Saturday, 24 October 2020

It All Seems a Bit Unsatisfactory. But That's the Job All Over, Isn't It?

Now that my internet connection has been sorted out, it's time I was getting back to my latest attempt at Vengeance at Midnight, Alexander Ballingall's contribution to the ongoing adventures of superhero the Silver Crusader, the first part of which is here.

What We've Got Here Is Failure to Communicate
Since I had to come downtown to deal with Volt Head, I might as well make that the next area I investigate. A substantial descriptive paragraph lists a variety of locations contained within or bordering on the region, almost all of which appeared in Appointment with F.E.A.R. (and one of which is misspelled, unless Titan City contains two separate parks with very similar names - Audubon and Abudon).

The fact that I have the option of visiting a certain apartment if I have its number suggests that I'd have done better to go somewhere else and get a specific lead first. Still, even if I've already made enough errors to have no chance of winning the adventure, I can at least learn a few things that could help me on subsequent attempts before I fail.

Lady MacBeth told me that her criminal employer Janus wanted access to the secure network at telecommunications providers AB&C, so I'll go to their local headquarters and see if I can get any idea of what Janus intends to do with that access. Network maintenance seems the most sensible department to check out.

Frustratingly, the very actions that led me here also turn it into a dead end. A member of staff named Ben Seven tells me that network maintenance manager Betty Monarch unexpectedly failed to show today, and all attempts at contacting her have proved unsuccessful. Regrettably, there is no option for telling him, "That's because she's under arrest as part of a criminal conspiracy, so I need to find out what she's been up to here ASAP," so I just thank him for his unhelpful information and wander off.

Can I find out anything worth knowing from the head of the branch? No, Ivan Stephenson is similarly unhelpful (though the way he dismissed his PA before talking to me seemed a little suspicious). Customer support is even less help, sending me on a runaround reminiscent of the bureaucratic headache I experienced at the start of my year studying abroad (though at least here I'm only being sent from queue to queue, rather than to assorted offices in different parts of the city).

Incidentally, the section number for visiting customer support has been changed in the rewrite as a consequence of a bug fix. In the revised text it is possible to visit Officer Kawalski if you go to Police HQ after dealing with Volt Head.

Thankfully, although the section for coming to downtown stressed that I have limited time, there are no instructions to say I may not visit anywhere else here, so the unproductive visit to AB&C has merely proved annoying rather than preventing me from doing something worthwhile in the locality. Maybe I'll have more success at Radd Square.

The square has changed in recent years. The fountain that was its centrepiece has been removed (though not, it would seem, as a consequence of lawsuits arising from the incident that occurred there back in Appointment), and the surrounding buildings have changed from whatever they used to be (Steve Jackson never specified) to restaurants and boutiques. There's somewhere specific I could go if I'd found the right lead, and a codeword check indicates that another encounter I haven't had could have consequences here. So I can wait and see if anything happens, or go somewhere else.

I wait. After a quarter of an hour, my patience pays off, as I see a car (not unlike the Batmobile driven by Adam West) park nearby, in the process destroying the car that already occupied the parking space. A man, dressed in black and wearing a cape, emerges and dashes into the Owl and Weasel pub, located right next to a restaurant with a Port Blacksand-related in-joke for a name.

I follow the driver into the pub, and find the place already trashed, assorted patrons cowering under furniture as the man in the cape smashes his way towards a man in a business suit, who ineffectually attempts to impede his progress with tables. The black-clad individual demands that the man in the suit give him 'the code', and I intervene. 

As with Volt Head, all I can do is start swinging my fists about. However, on this occasion the text has me fight both combatants at the same time - apparently I'm not sure who the villain is here. Is it the costumed figure who's undeniably guilty of property damage, is using a device or ability to blow stuff up, and chose to initiate this fight in a public place with no concerns about the well-being of bystanders (let's call him Collateral Damage until I get an actual name), or is it the businessman? Okay, so things do get a bit confused by the way that, as soon as I start thumping Collateral Damage, the businessman apparently decides to attack me rather than him, but I could have targeted the businessman (whom I shall label Friendly Fire for the moment) from the outset, even though all I'd seen him do was get attacked and attempt to shield himself with inanimate objects.

