors remain locked until you collect more items from the other supporting levels. It's a shitty move, but par for the course regarding adventure games of this specific era.

Château Gaillard

The actors in this game really sell their lines and roles!
The actors in this game really sell their lines and roles!

Picking Up The Arrow & Grappling Hook - 5/10 - First, I want to say that I find this setting highly compelling. Buried in Time is one of the few examples of a game using the post-Jeanne d'Arc part of the Hundred Years' War. It's a fun setting and as Buried in Time utilizes a real battle for this backdrop, it ends up playing like a stealth mission. Avoiding detection isn't that hard, and the game even provides an invisibility BioChip that allows you to avoid getting caught more easily. However, things start pretty blandly with you needing to pick up a bloody arrow from a dead soldier and a subsequent grappling hook that is required several times in the game. The tricky part is that the bloodied arrow is a pixelated mess and almost impossible to see unless you know what you are looking for, and the grappling hook is only marginally better. At least with the grappling hook, Arthur clues you into needing one when your character butts up against a wall. You do not use the arrow until you decide to complete the underground caves in the Mayan temple. Collecting both items is not in and of itself complicated, but it is a pain knowing what you need to gather in the first place.

Making A Key - 6/10 - For most players, making the copper key does not happen until you read a textbook in a knight's bedroom. After reading this book, you discover there is a hidden treasure room in Château Gaillard, and discern it is there you will be able to detect clues on who is behind the conspiracy against Gage. Having played this game before and wanting to speed things up, I decided to jump right into making the key since I already had all the necessary parts. When you turn to face the forge, you will notice two bricks running horizontally when the rest are vertical. Double-clicking one of the bricks reveals the mold to a key. To make the key, place the medallion from the Maya caves into a dish and click a nearby wooden bellow to stoke a fire. After the medal melts, click the pan to pour it into the mold and then collect the key that forms. Because Gage's suit is capable of withstanding hot molten metal, you do not need to chill the key in water after making it.

Clicking random shit to solve puzzles makes me feel good about my life choices.
Clicking random shit to solve puzzles makes me feel good about my life choices.

Boy, howdy did this puzzle give me Riven flashbacks! The task here is about clicking things in the correct order, but luckily the puzzle doesn't send you back a step if you click something wrong. Extinguishing the fire after melting the metal but before pouring it into the mold doesn't result in a "Game Over" as in other PC adventure games of this era. Also, there are not as many steps as you might think. So, you have a historically correct version of a "Gadget and Gizmo puzzle" wherein you keep clicking until you can progress the story. It might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it's not impossible to parse out on your own.

Finding The First Chateau Galliard Temporal Anachronism - 2/10 - Beyond the usual FMV-induced madness and adventuring gameplay, Buried in Time has one additional recurring hook. During the game's second act, you will need to collect evidence on who framed Gage for crimes against the time continuum. The first time this kicks into gear is at Château Gaillard, where, as you try to find the castle's hidden treasure, you will see signs of a different time traveler. The good news here is that Arthur blares that there's a temporal anachronism when you are near one and will even offer a hint if you have a hard time trying to find it. The only problem is that collecting evidence is a bit fiddly with you needing to select the "Evidence" BioChip and then click the clue's hitbox. The second part of that process is way more challenging than it should be, mind you. Still, this first clue, a random picture, is straightforward enough.

There are some really good death screens in this game.
There are some really good death screens in this game.

Using The Grappling Hook On The Castle - 2/10 - So, we know there's another time traveler and also that there's a hidden trove of treasure that might shed some light on who that might be. Before that, you'll also need to infiltrate the castle's keep using the grappling hook, and be quick about preventing the defending guards from dropping a cow on you. I did warn you that this game is goofy, right? The guards will unhook you mid-climb when you first attempt to scale the castle. The second climb will go without a hitch, but only if you are quick. When the guards that tried to thwart your scaling attempt earlier notice you entering a bedroom, you need to use the Invisibility BioChip. Both sequences require you to click things within a time constraint but are not nearly as oppressive as the space station.

Finding The Treasure Room At Château Gaillard - 4/10 - While in the keep, there are plenty of books and items to interact with, but not all are necessary for progressing the story. The gist is that you are at the castle during the late stages of the Siege of Château Gaillard, where the French attackers are moments away from taking the fortress. To find the treasure, you need to touch a tapestry near where you entered the room and then pick up a burnt letter from a fireplace. When you exit the first room, you will observe the other time traveler warping out of the castle, and your suit will automatically collect that as evidence. While in a cellar, you need to detect a nondescript chest and then use the key on the chest to unlock the entrance to a secret room below. While in the treasure room, you need to use the Evidence BioChip on a sword and pick up gold coins from a coffer.

Luckily these holy relics will not melt your face if you misuse them.
Luckily these holy relics will not melt your face if you misuse them.

Again, the FMV veneer and time-traveling story elevate a standard turn-of-the-century puzzle format. The game provides a scenery-dense environment with a dozen screens and a handful of items you need to locate. Like Myst, you can process puzzles and environmental context clues at your preferred pace. With Arthur in tow, you can even get a history lecture from time to time. The only complication is that some rooms have guards, which will spell a "Game Over" if you are not careful. This design decision seems almost antithetical to what the game is trying to accomplish, but The Journeyman Project has always envisioned itself as more action-oriented than Myst. Therefore, you need to tangle with the fear of instant death occasionally.

Da Vinci's Studio

Finding The First And Second Temporal Anachronisms In Leonardo da Vinci's Studio - 2/10 - What is any time-traveling video game series without at least one leap into Leonardo da Vinci's workshop? There are a few things to note about this environment. First, you cannot complete this zone without the hammer from the smithy in Château Gaillard. Second, the villa has the fewest possible sources of death of any level in the game, short of Gage's apartment. There is one tricky "Game Over" you can get if you forget to summon the elevator and fall down its shaft, but that's the only one that jumps out to me. Otherwise, it is the breeziest level in the game and one of the few where you can appreciate the scenery and Arthur's lectures leisurely. There's also a key in a door that you use to get into this first room that you need to remember to pick up, or else you'll butt up against a locked door leading to the final level of this environment. Trust me; it is a bummer to forget that key.

You sure do get this temporal anachronism warning a lot in the studio. Luckily getting all of the clues is not required.
You sure do get this temporal anachronism warning a lot in the studio. Luckily getting all of the clues is not required.

When collecting evidence, da Vinci's studio has a decent amount. In fact, you need to find your first clue almost immediately after warping into the level. The issue is that most of the evidence is on the floor of the studio or nearby villa, and the brown and beige tilework makes it impossible to distinguish where clues might exist. In this case, you need to take note of some red paint on the floor, but it is a dull enough red that almost matches the floor's texture. The good news is that the second clue is contained within a required unskippable cutscene that doesn't need you to fumble around with your BioChips to collect. There's a bit of aimless wandering here, but it is not the end of the world, and if you have Arthur, the game even warns you if you are getting colder or hotter to the clues.

Using The Elevator At Da Vinci's Studio - 2/10 - As I mentioned, there's an elevator at the studio, and you need to use it once to get to the ground floor of a surrounding villa. If you attempt to hop into the elevator without operating its crank, you will fall to your death. Instead, you use the "Translate" BioChip to translate Latin on two levers to discover which one is "Up" and which one is "Down." You use the up lever to raise the elevator to where you are currently standing, and after walking into it, you use the down lever to continue your adventure. I wouldn't typically rank something like this more than a one, but because this device is one of the only ways you can kill yourself here, and that "Game Over" isn't too off the beaten path, I'll bump it up to a two.

I gotta warn you game, I only got a C+ in middle school woodshop.
I gotta warn you game, I only got a C+ in middle school woodshop.

Building The Siege Machine - 6/10 - After lowering yourself to the ground floor, you need to move to a nearby room where you must pick up a rope and then move to a second room where you locate a drive assembly. Next to the drive assembly, you can observe the blueprint of an unfinished vehicle by da Vinci that can summit walls and towers. The blueprint indicates that there are other parts to this contraption that still need to be collected before you can hope to assemble it. These necessary components include two wooden pegs and a wheel assembly. The parts can only be put together on a specific workbench in the workshop, and the wooden pegs require a hammer from the French castle forge if you wish to connect them correctly. After placing all of the pieces in the correct spot and hammering the wooden pegs into place, you have a working "siege cycle" that you can use to reach the tower that you saw the other time traveler occupying.

This process is not a great experience. The issue is that the distance between some parts and the rooms containing them is vast. After picking up the drive assembly, the wooden pegs are nine steps or clicks away (i.e., Right-Forward-Left-Forward-Right-Forward-Forward-Forward-Forward-Down). Furthermore, the parts the game needs you to find are not easy to see in the first place because they are sometimes indistinguishable from the game's background and foreground textures. To highlight, I walked past the rope four or five times before I realized I was missing a part of the siege vehicle. It sure does not help that the workbench where you need to put all these pieces together is tucked away in a far corner of the workshop and easy to miss. Finally, while I appreciate the many interactable parts in the studio and workshop, very few have anything to do with moving the story forward. I spent five to seven minutes trying to pick up some of the game's window dressing, thinking they had to be quest items because Arthur lectured about them for three minutes. As a result, it's incredibly easy to get stuck here, and the hint system isn't especially helpful because all it repeats is that you should look at the blueprint if you are confused.

Putting items or objects in the correct spot is also a major pain in the ass in this game.
Putting items or objects in the correct spot is also a major pain in the ass in this game.

Using The Siege Cycle - 6/10 - Using the siege cycle is marginally more manageable than putting it together. First, you must find a ballista past a rose garden outside the workshop. This task might not sound like much, but it is not difficult to get lost here. From the workbench, you need to click Up-Left-Forward-Right-Forward-Left-Forward and then click to open a door. From there, you click Forward-Right-Forward-Left-Forward-Right-Right-Forward-Forward-Left-Forward-Left-Forward-Right-Right-Down. Fans of Buried in Time will likely contend that the villa is a circular loop. Even if you get lost, you will eventually find the ballista, but I value my time and thought the level design of this part was a significant annoyance. When you find the ballista, you need to click its base once to turn it to face the correct castle. I did the rest of this puzzle first without doing this and did not know why the machine was not working.

When you enter the operator's position of the machine, you use two handles to adjust the ballista's pitch and yaw axis. If you read a note by da Vinci, you would know that you need to align the crosshairs with a star constellation, but for most, you click the left-handle right nine times and the right knob down twice. With the crosshair in the correct position, the ballista hooks a rope to a building, and you can place the siege cycle on the cord and then ride it to the final level of this environment. As you might expect, this puzzle is either something you look up the answer to or fiddle around with for hours. The feedback the game provides is far from great, but at least the target you are aiming for is clear enough. The note I mentioned earlier that provides your only clue is vague about which stars to use as your guide, and it's not entirely helpful. However, because this puzzle doesn't have a timer breathing down your neck and the ammunition to the ballista is endless, I can't judge it too harshly.

Fanning through pages in a book to find clues is my idea of a good time.
Fanning through pages in a book to find clues is my idea of a good time.

Finding A Lens And Attaching It To Your Time Suit - 4/10 - First, remember the key I said you need to pick up on the first level? It sure would be a bummer if you did everything necessary to get to the last part of this environment, only to be unable to because you forgot that key. That sure would be a not fun experience! After you unlock the door, you will watch as the other time traveler departs and immediately need to observe a lens that fell from their suit. However, you will need to collect that lens and attach it to Gage's. This process is oddly fiddly but far from impossible. You can use this lens to observe a book in the final tower of the villa and notice that the time traveler has edited some of its scripts. Fun fact, the game only requires you to observe the lens as evidence and does not require you to pick it up. You should not do that because the final level in the entire game becomes impossible if you leave it behind, and you can even get stuck in a weird late-game fail state. That alone bumps this score up ever so slightly.

Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck this!
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck this!

Remembering To Pick Up The Human Heart - 7/10 - Speaking of random bullshit that can fuck you over if you are not careful, let's talk about this human heart before we close this episode! Buried in Time will lock you into specific screens or environments until you have located a required set of clues or cutscenes. Once you have collected all of the possible clues or sources of evidence at any given level, it will even tell you that there's nothing left for you to do. This warning is complete and total bullshit because the game does not count necessary story items. This design decision is a problem with da Vinci's villa because in the very last room exists a non-descript cupboard that has a human heart that you will eventually need for the final part of the Maya temple sequence. This cupboard doesn't look especially important, and when you open it, there's nothing to indicate that the heart is even something you can add to your inventory. And yet, it is, and if you forget to do this, you will need to drag your ass from wherever you are (usually the Mayan caves) to the start of the villa to make the long trek to the final tower, ballista, and all, a second time. That is what I call a "dick move."

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Shouldn't Steam Next Fest Just Be A Feature? Also, Is This Summer Sale The Hardest It's Been To Use Steam's Front Page?

Oh, how I wish any of these buttons did something useful.
Oh, how I wish any of these buttons did something useful.

Yet again, the gaming community has to mull over another batch of seasonal video game sales making a massive dent in their incomes. Steam's Summer Sale is at the forefront of this phenomenon with another flashy minigame and thousands of ridiculous markdowns on big and small games. It's interesting to look at the Steam storefront now and remember how it was annotating demos for indie games and livestreams of people playing them just two weeks ago. Seriously, do you remember the June 2022 Steam Next Fest? Shit, I barely remember what I ate one week ago, let alone temporary digital events! Nonetheless, while one of these events is a cluttered mess designed to get you to pull the trigger on games you are on the fence about, the other is all about providing smaller developers a platform to pitch games to a community of millions. Before we move on to my next point, I'll give you a minute to think about which one is which.

There's something to be written or said about the current state of Steam's UI/UX these days, especially whenever it decides to parade around thousands of games on sale. However, I always find it curious how Valve showcases a far easier-to-navigate version of an event-oriented Steam Marketplace during Next Fest. The windows that play the community streams are moderately sized and inoffensive. Sorting games by genre is not entirely a pain in the ass. Finally, the most notable feature is a tab that chronologically annotates, by release date, games that have gotten demos. That one feature is something fellow moderator Chaser324, and I joke about whenever there's an upcoming or active Steam Next Fest. Every time Valve does one of these events, Chase, a person with design and programming experience, has to remind me to check out hundreds of game demos before the event ends. Because, after a Next Fest ends, it becomes virtually impossible to discover new shit, especially demos, that might tickle my fancy from smaller developers. Worse, that convenient tab that lists demos by date? Yeah, that disappears because, for whatever reason, it is an exclusive feature to Next Fest.

The reason I feel passionate about this topic isn't exactly a new idea or concept, but the current Summer Sale has made it all the more apparent. Filtering out the dogshit on Steam is all but impossible. Most developers now know that putting a game perpetually on sale makes it recommended on the storefront's frontpage in perpetuity. At this point, I see the same bullshit zeitgeist or clout chasing knockoff games every waking hour I log into Steam. Worse, Steam now limits its ignore feature to 100 developers or curators, and with the marketplace constantly flooded by bullshit, that limit is not enough. The number of developers and curators actively abusing Steam's low barrier to entry or curation rules is ridiculous, and I reached my cap years ago. Yet, I am still seeing dogshit video games in my recommendations. So, please, Steam, make it easier to find and track indie games and demos for games I give a shit about; please, for the love of God.

Why Is Steam Next Fest The Only Time Steam Has A List Of Demos From Newest to Oldest?

Why are all of these search and filter options only available during Next Fest?
Why are all of these search and filter options only available during Next Fest?

I have to issue two points of clarification before we continue. First, Steam isn't the only digital gaming marketplace that desperately needs a "New Demos" tab or platform for independent developers to release miniature versions of game builds. GOG, for example, has this same issue. On GOG, the only reliable way I can track or follow game demos is to go to their store, click a genre, and then sort games "Price (from lowest)." Then, and only then, can I peruse a list of game demos and locate new releases of demos because the price of demos is programmed to be "$0." The second concession I need to make is that Next Fest is not a perfect event. The event's billed purpose is to give indie devs a unique event wherein they can share their games in their current state, collect input from players, and return to making their games with a treasure trove of free information. Instead, the current goal seems to be "Let's get people to follow or wishlist some games because there's no other way to track how well people are reacting to these games."

With that in mind, it is still a vastly superior UI/UX experience than what the current storefront or the much-ballyhooed Summer Sale provides. I tell you what, I got a big kick out of this year's Summer Sale minigame/gimmick, but not for the reasons that you might think. I was belly laughing when, as I fanned thorough nigh unnavigable slide decks, some of the actual games I could buy with real-world money seemed as ridiculous or more than the fake games Steam was asking me to find. Furthermore, I think I speak for most when I say I do not enjoy navigating Steam to find games without using the search feature. The slide decks and panels do not work as intended, and worse, the swings you can experience with a single click are simply bizarre. In one case, I looked at Resident Evil VII right next to a shovelware VR game and an obscure anime visual novel from 2008 in a panel listed as "Critically Acclaimed Horror Titles." I think this was Steam's attempt to try and recommend titles that match my purchasing habits or browsing history, but I don't know. I thought I ignored enough VR titles to tell the system I do NOT have a VR headset. Maybe Steam's trying to help out smaller developers by placing them next to tentpole AAA titles? If that's the case, someone needs to do a better job of making sure to separate the chaff from the wheat, but that battle was lost years ago on Steam.

That's why I think Steam could benefit from making Next Fest's demo search and tab features a permanent fixture. A visible "Check Out These New Game Demos" tab on the front page would also greatly alleviate the often overwhelming nature of Steam sales. Likewise, while Steam always directs you to "Wishlist" a game, this only goes so far. Usually, all making a wishlist does is send notifications on your phone when a game goes on sale. Why not ping users when new demos are released, or the developer is testing a new build for the game? And if that's all too much, how about just putting one more tab or search parameter that allows me to locate newly released game demos I was unaware of until recently? I'm not lying when I say I discover more new games I want to follow through Next Fest than any E3 presentation or Summer Sale. And yet, I can only do that for a week, three to four times a year.

Deleting All Demos After The Event Is Over Sucks

Luckily not everyone deletes their Next Fest demo. So, at least I can tell you to go out and play the demo Melatonin.
Luckily not everyone deletes their Next Fest demo. So, at least I can tell you to go out and play the demo Melatonin.

I mentioned earlier that Next Fest is by no means a flawless event. One of the most infuriating aspects is how many of these demos I have thus far glowingly praised disappear once the event is over. And when I say "disappear," I mean it. When the first Next Fest happened, and my job prevented me from using a weekend to get my fill, I downloaded around a dozen demos with the hope of playing them another time. Unfortunately, I was unaware that when Next Fest ends, Steam and the developer will delete the demos designed for the event from the marketplace and people's accounts. As a consumer, I'm not too fond of this. It puts many people with busy or seasonal schedules at a disadvantage in taking advantage of Next Fest. Also, this "feature" means that even if I read an article on a gaming publication or forum about the best games to check out during Next Fest, those recommendations are fleeting. Some of the demos stay around, but the vast majority disappear until the developer feels more comfortable sharing a larger slice of the game. Even if a demo for the recommended titles reappears, there's no guarantee it will be the same demo or slice of the game.

However, I understand why developers will likely push back on me regarding this point. The solution to my complaint would require devs to stop pulling the demo at the end of the event, and that's unlikely to change. Next Fest is a widow in which Steam opens itself up to smaller indie devs, and those teams might not want what they whipped up for the event to be their benchmark. If I were a member of a small design team, I might not be happy having a mid-development demo out there, which might not be representative of my post-alpha or beta work. The event intends for developers to collect input that they can practice in future builds and releases. Any notion of permanency defeats that purpose. However, while I understand not having a working demo available after a specified date, outright deleting downloaded content from people's accounts seems a bridge too far to me.

I also must address the big "elephant in the room," Steam Early Access. Having a hub for demos is not something I envision replacing Early Access. I understand that Early Access is a significant moneymaker for most developers, and demos can present a drain on developmental resources. However, plenty of people like myself are not interested in buying into a development process after paying an entry fee that can take upwards of two to five years to complete. Others want free ways to opt into a game or its community before taking the plunge. Thus, demos are a more suitable and palatable segue into discovering whether or not a game is worth buying. Most itch.io releases do as much, and I have a hard time envisioning a world where Steam cannot match itch's practices. And when it comes to developers, not everyone can physically or emotionally subject themselves to the rollercoaster that is Early Access. Yes, Early Access allows developers still in progress with a game to collect input and QA data while filling their coffers. However, the quality of that input is sometimes questionable, with most consumers still buying into Early Access games and expecting completed products.

I Understand The Importance Of Timed Events

All I wanted from this were game recommendations for my adventure game blogs.
All I wanted from this were game recommendations for my adventure game blogs.

When I passed by some of the ideas of this blog by a friend who is an active member of the indie dev scene, they felt I needed to be more careful about not fully advocating for the end of timed events that provide attention-grabbing platforms. Events such as Next Fest rouse up attention because they are "special," and Next Fest is one of the few times when a major digital marketplace makes itself openly welcoming to smaller developers. It's tricky; I agree that making Next Fest permanent would make the games that take advantage of it stand out way less. However, I do not think it is impossible to have Next Fest's event-like nature and improvements to demo search features as well. Having a "Steam Next" hub for demos and then running these Next Fest events every four to six months seems the best course of action.

However, I want Steam to set monitored guidelines for what gets posted in this proposed "Steam Next Demo Hub." I already have to wade through enough bullshit as it is just trying to find AAA video games I know I want to buy. Before you decry this as an unreasonable request, Steam already does this for Next Fest. The demos during Next Fest have to be a certain length and activate a handful of user-input features that allow users to feel like they are a part of the development process. Not every developer can invest the physical and mental resources necessary to publish a game via Steam's Early Access program. However, the ability to collect user input should exist beyond seasonal events. Also, I would prefer if only smaller developers were allowed to take advantage of the feature. I know this makes people uncomfortable, but I think it is high time for Steam to make it easier to find non-AAA titles by providing them with a safe and siloed space. I know Steam already has a global "indie" tag that you can click when shopping for games, but that tag is a depression factory.

Let's not forget that Steam is a profit-making enterprise, as with all video game storefronts. Nevertheless, if Steam wants to make money, they should make it easier to navigate their goddamn store's front page. Why is finding new games that might excite me by searching by genre or theme so shitty? If you want me to invest in the old wishlist program, maybe don't make it feel so pointless towards curating what I see or are recommended to check out? Steam is far from being the only or even worst digital marketplace for surfacing valuable information to its users. However, it is frustrating to see them experiment with new interfaces during temporary events like Next Fest, and none of that translates to the central marketplace where most of us will be on a day-to-day basis. Some will say that they don't mind this current version of Steam as they have taken the time to use the customization features tucked away in your settings. However, how many of you genuinely use these features? If you have used the "Discovery Queue" more than once or twice, please, drop a comment. Anything that currently exists to make your user experience even marginally better is either thoroughly tucked away in obtuse menus or downright impossible to figure out on your own. And with this current Summer Sale simply beating the same tune previous events have played repeatedly, it doesn't look like things are getting better soon.

