Part 7: A Connection to HistoryPart 7: A Connection to History
In the aftermath of the Mire Crab attack, we exit the B-Liner and also sink into the Mire.
... and keep sinking, and keep sinking. The tar is more like water here, and hints of sunlight still manage to penetrate the depths a bit. Fortunately for us, our environment suit is airtight.
This seems like a good a time as any to note that I haven't been cutting anything from the material the game presents. Anything in a screenshot is something that the game tells you. Anything in the text that I'm attributing to either Smoke, Merton of the Girfleez, or someone who's heard about something they did is a detail I've lifted from the manual or from the novella. Pretty much everything else is my own invention: an attempt to impose a coherent narrative on the events of the game, or to reconcile the game's behavior with the stories in the manual and the novella.
So I want to be particularly clear that in the novella, The Most Amazing Thing is a golden ball that grants wishes and was designed to be opened to bathe you in eldritch energies of unknown provenance and power. It also was defended by a fire-breathing dragon that wasn't wish-proof but thanks to the events of the novella we don't really have to worry about that here.
Eventually we hit a hard surface, and with a ragged whine an automated airlock, closed for centuries, spills us and a cubic meter of watery tar into a vast plaza.
This must have been one of the Old Cities. Nothing of note remains; the ravages of time have collapsed every building, and the encroaching Mire has drowned the rest in a grim slurry of rock and sludge. But our attention is drawn to a particular clearing, and as we approach, we detect a glint of gold. Could this be it?
Any doubt is erased as we cut our jetpack's thrust and alight in the clearing. A ghostly form takes shape before us and a voice insinuates itself into our minds.
(... and as per protocol, you may claim two wishes from the Masters of Time and Space.)
Ever since our conversation with the Muhill, we knew what our first wish would be: the reintegration of Porquatz into Galactic society. We begin to formulate the wish in our minds when we are interrupted.
(We were not talking to you.)
A chunk of rubble about half the size of the B-Liner's cabin suddenly stirs and begins to move about on the plaza's ruined tiles. It's the Mire Crab we lured down here!
(For fifty years a horrible, immortal metal crab has traveled our lands, making terrible noises and awful smells and often flying away from our vengeance. My first wish is for it to lose its way. My second wish is to be granted the power to destroy it.)
(Your wishes have been granted.)
(I'm standing right here! What am I, chopped liver?)
(Probably, soon enough.)
The Mire Crab strides up to the golden sphere and crushes it in its claw. The sphere cuts neatly in half, but a smaller, black sphere, surrounded by a coruscating energy field, rolls out. The plaza fills with colored light and strange smells, and we are enveloped in a haze of light, sound, and smell that we cannot fully comprehend.
(How dare you resist my claws?)
(Five hundred years after we drowned the continent, and your hearts' desires are still nothing but spite and avarice. We were too merciful. This time, we must scour all of Porquatz.)
The Mire Crab snaps all its limbs back into its shell, looking once again like any other chunk of rubble. We feel a crushing despair, but a strange fire burns within us and we realize that the despair is not our own—that the Most Amazing Thing intends to cow us into submission. We stand taller and find our voice.
No. I won't let you.
The force field around the Thing's core glows brighter. Blue bolts of energy arc from the Mire Crab's shell to the field, but they seem to do nothing to it.
(KNOW YOUR PLACE, cowpoke. You have no idea where you belong, or of your limits. Behave as you should.)
Another wave of terror, despair, and humility washes over us, but this time, we let it settle upon us without letting it take hold.
You're right. I don't know my place. I don't know my limits.
The force field around the Thing begins to fade. Once we can no longer see it, we sweep aside the Thing's attempts to crush our will and lash out against it ourselves.
Our vision fades to white. Are we being attacked? We feel no pain or disorientation, so we bring our full will to bear against the malevolent consciousnesses that assail us.
: I don't know my place because my journeys are not over. And I don't know my limits...
: Because I haven't found them yet.
When our vision clears, the core of the Most Amazing Thing is a smoldering ruin, and the projected images are nowhere to be found. Did we do this? Did the Mire Crab get a stun bolt through when it dropped its shields?
We still feel the presence of another conciousness, though. Spiteful, resentful, hostile, but not immediately murderous.
: (Amazing work. I don't know where you found the strength to defy that thing, but it would have wrecked our home. You lent me the strength to fight back too.)
: (This is my home too. Thank you for your help.)
: (I will give you the greatest boon my people can offer...)
