Friday, September 23, 2011

Pathologic: Day Four, by the end of which it will be evident to the Bachelor that the Town is not ready for an epidemic of such scale.

At 7am:

The morning of the fourth day has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 53 ppl.
Died in the past 24 hours: 51 ppl.
Gone missing: 30 ppl.
Number of dead at the moment: 204
Number of infected: 58 ppl.

The anxiety of the Powers is growing. Less than nine days remain.

I think I'm making some mistakes.

I have to confess: I feel jealous of the Haruspicus. I'm not jealous of his reputation, or his inheritance, or his organ-stealing. It's mostly that his world seems a bit more clear cut. There are mythological figures: a "Cult of Bulls", a Hunchback and bulbous-headed worms who live in yurts out on the steppe. Strange characters like the Butchers and Ospina trust him. He has to deal with more visceral moral questions (like: do I kill this innocent person walking down the street or not?). And in the end, I expect his conscience--and Kevin's--will be tainted, permanently skewed.

I, on the other hand, am stuck running errands for squabbling nobles. Rather than research, I have to organize, rally and section off the town. I have to assure them that they are all of one mind on how to combat this plague. I write letters to the executors and townsfolk about how to stave off infection. And I feel increasingly uncomfortable, because sooner or later either Olgimskiy or Saburov or Kain will unwind my lies. Not huge lies--just enough to placate the three families, to assure them of my authority. Until today, I haven't had to really back up my words with any sort of force.

The Town Map – infected areas are red, and the dead zone is black.
Sanitary Measures
The sand plague burned out in the Tanners District, and moved south. This isn't my primary concern, however. The infection is spreading rapidly, and the town hall isn't large enough to contain the bodies piling up. We need a hospital and a mortuary. Lara Ravel, who relocated her ill-fated "House of the Living" to her own private residence, has been forced to open up her home, but the water supply has run dry. Apparently it was destroyed.

According to Fat Vlad, two buildings have their own independent water supply: the Cathedral and the Theatre. I'm sent to inspect both buildings and bring back their keys as assurance. I go to the Rib district, overrun with plague, to find the Theatre locked. A tragedian is cowering in the middle of infected district; I ask him for the keys, and he asks me to lead him out.

I feel like I’m in Pan’s Labyrinth
Now I have to relay an accidental discovery. I spent about an hour searching for the tragedian in the ruins of a burnt house, to no success. Scattered in the grass around the house, in the fetal position, were several men and women moaning. I tried to talk to them and instead found a small menu open: a "Pain" bar, and beneath it a list of all the medicines I owned. Selecting several bottles of meradorm, a sedative, I successfully soothed their pain. With a sigh, they relaxed and died.

I found I could do this to multiple people and then take what I wanted from their corpses. The loot did little to justify the procedure: medicine costs money, and they all had very little money. So, stepping from one to another, I was faced with a crisis. I wasn't sure how to find the tragedian, how he would appear, but I assumed that since I had been led here I would need to do something with these poor, tortured people. Yet I didn't have enough medicine, let alone money, to properly euthanize the whole lot.

So what did I do? I shot the remaining three in the head.

Yeah, this is kinda screwed up.
That didn't summon the tragedian, of course. I climbed to the top of the stairwell, looked around, and saw him waiting patiently at a street corner just opposite the broken house.

I collect the keys, inspect both water sources at the Theatre and Cathedral, and return to Olgimskiy with good news. He then tells me to choose which building will become what. Will the theatre be a hospital or a mortuary? The thought of a cathedral filled with corpses disgusts me, so I tell him the theatre will have to be the mortuary. One of my adherents (the people I have to protect) is the theatre director, and putting his space up as a morgue is perhaps unwise, but I'd rather see the church filled with living people rather than the dead.

Rubber's Own
The guards have begun to rebel. I don't know if it's a glitch of the game or otherwise, but they've begun to randomly kill citizens in the streets. Alexander Saburov tells me his men have begun to turn, too, and that Gryph, who sells bootlegged weapons in the southern warehouse, is to blame. He offers me a handsome sum to dispose of the gang. So, steeling myself, I head to finish off Gryph.

Gryph, of course, doesn't want to die. He, in turn, offers me a large reward to kill Braga and his men, who have hidden out in a smaller warehouse close by. Thinking I might be able to play both sides, and get the reward money from Gryph, and then later from Saburov, I play along and head to the warehouse.

My quest journal says that this is, perhaps, the most decisive moment for me as a leader. That this is my final chance to show my quality: killing 12 rippers in a locked warehouse in close quarters.

Killing is fun!
The mission is hell. Not only do I have exactly just twelve bullets--one for each knife-wielding maniac--but the door locks behind me as soon as I venture inside. They attack in a group, slashing away, no hesitation, and within moments I go down. So I reload. Same thing. Reload: same thing. If I am to kill them, my form must be perfect. A headshot apiece--no mistakes. I figure out how to sneak in and kill three before the rest are alerted, and finally after maybe an hour of reloading and retracing my steps, I finish them all and return to Gryph back at the warehouse.

