The Let's Play Archive

The Chzo Mythos

by Quovak

Part 18: Trilby's Notes, Part 1: Culture Shock

Though your poems do entertain my soul,
Another pressing matter is at hand.
It shall seem odd to hear my words extol,
but through Trilby's Notes you will understand.

At this point Yahtzee learned from his mistakes,
and redesigned the series for the best.
Many ideas he shamelessly takes,
but no more is there just some guy possessed.

This series will now take a darker turn,
becoming scary, tense and worth our time.
The plot will be competent and we'll learn,
what Yahtzee's horror looks like at its prime.

For now, good plots and atmosphere replace
Salty bears and wanting to go to space.


Trilby's Notes, Part 1: Culture Shock

Okay, here's what everyone's been waiting for. If you want to play along at home, now would be the time to begin.

The entire game is presented, as the title implies, through notes left behind by Trilby. Just to forewarn you, Trilby's even worse at summarizing diary entries than he is at summarizing letters, so this game has a ton of text even by this series' standards. I'm doing some editing, but not much, since for the most part it's actually inteesting.

Well, he was actually thinking "Death, of course, comes to us all", and actually it was nighttime, but here we're introduced to the concept of retcons. Amusingly, there's still no ravine.

The ordeal was over. Those five days cost us all so much. Philip and AJ paid with their lives. They were the fortunate ones. Jim Fowler was expelled from school for truancy, a bright future in tatters. Simone Taylor took to the bottle. Her broadcasts became slurred, her eyes hollow and unwelcoming. She soon vanished from television screens. As for me, I tried to return to life as a cat burglar, but I had been forever tainted by my time spent in that wretched house.

Yeah, this game already starts out on a very different note. You'll notice that Trilby now has a character that comes through based on his writing style, with his depressed yet detached personality being evident; this is because Yahtzee has learned a thing called subtlety. Also, that avatar is for the papers to make it clear when Trilby's speaking to himself or speaking the exact same way to other people.

The memories of my possession came back in my nightmares. Every night I was there again, in the mansion, staring out through unfamiliar eyes as Philip died at my hands. I became convinced that John DeFoe was not at rest, that some day he would return for me. I became so terrified of invisible enemies that I forgot about the tangible ones.

Even less fortunate was the fact that, due to layoffs, the Herald was forced to replace journalism with pictures of gray squares.

But then he came, the man from the government with his nervous smile, offering an alternative: The STP, the Special Talent Project. It hadn't been that much earlier that I would have sooner died than entered an obligation with anyone, least of all the government. Had DeFoe Manor changed me so much?

Trilby's Notes still can't manage an actual reason the government wanted him, but I guess we can't expect it to fix everything. Good track record so far, though.

Whatever my reasons, I left my past behind and resolved to give my new superiors nothing to complain about. I spent a year and a half completing assignments, developing contacts, building a reputation. And then, the past caught up. In the summer of 1997, I became concerned about Simone Taylor's mental well-being. The papers were reporting her continual breakdown, and she had become a virtual recluse. I had no idea if my appearance would assist or hinder. I had, after all, deliberately allowed her to think me dead.

In doing so, I assumed that she would miss the giant headline and other news stories about a famous thief being captured and then enlisted by the government.

On balance, I decided that a meeting with an old friend would be most beneficial. I came to her apartment building on a warm, stormy night, and braced myself for the encounter.

My main rule of thumb in editing will be that, after this update, I'm cutting out pointless description copy-pasted from pulp thrillers.

As you can see, the interface has been entirely redesigned. You can now actually move your character around, and, if you notice the paper icon in the upper left...

The game now runs on a text parser. Reaction to this is pretty divided, including in this thread, but I like it because it allows for much more freedom and some very abstract puzzle solutions (due to dealing with verbs other than "use"). Apparently, however, it was a pain to program, so Yahtzee made 6 Days play exactly the same way 7 Days did. Playing 7 Days for a few seconds will show you why this was a bad idea.

