Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead

Yeah, instead of doing my taxes - or anything else productive - I decided to play Cataclysm again. :)

I blogged about the game last summer, but this is a new version. The original developer moved on to new things, and a group of fans have been adding to the game. Now it's called Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead.

It's still free (a Windows version is here, or try this) and still lots of fun, though I worry about the whole 'designed by committee' thing (that it might get too cluttered, with everything under the sun, I mean). There's no graphics pack for this one, not yet, so it's just ASCII. And it's still under intense development, so it's quite buggy. But if you like games,... you really have to try this thing!

When you start the game, you can set various options by choosing 'Help,' then pressing '2.' You can enlarge the window there, for one thing, although there's no full-screen option. And that does nothing to make the fonts bigger. So, rather than changing my screen resolution every time I want to run the game, I just use the Windows 7 Magnifier to double the size of my whole screen. That works fine.

Another option, the static spawn option, is turned off by default, but I really should explain that one. Normally, as described in my earlier post, you start the game at 8 AM, but zombies don't start to appear until 9:30. (Child zombies, which are something new to this version, might still be around, I don't know. Wild animals certainly are.)

So a typical tactic, given that you start with almost nothing, would be to look at the map, identify the closest sporting goods store, hardware store, gun store, or other useful buildings, and run off to loot them as fast as possible.

You can only carry one item in your hands, and maybe a few small items in your jeans pocket, so a backpack or something similar (even a purse or two) is always your first concern. But without zombies, you can smash windows to loot almost anything, if you make it quick (most doors are locked).

At 9:30, when zombies start to appear, they're just the ordinary zombies, at first. They're slow and weak, though deadly in numbers. However, at that point you really want to watch the noise. Noise will not just attract existing zombies, it will cause more zombies to spawn nearby, too - especially loud noises (like smashing down a door or firing off a shotgun).

Special types of zombies, very dangerous types, will start to appear as well. And for the rest of the game, zombies will be virtually unlimited in number. No matter how many you kill in a town, more will spawn - especially if you're noisy about it.

So, with a normal start, your tactic will almost always be to loot the nearest city, then get out before things get too tough. Assuming that zombies don't follow you out of town (more on that later), you'll be reasonably safe in your evac shelter, with a nice assortment of equipment to get you started. (Note that there are plenty of dangers outside the towns, too, but you don't usually have to worry about zombies there.)

With the static spawn option, though - which is what I've been playing - the entire game is different. You start the game with every zombie - including the very dangerous types - already infesting the towns. Entering the center of a city during the day is simply suicide. You still start with nothing, pretty much, and you've got no easy way to get anything, either.

On the other hand, zombies won't continue to spawn. You can even clear out a town, if you're tough enough to take on the specials. Zombies are still infinite in number, because the world is infinitely large and some might always wander in from other cities. However, I like the sense of accomplishment with this option, knowing when I kill a zombie that it really is one less zombie. :)

It's a lot harder to start, though, and your tactics have to be completely different. I highly recommend starting with one point in mechanics skill, so you can make a crowbar right off the bat. Grab a rock from right outside the evac shelter, smash a locker to get a pipe (the shelter will normally be far enough from town that the noise won't attract zombies), then beat the pipe into a crude crowbar.

With a crowbar, you can pry open doors without making too much noise. Then you need to loot isolated homes in small towns, where you can hope to avoid zombies or, at least, not attract anything really tough. You probably won't find military surplus gear, but a couple of purses will help you hold loot, and there's usually food and drink there, at least at the start of the game.

Almost everything you find is useful, and with the static spawn option, I find that I'm just absurdly grateful for all of it. A purse? How wonderful! :)

I started my first game,... and walked out of the evac shelter to immediately discover a cougar which thought I looked like lunch! I didn't have anything but a rock I picked up from the ground, so I turned around and ran back to the shelter, hoping that the NPC inside would help me out.

Sure enough, as I got close - already bleeding - he shot his .44 pistol through the window at the cougar. Unfortunately, he missed the cat and hit me, in the head, instead - critical hit, 135 pts. of damage, game over. That was the shortest game of Cataclysm I've ever played!

My next character had a similar experience, though I'd given him the Animal Empathy trait, and the cougar was a long way off, so I hoped it would ignore me. I'd created a crowbar, too, so I wasn't completely helpless. I headed east, away from the cat and towards the nearest, rather isolated, house.

Unfortunately, the big cat followed me - not immediately hostile, but 'tracking.' I got around to the other side of the house and pried open the front door - all without seeing any zombies - and was able to close it, while I looted the home. There were a few useful things inside, but no weapons. And the cougar was camped at the front door.

I didn't realize at the time that I could open windows from inside a house, without smashing them, and leave quietly that way, so I tried to lure the cougar inside - inside an interior room, too - where I might be able to shut the door on him. But, as luck would have it, my first completely-unskilled swing with the crowbar accomplished a critical hit on the cougar's head, and he dropped dead in the doorway.

I hadn't found a knife, not yet, so I couldn't butcher the carcass for meat and pelt, but it was certainly an encouraging start. Unfortunately, I ran into a nasty bug after awhile, so I had to start a new character on a new map. Or maybe that wasn't so unfortunate, since I really love my current map!

As I noted, I've been playing with the static spawn option turned on, so cities are a deathtrap - in the daytime. Oh, they're plenty dangerous at night, too, but my character has the Night Vision trait, which lets him see just one square further than normal, and the Light Step trait, which means that he walks very quietly, too. So it's not actually suicidal to raid cities at night (just very, very dangerous).

(Note that the Light Step trait came in very handy in my second game, too, where I never saw a rabbit, a squirrel, or a deer, but there were dirt mounds all over the place.)

