Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Beginning Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead

I almost missed the end of the world. I was new to town, looking for work (unsuccessfully) - no friends and no family. When the lights went out, I just pulled out a book, then went to bed when it got too dark to read.

The next morning, I heard on the radio that the world had gone mad. We were told to stay inside, to barricade the door and let no one enter - no one. Well, that wasn't too tough for me, since I had nowhere to go, anyway.

The last radio station, before it disappeared forever, told of evacuation shelters and gave the address of one outside of town, not too far away. So when zombies started breaking down my door, I slipped out a back window and ran. I was wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers, with nothing but a small clasp knife in one pocket.

However, there was no one and nothing at the evac shelter when I arrived the next morning, and no sign that there ever had been. No zombies, either, which was a relief. But I wouldn't be able to survive long without food and water. And I needed a way to protect myself, because I couldn't run forever (while zombies, apparently, could).

In desperation, I found a rock and smashed apart a wooden bench - frightening myself with the amount of noise I was making - to get a two-by-four. Then I whittled down one end so I could grip it securely and pounded a few nails into the other. I certainly wouldn't want to be hit by it, but I couldn't say how it would work against zombies.

Then I tried to think of what I should do - what I could do.

I've blogged about Cataclysm, the free rogue-like zombie survival game, before. The new version is Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead, and I've blogged about that, too. But I haven't played it for almost a year, and there have been many changes since then.

Keep in mind that this is a free game, created and maintained by volunteers. There's a wiki - also maintained by volunteers - and I highly recommend that you go there for information. But the wiki tends to assume you know what you're doing, which wasn't really the case for me. So I'm going to include some very basic instructions here.

First, download the latest stable version here. (I downloaded the Windows 'Graphical Stable' version .9, so that's what I'll be talking about.) It's a zip file, and it just has to be unzipped into whatever folder you want. (In Windows, I simply created a "Cataclysm" folder on my C: drive, then dragged the contents of the zip file to that. That's all there was to it.)

The original game - like many rogue-likes - used ASCII graphics, but Cataclysm: DDA comes with three different graphical tilesets. Now, I'd been watching this playthrough on YouTube, and he was playing the game with Waldo's tileset, which looked pretty neat to me, so I downloaded that one. (The screenshots here are from Waldo's tileset.)

Again, there wasn't any information about what to do with the file, once I downloaded it, but it wasn't hard to figure out. Each tileset comes in its own folder, and you just put that folder in the gfx folder under your main Cataclysm folder. Done.

To start the game, double-click on the executable file (or make a shortcut for your desktop, at I did). It's not actually difficult, not at all. It's really very easy. But there aren't any instructions which tell you these things.

There was a wooded area east of the evac shelter, although the shelter itself stood on open ground. South of that, a suburb extended almost to the forest edge. I was fearful about going back into town, but I needed supplies, so I headed that way. Maybe the forest would provide some cover.

There were zombies near the houses - including one massive brute that looked like he'd shrug off anything I could do to him with my nail-studded two-by-four - but they didn't spot me. However, I could only find one house with an unlocked door on my side of the building.

I did find a small backpack, though - a very welcome find - and a warm can of Coke. (Hurray! No drinking out of the toilet just yet!) And I spotted an electric car out front, though I wasn't able to get to it. I made a note to come back later ('N' while on the map).

Although I was careful to stay out of sight of any zombies, they apparently heard me - or smelled me - as I searched the house. Or maybe it was just coincidence that I heard heavy footsteps nearby. At any rate, I ran out the back and left. Discretion is the better part of valor, right?

On my vway back to the evac shelter, I picked some strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries I found growing wild. I don't live in a society of abundance anymore, but of scarcity. I need to keep my eyes open for anything I might possibly be able to use.

And speaking of keeping my eyes open, I almost blundered into a minefield! That's not something I ever expected to encounter here in America!

I had a chance to try out my club, too, when a sewer rat attacked me. What, was it rabid or something? Luckily, I brained it with a rock before it got close enough to bite, then smashed it with my club.

And then I skinned it. I might not be hungry enough to eat a rabid rat right this minute, but who knows about tomorrow?