: (A five minute head start.)
: (Understood. We will not meet again.)
Surprise! It's time for the endgame, where we now need to find our way back to Metallica by dead reckoning, and also, suddenly, permadeath exists. It's not kidding about "the next attack will be fatal". If you get hit by a Mire Crab from here on out, you'll get this message...
... and it will delete your savegame.
If we talked to Smoke a great deal, or slept a lot during the game, we'd get a bit of warning about this:
: A Mire Crab attack is not fatal unless....
: I hope you'll remember exactly how to get home without Autop.
: Getting back to me may be the most important goal.
I'm not sure why we're forbidden from visiting any Mire Huts; there isn't anything we can trade for that would help or hinder us in any way. I think the game might be trashing and reusing event flags to save on space, but I must admit I'm a bit about that because even the really memory-tight systems were not that memory tight.
Anyway. A crisis has landed in our lap. Let's deal with it.
Step 1 is to not panic. Mire Crabs cannot attack us if we are in the air, so let's launch the B-Liner.
Unfortunately, the Mire Crab attacks we took to open the endgame have done a number on our fuel reserves. We're over 800 miles from home and we aren't getting any 800 miles on this tank of gas. We'll need to mine a Night Rock to have a decent shot at making it home, but if we carelessly approach one, it might be a Mire Crab, and there's no escaping a Mire Crab we slam into face first.
But we know how to defend against Mire Crabs, don't we?
We drive, very slowly, to a zone boundary, and then cruise east along it (hey, it gets us marginally closer to home as we search) until we can find a rock that's close to the boundary. Then, on the other side of the boundary, we drive really fast and see if it gets mad and then suicides against the boundary.
This one doesn't! It must be a rock.
Oh, it was purchased all right, we just had it stolen from us by a giant enemy crab
Metallica is, generally speaking, to the Southeast. We don't have incredibly precise control over our direction, so Vaguely Southeast And Fast is how we roll.
It's a good way up our operating altitude.
Even in the endgame, no storms. Not that I am complaining.
Metallica is in sector R15. We've overshot to the south. But it's not time to turn around. I vent some hot air and continue flying east for a bit, drifting a touch north as I go.
Now I've overshot a bit to the east as well, so now it's time to land. It's an odd choice, perhaps; what's my play here?
My landing is implausibly precise. I've landed on the dividing line between row 15 and row 14, and three screens west...
...I'm also at the division between the R and S files. Remember back in Update 3 when we drove out to this meridian? That's our ticket home. Metallica is 15 miles west of this meridian, and (though we didn't show it in the screenshots) somewhere between 10 and 20 screens north of this parallel.
10 screens west, and I turn north; this way I'll spend as much time as possible on the lines and have the best chance of avoiding or cancelling Mire Crab attacks. I could still be hosed if a Mire Crab spawns right on my face after a screen transition, but hey, that keeps things exciting. One of the things this game teaches us, perhaps, is that sometimes the world will just do you irreversible damage for no reason and with no recourse available.
Speaking of Mire Crabs being a danger while driving the line...
NOT TODAY, SATAN. I throttle down to the slowest speed that isn't completely stopped and describe a very wide semicircle around that jerk. Soon enough I'm at the magic fifteen screens west mark, and soon enough after that...
... Metallica itself comes into view.
We fly up to the port and open the access hatch one last time.
Now all that's left is to go back to Uncle Smoke and tell him everything that's happened.
And after being congratulated in-fiction by Uncle Smoke, we are congratulated out-of-fiction by the narrator in a wall of text:
I... yeah. I don't know about this. It's intended to be a rewarding pep talk for a player who's managed to finish the game, but if the target age range is 10-12, the tone is pitched just a little too young. Remember, this is the target age range for Ender's Game and the early Harry Potter books. Every 12-year-old I've met would be rolling their eyes clear out of their skulls at a speech like this, but I can think of some 7-year-olds who'd have been thrilled by it. The gameplay, though, is definitely out of reach of most 7-year-olds, at least without help. It's an odd clash of tone, gameplay, and marketing, and in a very real sense I suspect it is the inexperience of the industry at the time.
After a few seconds to read the message, we are then dumped back to BASIC.
The Game Structure
For a game with such a mind-boggling huge map and so many only-loosely-connected gameplay systems, finding The Most Amazing Thing is a pretty linear process:
- Earn a bunch of Green Chips. How many you'll need will depend on which things you buy, but the core loop is visiting Uncle Smoke and talking to him twice per visit to get an item and then auctioning it to the Metallicans.
