Assignment 45, A Harry Flynn Adventure: Finale and Analysis   2 comments

I stopped keeping track of how many Harrys we lost (20?), but victory was eventually ours.

I will narrate the rest of the game, then dive into some exploration of structure. There’s been a lot of theoretical work on the effect of overall choice-structure, but not as much on the micro-pieces therein.

Last time, our hero had made it to the hostage storage area.

BY NOW DR. NON HAS RADIOED FOR HELP. KRUEL REINFORCEMENTS ARE ON THEIR WAY.

1) STUDY THE STORAGE SYSTEM
2) FREE EVERYONE BY DISABLING LOCK MECHANISM
3) EXAMINE THE FILES
4) CALL UEC ON SLED RADIO
5) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLET KEYS

Just as a reminder, the hostages are “DATA PATTERNED AND LASER STAMPED” on slides, and we’re trying to rescue a princess. Dr. Non gave Harry one “pellet key” as a “free sample”, but it only works on one slide.

Trying to free everyone:

We start by trying to disable the lock mechanism.

TAMPERING WITH THE LOCK STARTED A BASE DESTRUCTION SEQUENCE. HARRY HAS 60 SECONDS TO DECIDE WHETHER TO:

1) ABANDON THE BASE 2) TRY TO ABORT SEQUENCE

Both are Bad Endings.

HE ALMOST HAD IT, THEN *BOOM!*

Next Harry. Taking his time, he examines the storage system…

FILES
PELLET PRODUCER
LOCKING MECHANISM

…then tries and fails get the mechanism to make more pellet keys.

BY ATTEMPTING TO BYPASS THE PELLET TIMER, HARRY SETS OFF A SIGNAL WHICH ERASES ALL THE FILES! MISSION IS A FAILURE.

The next Harry reconsiders and examines the files more carefully.

THERE ARE MANY FILES. SINCE THE GIRL WAS JUST TAKEN, SHE SHOULD BE AMOUNG THE LAST ENTRIES. BUT HARRY HAS ONLY 1 PELLET.
WHICH FILE IS THE RIGHT ONE?

1) LOAD THE FILES UP AND BRING THEM TO UEC
2) DISABLE LOCK MECHANISM
3) TAKE A GUESS
4) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLETS
5) CUT OFF POWER TO STORAGE COMPUTER
6) GO BACK TO SHIP AND USE RADIO

While not obvious, this is the last choice of the game!

First Harry tries cutting off power…

WITH THE POWER OFF THE SYSTEM BECOMES TOTALLY INOPERATIVE.
SHOULD HARRY:
1) TURN POWER BACK ON
2) EXAM SYSTEM WITH POWER OFF

…but examining the system leads to electrocution.

Then he tries to load all the files at once.

WHEN HARRY ATTEMPTS TO REMOVE A PANE FROM ITS HOLDER, THE FILE DISSOLVES. THE GIRL AND ALL OTHER HOSTAGES ON THE PANE ARE DESTROYED. MISSION FAILED.

The next incarnation makes another attempt at producing more pellets, but it turns out as badly as last time, wiping out the system. Finally, he tries going back to call the UEC.

HARRY DRIVES BACK TO THE SHIP AND CALLS UEC. COMPU-CEN SUGGESTS TAKING MICRO-PHOTOS USING THE MEAD CELL AND ANALYZING THEM ON THE SHIP’S COMPUTER.

IN ADDITION, UEC IS SENDING A TASK FO TO SECURE THE BASE.

HARRY RETURNS TO THE STORAGE AREA, AND FOLLOWING COMPU-CEN’S ADVICE IS ABLE TO IDENTIFY THE GIRL’S FILE.

HE SLIPS THE PELLET IN AND A HOLOGRAPHIC IMAGE APPEARS. IT IS KURVI CALLEASE. SHE IS ALMOST MAGICALLY
BEAUTIFUL. THE IMAGE FILLS AND SHE COMES TO LIFE, BUT IMMEDIATELY FAINTS.

HARRY CATCHES HER AND CARRIES HER TO THE SLED. THEY SPEED OVER THE YELLOW SANDS TO HIS SHIP. ABOVE, THE SKY FLASHES WITH RED AND BLUE LASER STROBES AS UEC AND KRUEL FORCES BATTLE IT OUT.

THE GIRL AWAKENS. A TEAR IN HER EYE REFLECTS THE FLASHES OVERHEAD.

‘WHO ARE YOU?’
‘HARRY FLYNN FROM UEC AT YOUR SERVICE.’
SHE PRESSED CLOSE TO HIM, HER HEAD ON HIS SHOULDER.

