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Acheron

First-time playthrough diary *SPOILERS*

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I'm going to try to do this without cheating or a walkthrough. I will probably be the only one reading this because it's just my notes on the fly and as such it's going to be pretty dull writing. But I was one of those people who felt Broken Age was too easy (loved it otherwise), so I want to put my money where my mouth is and see how fun hard puzzles are, really. I will document where I get tripped up, and if I hate a puzzle and absolutely just can't figure out what to do, I'll be honest, get a hint, and retrospectively figure out why it was so difficult.

First Session:

OK, I'm in Manny's office. There is a message in the tube. I need to get to a poisoning, great. Looking around more I find some cards on my table. Taken.

Go outside and I'm in a hallway, closed door to "Domino's" office - hmm... I find Eva at the end of the hallway and talk to her. She tells me that I need a driver to get to the poisoning. The boss Don's office is here too, but I can't get in right now.

There are two elevators at the end of the hallway. As I approach them, I can still see Eva's desk and a thingy on it with lots of white things surrounding it (in retrospect this is obviously a hole puncher, but when I try to examine it Manny just talks about Eva, so I assume it's just background decoration for now). I'll pick the elevator on the right. Now I'm down in the lobby area. Look around, nothing to see inside. Go outside. Go one way, and there's a highway I can't pass. Go the other way, and I can see an alleyway and a big parade! That looks complicated so I'll go down the alleyway. At the end there's a big string of ties. Up to the top and I'm outside Don's office. Neat. It looks like there is a loose section of the ties that I can pick up and throw at a ladder, but Manny's not a great thrower of things. Nothing in my inventory works with the ties. Oh well, probably a puzzle for later.

None of this is going to find me a driver, so I go back inside and get into the other elevator by Eva's office. Look around until I find some drawers, try to open them and out pops Glottis. Talk to him for a while and he agrees to be my driver if I can get a work order to modify one of the cars. Back up to Eva, who won't let me see Don. I know he's not really in there, so back up the ties. Just out of curiosity, I try Domino's window but it is locked. OK, time to go into Don's office.

Don's computer allows me to change his response. I try a few of the "incorrect" ones to see if it will make Eva say something funny, but her reaction is always the same so I change it to "Just sign it yourself." Back to Eva, she signs for me, I give to Glottis, and I'm in the Land of the Living!

It's fun to mess around with the living, but eventually I scythe the body and go to another cutscene. Now my goal is to steal a client from Domino. His office is open so I banter with him. There is something in his drawer but he won't let me open it. He has a red tube but it's locked and there's nothing inside. Time to go back downstairs.

Now I have a run in with a pink demon talking about people jamming the tubes. Looks like I'm going to end up jamming the tubes then. When I look around, the room where I packed my last client is open. If I use both tubes they create a hardened foam. On the other side of the hallway, the central tube area is open and I can see Domino's tube.

OK, I clearly need to get in there, but I can't right now. Back outside and go to the parade. It's actually much smaller than I thought, just a balloon clown and a few stands. I can pick up bread ad infinitum, so I get a bunch. I talk to the friendly clown and he makes me one of each kind of balloon. When he gives me the dead worm (i.e. empty balloon) he says there's "no limit." This aint my first time around the block in a LucasArts adventure game, so that means there is a puzzle that requires these empty balloons, the type where you can screw up and need to start over, so you need an infinite supply. OK, I grab a bunch of those too.

Back to the office packing area. I fill one of each balloon with each type of liquid. These now look like tubes, perfect. Back to my office. First I try putting some bread in, and it makes croutons. Now each of the other balloons, and presto, we mucked up the works. Go downstairs and the pink maintenance guy is working on it. I talk to him but he won't let me through. I try all my items on him but they don't work. Maybe I need something else to use on him...

As I leave, he does too and slams the door. Shoot. That's why I need the infinite supply of balloons and packing material. OK, I refill and replug, and here he is back again. This time I look around carefully and check for hotspots. I can switch the door lock, ahhh... I leave again and now the door is open. I saw the demon pull something out of Domino's tube last time he was here so I try the same thing with my cards. They get sucked into the machine and Manny says that there is "too much air pressure." Hmm... I know the cards are on the right track, they are just too perfect, but I can't use inventory items together, so I need to use the cards with something else...

