Director’s Commentary 4: The Tower of Ion

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This week Something’s In The Air reached 100,000 downloads, and I thought I would celebrate the fact with another Director’s Commentary on the making and playing of the game. This post will contain spoilers as well as solutions to puzzles and assumes that you have already played the game.  If you have not read the previous commentaries, here is part 1, part 2, and part 3.

Story 4 is hidden when you first play the game, that is on purpose as it represents a solution to the question I assume players are asking: How come every story 1 and story 3 ending involves getting caught in a rain storm or blackout, and every story 2 ending does not, even though all 4 stories are set on the exact same day?

To unlock story 4, you have to find 4 out of 6 clues mentioned in the Gallery:

Clue 1: Clear Skies – Ariane notices a sudden storm appears, when skies were clear just minutes ago. This can be unlocked by any story 1 ending where Ariane notices a storm, including “Ariane and Rebecca”, “Blackout Fun”, and “Safety Pullout”.
Clue 2: The Failed Prophecy – The Fortune Teller said that if Rachel had chosen different, it would end in disaster, and yet choosing the nightclub did not cause a disaster, Did Rachel have another choice? Unlocking this clue involves going to the fortune teller at the Amusement Park as well as failing to get Rachel to go to dinner with you (her other choice was the LAN party).
Clue 3: The Successful Prophecy – Bonnie predicted disaster at the strip club, but evidence suggests it only happens when she is around. Doing the Bonnie story is where Bonnie “psychically” predicts disaster which then happens when the electricity cuts out in the middle of the strip act.  Going to the Sci-Fi Fantasy convention, getting Rachel to LARP, and ending up at the strip club where the same strip act is going on but does not cut the power will fully unlock this clue.
Clue 4: Lightning Never Strikes Twice – When Veronica takes you to the sci-fi fantasy convention, she gets struck by lightning. When Rachel takes you, she has a nice swim. The Veronica part is in reference to “A New Paint Job” ending, the Rachel part is in reference to the “Skinny Dipping At Night” ending.
Clue 5: House Parties – Ariane’s visit to the house party gets rained out, Rachel’s visit to the same party turns into an orgy. Finish “House Party With Ariane” and “House Party With Rachel” to unlock this clue.
Clue 6: Ameca Meca – The concert gets interrupted by a power outage… sometimes Reaching any version of the “Tequila Shots” ending and either “The Photoshoot” or “Concert and After Party” unlocks this. The next update of the game, I plan to reduce the number to 3 out of 6. Originally I required 5, but reduced it to 4 as clue 2 and 3 may not be reachable even if you finish the first 24 endings. If you have the story unlocked, you will see a 4th choice at the alarm clock:

Hang out at home and play some online games

Story 4, like story 3, starts in a fake MMORPG called Elemental Realms.  In story 3, the player says he missed a meeting with his guild because he slept in too late.  Not going back to sleep has the consequence of making that meeting.

The opening title sequence  is the first of many pop cultural references in this story, the 3D all capital lettering is the first of many references to the show Fringe which is one of my favorites.

We start in the middle of the mission, you are playing the same Ranger Dude character you played in story 2 and 3, but three other scantily clad characters are following behind you (see picture above.)  This is a bit of satire on the typically very revealing and completely impractical armor found in most MMORPGs these days.  (my favorite MMORPG Guild Wars 2 is just as guilty, though there are much more realistic armor choices for females as well.)

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I happen to have a raptor dinosaur model in Poser that I decided to use as one of the enemies, in the picture above you can see it just behind the characters head in between the leaves.  If I am going to have raptors, I may as well copy the scene from Jurassic Park where the raptor jumps out from the side.  Notes: 1.) Guild Wars 1 and 2 both include raptors, so yes they can be found in games like this, 2.) I am fully aware that paleontologists now believe velociraptors had feathers.

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This leads to the first puzzle of the story, a hidden picture puzzle.  One thing about hidden picture puzzles, there is no way to judge how difficult they are going to be for players, because when you make the puzzle you know all the answers.  In beta, the 8 raptors in the picture were annoyingly difficult to find.  Luckily there is a “save game” feature you can use once you are done randomly clicking everywhere.