Something tells me Gryph would not put up much of a fight.
I don't have the heart to kill him, really. And what's more: I need him in the coming days. Nobody else will have the supplies I need when the going gets rough. He has boots and cloaks, and even though I can't afford them yet, I know I will someday. So I take my reward, both from him and Alexander, and wait out the rest of the day, somewhat frustrated with myself. When are they going to call my bluff?

The shops say the cows’ milk has been laced with ichor lately.
This does nothing to help my appetite.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Pathologic: Day Three, during which the Haruspicus will be risking his life to solve the puzzles of the ancient writing of the steppe people

(or, in which Kevin gets an eyeful of the Sand Plague)

A random poster hung near the town hall. Take a good look, my lovelies. It's all downhill from here.

The morning of the third day has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 42 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 39 people
Gone missing: 13 people
Number of dead at the moment: 117
Number of infected total: 46

Another night, another few hours spent defending townsfolk from the depredations of stab-happy thugs. My revolver has become so worn out that it doesn't even shoot straight anymore, and I don't have remotely enough money both to repair it and to buy food for the upcoming day. Fortunately, I've gotten pretty handy with knives of my own and can go toe-to-toe with thugs without suffering too many wounds. Having learned the hard way the importance of harvested organs in the town's shadow-economy, I now have no compunction about taking everything I can from the cooling bodies of the bad guys. They no longer have any use for it all anyway.

I'm on my way home to catch a few hours of sleep before daylight when I spy a figure running down the street ahead of me, pursued by another person. The pursuer catches his quarry and kills him/her before I can catch up, and when I arrive on the scene I can see why violence was called for. Facedown on the ground is the rag-covered body of an infected person. I'm not surprised, exactly—I've already heard that a quarantine is in effect now that the Sand Plague threatens to rage out of control—but the sight is unnerving, a small foretaste of what's to come. Then, remembering something the Bachelor mentioned when we first met, I put on my gloves and take a deep breath. Infected organs are necessary, too, if we're ever going to find a cure.

I have a busy day ahead of me. As soon as I wake up, Fat Vlad's daughter Kapella (who, as you'll recall, is one of my Adherents) informs me that Notkin (another Adherent) is in trouble. I find his hideout surrounded by thugs, whom I dispatch with great difficulty (I have to fight all four at once, and my knife is almost completely dull after last night). Inside the hideout, I find a terrified Notkin, whose brush with death has momentarily shattered his tough-guy act and left him touchingly vulnerable. I am surprisingly gentle in my interaction with him, telling him that "it's all right now." For all his brutishness, Artemiy Burakh apparently has a soft spot for children.

Other major figures in town are keeping me on the go with an assortment of errands. In a development that secretly tickles me, the Bachelor, once the town's darling, now finds himself hamstrung by the locals, who don't trust him to do his fancy city-doctor autopsies on infected corpses. I'm the one to whom they look for help. Meanwhile, Fat Vlad pulls me aside to ask a favor. It seems that, upon hearing of the outbreak, Fat Vlad has rounded up all the butchers who work for him, locked them in the Apiary, and thrown away the key. Three of them have escaped his clutches. He wants me to hunt them down and turn them in.

I've suspected from Day 1 that Vlad cannot be trusted, and this ruthless (and unilateral) decision of his immediately makes me suspicious. He assures me that he did it for the good of the town—if these people have contracted the Plague, why not isolate them and let them tear each other apart rather than endangering everyone else? I'm not convinced, but lacking anything more than a hunch, I agree to go along with him for the time being. For more information on the butchers' whereabouts, Vlad directs me to a familiar-looking house near the outskirts.

Next stop: Ospina.

OSPINA QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Perhaps it is better to be turned inside out?"
Weirdly, it seems that Artemiy feels some sort of kinship with Ospina. By way of greeting or perhaps as a sort of password, she recites the beginning of a folk rhyme, which I then complete for her. I learn that we are both connected to some sort of bull-worshiping nature cult of the steppes, a religion that is still practiced by the Worms who live outside town and who toil in the Abattoir, slaughtering (or sacrificing?) cattle. The strange object I received with my inheritance yesterday is a cattle brand, shaped like a symbol in the cult's language. Ospina can't tell me what the symbol means, but the three escaped butchers can. She's hidden them in safehouses scattered across town. She gives me the location of the first one, on the condition that I keep Fat Vlad in the dark. I readily agree. I may not be fully on board with whatever religious ceremonies are going on in the depths of the Abattoir, but the steppe people are my people and I'll be damned if I betray them to some conniving nobleman, whatever his plans are.