This is the first time I got tripped up for a while. I mean a WHILE. I went everywhere trying to see if I could find something to use my cards on. The parade, the garage, back up the ties and trying everything on the loose ties again. My office, Domino's office, geez. I'm a bit frustrated. Eventually I went back to Eva's desk and noticed the hole punch again because it's smack dab in the foreground when Manny is near the elevator. When I click "E" while hovering over it, Manny just talks about Eva, but if I manually examine it, he says it's a hole punch. Arggh! I think this might be a bug, which led me to a frustrating situation not unlike pixel hunting. Because on my first try Manny acted like the hotspot was just Eva, I assumed the funny object was just uninteractable background like everything else on her desk. But because it was highlighted in the foreground and I was desperate to find something to do with my cards, I eventually found it.

I hole-punch the cards, go back down and use it on Domino's tube. Manny reads the card and I cutscene over to my next client. She seems perfect but I still can't give her a good package. When I go over to the boss's office, he yells at me and throws me in a room.

In the room, a guy pops in and starts asking me questions. I use the options showing that I hate the DoD and he lets me out, bringing me to a hidden bunker with Eva! I talk to everyone and turns out I need to get some pigeon eggs. Looking around, I don't see anything else in the room so back up to the rafters I go.

Don's office is occupado, so I go back over to Domino's side and, unlike the last time I was here, it's open (Not sure why this would be the case but I'll just pretend I unlocked it from the inside last time I was in there). Immediately I go for the drawer and get a cool glowy thing. I go over and punch the bag, which moves Domino's blue mouthpiece. Punch punch punch. Got the mouthpiece. Outside again and use the glowy thing on the ties to make a glowy grappling hook.

Now I'm up with the pigeons. Yay! I think I see a nest in a tube near a big flock, so I probably need to get them out of here. First I try some bread in one of the bowls. That didn't really do much. Then I try running at the pigeons. They chase me away. I try to scare them with everything I got, including my scythe and (my favorite) Robert Frost. Nothing. Hmm...

OK, that's it for today. The hole punch took forever so this session was a few hours. I'm not sure how to get past the pigeons. Preliminary thoughts: I have infinite bread, so maybe that is one part of a multi-stage puzzle? Am I scaring them or bribing them? Maybe I missed another item?

What works on pigeons?

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First Session Thoughts:

Just a few musings after having a bit of time to reflect on my first playthrough and the differences/similarities between Grim and Broken Age. Another incoming wall of text :)

Both games are very good about grabbing you almost immediately and giving you an emotional connection with the character (for getting hooked on the story) and a goal (for getting hooked on the gameplay). I'm a big believer that the intro should be pretty tight to get you into the world in baby steps before giving you more freedom, otherwise it feels like a baggy story and choice overload.

When everyone was discussing why Broken Age seemed easy and short, people mentioned a few things, including obfuscation of hotspots and more options through larger inventories and hotspots:

(1) Obfuscation: In Broken Age, hot spots are very easy to find. It's very clear what you can click on and what you cannot. In addition, there is only one "action." So it's pretty clear that if you can click on something, you're not just looking but can actually do something to it (there are exceptions but they are few). So it's very very clear what objects in the world are potentially "interactable."

In Grim, like many of the older games, it's slightly more difficult to know what you can and cannot click on. The Remastered version probably makes this a bit easier, but I still found that there were small items (read above: hole punch) that I didn't immediately know that I could interact with. This meant that unlike in Broken Age, I actually needed to scour each room to make sure there was nothing I hadn't missed. This probably led to about 33% of my total playthrough time in the first session, just figuring out that the hold punch was a thing that I could use.

(2) More Options: In Broken Age, I was typically only carrying about two to four inventory items at a time, all of them easy to see at the bottom of the screen. Combined with the relative ease of finding hotspots and the relatively low number of hotspots, there was really never a time that I felt stuck. Even if I didn't understand what to do, in the back of my brain there was always the thought: "6 available hotspots, 3 items, 18 total options." If the mechanics are laid bare and the total number of options is fairly small, it's easy to brute force even a challenging puzzle. I remember one puzzle involving a riddle that I solved entirely by accident with an inventory item. It was only after the fact that I realized why it worked.

In Grim, I don't have a ton of inventory items, but more than Broken Age. Maybe even more important is that they aren't immediately accessible: you need to go to an inventory screen and shuffle through them. The amount of time it takes to look at and access any given inventory item disincentives me from brute forcing every hot spot I find. It's also not as easy to make the connection when you aren't looking at the problem and solution on the same screen.

Finally, in Grim there appear to be many more hotspots and they feel less like "hotspot puzzle area" and more like a part of the world. The fact that I have a look verb means I'm not entirely sure whether something is only for looking at or is actually something to interact with. So when I don't know what to do, it feels like there are enough options that I am "overloaded" and can't just mentally leave the story and try them all quickly in my head as pieces of a mechanical puzzle.