I knocked sharply upon Simone's door.

Still no response. The doorman had assured me Simone was in. I decided it was time to enter by my own methods.

The verboseness isn't bad now that Trilby having a personality is still novel. Before long, though, it gets pretty tiring.

Well, that didn't take long in the slightest. We've already undone almost every aspect of the first game, and I'm not complaining

The body on the floor was undoubtedly Simone. I felt for a pulse and my hands came away stained with long-cooled blood. My fingers traced the outline of a large wound in her torso, slashed by a big weapon wielded by a big assailant. I called for an ambulance, as futile as it would be, and left before they arrived.

I don't see why this game treats Simone and Trilby as good friends. It's directly said that they hadn't interacted since the manor, and the closest thing to bonding that happened there was shooting a ghost together. This is what I mean when I say that Notes and 6 Days pretend the first two games were better than they were.

Merely reading those three words, capitalized on the front of a loose-leaf file, brought the nightmares back with more intensity than ever. Sure enough, a field agent reported that looters had discovered and sold several artifacts from the mansion, including the wooden idol that housed John DeFoe's soul. To my surprise, no murders had been reported or committed by anyone who had come into contact with the accursed trinket. I did not find this reassuring.
I quickly advised James Fowler to go into hiding. He was stunned, but agreed. The boy had sense, and still respected my judgment.

He then proceeded to never be seen for the rest of the series because he was unpopular.

This done, I began following the idol's trail. From the pawn shop it had entered the possession of one professor Abed Chahel, an authoritative historian. He had scheduled some kind of antique fair in the Clanbronwyn Hotel, on a small island off the coast of Anglesey, popular with tourists. Assuming the role of a scholar of antiquities, I booked a room. On the 28th of July, 1997, I caught a ferry from Porthllechog in Anglessey and arrived at around 3 PM in Clanbronwyn, Island's coastal village.

I think I liked Yahtzee better before he was James Joyce.

On an unrelated note, pay attention to that date, and consider where we saw it before and where we pretended to see it before.

It seemed a peaceful hamlet, and, in defiance of stereotypes, the locals were welcoming, and told me no local legends to dissuade me from exploring the island. The Clanbronwyn Hotel was in the island's center, surrounded by forest. I made my way there on foot.

Have I mentioned recently that I'm manually transcribing all of this? Because there's no game script and I'm manually transcribing all of this. Just saying.

As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by a balding man in a grey anorak. I wondered if I was expected to know who he was.
That depends.
My name is Lenkmann. I'm with the ministry of Occultism.

Once this series introduces these gigantic government organizations, the first game starts to somehow make even less sense. I would think that a British Ministry specifically made to stop ghosts from doing bad things would have noticed a prominent manor where, for 200 years, a ghost has been doing bad things.

Oh? I thought the Ministry were clear on the fact that I was handling this on my own.
Maybe there are still people who don't trust you, Mr. Trilby.
I haven't stolen anything since I joined the STP!

Says the man who (amazingly) carries around lockpicks for innocuous occasions like visiting a "friend".

Your colorful past is not what concerns my superiors. It hasn't gone unnoticed that your history with the DeFoe wraith influences you psychologically. I'm sure you resist it, but it could still cause you to act irrationally, disobey orders... Everyone just feels a little safer with someone else on the ground.
I see. You can rest assured that I will endeavor to maintain absolute professionalism on this assignment.
Nevertheless, I have my orders. I'm sure I don't want to get mixed up in a reunion.
I watched him disappear around the corner of the building. I very much doubted that Lenkmann and I would become friends.

Oh come on, you're not even trying.

See, Trilby is pretty well known. Everyone in the 5 Days house had a vague idea of who he was, Simone pointed out that he was basically a celebrity, the authorities would supposedly recognize him on sight, etc. Apparently, he doesn't bother with either a reasonably fake name (hell, his actual Malcolm would work) or doing anything to change his signature look. Somehow people don't take any notice of this, even people in this game who are established to know who Trilby was.