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Finishing Final Fantasy VI - Episode 1: Is This The Greatest Video Game Introduction? (Also A VI Pixel Remaster Review)

Preamble

I certainly took my time to get to this game.
I certainly took my time to get to this game.

On June 19th, 2015, I decided to embark on a blogging experiment. That day marked the first genuine attempt in my life not just to play a Final Fantasy game but to complete it. Since then, I have completed more than fifteen retrospectives and specials examining the Final Fantasy franchise and its supporting media. It's weird to think a one-off joke series I did on a dare has gone on to define my writing contributions on this website. Before the Final Fantasy series, I penned weekly updates to the Community Spotlight with the occasional gaming or off-topic forum thread to mix things up. Then I did a written Let's Play series on Final Fantasy VIII, and everything changed. The site has undoubtedly transformed in those seven years, and so have I. Looking back at some of my older works, I can honestly say it wasn't until recently that I found my "voice." Many of the earlier blogs, at least to me, are unreadable because they pine for surface-level criticism with a hostile and boisterous voice, a common theme on the internet circa the mid-2010s.

I would also be lying if I did not concede that this blog series of mine went through an existential crisis about a year ago. When things started, the gimmick involved me, a relative novice to JRPGs, trying entries in the Final Fantasy franchise for the first time and sharing my outsider impressions. Then, when I capped off Final Fantasy XII, a few users chimed in that I had, at that moment, reached an exciting milestone. By that point, I had completed more Final Fantasy games than most of the JRPG enthusiast crowd in the community. Around that point, I also butted heads against some members of the r/FinalFantasy community. I was not prepared for users on Giant Bomb to turn to me to share how I felt about Square-Enix, especially before their E3 presentations. I silently changed course without anyone noticing and decided to keep the series a Giant Bomb "exclusive." And trust me, getting your writing known on the internet is HARD. Right now, it is the hardest it has ever been. When the site first launched, making these silly long-form essays could draw up to fifty to sixty original comments in a single post. Now, I'd be lucky to get one-third of that. When I thought about possibly writing one of these retrospectives for the last time, I had to think about which game would be the most suitable to send it off on the best note.

People who continue to call this Final Fantasy III are weird to me.
People who continue to call this Final Fantasy III are weird to me.

And now, here we are, Final Fantasy VI. I couldn't honestly tell you why I did not tackle Final Fantasy VI earlier. Part of me wants to say that I find it easier to close read the more modern entries in the series. Likewise, something about the game intimidated me. It is universally beloved, and my prior experiences sharing even the most remote criticisms for cherished JRPGs haven't gone as smoothly as I expected. For reference, check out my retrospective on Final Fantasy XII. Related was my fear that I wouldn't be adding anything new to a discussion that has been raging for over twenty years. Go to YouTube or any gaming website and search "Final Fantasy VI." You'll find exhaustive retrospectives and video essays examining every part of Final Fantasy VI with a proverbial magnifying glass and opining about what the writers and developers intended. How in the world can I, an amateur video game blogger, ever hope to compete against works of writing and video editing like that?

Then, when the Pixel Remaster for Final Fantasy VI finally came out, I said to myself, "Fuck it, I just want to play a 'good' video game." So, here we are; I am playing and writing about Final Fantasy VI, one of the most treasured video games ever made. I cannot guarantee that my experience or opinions about this game will match yours. If you have it in your heart to follow me as I attempt to complete the game, I greatly appreciate it. If you read this first episode and realize my writing style or main takeaways are not your cup of tea, that's also okay. I'm writing this blog for me, and if it resonates with even one person, that's cake. Without further ado, let's jump into it!

Part 1: The Pixel Remaster Of Final Fantasy VI Is Really Good

The new graphical filters and pixel work, when good, are really fucking good in the Pixel Remaster.
The new graphical filters and pixel work, when good, are really fucking good in the Pixel Remaster.

I mentioned earlier that I played the Pixel Remaster for this blog series. It is worth noting that I initially played Final Fantasy VI through the iOS/Android version for a podcast. With the release of the Pixel Remaster at the time still nebulous when I first started writing, I contemplated using that version for this series. As you might guess, I don't think that port is good. The smoothed graphics are awful, and some of the more complicated environments are a pain to navigate. The intricate layers and levels of Narshe, for example, all blur together and become impossible to discern at times. I did appreciate some of the quality-of-life additions in that version, which are notably absent in the Pixel Remaster. Playing the game at three times speed or without random encounters on tap was welcomed even if it gutted the utility of certain characters or relics. Even then, the game is goddamn ugly. I am a forefront defender of video game preservation. Nevertheless, Square-Enix shit-canning those ports for the Pixel Remaster versions was a necessary evil for the betterment of society.

And before I ramble about the several nitpicks I have with the Pixel Remaster for Final Fantasy VI, I need to make something obvious to everyone reading this blog. The Pixel Remaster of Final Fantasy VI is the game's DEFINITIVE version. If someone were to walk up to you and ask about Final Fantasy VI and how to play it, you SHOULD direct them to this version. Suppose you tell them to play the original SNES version of the game. In that case, you are a monster, especially if you expect them to get into retro gaming without guidance and respect for their wallet. Do you want to know a slight touch that blew my mind with the Pixel Remaster? Suppose you input one incorrect button prompt with Sabin's Blitz Command. In that case, the Pixel Remaster lets you try again instead of forcing you to whiff on the move! There's a mini-map on the upper right part of the screen whenever you enter a town, and it highlights the buildings that are shops! Do you know how much time these two minor edits save players in the long run? The in-game manual has been revised to make it immensely more helpful. The auto-save feature ensures you always have a save ready to load from before a battle, even with random encounters. That's right; you never have to live in fear of a Hell Gigas rocking your party in Zozo and needing to restart from scratch.

As you can see, the text is barely readable when the game has a sepia-tone flashback.
As you can see, the text is barely readable when the game has a sepia-tone flashback.

Unfortunately, Square-Enix has made some incredibly curious design decisions with their Pixel Remasters, and Final Fantasy VI is no exception. The first and most controversial of these is the default font choice, and it deserves all of the criticism it has gotten at this point. I will use the default font throughout this blog to reference what the game is like out of the box. I have no idea what Square-Enix was thinking with this font choice, but it sucks. Anyone can do a simple Google search for "16-bit fonts" and find free art assets a thousand times better than those used here. One of the reasons the default font is so bad is that it is a non-bolded sans serif font. As a result, when the game displays text during cutscenes without a dialogue prompt, the text can be nigh unreadable. For those who have not played Final Fantasy VI, during in-game cutscenes, flashbacks, and internal monologues, the game has lines of dialogue displayed without a background. These scenes are among the most important in the game, especially during the World Ruin, and they are sometimes illegible.

There are two other niggling nitpicks I'll address now about the Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster. The first of these has to do with the game's brightness. I know the Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster uses some of the technology used for Octopath Traveler for specific backgrounds and cutscenes. For the most part, the added graphical fidelity works, but something got lost in translation: shadows. Especially when you enter the World of Ruin, the Pixel Remaster lacks the spookier and moodier shadows that add so much depth to some of the game's levels and dungeons. For example, when you enter Zozo, the environment feels far less intimidating because you can see everything without overbearing shadows. However, this problem's most significant victim must be the World of Ruin. This issue needs to be seen in person, but the Pixel Remaster's version of the World of Ruin feels less impactful because it has the same brightness as the World of Balance. Something the original SNES version perfectly conveys is an overbearing sense of Kefka bringing forth an era of darkness. The World of Ruin there didn't just feature a yellow filter and swap around the location of cities. It felt morose and melancholy, and it's a bummer that the Pixel Remaster couldn't help itself with its fancy new graphics.

Maybe other FF6 fans can back me up, but this version of the World of Ruin looks brighter.
Maybe other FF6 fans can back me up, but this version of the World of Ruin looks brighter.

The other issue is what isn't in the Pixel Remaster. I don't know why they cut the GBA content from every Pixel Remaster. However, the extra dungeons and espers should be here. If Square-Enix continues to bill these ports as the "definitive" versions of these experiences, why not include content exclusive to previous ports? And before you chime in that it might be a rights issue, even the Android/iOS ports had the Dragons' Den! And you know what? I would have liked to have seen a Pixel Remaster take on the PSX cutscenes and cinematics! Why not? This version will be many people's first impression of a revered classic! Why not include everything? All of this grousing aside, I highly recommend the Pixel Remaster for Final Fantasy VI. It is the most fun, and accessible this game has been without as many downsides as previous port jobs. It is STILL fucking wild none of the Remasters have made consoles yet, shit fonts or not. But, if you have a PC or mobile phone capable of running it, check it out!

Part 2: No, Seriously, This Introduction Is AMAZING!

Sorry, but I lied about not complaining about the Pixel Remaster for most of this blog. We must talk about how they completely fucked up the opening scene. As has already been reported, the Final Fantasy VI Pixel Remaster does not play the introductory credits during the Megitek Armor march to Narshe. What you get right out of the box is a slow contextless trudge with characters you barely know for the same amount of time as if the credits were playing, but with zero text. Now, of the many curious decisions in the Pixel Remaster, this is one I can at least understand conceptually. Almost all of the people behind the original game no longer work for the company. Regardless, there were so many alternatives at Square-Enix's disposal for this scene that I still find its current state unforgivable. For example, why not change the old credits to ones that reflect the Pixel Remaster-specific design and programming team?

Despite the lack of credits, this opening scene is still really fucking good.
Despite the lack of credits, this opening scene is still really fucking good.

Other than that, it's a fucking incredible sequence in totality and still stands as one of the most outstanding introductions to a video game. It is one of the starkest reminders of Squaresoft always being on the cutting edge of graphical prowess and direction short of maybe Final Fantasy VII. Squaresoft was on their fucking A-GAME for years and people today need to be reminded of that fact. This point is a shocker, but compare the release date of Final Fantasy IV to Final Fantasy X and realize they are only ten years apart. For a ten-year crease, this franchise was unbelievably good. Final Fantasy VI was, to many gamers, the moment they first realized that. The way the game starts feels like a victory lap by Square. By this point, Mode 7 was a well-established feature on the SNES but with known limits and issues. And yet, Squaresoft used it liberally whenever they felt like it. The parallaxing horizon and the slow reveal of Narshe give you a clear sense of lumbering through a snowfield before you reach your mission objective. The rest of the opening is so dense that a friend of mine aptly pointed out that it feels as if the game is stunting.

With a green-haired woman as your avatar, you and a duo of ne'er-do-well soldiers storm a city and attack its defenses in hopes of plundering a yet unknown source of power. All of this is in the name of a yet off-screen empire you quickly learn is expanding its borders aggressively. Starting things off with you controlling villainous characters and someone who cannot control their actions is an underrated reason why this opening has so much impact. That sense of helplessness is further expanded upon as the game teaches you its mechanics. You are limited in what you can do to just a few menu options. The world of Final Fantasy VI is devoid of magic, at least from the onset. It's shocking to see how committed the game is to that gimmick, even by the halfway point of its first act. That plot point is emphasized by your character's piloting mechs to complete their actions as they waste away hapless soldiers. The way you effortlessly off Narshe's final defense, which takes the form of a monstrous whelk, assists in framing the Empire as a significant threat that does not necessarily require magic. The next part of your adventure lacks those mech suits and is decidedly harder to complete.

Because I am a basic bitch, I went with the default names for everyone.
Because I am a basic bitch, I went with the default names for everyone.

There's also a pace to the game's opening level that makes it one of the strongest to this day. The entire sequence at Narshe to the getaway from Figaro Castle represents a mere two to three hours of my playtime. However, the introductory set pieces are so rampant in elaborate details that they felt longer than they were. All you do in Narshe is move forward, but the pace at which you blow through the defending guards makes it feel more poignant. When you reach the esper, you already understand a power imbalance between the Empire and the rest of the world exists. Therefore, if the Empire gets even a tiny feather in its cap, it could still present massive consequences to the rest of the world. Another example of the game's stunting involves how frequently it injects gameplay variety when you least expect it. With the introduction of Locke, the game showcases how it plans to break up the usual slog of exploring dungeons with a brief tower defense minigame involving an army of Moogles.

Finally, this and the subsequent getaway from Figaro Castle do an AMAZING job of showcasing the mechanical differences between your party members. You spend more time than I would like with just Terra, Locke, Edgar, and Sabin. No matter, there's no doubt that the game presents each character's gameplay gimmick in a prompt but effective fashion. Likewise, their vignettes take advantage of their individual gameplay mechanics and allow for a decent amount of practice before the game starts to expect you to get your shit together. It took me a while to feel comfortable about Sabin's Blitz system. Still, once I was, he became a murder machine that I kept in my rotation almost to the very end. And the game does a great job of making you feel like you are controlling a scrappy group of venerable badasses. The most obvious example has to be when you start Sabin's route when the party splits up, and he blitzes a goddamn ghost train.

Part 3: "But ZombiePie, Don't You Hate The ATB System?"

Boy, battles sure go a lot slower than you want for the first three to four chapters.
Boy, battles sure go a lot slower than you want for the first three to four chapters.

I briefly mentioned my less-than-great run-ins with the Final Fantasy sub-Reddit during the introduction, but let's explore that more. Part of the reason is that I have a reputation for hating the ATB system, and I want to "set the record straight" on that. I do not hate the ATB system during the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. What I appreciate less is how the combat system overstayed its welcome for three console generations when Square desperately needed to mix things up, especially during the switch from the SNES to the PS1. I feel that Final Fantasy VII is the last Final Fantasy game that had any right using the ATB system. With Final Fantasy VII, I can imagine the difficulty of transitioning Final Fantasy from 2D to 3D was hard enough that I can allow them to pass on rocking the boat. From that game forward, Squaresoft should have explored different combat engines that worked better with the high-flying cinematic aspirations of its directors. By Final Fantasy IX, I can honestly say I tolerate the ATB system for an otherwise enjoyable story. That said, IX is not a game I enjoy playing because the game struggles to process its character's decadent attack animations and exorbitant special moves.

With Final Fantasy VI, the ATB system works as intended for the most part. Again, playing the game without magic or espers for what feels like ten hours was a creative choice, but one that I think leads to pacing issues during the World of Balance. Nonetheless, it is an almost perfect system to showcase the inherent and intrinsic differences between the characters. And before you ask, Square-Enix has officially thrown in the towel regarding "Wait" versus "Active." In the Pixel Remaster, the game defaults to "Wait" because, at this point, Square-Enix KNOWS no one plays Final Fantasy games set to "Active." For those that have no idea what I am talking about, for Final Fantasy games that use the ATB mechanic, the game features two settings for battles (i.e., "Wait" and "Active"). Setting the ATB system to "Wait" will cause the ATB meter to pause after taking time to fill up. You can scan your possible enemy targets and process your options more leisurely. Active mode is when the ATB gauge fills up no matter what happens in the battle. Only monsters play old Final Fantasy games set to "Active."

Here are my settings in case you were interested. I stand by my belief that only monsters play these games set to
Here are my settings in case you were interested. I stand by my belief that only monsters play these games set to "Active."

Overall, I consider the World of Balance the better-paced half of Final Fantasy VI. Its set-pieces progress naturally, and as the player, you only experience brief spurts of the usual unfair JRPG bullshit. Until the Floating Continent, I can count on a single hand the number of times I saw a "Game Over," and the few times I did, were my fault. However, it does have one critical weakness. This game takes its sweet-ass time to open up its mechanics, especially its Esper-based magic system. Anyone who tells you to grind at Lete River by taking advantage of the infinite loop exploit is a fucking idiot. Sure, you can get Sabin's Fire Dance Blitz early, but deliberately racking up experience points BEFORE you get the Espers feels like a waste. Likewise, the point where the magic system opens up is a solid five chapters removed from when you start playing the game. As a result, characters like Locke and Cyan, who have primarily un-involved special commands, are far less compelling to play for the first four hours.

Speaking of characters that are way less interesting to me than others, let's talk about Gau and Strago! If there were examples of Final Fantasy VI's ATB system biting off more than it can chew, it is these characters. First, I do not know whose call it was, but the Pixel Remaster changed the names of the Blue Magic spells to be more "authentic" to their Japanese names, which fucked me up. Likewise, fanning through Gau and Strago's magic list continues to be a pain in the ass because of the insane amount of useless shit. For this blog, I put in more effort to collect abilities for both than in previous playthroughs of Final Fantasy VI. I can say that people who talk up a big game for Gau are correct, but they are also people who do not value their time. Like many, I usually rely on Bio (Great Malboro), Catscratch (Stray Cat), and Sonic Boom (Satellite) when using Gau. However, getting The Veldt to make your life marginally enjoyable is a fool's errand. You are bound to toil away trying to get specific enemies to spawn after hours of aimless wandering. Also, I will die on this hill, but the game should allow you to collect every Rage between Gau's initial Leap and when he returns. With Stargo, the poor fool is a painful example of the "Late Character Syndrome." By the time he joins your team, you already have full-featured party members that don't require additional busy work. Additionally, the random encounter and ATB systems do not make getting him up to par easy. Worse, getting what you want for him can tack on hours to your playthrough.

Notice the mini-map on the right with a shop icon and red arrow pointing where you need to go next.
Notice the mini-map on the right with a shop icon and red arrow pointing where you need to go next.

To continue with my give-and-take discussion of the game's early combat, it goes without saying that Final Fantasy VI has more good dungeons than bad ones. However, that's not to say that it isn't free from some crummy old-school JRPG dungeon-crawling quirks. Unless you take the time to grind out experience points to unlock abilities or tools, Final Fantasy VI initially has the same mechanical downside as its predecessors. Because your ability to utilize magic is limited to Terra and Celes, your party's crowd control options are severely limited. As a result, your most significant "Game Over" threats are random encounters instead of the in-game bosses. Sure, there are tricky to downright cruel bosses in Final Fantasy VI, which we will discuss in future episodes. However, my experience in Final Fantasy VI was no different from Final Fantasy I or V. Trash mobs that spew status effects or high damage attacks are SIGNIFICANTLY HARDER than anything else in the game. Likewise, there are some serpentine dungeon floor plans in this game that are no fucking fun to play, and the game doesn't exactly make a great first impression with Mt. Kolts.

Part 4: An (Almost) Perfect Example Of An Ensemble Cast Done Right

The other significant storytelling aspect of Final Fantasy VI that doesn't get as much appreciation today as it should, is the ensemble nature of the cast. While most modern Final Fantasy products today frame Final Fantasy VI as "Terra's story," playing the game reveals that the opposite is true. Final Fantasy VI is as much Locke's, Sabin's, Edgar's, etc. story as it is Terra's story. Each party member is a primary actor at least once in the game. The story arcs and characterization they get are each presented as equally important as the next. Other characters (i.e., Biggs, Wedge, Banon, Leo, etc.) occupy guest roles and blink in and out of the story. Yet, the game still treats them with as much reverence and respect as the characters you follow from beginning to end. I can honestly tell you more about Banon or Leo while avoiding describing what they look like than the majority of Final Fantasy XIII or XV's primary cast.

I like how, despite the story being deathly serious, the game is still willing to let its characters be goofballs from time to time.
I like how, despite the story being deathly serious, the game is still willing to let its characters be goofballs from time to time.

The game almost immediately revels in its ensemble format. After Terra breaks away from Biggs and Wedge and their mind control device, she attempts to make a hasty exit from Narshe. Unfortunately, she falls victim to a trap and needs assistance. The game then transitions to Locke, who becomes the protagonist of his own game. He attempts to dodge guards while trying to apprehend Terra but also muses about perusing the cave for untold treasures. We understand Locke's job class, character quirks, and personality in what amounts to a fifteen-minute sequence. We also understand how each character is mechanically different from one another as Locke's "Steal" command replaces Terra's "Magic" option. There's also a short bit where we get a brief cameo involving Mog. Speaking of which, the minigame in the Narshe caves adds some much-needed levity and gameplay variety. For the most part, Final Fantasy VI differentiates most of its dungeons through special gameplay hooks and one-off sequences when you first explore them. As a result, there were only a few occasions when I dreaded exploring dungeons in the entire game.

Then there's Kefka. Much like the death of Aerith in Final Fantasy VII, modernity has spoiled much of Kefka's appeal. At face value, Kefka is a trope. He's a cackling mustache-twirling goon who later reveals himself as the story's primary antagonist. Much of what we think is canonical to his behavior and motivations are not present in Final Fantasy VI and are instead by-products of supporting media. However, he is still a fantastic character. Like a Shakespearean actor trapped in a schmaltzy popcorn flick, he commands the center stage whenever he talks and chews through the game's scenery like his life depends on it. His mannerisms are unlike any other character, making him all the more memorable. Those quick and quirky mannerisms are what I think have resulted in people claiming he's a bigger deal in the story than in actuality. For more than half the game, he's a two-bit jester whose main gimmick is that he keeps fucking up whenever the Emperor asks him to deal with the Returners. Correspondingly, the "surprise" that he's the REAL big bad isn't nearly as revolutionary as some make it seem. When you compare Final Fantasy VI to its five predecessors, you realize it's less about reinventing the wheel and more about making a version of the wheel for a Porsche 911. The Final Fantasy franchise has always pulled the rug from underneath you when it comes time to reveal the main antagonist. If anything, Kefka is another example of Final Fantasy VI's stunting, as he's one of the best examples of this trope up to this point.

I really wish this game didn't have TWO sex-pest characters.
I really wish this game didn't have TWO sex-pest characters.

Next episode, I plan to discuss the importance of Ted Woolsey's original translation and how much of what has come to define Kefka comes from Woolsey's interpretation. Overall, I felt the Pixel Remaster's translation was a notable improvement over the original SNES translation, which I know was a by-product of the times. For example, the characters of Final Fantasy VI finally say "damn" and "Hell" in English. With the Pixel Remaster, many of Woolsey's "rough edges" have been sanded off, and that's a good thing. The Pixel Remaster has made corrections that are bound to get some fuming, but that's par for the course. I know some people are upset Kefka doesn't say "Son of a submariner" in this version. However, the entirety of what is here is far better than what we have seen before.

If there is one criticism about the world-building up to this point, the game feels like a series of vignettes rather than a "whole" story far longer than it should. Worse, some of these vignettes are missable, and missing some of these scenes is a bummer unless this is your second or third rodeo. One of my favorite in-game moments is the coin-toss scene with Sabin and Edgar. This awe-inspiring character-building moment is missable if you decide not to return to Figaro Castle after the party split. And depending on how you prefer to play the game, you might not have either running around in your primary team. That presents another minor nitpick I have with the first "half" of Final Fantasy VI. While the "World of Balance" doesn't actively punish you for picking an "A-Team" when you progress the story or attempt side quests, the "World of Ruin" certainly does. I did NOT use Celes a ton during my playthrough and forgot how much of a bad idea that was until it was too late.