When I started this game for the first time, it appeared in a very small window with a menu of options (though even the Help file didn't say anything about what to do next). Well, what you want to do next is go to Options (use the arrow keys or press 'o').

There are several tabs of options, though it took me awhile to figure out how to go from one to the other. (Duh! Use the tab key! Or the < > keys.) Use the up/down arrow keys to select an option and the left/right arrow keys to run through the choices.

For the most part, I left this stuff at default. (Note that the game defaults to 'static spawn,' which is exactly what I wanted. Check out this post for more details about that.) However, I really needed to make the window bigger.

So I tabbed over to 'Graphics' (note that this is where I selected Waldo's tileset, too) and experimented with 'viewport width' and 'viewport height.' These default to something like 16, which gave me a very small screen. But setting the width to 90 and the height to 30 gave me a window which pretty well filled the screen. As I say, you'll want to experiment with this (if you're using a different tileset, that might make a difference, too, I don't know).

When you're done, hit Esc to exit options and save your changes. Note that the screen size won't change until you exit the game ('Quit') and restart it. So it might take a number of attempts to get the viewport height and width the way you want them. But it's pretty simple, once you know what to do.

Back on the opening screen, when you're ready to begin, you'll need to create a new 'World.' I left that entirely on the default settings. Then you can start a 'New game,' which will involve creating your character. There are lots of options for that - stats, skills, traits, professions. I recommend checking the wiki for detailed information, or you can watch this video, which will show you how to get started.

I chose to play an unemployed man with minor skills in Survival, Dodging, and First Aid, a Fast Learner with Night Vision and Light Step, but also Poor Hearing, a Weak Stomach, Lightweight (re. alcohol and drugs), and a Wool Allergy.

I recommend that you experiment. As I say, there are lots of options, and your character isn't likely to last long, anyway. Plus, each game is different. Even with the same character-type, you'll likely play differently because you'll find different equipment and encounter different enemies.

It was only noon when I got back to the evac shelter, and I still had almost nothing for supplies, so I decided to raid a different part of town. Again, I tried to pick an isolated home at the edge of the suburbs, but I ran into a pack of zombies.

These didn't appear to include the most dangerous types, so I lured them onto a fence and killed them all - but not without taking damage. In particular, I received a deep bite to my leg. Now, I'm absolutely paranoid about ending up just like these creatures, so I built a fire, heated my knife blade, and cauterized the wound.

That hurt like hell, so I gathered up what few supplies I could carry and limped back to the evac shelter, spending the rest of the afternoon resting and reading.

The cold woke me up before dawn. I'd been sleeping on the floor, in my clothes, with no blankets, and it was cold. I'd killed another rat, so I had meat, and I'd found a few apples, but I was thirsty. So far, I'd found no reliable source of water.

So I headed south, towards the edge of town, again. I was still hoping to find a building I could loot in peace, but I ran into more zombies. I killed one (can you kill something that's already dead?) and started to explore a home when more zombies crashed through the windows. I escaped out the back, but I'd found only a few cans of warm pop for my efforts.

So I decided to head into the forest. Surely I could find water somewhere. But as the day wore on, I began to panic. I'd found nothing. On the bright side, nothing attacked me. I saw a wolf, a few giant spiders, and a weird kind of fungal creature, but only at a distance. And it's easy to break contact in the forest.

But I was getting thirstier and thirstier. Eventually, I stumbled upon a highway - and the bodies of scientists. I don't know what killed them, or why they hadn't come back to life like the rest of humanity, but that wasn't important. What was important is that, among their other equipment, they'd been carrying bottles of water!

So I guess I won't die of thirst today. However, I'm a long way from shelter, in the middle of a strange forest, and I still haven't found a safe, reliable, and permanent source of fresh water. My only weapon is a nail-studded club, and I'm not an experienced fighter in any case.

But I'm alive, which is more than you can say for everyone else in the world, as far as I can tell. No, I can't be the only person still alive, can I? What would be the point of going on then? No, I'm not giving up. I might die, but I'll never quit.

Note: My other posts on Cataclysm, and other computer games, are here. The sequel to this post, with more tips on beginning play, is here.

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