In any case, I get to choose which man to attack and which to merely defend myself against, so I overpower Collateral Damage, at which point Friendly Fire stops attacking me, thanks me, and introduces himself. In the original version of the adventure, he turned out to be a character who'd previously appeared in Appointment, but the rewrite changes him to someone the Silver Crusader doesn't already know by sight. This is local business magnate Terry Stork, and Collateral Damage is a disgruntled ex-employee who started calling himself The Warlock after being fired for bullying his co-workers.

The Warlock is taken into custody, and I get myself another police contact I could visit at HQ if I hadn't already been there. Oh, and if I'd beaten Stork into unconsciousness before turning my attention to and subduing The Warlock, both men would have been arrested, and I'd have faced no repercussions. I don't know, maybe Stork's not very popular because his accountants are so good at helping him avoid paying taxes, or something...

Smash and Grapple
Before I leave downtown and tick off another section of the city, there's time to pop to Cottonworths, a department store which is faring rather better than the real-world chain of which its name is a parody. There I can check out the book and toy department, or investigate electronics and appliances. 

In previous adventures of the Silver Crusader, book departments have only provided FF in-jokes, but there may be something to be learned in the toy department. After all, there's obviously something afoot involving Teddy Bears - the one that caused the conflagration after I captured Volt Head is unlikely to be a one-off, given that I could have had a Teddy Bear analysed at Police HQ if I'd had one on me, and the between-paragraph illustrations include one of them. 

Electronics and appliances would probably not be worth visiting at this stage of the adventure - just before I was summoned to the computer store, there was a check to see if I'd already captured Volt Head, and the electronics department seems the most likely place to have potentially encountered him before he went to the Megabyte Modem. Of course, if I had apprehended Volt Head before the showdown at the computer store, he wouldn't have had the opportunity to upload the damage program. But I doubt that the adventure would make it that easy to thwart behind-the-scenes criminal mastermind Janus, and it may well only be possible to get the password during the hostage situation, so it's probably not worth heading here sooner on a subsequent attempt.

Anyway, I'm going to the toy department, and if I get the opportunity to go anywhere else in the shop afterwards, that'll be a bonus. While there I spot one of the gamebooks that might have been published if the Puffin Books FF range had gone on for more than 60 books, and I don't get to ask about Teddy Bears because I don't have one of the plot-significant ones on me.

I do at least have the option of proceeding to electronics and appliances to see if I'm right about there being nothing noteworthy going on there. Initially there's nothing going on, but I wait because the time limit in this adventure is largely conceptual, and thus am present when yellow-clad miscreant Da Femme smashes through a window (if the name is supposed to indicate that she's resorted to criminal means to try and bring down the patriarchy, a glass ceiling would have been a more appropriate point of entry). Yet again, my choice of superpower leaves me no option but to resort to fisticuffs, but since she had no qualms about indiscriminately showering shoppers with broken glass, my conscience isn't overly troubled. I take a little damage in the fight, and gain only Hero Points for her arrest.

Visiting downtown has enabled me to put a couple more minor league supervillains out of circulation, but brings me no closer to finding out what Janus is up to. By now I'm pretty much out of usable leads. I could try questioning Volt Head in prison (yes, he'll already be there), but I have a vague recollection of requiring appropriate authorisation (Titan City's bureaucracy is clearly more streamlined as regards locking felons up than allowing people to visit them), and I don't have that yet. It may be that I've already missed out on the opportunity to get such authorisation, but I'll try a few other locations anyway, in case one of them can somehow get me access.

I've not heard of two of the four other places I could go, so I'll wait and see if any leads relating to either of them come up. That just leaves the misspelled or confusingly named Abudon Park and Mutant Enclave. On the off-chance that Janus has been attempting to recruit some of the less law-abiding of the city's chromosomally different community, I head to the refuge on 12th Avenue, officially named the Bradourif Building, though the more intolerant of Titan City's citizens prefer to call it the 'Mutt Hut'.