Proof that Kefka does not say the thing you want him to say here.
Proof that Kefka does not say the thing you want him to say here.

Part 5: I Don't Love EVERYTHING About This Game!

I'm going to shoot my shot right now; I hate the relic mechanic. Since finishing the game, I have flip-flopped back and forth on the relics. While I agree with the general sentiment that they help you organically explore character class hybrids, the relics are way too fiddly to use. That problem is especially the case towards the mid to late-game, where dungeons force you to split up your party or swap between groups of characters. I found it to be a colossal pain in the ass to flip between the same eight or nine characters and menu screens to de-equip one cadre so I could re-equip another. Even when using the random guy in the airship to unequip unused party members, I still felt like I was spending between five to ten minutes fiddling around with relics and menus when trying new party combinations. The "Auto Equip" feature, which has existed since the original SNES release, only goes so far as it doesn't touch relics or Espers. As a result, I desperately wished the Pixel Remaster version had an option to save templates or specific equipment and relic combinations. And I know this is going to sound "spoiled," but I wish the Pixel Remaster had an EXP sharing toggle. That way, I wouldn't need to drop everything in-between chapters to level up new party members from time to time.

Another quibble I have struggled to pen into words stems from the character classes. The signposting on what the implied class or "job" for each character might be isn't the best. Likewise, how relics impact the utility and functions of each character's job, or stats is confusing, especially for newcomers. But it is the game's smattering array of character progression sub-systems that drives me crazy most of all. Each party member gains new abilities and special moves differently from the other. Some, like Sabin or Cyan, require you to grind away and complete a character mission in the World of Ruin to see all of their abilities. On the other hand, Edgar and Locke need you to explore various merchants and environments for high-tier equipment. The bane of my existence, Setzer, gains their alternate move by equipping a different relic that is easy to pass over if you are not careful. Then there are more abstract characters like Relm, Mog, Strago, Gau, and Gogo. The game doesn't do a great job of tutoring how to get the most out of these characters. In the case of Relm, her initial ability (i.e., Sketch) gets a tutorial. Still, her far more helpful alternate (i.e., Control/Charm) gets jack shit. Also, some characters are better than others, and it sucks when the game forces you to use those less-than-ideal characters (i.e., Setzer).

A character so good they keep bringing him back in games even when it doesn't make sense!
A character so good they keep bringing him back in games even when it doesn't make sense!

Transitioning to the subsequent story set-piece at Lete River leads me to one of the game's many positives. The pseudo-vehicle sequences, even those that do not involve Mode 7, are snappy and highly cinematic. Your first impression of Ultros is equally impressive, with the game conveying reactive dialogue during an ATB fight. If there is one complaint worth bringing up, it must be the Pixel Remaster boss dialogue prompt. Again, the readability of the default font rears its ugly head. More importantly, the sizing feels "off" for every boss fight where the characters speak to one another. The prompts on modern monitors feel significantly smaller than on the SNES or GBA versions. To highlight why this is an issue, I missed the first part of Kefka's "Life, dreams, hope" speech because I was faffing about my battle options and did not know the cutscene triggered. Otherwise, that octopus was a delight when I first played this game, and he continues to be a highlight in the Pixel Remaster, thanks to his iconic linguistic tropes.

The party split, to me, is another example of the game flexing its muscles, albeit less successfully. Honestly, I wasn't that impressed when I first experienced it, as the pacing with the party split after the Ultros fight has always felt weird to me. Continuing with Terra and company on the raft maxes out at ten to twelve minutes. It does almost nothing to service the characters in that segment, and I'm still shocked at how little meat is on the bone with that one. Locke's mission is fucking annoying as fuck, but credit to the design team for trying something different. Locke's escapade at South Figaro is a stealth mission with few random encounters until you reach the prison containing Celes. The issue is that while navigating environments in the Pixel Remaster is slightly better, thanks to quality-of-life features, it's STILL not the best. The entrances to buildings and the starts and ends of scaffolds can still be hard to parse out at times. Similarly, some parts involving backtracking and uniform swapping can be hard to pick up on if you don't know where to go. That said, it's an admirable tutorial on Locke's "Steal" command.

Ah, yes, one of seven times when Celes is useful.
Ah, yes, one of seven times when Celes is useful.

Finally, to return to my previous rant about the ATB system, we have to talk about the forced moments when you have fewer than three party members. This sequence is not the only time you need to shuffle along with one character while dealing with random encounters. However, this set piece with Locke feels even more heinous than the segment with you soloing with Celes in the World of Ruin because of how half-baked Locke is at this point. In Final Fantasy tradition, the success rate on his Steal command is dog shit, and he barely inflicts enough damage for you to get by single enemies. When you finally get Celes, she improves things only slightly, considering how much of a glass cannon she can be. Speaking of Celes, I despise her "Runic" ability because it is so situational from start to finish. Even when it can be helpful, getting the timing down is finicky. More often than not, after popping Runic, the timing would not be correct, and my turns with Celes were largely pointless. Luckily for all involved, Sabin's Route is a tour de force of badassery, and the Pixel Remaster does it (mostly) justice. However, that will be where we pick up next time.

Next episode is starting with a bang to say the least.
Next episode is starting with a bang to say the least.
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I Don't Know What The End Goal Is For Geoff Keighley

Preamble

It's ANOTHER blog expressing disappointment over a thing I could never run or accomplish myself!
It's ANOTHER blog expressing disappointment over a thing I could never run or accomplish myself!

With not-E3 2022 over, it's clear there were winners and losers. Console manufacturers, gaming press publications, and independent developers all put out their best to a smattering of reactions. If you pressed me, I would say Sony's scant forty-minute State of Play was a highlight, and Microsoft's split presentations and trailer packages were a close second. If I enjoyed fighting games or expected remakes of venerable classics more, maybe I would swap Capcom into Microsoft's slot. Near the bottom of the list of conferences in terms of my enjoyment was the Keighley-led Summer Game Fest. This almost universally derided event became a venerable walking meme that even Microsoft made cracks about on their official Twitter account. Much like the Game Awards, the Summer Game Fest was a bloated and poorly paced experience with massive lulls and went on for two hours and thirty minutes. Included during the event were the expected celebrity cameos, comedic skits, non-video game-based advertisements, and grandiose promises that practically define any occasion led by Keighley. The internet had a field day lampooning the SGF, and many deemed it disappointing.

Before I continue my pontifications on why I did not enjoy Keighley's showcase, I want to clarify a few things. I can tell that Keighley puts a lot of time and effort into organizing his yearly events. He has a knack for production values, and when tasked to assemble a handful of notable names or gaming outfits, he gets the job done. I am also aware that his shows are not shot-gunned one-person productions but involve teams of writers, producers, and directors. Talented people work on The Game Awards and the Keighley-led Summer Game Fest. I pray and hope that the version of Keighley we saw on Twitter, who pled with his audience to have realistic expectations about what would be at the event, was him coming to terms with many of the SGF's shortcomings this year. Plus, important people in the upper echelons of the industry like him. The people in suits trust Keighley, and every industry needs a bland but overly optimistic speakerphone. He's the Ryan Seacrest of video games, and that's okay.

Similarly, I want to preface that I don't understand why people get upset over these conferences. Keighley's format, structure, style, and tone are known quantities, and anyone that expected him to deviate from this tired and true formula set themselves up for disappointment. What is incredibly baffling is when people express dissatisfaction with one conference not having a game that either doesn't exist or ends up being featured as a marquee title in a different presentation. The latter of these has never made sense to me. You got your game announcement or corporate-approved teaser trailer. What the fuck difference does it make if you had to wait an extra day or two? Likewise, I don't know what to say about the internet's ability to get upset over pipe-dream games not happening or known projects being absent because they need more time. 2022 marks the third year the industry has grappled with the COVID pandemic's effects. Everyone associated with this industry has said making shit has been challenging. How often does it need to be noted that AAA productions need more time, given the circumstances? However, please don't take any of these points to mean that I am defending Keighley's 2022 Summer Game Fest; I thought this year's event was terrible.

Please, No More Conferences Over Two Hours Unless You Can Make It Count

This sure was a thing that happened.
This sure was a thing that happened.

I don't want to spend this entire blog examining Keighley's body language and inner machinations like many online bloggers or YouTubers who are desperate to collect article clicks. However, I have to raise my eyebrow ever so slightly at what he was able to assemble during this year's Summer Game Fest. If you go back to when the cancellation of E3 2022 was first announced, you might recall the man was practically gloating on Twitter. This merry posturing was due to his previous disputes with the Entertainment Software Association (i.e., ESA). The ESA hosts E3 and, in 2021, decided to block Keighley from sharing the same floor as their marquee events. Almost immediately after E3 2022 was shit-canned, Keighley set to Twitter to remind everyone that his non-ESA-sanctioned event would go ahead, unimpeded by the demise of E3. Then, he continued to bill the event as a possible replacement for E3 in the future. Yet, on the eve of the event, Keighley took to social media to temper expectations while confirming the event would continue with a two-and-a-half-hour running time. So, when the Rock started shilling shit, or the expected mobile game block lasted far longer than it should, I was not surprised to see an onslaught of negativity directed his way.

What baffles me is how Keighley continually presents himself as an industry pioneer, and yet, the format and structure of his conferences follow THE EXACT TEMPLATE of the 360/PS3/Wii era of E3 conferences. No one is beating to the tune of this drum anymore, non-ironically, except Keighley. Sony this year was perfectly content with a forty-minute showcase, and Microsoft had the common decency of splitting their package into two 90-minute chunks rather than subject viewers to a three-hour slog. Virtually every console manufacturer and then some have innovated on how to present games and gaming culture on a big stage more than Keighley has. The weird out-of-place celebrity cameos? Watch an E3 presentation from EA in the 2010s, and you'll find something similar to the Rock's shameless shilling. Comedy bits that feel awkward and embarrassing? Need I remind you of the clown show that was "peak Ubisoft" during E3? Keighley's events feel like relics of a bygone era, and with all of us growing older, I think we are increasingly becoming aware of that. I don't know about you, but I do not enjoy being seated for more than two hours for these things, especially when there are bolted-in advertisements that barely have anything to do with video games.

Some might point out that the IGN Expo, PC Gaming Show, and Guerrilla Collective 3 clocked in over the two-hour mark. However, are you about to use those three presentations as evidence that Keighley's conferences can justify a two-and-a-half-hour block? Furthermore, the PC Gaming Show is propped up by whatever gaming PC company is willing to pay top dollar to keep the lights on, and the Guerrilla Collective gets most of its bang for its buck on its Steam page. And those events are as long as they are for reasons that do not apply to Keighley. For example, the PC Gaming Show is an excruciatingly long endeavor, so it can ramble about system specs for Big Navi GPUs or raffle off iBuyPower gaming rigs. The only reason the Summer Game Fest is two-and-a-half hours long is that Keighley insists on it being that long. If he knew the event's dossier was bound to disappoint, no one was preventing him from pruning the occasion of its chaff to create a tighter and better-paced experience. You cannot tell me he hasn't seen what Nintendo has been doing with their Direct presentations for the past FIVE YEARS and isn't aware of how to do a conference under two hours that gets people champing at the bit.

Is This Conference Meant To Be An End-All-Be-All Event?

no
no

The ESA has announced that they intend to restart E3 in 2023. Say what you will about the ESA, but I can safely say I have no idea what form or shape the 2023 version of E3 will take. I have no confidence that the organization will address all of the event's shortcomings and problems, but at least there's a "wildcard factor" to next year's E3. Nonetheless, I can confidently say I know what structure and format Keighley's event will have this time next year. In the year of our Lord, 2023, Keighley's lack of a filter and general inability to tell people "no" when they ask for air time will result in a bloated event that does not justify the entirety of its running time. I know this because that's how every single one of these has taken shape. That's why I think this year's Summer Game Fest was a lost opportunity for Keighley. If he hopes to create a showcase that rivals E3, then GOD, JESUS, this was NOT THE EVENT that proved that!

Let's role-play for a bit and say you are the CEO of Ubisoft, EA, or Square-Enix. After watching this year's Sumer Game Fest, are you thinking:

a) "Gosh! That Geoff Keighley knows how to run a conference, and I think we should rely on him to showcase our games in the future!"

b) "Huh, I think we can do better than that. Let's call the ESA RIGHT NOW!"

c) "God, these E3 conferences are a complete waste of money."

If you are this CEO, what are you doing in June with developer-led E3 conferences likely to come back next year and probably at a discount? If you answered "a," I want you to pinpoint anything that Keighley did that any other developer or console manufacturer cannot do. This task is impossible because there's nothing unknown or patentable about Keighley's format BECAUSE HE BORROWED IT FROM THOSE SAME COMPANIES! Again, his lack of innovation is not breaking news to developers and publishers. Much of this is by design, so he can quickly make way for larger publishers should they ever have a game they cannot fit elsewhere. However, if all Keighley is going to offer is a platform that is not unique or special, then why work within his constraints? Why not host your own event?

Likewise, what major publisher or developer is Keighley poaching from the field? Microsoft and Sony have "World Premiers" at The Game Awards because there are no other competing conferences or gaming-related events. However, they both have special occasions and platforms during June, whether they are directly tied to an ESA-sanctioned event or not. Nintendo continues to beat to the tune of its own drum, so it's unlikely he will EVER get major first-party games. However, what remaining significant developers does that leave? Bethesda and many other mid-tier studios aren't autonomous anymore. Ubisoft and EA want big flashy independent platforms and are bound to play ball with the ESA come 2023. I think that sentiment will be echoed by other publishers next year. Square-Enix and other major Japanese developers could give two shits about E3 and are happy to stick with game-specific events and the Tokyo Game Show. Therefore, what does that leave? Indie developers? Let's talk about why that's not exactly a match made in heaven.

Is This A Platform For Developers That Can't Get Time Elsewhere?

This was a criminally underrated event in case you missed it.
This was a criminally underrated event in case you missed it.

Let's say you are an indie developer and would be down with your game being present at the Summer Game Fest. Who could blame you? Even in its worst form, the event draws millions of views worldwide. Unfortunately, while indie devs have the most to gain from being present, they are not Keighley's priority. If they were, why did the man give the Rock and exploitative mobile games just as much, if not more, air time than most small-scale video game productions? Keighley's eye is on creating an event that rivals the major developers and saps competition from the ESA. Also, Keighley's event is purposefully inoffensive, so should a developer play ball, he's ready to welcome them with open arms. Look back at his statement regarding workplace harassment during the 2021 Game Awards. Yes, he made a statement, but he did not prohibit developers with known toxic workplaces from showing their wares. His events cater to bigger publishing houses, which is painfully evident at this point.

To return to the issue of Keighley repeating a dated format for this year's Summer Game Fest, while some indie developers are bound to jump at Keighley's stage, most expect better. Developer tolerance for the "Indie Game Highlight Reel" that Microsoft took shit for year after year is at a record low. Furthermore, what most indie devs want out of a conference is not anything Keighley is likely to provide. Sure, some indie games catch a whirlwind of attention after airing ostentatious teaser trailers. Nonetheless, most end up with followers and fans after developer-led game demos where the developer is allowed to detail their thought processes and sources of inspiration. These demos do not mesh well with Keighley's up-tempo tone of wanting to set the world on fire with game announcements audiences did not know about before his event started. Furthermore, an increasing number of small game projects that eventually catch major attention upon release do not showcase in the tried-and-true trailer format that E3 and the Summer Games Fest demands.

Finally, the competition for indie developers with demo-worthy projects during June is fierce. Not only will Keighley have to fend off the major console manufacturers, but there are plenty of other conferences and livestreams that showcase smaller games better. The Day of the Devs event that immediately followed Keighley proved as much. But even after that, this year alone, you had TWO Guerrilla Collective events, a Wholesome Games Direct, and all of the game publication-led events (i.e., IGN, GameSpot, and GamesRadar) that were willing to budget time for slower and more substantial demos. I don't know about you, but I almost always get more out of the IGN and GameSpot showroom demo streams where developers and programmers can talk about their game at their pace than most tentpole E3 presentations. Correspondingly, I'm not sure all of you are aware of this, but a huge portion of the indie gaming scene endlessly dunked on this year's Summer Game Fest as they felt it harkened to a time when E3 barely gave a shit about indie games. Unless Keighley spends a significant amount of time reaching out to these developers and earnestly tries to build bridges by changing his format, these indie devs will continue to look at his events with cynical eyes.

Is This Meant To Be A Generalized Celebration Of Games And Gaming Culture?

Remember when people were excited to see Geoff during E3?
Remember when people were excited to see Geoff during E3?

I now need to ask a core question in the final section of this blog: who is the intended audience for the Summer Game Fest? If I were to ask Keighley that exact question, I know his answer would be "everyone." However, ask the denizens of any gaming website, forum, or Discord who they think the audience is for the event, and I think you'd see a kaleidoscope of answers. Its third-way big-tent nature is meant to be welcoming to anyone with even a passing interest in video games. In execution, its wide net only pulls a few stray fish rather than any particular school. The event, and every exposition hosted by Keighley in general, has a major identity crisis. The presence of slot-machine mobile games and celebrities suggests it wants to aim for a younger audience. However, the laborious pace and colossal time investment create a barrier to entry that only permits older demographics.

I'll let you in on a bit of my personal life here. I am a full-time middle school teacher, and in a purely anecdotal exercise, I asked multiple classes of mine if they watched the Summer Game Fest. Six did, and the ones that did universally described it as "boring." Even the kids I know who play video games religiously are not tapped into an ecosystem that directs them towards Keighley. This next fact isn't exactly shocking, but most kids are content to watch streamers or commentators discuss highlights of events in bite-sized chunks rather than opt into the beastly marathon sessions Keighley creates. It also does not help that Keighley doesn't make video content with the regularity that can organically build a new community. Additionally, the timing and structure of the SGF discourages younger demographics from watching it. It airs on a weekday and is late enough that some need to worry about not being able to watch it completely. Besides, what would you take if you were a kid presented with a two-hour-long video archive with an unfamiliar name versus a ten-minute highlight reel with your favorite YouTuber?

So, what does that leave? Well, it leaves you and me. An increasingly aging demographic that might remember the "glory days" of Keighley grilling Reginald Fils-Aimé on GameTrailers about fan-perceived grievances or may recall his time on G4. Yet, we are the ones that have continually called on Keighley to rehaul the structure of his conferences and The Game Awards, so they avoid repeating the same pitfalls of previous years. All the same, nothing has changed. Instead, Keighley continues to dig in his heels as he prepares for a possible showdown with the ESA next year. However, if that is the case, I have to question if his Summer Game Fest is a platform for one rather than a platform for all. Increasingly, the person who benefits from throwing their hat into Keighley's arena is himself. Just some food for thought in the single percent chance he ever reads this blog, which I would discourage him from doing.

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To Everyone Both New And Old, Here Are A Few Words To You, The Community

For someone who has been on Giant Bomb since the very beginning, I can say that the past few days have been a quickly shaken cocktail of emotions. Jeff Gerstmann no longer being a fixture of Giant Bomb is a blow I entertained every blue moon in the back of my head but never fully considered. I know the exact time and place of where I was when the news of Jeff's GameSpot firing first broke. It was minutes from me needing to attend my sixteenth birthday party at a local Black Angus Steakhouse. My birthday celebration was, as my parents put it, "a momentous occasion" that should not be disturbed because "a video game reviewer lost their job." And that Black Angus was a fixture in my local community, with some erring towards histrionics in calling it an "establishment." Nonetheless, I told myself then and there that if I wasn't going to be able to watch the events unfold as they happened, then I promised I would follow Jeff wherever he went. It was childish, yes, but I was a teen and still convinced that the para-social internet interactions I had represented deeper personal connections. It's a lesson we all hopefully learn. Also, after almost forty years of existence, that specific Angus Steakhouse closed two years ago.

I have been writing on Giant Bomb since 2008, and I do not say that to put newer users in a position of implied inferiority. I say that because, by hook or by crook, I have been plugging along with blogs and articles meant to entertain and keep people's spirits up for over ten years, and I did so because of Jeff. The news this week shook me as it did for many of you. It's a sting that reminds me that the fifteen years this site was able to persist in the capacity it had were a blessing and not a norm found on most websites. Giant Bomb continued after the passing of Ryan and outlived the version of E3 we knew and loved. Jeff's commanding voice led Giant Bomb through some difficult bumps and bruises, and its core tenet of being a place to watch a close-knit group of friends joke around with video games persisted. Part of that is changing, and I understand that scares people and angers others. Nevertheless, when I watch the content without Jeff, it makes me feel hopeful, and it makes me feel happy. In that spirit, I'm sticking around. It was the dream of many of the people helming the site now to be where they are, and I am not going to deprive them of attaining their aspirations. Watching the new introduction of the site's core staff showed me that it's at least worth waiting to see and support this path they want to take. Many of them have already done so much for this site, and I am willing to give them a chance.

Also, Giant Bomb is special. When I fucked up, and trust me, I have really fucked up in my many years on the internet; it was always here. It has been a place for me to relax, watch videos, and meet up with familiar friends and allies. That aspect of Giant Bomb will never change. However, I plan on following Jeff much as I continue to tune into Nextlander while also awaiting new episodes of Run for the Hills or the Waypoint podcast. I promised many years ago to see Jeff through to the bitter end. That will still stand. It was great having all of the video game-based media I wanted in one place, but that's no longer the case, and that means I have to change how I go about supporting the people that have already been an essential part of my life. Consuming video game-based content online is different. When Giant Bomb was first founded, it was formed with users being able to publish blogs in mind rather than hosting videos, chats, or streams. It took time for me to come to terms with these words, but here I am saying them, "things change." It's okay to follow multiple websites, YouTube accounts, and streamers and be subscribed to complimentary Discord communities. And before anyone asks, absolutely, I would have changed the circumstances to have Jeff still working with this incoming group. There's a lot I would change, but I don't think I'll ever know what led us here, but I know the only thing I can personally do is look ahead and continue to explore ways to help the people that kept me here in the past and continue to keep me here. And I know I need to think about that more because I know I can and should do more.

And while I am not in a doom-and-gloom mindset right now, there's something to this puzzle of seeing waves of websites and online communities come and go that I always forget to do. I always fail to say goodbye. When Whiskey Media got bought by CBS, and users protested that their premium subscriptions did not justify the cost, despite my disagreements, I let users I saw and talked to for literal years leave without a word. Shit, when the Whiskey Media sites split apart, despite getting the green light to provide front-page editorial content on AnimeVice, I never gave all of my friends there the goodbye they deserved. I regret that mistake to this day. When Brad, Vinny, and Alex left, I let long-time friends walk away. With this news, I can only imagine many of you will leave Giant Bomb in response, and that's a reaction I emphasize and understand. So, before you do, I want you to know I enjoyed talking to you. I loved so many of you, and I hope in your journey to find something that brings you the same happiness and joy this site brought you, you are successful. I liked seeing the same four or five of you commenting on my articles and blogs. I liked the silly memes. I liked the same repeating chat emotes. I enjoyed every minute of it, even when I did not show it. And for that reason, I am rooting for you in your search to find something on the internet that brings you genuine happiness.