My character still smells like a human being, though, and zombies aren't just attracted by airborne scent, they can also trail a person almost like a dog can. If you're curious, here's a video which shows exactly how that works in the game.

Basically, if you hang around in one spot, your scent will spread, attracting more zombies. If you move quickly through an area, you'll leave only a thin scent trail. You'll still end up with a bunch of zombies on your trail, but if you've designed a fast character (and you're not injured or sick), you can outrun most things. It's still really dangerous, and you don't want to lead them back to your home base, but it makes raiding possible.

In my first nighttime raid on a nearby city, I tried to get to the gun shop and to the military surplus store, but both were packed with zombies - including some of the specials. But I took off running, around this big expanse of bomb craters I'd discovered (since rough ground will slow zombies, and injure them, too) and got far enough ahead that they lost my trail.

Then, when I looped back to the military surplus store, it was clear enough that I could quickly loot it and get away again. Apparently, I'd drawn off the zombies with my initial dash through the area.

I tried that again on another night, still trying - and failing - to get into the gun store, and ended up with another big pack of specials, plus a huge, poisonous wasp, right on my heels.

I couldn't accomplish anything that night, but I did get away (accomplishment enough, huh?) by lighting and then throwing a Molotov cocktail on the ground next to my closest pursuers. I don't know if I killed any of them, but fire works great for disrupting a scent trail. So at night, with my Light Step perk and no scent trail to follow, they couldn't follow me any further.

(Note that zombies aren't smart enough to avoid fire, either. I once lured a brute - a bigger than usual zombie, especially good at melee fighting - into lava, and then did the same thing with a shocker zombie, a little later.)

My biggest problem in my current game is that I've caught a cold. Funny, huh? But my character feels lousy, plus he coughs frequently - nothing you want to do when you're trying to avoid zombies. I still don't have a good weapon, since I've found guns but no ammunition (and without a silencer, I probably wouldn't want to use them, anyway).

But I've got a crossbow I took from a trap (a squirrel set off the trap for me), and I can make wooden bolts for it. It's silent, but it's also very slow to reload. So I can shoot it once in a fight, but then I need to wield something else.

For most things - and for the rabbits and squirrels that keep me fed - throwing rocks works just fine. Rocks are pretty much everywhere, and even when I miss, I train my throwing skill, a bit.

Still, I'd feel a lot better with a gun, if only to train my skill in firearms. I need a shovel, too. And a hacksaw. Well, there's a lot of stuff I need. It's funny, but I had a heck of a time just finding a cigarette lighter, which is absolutely essential for starting fires. (With a fire, and a pot, I can boil the water I get from broken toilets, and other less-than-sanitary sources, to keep my character from puking his guts out.)

Cougars and wolves aren't a problem now, nor are ordinary zombies, provided I can deal with them one at a time. But those are the least of the dangers in the zombie apocalypse. And most things aren't considerate enough to attack one at a time, either. :)

PS. For complete beginners, if you're wondering, this is the character build I'm using right now: strength 8, dexterity 8, intelligence 12, perception 9. Negative traits: Glass Jaw, Trigger Happy, Weak Stomach, Wool Allergy, HP Ignorant, Truth Teller, Ugly. Positive traits: Fleet-footed, Quick, Light Step, Night Vision, Fast Reader, Animal Empathy, Optimist. Skills: Mechanics 1.
Note: You can find more of my posts about specific games here.


m1nks said...

This looks really interesting. Normally I don't play shoot 'em up kinda games as I panic and end up killing myself. I would have run myself into the lava rather than the zombies. But this does look interesting.

Does it have a 'for idiots' setting?

WCG said...

It's turn-based, m1nks, so you can take your time at everything. No worries about panicking.

However, you will die - and probably very quickly, at first. But this is a roguelike, so that's expected. (And if you start a new character on the same map, you can loot your corpse.)

Like many of these games, there's no way to 'win' it, just many, many ways to lose. As long as you survive, you're 'winning," but you won't live forever. :)

PS. It's good to see you commenting here again. I've missed you.

m1nks said...

I had issues with this place not posting my comments. I'd post and it would tell me I needed to log in, I'd log in, post and it would tell me I needed to log in. I'd go to my actual blog page, sign in, click on your blog which I follow, post and it would tell me I needed to log in...

I don't know what it's problem was but it went on for weeks. In the end I just gave up but it seems to be working again so her's me back.

I've been loving your blog though and I haven't liked being not able to comment and tell you so :-)

m1nks said...

I noticed it was time based after I posted. I just remembered when I reading it this zombie game which was really popular when I was a kid. It was full of zombies waiting to ambush you and very scary and atmospheric. I loved watching it, wasn't so good at actually playing it.

My friend convinced me to take a hand at the controls while I was meant to just be walking up to the house, but he knew that on the way a video sequence would start of some scary unseen thing crashing through the undergrowth coming after me. He told me to keep playing but I shoved the controls into his hands and, if I remember correctly buried my face in the coach.

Yeah. Not so good at surviving zombie apocalypses.

m1nks said...

Resident Evil. That was it. Scary as all ****!

WCG said...

Thanks! I'm sorry you had problems earlier, but I'm glad you're back.

WCG said...

I never played that one, but then, I'm not good with horror games, either. Sometimes I watch YouTube videos of scary games (this one, for example, is lots of fun), but I know I'd go nuts trying to play it myself. :)

Anonymous said...

Are you satan? Or his hired hand?

WCG said...

Well,... not Satan, myself, but there might be a family connection, Anonymous. Why do you ask?

As far as I know, there is no 'Satan' in Cataclysm - or anywhere else, for that matter.