16 - Let's take a camp tour!

Rest easy, readers; I have played a ton of Psychonauts since my last posting. I am really enjoying the unfolding of the plot and the actual structure of the game. I had no idea how complex and elegant it would be because of my experiences from playing previous 3D platformers in the past, and I will go on to expound its greatness while blogging. On the other hand, the gameplay is pretty much what I was expecting: not very good. It is marred by difficult and floaty jumping mechanics with not much help regarding depth perception. The camera also moves around clumsily and can be used to judge jumps better, but the inaccuracy of the keyboard does not help going in subtle directions. This makes me really wish I had played it on a console or could figure out how to get my game pad working in the game.  These experiences range from mild annoyance to mumbled curses at the inanimate TV and, from comments I have seen regarding the game on GetGlue and other areas while researching, I can be assured it will only get worse. I am not looking forward to that, but I am looking forward to seeing where the story goes. It is quite well integrated and folds in on itself in several turns that I wasn’t expecting.

I have also started a little contest for people reading the blog. If you know the source of the quote indicated by the asterisk (*) you can win a free copy of Psychonauts! Check the bottom of this post for details.

So, without further delay, let’s continue with Psychonauts!

Psychic Camp

[Always know what to do next in this one.]

After being instructed by Agent Nein to go to his lab for extra training, I set off to explore the open world of Whispering Rock Psychic Summer Camp. The entire camp is comprised of six areas including the children’s bunks, main lodge, parking lot, lake, the reception area, and the wilderness. There are also several other ‘hidden’ places in the camp I will walk about later. These can all be reached by interconnected pathways when walking or by an underground railway system accessed through hollowed out logs making travel much quicker.

[Like Indiana Jones, but not really.]

Each of these areas contains at least one major location of note such as the main lodge with the camp store or the lake with its boathouse. Not all of the plot essential buildings are immediately accessible, but you are free to explore anywhere else to your will and there is a lot to see. Hidden areas containing psi cards, psi markers for leveling up, arrowheads for spending at the camp store, and even special hidden items to be found in a scavenger hunt are all over the place.

[Always checking this screen.]

The first area I visited was the Main Lodge where I poked my head into the store. I did not have enough money to really buy anything except a couple of psi cores to make psi markers to level up, but there were some interesting items to be had including a vacuum to collect mental cobwebs, a merit badge that attracts mental health widgets to me (as they tend to run away), and a ‘dowsing rod’ to collect deeply buried arrowheads worth more than just 1 credit. Unfortunately, I found there was a barrier of entry when the enigmatic old man from the intro of the game (who holds many jobs around camp, more to come on that) told me I “didn’t have enough levels for that”. Alright… hold on, the dowsing rod requires  psi-level 10 while the vacuum requires level 20! Not to mention the fact that they cost an arm and a leg. This is going to be a real long term strategy with a high level of entry that was mentioned earlier by Sam in the comments.

[That stupid dowsing rod.]

I don’t mind artificial barriers being put in a game as long as they are pretty well hidden in the lore and part of the DIEGETIC PROGRESSION of the game. What is a little annoying, but a bit nit-picky, is for them to say, “Oh, you just can’t have this because see this number here? You don’t have it.” Many games do this and is often a necessary evil, but it really kicks you out of the game to quantize something that could be better worked into the fiction.

Let’s derail and talk Dark Souls for a minute. When you pass the tutorial area, you are dumped into the Firelink Shrine with no idea what to do or where to go. The designers could have closed all but one of the three possible ways you can go artificially to funnel you there, but that would destroy the open world illusion of complete freedom and non-linearity. Their answer was to fill two of the three paths with creatures you really have little chance of defeating, especially as a new player. I love this kind of older school approach that tells you ‘Don’t go here’ by punishing you rather than putting up a wall. Many games I remember used to do this such as Wizardry, the Elder Scrolls, or Baldur's Gate (sorry, RPGs on the brain) and it really lends to the game world. In contrast, telling the player “You can’t have this because numbers” and making you go back hours earlier in the game to get some collectibles seems a little beneath what I have found later in this game in terms of story design. But maybe I’m just being silly.

Moving on.

[This says 'Go away' just as much as a wall.]

Camp Activities – An overview of each area

Let’s take a look at each of the areas you can visit at the camp.

The Kids’ Cabins

This is where the game opens and I did a lot of exploration in the first post. It is pretty small and only has one ‘hidden’ area, a cave, that is pretty easily found. It is created to be a playground where the new player can run around and practice the basic movements that will be necessary later: running, jumping, bouncing on trampolines, climbing nets, climbing poles, and swinging on branches. It is a good intro with no danger to mess you up if you can’t make it. It’s also very small and is easy to locate all of the psi cards and other similar items.

[Hanging out at the cabins with this peeping tom.]

Main Lodge

I already touched on this a little bit. This area really does not have much besides the lodge itself and a large grassy area surrounding it that has some deeply buried arrowheads. It connects to the parking lot, kids’ cabins, lake, and wilderness. I have been coming back a lot to go to the store, but there is really no other reason to return once you have all the psi cards.

[I'm a better DJ than this kid.]

The Lake and Boathouse

The lake area contains an entry garden area, lake shore, a boathouse (staffed by another old guy), and a boardwalk leading to a bathysphere that can be seen in the distance. Unfortunately, this is inaccessible since Bobby Zilch and his toadie are torturing a fish and won’t let you pass. I was able to use my double jump and do a little floating to get most of the cards on the first visit, but this didn’t help too much because of how the game handles water. Slight spoilers coming, so skip the next paragraph if you are playing along.