It's okay if that doesn't ease all of the anxiety and anger some of you feel. That's a part of the process of bearing the brunt of unexpected change. If this is a hard goodbye, and you never want to come back, or you do come back, and you don't enjoy what the site has become, then I also want to say something to you. You grew up on this site. We grew up together on this site. I watched so many of you go from being young adults who bragged about long gaming sessions to talking about your marriages and bringing life into this world. I want you all to know I heard you, even when I did not reply to you. I want to thank you for what you brought to the site when you were having fun. In moving on, I want you to know that you have obviously changed more than I have, and that's amazing. For many of you, we all got over ten years older together! You're probably never going to get the same enjoyment that you once did, but you can still have the fond memories of jokes or events that brought the hardiest laughs or biggest smiles. And all I ask is that you remember some of the users, profile pictures, list makers, artists, reviewers, and commentators you met along the way. There might not be another opportunity or place where an infusion of user-led talent and passion ever crosses a single website as it did for Giant Bomb. To those who contributed to that, I hope you all find platforms and champions and advocates as you did here. You deserve them.

I want to thank Jeff for putting years into this site and allowing me to interact with so many of you. Jeff's impact has resulted in many in this community feeling empowered to follow careers across a gamut of industries. People who blogged for fun on Giant Bomb are now actively covering games because of him. People who made silly Giant Bomb highlight or compilation videos are shooting, editing, and directing movies. People who made fan art ten years ago have gone on to become full-time artists and designers. Some former users are even making AAA video game titles! To all of you, if no one has taken the time to say "I'm proud of you" yet, I will now. When I decided to pursue a career in public education, the hope I could have an impact on youths was what drove me through the darkest of my moments. Jeff and the long list of other faces that have graced Giant Bomb have had that sort of impact. The same goes for everyone who has shared one iota of their creative capacities here.

So, to anyone who departs after all that is said and done: Good luck, and stay safe out there. We need you all and don't forget to drop by to say hello from time to time if you have it in you. And if we meet up elsewhere, wherever that may be, let's promise to have another good laugh. All these years supporting each other shouldn't amount to nothing.

58 Comments

I'm A Star Wars Nerd And I Don't Get The Excitement For The Switch Port of KOTOR II Having The Restored Content Mod

Preamble

I will warn everyone right now, I am not Austin Walker and don't think this is the best Star Wars game ever made.
I will warn everyone right now, I am not Austin Walker and don't think this is the best Star Wars game ever made.

For those of you that have been following my blogs, you know that for the past three years, I have been penning a yearly series titled "I'm A Star Wars Nerd and..." about updates related to the Star Wars IP in the video game industry. If you have not read those blogs, here are links to my asshole nitpicky musings about Fallen Jedi and my minor annoyances with Squadrons. Likely due to the pandemic, there is no major Star Wars video game to discuss in 2022. Unless there's a groundswell of interest, I do not plan to examine the desiccated husk that is Zynga publishing Star Wars Hunters, which is yet ANOTHER mobile-focused competitive arena combat game. However, that's not to say there is no Star Wars video game news worth discussing this year. There is a cavalcade of Star Wars games in active development. Still, the vast majority have tenuous release dates and are projects that we will not see in the foreseeable future. For example, I am happy that Bit Reactor, a team of former developers that led the XCOM and Civilization franchises, will be making a Star Wars strategy game. I am hopeful that at some point in my life, I can stop jerry-rigging total conversion mods onto Star Wars: Empire at War - Forces of Corruption to scratch my itch for a Star Wars RTS game. However, considering how little we have seen of this game, odds are it is a long way from being something anyone can play.

However, despite a massive agglomeration of new and potentially exciting games to talk about, I want to discuss something old that is getting a highly predictable console port. As many of you are already aware, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords is coming out for the Nintendo Switch. That alone is not worth discussing, but what is worthy is the subsequent news that Aspyr Media, the team behind previous KOTOR port jobs, will be releasing an "official" version of "The Sith Lords Restored Content Modification" as free DLC on the Switch. This revelation has the Star Wars community jumping to conclusions, especially considering Aspyr is in charge of the PS5 timed exclusive "Remake" of Knights of the Old Republic. If you check social media, you will find dozens of people positing that this might even signify that Aspyr plans to give KOTOR II a similar remake treatment. On the other hand, I have been a part of the vocal minority of Star Wars video game fans asking, "How the fuck are they going to make this work?"

I don't plan on reviewing the "complete" developmental history of KOTOR II, but the long story short is that the game was initially released in an incomplete state with entire character arcs and storylines left unresolved. Obsidian was the original developer and, in post-release interviews, have painted an incredibly bleak picture about their timetables. As mandated by LucasArts Entertainment, the game's original 2005 release date was changed to December 2004 after it demoed well during E3 2004. On top of the excessive amount of cut and dummied content, the PC version launched with a plague of bugs. All of this is to say that the game was good but "problematic" even at the time of its release. Yet, some people believe a single, solitary Switch port with free DLC will magically fix all of this. Not only that, but some are already claiming that this version of the game is somehow going to legitimize the Restored Content Mod and make it a guaranteed part of any future attempts to "possibly" remake KOTOR II. Yeah, let's talk about why all of that is bullshit.

Reason #1: The Cut Content Is Notoriously Unfinished

Oh, so many memories are rushing me right now just from looking at this image.
Oh, so many memories are rushing me right now just from looking at this image.

It's important to note that The Sith Lords Restored Content Modification (i.e., TSLRCM) doesn't promise to provide a complete experience. The minute you find its Steam Workshop page, you'll note the words "unfinished but playable" used. Yes, it should be praised for being a monumental undertaking and is a passion project many years in the making. However, there's no denying that it is still a close, but not exact, facsimile of what Obsidian wanted to make. The source code that the TSLRCM team worked with had whole swaths left in an incomplete state, and the people leading the project were, at several points, forced to fill in the gaps on their own. Sure, they will point to the many interviews they had with the game's original design team to guarantee that what they created would be as authentic as possible. Nonetheless, while it does make the game less buggy and assist some characters in having better story arcs, there are still plenty of rough edges. The transitions between old and restored cutscenes are often abrupt, new dialogue sticks out like a sore thumb, constant hitching bugs are easy to come by, non-shippable crash issues still exist, and the list goes on and on.

Also, this is not an insignificant modification. Making everything in TSLRCM work on a console will be no easy task. That's why I think it's HIGHLY UNLIKELY the Switch port will be getting a complete version of the mod. It would not surprise me if what Aspyr release is only a partial emulation of the mod. Furthermore, there's no way Aspyr will tackle the more incomplete sections of the source code, and they're likely going to highlight the areas they can more easily run through an algorithm. As someone who has been following the Restored Content Mod for a while, I don't blame them. Many are unaware, but TSLRCM is not the first time the KOTOR II mod community attempted to address the cut content in KOTOR II. In 2005, an even more ambitious attempt was made to restore "everything" in the game's source code called The Sith Lords Restoration Project by a group known as "Team Gizka." That group burnt out in approximately one year after Team Gizka discovered the dummied content was far more unfinished than what they anticipated.

If you are going to claim that Aspyr is a professional team that will have more time and better resources to fill in these gaps, I'm not so sure I agree with that. I agree that they are better equipped. Nonetheless, that does not change that the workable source code they would have at their disposal is teeming with game-breaking bugs, non-existent audio, incomplete questlines, and placeholder text for important dialogue choices. Making all of this work with a base game that is already "problematic" would require an enormous team, and there's no way a Switch port of KOTOR II is getting that. Finally, I think some people hyping up this news have forgotten that this is for a Switch port. I can promise you that the portions of this mod, as it stands today, that can pass console certification, can be counted on a single hand. Therefore, unless Aspyr is in it for the long haul, I don't plan to retire my PC KOTOR I and II save data anytime soon.

Reason #2: It Being Free DLC Should Set Expectations Low

I will say, I definitely think that the HK Factory is doable on the Switch.
I will say, I definitely think that the HK Factory is doable on the Switch.

Now that you understand why bringing the entire Restored Content Mod to consoles is impractical, let's return to what Aspyr has already promised for their KOTOR II Switch port. Currently, they are promising general bug and gameplay fixes, engine optimization, and major graphical upgrades. Furthermore, the Restored Content "Free DLC" will arrive after the initial Switch release. There is no official word if this DLC is exclusive to the Switch port and if it will ever become available on Aspyr's KOTOR II Xbox or PlayStation releases. They have confirmed that this Switch DLC will NOT replace TSLRCM on the Steam Workshop. Like any video game enthusiast trying to pinch pennies and survive this smoldering hell-pit we call a planet, I will take "free" any day. However, I hope that after the previous section, you understand that a "complete" version of TSLRCM would warrant an absurd budget, and with the DLC being free, that's all but certain not to be the case.

Connected, but if the Switch port were the "definitive" version, instead of a press release about smoothing things over, it would have talked about partnerships with some original team members that worked on KOTOR II. With Obsidian now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Microsoft, that's pretty unlikely unless someone unfurls a fat wad of cash. It's crazy to think, but much of the core team that made KOTOR II is still working at Obsidian. Despite their frequent hardships, people are willing to follow Feargus Urquhart, Chris Parker, and Leonard Boyarsky through thick and thin. The ones that are available to commission to rewrite lines of dialogue aren't going to do it for free. Also, with Chris Avellone rightfully a persona non grata, I don't know if you can rewrite the incomplete lines of dialogue that plague whole parts of the source code without summoning his specter. And what would you want them to do with all of the lines of dialogue that have no voice acting? Even Baldur's Gate: Siege of Dragonspear, which did bring back the original voice talent for nostalgic purposes, was a commercial product with a price tag.

It is also worth noting that even TSLRCM has its limits. The mod currently purports to "fix 500 bugs" present in the base game, but I can attest that there are more than five hundred bugs, glitches, and game-breaking issues in KOTOR II. Bringing the base game to a modern console will NOT be easy in and of itself. While the announcement of "Restored Content DLC" certainly got people's attention, if you review Aspyr's press release, you'll notice that their significant promise is that the Switch version of the base game will be a smooth and relatively bug-free rodeo. That ALONE will require the lion's share of development time and resources from the team working on the Switch port. Likewise, anyone wishing for the "Droid Planet" is fucking crazy! The M4-78 Enhancement Project is separate from TSLRCM for a reason. The workable audio for the M4-78 area left in the code is next to none, with some modders substituting their voices to make up the difference. For example, this kind of shit will not fly in an official video game release unless someone wants to deal with SAG-AFTRA busting their kneecaps.

Reason #3: The KOTOR I Switch Port Wasn't That Great, And Aspyr Are Busy Working On The Knights of the Old Republic Remake

I look forward to a younger generation realizing that lightsaber stances in this game are useless.
I look forward to a younger generation realizing that lightsaber stances in this game are useless.

So, you can already buy an Aspyr-led Switch port of KOTOR I. I wouldn't recommend it when there are already other versions of the game that are better and easier to modify. I have played KOTOR I on many different platforms, including an Amazon Fire Tablet, and the Switch port still ranks relatively low. My antipathy primarily stems from one of Aspyr's bizarre design decisions about world navigation and item collection. Each level or room you are in has dozens of interactable elements with chests to open and computer terminals to hack. In almost every version of KOTOR I, when you want to interact with any part of the environment, you move your cursor to it and then click it. With the Switch version, you press the shoulder button to cycle through clickable parts of the environment. As you cycle through your options, you can click one and then watch your character move to that object or item. I fucking HATED THIS SHIT! It was incredibly clunky, but it also removed the mystery of searching environments and discovering hidden goodies.

Admittedly, some of Aspyr's other old Star Wars video game ports have been perfectly acceptable. I thought the Switch version of Star Wars: Republic Commando was an almost perfect way to play the game, and to get off of Star Wars for a bit, I thought their Civilization VI Switch port was AMAZING. Aspyr has done some incredible work, and I don't want to suggest that they are an incapable developer who cannot solve many of the issues I have presented. However, they are already a developer stretching themselves a bit thin. Lost in the mix is the fact that they are the team behind the highly speculated Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic - Remake. If you want to tell me that a Switch port of KOTOR II has development priority over that, then I am willing to call you a fucking crazy person. No rational human being should even jokingly suggest that.

At some point, I plan to issue a second one of these "I'm A Star Wars Nerd And..." blogs for the KOTOR Remake. In the meantime, if getting the Restored Content Mod to pass console certification is an eight out of ten on the difficulty meter, then making a full-fledged Remake of KOTOR I that doesn't piss off fans is a fucking eleven. That game will need a sizable team and a collection of designers to tow a very hazardous line between paying homage to the original and needing to modernize its old-school RPG sensibilities. I'm willing to say right here and now that whatever the KOTOR Remake might be, it will not use D&D 3.5E or even 5E for its combat engine. You are going to get a real-time action RPG combat system, and you are going to like it. If there are skill points and attributes, they will be light and breezy. As much as those last two sentences disappoint me, I have come to terms with them as today's CRPG landscape is considerably different from the one that existed when KOTOR I launched. But even if Aspyr whips up a lazy action-RPG combat system, that will require a ton of design and programming power. Power that they likely do not want to sink into a niche DLC project.

Reason #4: This Isn't New News (i.e., Aspyr Have Bootstrapped The Restored Content Mod To Previous KOTOR II Ports)

This was ripped directly from Aspyr's company website.
This was ripped directly from Aspyr's company website.

We now turn our attention to the reporting of Aspyr's supposed sudden loving embrace of TSLRCM with their recently announced Switch port. I have to admit to getting a little peeved when I saw recognizable video game publications extol surprise that Aspyr even admitted to the existence of TSLRCM. If you go to their company website and try to buy a KOTOR II PC key, you'll notice that they straight-up TELL YOU to download TSLRCM. Them supporting the project is not new news. Aspyr has been in charge of porting classic Star Wars titles and updating digital-only releases of those titles since 2015. One of the first things they did when they secured the rights to update KOTOR II's Steam release was to announce Steam Workshop support. Months before they made Workshop support official, they contacted the team behind TSLRCM and assured them that they wanted the project to be compatible. When the mod team stated they were unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the Steam Workshop system, Aspyr taught them how to use the platform and even offered their QA team for additional support.

When the TSLRCM team attempted to develop the mod for iOS and Android, Aspyr helped them. Because of Aspyr, this mod has come to non-PC platforms, and its arrival on the Nintendo Switch is not that surprising. Aspyr has done TSLRCM a solid for over seven years. However, to return to the topic of alternate platforms getting mod support, I think you get a better idea of what is in store for this Switch release. With the mobile edition of TSLRCM, they started with a fraction of the PC mod and then worked from there. Aspyr laid the groundwork, assisted in the QA process, and eventually handed things over to a small team of modders. That will be difficult on the Switch, but it wouldn't be impossible. Aspyr has the clearance to publish things on the Switch online store. You could reasonably assume they might hand over their tools to a group of designers and programmers they can trust since they have been working with them unofficially for over seven years.

I don't know how there can be THIS MUCH EVIDENCE of Aspyr working with a mod community, AND YET people are acting like they don't know what the future will hold. This Switch port will have a small bite-sized chunk of a massive fan project that barely works as-is, and they have done so at least once before. What the fuck are people thinking when they take to YouTube and speculate that this is a prophecy of a future direction for the KOTOR Remake? However, none of my pessimism should take away from the one undeniable positive thing to note about this news. Simply having some version of TSLRCM on a console is a huge step for that modding community and will bring even more attention to it. Maybe the Switch version of TSLRCM only has one-sixteenth of the content of its PC counterpart. Even in that case, a non-zero number of people become aware of its existence in the first place by sheer virtue of it existing somewhere outside of the PC. That alone is worth a little bit of excitement.

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The Quest For The Worst Adventure Game Puzzles - The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime

Author's Note: Here are links to previous episodes of this series:

Additionally, this episode was commissioned by @jeffrud

Preamble

And now it is time for something different!
And now it is time for something different!

Well, it was bound to happen. I knew there would come a day when I would play an FMV game as part of this series. However, I thought maybe The 7th Guest, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery, or Roberta Williams' Phantasmagoria would kick things off instead of The Journeyman Project. Yet, here we are, and I don't know if I am that bummed about it! The Journeyman Project has an exciting and wild story that spans multiple games and is more interested in showcasing thrilling action-based set-pieces than a cavalcade of brain teasers for MIT graduates. It also has a bit of an intriguing backstory worth reviewing before assessing its puzzles. The rendition I played, and the most readily available version on the internet, is The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime. This game is a remake of the original "The Journeyman Project" and features new puzzles and real-time actors from The Journeyman Project 2: Buried in Time. The original game is more of an FMV experience like Sewer Shark or Night Trap, where the player inputs simple commands to change the cinematic video they are watching. The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime is an FMV adventure game with many of the same set-pieces as the original but improved graphics and additional puzzles to make it play more like The 7th Guest or The Beast Within.

The differences between the original and its remake are not cosmetic. However, both games were significant technical achievements in graphical and audio fidelity upon their releases. The rise and fall of Presto Studios, the developer behind The Journeyman Project series, also mimics that of Sierra Online, Cyan, and Cryo Interactive Entertainment. They rode the adventure game "Golden Age" to meteoric heights with each game they produced. And when the PC market for adventure games bottomed out, the studio closed its doors after an ill-fated attempt at console game development. Some studio heads still run the company but do so on a limited basis, and all the company does nowadays is port classic titles to modern platforms and mobile devices. When I get to The Journeyman Project 3, I plan to discuss the franchise's largely incomplete nature and unaddressed storylines. Regardless, it is one of the more "accessible" FMV adventure games from the 90s, and its heady aspirations make for a unique experience I cannot dismiss as flippantly as something like Night Trap.

If you want some FMV goodness in your life, look no further!
If you want some FMV goodness in your life, look no further!

However, I have to admit that the structure of The Journeyman Project is a bit on the wonky side. The game only has seven locations, with some taking as little as ten to fifteen minutes to complete. I rather sloppily played the game for a charity stream and was able to see its credits after about seven hours. I probably could have finished the game in five if it had not been for my exhaustion and total misunderstanding about a specific puzzle we will discuss shortly. The game gets its "mileage" by requiring you to hop back and forth between locations to progress the story. However, as is usually the case with FMV adventure games like this one, the signposting on what you need to do or pick up is absolute dogshit. In one notorious case, you will go to a symposium where there's a chest with a lock on it but will only be able to open it if you remember to pick up a crowbar at a different location. In another case, you need to teleport to a new area to pick up an oxygen tank, and that's all you can do there for three to five hours. Again, for those unaccustomed to 90s-era FMV adventure games, it's not for the faint of heart, but Pegasus Prime is undoubtedly not alone in how it plays. With all of that in mind, let's talk about some puzzles!

Caldoria Part 1

There's also a Turbo version of this game which updated the graphics but left the original macromedia-style gameplay intact.
There's also a Turbo version of this game which updated the graphics but left the original macromedia-style gameplay intact.

Getting Ready For Work - 4/10 - Things in The Journeyman Project start interestingly enough. Your player character wakes up to a claxon alarm and listens to a message from a co-worker that they are late to work. A delegation of aliens has arrived, and all of the officers of the Temporal Security Agency (i.e., TSA) are on an away mission, and your character is needed ASAP. However, before players make a beeline to their workplace, they first need to gather up an assortment of curiosities in their apartment if they hope to complete the game. The necessary interactions players need to have in the apartment include:

  1. Fiddling with a drawer to get a keyring to their workplace.
  2. Using a food replicator to spawn a glass of orange juice and keeping the glass after gulping down the beverage.
  3. Operating a device in their apartment called the Environ System to watch a required cutscene summarizing the significance of the alien delegation.

None of these items are marked, and the game is more than happy to let you progress without them in your possession which can lead to weird mid and late-game fail states. You can have other "fun" ancillary interactions in the apartment that are not required to complete the game, like reviewing phone messages from your girlfriend and using the game's idea of virtual reality.

I love me some 90s-era notions of futuristic VR!
I love me some 90s-era notions of futuristic VR!

This sort of design "breaks" 90s-era adventure games for many. Now, I am a bit of an apologist for adventure games of this ilk, but there's no denying that reaching a mid-game checkpoint and not being able to progress any further because you forgot to pick up a trinket twenty screens ago sucks shit. Nonetheless, the apologist in me kicks into gear a bit because checking every screen for goodies and clicking everything visible was something you just did. If this site allows people to defend "Tank Controls" in Resident Evil 4 or any PS2 Japanese horror game, then I don't want to eat crow over this point. It's something you did whenever you played an adventure game on the PC. So, I'm giving this an average score at best.

Unfortunately, you cannot go to any of the locations besides your work.
Unfortunately, you cannot go to any of the locations besides your work.

Finding The Transporter To The TSA Office - 3/10 - Once outside your apartment, you need to find a teleportation pod that can immediately take you to the TSA office. You can find this transporter in the apartment lobby, which you get to by using a poorly marked elevator. However, the transporter requires the keyring from your drawer, so you will not progress to the next level if you lack it. Again, your mileage here will depend on how much you enjoy first-person PC adventure game exploration circa Myst. The transporter is tucked away in an alcove, but the in-game map and signposting are miles better than what you usually see in a game of this type. The only "tough" part of this sequence involves finding the key in your apartment in a non-descript drawer and knowing to use it on the transporter. Luckily, the transporter tells you EXACTLY WHAT YOU ARE MISSING when it refuses to send you to your office. That alone makes me incredibly hesitant to get too critical here. On top of that, the game cordons off most of the city. Suppose you decide to get off script and explore the apartment complex. You are rewarded with exciting worldbuilding and context clues about the visiting alien delegation, but you can't get too off track. Trust me, parts of this game are worth excoriating, but this isn't one of them.

TSA Part 1

Re-Educating Yourself On The TSA Procedures - 4.5/10 - Fun fact: you die if you stay in the transporter for more than five minutes. The game warns you about this every time you use it, and I find it hilarious that the game is not joking. Nonetheless, when you enter the TSA headquarters, your co-worker accosts you for being late, a state you cannot prevent even if you play the game hyper efficiently. You are allowed to wander the building to learn more about what the TSA does. I strongly recommend consulting the "Hall of Suspects" for some fun worldbuilding. Eventually, your boss gets ahold of you, chastizes you for your frequent tardiness, and revokes your status as a time cop. To get your privileges back, you need to find your office and use a monitor to review the bureau's protocols. This task might not sound like much, but exploring the hallways of the TSA HQ sucks. The building has tons of dead ends, and most hallways look identical. It is worth noting that if you fail to remember any of the tutorial's information about the procedures for time travel, you could be in a bit of a bind. For example, you get a "Game Over" if you fail to jump-start a mission within ten minutes.

