Saigon: The Final Days: The City Was Dying   4 comments

Suddenly, we were over Saigon, but I couldn’t recognize it. The huge cloud was still overhead, and the lightning added a witches’ brew flavor to the ghostly, blacked-out city. I could see Tan Son Nhut airport only when the lightning flashed. There were several tires scattered throughout the town. More artillery and mortar. More desperate voices on the radio. The city was dying.

— Leader of an A-7 assisting with the final evacuation of Saigon in 1975

I made it to the end. If you haven’t read it yet, you should go to my previous post for context.

From Mobygames.

With “made it to the end” I will say I relied on hints quite a bit, enough so that I’m not going to call out every instance. Let’s just say there were a large number of instances where the parser did not want to cooperate, and one instance where an object I assume is meant to be revealed by LOOKing I could not for the life of me make appear, even after I knew from a walkthrough it existed.

Continuing from before, I was stuck in a scenario where I was penned in by a machine gun nest with a booby trap, a minefield, and a checkpoint. I found a rock I could climb letting me loop back around, but nothing else. Remembering past Pearson games, I tried LISTEN every and found (at a location right before the checkpoint) that there was a whirring sound to the west, past some bushes. Still, I found no way to barge into the bushes or get over, and I even pulled up my old verb chart and tried every single word on the bushes just in case.

It is here I first broke down and checked hints, and found out I had been struck by a case of scene scripting.

You see, if you find the rock and loop back around, nothing has changed. However, if you go listen to the whirring first, and then loop back around to the machine gun nest with the radio:

THE BODY IS GONE..
A MACHETE IS HERE.

I think the intended script is that there is a man at the checkpoint that looks like they’re holding the same machete, and you can attract their attention and then flee over the rock so the man investigates, avoiding the minefield but setting off the booby trap. I in fact tried to implement this exact plan (run into the checkpoint, then run back out) but there was no indication that this was going on, and if you stand next to the checkpoint and just wait, nothing happens. It is as if the authors (Jyym and Robyn) had a script in their minds but the world-universe wasn’t fully coded to implement it.

Moving on with the machete, I was able to chop away the bush and hop onto a waiting helicopter just a bit farther along (how the Vietnamese soldiers didn’t notice the helicopter, I don’t know).

This is essentially true, there were large numbers of refugees trying to get into the last days of the evacuation. Evacuation had proceeded all the way through the year but logistics made it slow to implement.

This would be a short game except the helicopter gets downed by rocket fire and crashes. You wake up “PARYLIZED” and the only way to undo this is to use the verb MOVE. (Other verbs which imply motion do not help.) Finally you awake and meet a friendly person, Ming Li:

Out of context the yellow color is kind of shocking (yellow stereotypes of Asians, I mean), but it is the base cover of everyone, including non-Asians.

She offers some food (which has something crawling in it) and then after eating she offers to help you escape. This leads through a sort of “cutscene” where she takes you past the crashed helicopter, then a secret series of caves, then finally pulls a chain to reveal a rope ladder so you can climb up to the main city.

There, you run across soldiers chasing an “escaped prisoner” and shooting. Ming Li dies in the crossfire.

Here I got stuck again for a bit. There’s a warehouse with a door I was able to break down with my machete, and a soldier wanting a pass.

There was a door behind the door (see above) and I was unable to refer to it or see anything new, so I moved on and found that there’s a second pull chain revealing a rope ladder on the top, even though there is no way (as far as I can tell) to see it in the room description. The intent is to re-trace the steps you did before with Ming Li, although it is quite possible to just wing it and map out the underground section, falling into pits along the way.

I mostly remembered the way to go. The section had gone by fast enough I hadn’t made a map.

Backtracking you can find the helicopter again — which you had no time to interact with before — and some binoculars, a wallet (containing a pass) and a revolver. (There’s also VC soldiers in a ravine you need to stay away from.)

Oddly, even though there is a dead US soldier here, you can’t take their uniform (blood soaked or something, I suppose). There is one down in the cave whose uniform you can grab, though.

Heading back and using the pass, I ran into a South Vietnamese soldier who wanted something to help escape.

The uniform works here; then he clears out and allows you in a plaza with refugees.

Before proceeding farther, though, I wanted to loop back to deal with the warehouse. A walkthrough told me there were some WIRES. Maybe it’s easier to get them mentioned in the text-only version? In any case, they can be removed with the pliers from all the way back at the start of the game (they had been used already to undo a snap).

Inside the warehouse is dark, and there’s heavy breathing to the south. If you try to proceed, things explode and you die. The binoculars (which have night vision) let you see a figure.

The right action is then to blast with the revolver. There’s a shovel, dog tags, and a parachute left behind. (The dog tags say A.K.C. REGISTERED and the parachute I never found a user for even though I toted it to the end of the game.) The shovel turns out to be immediately useful … but you have to backtrack a second time to where the helicopter crashed.