In practice, this means that my first reaction is different when I get stuck in Grim or Broken Age:

Grim: "What should I try now? What makes sense?"

Broken Age: Let's try all the items on this spot, now this spot, now this spot

Implications of Getting Stuck:

Interestingly, while getting stuck does increase my frustration, it also leads to me spending more time in the world, which ultimately increases immersion. In Broken Age, the puzzles were easy enough that I never spent much more time in any room than I had to. I kind of knew what I had to do, solved the puzzles, and moved on. The rooms never ended up feeling "lived in" and I probably missed a lot of the details.

In Grim, I've probably visited each room in Year 1 so far multiple times, scouring them to make sure I didn't miss anything. This means that I know almost every detail now, after only one session, and I feel like I live in El Marrow. I talk to everyone multiple times. These are my people.

This is good and bad. In the moment, I'm sick of El Marrow and I want to move on. I hate going back and forth through every room looking for something and not finding anything. I'm frustrated. In Broken Age, I went along at a nice pace, more like a relaxing movie.

On the other hand, now that I've been away I'm already proud of finally finding the hole punch and figuring out the puzzle without resorting to a walkthrough. I clearly remember every room in El Marrow and all the quirks of all the characters.

To sum up, I think easy puzzles and quick pacing is more enjoyable while playing (for me), but leads to a more forgettable experience. The frustration and repetition of getting stuck turns into instant nostalgia once I get past a block and I remember the game more fondly. It's still early days yet, so we'll see, but there's certainly something to be said for living in a place for a long time and feeling frustrated in it that makes it stick with you.

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Just a little tip to make things simple: a pigeon is eating bread and its beak accidentally popped a balloon... What do you think is gonna happen? ;)

I think the pigeons will fly away! Interesting... Sort of foreshadowed in that you can make the clown pop a balloon, but only once. So you know they can be popped, but you kind of forget about it. The infinity bread is there because you can waste it if you don't have a balloon, so it is one part of a multi-stage puzzle.

I can't play again until tonight, but first thing I'm trying is Robert Frost in the bowl, bread in the bowl.

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First Session Thoughts: To sum up, I think easy puzzles and quick pacing is more enjoyable while playing (for me), but leads to a more forgettable experience. The frustration and repetition of getting stuck turns into instant nostalgia once I get past a block and I remember the game more fondly. It's still early days yet, so we'll see, but there's certainly something to be said for living in a place for a long time and feeling frustrated in it that makes it stick with you.

I think what you said about the differences between Broken Age and Grim Fandango are totally accurate and I feel the exact same way as you when the puzzles are too difficult. The first time I played Grim Fandango was in 1999. Back then I didn't have internet or anything to help me when I was stuck. I remember my frustration with El Marrow and I even stopped playing for a couple of months. So I found a magazine that had some tips like the one I gave you, it helped a lot!

Grim Fandango has some very intelligent puzzles and now that I finished it thousands of times, I feel a connection that I've never felt with a game before. For me every one of the characters is like a friend of mine, the places are so remarkable... I love this game and I hope you have a magical experience like I had back in the old days. If you need help, I'll be here :D And thank you for sharing your experience with the game so far.

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Grim Fandango has some very intelligent puzzles and now that I finished it thousands of times, I feel a connection that I've never felt with a game before. For me every one of the characters is like a friend of mine, the places are so remarkable... I love this game and I hope you have a magical experience like I had back in the old days. If you need help, I'll be here :D And thank you for sharing your experience with the game so far.

Thanks, Mercedes! I'll try to keep it up... I'm imagining that when I'm on my 10th playthrough it will be fun to come back here and see what confused me the first time around. King's Quest VI and Curse of Monkey Island are my absolute favorites, but I've beat them so many times now I actually forget which puzzles are difficult because I can play with my eyes closed.

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The last time I played was on my PC and that's about a decade ago before I made to a jump to the Mac for work purposes. It was probably my >15th play through. And I could still remember solutions to the puzzles and where to find the eggs/gags in my recent play.

O how I wish it was my first time all over again.

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O how I wish it was my first time all over again.
That makes two of us

This has honestly felt like a new time for me. I've been loving it -- and luckily I can't remember everything!

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Just got to Year 2 tonight :) I had heard the haunted forest was tricky but I didn't think it was too bad. I'll try to write my next post tomorrow or over the weekend.

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Second Session:

All right, back at it. Thanks to a tip, the pigeon puzzle is no problem. Robert Frost + Bread, so simple. Grabbed the eggs and gave them to Sal. They still need my teeth before I can leave, however.