The inventory system in this game is weird. There are two different inventory screens. One for items and one for biochips.
The inventory system in this game is weird. There are two different inventory screens. One for items and one for biochips.

Preparing Your First Time Leap - 5/10 - Oh, did I forget to mention you are a time cop that corrects imperfections in the space-time continuum? I probably should have started with that in my introduction. Regardless, as is par for the course, the minute you begin to assume your duties, a time corruption is detected, and you are assigned to repair it. Before starting this task, you must first collect a handful of trinkets that will allow you to operate all of the machines at your disposal. I never said The Journeyman Project was the most ambitious game of its type. The time limit during this sequence results in a jump in difficulty compared to previous fetch quests. As mentioned in the last section, you lose if you fail to gather all necessary items and initiate the mission within ten minutes.

There are other design quibbles to mention as well. First, you need to navigate to the opposite end of the corridor and find a room with no intelligible markings. While there, you need to pick up a mission chip from a panel, and it, too, is tricky to see the first time. If you fail to pick up this biochip, the time machine will fail to boot up the correct temporal anomaly. Second, you need to generate a bio-suit to survive the time travel process. The two panels to acquire this item look the same and require you to approach them in a particular direction and angle. When an elevator plops you near the time travel machine, it takes six clicks to reach its door and three clicks to enter the pilot's chair. It's clunky, and the game still has a timer running while you struggle with some of these mechanics. Fiddling around with the time machine counts towards your timer as well, and the UI for plotting a course isn't great, either. Overall, it's some 90s-era adventure gaming bullshit!

Prehistoric Island

Yeah, this Stargate is totally something the dinosaurs invented.
Yeah, this Stargate is totally something the dinosaurs invented.

Finding The Prehistory Anomaly - 3/10 - HOT DAMN, I wish more of The Journeyman Project involved exploring exotic locations like the Triassic Period. Someone or something has planted alien technology on Earth during the time of the dinosaurs. This level was my favorite in the game, and it is a damn shame it only lasts about ten minutes, and that's being generous. First, you need to find a power generator in a cave and flick a switch on it to power up a nearby bridge. After activating the bridge, you follow a cliff to cross a chasm. Once on the other side, you need to use your "Journeyman Key" from earlier to unlock a box that contains a disc. After gathering this cache, you must select your "Pegasus Chip" and click "Recall" to return to the TSA HQ.

There are only a handful of levels to explore, but the game provides you with two hours to exhaust all of your options. The environment is structured almost like a corn maze, but with the bonus of instant-death-causing hazards. For example, you can investigate a cave that turns out to be a T-Rex nest, and the mother of the hatchlings is NOT HAPPY to see you. For these sorts of environmental hazards, the game warns you that something might be up if you don't leave. There are sillier and crueler death scenarios worth reporting as well. When you reach the edge of a cliff, the game allows you to click forward, resulting in your character falling to their death. Beyond these traps, the only other difficulty worth remarking upon involves identifying and collecting things and warping back to home base. It takes some practice to know what the items in your inventory do, especially the bio-chips. The steps involved with jumping back to the TSA HQ are equally obtuse and confusing. Nonetheless, it's a fun level with a sense of urgency without feeling overbearing.

TSA Part 2

Dealing With The Security Droids - 3/10 - SURPRISE! Your boss is a part of a secret cabal to sabotage humanity's attempts to reach out to aliens because he's an anti-alien space racist. As a result, he shuts down your efforts to correct any other temporal quirks. Luckily for all involved, the game's version of Cortana chimes in and overrides his orders. However, to thwart you from making any further progress, he sends a couple of droids to guard the door out of your current room. If you attempt to exit to use the time machine, you will be shot dead. Using your AI companion, you can hack the TSA's security system and order the droids to cover a different room. This sequence got me, but not for the reasons you might think. I knew the robots were guarding the door, but your AI lady-friend says, "I have assumed control of the security system," and I thought that meant the coast was clear. Lo and behold, you need to open up your inventory, access the world map, and click on the part of the map away from the time machine to send the drones there. I will never know why this extra step was added to the game. Nevertheless, after fucking up once, I completed the puzzle in less than three minutes.

This story really ramps up to 11 in less than 90 minutes.
This story really ramps up to 11 in less than 90 minutes.

Identifying And Calibrating The Three Major Temporal Destinations - 3/10 (possibly higher) - I enjoy the storytelling here more than anything else. When using a terminal, you can compare the altered and unaltered timelines and learn more about what is at stake. Likewise, the game does a decent job of front-loading your upcoming levels. Nonetheless, there is one odd quibble I need to raise. While the process of queuing up your resources and plotting a course are fiddly and more involved than they should be, the fundamental problem that makes or breaks this game begins here. Despite all the hand-waving and suggestions that this game has an "open world," the opposite is true. There is a correct order in which you tackle NORAD, the Morimoto Colony, and the WSC.

If you do not follow this unspoken optimal path, you will quickly bump into dead ends. On top of that, each location will require at least TWO visits as actions in the other two areas will open up barriers, roadblocks, doors, or walls ten to twenty levels removed from one another. This structure wouldn't be as big of a deal-breaker for some if hopping between areas and getting to where you need to go weren't a laborious process. But it is, and that's why I have a hard time recommending this game even if I overall had a more than worthwhile time with it. On top of that, we haven't scratched the surface of what FMV adventure game bullshit it has in store for you.

WSC Part 1

Do you remember this part of high school chemistry class?
Do you remember this part of high school chemistry class?

Creating An Antidote - 7/10 - An android that is part of the conspiracy to keep humanity isolated shoots you with a dart that happens to be filled with a lethal neurotoxin. Unbeknownst to them, you have warped into a medical lab with all the materials needed to create an antidote. The first step involves taking the dart and analyzing it using a medical device in the room. After identifying the toxin, you need to operate a different device to create the molecules needed to synthesize the antidote. What plays out is a game of memory wherein the game shows a synthetic compound on the screen, and you need to select three base molecules to mimic what is on the terminal. The base pairs are randomized between playthroughs, and the game requires you to complete this task three times, with each subsequent molecule being more complex than the last. It's not an impossible task, but it is made ten times harder due to a time limit. Likewise, the android shooting you every time you enter this specific location is silly. I appreciate that the antidote is a permanent fixture in your inventory, and you don't need to continue remaking it. Regardless, it's a definite jump in difficulty that comes out of nowhere.

Getting To Dr. Sinclair's Office - 5/10 - After dealing with the alien neurotoxin, you need to whisk your time cop to the office of Dr. Sinclair, the "father of time travel." The problem here is the same one found in other time travel stories: you cannot allow people in the past to see you. As a result, if you manage to cross paths with any scientists at the laboratory, it results in an instant "Game Over." To make matters worse, the hallway you navigate is a maze with poorly marked repeating green doors that are all but impossible to tell apart. The game throws you one bone in that your AI companion warns you if there's an incoming person. When you reach Sinclair's office, you need to use the correct keycard to enter and collect information that incriminates Sinclair with the evil cabal. Like your apartment, the "puzzle" here involves exploring a room and clicking everything until you find the right items or audio logs to continue the story. The one kicker here is an assault rifle that explicitly connects Sinclair to the conspiracy, but it turns out to be a red herring, and if you attempt to leave with it, you get arrested. It's a dick move when the game has a constant AI companion bark at you to "collect any and all evidence of illegal activities."

You should fail at this sequence because the costumes for the actors are AMAZING!
You should fail at this sequence because the costumes for the actors are AMAZING!

Identifying The Physical Anomaly - 4/10 - With enough information on Dr. Sinclair, it's time to find the first physical anomaly. This mission involves leaving Sinclair's office, navigating the same repeating and looping office building, and locating a bomb on a random statue. The first complication is that the occurrence of random normies that can catch you is even higher than before. While the sculpture is only a few screens away, you need to wait ten to twenty seconds for the coast to be clear, making it last far longer. Speaking of which, the statue is predictably poorly marked and difficult to find. Your usually helpful AI companion will chime that there are three or four statues in the entire complex but will not provide any further clarification as to where to look for the bomb or if you are getting closer to it. It's a pain to find, and worse, this is the first example of a roadblock that you cannot progress until AFTER you pick up a separate item in a different area. To call this puzzle frustrating is more than apt.

Mars Colony Part 1

Finding The Morimoto Access Card - 3/10 - Welcome to Mars! To be more specific, the "Morimoto Martian Colony" because do you remember in the 1990s when the United States thought that Japan was the most significant economic threat to its place in the global theater? YUP! A Japanese Zaibatsu managed to develop a Martian colony before any other nation, but it is currently at the mercy of an android named Ares. You'll even cross this android at least once at the Martian colony, but, for whatever reason, it doesn't murder you on the spot though it will identify you as a TSA agent. Plot convenience? It sure looks like it! Regardless, when it comes to your first go at Mars, your mission is to pick up three essential items: an access card, a Power Crowbar, and an oxygen mask. You pick up the first of these by finding a non-descript receptionist desk and pilfering a coffer. The only tricky part involves the handful of instant death-delivering traps. Every room in the Mars colony, including where you pick up the access card, has at least one door leading to security guards that immediately waste you. Other than these traps, which your AI companion does warn you about, getting the access card is a simple pixel hunt.

AWWWWWWWWWWW YEAH! LET'S PARTY LIKE WE HAVE A SEGA CD!
AWWWWWWWWWWW YEAH! LET'S PARTY LIKE WE HAVE A SEGA CD!

Using The Maintenance Transport - 4/10 - Now we have what I would hazard to call the game's first "real" puzzle. After picking up the access card, you need to mosey your way down to a nearby shuttle dock. However, before you turn on the transportation system, you should observe a nearby map that indicates which turns and forks are under construction and which ones are safe to navigate. It's far from the most complex puzzle, considering you simply need to jot down if you need to turn left or right, but it's finally something more than navigating to a location and clicking everything until you pick up an item. Oh, and using the shuttle is some good old-fashioned FMV goodness! The entire sequence plays EXACTLY LIKE every other FMV vehicle sequence (i.e., Sewer Shark, Wirehead, Fox Hunt, etc.), where the fast-moving action boils down to simple mouse clicks. Much like those examples I listed, if you are off by even a second during this sequence, you will die and need to restart. Otherwise, it's one of those puzzles that once you write down the answer or play it once, it's never a problem ever again.

Remembering To Pick Up The Oxygen Mask - 5/10 - I struggle to call this a puzzle, but this one item is so essential to progressing the story that I felt I needed to include it. Similarly, you need to pick up a Power Crowbar in the shuttle if you wish to deal with that bomb from earlier. The third and final item you need to locate is an oxygen mask. As you approach it, you need to be careful not to run into Ares; otherwise, he'll kill you this time. Luckily for you, your AI friend yells at you not to proceed until they give you the okay to keep moving. Once the coast is clear, you'll notice an empty oxygen tank. You need to pick this up, but you will have to fill it at a different location. Doing so is incredibly important, as the next room will immediately kill you unless you have a steady oxygen supply. The issue with this design decision on the part of Presto is that you have no idea where the appropriate filling station might exist. Unless you have been swapping between levels willy-nilly, it is easy to lose track of where the filling station exists (i.e., NORAD). As a result, I'll rate this a bit higher than some of the other fetch quests in the game, but not much more.

Norad Part 1

You have to deal with these asshole robots a whole bunch.
You have to deal with these asshole robots a whole bunch.

Filling Your Canisters - 2/10 - Remember when I warned you that the sequencing in this game is all over the place? Well, your first folly at NORAD is a perfect example. You can "technically" progress further if you want, but unless you tie up things at the WSC symposium, you'll subject yourself to another harsh vehicle sequence with nothing to show for it. Accordingly, during your first visit to NORAD, all you need to do is fill your nitrogen, oxygen, and argon canisters. You have to be quick as an android uses a terminal to begin pumping poison into the air using the ventilation system. There is a way for you to stop the sleeping gas from being pumped through the ventilation system, but I don't bother until my second visit. However, the good news is that dealing with this is a simple flick of the switch. If you attempt to do more of this environment, you will be greeted with a brick wall that will not budge until you complete at least one other level. Overall, other than my grousing about the story's structure, this "puzzle" is benign.

The WSC Part 2

Using The Power Crowbar On the Temporal Anachronism - 1/10 - First off, the fact you need to continue using the antidote whenever you enter the WSC is silly. Otherwise, all you need to do is get to the temporal anachronism that you couldn't resolve earlier and use the Power Crowbar on it to open the door to the next part of the level. The corridor leading up to the anomaly still has scientists that can result in a Game Over if they catch you, but other than that, this is a "Gear Check" puzzle and nothing else. You either have the required item to progress further, or you don't.

You really want to get this Map Biochip before doing any of the later levels.
You really want to get this Map Biochip before doing any of the later levels.

Stopping The Sniper - 4/10 - It is worth noting that the "meat and potatoes" of the second half of the WSC is watching a debate between two scientists. It provides some clues as to who the driving forces are in the plot and the game's antagonists. Nonetheless, a scientist sniper shoots you almost immediately after you open the door. This "scientist" is an android sleeper agent and needs to be stopped before they assassinate the scientist who convinces humanity to open up to other galactic civilizations. Finding the assassin is a bit difficult because, as has been the case before, some doors and corridors immediately end your game. Instead, you navigate a few dark rooms before you encounter a green organic door that opens up to the sniper as they are about to pull their trigger. Rather annoyingly, this is a timed sequence, and the game doesn't provide clues as to which items or parts of the environment you can use to stop the assassination attempt. You have about ten seconds to stop the sniper, and clicking on them with nothing in your hands results in them shooting you before they return to their target.

If there is one positive spin I can take with this puzzle, it is that I appreciate how there are two possible solutions. You can freeze the android without killing it using your Argon canister for those who wish to play the game as a pacifist. Conversely, you can also murder them by clicking on a flickering cable to electrocute them. Beyond the time constraint, the only quibble I have involves the inordinate items the game gives you whenever you deal with one of the androids. When the game provides the starting biochips, it does a decent job explaining what they do and how they will assist in your journey. With the newer ones, you pick them up and have to figure out how they impact the game through trial-and-error.

Norad Part 2

Preparing The Submarine - 4/10 - The second part of NORAD is the most extensive individual level in The Journeyman Project. Here, the game also spends the lion's share of its production budget. With an adequately filled oxygen tank, your first task is to deal with the poison being pumped through the ventilation system. You can either use the gas and intake machine or activate a filter on your mask. Next, you need to click on a panel to adjust the pressure in an air-tight room. When it is equal to the pressure in your current space, you can descend to a submarine bay. From here, you enter a control room and interact with a terminal to initiate the launch preparations for a submarine. Nothing here is particularly hard, per se, but you need to do things in an exact sequence or otherwise risk getting stuck. It's also another set-piece where you look at computer terminals more than anything else.

Oh, don't worry. The blurriness of this screencap is because of the quality of the FMV.
Oh, don't worry. The blurriness of this screencap is because of the quality of the FMV.

The Submarine Vehicle Sequence - 5/10 - I know The Journeyman Project predates Star Wars: Rebel Assault and Tomcat Alley by a not-insignificant amount, but HOT DAMN, does this sequence reek of "peak Sega CD energy!" Much like those examples mentioned above, when you begin piloting the submarine, your craft is attacked at pre-determined times, and you need to decide if you want to turn left or right to avoid taking damage. If you take too many hits, it is "Game Over," and you will have to restart the entire sequence. Hilariously enough, the correct answer here is to select "Left" for all but one of the attacks. Even then, your submarine can take a few hits before it explodes. After reading this blog, if you decide to play this game, always pick "Left" when using the submarine. It's a largely asinine vehicle sequence that perfectly embodies a weird tangent the video game industry went towards during the early 90s before it realized it was making a horrible mistake. Otherwise, I'll give it an average score for looking flashy but controlling like trash.

How good is your knowledge of national capitals?
How good is your knowledge of national capitals?

Stopping Nuclear Missiles - 6/10 - After you manage to park the submarine in the next facility, you discover that an evil android named "Poseidon" has hacked NORAD and queued up a salvo of nuclear missiles to destroy the world. To avoid a nuclear holocaust, you must manually track and stop these missiles from calibrating onto their targets. You will accomplish this task by listening to a computer announcing the name of a target nation and then using a 3D hologram of planet Earth to click its capital city. There is a time limit to make matters worse, and you only regain a nominal amount of time whenever you select the correct location. If you struggle with world geography, this "puzzle," if we can call it that, is a real pain in the ass. Beyond that, there are real accessibility issues with this puzzle. The globe you click is light blue, and the nodes you select are not well distinguished from the rest of the map. If you have color blindness, I would guess this puzzle is all but impossible.

Dealing With Or Killing Poseidon - 5/10 - Like the last time you dealt with an alien robot, there are two possible ways you can go about beating them. You can either take the "violent" route, which in this case involves depressurizing the room Poseidon is in, causing him to explode. Or, you can take the non-violent option, which uses a control panel and a claw to trap Poseidon and knock him about until he becomes unconscious. The second of these is the more challenging option as there are multiple inputs you need to select, and if you pick even a single incorrect one, the android will break free and kill you. The easier violent route is hard to figure out because it has been a while since you last used the pressurization system. Either way, you collect a handful of biochips, with the most notable of them being the shield chip which will make the following sequence considerably easier. All in all, it's not impossible, and I appreciate there being two pathways for the player.

Mars Colony Part 2

Oh... this fucking level.
Oh... this fucking level.

The Shield Generator Sequence - 9/10 - Talk about a jump in difficulty! After providing a relatively breezy experience, your second go at the Martian Colony is where The Journeyman Project decides to kick your ass. I will skip over the fact that you need to pay heed to the same traps and shuttle sequence from earlier. Where things ramp-up is when you reach a door you could not open when you were last at Mars. When you unlock this door, you discover that the Shield Generator absorbs your biosuit energy six times faster than average. If you complete the NORAD level before attempting this one, which you should, you can use the Shield Biochip to lower that to three times the standard rate. You will need that extra time because the puzzles you are about to interact with are total bullshit. The first involves using a platform to find a central terminal on the shield generator. There are at least a dozen possible locations to check, and if you don't locate it quickly, you can end up in a fail state because the following two puzzles require a minimum amount of time for you to be able to solve them. When you first locate the right spot, you need to use your nitrogen canister to freeze a lock and then use your Power Crowbar to break the lock. You need to be quick because the nitrogen will wear off after about fifteen seconds, and if that happens, you need to drag your ass back to the canister filling machine in NORAD.

How do you fuck up Mastermind? Well, this game found a way!
How do you fuck up Mastermind? Well, this game found a way!

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Once you find the central terminal, you need to use a panel to select "Run Diagnostics" on the generator and then "Analyze" when you detect a bomb. If you attempt to remove the bomb instead of selecting "Attempt Circuit Link," you fucking DIE! When you link the diagnostics system with the detonator, you play a game of Mastermind to defuse the bomb. The only complication is that in this version of Mastermind, the game tells you how many correct inputs you have made but not where those valid inputs are. So, if you plug in four random colors and the game tells you that you have made two correct selections, you have no idea which colors are in the right spot. I fucking hated this shit, especially when the game provides a final five-color version of this puzzle. As expected, if you fail the second or third phases of the Mastermind puzzle, you start back at the entrance of the shield generator.

For most of you reading this entry, you might be wondering why I gave this a nine instead of a ten. Despite its overwhelmingly Byzantine nature on paper, I knew what I needed to do at the shield generator. There were many tricky parts, but it wasn't impossible to figure out what the game wanted me to do. When I started exploring the generator, I knew what I needed to find. When freezing the lock, I immediately guessed that I would need to use the crowbar. When the bomb prompted its version of Mastermind, I knew what that would entail. The issue here IS NOT poor signposting, which I usually reward with a ten. The problem here is that the game has a punishing time constraint and a ton of instant death scenarios. And even then, the game's bullshit is still manageable. Getting to the game's ending at this point isn't impossible; it's just a matter of if you think this sort of gameplay is worth tolerating.

This level just suuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.
This level just suuuuuuuuuuuuuuucks.

The Underground Labyrinth - 9/10 - If you have been following this series since its inception, you know I hate maze puzzles in adventure games. The primary reason for my distaste is that they come across as the laziest shit. That's mainly the case here and then some. After thwarting Ares' evil plot, they attempt to make a getaway. The only way to follow them is by navigating an underground maze populated by mining robots. Some of these robots are window-dressing, and others are lethal. The good news about the latter of those is that you can navigate away from them without immediately triggering a "Game Over." When you find the exit, you need to use an elevator and remember to pressurize the next room before jumping into a spaceship to chase Ares.

This maze is particularly annoying for a handful of reasons. The first of these annoyances presents itself at the very start. To begin the chase sequence, you need to backtrack back to the Oxygen Room and then put on your mask before you open a door you have yet to use. You have thirty real minutes with a full oxygen tank, but that will not be enough time if you don't know where you are going. As a result, you'll also want to have the Map Biochip activated so that your movements fill in a map on the lower portion of your screen. This tool is only partially helpful because you still do not know what you are trying to find or what exactly represents the maze's exit. It doesn't help that the proper route out of the maze is a serpentine one involving ducking around hostile enemies that you think you should avoid. It's also easy to get lost and run around in circles and not know it. I would rank the shield generator above the maze in terms of difficulty, but the maze is far less interesting.

I honestly got flashbacks to Star Trek: Klingon during this sequence.
I honestly got flashbacks to Star Trek: Klingon during this sequence.

Chasing The Alien Spaceship - 6/10 - You have essentially reached The Journeyman Project's homestretch after surviving the underground maze. However, it is also time for the game's FINAL FMV-based vehicle sequence! After witnessing Ares jumping into a spaceship and flying away, you must leap into a nearby ship and follow suit. There are two parts to this chase sequence. The first involves following Ares, ducking around hazards, and then clicking a hyperspace warp into the planet's upper atmosphere. The last step of that puzzle wasn't immediately apparent to me, and it took at least seven loops before I realized what I needed to do. The second phase involves you either destroying or disabling Ares' ship before it blows up an alien emissary. If you elect to destroy Ares, you blast him away with your lasers. If you want to go the pacifist route, you still shoot at him, but when his shields become exhausted, you instead use a tractor beam to pull him towards you.