The butcher is holed up in a nondescript house right in the middle of the infected zone. I'm a little daunted, but I knew it would come to this. I pull on my gloves again, tie a handkerchief over my face, and plunge in, stepping over a pile of bloody rags at the entrance.

The infected zone is a nightmare. The air is tinged a sickly green. Shrouded plague victims mill about like zombies while rats chitter in the long grass by the sidewalk. Both pursue me if I come too close. One man lies on the ground in the fetal position, weakly struggling against the virus in his veins and clutching at me as I pass. I know that I should probably put him out of his misery with an overdose of morphine, but I can't bring myself to euthanize him and press on. Sitting in my computer chair, I find myself trying to breathe as little as possible.

Never mind, I don't want to know the secret of the symbol. In fact, I think I'll try again at getting that business degree.
The butcher's hideout is even worse. I can hear screams of agony from the dying in other parts of the house as I pick my way through the mess. I have to keep moving because clouds of plague-bearing mist frequently sweep through the house. These clouds seem almost to have a mind of their own, creeping around corners and roiling up staircases as if they are chasing me. At one point I get cornered and can only watch as a plague cloud envelops me. My vision contracts and blurs slightly, and I don't have to check the upper right corner of the screen to know that my infection bar has been activated.

Panicked, I rush out of that room into a bedroom across the hall and almost bowl over the butcher, who's just ... standing there.

I have no idea how he manages to survive in this place.
We have a hurried conversation amid the screams and the chaos, and I learn one final tidbit: I need to find a man known only as the Elder of the Abattoir. Only he can reveal the meaning of my symbol and (maybe) the identity of the Betrothed to whom it belongs. Who is he, what does he look like, how do I find him? The butcher doesn't know. All he knows is that the Elder of the Abattoir is not currently living in the Abattoir.

After all I went through to get here, I was expecting a little bit more.

The Abattoir is the thing in the northeast corner that looks like a giant heart. And I will probably have to go there.
I eventually make it out of the infected district, somewhat the worse for wear but at least alive and in no immediate danger. I visit Fat Vlad to pump him for information about the Abattoir (carefully omitting the location of the butcher, of course) and stop by the Bachelor's to drop off some infected organs for his examination. He makes the startling discovery that the Sand Plague is no longer active in the tissue; it apparently can't survive in a host after death. With proper quarantining, we can stop the epidemic before it gets out of hand. But for some inexplicable reason, the powers-that-be send out notices to the general public that do not include this information. Why are they lying to the townspeople? I don't know, but we're going to pay for it later.

I spend the rest of the day completing side quests and stockpiling supplies, readying myself for whatever catastrophe awaits me tomorrow. I'm feeling optimistic in spite of everything else—it's the first day in which I've been able to finish all the tasks that have been given me, and I feel prepared to face the next day. But around 7:00, I suddenly double over. My vision contracts and blurs, and my own labored breathing rings loud in my ears. I pull up my character screen to find that my infection bar has crept up slightly. I may have weapons and money and food, but the Sand Plague in my bloodstream is here to stay.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Pathologic: Day Three, on which the Bachelor will be offered to proceed in hunting the imperceptible enemy and assess necrosis possibilities

At 7am:

Infected in the past 24 hours: 34 ppl.

Died in the past 24 hours: 31 ppl.

Gone missing: 11 ppl.
Number of dead at the moment: 93
Number of infected: 48 ppl

Less than ten days remain.

They say that in its early stages the plague is manageable. Incrementally, the little bar in the top right hand corner slowly climbs whether I’m asleep or awake. They say that once the plague has established itself (around the halfway mark) it rockets, floods the immune system, and death is imminent. Naturally, I keep my pills well stocked. Like everything, however, there’s a trade-off. I can’t just pop pills whenever I feel like it; each boost to my immune system shaves off a bit of my overall health, which means I have to scour the pharmacies for tourniquets.

Simon’s Body

Rubin (poser-magician-doctor) has fled his house, now overrun with plague, and the body of Simon Kain, which has started this whole mess, has also disappeared.

The Apiary 
The Olgimskiys and Kains are in a tussle over the Apiary and the Polyhedron—two massive structures at opposite ends of the town. George Kain worries that the looming white asylum has become a breeding ground for disease, while Olkimskiy says the same thing about the spindly, impossible spiral that is the Polyhedron. I am charged to quiet these fears by taking a visit to the very top of the Polyhedron, which is home to the Dogheads. (I gotta say they’re not as terrifying as Quintin makes them out to be in his review).

I didn't think I was that heavy.
The leader of the Dogheads, a kid named Khan, the oldest son of Victor Kain, meets me at the top of the Polyhedron and assures me that nobody has been infected, that he runs a tight ship. When I insist on inspecting the premises, he refuses, and I’m promptly kicked out.