‘TAKE ME HOME, PLEASE, HARRY.’
‘YOU’RE AS GOOD AS THERE.’

CONGRATULATIONS,
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!

Deep thanks to everyone who participated! (I’ll figure out who gets the Steam keys next week.) I wanted to try something a little different, but also, I thought taking a slow journey through the steps might reveal some interesting nuances of game design that’d be easy to miss if I just spilled out the whole plot at once.

Before I analyze a few moments, it’s important to note that this seems intended as a skill-based game; that is, if you think through things carefully, you can make the right choices and not die. This is in contrast to the wild-bouncing structure that can happen in one of the Choose Your Own Adventure novels at the time, where the point is almost more about exploring every node rather than reaching any kind of “success”.

All dotted lines lead to “bad endings”, mission failure and/or death.

The start, riding a sled outside the compound, was relatively sedate: it took at least two choices before a Game Over, and all the initial wrong choices could be backtracked.

But there was still some player confusion; the MEAD cell Harry had could be used to determine laser fire would work on the barrier — “Info” on the map — but choosing then to do an immediate hand laser (as opposed to going back to the sled and using that laser) leads to death. Paradoxically, I think the player who is more reckless at the start and just starts shooting is less likely to lose lives here.

After Harry is captured, and the structure gives four choices.

1) BREAK BONDS
2) ROTATE MIRROR FROM SUN
3) USE MEAD CELL
4) PRAY

Pray is an informational choice: it gives Harry the idea that he should use his MEAD cell. Interestingly enough, we picked that one on our playthrough, but when we picked using the MEAD as hinted, the response of “NOTHING HAPPENS” was enough to turn people away. They then went with both BREAK BONDS all the way to the Bad End, and the same with ROTATE MIRROR FROM SUN before going back to USE MEAD CELL.

The “confirmation” structure was deceptive; if the MEAD cell had worked right away the scene would have been over much faster.

Let’s look deeper at the very last choice.

1) LOAD THE FILES UP AND BRING THEM TO UEC
2) DISABLE LOCK MECHANISM
3) TAKE A GUESS
4) GET MECHANISM TO PRODUCE MORE PELLETS
5) CUT OFF POWER TO STORAGE COMPUTER
6) GO BACK TO SHIP AND USE RADIO

When I went through I personally got flummoxed; it really seems like genre expectations are to do something heroic, even if it’s “mechanically heroic”. But the correct choice is to go back and use the ship radio, which sounds like an intermediate step and not something that would win the game at all. (Our players were similarly deceived, and the only option not chosen was “TAKE A GUESS”.)

In general, I found myself fairly grouchy with the game in its original form. There are no saved games, so it takes a lot of repetition to work to the end, and there were a lot of “cheap shot” branches. Especially bad was this one, after Harry “successfully” fakes his death.

NO ONE WILL BE LOOKING FOR HIM NOW.
SHOULD HE: 1)ESCAPE 2)TRY TO CAPTURE DR. NON 3)GET THE GIRL

All three choices lead to death. In practice, this means repeating a bunch of actions to that point (thinking it was the next part of the plot) only to repeatedly meet with failure.

I can see why, plot-wise, it is impossible to do the correct action (destroy the base with the mirror) after Harry fakes his death (someone would have to find his … clothes? … the game never spells out how the faking works … but that means Harry can’t use the mirror any more). Still, in a gameplay sense, this was terrible, in the sense that if I was spelling out a Bill of Player’s Rights for Choice-Based Games this would make one of the entries; don’t block apparent success in a dead-end where a player will have to try all the choices before they realize they’re in a dead-end.

This is the message you get if you pick N to the prompt that asks if you want to try again after losing. This emphasizes the attempt to make the game skill-based. While I appreciate the interesting bits of deception, when I played there just wasn’t enough to grasp the pleasure of working things out; it was more sorting out what happened after I had already died.

Posted July 31, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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2 responses to “Assignment 45, A Harry Flynn Adventure: Finale and Analysis

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  1. > But the correct choice is to go back and use the ship radio, which sounds like an intermediate step and not something that would win the game at all. (Our players were similarly deceived, and the only option not chosen was “TAKE A GUESS”.)

    I said the best action course was to go back to the spaceship and call reinforcements, but nobody backed me!! We are contaminated by the hero solving everything alone, but actually it does not make sense…

    • To be fair, the game discouraged “backtracking” movement elsewhere (including a few bits y’all didn’t see), which is why I avoided that when I got to the end myself.

      But yeah, logically, Flynn is in way over his head on the tech gizmo, so calling for backup assist is the right thing. Cinematically he would have a cool secret gadget to summon HQ (making it feel more “heroic” to use) rather than hiking back to the sled.

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