Raz’s family does not want him to be a psychonaut since his father is the survivor of an attack by psychics who cursed all of the ancestors to die in water. To visualize this, the game shows an actual hand come out of the lake (or other body of water) to try to grab you. You get about two bounces on water before you get pulled underwater to whatever fate awaits you. In this case, though, it is just to crawl out of the lake sopping wet. I imagine that later in the game this will lead to a death.


The Parking lot & Reception Area

The parking lot is just what it says and not terrible interesting. It has just a few cards and not much else to do, so we move on to the reception area. This part is pretty interesting and has lots of hidden and hard to find places to explore. A council fire had lots of buried arrowheads and foliage to search. Moving in further is a thrown together home made out of trailers and containers for the camp custodian. Once again, it is the same old guy running the shop, boathouse, and performing other menial duties. Looking around more, I was able to find most of the psi cards, an old cave with a bear in it, a small graveyard (no idea what it’s about yet), and a mine car rail that I could slide along to access the final psi cards. After clearing everything, though, I couldn’t find much else to do.

The Wilderness

The final area of camp, the wilderness, is a really big area with lots of scary stuff in it… well, one scary thing: big black bears that can use telekinesis to beat you up. Fortunately, I had leveled up and earned the psychic power of Pyrokinesis to light things on fire so I could just roast the bears and then beat them up for the kill. This area has loads of hidden cards and buried arrowheads to find to save up for that overpriced web vacuum. It also has our old guy buddy as a park ranger who enters us into the camp-wide scavenger hunt for 16 items. After finding eight, we get a 4 level promotion. The second eight net another 4 level boost. We will get to work on that soon.

[Help me hoagie man!]*

Ok, now that I have gone through all the normal places, I did say there were some hidden areas of camp. The first one we find is "Agent Cruller's Lair” after the sentient mine car offers to take us there. Incidentally, this is the only other talking mine car I have experienced since Might and Magic 2. Upon entering the cavern, we finally get to see our old buddy, who we now know as Ford Cruller, and get a dose of truth. The camp is actually built on top of a giant deposit of Psitanium, a mineral used to focus the psychic powers of those with the talent making it the perfect place for the camp. The cave is a Dr. Evil style control room with monitors keeping an eye on world affairs that may need the assistance of the psychonauts. It also contains two very useful machines: one that makes psi cards out of mental cobwebs (useless for now, stupid vacuum), and a machine that combines nine psi cards and a psi core into a challenge marker to raise Raz’s rank by one level. Now we can finally put all these to use.

[Saving up the psi-cores to burn down the trailer park.]

For now, this is every area to be found once the camp is opened up. Not small, by any means, but generally just fun for running around and hunting psi cards and other collectables. After doing this for an hour or two, I decided to move on and finally take Agent Nein up on his offer for extra training.

[No sharks with frickin' laser beams in this lair.]

Finally getting somewhere.

Finding Agent Nein, or Sasha to be more familiar, was pretty easy after exploring so much. I actually found it before looking at all the areas, but for the sake of direct and linear writing I skipped that part. Hope you forgive me. In the wilderness is a fenced off area containing lots of strange, spiked metal domes that look similar to those machines that make your hair stand up at the science center. When looking around for these, I heard a kid yelling for help and crying from one of them. I hate hearing kids crying, so I had to bash them all until the middle one opened and the kid in there said Bobby locked him in. I hate that guy.

It turns out these were constructed as an experiment to block psychic waves from reaching test subjects to render them almost blind in psychic perception which seems pretty cruel. Anyway, in the middle of the dome were small four pins. Remembering that Nein had given me a button, I used it on the pins and unlocked a hidden door leading to his lab and opening the quick travel option using the mine cart (which I LOVE).

[>use button on pins]

The lab is not very interesting with some odd architecture allowing for jumping and finding hidden psi cards. After quickly finding these, I talked to Sasha who told me he wanted to experiment with his ‘Brain Tumbler’ machine which can be used to self-analyze and enter your own head. Sounds like scary stuff, knowing what it is like to be so introspective, but we need to move on! I had a choice about continuing or waiting, but, since I had explored so much, I decided to bravely leap in. Check out next time when we see what waits for us in our minds! …or is it? Wait and see.

What’s next?

After writing this entry, I realize I probably have enough for two or three more updates which really makes me feel good since I felt like I was falling off a little. I hope I can get a few more out and keep playing the game to completion soon since I hate to disappoint.
In other news, I will be adding a few games to the backlog and will reupload the updated list after Psychonauts is done. Going up will be Quest for Glory 1-5 have been purchased from GOG and I am also considering getting The Legend of Grimrock. If it comes up next on the draw, I will get it as well since I love old school dungeon crawls.Bioshock: Infinite has been delayed, so I have opened up that purchase to X-Com when it comes out (the strategy one) because it just looks pretty good and Firaxis is making it. Take a look.

[Really looking forward to this.]

As always, leave any comments, tips, or recommendations you may have regarding… anything. Games, books, music, films are all things I am into.  Also feel free to share the blog with your buddies if you like it or if they like Psychonauts.

See you next time when we go to Agent Nein’s shooting gallery and get deeper into the plot of…. Psychonauts.

--Backlog Killer

*If you can tell me where this quote comes from, you can win your own copy of Psychonauts from GOG.com courtesy of me, the Backlog Killer. If you already have Psychonauts, you can choose any prize at or under 9.99 on GOG.com.