The Polyhedron really is quite impressive.
This thing makes no sense.
It's strange--it almost looks like a giant bug. See the stinger? 
Strange markings on each floor.
Once things are squared between Kain and Olgimskiy, and both are assured that the Polyhedron and Apiary are safe, Olgimskiy’s son Young Vlad is willing to share what he knows: a few Butchers have been sighted in the Knots and have holed up in a house. When I arrive, it’s obvious the body is not Simon’s, though the Butchers are happy to see me. They rush at me, knives in hand. Two headshots later, I’m on my way back to a disappointed Victor Kain.

Just after speaking to Victor, I receive a letter from Rubin. He’s got Simon Burakh’s body in a warehouse downtown, and needs me to track down some infected tissue.

Imperceptible Enemy

Only the Haruspicus is allowed to dissect bodies, despite the fact that I am a learned physician. Yet I need the infected tissue, which means I need help from the Butchers of the Cult of Bulls. I spend several hours passing between the squabbling nobles who, again, each want something. Creepy-as-hell death child Ospina won’t tell me where the butchers are unless Olgimskiy stops pursuing the butchers. Olgimskiy twists my arm to get Artemiy Burakh (the Haruspicus) off the hook. Et Cetera.

I find myself lying to the nobles. Saburov, who would waste Simon Burakh’s body, wants to know where it is, and of course I lie. Only Rubin and I can identify the Plague. Yet, as the one charged with fighting the virus, these men are looking to me for guidance, as the only pure, objective outsider in the town. And yes, I lie, twice, three times. There’ll be hell to pay if anyone ever finds out. I guess I’m not quite the goodie two shoes I thought I was.

Today's map: the red section is the infected district.
After wading through internal politics, I find the information I seek. There are three likely houses in the Tanners District—in the Northeast corner of town—where the butchers could be.

Plague Bouncer: Worst. Job. Ever.
It’s on my way to the houses that the changes in the town today become abundantly clear. I see an unfamiliar sight as I approach the Tanner’s district: A large shrouded human-shaped cross of wood, draped with dirty brown rags. At the entrance are several mustachioed honchos who tell me the area ahead is rife with plague, that I should stay clear. With my privileges as Bachelor, I tell them it’s on my authority. They tell me that above all, I cannot shoot the infected. They are "taken by the devil", and have their own lot to die already. The guards will kill me if I harm any of the infected.

“Sure whatever,” I think.

Beyond the guards are hunched figures covered in dirty brown shrouds. Piles of bloody and infected clothing litter the ground; the sound of coughing and sobbing women fills the air. Disconcerted, I check my map. The butchers are situated squarely in the middle of the dead zone.

I did not enjoy taking this screenshot.
It’s unsettling. Miasmic clouds float across the landscape, full of plague, which are easy enough to avoid. A few large rats waddle through the filth; I fire my gun into the air when they approach, which sends them running. The real horrors are the wandering plague-ridden citizens, who reach out to me as soon as they see my medical bag. They’re beyond saving, but so desperate for healing that they force themselves upon me, coughing. My immunities suffer, and the little disease bar in the corner raises ever so slightly.

Two of the bodies have been taken back by their families. The third and final body has been removed to the cemetery in the south. I arrive at the scene to find the body guarded by several men, who demand an exorbitant ransom. Naturally, I say “hell no” to that, and am immediately attacked by the guards.

For some inexplicable reason, I find myself suddenly transported to Alexander Saburov’s home, where he tells me he’ll make an exception, and that I can get to the body when the guards change, before 10pm tonight. It’s already 9:12, and the cemetery is all the way across town. Heart-pounding, I make my way through the plague-ridden streets, arrive at the cemetery just before the shift change, and find my sample of blood.

I present the blood to Rubin in his super-secret lair, then whip out my microscope.

What I discover is crucial. The invincible plague has a single weakness: it cannot linger in dead tissue, and is not fully airborne (despite what the plague clouds might have led me to believe—this is an inconsistency I cannot fully reconcile). The point is that it cannot stay in one place. By tomorrow morning, the disease in the Tanners District will have run its course, and the plague could very well disappear altogether if properly quarantined.

The Bachelor's optimism is feigned, of course. He wouldn’t want the threat to end too soon. He needs a worthy adversary. This is a war and He has been appointed general and savior--the only strategist, in charge of keeping the town a step ahead. After all, in the end it’s only a game.

(Note: Due to formatting issues, the screenshots don't display as nice as they used to. By all means, click on the pics to see the weirdness up close.)

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Pathologic: Day Two, the only day during which the Haruspicus will gain more than he loses under any circumstances

(Or, in which money proves that it really is the root of all evil)

The morning of the second day has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 26 people
Died in the past 24 hours: 15 people
Gone missing: 9 people
Number of dead at the moment: 38 people
Number of infected total: 25 people

I am beginning to see where this game is taking me, and I am nervous.