The official version picture is above, which a few still consider to be difficult.  What I did is removed a lot of the brush making most of the raptors much easier to find.  At least 3 are blatantly obvious, and 4 others are no longer difficult.  The one on the far right still seems to stump a few people.

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Next up is the strategy puzzle.  The “wraiths” are the default figures in Poser 9/Pro 2012 which is what I made the game in. This creepy figure shows up every time I launch Poser without opening a file,  so I figured it was creepy enough to make a villain.

Anyone who has never played an MMORPG will probably have no idea what this puzzle is all about.  Basically there are two choices with 6 possible combinations.  I believe 3 of those six will lead to good results, so you got a 50/50 shot.

Never give the energy orb to Princess Valena (even though she is the obvious choice), and always run with Cassandra.

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The very best choice is give the orb to Thum and run with Cassandra, you will be given three additional choices, all winning, including one which involves everyone getting naked.  This is inspired by a puzzle in Dragon Age: Origins where getting naked was the only way past a wall of cleansing fire (or stripping to your underwear, at least).

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Next up is the Rock Golem puzzle.  I decided to simulate a simple boss fight.  You as the ranger have three arrows, winning involves picking which arrow to use when, something I have done a thousand times playing Guild Wars as a ranger. Fastest winning strategy is: damage, damage, interrupt, damage, damage, damage.  You win in 6 moves.

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After the game is over and you win the battle, the plot moves on to real life where you get a mysterious phone call from a robot voice who seems to know everything about you.  We find out later that this is Paula, who played Cassandra in the quest you just finished.

I was part of a gaming forum for many years, during those years I developed a bunch of online friendships with people I’ve never met who I often play online with.  It is surprising how much you learn about people based on their posts.  So I have quite a few online friends who I have never met in person, and I actually know them really well.

That is what inspired me to add the Paula plot, of meeting someone you have never met in person, but have known online for years. After the Fringe inspired teal salamander commercial break, we get our next puzzle, a mini adventure type “token” puzzle where you have to get the right inventory to the right people.

One note: it is impossible to get completely stuck because 5 of the 8 locations will trade tokens to the point you can get any color you need.  If you think of it like a maze the green path is the exit.  The dress shop is the only one that gives green tokens, the night club takes only green and gives only green, and the salon only takes green as well. Here’s my simple solution that I came up with while making the game in the first place:

  1. Take your white token, Go to the hotel, put token in vending machine, you now have blue.
  2. Go to the lingerie store, give your blue token for a yellow.
  3. Skip the nightclub and go to the museum, exchange yellow for white.
  4. Go to the restaurant, exchange white for blue.
  5. Skip the salon and go to the home place, give blue, get red.
  6. At the dress shop, turn in your red, get a green.
  7. At the night club, give a green, get a green.
  8. Finish off at the Salon, and see Ariane getting her hair cut, they will take the green, does not matter what you take as the puzzle is complete.

Every character you meet downtown except the Home Store sales guy shows up elsewhere, the museum guide shows up later at the sci-fi convention.  Rebecca, Lizard, and Steven even show up in Date Ariane.  The Home Store only shows up again in “classic” Date Ariane.

The puzzle is two overlapping QR codes. One of which says exactly what Paula says it says (did she “hack” the game somehow?), the cyan part looks like this, and leads to this website.

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Finally we get to the LAN party, where characters that look suspiciously like Codex, Vork, Zaboo, and Clara are already to play.  There are no puzzles to solve here, just a group of friends having fun.  The game ends on a key scene:

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Rachel asks Paula for access to the lab. Had she not done that, Paula would have never known the time was right for her weather control experiment.  This is the key moment which determines whether or not there is a storm that night. It is also the point that makes Something’s In The Air pass the Bechdel Test.

There are multiple versions of the scene where you go to Paula’s office.  Depending on choices you make she will reveal different bits of information.  If you want to complete Paula’s Gallery notebook, you will have to run this scene a few times.  The “fat guy named Chuck” line comes from the book Ready Player One.

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Finally we reach the big finale: The Weather control experiment.

While the first three stories were basically romantic stories, this last story leaves the romance behind for sci-fi.  The scene opens with the glimpse of an “Observer” from Fringe just to emphasize the point.  (According to Fringe lore, Observers are highly advanced cybernetically enhanced humans from the future who time travel to observe significant moments in history)

How does it work?

