80 Days: Vehicles

Over the weekend, I got all the way through the Yokohama chapter and the boat ride that followed it. I probably could have finished the game then, but I turned away because I was finding the dialogue tiresome. It often runs unnecessarily long with attempts to create humor by pointing out the same character quirks over and over again: one man’s obsession with kilts, another’s seasickness, etc. It grows especially bothersome when the quirks it’s making fun of are ethnic.

Nonetheless, I felt Yokohama was an improvement over the previous two chapters, mainly because of the environment modeling. Cairo was all just flat and sand-colored, including the buildings. Bombay, apart from a bit of temple statuary, was more or less the same, only browner. In Japan, the architecture in general becomes more colorful and ornamental, the land hilly and criss-crossed by rivers. And I think it’s also just bigger, with the result that this was the first chapter where I found it practical to make use of vehicles.

There have been vehicles available for hire since the beginning, all fanciful. I mentioned the monowheel already. Camels were available in Cairo, and everyplace seems to have three-wheeled cars that remind me of my goblin turbo-trike, as well as flying carpets, which Oliver rides standing up, like it’s a surfboard. Yes, even Yokohama has flying carpets, patterned after the Japanese flag. I expect America will have flying Mohawk carpets or something.

I suppose that the designers imagined that the players would use vehicles a lot more than I’ve been doing. Going fast is a central idea to the story, GTA sequels were still topping the charts when the game came out. But GTA let you just take whatever car you fancied, while 80 Days expects you to pay for them with your limited in-game money, and that makes a big difference. (Part of the reason I gave them another chance in Yokohama is that, for the first time in the game, someone lends you the use of a carpet and a car for free.) Mind you, money isn’t all that limited, and I’ll probably end the game with a very large surplus (unlike Fogg), but I had no idea how that would turn out when I was just starting the game and making my first judgments about whether vehicles are worth it. And my initial conclusions were that they hardly even saved you time. On an unobstructed straightaway, they’d handily outdistance a pedestrian, but once I had to take a turn, or swerve to avoid a wandering cow, I’d overturn or underturn and get stuck on the side of a building until I edged back and forth enough to get free. Also, the animations of getting on and off the things take enough time to make it unsuitable for short hops.

One vehicle in particular deserves special mention: Kiouni the elephant. Kiouni is an unusual case in that he actually travels slower than you can go on foot. (This was definitely not the case in the novel — maybe he’s getting old?) But you need an elephant’s strength in a couple of puzzles, so it’s necessary to get Kiouni to the appropriate places. I had some problems with this, similar to when I got stuck rescuing the zeron on the airship: on a brief trip into the world’s smallest jungle, I needed to get Kiouni up a gentle slope that I could take on foot without problem, but which he seemed to slide down as fast as he could climb it. The alt-tab trick didn’t work here, but I found I could overcome the problem by staying on the very edge of the road and walking at a 45-degree angle to it.

Apart from the vehicles you can ride around within the cities, there are the larger vehicles joining them: the airship, the train, and the ocean liner, each modeled as an environment you walk around in, each extremely large for its type, and each suffering problems that slow it down unless you can solve them. You have to take each of these once, but you get a choice of which of these vehicles to ride at the end of each chapter, within certain limits of reason — that is, you can’t take a train from Yokohama to San Francisco, and consequently if (like me) you didn’t take the train on the first leg of the journey, you have to take it on the second. Notably, because you can vary when the vehicle sub-chapters occur, nothing in them can make any reference to where you’re coming from or going to.

Regarding that airship: Now that I’ve read the book, I find it a little strange how persistently adaptations of it put parts of the voyage in the air. The original has Fogg traveling by train, boat, elephant, and even, in the most fanciful moment, a wind-driven sled, but never by air. Which makes perfect historical sense: the only air transport available in 1873 would have been balloons, which are hardly what you’d use when you’re in a hurry. Not that this stopped the most famous film adaptation from famously using a balloon, of course. There just seems to be a strong appeal to the idea, as if someone circumnavigating the globe at great speed belongs in the air. Verne himself frequently uses imagery of flight, describing fast-moving vehicles as leaving the ground and comparing Fogg to a body in orbit.

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