When I start it up to play Day Two, I am immediately confronted by the fact that I (that is, my character) am ravenously hungry: almost dead from hunger, in fact. The slow creep of hunger in Pathologic is relentless; Artemiy’s body doesn’t stop burning calories just because he’s asleep, as it would in a more forgiving game. I was so proud to survive Day One while meeting my objectives that I’d almost forgotten that I still have eleven more days to get through. Eleven days of just trying to stay alive on top of everything else. It feels like being brought to heel by a leash. Don’t get cocky—this is only the beginning.

Just after midnight, I climb out of bed, drinking my last bit of water to quiet my stomach a jot. I step outside into the darkness, squinting through the thin gray drizzle that seems almost to seep from the clouds overhead. I set off through the streets. One of the storefronts had better be open, or I’ll have another dead Haruspicus on my hands.

Fortunately, I find one and spend my last pennies on some bread and meat. Rested and well-fed for the first time since my arrival, I contemplate my next move. I haven’t received any indication of what I should do next, so it seems like a good time to explore the more remote corners of the town.

My first stop is the town hall, an important-looking building just north of the Clot. It has two entrances. One opens on a clerk’s office. It’s the middle of the night, so the office is deserted. The other entrance leads to the jail, and it’s here that I receive my first real shock of the game.

The Sand Plague has already begun to spread.

And it’s not just the disease that’s claiming lives. As I wander down lamp-lit streets, I keep encountering knife-wielding maniacs who seem to have no other goal than to kill and rob people, in that order. Their murderous efforts are focused primarily on the townsfolk caught out of doors after nightfall, though they come after me too if we cross paths in a deserted area. As the proud new owner of a good reputation, I’m reluctant to get into any fights, but I can’t just stroll past innocent people getting stabbed to death. Coming to their aid rewards me with extra cash and the opportunity to harvest the would-be murderers’ organs. Unaware of the uses for organs and still suffering from the aforementioned reputation paranoia, I harvest only a few, leaving most of the bodies untouched. I feel proud of myself for acting so uprightly. I’ll regret my caution later.

With the sky beginning to brighten in the east, I strike up conversations around town, trying to ascertain what to do next. A shady-looking man in a tavern informs me that supplies around town are about to get very, very scarce. The herb twyrine, which is known to have medicinal properties, will become quite valuable once news of the Sand Plague spreads. Conspiratorially, he says that if I bring him ten stalks of twyrine, he can use it to work the town’s economics to our advantage. Having seen the already outrageous rates for a loaf of bread, I can’t imagine surviving if prices climb even higher and readily agree. I don’t know where to find twyrine yet, but I’m hopeful that I can find it before the end of the day.

Other people point me toward a small, dilapidated house on the edge of town. There, I’m told, I will finally receive the inheritance that my father left me.

Inside I meet a girl named Ospina, who is easily the most upsetting character I’ve met so far. For a kid she seems to know an awful lot about the Sand Plague, describing its effects in detail (“It makes your blood boil in your veins like eggs in a pot”). Maybe it’s her monkish clothing or the dank, rotting house that surrounds her, but practically everything she says in her wispy little-girl voice seems creepy:

“Can you tell me what is wrong with my eyes?” (Okay …)
“I have a hole under my heart.” (That’s ... kinda disturbing.)
“Needles still stick out of me.” (WHAT)

She even hints that she may not be entirely human, that she’s some sort of harbinger of doom. I don’t know whether this is a translation issue or some sort of figurative expression, but standing with her in that dim room, I have a hard time believing that she is anything but absolutely serious.

Needless to say, as soon as she gives me the box containing my inheritance, I beat a hasty retreat. The box contains a couple of recipes for twyrine medicine, information about my father’s secret laboratory, and a strangely shaped object that, according to my cryptic-as-ever diary, belongs to “the Betrothed.” This new mystery adds another yet layer to my long-term goals, as the Betrothed is an extremely important person—probably the most important person in the entire town. The problem is that I have no idea who this person is or why he or she is so vital to my plans. So I push that question to the back of my mind. I’ve got things to do, after all—the shadows are lengthening, and I still haven’t figured out how to get those herbs for Comrade Shady back at the tavern. I’m substantially richer, but my windfall has merely reminded me that prices are going to skyrocket soon. I need those herbs badly.

The way is made clear to me when I find the Odonghe people. Their name translates as “the Worms,” and they form the town’s underclass. Thousands of them are controlled by Fat Vlad, who employs them as cowherds, butchers, and factory workers. They are responsible for keeping the town’s supply of meat flowing steadily in from the fields. If not for this fact and their deep knowledge of twyrine’s properties, it’s doubtful that the rest of the townsfolk could stomach their offputting appearance and primitive culture. As things are, they barely tolerate the Worms, who have been forced to settle in the marshes outside town.