Either way, Ares attacks you by dropping space junk your way and returning volleys of blaster bolts. Again, this entire sequence reeks of every FMV game released on the Sega CD, for better or for worse. Luckily, this particular vehicle level isn't as tricky as the one involving the shuttle or submarine. Dodging the canyon spires is an impressive visual, and when you reach space, it plays exactly like Rebel Assault. Nonetheless, the controls are not all that intuitive, and knowing when to stop shooting Ares if you want to go the pacifist route isn't well communicated to the player. Also, that ramp in the first part still pisses me off. If you miss it, you have to survive the entire canyon loop AGAIN, which takes two solid minutes! It does not help that the warp ramp is only present on the screen for about ten seconds. Finicky is the best way to describe this entire level.

Caldoria Part 2

Why do these peace treaty delegations have zero security?
Why do these peace treaty delegations have zero security?

Stopping The Final Assassination Attempt - 6/10 - The game immediately teleports you to the present after you defeat the last android. Baldwin, your shitty boss from earlier, congratulates you but relays that Dr. Sinclair is still on the loose. You need to explore the starting hub world for Sinclair before he does something to jeopardize the pending peace treaty humanity is signing with the alien emissaries from the start of the game. To find Sinclair, you need to return to your apartment complex and take an elevator to the top floor. Eventually, you will find a door that leads to the roof, but Sinclair has locked it. You use the Bomb Biochip you found on Mars to get past this roadblock. While on the top of the building, you have about three minutes to stop Sinclair from shooting anyone. Nevertheless, if you get too close, he will attack you. Instead, you sneak up on him while hiding behind some trees and then use a stun gun.

The words "wild goose chase" come to mind when I look at this set piece. You know you need to go back to the apartment complex from the start of the game, but because every door looks the same, it is tough finding the right door to blow up. Once you get to the top, figuring out which items to use on Sinclair and where to use them is no easy task. Likewise, finding the correct vantage point to attack Sinclair is annoying. There is precisely one correct screen and knowing how to get to it isn't clear. It's far from the most challenging puzzle the game presents you, but it isn't the easiest either.

Yup, this game honestly ends with you playing connect-the-dots.
Yup, this game honestly ends with you playing connect-the-dots.

Defusing The Bomb (i.e., The Connect-The-Dots Puzzles) - 7/10 - With Sinclair out cold, you discover that he rigged a nuclear bomb to go off to sabotage the peace treaty signing should his sniping attempt fail. When you attempt to hack the bomb, you find that you can diffuse it if you are able to connect a series of nodes without crossing your cursor over a previously drawn line. Similarly, there's a time limit. This puzzle clearly shows that the developers ran out of ideas when they got to the end of the game. After The Journeyman Project showcases a smattering of unique and engaging locals and a handful of creative action set pieces, it makes you play a series of connect-the-dots puzzles. There are six puzzles in total, and as you might expect, they get increasingly harder. I got these puzzles in a single go because I swear I have seen these particular patterns in other adventure games. Otherwise, the puzzles are manageable but occasionally frustrating.

Should You Play The Journeyman Project 1: Pegasus Prime (Answer: Sure, But Only If You Have It In Your Heart To Tolerate FMV-Bullshitery)

Many of you enjoyed Vinny's FMV escapades on Giant Bomb and continue to follow his FMV adventures on Nextlander. I have even seen some of you chime in during one of Vinny's Nextlander FMV streams, asking where to start if you are interested in experiencing a "classic" FMV game. If you honestly want to go back to the oldies, I can think of no better game than The Journeyman Project 1: Pegasus Prime. The Steam and GOG versions are smooth and relatively bug-free and usually on sale whenever either platform makes one of their seasonal sales. The game is more involved than most FMV adventure games from the 90s, which leads to a better playing experience. Furthermore, The Journeyman Project has a crazy story that goes places and sands off most of, but not all, the rough edges associated with old-school FMV games. If any of the tasks seem too harsh, there's an "Easy Mode" toggle that instantly solves any puzzle or sequence in the game.

This game oozes with charm.
This game oozes with charm.

However, there's no denying that the game is not without fault. This game is not for you if you have any aversions to trial-and-error gameplay or backtracking. Even if it provides more interactivity than most FMV adventure games, it still relies on pixel hunting and random item collection to carry most of its gameplay. Likewise, there comes the point when the game loses steam. The back half of the game is far less exciting and compelling than the first half, and the introductions of its primary set pieces are more awe-inspiring than your second rodeos in them. And there are parts of the game that are no fun to play. Knowing which items or Biochips to use can take you a while to figure out if you do not have a guide on standby. The game's open-ended format is both one of its most fascinating conceits as well as its most significant stumbling block. It is incredibly easy to get stuck in this game and not know what you need to do next.

That grousing aside, The Journeyman Project: Pegasus Prime is a one-of-a-kind experience. Presto Studios aimed for the stars with this game and succeeded for the most part. It would also behoove me not to mention how the second and third games in this trilogy don't just refine the concepts and ideas of this game but honestly push the envelope of what games did at the time. While FMV games from the 90s normally induce sneers, there's no denying the historical significance of The Journeyman Project and what it pioneered for PC gaming. Even if you have no interest in the game, I think we can all at least agree that this series becoming forgotten is somewhat of a shame. The franchise was and still is a technological marvel that bleeds ambition even if it doesn't use its effusive excitement in the most productive manner.

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Y'all Made Me Write This Blog: ZombiePie's Ranch Pizza Recipe

Stop Cyberbullying Me!

As they say, use the good shit.
As they say, use the good shit.

For those of you who have been on the Giant Bomb Discord or Twitter, you know the surrounding Giant Bomb Community has been dunking on me for my "eccentric" food preferences and tastes. Among my many "sins," determined by the internet food police, is my insistence that you can use Ranch Dressing as a replacement for marinara or traditional pizza sauce as a base on a pizza. Other things that can "apparently" get me thrown into food jail include my use of ketchup in pasta sauces and my secret "Salsa Marinara" recipe, where I make pico de gallo, blend it, and cook it down to make a pasta sauce. As you might suspect, I will no longer stand for this cyberbullying. I believe in freedom and will use this blog to show this community the pure deliciousness of Ranch Pizza!

Step #1: Pre-Made Pizza Dough Is Legit

If you hate rectangles, close this blog right now.
If you hate rectangles, close this blog right now.

Fuck making dough from scratch! The pre-made pizza dough that you can buy in most grocery stores is just as good and far easier to work with than homemade pizza dough. After getting this dough, find a pizza tray and grease it with whatever oil-based substance you want. I prefer to use olive oil, but if you're going to slather Crisco on that thing, go ahead! I'm not your daddy! Because I wanted to piss off the pizza purists, I used a rectangular baking sheet instead of a circular one. Again, I believe in freedom.

Step #2: Buy High-Quality Ranch Dressing

As chefs often say, when a recipe calls for wine: cook with something you are willing to drink. The same sentiment applies to the Ranch Dressing you will be using on this pizza pie. Your body deserves something better than Hidden Valley, but I'm not judging you if that's all you got. Shit, we've all been there! You're hungry, and all you have is salad mix that is two days past the sell-by date, withered carrots, and Hidden Valley Ranch! If it gets the job done, who am I to judge?

Nonetheless, a Ranch Pizza will require a dressing with a higher "proof" than your standard sauce. Therefore, I recommend you splurge and get an artisanal variety of Ranch for this recipe. You want something to permeate the dough and survive the baking process. That's why you should look for a thicker sauce than most "big brand" dressings.

Step #3: Use About Half The Bottle (No, Seriously)

Looking good already!
Looking good already!

Yup, you read that right! You will be using AT LEAST half of that bottle of Ranch Dressing for this pizza. Unlike tomato or cream-based pizza sauces, Ranch will evaporate, and its tangy flavor will become muted if you do not use the appropriate amount of dressing for this pie. Whatever amount you think you will use, you are going to need to double that for your pizza. Think of this like when you are cooking spinach. When you cook spinach, there's that moment right at the start of the cooking process where it looks like you used too much, but two minutes in, you realize that's not the case. That's how you need to treat Ranch Dressing as a pizza base. Drench that fucking dough!

Step #4: Load That Pie Up TO THE CEILING With Toppings!

Looking even better!
Looking even better!

Fuck it; if you are already using Ranch Dressing for a pizza base, why pull back on toppings? In my case, I used sausage, sauteed onions, mozzarella, pepperoni, black olives, and shredded Parmesan. I like to do a second layer of cheese after putting on meat and vegetables, but not as much as the first layer. I want there to be enough cheese to crisp up and get crunchy but not enough to become a cheese soup like a Chicago-style pizza casserole. Also, certain meats pair with Ranch better than others. A ubiquitous pairing involves bacon and grilled chicken, which I highly recommend to Ranch Pizza novices.

Step #5: Cook The Pizza

Now we have a meal for champions!
Now we have a meal for champions!

Preheat and bake at 400°F. Please don't ask me for a time. You have to judge that one by how it looks and feels. I prefer my pizzas crispy. To me, the best pizza is one that has a crust that snaps like a cracker. That wasn't the case with the one I made in this blog, but you are the shepherd of your pizza's texture.

Step #6: Serve With A Salad And Enjoy

Trust me; you are going to love this pie. I recommend eating this pizza with a lightly dressed salad because at least one thing on your plate should be "healthy." While your arteries might be screaming as they read this blog, your taste buds are bound to be jumping for joy!

Stand With Freedom Make A Pizza Using Ranch!

Again, I hope my picture blog proves that I am not wavering as I deal with the full brunt of the internet. I support good-tasting food and freedom. With this website addressing the anti-Pineapple bias by pizza snobs, I hope we can create an aura of positivity regarding Ranch Pizza.

Thank you; goodnight; God bless.
Thank you; goodnight; God bless.
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The Quest For The Worst Adventure Game Puzzles - Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (Part 2: Team Path & Act III)

Author's Note: This blog is the second part of a two-part series. If you missed the previous episode, here's the link to it:

Also, here are links to previous episodes of this series not related to Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis:

Team Path

Getting The Mask From Omar - 5/10 - The game's Team Path has the same starting locations (i.e., Algiers and Monte Carlo) as the Wits Path, but the tasks at each environment are different. With this route, you drop by Algiers to pick up a mask at Omar's shop before heading back to Monte Carlo to play a trick on Dr. Trottier. The issue here is the same one I had with the Wits Path. The game has a "correct" order with its locations, but it tells you nothing. However, the situation here is a bit more nefarious as you need to pick up exactly one item in Algiers before heading to Monte Carlo. The problem is that the mask you need to pick up almost perfectly blends into the background of Omar's store. This sequence is a pure pixel-hunt and nothing more. Veterans of this game are likely to breeze through it, but first-timers will likely get stuck hence, why this scene was one of the game's most common reasons for people calling the LucasArts Tip Line when it first came out.

I don't mind the goofier parts of this game as much as I should.
I don't mind the goofier parts of this game as much as I should.

Finding And Convincing Trottier to Get In The Hotel- 4/10 - After your brief errand in Algiers, you need to track down Dr. Trottier just as you do in the Wits Path. You can talk to the NPCs coming out of the hotel to build a profile on Trottier, or you can try to spot him as his character model is not randomized. As was when you needed to track down Trottier during the Wits Path, locating him and answering his multiple-choice question, while not hard, is punishing. One wrong answer, and you have to do the entire puzzle over again. Also, he does not like it when you are boastful, which can prematurely end your conversations with him. Still, this isn't too hard; it's just annoying.

Sophia's Séance And Stealing The Sunstone From Trottier - 6/10 - With Trottier in the hotel room, the player has the option of doing things Sophia's way, which is to play out a séance and try to read Trottier's mind or to go things Indy's route and scare the shit out of him. I want to say that I appreciate how there are two possible ways to get Trottier to give up the Sunstone. Unfortunately, Sophia's way sucks shit. If you choose to go with Sophia, you have to answer a series of multiple-choice questions where a single wrong answer fails the entire sequence. The issue is that Trottier never tells you when you have provided a wrong answer. Thus, it is hard to tell which question or questions you got wrong. For Indy's solution, I hate how his sequence is a timed mission. I forgot to pick up the flashlight and the bed cover before hitting the fuse box and failed the task the first time I played it. Also, Indy's solution requires you to combine and use items while it is dark, and it's not the best feeling experience. Nonetheless, Indy's solution is significantly more manageable and less frustrating than Sophia's.

Oh... this puzzle.
Oh... this puzzle.

Getting the Squab-On-A-Stick And Trading With Omar - 5/10 - Ah, yes, this puzzle is probably one of the most notorious parts of the game. Indy and Sophia need to get to the dig site at Algiers, but this time will need a ticket to the nearby balloon service. The only person in the city willing to part with a pass is a starving beggar who says they will help if Indy can get him something to eat. With this information, you play a game of telephone between Omar and a grocer. You start by trading the mask from earlier to Omar for a random item and need to check with the grocer if you have the correct thing to get his food. The issue is that what the grocer wants is randomly selected, and Omar has a treasure trove of junk. This puzzle is not challenging, but it is tedious and takes forever to complete, especially if you do not know how to speed up the process. Mercifully, the grocer starts to provide hints about if you are getting closer to delivering the item he wants. Unfortunately, it could take ten to twelve tries before you get your first hint. Luckily, you will EVENTUALLY get to the solution. So, this puzzle is not impossible; it's just a waste of your goddamn time.

Getting The Knife Using Sophia - 3/10 - When you cash in your ticket for a balloon ride, Indy and Sophia discover the balloon is tied to a post to prevent it from flying away. If they wish to use the make-shift blimp to explore the desert, they will need some sharp object to cut the rope. As a result, you need to meet up with a knife thrower in the marketplace and use Sophia as part of their act. The only tricky step to this puzzle is the small window to push Sophia to trigger the cutscene that progresses the story. Correspondingly, this is one of the few times when you need to use verbs on Sophia to solve a puzzle. Many people who play this game often get stuck thinking they need to use an item on Sophia. Otherwise, it's a fun, albeit sexist, moment.

Every balloon sequence sucks and I will not hear any arguments to the contrary.
Every balloon sequence sucks and I will not hear any arguments to the contrary.

Hot Air Balloon Desert Sequence - 6/10 - As I said in the previous episode, the balloon controls like garbage. Its turning radius is wide, and that's a real issue during this sequence because you need to land on remote nomad camps to collect hints on whether or not you are getting closer to the dig site. The problem is that many of the nomad camps are on the corners of the map, and it is tough to turn fast enough while descending without accidentally transitioning to the next screen or landing on a random desert tile. Luckily, nothing here kills you or resets your progress, as was the case during the Wits Path, but this balloon is still way more frustrating than Indy using a camel. I would not call this "impossible," but it is yet another example of LucasArts' SCUMM engine trying to do things it is not 100% capable of doing reliably.

Turning On The Generator - 4/10 - This puzzle is almost the same as the Wits Path version. So, I'll copy my notes from the Wits Path: I like this puzzle. I understand that it is another pixel hunt, and finding the cap on the generator is the hardest part. However, I respect how the darkened screen slowly gets easier to see the longer you spend in the dark. I can't help but be impressed at this example of graphical fidelity in a game made in 1992. Additionally, it is one of the few times when the Touch command feels entirely justified. Overall, I thought this was a well-designed puzzle.

At some point, I just made my peace with the stone puzzles.
At some point, I just made my peace with the stone puzzles.

Finding The Mural For The Sunstone - 3/10 - You need to examine a crumbling wall and then use a ship rib to break apart the façade to reveal a mural. Upon discovering the mural, you need to place a peg in its center. Usually, I would not judge a simple "gather all of your items" sequence. Still, this one is problematic because finding the crumbling wall is a bit difficult because its textures blend with the background. Likewise, knowing to use the ship rib instead of other items in your inventory can be a bit of a leap. Nothing too hard, but some steps here can make first playthroughs a chore.

Using the Sunstone on The Mural - 3/10 - Same as with every stone wheel puzzle, the passages in "The Lost Dialogues" make sense once you understand their conventions, but trying to decode what they mean the first time can be a harrowing experience. Nonetheless, as long as you use the same save across multiple playthroughs, the passages are the same.

There are times when I have to question what the design team consider fun.
There are times when I have to question what the design team consider fun.

Finding The Moonstone at Crete - 10/10 - Good GOD! Where do I even begin? After landing on Crete and finding an excavation site, Indy and Sophia must explore dozens of rooms until they discover one with a compass with bull horns. Next, they need to find hidden statues of a bull's head and tail among the ruins. After tracking these down, they need to map the objects using a surveying tool to mark a spot on the dig site to find where the Moonstone is buried. Right off the bat, this puzzle is randomized. Upon entering the excavation site, you need to explore rooms and find one with a mural depicting an abstract compass. Finding a room can be quick or laborious, depending on your luck. Later, you need to have Indy and Sophia explore the exterior of the excavation site and find two stones with statues depicting a bull's head and tail. This part of the puzzle is frustrating as locating the rocks is arduous because it is often tough to tell them apart from the ancient ruins. I found one of the statues quickly but failed to find the second because the stone with the second statue looked like a random pillar. So, I skipped it and got stuck for a solid seven minutes.

The final part of the puzzle is the most infamous: using the surveying tool. Here you need to meticulously align your crosshairs with the horns in the middle of the map while using the tools on each statue's head. However, the signposting here is poor, and the level of pixel perfection you need to have is incredibly maddening. There were a few times when I thought I had the solution but didn't because I was off by a nano-pixel. Overall, this puzzle has an almost fatal amount of randomization and pixel-hunting in its adventure game cocktail.

The Statues In The Labyrinth - 5/10 - Oh, great, it's the same Zelda pressure plate puzzle from the Wits Path! However, at least you have some excellent interplay between Sophia and Indy to break things up from time to time. Again, instead of finding an object to replace the weight of the three statues, which seems like it SHOULD be the solution, you need to use your whip on the last remaining statue in the subsequent screen. While it isn't the most complex puzzle in the game, it is one where there's a distinct step that can be hard to remember. The last time you needed to use the whip to solve a puzzle was way back in the jungle at Tikal.

I will admit, the animations in this game are amazing.
I will admit, the animations in this game are amazing.

The Minotaur Statue and Elevator - 5/10 - Indy and Sophia discover a pressure plate next to a giant minotaur statue in the next room. The pressure plate is the key to turning on an ancient elevator. To get the elevator to turn on, you will need to place Indy and Sophia in the correct spots. Getting Sophia to move to the right location is aggravating. I wish the companion directions were more explicit on where you can direct them. Getting back up is a silly but tricky sequence. Knowing to go up the waterfall with Indy and then using the whip on the minotaur statue might stump some newcomers. However, the back-and-forth between Indy and Sophia during this sequence is simply the best.

Getting the Golden Box - 5/10 - If Indy hopes to complete the Labyrinth of Knossos once and for all, he will need to find a golden box. Once again, just knowing where you need to go in the labyrinth is a chore. Using the busts on the shelf to open a door is simple enough, but the many doors that lead to dead-ends or red herrings are endlessly frustrating. The "real" puzzle involves the wedge holding the counterbalance on the elevator. After the two previous puzzles, I thought you would need to use the whip again. Instead, you use Sternhart's staff, which you will need to use on a later statue head. It is also worth mentioning how hard it is to tell what parts of the screen are the background or foreground due to the environment's greyscale nature, which results in a pixel-hunt-rich experience.

Regardless of the route, this is still my favorite cutscene and moment in the game.
Regardless of the route, this is still my favorite cutscene and moment in the game.

The Amber Fish Puzzle - 3/10 - As was the case in the Wits Path, Indy needs to use a device to detect hidden pieces of orichalcum and a secret passageway. This sequence is far easier than using the comb in the Wits Path. Everything is already assembled, and Indy even signposts what you need to do, making this a fun character moment between Indy and Sophia. The same could be said about the last scene wherein Indy needs to push Sophia through a small hole. Overall, just a fun moment only bumped up because the screens you navigate are excessively monotonous.

Using The Sunstone, Moonstone, and Worldstone in the Map Room - 2/10 - At this point, using the stones feels automatic. All I will say is that, yet again, the sections of the notes that are your hints are not the best. They are abstract enough to where I feel you may as well just brute force the puzzle if you don't want to use a guide. Still, it's "doable."

The submarine level sucks no matter which route you take.
The submarine level sucks no matter which route you take.

Getting To The Submarine - 2/10 - Right on the heels of Sophia and Indy solving the map room, a Nazi soldier spoils things. After pointing a gun at Indy, he kidnaps Sophia and takes the stones. Locked in a dungeon, Indy needs to find a way out and catch the German U-Boat before it leaves. Dealing with Kerner locking you in a room is easy because there is a marked wall to use the ship's rib on, and the game has already asked you to use the ship rib to dig through dirt. There is a dialogue sequence with an elderly captain when you reach the submarine. He's an easy opponent, and entering the sub is pretty straightforward. I also feel like it is worth mentioning that this is the point when you can die on the Team Path. For example, Kerner will kill Indy if you refuse to give him the stones.

Getting The Stones From The Lockbox - 5.5/10 - With Sophia locked away and Indy dressed in a questionable uniform, you discover Indy is in incredibly hostile territory. First, you will need to rescue Sophia before making an effort to recover the stones. This task requires Indy to use an intercom to move the submarine's crew to a different location before picking up a mug. With that in tow, you meet up with Sophia and knock out the guard blocking her way. After completing this task, the duo will need to overhear a conversation between Ubermann and Kerner before learning which lockbox contains the stones. With this information, Indy will need to use the mug from earlier to collect battery acid and pour the acid on the vault to get them back.

JOKES! This game has them!
JOKES! This game has them!

While involved, this submarine sequence is far easier than its Wits Path counterpart. Foremost, while confusing at first, using the intercom is pretty easy, and breaking the lever, while shocking, doesn't immediately hurt your progress. It can be frustrating fanning through your options and not knowing where you are moving the sub's crew. However, it is only something you need to do once or twice. Picking up the ceramic mug, on the other hand, is a bit tricky because it is difficult to locate in the kitchen. The bread and cold cuts, which do not help you progress the story, are far easier to find and click than the mug. Finally, there is an option when dealing with Sophia's guard that results in a Game Over.

Furthermore, listening to Kerner and the doctor to find the lockbox is oddly punishing. You have to be in a specific room and in a particular spot to start their conversation. Equally precise is when you need to use the ceramic mug on a nondescript leaking engine to collect battery acid. This step is the most challenging part of the puzzle and can result in aimless wandering in the submarine. The area where you find the leaking battery acid isn't that obvious. At the very least, the game does not make this a timed mission. So, there's that.

I dare anyone to name a single time a vehicle controls well in this game.
I dare anyone to name a single time a vehicle controls well in this game.

Piloting The Submarine - 9/10 - Like the other vehicles in the game, the submarine controls like absolute dogshit! The good news is that Sophia is free, and you have the stones. All that needs to be done now is for Indy to park the submarine in an underwater dock. Unfortunately, the controls to the U-boat are fucked, and you will need to find items to fix them. There are also FOUR controls you need to worry about when using the sub. These are 1) the depth control lever, 2) the steering wheel, 3) the reverse switch, and 4) the speed lever. The steering wheel requires a key to unlock it, and the control lever needs repairs. With the submarine in tip-top shape, you need to find the dock whose location is randomized among a dozen possible options. However, the submarine will need to be at a specific distance, angle, and depth to dock.

