The Let's Play Archive

The Chzo Mythos

by Quovak

Part 5: Five Days, Part 5: Healthy Interpersonal Bonding

Five Days, Part 5: Healthy Interpersonal Bonding

This is going to be a shorter update, since I want to get the high point of this game into one update and allow some room for speculation before we get everything unsubtly told to us. There's a fair amount of text, but it's worth not skimming.

Once you're down here, you have to play another direction-following game that gets old very quickly. Eventually you can get your salt-bear-cord-twig to point straight down and dig through the floor.

Matthew DeFoe, I presume. Did Sir Roderick keep him down here? No, he can't have done. There'd have been mention of it in one of the books I read. Hold on, I don't think that's Matthew's hand.

I'm not sure what this floor is actually supposed to be. The darker cracks make it look like a solid piece of wood, but Trilby can dig through it like dirt, which shouldn't be that flat or clean. Decaying brown linoleum?

It looks like the body of a much older man. You know, I have a feeling this is Sir Roderick. Judging by the ribs, he was killed by a large stabbing weapon, but by whom?

Conveniently, nobody's bothered to investigate this room or make it slightly more livable (replacing the manacles with a tasteful wine cellar, for instance) over a 200 year period.

That is, at no point did an aristocratic family, reasonably upset over the fact that many of their relatives were gruesomely dying on a semi-regular basis, bother to check their scribbled architectural plans or call the police to investigate the house.

At no point was this house ever remodeled or inspected for mold.

Hell, there's a lamp down here. You'd think that, if nothing else, at some point an electrician would ask about the dungeon.

In other news, Trilby has developed super-strength hearing and can detect glass breaking in the trophy room. In case you've forgotten the way this house is laid out, there's a kitchen, dining room, entrance hall, TV room, and lounge between where Trilby was and said trophy room. This is the same man who couldn't hear a pool drain twenty feet to his side two updates ago.

This really is a horrendously ugly little wooden idol. Hang on, what are these stains?

On the subject of Trilby as a consistent character, he had no problem demolishing half of a wall but now feels obligated to clean up an inconsequential mess. A shame; his new-found knowledge that glass can break could have saved him if not for his equally new-found OCD.

Welcome to the reason why Day 4 is actually good.

As you've noticed, this game thinks very little of its players. Very little control exists over where to go at a given time and mountains of exposition are shoehorned anywhere they can fit, but Day 4 introduces an interesting concept called ambiguity. You're shoved right into the middle of events with very little understanding of what just happened, but all the bits and pieces are presented in such a way that you gradually connect the dots and figure out what's going on for yourself.

Then Day 5 negates the whole thing with a text dump that makes sure you understand exactly how clever everything is, of course, but let's ignore that for now.

Oh, god, my head. What the hell happened last night? Oh god, Philip. Did I kill Philip? I don't remember anything. The last thing I remember is putting my hand on... that idol! I've got to warn the others.

Examining the door shows us that Trilby is imprisoned. Apparently, while his captors realized the threat that twigs and an umbrellahook would pose, they were nice enough to leave him with an old teddy bear for emotional comfort and one-fifth of his book collection more or less for the hell of it.

Is there anyone out there?
Simone? Is that you?
Yes, I'm keeping guard.

In repayment for her generosity, Trilby decides not to take advantage of an absolutely horrible imprisonment spot by opening the window. Or breaking it.

Shut up! You killed Philip! Don't even try to deny it! I'm keeping guard here until the police get into the grounds. Then I'm handing you over.
What did you do with my tie?
We took it off you so you wouldn't hang yourself.
Why wouldn't you want me to hang myself if I'm such a cold-blooded killer?
Jim still seems to think you might somehow be innocent. That boy really admired you, you know?

(You know that time you talked about books, or that other time you made him cut down a tree? He became so incredibly attached over the three conversations you ever had.)

What makes you think I killed Philip anyway?
Oh, well, let me see. First Jim and I are attacked by some huge guy in a welding mask and apron with a machete, but manage to get away. Then we come into the kitchen and find a huge guy in a welding mask and apron unconscious next to Philip's corpse. And when we took the mask off, lo and behold, it's you.

It's tempting to give Jim credit for sticking up for you, but then you realize that his official stance on the matter is that the person who he saw attack him probably couldn't have attacked him. I think the proper term for that is closer to "idiocy" than "admiration".

I was possessed by the ghost.
Oh, now THAT impresses me. Did you think of that all by yourself?

It may seem strange that I'm copying a mountain of text so soon after praising this part of the game for not having mountains of text, but that's because this is actually a dialog tree puzzle.

Basically, you have to choose from a few options every couple of lines. If you click correctly, the conversation continues. If not, Simone bitches at you and you start over again.

In the commentary track, Yahtzee says that these types of puzzles are more realistic than keychain puzzles, then immediately confesses that, on a scale of Not At All Realistic to Completely Believable, restarting conversations dozens of times until they go the right way clocks in at about a negative twelve. Still, variety!

