Granted, I've set the console to EASY mode today since I wasn't a) hungover (NORMAL) or b) still drunk (DIFFICULT). But even the EASY levels are progressively more difficult. Obviously. (New livers don't come cheap.)
Today's quest was one of the simpler ones: walk Dog to the bank and back … on a slow Wednesday afternoon. Which is much simpler than, say, walk from Molly's at the Market on Lower Decatur to the Erin Rose off Upper Bourbon on a Saturday night already half-wasted. But even my simple banking task is confoundedly tricky by Level 20.
It starts at Dauphine & Orleans, just outside Home Base. Usually not too tricky an intersection to traverse. Dauphine has no stop sign. Orleans has one. Though even on EASY mode, Level 20 gives you some real Saturday Night DIFFICULT obstacles. The car coming down Dauphine stopped at his no-stop-sign spot. On previous levels, you just wait for this annoying Baddie to realize that he neither has traffic to yield to, and he never had the stop sign in the first place. Eventually they figure this out and go. You cross. Easy peasy.
Today, the car just sat there. I hit the X/Y buttons in rapid succession to wave the car through his right-of-way-gone-wrong. When he still didn't move, I hit the B button for one of those zippy little lines the character can speak. "Drive, you cunt! Drive, you cunt!" said my character. The car stayed there, driver ignoring my X/Y and B buttons. So I crossed. When I was in the center of the street, and right in front of his grille, he lurched forward. Dog spun around while I tried to dive forward into Drop and Roll mode. We barely made it, and the angry car honked as he squealed off from 0 to 90 down the small, crowded street.
Jesus, and I'm barely out of Home Base? I thought. I sharpened up my reflexes, ready for whatever this level had in store. I'm a professional gamer, after all.
I always choose my Dog to be a Female-Lab-Mutt-Rescue. Friendlier/non-Rescue dogs can get you into trouble because they want to engage some of the Baddies, while tiny "adorable" dogs attract the Baddies and it's more difficult to be on your way. The Mutt is generally not too pretty, so not too attractive to the annoying French Quarter characters, and the Rescue is shy, though a little unpredictable. Lab is a good sized dog as you need a large dog to thwart the approaches of some of the Thug characters. And Female is not generally as aggressive as a Male. (Unless confronted with another Female Dog character out on a walk, but you can always cross the street. If you're careful — ha ha!)
Having almost lost a life crossing the street, Dog and I were immediately accosted by Black Crazy Man, Archetype #17, which, if you don't know the game, is the middle-aged one with the knee-length filthy jeans and the grime-encrusted t-shirt printed with a funny saying you can't read. On earlier levels, he's not much of a threat. He yells at imaginary people, rarely confronting any other "living" sprite. But he can make sudden movements when agitated, and as you know, if Dog bites someone jittering around in front of her, it's Game Over. (Rescue Dog may bite if sufficiently startled. One of the trade-offs for choosing this kind of companion.)
Crazy #17 had just come from yelling at the neighbor down the street painting his house. (I made a note to watch out for paint buckets falling from the sky and got ready to dodge, or just cross the street if it looked safe.) This did not bode well if #17 was already confronting people. Usually they live in their own rich inner worlds, so to speak.
And wouldn't ya know it, but my avatar had just lit a cigarette, which is bad news when Bums or Crazies are around.
I slowed down cautiously as our paths neared crossing each other. He was already jittery and agitated. I held down the A button and pressed L to rein in Dog's lead. She was already getting a little jittery herself. My strategy was to keep my pace slow and alert until I was next to Crazy #17, then hit A-A-A-A for QuikStep Function out of his range.
"Fuck you! Don't talk to me!" Crazy #17 was yelling at a street sign. Good he was distracted by his own chimera. Maybe he wouldn't notice me. When we were about eight feet apart, he spotted the lit cigarette. Crazy #17 stopped in suspended animation while his PowerUp revved. I should have done the A-A-A-A thing then. If you're really quick, you can manage to get out of range before the PowerUp can take effect. This time, I acted too slowly.
"Ahkahava…" he said at me. "Ahkahavacigarette? Ahkahavacigarette?" Fuck. Busted. I switched to Camera Mode and made my guy's eyes look away. Sometimes this is effective as Bums and Crazies might wander off without further molestation if they're feeling you're ignoring them. The price to essay the Ignore tactic is that your eyes are averted, and the adversary can sometimes kill you while you're not looking, or Dog could kill him. In any event, you have to start from the last Save, which is annoying.