The Worms have plenty of twyrine available—for a price. All they ask for in return are healthy human organs. The trade screen comes up, and my heart sinks. I don’t have nearly enough to trade for the ten herbs required by the man at the tavern. I barely have enough for one.

I hurry back to town, my mind racing. I have to get enough twyrine to keep prices low for myself in the future. I have to. Where am I going to come up with enough organs to satisfy the Worms? The knife-wielding maniacs only come out at night. Everyone else is just a regular townsperson. They’re unarmed, innocent people.

But I need those organs. I need them now.

I’m on the riverwalk on the town’s west side, debating with myself, when a man walks by. I make a sudden decision. Looking around to make sure no one will see, I stab him in the back.

My reputation bar shrinks, but not by too much. Considering how many people’s organs I’ll need to get ten stalks of twyrine, that’s a good thing. My stomach crawls slightly at the thought, but desperate times call for desperate measures. I bend over the body, contemplating what I need to drop from my inventory in order to make space.

Then the reality of what I’ve done hits me. I murdered an innocent man. Just so I could accomplish a task given me by a none-too-savory character. Just so I could make survival easier for myself. I pause over the dead body, my fingers hovering uncertainly over the keyboard. What did I just do?

I end up harvesting him, in a twisted variation on “waste not, want not,” but I don’t kill anyone else, giving up the tavern man’s quest as a lost cause. I trek back to my father’s abandoned laboratory to complete the primary objective of the day (brew up a twyrine concoction for the Bachelor, using one of the recipes in my inheritance box). That crawling sensation in my stomach persists, fed equally by my dismay at what I had done and by a selfish fear of what will happen to me tomorrow when I’m at the mercy of drastically inflated prices.

There’s also a deeper unease underlying all of this. Already I’m beginning to see the game’s general trajectory, bearing me toward some dark horizon. If I resorted to murder just to save money, what will I be capable of once I’m really desperate?

Friday, September 9, 2011


If you're wondering why we think you should be interested in Pathologic, we recommend reading THIS ARTICLE at Rock, Paper, Shotgun so you can understand what this game is doing. Come on. You weren't really going to write that novel/watch that art film/do something productive, were you?

Pathologic: Day Two, within the duration of which the Bachelor will be able to take part in the redistribution of power and gain special authority

At 7am:

The morning of the second day has come.
Infected in the past 24 hours: 24 ppl.
Died in the past 24 hours: 17 ppl.
Gone missing: 5 ppl.
Number of dead at the moment: 34
Number of infected: 23 ppl.

Less than eleven days remain.

Nobody wants to admit the Sand Plague might return--that it has already returned, that it's on their doorsteps. Children whisper about houses smeared with blood--silent houses out of which nobody returns. I have to convince Alexander Saburov, difficult man that he is, of the presence of the plague.

  Pathologic Day 218
The Town of __________ 

The town is in the midst of an unstated panic. As frenzied citizens rush to the stores to stock up supplies, shopkeepers ask ten times (yes that's right--ten times) as many rubles for food, and nearly as much for medicine. At around 10am I visit Lara who wants to fortify a "House of the Living" against the plague; of course I'd love to help. After raising funds from the various well-to-does I run from shop to shop, buying out the last of the dwindling supplies and, biting back the urge to sate my hunger, return to Lara, arms full of supplies.

At the same time, I've been hunting down evidence of the Sand Plague. A handy tip points me to the Northeastern edge of town, where Isidor Burakh used to live. At around 2pm I find the house, tall and silent, covered in angry, scabrous blotches. Exactly what the children have been whispering about. Breathless, I walk inside to find the walls covered in filth--stained rags have been hung up, and the floor is in disarray. I walk to the back of the house to find a worried-looking woman, who tells me yes, this is the house, and yes it's as we've feared. The Sand Plague has come. I take the key to the house, evidence for Saburov, and turn to leave.

  Pathologic Day 204
Russian interior decorating at its finest.

Blocking my exit are the woman's three sisters, pale and sick. They reach out to me, moaning, hoping for a cure. I feint to the left, then rush past the first one, straight into the arms of the second sister. She barely grazes me--just a light touch, but enough to infect. Sickened, I run out of the house, a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach. Yes, the unused infection bar in the upper right hand corner has been activated--a smidgen of bacterium, nothing more. I pop a few pills, hoping that'll eradicate the disease, but to no avail.

I traipse back to the Saburov manor and thrust the key into the noble's hands. As the revelation dawns on him that yes this is the dreaded Sand Plague, he hurriedly stuffs a revolver in my hand and puts me in charge of sectioning off the town, of managing the plague myself. I'm the best qualified--the objective outsider, the middle-man. The townsfolk will look to me for guidance.

  Pathologic Day 209
This dude is so scary he doesn't even need guidance. 

