Archive for May, 2017

JtRH: 39th Slayer

I’ve mentioned JtRH‘s Slayer before, in my post about The City Beneath‘s Slayer trainees. There, I described Slayers as “kind of like the Terminator: perfect killers, relentless and unstoppable, something to be escaped from rather than defeated”. This time through, bearing that in mind, I’m struck by how different 39th Slayer’s attitude is from your typical dogged pursuer. Usually such adversaries are depicted as grim, dour, and driven by single-minded determination, but 39th Slayer carries a sense of joie de vivre. He just seems to really enjoy his job and approach it with pride and relish and even merriment. Slaying delvers is, we will eventually learn, literally what he was made for, and he takes pleasure in fulfilling his purpose. His voice is deep and echoey, but has a hint of a laugh in it; when he taunts Beethro, it almost seems flirtatious.

But this attitude is based on confidence. When we first meet him, he makes a point of Beethro’s predictability, telling another NPC that you’re going to walk into a trap — which you then do, because it’s the only way forward. He even invites a class of Slayer trainees to observe him slaying you. Your repeated escapes are a clear embarrassment to him, but he tries to maintain a facade of confidence all the same, assuring you that your demise is inevitable, as much to convince himself as you.

Mechanically, his role is to chase you. Rooms that would otherwise be simple are complicated by your need to keep running away from him. Also, it should be understood that, like Halph, he doesn’t appear in most rooms, and that when he does, he usually enters the room after Beethro, the better to chase you. So the typical pattern is: You enter a room, you look at what’s in it, you formulate a plan for killing all the monsters, you step forward to start executing that plan… and then the Slayer comes in, adding that extra complication and forcing you to rethink everything.

Occasionally — occasionally — you can use the Slayer to your advantage. For all that he calls Beethro predictable, he’s the one whose behavior is completely deterministic. Sometimes you can manipulate him into killing monsters for you by getting the monsters between you and him. This is particularly useful when a Challenge constrains your ability to kill stuff yourself.

I said before that the Slayer in JtRH is unkillable until the ending, where it takes a whole roomful of explosives to do him in. This turns out not to be the case — the more dedicated Droddists figured out ways to do it that the designers didn’t intend, kind of like how Ultima players figured out unintended ways to kill Lord British. Killing him doesn’t affect subsequent rooms, mind you, because the authors didn’t plan for it happening at all. In a way, it’s surprising that killing him causes him to die at all. I mean, it’s not like your sword necessarily has to affect monsters; Serpents aren’t affected by your sword. But I guess he’s just inheriting the “die” behavior from the more general monster class, which the programmers didn’t originally see a need to override. In the remake, killing the Slayer prematurely is a Challenge (and thus, on Steam, an Achievement) — the only Challenge that’s not bound to a specific room. And it’s a Challenge that I’ve completed. It turns out that the only thing preventing me from figuring out how to do it was that I thought it was impossible. Once I knew it could be done, I knew to look for ways it could be done.

DROD: Journey to Rooted Hold

Let’s get back to that much-delayed DROD replay, shall we? The second game in the series is Journey to Rooted Hold, and the most immediately striking thing about it in contrast to the first game, apart from the increasing sophistication of the puzzles, is that it has characters, and that the characters are an important part of the game. This is apparent from the very first room, where Halph shows up.

Halph is one of the few major recurring characters in the series. He’s the nephew of Beethro, the player character, and most of the rooms where he shows up use him for his unique puzzle-solving mechanics. Beethro can give Halph a few simple orders: “Follow me”, “Stay here”, and “Open this door” (which Halph does by striking the associated orb, which might be in a place Beethro can’t get to at the moment). It’s pretty similar to the commands you can give to your followers in the Oddworld games, come to think of it, even if the door-opening mechanism was a little different there. But where Oddworld made things complicated for the player by assigning a chord of controller buttons to each utterance, JtRH cleverly manages without introducing any new controls at all. To toggle Halph between follow mode and stay-put mode, you just nudge him by trying to walk into his tile. To tell him to open a door, you try to walk into the door. Trying to walk into stuff is something that was already possible, but didn’t do anything other than waste a turn until Halph showed up.

Even though ordering Halph around can make for pretty good puzzle content, I think I prefer him as a character when he’s not obedient. That’s his main role in the story: running off into other rooms when Beethro tells him not to, petting the roaches when Beethro says to back away, taking that one crucial step onto a force arrow that makes it impossible to get back to Beethro even if he arbitrarily decides to start being obedient again. This makes him a terrific foil. Beethro, as we know from his puzzle solutions, is a planner, and Halph leaves his plans in shambles. Beethro didn’t even want him in the dungeon at all — at the beginning, he instructs him to just wait by the exit — and the main impetus for delving deeper in the beginning is just chasing after Halph to bring him back safely to his parents — something that hasn’t yet happened in the games I’ve played. And it isn’t just Beethro’s plans that he lays waste: Halph shatters his preconceptions, too. Monsters don’t attack him, which calls the whole idea of “monsters” into question. Beethro solves complicated monster-slaying puzzles to get from room to room, but sometimes Halph just shows up ahead of him and can’t explain how he got there.

Apart from Halph, all the other characters are citizens of the Rooted Empire. As early as the first floor, you start encountering weird gray-skinned guys with silly voices, who just hang out and watch you solve puzzles and comment on your technique and whether it meets their personal standards. These guys were the equivalent of Challenge Scrolls before there were Challenge Scrolls. There are Challenge Scrolls in the same rooms now, of course, formalizing the whole thing, but the watchers are still there, kind of redundant but preserving a touch of character. On the second floor, you meet the Negotiator, who sits behind a grand desk and tries to persuade you, in a lengthy cutscene-like dialogue, to leave the dungeon voluntarily before the Slayers get involved. This time through, I noticed that the Negotiator basically lays out what we eventually learn to be the main overarching conflict driving events in the DROD setting, but does so in long-winded terms that the first-time player doesn’t yet know enough about the setting to understand.

Floor 3 introduces 39th Slayer, who’s a big enough part of the game to get a separate post of his own.

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