The soldiers are gone. Yet another invisible trigger happened, although I don’t know where. A dirt mound is left behind, that you can dig with the shovel and find a corpse in a body bag.

You need to remove the body bag and take it with you, because this is still an adventure game. Ugh. (It’s also very easy to miss this, and the bag isn’t used until the end of the game, so it’s bad both in a player-doing-distasteful-stuff sense and a puzzle sense.)

Speaking of the player doing distasteful things, the next destination is back to the plaza with refugees, where on the south side there is a South Vietnamese soldier with a tank. He warns you to leave. It’s revolver time:

It’s plausible to happen, at least — in the later stages of the Vietnam war there was the practice of “fragging” where soldiers murdered officers they didn’t like, usually with grenades. This still feels like Escape from Traam where you randomly kill a human even though they aren’t actively stopping you.

If you then wait a beat, the refugees come in a mob and tear you apart. Maybe this should be the canonical ending. But assuming you want to continue after blasting one of your allies for no good reason, you hop into the tank, and drive it all the way through a wooden wall into a river.

Swimming to shore you can find a large crowd around a “game” being played where two people put their hands on a “mark”, a cobra is released, and whoever moves their hand off the mark first loses. The winner gets $1000. The loser might be dead from the cobra.

This whole process seems randomly specific, but I don’t know the source. The closest I can think of is the Russian Roulette in the 1978 movie The Deer Hunter.

You can go back in and volunteer to play, winning $1000. However, as you will see in a moment, you need $2000, and if you play a second time, the snake bites. So you need to come back with an edge.

Specifically, not far nearby (after climbing up a pipe and a ladder) you can find this soldier, who wants a bribe in order to pass. If you offer the $1000 he says it isn’t enough.

After this scene (and only after this scene, because narrative railroading) if you talk to a guard at blocked off courtyard…

…he will ask (after doing TALK twice) who sent you? The answer is MING LI.

This takes you into a courtyard with more refugees which doesn’t seem too helpful; there’s a locked door to the south. LISTEN mentions a VOICE IN YOUR HEAD, and you have to LISTEN VOICE and Ming Li will speak to you from the dead:

KEEP THE BOX… KEY IN DEPTH

Key in depth is a cue to go back in the river (the one you swam out of, GO RIVER and the like don’t work, you have to JUMP, because why would communicating anything in this game be easy) and DIVE where you can find a RUSTY KEY. The RUSTY KEY can go back to the courtyard to unlock the door and find an apothecary with a box and some “ampules”.

The ampules automatically spill on your hands. I kept the box through the rest of the game but I don’t know what it does — probably prevents something bad I never saw.

The substance on the hands turns out to be snake repellant, which lets you win the cobra game a second time for another chunk of money. Bribe in hand you can shoo away the soldier past the ladder, and then almost be done with the game…

…and here’s where the body bag comes in. Drop the bag, climb on in, and wait: you’ll be loaded on.

I’m guessing you’ve noticed in my tone I was not impressed with this one. I mean, kind of? Certainly in a raw rating-number-of-stars way, I’d give it pretty low for the clunky parser and tank scene alone. (Not counting the random mystical voice, the vague undercurrent of racism, the premise being ahistorical, etc… ) The art also isn’t helping matters, but the very original 1981 version of this is text-only, so I’ll give that a pass.

In a way, though, I am flabbergasted by the ambition. Go back at my All the Adventures list and look for games that try to be this audacious with plot. The “Interactive Fiction” series like Dragons of Hong Kong, I suppose, but those were meshed firmly in genre. This game really tried to blend classic adventure style with tragedy. People die unexpectedly by gunfire or rocket fire, people you get to have actual conversations with. The main character does odious things to survive; not remarked upon, but given the effort put into the refugees reaction to the murder, it at least is an intentional touch.

Almost nobody, in this era, was actively trying to create adventure game art. They were still getting used to their bearings and copying old formats. (There were still some beautiful strokes, mind you, and I deeply appreciate all of them.) So despite my feelings for this game, I recognize it as historically interesting. Furthermore, we aren’t done with the Jyym/Robyn Pearson duo yet! They even have another game for 1981 (The Institute) which I have heard is very good, so there’s still something to look forward to in their development.

Posted September 19, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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4 responses to “Saigon: The Final Days: The City Was Dying

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  1. The snake game thing reminds me, of all things, of the 1981 Flash Gordon movie, where Prince Barin’s band of rebels on Planet Mongo test the mettle of new recruits by having them put their hands into a hollow wooden log which has some sort of snake-like creature in it.

    In the 1930s newspaper comics (though not the 80s movie, where Timothy Dalton plays Barin) the inhabitants of Mongo – including Ming the Merciless, Barin, and Ming’s daughter Aura – all were portrayed as Yellow Peril stereotypes with bright yellow skin. Though Barin and Aura lost their yellow coloration somehow around the time Aura turned good and married Barin (which has some definite unfortunate implications, although Barin was always a good guy in the storyline).

  2. What a ride!

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