Of course, I'm all too glad for the revolver. The thing I regret, though, is not pawning it off for bread like Quintin (I'm not that desperate)--it's the suicide powder the kids are passing around. The kids decided at some point to play Plague instead of Tag, and set to raiding medicine stores for serums. According to rumor, this sickly yellow powder is strong enough to nearly destroy one's body in exchange for purging infection completely. Desperate for food, I sell off the powder at its (dramatically increased) resale price: enough to afford a meal or two. My best shot at a cure-all and I missed it.

Back to the House of the Living. By now it's 4pm and I've collected the requisite rations, so I tramp back to Lara's house. She's set up a large mansion west of the Clot (where Fat Olgimskiy lives) which will function as the "House of the Living" and, as a final favor, has asked me to deliver the foodstuffs for storage.

  Pathologic Day 203
I don't want to think about how all those blood smears got there.

I arrive at the mansion to find it, too, covered in the same scabs. Inside an executor waits to taunt me. Yes, I just spent hours running errands all over town, pleading with nobles for money, and what lies at the end of it all? A "House of the Living" overrun with pestilence and disease. The executor laughs me out with a cackle as plague mist floods the room, and I run out of the house cursing.

  Pathologic Day 205

I'm unsure what I ought to do for the rest of the day. Discouraged, I run home to find Eve, my friends-with-benefits roommate, wringing her hands about the plague rumours. She wants to get out of town before all hell breaks loose, and she knows who can help us: the sexually-ambiguous Andrey at the tavern. Andrey and I happen to be old friends from college, though neither of us can properly recollect how we met, or what our relationship was. He says he'd love to help us escape, but can't leave without his brother Peter, who happens to be a renowned architect (responsible for constructing the massive Polyhedron at the southwest corner of town).

By now it's 7pm. I'm tired, exhausted, and it's started to rain. I buy coffee beans from the tavern to keep exhaustion at bay; I keep popping pills to maintain proper immunity. I finally track down Peter's house and am greeted with this pleasant image as soon as I reach the top of the stairs:

  Pathologic Day 208

Not only does this sculpture make me sweat blood: it also describes Peter's alcoholic personality perfectly. The guy is batshit crazy. He also has no desire to leave town. After some word games and interviews (prompting me to tramp back and forth across the town) I convince him to leave, then take a visit to the black market in the southern warehouses on my way to the train's departure at 10pm. I get a special discount, a free revolver and some bullets, then head to the train station. I knew it wouldn't be so easy of course. I mean, with only ten days remaining, there has to be some hitch, some catch, that will keep me from leaving this soon-to-be-hellhole. At the train cars are several guards and yet another gloating executioner, hovering behind them like death.

Naturally I can't leave. Of course I can't leave. One look at the executor behind the guard tells me any resistance would be futile. So what do I do? "Okay, you win. I will cancel my departure."

On my way home I stop in by the theatre. They're saying something about players, about choices, and I'm reminded this is only a game, that it's an "epidemic simulation"--and that in the end I wanted to reach the train station to find it empty, because leaving wouldn't be interesting. I'm here for the show, and I'm pretty sure I get my price of admission's worth tomorrow.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Pathologic: Day One, during which the Haruspicus is to become a wanted criminal instead of a lawful heir

(Or, in which Kevin squeezes a liter of blood out of himself and learns a lesson about hubris)

It’s the start of the first day again. Artemiy Burakh, the Haruspicus, wakes up in the weeds by the train station, again. The Executors inform him of his newfound status as a hunted man, wanted for multiple murders. Again.

Instead of turning left and sneaking around the depot, he walks directly toward the campfire to his right. And that small decision makes the difference between a Haruspicus slowly dying of hunger in the middle of a field and the Haruspicus I’ll be following for the rest of this game. Taking the right-hand path puts me in contact with a crucial character early on, whom I didn’t meet until much later during my abortive initial attempt. It’s a hard lesson in just how much the smallest decision will affect my character’s future, but it’s a lesson well taken.1

The campfire on the right is surrounded by four or five townspeople (which is why I intentionally avoided it on my first attempt), who give chase as soon as I step within the ring of the firelight. I make a break for some warehouses to the east and barely manage to escape by hoisting myself over the fence and ducking inside the nearest building. I turn away from the entrance and find myself surrounded by half a dozen children in the semi-darkness.

It’s not necessarily a safe situation to be in. Children in Pathologic are not innocent lambs wandering through an adult world. They are dour and ruthless, with a special interest in sharp objects like straight-razors and fishhooks. As I will learn over the course of the day, the children of the town have formed two opposing gangs, the Dualsouls and the Dogheads, and all of them—from 6-year-olds to teenagers—are willing to kill each other to survive. Like animals before a storm, they seem to sense the approaching disaster and have even taken to raiding the town’s pharmacies in order to stockpile medicines. One can trade with them to get supplies, but it seems best not to underestimate them or trust them overmuch.