I once gave an explanation on how a 5 dimensional graph would work to a math class, using clouds in the sky as an example, this is that same lecture in reverse, which is probably not very accurate from a climatologist perspective.  It also shows how advanced this lab is by showing off a “holo-table”.

I think I am the first person to write a romantic story that ends with a math lecture followed by a word problem. The word problem is the last puzzle, and the answer is random, so even I do no know what the answer is.  This helped because I have to solve this problem myself every time and I made sure it does not take me forever to do it.

It is basically a four dimensional linear algebra problem disguised not to be.  Each line is a number line where the middle of green is 0 and the left edge of green is -1 and the right is +1.  Temperature, humidity and pressure vary from -10 to +10, Ionization is -15 to +5.

The devices range from 0 (red) to 3. My general strategy is to focus on Ionization first and play with device 3 and 4 to get Ionization in the green.  Then focus on Temperature, playing with device 1 (which raises temp) and device 2 (which lowers temp) to get Temperature green.  You can then fine tune the controls until Humidity and Pressure are also green.  It usually only takes a few tries to get it this way.

The “Tower of Ion” represents both a place in the game world as well as the high rise building.  Professor Paula Brannigan is an Air Mage (battles with lightning) in both the game world and for real. The scene ends with a classic “blackout gag” that undermines the whole story.

Then the credits roll.  Even though I wrote, directed, and rendered the story myself, there are a ton of 2D and 3D artists, music writers, sound effects recorders, prop builders and set builders who licensed their work for commercial use so I could make this game.  They did a good 90% of the work, I just assembled it and built on top of it. Thanks to all those artists.

Thanks to the 100,000 players, and thanks to all those that contributed.

11 thoughts on “Director’s Commentary 4: The Tower of Ion

  1. Paul July 14, 2014 / 11:05 pm

    Uh…guilty as charged. I only dated Ariane, all the rest was a consequence …Bonnie, for instance. Since I was more dedicated to create images of Ariane, and I have little free time, I chose to study the character in order to create the plot of the graphic novel. I must admit that “Something´s In The Air” seemed to me like an ordinary story with some relationship issues, but now I will have to find time to get to the game again…although it is almost time to put india ink on paper. Real india ink on real paper… I plan to start with traditional media and then slowly change to digital. Like real world meeting digital world and then…
    Well, what can I say ? Congratulations, you really impressed me. Hard to find extremely intelligent people these days.

  2. JamesK July 16, 2014 / 9:32 pm

    This post inspired me to play again and find some things I missed before (half of the Rachel content, mainly). However, upon downloading it to my Windows 8.1 laptop, i found that the game doesn’t play correctly. I have to click away from the game and back to it in order for the next screen to load. Do you have any idea what could be causing this?

    • arianeb July 19, 2014 / 3:07 am

      I have been playing it on my windows 8.1 tablet. It seems to worked better in “windowed” mode rather than full screen. I have not run into the problem you described.

  3. Nuremburger July 17, 2014 / 12:39 am

    I played this game to completion and I really appreciate all the effort that went into it. It doesn’t feel “shallow” as many other games, probably because the point is in the player getting it right and not being pampered throughout the whole thing to reach a good ending.

    I would suggest keeping Paula around as a character. The smart, nerdy, simple-but-pretty-looking redhead has much more to her that could be used in further games. Probably one of my favorite characters, aesthetically speaking, aside from Ariane herself!🙂

  4. Sintel July 24, 2014 / 10:59 am

    I will just post this here as there seems to be no other way to contact the author (tumblr doesn’t allow me to send messages yet) — the latest update for arianeb is bugged (photoshoot at the lookout point) – in text71.html:
    * line 352 should have 8 instead of 7 in the condition — the game now just “freezes” at this point.
    * if I bypass this, it’s apparent that there is no path for shoot == 10/11 (both are needed in the current codebase) in the undress() function.
    * if I bypass this, after shoot == 15, modelpose is called again but there is no shoot == 16 in there — and the feedback for shoot == 16 just ends it like it would after a bad choice. So either this path is missing or another function needs to be called.