Miraculously, Black Crazy Man lost interest in us and started mumbling to himself disconsolately until we were out of range. Phew.
My god. I'm not even a full block from Home yet. Nice, Level 20.
Friendly Neighbor Man rolled his eyes at me to commiserate over the avoided kerfuffle which he witnessed, and I hit X/Y to wave at him, eyeing his paint cans suspiciously. If he engaged with me too much, he'd inadvertently kick over paint. If paint (or Hand Grenade or Hurricane or Chewing Gum or Gumbo Puke or any other sticky substance) gets on Dog, you have to abort your mission and go straight to the Groomers, which costs time and ducats and your Annoyance Level jumps up five bars.
Friendly Neighbor Man's paint buckets stayed put. Potential problem #3 avoided. I was still only one block away from Home Base. This was going to be a long adventure.
Next up, crossing Bourbon Street. I steeled myself as this is always the toughest part of any level, and considering what Level 20 was throwing my way, I was prepared for the worst.
We hadn't traveled far, but Dog had yet to stop my character by finding stale urine to sniff. When Dog smells pee, she goes to sniff it and you can't move forward until she has finished investigating. Then she's usually good for another half block or whole block before she'll stop you again. You can hit Y-Y-Y-Y over and over, tugging at her leash until she is forcibly yanked away from whatever nasty offal she's found, but it makes Dog sullen and slows down your progress and makes sudden maneuvering a little clunky. I could not afford to have clunky moves crossing Bourbon, so I did a little pre-crossing ritual that, though not very daring or exciting to watch, is a funky little strategy I read about on the web that really works! (Don't worry—no cheat codes are deployed. I play fair n' square.)
I let my avatar finish his cigarette (stupid guy lights up almost as often as Dog smells garbage and piss), thus avoiding any Bums or Crazies accosting me for that reason. I also found the stinkiest pole about twenty feet from Bourbon Street and watched as Dog's Effluvium Investigation Meter slid down from red, into yellow, and finally green. Good. That should hold her for a minute or so. I switched back to Camera Mode and eyed my avatar's pockets, looking for any protrusions of ducats that a Baddie might try to lift, or pull an Ahkahava… number on. All clear. Flick back to World View.
I waited for a relative gap in foot traffic on Bourbon St. It took me, like, fifteen tries to cross Bourbon on Level 19 because I kept getting swept up in the flows and eddies of the drunken pedestrians on the street and once ended up all the way down at Famous Door. (If you get too close to Famous Door on a Friday or Saturday night, the shitty cover band's sheer volume shatters your eardrums and Dog keels over with nervous exhaustion and you lose a life. Death by REO Speedwagon. No thank you!)
I saw my break and hit A-A-A-A to dart out into Bourbon. Though I wasn't caught up in any currents, this being a Random Wednesday Afternoon and foot traffic being relatively light, I did somehow stumble into a coven of Drunk Cougars. You can tell these women are Cougars because they wear the bengal-print cowboy hats and lots of faux-gold jewelry. As if the spray-on tan over the tanning-bed tan wasn't clue enough. (The graphics are so good on this game! I heard the designers were Oscar winning set decorators and key set wardrobers. I believe it.)
Shit. They spotted Dog. I held A and pressed the joystick Left to rein in Dog's lead again. Her head was darting around so spasmodically that she started that backwards-circular-walk thing which some forum members say is a glitch in the programming because it's so not-lifelike and weird and almost impossible to snap her out of.
"Ohhhh! Puppy!!!!" screamed all the Cougars at once. I hit pause and checked my Vitals — Eardrum Level was in the yellow. I gotta get out of this, I thought. Drunk Straight Girls may be loud, but the Cougars are the worst!
Dog was still in a tailspin (ha-ha) and I had to hit Y-Y to yank her out of the panicky programming glitch. It wasn't working. If I couldn't get her out of this backwards jumping/stumbling nonsense I'd never get off Bourbon. I hit B and joysticked Down to aim my speech at the dog. My guy said, "C'mon Dog. C'mon Dog. C'mon dog. C'mon dog." Did you know you can press down on the joystick itself, like finding reverse in an old VW, while holding the B speech button and your avatar will make little kissy noises? Only do this if the regular "C'mon Dog," thing isn't working, as the kissy noises can also attract Drunk Straight Girls and Show Queens.