It possessed me just like it did when I killed AJ. The ghost, it talks to me late at night, when no-one else can hear... trying to make me do things, evil things. It never leaves me alone. I can't sleep. I'll wake up with blood all over me in an unfamiliar place. It's happened so many times now I can't count them.
Shut up!
"Kill AJ, kill Philip, kill everyone", it wouldn't leave me alone.
I'm warning you.
I'm delirious with guilt most of the time. I can see the face of every poor innocent I've killed every time I close my eyes. Most evenings I cry so hard I vomit, several times. Sometimes I just want this nightmare to end. If death came right now, I'd welcome it. Simone... let me have my tie back.
Your tie? Oh, to hell with it. Have it, you psycho!

I'll just slip it on, and here's my emergency lockpick. See, this demonstrates the importance of forethought.


No comment.

I've got to get her and Jim to believe me about the idol.

And the "people who behave sensibly" count has dropped back down to a resounding zero, as Simone decided she was tired of guarding psychopaths and went off to go take a nap instead.

Naturally, your first instinct is to assume that the intro scene was another nightmare, which makes it a bit disconcerting when Simone tells you of its reality in no uncertain terms. Coming back in and seeing the aftermath first hand suddenly makes things get disturbing very quickly, especially when you start drawing connections with Roderick's stab wound and the fact that the idol was stained. This is what I mean when I talk about competence whiplash, and this is why the series gets exponentially better once Yahtzee figures out that this works (two games from now).

News: ...the luxurious country home for a respectable aristocratic family, or the eerie home of a dark, ineffable secret? Why HAVE so many people disappeared around the manor? What DID happen to Sir Roderick DeFoe and his teenage son? Is there really some kind of ghostly horror lurking in the basement? All this and more on "The Haunting of DeFoe Manor" tonight at 9, only on BBC 2.

Trilby, I know you didn't really kill Philip or AJ.
You do?
I figured you were lying to get me away from the shed. I saw him again.

(That time when you openly confessed to something that agreed with my first-hand account? I assumed you were just making shit up.)

The killer! The guy in the welding mask! I spotted him downstairs, but he didn't see me. And I can't find Jim anywhere...
Simone, you have to listen to me. The ghost-
Oh, shut up about your ghost. This isn't a ghost, it's a regular flesh and blood psycho.

This section is noteworthy because it's actually possible to die. Now, death is a mild inconvenience, sending you back to the title screen where you can reload a save game, and the readme explicitly warns you that death is a possibility, but it still makes things surprisingly tense.

So what do we do? Run out of the room? Throw a book and teddy bear at him? Use Simone as a meat shield? Mention the existence of a sizable window behind us and make a predictable joke for the fifteenth time?

Nope, we get to trip him, which apparently knocks him unconscious.

Oh my god, Jim?

Speculate away before Simone ruins it for you next update.

Creator Commentary
As should be fairly obvious by now I'm not trying to excuse myself for anything, but dialogue puzzles of the 'continual restart' variety were pretty common in old-style adventures. There were quite a few examples in the Tex Murphy games. But I think the one I took the most inspiration from for the start of Day 4 is the one in Full Throttle. Where you're being tortured by someone who thinks you killed her dad, and who cuts you off every time you try to talk about him, but who finally listens after you call her by the pet name her dad had for her, which proves the two of you were friends. I liked the idea of getting past the obvious approaches and finding an in from a different angle.

However, dialogue menus, like inventory puzzles, are another thing I've grown dubious about as a gameplay mechanic. Seems like with most of them (and especially in the Chzo Mythos) the player just goes down the list of options one by one to hear all the exposition. And it creates this weird, staccato, stop-start interview style of conversation that feels very unnatural. I wrote a column on this subject last year.

The game was released largely untested and I put out an updated version a few days later that addressed the most common, easier to fix complaints. My attitude towards game development at the time was 'fire and forget'.

I had a better attitude towards testing in later games and had various online friends play through and report back. 7 Days had quite a few pre-release fixes, mostly related to hooking yourself to the outside of the ship. And I was quite obsessed with making Trilby's Notes' parser allow every possible phrasing of a command, so it wouldn't fall into the Space Quest 1 problem of the player knowing what they're supposed to do but unable to find the right combination of words.

After an eye-opening trip to the Valve studios I realised the importance of focus testing. Never underestimate how useful it is to actually watch someone play your game, not giving them any advice even when they ask. A while back I had someone play through a section of another horror game I'm making on and off, and it brought to light all kinds of important changes I hadn't even considered. Also, she died during a scary encounter because she screamed, threw the mouse away and curled up into a ball. I took that as a good sign.

At the time I was big into Jason movies, so that's where the machete came into it (plus Sir Roderick was an explorer, so he'd have them around). As for the welding mask, I've always been fascinated by masks in horror and their ability to dehumanise an antagonist, and I'd seen a made-for-TV thriller one late night where the main character intimidates some people while wearing a welding mask and apron. I was struck by the effectiveness of it. Being stared at by unseen eyes behind a blank, emotionless rectangle.

This is another reason the house's backstory should have taken place in the 1950s. I'm not even sure they had welding masks like that back in 1820-whenever it was.