    Not to take away from the work you’re doing, I like the update! Just so you know.

    • arianeb August 5, 2014 / 12:49 am

      Sorry I did not see your message until late. The bugs you refer to are in the old text71.htm. The current version online does not have these bugs. text71.htm has been practically rewritten and its shorter.

  5. Mike M. August 9, 2014 / 5:58 am

    First, thanks for the many entertaining hours I’ve spent playing and re-playing DA and SITA. I admire the art you’ve created, and it’s a lot of fun (donation sent). Thus inspired, I’m even contemplating trying to make a romantic “choose your own” adventure novella/game.

    Next — the pic of Veronica at the nude beach — I couldn’t figure out why she had angel wings (well, one at least) for about 3 minutes. Then I realized her “wing” was a boulder in the background. Considering her shocking ending, I feel impelled to ask you: Deliberate? Or random?

    • arianeb August 9, 2014 / 1:13 pm

      Totally random, but now I wish it had been deliberate.🙂

  6. Dave Williams September 15, 2014 / 5:09 pm

    Dear Ariane,

    I kept wondering why I even surfed doofus storygames, then I found SITA and now I know! Its art is so elegant and its depth is truly epic! I felt I was on a quest to learn and understand and form wonderful friendships with the lead characters – yes that’s right I didn’t want to seduce them or ‘game’ them, I wanted to spend time with them and delight in sharing their lives! Oh my!

    Thus it turned out to be (what I fear is) unique (so far) on the www, in that you can explore the world and befriend women there. I guess it fulfilled a deep need in me to be accepted as a friend by women rather than being doomed to be treated like a potential sexual predator (this is esp. true of v. attractive women), yet not be marginalized as ‘a friend’ in the compartment that women place you when they are not really interested, or when they are happily married, or when they dump you.. all of which are rather hollow friendships. Thus obviously Rachel absolutely nailed it for me – she is sick of drooling idiots who can only see her as a model, and wants a companion who is into stuff about her life as an individual.

    So essentially it accessed emotions which have always been there but which have been all but starved in RL, it also felt like an adventure, a novel (good description, ‘graphic novel’!) and bound up in a mystery to be solved as well – all in an INTERACTIVE experience! The side-trips into LARPS and the FRPG and the huge range of side-stories (almost everyone had a backstory!) just ramped up my rating from good to great to awesome!

    For balance and to prove I’m not just a shrieking geek fan who ‘loves everything’, here’s my neg. point – is it possible to have such a game WITHOUT the groundhog day busywork? It is SUCH a pain to have to re-enter the same 20 commands to get back to the last waypoint where you made a deal-breaker choice.
    It would be so great if after making a gaffe you can go back next day and say ‘sorry I was an idiot, can we try again’, rather than going back to the bar for the 50th time and every time she acts as if she never met you in her life!? Fifty times trying to negotiate a minefield of ‘game over, play again?’ is pretty irritating and nothing like dating!

    OK enough self-analysis of my emotional reactions…
    I wish I could now start to dip into your huge catalog of similarly awesome novels, as one does when discovering one’s first book by Bill Bryson, Douglas Adams, Piers Anthony, Larry Niven, or (you get the picture!) but instead (with no disrespect to Date Ariane which is top of its class but is still mostly a quality-rendered Virtual Date game) it feels more like having watched the ‘last ever’ episode of great work and knowing that apart form re-runs all you can do is wait and hope for a ‘new work’ to appear in time.

    So the question therefore is WHEN IS YOUR NEXT ONE coming?!!!
    More dating? Alternatively I’d be just as keen to read an FRP novel by you, you’d be awesome at that even with no ‘dating’ (in or out of character!) involved.
    ..and no, forget waiting, I kneel before you and pledge you whatever humble service I may, be it anything from feedback to plot brainstorming to playtesting! – I’d be honored if you’d even consider having me as collaborative creative writer (I can provide samples of my work if you email me a request). Should she but ask, in gratitude for SITA, I pledge myself as a Knight of the Lady Ariane – call on my sword anytime!🙂

  7. Nilo Downs February 11, 2015 / 10:27 pm

    Hw do I take Rachel to the house party

  8. naniah March 23, 2015 / 3:15 am

    how do u get on a date with puala?

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