Finally Dog snapped out of her funk and I Y-Y-Y'd her out of the huddle of Hand-Grenade-spilling Cougars and across the street and off Bourbon the requisite ten feet where I stopped and let the Eardrum Meter and the Anxiety Meters (for both my guy and Dog) melt down into green again.
There are lots of characters in this game that can only be on Bourbon Street. It's brilliant design. There's a force field thingy eight feet off the street that they can't cross. It's fun to stand ten feet away from the street, and two feet away from the invisible wall and watch them sorta moonwalk in place, trying to get to you or Dog. My favorite thing is when a Drunk Fratboy wants to start some shit with you and keeps punching the air two feet from your face, then, when he's exasperated, throws up and it bounces back off the force field and drips down his pastel Izod shirt (collars up, of course).
Anyway, meters down into a safe green reading again, I hit B and Down to say, "C'mon Dog," and we continued down Orleans Ave. toward the back of St. Louis Cathedral.
I've played Jackson Mississippi Dog Walk before, but it's not nearly as good as French Quarter. The churches in the Mississippi version are tough to get around. Evangelicals, fundamentalists and Westboro-type hatemongers can be tricky to navigate and if you lose a life there, you go to hell for an eternity—booorrrringgg. And there are just so many damn churches in that other game! In FQDW, the churches are generally considered safe zones though, New Orleans being a godless town, with the sole exception of St. Louis Cathedral and its black wrought iron fence loaded with crap paintings the Bad Hippie Artists are hocking. That's on the backside of the Cathedral. The front is tourist hell, and while you sometimes get extra points for going through Jackson Square, I find it's generally not worth it. Especially on higher levels. Too risky.
I should mention that I chose the avatar "Homo'ner" (the gay homeowner) who is my all time favorite. I set the age to mid-40s. While the higher ages take their toll in your guy's reflexes, speed and shorter-fused Annoyance Meter, I've found that setting the age to, say, mid-20s attracts way too many Cougars and, even worse, A-Gays. If an A-Gay gets a hold of your guy and he's in his 20s, watch out! He'll get dragged to the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann and your Eardrum Level will shatter in a matter of seconds from the Oontz-Oontz Clubs there. So I stick with 40s, cranky and crippled as he may be.
For wardrobe, I generally choose Locals' Nondescript. Suit-and-Tie attracts too many Bum and Thug characters. And while you can choose Dragqueen, I don't know why anyone would; it attracts everyone! You can mimic other characters too, if you want. You can dress Fat-Midwesterner or Fratboy or whatever, which makes you invisible to those characters, but more attractive to scam artists and Ahkahava…-type Baddies. Like the Bad Hippie Artists. You can also be a Gutterpunk, which is a good choice because everyone avoids you, although the NOPD tend to beat up your character more, and for no discernible reason. But the trade-off for being a nearly invisible Gutterpunk is the only type of Dog you can have is Unfixed-Male-Rabid-Pitbull-with-Mange, which is constantly infecting tourists with its random biting habits and thus you keep having to start over—not to mention slowing down your avatar with frequent stops to scratch fleabites.
Locals' Nondescript wardrobe makes walking down Pirate's Alley along the side of the Cathedral a no-sweat affair. You just have to make sure that when one of the Hippie Artists says, "Nice Dog," you hit the B speech button or do a quick X/Y wave to acknowledge the compliment. If you keep walking and ignore them, they're liable to start screaming after you, "Your Dog's a bitch and so are you!" and hello Annoyance Meter and Dog's Agitation Meter due to the ruckus!
I hooked a right at the Pirate's Alley Bar, by which I sufficiently avoided Jackson Square and the myriad Baddies lurking around there. Plus, the bar's patrons are usually Goths and Pirates, which, if you're wearing Locals' Nondescript, don't pose any sort of threat. (That I've found! I'll let you know what happens on Level 25!) If you're wearing Wiggercap set to Slant or FrumpFrock on one of the Fat Midwestern avatars, the Goths laugh at you and the Pirates … go, "Arrrr," or whatever it is Pirates do. But in my guy's garb, it's safe passage. Plus, they're the prettiest characters to look at. It's not all about strategy and completing your quest, after all. The game is gorgeously designed and you'd be a fool not to enjoy the scenery and (some of) the characters. Stop to smell the flowers. All that.