Hotel only attracts the incompetent still. Good to see this game is still recognizable as a Yahtzee project.

The Clanbronwyn Hotel lobby was a warm welcome. The building was certainly well-maintained, and yet there was something about it that nagged at the back of my mind, quickening my pulse. I dismissed the sensation. An act which, in retrospect, I would come to regret.
Ah, yes, you're here for the antique fair? We've put you in room 3-C, on the third floor. If you'd just sign the check-in book?

Yes? I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage.
Terency Railby. We met at Sotheby's a few months ago? You don't remember me?
No, no, of course I do. Terry Railby, how've you been?
The astute reader has already guessed that both Terence Railby and the previous meeting were utter fiction. I had spent some time studying Chahal's movements and habits. He was, by all accounts, absent-minded, and that was something I could use.

Oh yeah, and Yahtzee still assumes the player doesn't understand anything unless slapped across the face with it. When people were praising this as being the best in the series, you didn't think it wasn't still a Chzo game at heart, did you?

I'm well, thanks. I was hoping I'd run into you. You remember I do freelance scouting for some wealthy collectors?
Er, yes...
Well, a client of mine has expressed an interest in relics from DeFoe Manor, in Buckinghamshire. He's been on my back for a while about it. Between you and me, he seems pretty obsessed.
What remained of Professor Chahal's suspicion melted away from his expression as the opportunity to make money entered the conversation.
Well, I'm sure I wouldn't want to damage your professional status. Would you like to come up to my room for drinks?
Oh, I don't want to impose.
No imposition at all. Please follow me.
Your room key, Mr. Railby.
Ah, thank you. Please lead the way, Professor.

I know, just hold in there. This game does get decent (and actually a game) eventually. Promise.

Who's your friend?
Oh, let me introduce you. This is my personal assistant, Siobhan. She accompanies me on most of my excursions. Siobhan, this is Mr. Railby, an old acquaintance. He's looking for information on DeFoe Manor artifacts.

Abed's full name is Abed Chahal, making him an ancestor of Barry Chahal which still doesn't factor into anything. Yahtzee decided to introduce us to a text parser by making us remember names like Abed, Siobhan, and Lenkmann while previous games used names like Will, Adam, Phil, and Jim, but thankfully it usually recognizes simple typos.

Oh really? Him and half the other people we meet. What is it about that place?
Never underestimate the attraction of a mystery, my dear. Please take a seat, Terry, I'll be right with you.
So, interested in ghost stories?
The girl struck me as a forceful personality. I gave the matter some thought before replying.
Not really, I'm just scouting on behalf of a client, like I told the professor.
You know, it's strange to see someone as young as you in the antiques trade. No offense meant.

[More pointless filler about things that I am sick of typing and you're sick of reading]

Sorry to keep you waiting, dear boy. Now then, what shall we talk about?

Yahtzee likes to blame his design faults on his players, so he responded to criticism about his characters not being well-rounded by accusing players of not typing in the right things. The commentary suggests things to enter in, so I'm doing those and things that actually advance the plot.

How did you come to work for the professor?
I was a student of antiquities studying under him at Warwick University. He offered me this chance to supplement my studies.
She was very talented.

According to Yahtzee, this shows that Abed's perverted and Siobhan's a slut. Awesome characters, there. Siobhan's personality fluctuates, since Yahtzee wants to make her hit on every male in the game but also wants to write a slightly likable female character and not be John Steinbeck.

So I understand you came into possession of artifacts from DeFoe Manor?
Yes indeed, and it was astonishing to me that such artifacts existed at all. Did you hear about the DeFoe Manor Incident?
Recalling those five wretched days churned my stomach with fear, turning what had once been the joy of thievery into an exercise in anxiety. Discussing it brought that feeling back. The act of feigning ignorance, while visions of welding masks and machetes flooded my mind's eye, worsened them.
It's been on the news again lately since that Taylor woman died. A lot of silly talk about the paranormal has been abound so the true facts are near unreachable.