- Outfit the B-Liner. You'll start with AutoP, Trac4, and probably DIR-?. MUSIX is programmed in as absolutely necessary, but in practice you will want all the database software for the B-Computer (Map-H, Cults, Dicto) and Hut1 for any hope of actually finding the Mire Folk. DIR-? is basically mandatory if you didn't start with it, while High? is sort of redundant to DIR-?. AutoP makes Home1 superfluous, and Hut1 is strictly better than Radar, especially when backed up by Map-H. Storm has never mattered in any game I've played but it's one of those things that doesn't matter until it does. The database contents don't actually change from game to game, so Cults, Dicto and even Map-H can be skipped if your notes from previous plays are complete enough.
- Locate the Most Amazing Thing. Visit Mire Huts, trade for clues to find the price, trade for chips as needed to meet the price. The first hint tells you who has the second hint, unless you (as we did) luck into the second hint immediately. The second hint is always "buy a Metallican household good and bring it to a specific culture's hut". Doing so always gives the hint "lure a mire crab to any Bunchmark in the territory of some other culture."
- Trigger the Endgame. Lure a Mire Crab onto a Bunchmark in the target culture, and be duly informed that the Most Amazing Thing is the friends we made along the way.
- Make it back alive. This always involves flying back to Metallica without AutoP or Home1. Metallica is always in the same place, so counting screens to a major meridian will reliably get you there. 15 screens west of the R/S meridian works for me, and it's about 15 screens north of the 14/15 parallel. I never bothered counting exactly since I had the "15 west" part down.
Along the way you'll eat and sleep and mine for fuel but none of those things can actually stop you. The hunger and sleep warnings just get really obnoxious, and while flying is infinitely better than driving it's not actually mandatory the way playing Musix for traders to get clues is.
What, Exactly, Did We Learn Here?
And so ends our quest for the Most Amazing Thing, in simultaneous white-knuckled terror and crashing anticlimax. Looking back on our journey, it's worth remembering: this was supposed to be an educational game. What, exactly, were we supposed to be learning here?
The manual's section on this is similar.
Anyone from the age of 10 years old on up will enjoy this game.
In Search of The Most Amazing Thing challenges players at all levels of sophistication with a rich variety of experiences that are educational, creative, and entertaining.
The player in the role of the B-Liner pilot goes in search of The Most Amazing Thing in the land of Darksome Mire. From the beginning, decision-making, organization, and note-taking are essential parts of the program. A B-Liner pilot travelling in Darksome Mire must constently use his or her own judgement to decide the best plan of action under each new set of circumstances. For example, in order for a pilot to deal effectively with the many different cultures he or she will come in contact with, the pilot must keep track of vital information about each culture. Careful note-taking can bring a pilot that much closer to finding The Most Amazing Thing.
Mapmaking and an understanding of trading are other key points in the program. A good pilot will have to use the coordinate system on the map of Darksome Mire to help plot a course of travel. There will also be a lot of trading and bargaining, so a traveler must become adept at dealing with different exchange rates so as to make the most advantageous deals.
Fun and education are constant companions in In Search of The Most Amazing Thing. This program offers many ways to stimulate a child's natural interests and curiosity. And you, as a parent or educator, can help a child toward further growth and learning simply by becoming involved. In fact, In Search of The Most Amazing Thing can be a terrific opportunity for family members or an entire class to work together as a team. This kind of cooperative effort can be a rewarding experience for everyone.
This game can be played many times. Once The Most Amazing Thing is found, its location will change. This allows a player to search for The Most Amazing Thing again and again, each time looking for new clues that will lead to the new location.
Some of the phrasing here is weirdly awkward as well, but the core claim is quite audacious to modern eyes. The basic premise here is that this was a complicated action-adventure game, and complicated action-adventure games are inherently educational. And honestly, it's a pretty solid claim, and one that gets stronger when you remember that the Carmen Sandiego games were not really about teaching kids about geography. They were about teaching kids how to look stuff up in reference books.
I don't think, even at the time, that a child who cleared the game would find a lot of replay value in it. The Darksome Mire is too samey, and the quest ultimately too linear and unchanging, for the wires to not be immediately visible to the player on the second playthrough, let alone the third.
But in the end, it's the fifth paragraph that really gives us, here in 2019, the lesson we would not have gotten as children back in 1983:
We would do well to play Zelda games together with our children.