There's so much about this sequence that drove me crazy. First, the game doesn't tell you what any of the switches do. Second, for the buttons that need to be fixed, it's not immediately clear what you need to use to improve them. Once all the controls are up and running, using them is incredibly exasperating. The issue is that you need to experiment to know what the different inputs do. For example, it took me a while to realize you need to alternate with the steering wheel to bring the sub closer to the screen instead of holding the wheel longer. Third, the switch that allows you to back the U-boat up is very picky, and knowing if your approach is close enough or too far away is impossible. I will say that this is something that after you solve it once, it gets easier, but for your first time doing it, the sub is slow, meandering, and unresponsive in the worst way possible. Oh, and I forgot to mention that because the placement of the airlock is randomized, some stations are far harder than others. The ones located at the center of the screen are especially onerous.

Act III

As beautiful as Atlantis is, it just isn't that fun.
As beautiful as Atlantis is, it just isn't that fun.

Opening The Door to The Outer Ring - 5/10 - Here's another puzzle in the dark. Like the previous puzzles lacking light, the screen becomes easier to see as you spend more time on the level. Finding the ladder to go up the platform is easy, but knowing where to put it takes trial and error. Finding the magical rod in the box is easier, but knowing that you need to use a bead on the rod is a bit of a stretch, especially considering that you have spots to place the rod, which seems more logical than using it to light up the room. Finally, knowing that you need to reverse the stones can be tricky as the hint in the book is vague enough to where you might not know what to do. For those that do not remember, this is the one time when you need to invert your regular stone positions by 180 degrees. I will say that once you know what you need to do, you'll never forget the solution.

Item Collection in The Outer Ring & Using The Grates (Structure) - 8/10 - I'm sorry, but while I think the inner city of Atlantis is beautiful and the music is fantastic, the first part of the city of Atlantis sucks shit. Due to the randomized placement of the required items, checking every room in the Outer Ring is all but required. While some may counter that you do not need to explore all of the rooms, I would disagree. The maze-like structure is a pain to navigate, and locating the specific rooms with grates to story-required items is downright infuriating. Worse, the grates can be challenging to tell apart from the standard wall textures. The Nazi guards respawn, making this the hardest level in the game if you are not great at the combat engine. Also, the Outer Ring does a TERRIBLE JOB of cluing you into the necessary items you need for the later rings.

I have other issues with how the Outer Ring is designed. The game never communicates how many beads you will need in the Middle Ring. If you are playing this blind, it is frustrating when you realize you have run out and need to go back. The spoked wheel and bronze gear are both found in random rooms and are incredibly easy to miss, given they perfectly blend into the backgrounds they are located. Similarly, the robot part you need to pick up in the dungeon is tiny. Finally, navigating and returning to non-named rooms is awful, especially if you have missed a grate or item. The part that always gets me is remembering to pick up the spoked wheel in the Machine Room after you have finished making orichalcum. For whatever reason, Indy does not pick this part up automatically as he does with other story-required items.

This fucking room.... You will come to hate it.
This fucking room.... You will come to hate it.

The Machine Room - 6/10 - To use the bead-making machine, you need to collect a spoked wheel which is randomly placed in an unmarked room in the Outer Ring. This task is downright evil as the spoked wheel is in a pile of nondescript broken-down robot parts. Also, the spot where you need to place the wheel is not easy to find or locate, given how enormous and intricate the machine is, and other parts of the mechanism are equally difficult to identify. For example, it's a bit tough to find the funnel for the lava. Speaking of lava, the only part of this puzzle worth getting angry about is how annoying it is going back and forth between the lava and machine rooms to make enough beads for later parts of the game. If you are playing this game blind, the game does not signpost you enough that you should probably make more than one batch of beads. The walk of shame you may need to make if you waste your beads in the Middle Ring is a real bummer.

The Crab Room - 4/10 - Ah, yes, getting crabs! Everyone's favorite part of Fate of Atlantis! In the Outer Ring, there is a room that constantly spawns crabs. It is here you will need to catch a crab using a snare made from a skeleton for a future puzzle. First, you need to find a ribcage, and knowing that the outermost part of the environment has the subway is not clear. It also does not help that there is more than one possible location where the subway with the skeleton can be found. Getting rations from a Nazi will force some players to engage in combat, but luckily you can use any food-based item from your inventory if you still have them. Nonetheless, like the rest of the Outer Ring, there's a lot of backtracking, which is not a great time. That said, capturing a crab isn't all that demanding once you set up the trap.

Again, Atlantis is a beautiful level. I just wish you did more interesting stuff here.
Again, Atlantis is a beautiful level. I just wish you did more interesting stuff here.

The Lava Room - 5/10 - Similar to the Machine and Sentry Room, what makes this more complicated than the other rooms is an item you need to find in an unmarked room with a grate. As these rooms are randomized, this can either be a quick process or a long process. The one added annoyance is that the statue head and metal cup need to be placed in a specific order when you attempt to collect the lava. You need to place the cup down first and then put the statue head in the proper slot. Other than that, I am boosting this score because of the amount of backtracking required.

The Statue Room - 2/10 - This room is probably the easiest in the Outer Ring as all you need to do is cross a chasm and collect a cup. The statue on the other side is color-coordinated enough, so finding the cup is not impossible, and you only need to use one item, which you already have to cross the gap (i.e., the ladder). As a result, it's easy enough to figure out on your own.

You could say that about a lot of people.
You could say that about a lot of people.

The Sentry Room - 7/10 - Finding the eel figurine to make this room cooperate sucks. You first need to explore every room in the Outer Ring while fending off Nazi guards. As mentioned earlier, this structure is problematic because the rooms accessible using grates are easy to miss. For this puzzle, the eel statue itself is easy to locate once you find the correct room as it is colored in a blue texture that is easy to tell apart from the background. However, knowing how to use the eel figurine or even which room it connects to is a leap of logic. In this case, before you can open a door, you need to remove a pond in front of it. The game needs you to combine a bead with the eel statue, which will cause the water to evaporate. However, the game does not tell you this is the logical pathway for the figurine. Also, if you do what most do when you encounter the wall, which is to use a bead on the fish head, you will waste your resources, which will cause you to need to go back and make more beads. So, overall, it is a problematic item combination puzzle with poor signposting and even trickier item collection and verb usage.

I you fought Fritz and lived to tell the tale, you are made of tougher stuff than me.
I you fought Fritz and lived to tell the tale, you are made of tougher stuff than me.

The Dungeon - YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY/10 - The fight with Fritz is among the most brutal combat sequences in the game, and at the very least, I want to praise the game for providing a puzzle alternative. If you defeat Fritz without using the statue, you are a better person than me. Given that the puzzle is a bone the game is throwing you, I can't get that angry that the statue does not immediately leap out as something you can use. Nonetheless, knowing that there is a puzzle solution to fighting Fritz is pretty hard to figure out on your own, even if you accept that using beads on everything is what this part of Atlantis usually entails.

Using the Crab Ship & Opening The Gates In The Canal - 4/10 - The crab flotilla is when the Atlantis sequence starts to lose me for a bit. You'll need to feed a sea monster using the crab you picked up earlier. Next, Indy hops on a crab-shaped float, powers it using an orichalcum bead (I HOPE YOU HAVE PLENTY OF THOSE), and pilots it through a canal. Nevertheless, Indy will bump up against a gate whenever he reaches the end of a screen. To open these gates, you will need to use the Sunstone, Moonstone, and Worldstone. However, you will not need to slide the stones around to match symbols this time around. Instead, you need to check the correct stone with the matching-sized circle at the top of the gate. For example, the large plaque you first encounter requires the Sunstone, and the smaller one furthest away from the entrance uses the Worldstone.

Did you know that you can leave the stones in the airlock and get to this part of Atlantis and need to drag Indy's ass all the way back to the entrance? I KNOW THIS SITUATION FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE! In my defense, this is the ONE LEVEL where Indy does not pick up the stones automatically. Luckily, telling apart which spindles coincide with which stones you have isn't too demanding as the gates are placed in a pattern of big-medium-small and vice versa. As you travel down the canal, the crescent-shaped gear can be easy to miss, and the cupboard, which the game designs as a hint, needs to be closed before it shows you a pattern used to solve the next puzzle.

I hope you remember to make more than one set of breads!
I hope you remember to make more than one set of breads!

The Statue, Gears, And Chain Puzzle - 9/10 - This puzzle is where many players end up having to drag their asses back to the first level of Atlantis to make a new batch of orichalcum. It is worth mentioning that the game provides one clue on how to solve the statue mechanism puzzle. As Indy pilots the crab boat, he will see a staircase to a largely empty room. It is there he will pick up a crescent-shaped gear but will also observe a schematic of an Atlantean device. Eventually, Indy will make his way to the end of a hallway where he finds a broken-down robot, and it matches the schematic from earlier. The key here is to play around with the crescent gear inside the guts of the statue to make its arms move, so it tears down a stone wall. This task involves removing the gears already in the robot, placing the crescent-shaped gear on the rightmost two pegs inside it, returning the previous gears to their prior locations, and using an orichalcum bead to turn on the statue. You will end up wasting several beads if you are off by even a centimeter with any of these parts. Furthermore, you have to attach the statue's arms to chains so the mechanism can tear down the wall. If this explanation sounds longwinded and involved, that is because this puzzle is very much that.

When I did this the first time, I completely forgot to attach the chains to the arms of the statue and ended up wasting a bunch of my beads as a result. Because you can use your beads like crazy if you do not know what you are doing, this specific puzzle can fuck you over, as the machine room is pretty far away if you want to use it. Once you attach the chains, putting the gears in the correct order is a tall task because the "hint" from the previous cupboard doesn't exactly do the best job of telling which part goes where or the correct order of the gears. Likewise, needing to trigger the statue twice, one for each arm, was an annoying and unnecessary step. Overall it's a complex series of steps with an end goal that doesn't seem that clear to the player. Oh, AND I HOPE YOU REMEMBER TO PICK UP THE LADDER FROM THE AIRLOCK!

Getting Sophia - 3/10 - While not too troublesome, backtracking to get Sophia is not a fun escapade. From where you are at, going back to the dungeon is a royal pain in the ass, and with the Nazi guards still roaming about, it also takes up a non-insignificant amount of time, even if you are sucker punching. The worst part is how you need to remember to pick up the metal bar from the robot as it is a critical story item for a later puzzle, and if you forget to pick it up after saving Sophia, that's a real shame. Again, the actual puzzle is fine, but its structure is what kills it for me.

AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Getting Rid Of Nur-Ab-Sal - 3/10 - When you enter the first part of the Middle Ring, Sophia becomes fully possessed by an evil devil spirit. As a result, it is time to perform an exorcism. To accomplish this feat, you need to approach Sophia, ask to examine her necklace, and use an orichalcum bead on it until it makes a horrible face. This turn of events causes Sophia to scream in pain, and it is during this brief window, that Indy will need to use the gold box on the necklace. Doing so traps Nur-Ab-Sal, but you will need to destroy the box before continuing. So, Indy tosses it into a pit of lava and ends our sub-plot involving Nur-Ab-Sal.

The only step here that could get players is if they have run out of beads, and as I said before, that's a bummer. You have the option to leave Sophia behind, but as this leads to the "bad" ending, it is only something done by speedrunners. Otherwise, you need to observe Sophia, which is a bit odd considering that it seems like you should use an item on her. Likewise, using a bead on the mouth of the necklace is a bit finicky, and the timing to use the golden box can be harsh. Otherwise, it is a simple sequence and one I strongly recommend people do, given its story significance.

I will admit, this scene looks AMAZING!
I will admit, this scene looks AMAZING!

Piloting The Digging Vehicle - 5/10 - After dealing with Nur-Ab-Sal, Indy and Sophia explore the rest of the hall in the Middle Ring. Eventually, they find a large vehicle and can turn it on using a bead. When the machine powers up, Indy will need to manipulate three slots to get it to turn into a wall to reach the Inner Ring. To accomplish this task, you will need to use a stick from Nur-Ab-Sal's tomb and a pin from the robot. Using these items, you need to set each slot to the appropriate level for the vehicle to crash and dig through the wall.

Again, if you don't have a bead, it sure sucks going back to the start of the level to make another set. Driving the machine is a total pain in the ass, but at least it is not a timed puzzle. HOWEVER, if you forgot the pin in the dungeon after picking up Sophia, you dun fucked up. The scepter in the throne room is also easy to miss, as the bones in the foreground and background make it hard to locate. You can observe parts on the wall when directing the machine to know when to set the slots to the appropriate levels. However, it is pretty easy to start the vehicle and not know what the Hell you need to do to get it to stop spinning around in circles. Luckily, putting the levers in the correct slots and having them at the right positions can be brute-forced.

What in the actual fuck?!
What in the actual fuck?!

The Inner Ring Door Maze - 9/10 - I don't know what it was with LucasArts and door-based mazes, but tons of their games from this era have at least one. Fate of Atlantis is not immune and features one of the worst examples I have ever seen. As is always the case with these puzzles, you need to pick the correct series of doors to continue the game. In this case, it is a seven-step process with plenty of traps that can set up back a step or two. By the way, the level loops, making it way harder than it needs to be. Worse, a handful of doors lead to dead-ends making it tough to get your bearings straight. Finally, it is a seven-door sequence, and the doors do not have numbers or markers. Thus, you cannot even track your progress easily. To add insult to injury, the final exit isn't visible, so you don't know where the game wants you to go in the first place.

Lava Crossing - 6/10 - Hey, it's time for a game of "THE FLOOR IS LAVA!" The gimmick here is that there is exactly one solution to each possible attempt to cross the lava. The one dick move is that you will die if you stay too long on any tile. Every time you cross the lava, there is a different winning combo. Unlike the previous maze puzzle, at least the end is right there in front of you. However, luck makes it almost as unfun. Additionally, this puzzle resets, and you cannot simply use memory to get through it.

This fucking shit.
This fucking shit.

Turning On The Colossus Using The Stones - 10/10 - With the end in sight, Indy and Sophia enter the final chamber of Atlantis. If you were wondering, this puzzle is your last chance to get Sophia before the game commits you to the bad ending where she dies. Regardless, at the center of the final room is a spindle where Indy can place the Sunstone, Moonstone, and Worldstone. However, none of the previous combinations work. Instead, the game needs you to scan a mural three screens ago, and it is only there where you will observe an alignment of patterns unique to this central spindle. To which I say, "fuck that shit!" If this final puzzle had been on a "special" page of "The Lost Dialogue," that would have been one thing. Instead, you backtrack to a mural even before the door maze! Needing to do the lava puzzle and even remembering the correct door exits is a terrible experience! Furthermore, how the fuck were you supposed to know where to find the mural? I had to look it up, but nothing in the notes or even the environment pointed me to the location of this mural.

The Final Dialogue Sequence With Kerner - 6/10 - It's time to trick the evil Nazis using your intuition! First, you will need to screw over Kerner by convincing Ubermann to use one orichalcum bead instead of ten. This mistake will turn Kerner into a goblin, and then your attention can focus on Ubermann. As much as I like using dialogue prompts to beat enemies, the nuance of what the game wants you to pick is opaque and confusing. You need to point out Plato's error and turn Kerner into a mutant for the first choice. For the last dialogue section, you need to delay Ubermann rather than give him an amount or encourage him to use the machine, which is the opposite of what you did for the first sequence. Again, the scenario is not impossible but still tricky. Also, one incorrect choice immediately ending your game is a bit harsh.

Should You Play Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis? (Verdict: Yes, 100%)

You should play this game.
You should play this game.

It's weird to look at this retrospective and notice how one might think I dislike Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. However, despite some niggling problems with how the game pushes the boundaries of the SCUMM engine and other questionable design decisions, there's no denying its place as a gold standard for the genre. Even if the Indiana Jones name holds no cache with you, this game is still worth experiencing. For something designed in the early 1990s, its production values and epic storytelling are astounding. Its riveting sense of adventure still holds up remarkably well and features a perfect blend of comedic and serious dialogue. I would even say that the version of Indiana Jones you get in the game is a more fully-fleshed "character" than some of the mainline movies bearing his namesake.

Nonetheless, there is bullshit to stomach with any playthrough, regardless of your route. The vehicle-based sequences are clunky and time-consuming, and there are multiple leaps of logic when performing more complex tasks. I laud Fate of Atlantis for having all of the ambition a game of its type could have at the time, but it also stretches its format and formula to the breaking point. If ever there is a game that pleads the case for LucasArts to begin exploring other gameplay systems beyond the SCUMM engine, this is it. Other companies and titles within LucasArts' wheelhouse (i.e., Loom) were already deconstructing the genre's conventions, and I cannot help but think Fate of Atlantis would have benefited from more experimentation rather than heel digging.

Nonetheless, I can only lament the game not being something it was never going to be for so long. It is a work of art and an indisputable high-water mark for an entire company and genre. If you have yet to play Fate of Atlantis, I cannot recommend it enough. You owe it to yourself to play the game to understand better why people across age groups and national borders hold this era of LucasArts and adventure games in such high esteem. The obvious next question is which of the three routes you should attempt first if you have yet to play the game. While my heart tells me to recommend the Wits Path as it is more my preference, there's no denying that the Team Path is the more accessible and conventional LucasArts experience. If you come to old-school adventure games seeking playful dialogue and punctuated humor, Team Path is the obvious choice. Likewise, while Wits Path is the more cerebral route for those who enjoy puzzles, Team's up-tempo pacing is bound to be more approachable to those who are less accustomed to adventure games from this era.

It was nice playing something good for once.
It was nice playing something good for once.
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The Quest For The Worst Adventure Game Puzzles - Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (Part 1: Act I & Wits Path)

Author's Note: Here are links to previous episodes of this series:

Preamble

After some real crummy adventure games, I decided to treat myself.
After some real crummy adventure games, I decided to treat myself.

Ask any fan of LucasArts' adventure games to name their favorite title, and most reply with one of three possible answers. The usual suspects are:

  1. A Monkey Island title (1 through 3 are acceptable)
  2. Grim Fandango
  3. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

The first two of these answers need no introduction as they have become canonical holy texts in the annals of adventure game history. Lost, however, is Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, a game I think deserves more credit for setting gold standards and pushing the envelope of the genre. If you want a game that perfectly encapsulates why LucasArts was the doyenne of the genre for as long as they were, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis is "Exhibit A." Its production values are astounding, with an awe-inspiring kaleidoscope of vastly differing locations. Its writing is impeccable, with the interplay between Sophia and Indiana Jones being perpetually entertaining. Finally, the different modes of play add to its replayability. Overall, I think you could argue that it is one of the greatest adventure games ever made and that few people talk about it today is a shame.

I have said this before, but during the "Golden Age of Adventure Games," I was on the side of Sierra Online. When the company self-imploded, I switched to Euro-style adventure games (i.e., Syberia and The Longest Journey). I am NOT YOUR GUY if you want me to talk positively about Full Throttle or Zak McKracken. However, Fate of Atlantis was the one LucasArts adventure game that always worked for me. Its action-oriented subject matter maintained my interest more than their goofier titles, and its intuition-based puzzles were more up my alley. Likewise, during its second act, the three diverging paths were a structure I desperately wanted more developers to use. It's such a great idea that I am still surprised even LucasArts didn't repeat it more often.

I still find this to be such a cool idea.
I still find this to be such a cool idea.

However, no game is perfect, and those imperfections are why I will be looking at Fate of Atlantis. Regardless of which route you select, there are some real "clunkers" in this game, but that's to be expected with a title as ambitious and in-depth as Fate of Atlantis. Because of the game's unusual middle act, in which the player picks between one of three possible playstyles (i.e., Wits, Team, and Fists), I'm going to split this blog into two parts. Today, I will examine the game's first act, including the Prologue, and the entirety of the Wits Path during Act II. Next time, I will examine the Team Path and Act III. If you have any comments about how I have structured these blogs, feel free to share them in the comments as with longer adventure games like The Longest Journey or Syberia, the concept of trying the examine all of those games in a single post seems like a fool's errand. However, before we jump into the puzzles found in the game's first act, let's address the one bit of housekeeping some of you are likely asking right now.

BuT wHaT aBoUt FiStS pAtH?

If this is your idea of a good time, then more power to you.
If this is your idea of a good time, then more power to you.

Fuck Fists Path! Seriously, ask any fan of this game which path you should tackle first, and while there is a split between those that prefer Wits or Team, everyone agrees that Fists Path is the worst way to play this game. At times, the game utilizes a pseudo-fighting game engine wherein you need to be able to observe cues from your opponent to block high, medium, or low attacks and then counter with the appropriate flurry of offensive moves. Due to the character's highly pixelated nature and the fast pace of the combat, this is a tall order. As a result, most players either wail away on the three attack buttons or use the "sucker punch" mechanic. I'm glad the sucker punch exists, but with the Fists Path, if you are relying on it, you do have to question if you are better off playing the other two paths. Additionally, the Fists Path is downright mean at times. For example, if anyone reading this blog has beaten Arnold or Fritz "legitimately," I bow before your presence because I am not worthy. More importantly, the difficulty curve for the fights on Fists Path is non-existent. Your first fight after Act I is one of the harder ones you will experience in the entire game, and it is followed by a battle with a goober that goes down after three hits!

And if you REALLY like Fists Path, why aren't you playing the Action Game?
And if you REALLY like Fists Path, why aren't you playing the Action Game?

Finally, I do not think the Fists Path does much to differentiate itself from the other two playthroughs. Team Path provides a superior storytelling experience with witty banter between Sophia and Indy. Alternatively, the puzzles for Wits Path are some of the most cleverly designed in the game. Additionally, because you do not need to interact with the co-operative or fighting mechanics, it is a far more meditative and relaxing experience. I would even hazard to say it is the best-paced version of the game. Sure, there are puzzles at the Labyrinth of Knossos after you go Fists when the trio of Nazis confronts you, but I'm not counting them. Those puzzles are not there as the intended route for players to use. Those puzzles are there for players that made the mistake of picking Fists and did not realize what that meant. Similarly, I would contend that going the mental route at Knossos is not the intent most have when they are presented with an "action-packed" version of Fate of Atlantis. When people first heard of Fists Path, they wanted to have their version of the fistfight with the muscly Nazi pilot during Raiders of the Lost Ark, and when they got to the labyrinth, they were disappointed when they discovered that was not the case.

Act I

This is still one of my all-time favorite starts to a video game.
This is still one of my all-time favorite starts to a video game.

Prologue - 1/10 - To start things off, Indiana Jones needs to explore a series of artifact-laden rooms to find a specific relic. This sequence is a fun tutorial. I would even go so far as to call it one of the best video game tutorials ever made. All you need to do is move Indy from one corner of the screen to the next and click on objects related to the story. Despite this simple premise, it serves as an excellent introduction to the theme and tone of the adventure you are about to experience. It is impossible to fail, and a creative way for the game to deliver its intro credits.