The Ministry of Occultism and everything it does is apparently completely restricted, to the point where an average person doesn't even know the occult is real. Now, when any random man-who-pretends-he's-a-thief can perform a summoning ritual and evil ghosts are wandering around, I'm not sure why (or how) this would be kept secret, but I guess secret organizations are more interesting than your run-of-the-mill taxpayer accountable ones.

But the point is, some enterprising fellows picked up one or two undamaged items from the ruins: furniture, books, an ugly little tribal figurine... and I took them off their hands, purely out of curiosity, of course. So, were there any particular items your client is interested in?

Often, these conversations are fragmented. Here, for instance, I have to "ask about idol". I'm merging conversations so they sound less artificial.

It's a small African figurine that my client wants me to look into.
That old thing? Honestly, despite its age, it's virtually worthless.
That's what I said, but my client is very insistent. He's interested in the paranormal, and the idol features in some of the more unlikely accounts of the DeFoe Manor Incident.
Well, I don't suppose I should ask questions, if this man of yours wants to take it off my hands. I don't have it on me right now, it's being kept in the hotel safe. Perhaps we can work out a deal after the fair, I had intended to display it with the other DeFoe artifacts.
Inwardly, I just wanted to get to get this mission completed as soon as possible, but I didn't want to risk suspicion or give off the wrong impression.
That will be fine. So, just out of interest, what else have you picked up from the mansion?
Some silverware and ceramics, most of a burnt rocking chair, and the painting, of course.
A landscape, from a wall in the mansion's lounge. Of little artistic value, but the artist features prominently in DeFoe Manor's colorful history. Bethan, she runs the hotel, asked if she could display it in the lobby.
Instantly I recalled the sick feeling I had felt in the lobby. I had seen the painting, but had paid it little heed.

Ah, there we go. I was beginning to wonder when this game would start being good.

Are you alright, Mr. Railby?
I'm sorry, I was just... distracted by my thoughts for a moment. Something like that... What the hell was that?!
What the hell was what? You were just sitting there, then you went all stiff like you'd seen a ghost.
I'm sorry, I... I have to go. Something's wrong.
Oh, well. We won't keep you, then.

At first, Trilby's Notes seems like a slightly-improved retread of 5 Days. John DeFoe is reintroduced and a bunch of characters gather at a hotel, so the plot seems pretty familiar. Again. Then this happens.

I'll post that Tindeck link every update. Whenever things get horribly dark and ruined like this, play that background noise and become unable to sleep for a while. Seriously, play it now and leave it on for a while.

And yes, this whole aspect is a blatant Silent Hill ripoff, but nobody cares because it works really well.

My head was spinning, and a sudden nausea churned in my gut. The world seemed to be pulsating, the corners of the room wavering like a heat haze. You may say I imagined these things, and I thought that may have been the case. Was I going out of my mind? Was the hotel really changing into some nightmarish twin? Was I the only one who could see it? If I was hallucinating, it was too complex. The harsh wooden floor beneath my feet felt real enough. The horrendous stench of rotting flesh that reached my nostrils could not have been conjured by my imagination. I decided I had to find John DeFoe's idol as soon as possible. If not that, then at least the painting Chahal had mentioned. I was convinced that some connection lay between DeFoe Manor and this sudden madness.

The other floors are pretty clearly copy-pasted except for the graffiti, which helpfully informs us that walls aren't men.

As you descend, you realize that this game is going to be pretty different, because the combination of atmosphere and sound design has made you actually be afraid of a Sierra-style adventure game. Suddenly, the Olympus Mons of text you just forced your way through doesn't seem so bad.