Some of the patrons of the café in the reception area look askance at me as I enter. I decide to try and chat with somebody, and pick an elderly gentleman who's sitting alone. Initially he concentrates on his tea and scone, using some telekinetic or magnetic ability to pick up his butter knife, and once finished, he introduces himself as Max. After suggesting that I have a word with the Police, he hints that someone close to me is actually an enemy. The first time I had this encounter, I was concerned that it might be foreshadowing for the overused 'twist' of having the new romantic interest turn out to be the baddie, but the author has told me that he decided not to go with that cliché, so I don't know who Max means. Agent Blanc? Officer Kawalski? Gerry the Grass? Aunt Florence?

Heading upstairs, I check out the craft stores in the studio. I slightly offend the proprietor of a leather goods stall by, as he sees it, assuming that he has criminal connections. Still, he goes on to mention something very vague about a mutant being up to something suspect, though he can't mention any specifics as he isn't interested in such things. As I don't have Psi-Powers, I don't have the option of violating his mental privacy to see if he knows more than he's letting on.

There's one other stall I can visit, at which scented soaps are sold. The woman running it dismisses the idea that any mutant could be involved in the conspiracy I'm investigating, but mentions that her flatmate works at Manny's Coffee Shop and suspects that criminals are using it to pass on messages. So now I have a reason to go there, and a codeword (two words, in fact, so maybe it should be called a code phrase) to help me investigate when I do go there.

While I'm in the building, I might as well try speaking with a counsellor. The receptionist (whose mutant ability gives a whole new meaning to the term 'speed typing') asks if I have an appointment. Not having learned the names of any counsellors, and lacking either of the super powers that could help me illicitly discover one, I must admit that I don't. There is a free slot in half an hour, though, so I wait for that.

Matthew Houghton, the counsellor I see, is a small blue furry creature with a red nose. My Luck isn't high enough for the mental disciplines I learned after encountering the Macro Brain to prevent Houghton from reading my mind and learning my real name. (Incidentally, that meeting with the Macro Brain must have been an undocumented incident, since in Appointment, having any power other than ETS meant that not fleeing such an encounter responding to another call and leaving others to deal with the Macro Brain would guarantee failure, and having ETS here leads to a different section.) When I make known my displeasure at Houghton's actions, he tries to make up for it by arranging a meeting with someone who could be of help to me. Tomorrow morning in the park, so now I have a valid reason for going there as well.

One and Sceptre
I've now been to enough locations to trigger another incident, so my Crimewatch summons me to Addison Square Gardens. Crowds are fleeing as I arrive, and I find the cause of the panic in the arena. A muscle-bound woman is firing destructive blasts from a sceptre, her attention focused on a man cowering beneath a table. My arrival briefly distracts her, prompting the man to try and make a break for it, and the woman's words when she spots his bid for freedom enable me to identify the two individuals.

Holding the sceptre is Veronica Daiichi, who was badly injured a couple of years when an experiment went wrong at the laboratory of Doctor Johan Brown, the man under the table. At the time there was speculation that, having been refused permission to test his new cosmetic product on humans, Brown had caused the 'accident' in order to make Daiichi his guinea pig. Clearly dissatisfied with the out-of-court settlement that seemingly closed the case, she is now seeking revenge. I'd sympathise, if she weren't endangering innocent people. And firing the sceptre at me.

Yet again, having Super Strength requires me to just fight, and this is a nasty combat. Though the sceptre wielded by Daiichi (and left out of the accompanying illustration) was described as 'long', being at close quarters and involved in a punch-up proves no obstacle to her firing it at me every round, with a 50% chance of doing 2 Stamina damage each time. Combined with the fact that Veronica has 17 Stamina, and will thus take at least 8 rounds to subdue (unless you have Luck to burn), this means a strong probability of taking substantial damage even if you never lose a round of combat. On this occasion, she manages to inflict enough extra damage to kill me.

Judging by my gamebook manager, that's not the first time I've died in this fight. Still, I think I must have already been low on Stamina the previous time I got this far, or I'd have made some kind of complaint about just how harsh and unbalanced the combat is. While I appreciate that circumstances must have been fairly desperate for Fantazine editor Alex to write and illustrate Vengeance in such a hurry, I think it would have been better to delay publication until it had at least been playtested thoroughly enough to highlight some of the more egregious flaws and fix them.