And by the way, the game designers aren't so misanthropic that all the 3rd person characters are Baddies. I mean, you've got Friendly Neighbor Man, and Bartenders You Know, and Visiting Gay Guys and others who are actually fun to interact with. But when you're on a quest, any character can knock you off your path by dragging you into a bar for a quick shot or shag. So while I admonish you to stop and smell the flowers and interact with some of the non-Baddies, just be aware that even the Goodies pose a threat in their own way — if you're on a quest. Okay. Back to the walkthru—
I made the turn at Pirate's Alley Bar and walked the short stretch towards the Gelateria. If you're playing in August, this can be a doozy. Sometimes your character is sucked into the shop for a refreshing ice cream, but his ducats are decimated due to the Gelateria's exorbitant pricing. I'm playing in October though, so it's less of a threat even on such a high level. The irregular jutting banquettes of the sidewalk in the Pirate's Alley are still perilous, but when are they not — ha-ha.
Another half block went by with relative ease. I managed to dodge the Suburban Pram-Jam—khaki-clad mom and dad pushing twin strollers with little cabbages screaming their fool heads off inside, taking up the whole sidewalk. You could dash between two parked cars to avoid them, but chances are high you'll get stuck because they're parked so closely together, or you'll get run over by a Ghetto Boomboom Mobile with spinning rims if one is happening by. A master of the game mentioned in the online forum a quick and easy way to deal with the breeders and their sidewalk-hogging spawn: you just stop, turn around, and stay still! Rarely will the parents slam the pram into your, or Dog's legs. Note: definitely keep the leash short when playing Lamp Post Decoy as Dog (especially Rescue Dog) sometimes likes to snack on infants. Lose a life. Go to jail. Do not collect $200. Wait. I'm mixing my game metaphors. Back to the scenario…)
After waiting until the Suburban Pram-Jam is out of range, I let Dog sniff something gross on the wall of the Cabildo to drop her Effluvium Investigation Meter back down and sallied forth to the next block.
Shit. The yarn store. I wish I hadn't set my character's Nelly Level so high. It's hard to walk by without getting sucked in, and it lowers your ducats if you get caught in there. Through some joggling of the joystick, I made it past okay. The bank was on the next block.
I saw a clump of Fat Midwesterners taking up the sidewalk. There were lots of drunkenly swerving cars in the street, so I didn't want to go around them that way. The tourists were in the dangerous four-square formation, backs to each other forming a square and their fingers jutting out to point at things at random, like a human throwing star. You have to time walking by these guys very carefully. They often wait until you're right next to them, then — PING! — poke your eye out pointing to something. I pulled in Dog's leash, waited for the mom character in the FrumpFrock to retract her pointing arm, then hit A-A-A-A to dash past them. Made it by a pixel.
The barker outside the Maspero's restaurant had a wicked looking menu that he was pushing in people's faces. After having almost lost an eye to the clumped family on the previous block, I risked darting into the street and around a parked car in order to avoid losing an eye by his sharp-cornered laminated menu. The street was clear of enormous trucks from Texas swerving around — a small miracle for Level 20, and I was at my destination at last.
I steered my guy into the bank, and a few seconds later he came out. I collected my star for completing the quest, but of course if I didn't make it back to Home alive, the star would be forfeited.
The last few minutes of the game had been going pretty smoothly. A lot of newbie gamers couldn't have made it past the yarn store or the pointing/poking Fat Midwesterners, but I've been playing this game a long time and consider myself an expert.
And dat pride sure do goeth before dat fall, because I didn't look twice at the Pottering Old Man standing on the corner by the Napoleon House. I didn't notice he was leaning on an umbrella. Never mind that it wasn't raining, on Level 20, the designers just throw everything they can at you. And sure enough, for no logical reason in the real world (but this was a video game, so logic needn't apply), the man opened his umbrella, hit my guy in the face, he went stumbling into the street and was run over by a mule cart and died. Game over.
Sigh. Back to Home Base to try to complete the quest again.