Getting Into The Theater - 1/10 - After uncovering a Nazi plot for world domination, Indiana Jones needs to talk to a mystic named Sophia Hapgood. However, Sophia is currently in the middle of a presentation in a fully-booked theater guarded by a gentleman named Biff. Overall, ANOTHER excellent tutorial, but this time on the SCUMM verb parser and the dialogue and combat mechanics. I like how this represents the three "paths" even before presenting them. You can fight Biff, appease him, or completely cut him out of your playthrough. My only issue is the Wits Path route involving the boxes that cover the fire escape. Sometimes it is hard to tell which boxes you need to move. The puzzle itself is almost too simple as the boxes, and the feedback you get when you push them isn't great. You select them once to move them out of your way and make them go back by clicking them a second time.

Seeing a tidied up Indiana Jones is also funny.
Seeing a tidied up Indiana Jones is also funny.

Distracting the Stagehand to Get to Sophia - 2/10 - After entering the theater, Indy finds Sophia in the middle of her presentation. If he wants to grab her attention, he'll need to interrupt her. This puzzle is a slight step up from the previous puzzles because it takes a while before the stagehand tells you that he likes to read, and you need to remember that there is a newspaper stand outside the theater. There's a bit of a red herring as the game starts you with a magazine which the stagehand doesn't want. Also, there's a bit of trial and error with the levers when deploying the dummy. It's still fun and nothing too hard.

Getting Through the Jungle - 3/10 - The ancient city of Tikal is the first destination for Sophia and Indy's investigation of Atlantis. However, it appears that a jungle stands before them and the Aztec pyramids. Indy goes it alone and needs to interact with various forms of wildlife to make it to the other end. It's one of the goofier parts of the game, but I still enjoyed it. Needing to use the whip on the capybara is a bit on the fussy side, and the range on the whip isn't as forgiving as you'd like. Also, the looping jungle entrances are annoying the first time you play the game. There's also a general lack of signposting for the snake and moving a rodent towards it. However, it's another introductory puzzle that effectively sets the game's tone, and the payoff at the end always has me in fits.

I'll blame my shitty eyes, but I always have a hard time with this puzzle.
I'll blame my shitty eyes, but I always have a hard time with this puzzle.

Getting Sternhart To Let You Into The Temple - 1/10 - While at Tikal, you encounter a Dr. Sternhart who claims to know information about Atlantis that will assist Sophia and Indy. However, before he divulges this information, he needs Indiana Jones to respond to a question correctly. Because you can exhaust all of your dialogue options and get the prompt to solve this puzzle, I think it is the most straightforward puzzle at Tikal. Also, after you wrap up your first talk with Sternhart, a parrot makes its presence very much known. The only annoying bit is if you decide to play around with Sternhart and select the joke options. He leaves after every incorrect response rather than continue to stay and let you exhaust all of your options.

Opening The Tomb In Tikal - 4/10 - After Sternhart allows Indy and Sophia into the pyramid, the team must explore an inner chamber for clues. The player needs to look at a panel and pinpoint a part that seems out of place. The first issue is noticing that there's one spiral design darker than the rest. Likewise, using the kerosine lamp to loosen the spiral from the wall is a bit of a leap. I like Sophia being a distraction. However, if you hadn't spawned Sternhart by interacting with his store, you might have forgotten there was a store in the first place. This is also where the verbs start to feel like there's overlap. For example, you get the kerosine out of the lamp by using "open" instead of "use," and you need to "pull" the lever rather than "use" it. Finally, it took me a quick minute to remember that you need to pull the spiral from the wall as it isn't clear that it is an object when you first look at it.

This fucking guy....
This fucking guy....

Trading With Felipe Costa - 3/10 - A scientist in Iceland shares a lead for Sophia and Indy to explore named Felipe Costa. When the two locate the antique trader, he refuses to part with any information unless he gets something in return. The only nitpick I have is related to the eel statue. If you forget to pick it up before you go to the Azores, needing to backtrack is a slight bummer. Some people enjoy the open-world aspect of Fate of Atlantis. However, I think it is slow and leads to a lot of wait time. Getting the eel statue is simple, and needing to switch to Sophia is seamless enough. However, some of the dialogue options end your conversation with Felipe, and others do not. Like Sternhart, needing to restart an exchange from the beginning sucks.

Now we are adventure gaming!
Now we are adventure gaming!

Finding The Dialogue At Barnett College - 6/10 - Sophia and Indy discover if they are going to make any progress searching for Atlantis, they will need to locate the Lost Dialogue of Plato. Luckily for all involved, Dr. Jones' alma mater has a copy. This sequence is the first in the game I would call "tricky." First, the Dialogue's location is randomized between three possible areas. These locations are 1) a dusty chest, 2) a tipped-over bookshelf, or 3) a cat figurine. If it is in the dusty chest, you need to return to Indy's office, pick up a mayo jar, and use it to pull a totem. It's incredibly illogical, and it is easy to forget to pick up the mayo as it is in an ice chest that blends into the environment it is located. If it is in the tipped-over bookshelf, you can either combine an arrowhead with a napkin to unfasten a set of screws or use gum on your shoes to climb a slippery chute and throw a lump of coal to knock the book from the bookcase. If it is in the cat figurine, you must use the gum on your shoes to go up the chute. In both cases, it's tricky knowing that you need to use the gum on your shoes, but it's even easier to forget to pick up the gum from a random desk. Finally, if it is in the cat statue, you need to use the wax statue in a furnace to melt the wax around the book. This is the easiest of the possible outcomes, but finding the correct wax statue is a glorified pixel hunt.

Wits Path

Trust me, the Wits Path gets better. I promise.
Trust me, the Wits Path gets better. I promise.

Finding Alain Trottier In Monte Carlo - 5/10 - After Indy elects to figure things out on his own, his first lead is a man in Monte Carlo named Alain Trottier. However, the central motel has a quick procession of people leaving and exiting its entrance. Indy needs to hail several NPCs before he has a profile on Trottier. Using the SCUMM verbs quickly before characters run past you is frustrating. Worse, only a few of the NPCs you will encounter provide clues about Trottier. The good news is that you can catch Trottier if you are lucky or already know what he looks like because his design is not randomized. However, if you miss your chance to talk to him, you might be stuck waiting for a while before he spawns again. This waiting isn't the most fantastic feeling. When you get ahold of Trottier, the multiple-choice question he asks is a real screwball. If you blew through the Lost Dialogue and ignored its contents, you might end up with Trottier leaving and needing to catch him a second or third time.

Getting To Omar - 6.5/10 - Fucking Omar. He sucks no matter which version of the game you play. For Wits, you need to find one of Omar's servants and follow the servant to Omar's home. Sounds easy, right? Well, it sure isn't! First, it is weird how the game often presents two locations, but it has a pretty strict order it wants you to follow. There's no way to continue if you go to Algiers before getting the business card. Returning to the puzzle, following Omar's servant is tedious and even knowing how to access the overworld map is unclear. While getting the red hat is not a necessity, it might as well because following the servant without it is a complete pain in the ass. Something that can happen and is incredibly frustrating is if you select the wrong prompts for a character and have to track them down all over again. In this case, if you talk to the man with the fez about anything other than his hat, he immediately stops talking to you.

Don't you love it when you need to squint to solve a puzzle?
Don't you love it when you need to squint to solve a puzzle?

Once you get the fez, even with it on the servant, finding Omar's house is a chore because you constantly need to click on the servant until Indy declares you have located Omar's home. It is easy to miss your window here, and it is common for you to need to restart the puzzle all over again. This sequence is not impossible to solve organically, but it has so many steps that it is easy to lose track of what you need to do. Also, I HATE how often it requires you to repeat the same actions. All that aside, this sequence is STILL NOT THE WORST ONE WITH OMAR! For that, you'll have to tune into the next blog!

Trapping Omar & Stealing His Shit - 5/10 - After Indy forces his way into Omar's home, the merchant reveals he is collaborating with the Nazis. The issue with this sequence is the pixel-hunt parts. If Dr. Jones wants to avoid his adventure coming to a premature conclusion, he will need to trap Omar and take a handful of his belongings. The first part where you need to trap Omar in his closet is ridiculous, but at the very least, it is simple. Yes, it is hard to see that there's a door that you need to lock, but it's not too hard of a task. The two statues in Omar's house are extremely easy to miss, but you don't necessarily need them as all they do is help you bribe the police officers in the desert. The real issue is finding the bamboo rod you need to use to get the red cloth that is secretly a map. The rod almost perfectly blends into the foreground and is incredibly difficult to find. Likewise, the red cloth does not look like a map, and you could be forgiven for thinking it was a random part of the house you did not need to pick up.

I will still take this annoyance over how the desert sequence works in the Team Path.
I will still take this annoyance over how the desert sequence works in the Team Path.

Using The Map to Find The Dig Site - 3/10 - The map Indy snatched from Omar suggests there's a dig site near Algiers that has a relic from the city of Atlantis. However, Indy will require the help of nomads that live in the desert to interpret the map correctly. This sequence is the more tolerable of the desert exploration sequences. The nomads provide valuable hints and are easy to find when you start exploring. I think the issue is the way the game's overworld controls. Sometimes, when you try to move from one screen to the next, the game isn't as responsive as you'd like. This problem wouldn't be such an issue if it were not for the police officers who can force Indy back to the city. Nonetheless, it is nice that when you get close enough to the dig site, the game visibly marks its location on the overworld.

Turning On The Generator At The Dig Site - 4/10 - When Indy enters the dig site, he finds a workshop with no working lights. Knowing there has to be something at the dig sit worth his time, he needs to use his senses without any visual support. I know others hate this puzzle. However, I respect how the darkened screen slowly gets easier to see the longer you spend without illumination. I can't help but be impressed at this specific example of graphical fidelity in a game made in 1992. Moreover, while it is another pixel hunt, and finding the cap on the generator is the hardest part, I had a lot of fun with this level. It is one of the few times when the touch command makes sense and feels entirely justified. Finally, needing to use everything you acquired at the dig site to get the truck running is ingenious. Overall, I thought this was a well-designed puzzle and one of the best in the game.

Every vehicle sequence sucks, but at least they look good.
Every vehicle sequence sucks, but at least they look good.

The Car Chase - 3/10 - After wrapping things up at the dig site, Indy discovers that Trottier is in danger. Nazi agents are en route to apprehend him, and he needs to warn him. However, despite his best efforts, Trottier gets nabbed, and Indy needs to chase after him in the streets of Monte Carlo. This car chase is not impossible. Nonetheless, it is clunky and incredibly frustrating. When I say this game bites off more than it can chew, this and the hot air balloon sequences are what I mean by that. Luckily it is NOT a timed mission, and you can take as long as you need to stop the Nazis. However, moving on the streets in one direction is just a clunky affair through and through. Using mouse clicks to direct your car in a path makes it difficult to know how far the vehicle will move along any given street. Sometimes it's just a short block, and other times it is a vast span. Likewise, it's not immediately apparent how to turn around, making it a confusing affair whenever you butt up against dead ends. Also, the number of times you need to collide with the Nazi car before it crashes is too high.

Finding The Sunstone At The French-Named Streets - 2/10 - After rescuing the man, Trottier shares that the entrance of Atlantis can be located at Thera, Greece. However, to enter, Indy requires a Sunstone which Trottier threw away while the Nazis were trying to capture him. My only complaint here is that I wish the game marked the names of the streets on the overworld map of Monte Carlo AFTER observing them once. Because the game does not do this, you have to take down notes or memorize the format and conventions of the streets. Also, due to the randomized nature of where the artifact can be, the game doesn't necessarily start you out in the best position. It's still solvable through intuition; therefore, I can't get too salty. That said, street names are way longer than they should be.

Oh, this fucking box.
Oh, this fucking box.

Sundial And Thera Dig Site Puzzle - 6/10 - After Indy lands on Thera, he discovers two shocking facts. First, the next boat to take Indy out of Thera will not arrive for another week. Second, Indy's investigation needs to find an abandoned dig site whose location is unknown. After locating the dig site, he will need to find a stone tablet and a note from Sophia relaying that the Nazis have kidnapped her. The start of this puzzle is fine. Exploring the mountains of Thera and locating the dig site is a randomized part of the game but relatively brief. Once you enter the dig site, knowing to use the Sunstone on the empty peg is one of the fiddlier aspects of the game. Knowing to use the crate at the dig site is tricky, too, as doing so is the only way you will learn how Indy will be leaving the island. Likewise, opening and closing the one door to discover the secret compartment is incredibly frustrating, and unfolding the entrenching tool before you can use it is an unnecessary extra step. Also, needing to consult the Dialogue isn't the best feeling experience. It's nice that the puzzle is randomized, but reading a single sentence and needing to translate that note into a puzzle solution will never not feel bad.

Building The Hot Air Balloon - 7/10 - With no quick way off the island of Thera, Indy will need to improvise! Thankfully, he can construct a hot air balloon after gathering the appropriate items from the island. I find parts of this sequence downright infuriating. Getting the invoice to claim the balloon bladder is easy to miss. You could be forgiven for not realizing it is an integral part of the story because the invoice is in a random crate next to the dig site entrance. Furthermore, needing to close the container to pick up the invoice is just shitty. Once you use the invoice on the dock manager, you have to make a ton of logic leaps to make the hot air balloon. First, using the ancient tablet to get the basket is weird, but at least the dialogue system sufficiently manifests what the dock manager wants. Putting the hot air balloon together has way more steps than it should, and even if you are a fan of the SCUMM engine, it's frustrating to have specific commands when generalized commands like "use" seem logical. Finally, going back to the dig site to vent gas into the balloon sucks, and knowing you need to use the hose from the last dig site to vent gas into the balloon is even worse. You have not used the hose in ages, and this is when I would say your inventory starts to feel bloated with stuff you don't need anymore.

Trust me, this isn't even the worst balloon sequence in the game!
Trust me, this isn't even the worst balloon sequence in the game!

Landing The Balloon on The Nazi Sub - 6/10 - With a hot air balloon at his disposal, Indy needs to locate a German U-boat. After doing so, he needs to land the dirigible on top of the submarine. While frustrating, it is not that difficult to figure out what the game wants you to do. The issue is that the balloon controls like hot garbage. Once you find the submarine, landing on it is easier said than done. The most common strategy is to vent like crazy once getting close to the sub, but that's still tough. The submarine is faster and has a tighter turn radius than the balloon. Finally, if the submersible is on the corner of a screen, it's easy to transition to a different screen rather than board the U-boat. All in all, it's not impossible, but the controls make solving this puzzle an undertaking. HOWEVER, it's STILL not the worst balloon sequence in the game!

Making The Sandwich to Distract The Guard - 4/10 - Inside the U-Boat, you can overhear Kerner and Ubermann discuss the Moonstone. Getting this relic is your first step before you can do anything regarding Sophia. However, in proper adventure game form, the locker that has the Moonstone is guarded by a Nazi soldier. This puzzle has two challenging aspects. The first is just knowing you need to make a sandwich to distract the guard; the other is knowing where you need to position Indy to eat the sandwich. Making the sandwich isn't tricky because there are only two ingredients. But with the many different rooms and items in the sub, it can be hard to know where to find shit.

Both versions of the submarine level suck.
Both versions of the submarine level suck.

Using A Torpedo To Leave The Sub - 9/10 - With the Moonstone in tow and no immediate sign of how to save Sophia, Indy realizes he needs to get out of the submarine quickly. With Kerner doing a full roll-call, Indy's disguise will inevitably fall apart. So, the game wants you to direct a crowd of sailors away from the torpedo bay so Indy can crawl into a torpedo and launch himself to freedom. While I can respect the crummy vehicle sequences as LucasArts is trying to add some action-oriented variety to the game, this sequence is the first one I genuinely hate. There are too many steps for this puzzle, and the specificity of the SCUMM commands during this particular part makes it worse. For example, needing to use the torpedo instructions when interacting with any of the torpedo parts is one of the game's fiddlier SCUMM design choices. I should only need to read the instructions once, and Indy can use the controls for the torpedos from that point forward.

The first part of this set-piece involving the fire with the oily rag has a few issues also worth discussing. The problem here is that the game isn't always coherent about when it wants you to treat exploring the submarine as a stealth sequence and when it wants you to play it like an action scene. Here, you need to talk to the Nazi soldiers to know one side of the submarine is messed up and could cause a fire. I took FOREVER trying to find a way to AVOID crossing paths with the Nazis because that's what Indy says to do at the start. Picking up the oil rag is simple enough, but all of the steps required to start the fire are way more involved than needed. And needing to push the levers instead of using them is another SCUMM-based issue.

Finally, getting Indy into the torpedo is downright terrible. The aft torpedo first requires you to use the torpedo instructions on the control terminal. FIDDLY! Pulling the levers instead of "using" them? ALSO FIDDLY! Finally, you have to remove the clothesline, use it on the lever, and then attach the clotheslines to it, but not before opening the torpedo bay. SUPER FIDDLY! After that, you need to close the torpedo bay, and BOY ARE THE CONTROLS WITH THAT FIDDLY AS FUCK! Again, I think fans of this game have to admit that it is trying to do complex tasks and commands that the SCUMM engine makes way more obtuse and complicated than it should.

Because my idea of a fun puzzle involves reading a book.
Because my idea of a fun puzzle involves reading a book.

Moonstone/Sunstone Puzzle At Crete - 3/10 - Congratulations, you got the Moonstone! Now you need to use it with the Sunstone! Flipping through the Dialogues and interpreting riddles still sucks, but it makes more sense the more you do it. At least the platform for placing the dials is right in front of you, and you don't need to engage in any bullshit to use it.

The Statues In The Labyrinth - 5/10 - We are now officially in the Labyrinth of Knossos, which I consider the worst level in the game. Foremost, I have to mention that the greyscale environment at Knossos makes knowing where you are in the labyrinth a pain in the ass. Your first puzzle involves a gated door that will only rise if you nab three busts on an earlier screen. However, if you lift all three, the door in front of you will fall and block your path until you place at least one of the busts on a shelf. However, instead of finding an object to replace the weight of the statues, which seems like it SHOULD be the solution, you need to use your whip on the last remaining figurine after crossing over to a subsequent screen. While it isn't the most challenging puzzle in the game, it is one where there's a distinct step that can be hard to remember. The last time you needed to use the whip to solve a puzzle was way back in the jungle at Tikal.

Parts of the labyrinth look gorgeous. If only it played better.
Parts of the labyrinth look gorgeous. If only it played better.

Minotaur Statue and Elevator - 4/10 - After exploring the labyrinth, Indy eventually finds himself in a room with a pressure plate and a minotaur statue. To activate an elevator below, he will need to use his whip to knock off the head of the sculpture to turn on the elevator. Once again, it's tough to figure out the whip is the solution to this specific puzzle. All the game tells you is that the minotaur statue is unstable. One could argue that using everything in your inventory until you find the solution is the best course of action. However, it's not a great feeling experience, especially when you consider how much bullshit you have in your inventory at this point. Also, picking up all the stuff from Sternhart's corpse is simple enough, but the pace of using Sternhart's items is all over the place. For example, you use his staff a lot at first, and then it might as well not exist. Finally, I struggled to realize you need to use the hidden chain behind the waterfall rather than your inventory items to get out of the lower level.

Getting the Golden Box - 5/10 - If Indy hopes to complete the Labyrinth of Knossos once and for all, he will need to find a golden box. Once again, just knowing where you need to go in the labyrinth is a chore. Using the busts on the shelf to open a door is simple enough, but the many doors that lead to dead-ends or red herrings are endlessly frustrating. The first step towards getting the box involves the wedge holding the counterbalance on the elevator. After the two previous puzzles, I thought you would need to use the whip again. Instead, you need to use Sternhart's staff, and you will also need to use that on the statue head later. It is also worth mentioning how hard it is to tell what parts of the screen are the background or foreground due to the environment's greyscale nature, which results in a pixel-hunt-rich gameplay experience.

Probably the best scene in the entire game!
Probably the best scene in the entire game!

Turning on the Microtaur - 4/10 - Indy discovers a secret room after you pick up the golden box. The room leads to an Atlantean device called the "Microtaur," and using it is the key to creating a passageway to the next area. Remembering to employ the statue when using Atlantean technology is an odd and challenging callback. Up to this point, you have only used this statue twice. Otherwise, you know you need to use orichalcum to turn on the digging device. It's a puzzle where needing to figure out which inventory items you need to combine is the name of the game.

Using The Sunstone, Moonstone, and Worldstone in the Map Room - 2/10 - It's now time to use the Sunstone, Moonstone, and Worldstone together! Before I jump into the puzzle, I want to say that the cinematic involving the mock city still impresses me to this day. The sense of mystery is palpable, and I think it's visually impressive for a game made in the 90s. In terms of the puzzle, using the stones feels automatic at this point. All I will say is that, yet again, the sections of the notes that are your hints are not the best. They are abstract enough to where I feel you may as well just brute force the puzzle if you don't want to use a guide. Still, it's "doable."

Oh, goodness. This puzzle.
Oh, goodness. This puzzle.

The Comb Metal Detector Puzzle - 10/10 - If there is one puzzle or sequence that is objectively superior on the Team Path, this is it. As things stand here, after watching the cinematic with the mini-Atlantis model, Indy realizes there's more to the passage behind the map room than meets the eye. However, he will first need to explore all of the previous rooms of the labyrinth using a make-shift metal detector. To make this device, you will need to fashion a wool scarf with a hair comb which will apply a static charge to the comb. Next, you need to combine the clothesline from the submarine to the charged comb to make a combined item that can detect orichalcum. To make sure the orichalcum you already have doesn't trigger the comb, Indy will need to place them into the golden box. Next is a wild goose chase to locate a room with a dead-end for two extra beads and the waterfall from earlier. This leads to a wall that can be destroyed using the ship rib from ages ago. Then, AND ONLY THEN, will you discover an Atlantean subway car that will lead you to the legendary city.

This sequence errs shockingly close to the Cat Moustache Puzzle. I'm being serious here. Combining the comb with the clothesline is not easy to figure out independently. Additionally, using the scarf to add a static charge to the comb is downright stupid. It is a massive leap of logic that breaks the game for me. Moreover, needing to charge the comb every time you use it stinks. As the directions the comb points to are obtuse enough, you end up fiddling around with it a lot. Finally, the comb is useless until you place all of the beads in Indy's possession into the gold box. To me, this is what boosts this puzzle to a ten. The beads have been used frequently and at no point do you feel like they need to be concealed. Likewise, the purpose of the gold box isn't precisely clear to the player. So, what you end up with is a puzzle that makes no sense and requires you to see which item you can combine the beads with to make the metal detector work!

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