Glower all you want—your clothes still look dumb

The warehouse into which I’ve stumbled is the lair of Notkin, a grim but fair-minded leader in the Dualsouls. He says he doesn’t believe all the horror stories about me that have been circulating, but I have to do him a favor before he’ll trust me completely. I’m so relieved to encounter someone who doesn’t want to lynch me on sight that I agree immediately. So it comes to pass that, less than two hours into the day, I find myself on a mission to kill a traitorous gang member on the orders of a boy who’s not yet old enough to shave.

A few children remain who have not succumbed to the cutthroat mentality of their peers, however, and I encounter one of them, Laska, a bit later in the graveyard to the southeast. She’s tending to one of my attackers from the previous night, who managed to survive my righteous beatdown and drag himself to the cemetery. It’s not clear what this girl is doing hanging around inside a mausoleum all day, but never mind. Laska informs me that the man will die unless he gets a blood transfusion from someone, and I realize that this is my chance to rehabilitate my reputation in town.2

Enter the Humpback.

The Humpback enters
He may look unpleasant, but I have a feeling that this guy is going to be one of my best friends once the quarantine clamps down. He gives me some much-needed food. He also says he will trade health supplies for the internal organs I harvest from bad guys; I politely avoid dwelling on what he might use those organs for. The Humpback offers to prepare a transfusion for me, but he needs some blood to work with first. Not having any in my inventory, I panic until I remember where I can get some: my own veins.

Artemiy: “I’ve decided to squeeze a liter of blood out of myself.”3

I survive the operation (barely—it takes a huge chunk out of my health meter) and limp all the way back to the cemetery on the other side of town, keeping to the alleys and bushes all the way. The transfusion works, my former enemy is eternally grateful, and—finally, at long last, oh thank you Lord—I can walk openly through the streets without worrying that a beefy factory worker will try to stomp a mudhole into my face. Store owners still won’t sell me food, but I’ll take what I can get.

Compared to the twelve hours I’ve spent clinging to life by my fingernails, the rest of the day is uneventful. I make my way to the Clot, a mansion right in the center of town, to speak with a man called “Fat Vlad” Olgimskiy. Fat Vlad, by all accounts, is a shady character with one finger in a lot of pies—sort of a small-town mob boss—and I’m sure that he can’t be trusted. Nevertheless, he’s extremely friendly and helpful to me, clueing me in on why I’m in this mess to begin with. Apparently, both my father and the town’s mayor suffered a grisly death at the same time, and everyone thinks I murdered them. A young doctor from Moscow (the Bachelor) is trying to convince them that the two men died of a horrible disease called the Sand Plague, but it’s slow going. Fat Vlad suggests that I seek the Bachelor out tonight.

On my way out, I stop to talk to Fat Vlad’s young daughter Kapella, who gives me the last bit of information I need before the day ends: the names of my Adherents. These are the people whom I need to keep alive once the plague hits. Looking at the pictures she gave me, I notice Notkin’s face. Then Laska’s. Kapella is among them as well. All of my Adherents are children.

I make my way to the Bachelor’s house as night falls, taking swigs of water to stave off my growing hunger. As I talk to him, it’s clear that neither of us likes the other person much (I’m rough and arrogant; he’s stiff and kind of a goody-two-shoes), but we’re willing to forge a tenuous truce for the sake of the town.

As we talk, I notice that my reputation meter has filled up completely, meaning that my name has been cleared for now. I thank the Bachelor for his help in discovering the true cause of my father’s death, then collapse into the nearest bed. As I drift off to sleep, I try not to think too hard about being indebted to the unsavory Fat Vlad, about the weight of my father’s legacy, or about the fact that the town’s children—those kids who are desperate to steal medical supplies, who love the feeling of a straight-razor in their small hands—are counting on me to be their savior.

1 It’s also a warning shot across my bow, as if the designers are saying, Don’t try to get clever. Modern game design is often conducted according to the Yellow Brick Road Philosophy: If the player must go from Point A to Point B, the game should make it blindingly obvious which path to take by making the path fluorescent and having everyone tell the player to start following it. In order to make things more interesting for myself, I usually look for ways to take the road less traveled. In Pathologic, this road is muddy with the tears of presumptuous gamers like myself, brought low by their own hubris.
2 One of the interesting side effects of Pathologic’s reputation meter (and videogame morality systems in general) is that it incentivizes “good” actions in a way that doesn’t actually have much to do with real morality. I don’t particularly feel like loving the enemy who is slowly bleeding out in a cemetery, but my desire to make the game easier by increasing my reputation meter is stronger than my desire to see him suffer. Ergo, I save his life—because it’s to my advantage to do so. I suppose this teaches us either that I am a horrible person or that what we call altruism in real life is often closer to a calculated assessment of altruism’s side benefits than we are comfortable admitting.
3 Quoted verbatim. Gotta love the translation.