This one I got quickly, but basically by accident. I left to look for more objects and for whatever reason went to see if Glottis was back. Inside the room I was trapped in, I started looking at my inventory. Ooh, mouthpiece. Of course. Because I was facing the sink, when I hit "use" I put the "Fill a Dent" on the mouthpiece. I think I would have gotten this anyway, because I knew that liquid needed to be used for something, but it's funny how sometimes we solve these puzzles without even trying.

OK, back to the Liberation and I'm off to the petrified forrest after a cutscene. After reading a review of Grim, I've heard a few people say the Forrest is really tough. I'm ready for a long period of being stuck.

First, I walk over to Glottis, who now needs his heart back. Before helping him I look at the sign to Rubacava and try to pick it up. No good. Head over to the spider web and bone pile. Pick up a few bones, throw one at the web. It sticks. I think I'll use my scythe to fish it out, but instead Manny slingshots the heart back to Glottis. Put it back, and off we go.

I drive to the west and get hopelessly lost through the multitude of tunnels. Now I go back to the main area and farther to the east. Here we are at a strange Marrow-mining facility. Glottis brings me a wheelbarrow and he wants those pumps to make shocks. I flip the switch and Glottis climbs up. I wonder what would happen if... I turn it on and Glottis goes for a ride :) But no shocks. I repeat this a few times and mess around with the wheelbarrow, but I can't figure this one out. I don't think I need another item but I just need to leave for a while and come back to this.

Back to the main area and Glottis won't go up a rocky hill. Off on foot I go, up to a gate. There is a lock here, but I can't get it out. I walk in the door and there are fire beavers. Hmm.. I walk down to the side area and look at the water/oil. I try my items on it, until finally I can use my fire hydrant. Hmm... Did I ever have to use the hydrant in El Marrow? I wonder if there was a way to get stuck this far without it. Anyway, I go back up and start running around spraying the beavers. When I hit them, their fire is temporarily removed and they flee from me. Awesome. I can't really do anything in here, though, so I leave.

OK, what now? For kicks I go back around to the web area and get more bones. I can't throw them at the web anymore, so they must be for something else. I go to the sign area and try to get it again. This time it works! It seems to be pointing to the tunnels area so I run it over. I plant it near the middle and it points southeast. I think what I need to do is use this to guide myself through the tunnels, picking the right one each time. But everytime I bring it near a tunnel it changes direction. Hmm... Eventually I just keep moving the sign farther in the direction it wants to go, until Presto, I found a tunnel. Bring the car inside and we're down in another tunnel that we can't move past. I read a sign and shake it to get a key. Moving past the tunnel I am back with the gate and the beavers. Manny doesn't want to unlock the gate yet.

Back inside and I need to figure out what to do. I go back down to the side tunnel and think. These guys like bones, so I throw a bone in the river. As the beaver comes close, I keep spraying my fire hydrant and I get him as he jumps down. Gotcha! Repeat two more times and all beavers are gone. Back outside and I unlock the gate, although I still need Glottis. OK, it's finally time to finish the tree puzzle.

Back at the tree and Glottis is spinning. I know I need to use the wheelbarrow, but it only goes left to right, so it must have something to do with going over the tubes. As I try and pay attention, I notice that resting on a tube stops one of the pumps. Ahh... I need to sink them up. I mess around for a while before I realize that I need each side to pump so the tree will be off balance. A few more tries and I got it. Boom. Tree off. Shocks mine. Off to Rubacava.

Here we are and it seems pretty misty/empty. I go up the stairs and decide to explore off to the eas... Plop. A nice sailor guy helps me out and goes to talk to Glottis. I go down and chat with him for a while. Now back up the stairs and up again to the building. Inside is Celso! Hi Celso. He tells me that he's looking for his wife. He gives me a picture. I guess I can check with my sailor friend. Aww, poor Celso, his wife is off with another man. The captain gives me his logbook for proof and I bring it back to Celso. Sweet. He is off to find her and I got his job and mop. Cue cutscene and Year 2 has begun.

Time to take a break. The forrest wasn't all that long but it did take me a while of messing around to figure things out. I'm pretty excited for Year 2 because I hear that many people feel it's the best in the game.

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I've only ever played the game twice, so I find my current playthrough to be (almost) as fresh as my previous playthroughs. The first one was about a year after the game released on a copy I borrowed from a friend. I then played it again a couple of years ago after I bought a copy from eBay. Luckily I forget puzzle solutions quickly, even with games I've played 5+ times like DotT, HtR and the two first MIs, so GFR has still had me stumped on several of its puzzles so far. I'll never forget the signpost puzzle though, since I really struggled with on my first playthrough. In hindsight it feels like a very clever puzzle though, and it's logical even though it's not completely straightforward.

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