I noticed a collection of handwritten pages on the floor near his body. They appeared to be entries from a diary.

July 18th: Felicia and I took shelter from the storm in a decrepit old hotel in the forest. It seems to be completely deserted, so we bedded down on the floor of the lobby for the night. It is so peaceful here. The noise of the storm seems far away.
July 19th: Exploring the hotel, it has become increasingly clear that the place is not as innocent as it first seemed. We found ancient corpses and evidence of terrible deeds in several of the rooms. The storm has cleared, and we intend to leave as soon as possible.
July 20th: I am certain now that devilry is at work. Every path we take through the forest brings us back to the hotel. We spent a whole day trying routes to no avail. Felicia keeps talking of a demon she fancies she saw in the hotel kitchen last night.
July 21st: Felicia is dead. I was too late to help her. I saw her murderer, just as she did. Perhaps I will be next. I am beginning to understand.
July 23rd: The murderous figure in black, the one whose body is savagely stretched into a mockery of form, is not the architect of this nightmare. Rather, this is the work of that hideous lord of the forbidden lands. God forgive me.
July 25th: I built a shrine to my captor in the lobby in an attempt to appease it. Nothing has changed. I have no more food. The horror is starting to affect my mind.
July 28th: i am certain my mind is going. i imagined for a moment that the hotel had changed, had become finely-decorated and welcoming as it must have been in the past. i blinked, and it returned to its normal hateful self.
August 1st: WHAT is his rela ionshi to that di gusting be st? is he a servan or a pri oner? Sometime he act alone, someti es at t e behest of higher power. what doe he wan from me?
August 3rd: he is afte me now I t ink I mu t hav done ome hing wron

Next time, Yahtzee continues to redeem himself for his previous transgressions. Sure, making fun of space physics is fun, but there's a reason I'm playing through this series, and it's here.

Creator Commentary
I preferred the text parser because it prevented the player from finding the solution just by trying all the buttons. Plus there was the theme of this game being Trilby's written notes, and the parser helped put you into the perspective of someone typing them up. It wasn't a perfect system, of course. A few players said afterwards that they wished I'd put in a special button to bring up the phrase 'open door'.

For the same reason of wanting a better sense of immersion I also implemented the conversation system where you have to ASK ABOUT <whatever> instead of picking from a menu, which I've come to dislike. In retrospect it would have been better to take a leaf out of Ultima's book and highlighted the important words as they appeared in dialogue.

And of course I ditched both these aspects when doing 6 Days. At that point I think I'd stopped caring about gameplay too much and just wanted to put a nice, safe, boring framework around an obligatory story wrap-up and vehicle for creative mind-screwing.

I think what I dislike most about Notes at this point is the graphics. Having learned from 7 Days that the more complexly shaded the sprites the less inclined I was to reanimate them much, I opted to stick with flat, largely unshaded blocks of colour for the character sprites in Notes. This gave me greater flexibility to design many more different-looking characters with better animations, but they do look rather 8-bit. The backgrounds aren't that great either, though. They all have this rather flat pastel-y feel I'm not sure I like.

Something you may or may not notice is that, while doors in 5 and 7 Days were always seen to open before your character entered them, the doors in Notes remain permanently closed while characters phase mystically through them in ugly jump cuts. Ho yes, I learn lessons in one place only to un-learn them in others.

This was the first of my games to have an original soundtrack by AGS regular Mark Lovegrove, which I was quite happy with. When explaining to him what I wanted out of the 'Dark World' ambient music, I said I wanted a track that evoked the feeling you get right after standing up very suddenly in a hot bath.

The Tall Man himself owes a lot to the Zealot from Blood 2:

A game I did own, but which I swear I didn't consciously rip off. The Tall Man's appearance as a whole was influenced by various sources, including the obvious Pinhead from Hellraiser, Pious Augustus from Eternal Darkness, and Rorschach from Watchmen. I liked his scarf.