A Star is Born:
Let’s Play Champions Online Pt. 14

By Shamus
on Dec 29, 2009
Filed under:
Shamus Plays

I’m sulking. The only sane person on our side (the good guys) is actually being mind-controlled by one of the bad guys. What am I supposed to do? Leave him like that, thus letting the bad guys win? Or free him, so that he can go back to being as loony as everyone else?

As I fly around, pondering this difficult question, I encounter…

staronchest_kitty2.jpg

…an old woman. She’s lost her kitty, and asks me to help find the little guy. Aw.

I’ve actually mentioned this quest before.

staronchest_kitty1.jpg

So… you lost your cat. Okay. I’ve got a couple of minutes. Let’s find him. Should I just look around this area or…?

staronchest_kitty3.jpg

Oh? You’re walking? Look, there’s no need for that. I can move faster without you. If you just stop.

Stop here.

Or here is good too. Pretty much anywhere.

If you’ll just stop walking I can go find your cat…

Oh. I see. This is an escort mission. Doesn’t make any sense that you should need to escort a woman who just asked you to find her cat, but years ago someone told MMO developers that players LOVE escorting moronic / suicidal NPC’s and now nobody can tell them different. And no escort mission would be complete without…

staronchest_kitty4.jpg

Oh. Dudes. See? This is why you should have let me-

Ah! They’re beating on the old woman?!? Why are they doing this? They really give her a pounding, too. I had no idea these guys had it in for old ladies so bad.

I apply firm, even impacts to make sure we get a nice, even coating of pain and death. I hate spotty work. The troublemakers thus dispatched, I turn back to my charge.

Okay lady, this whole thing is really strange and I wouldn’t blame you at all for wanting to wait by the road while I look arou-

staronchest_kitty5.jpg

No? You’re just that hardcore? Fine. But don’t come crying to me when we get…

They really do engage the lady first, but it’s kind of important to stop them from doing that and not stand around taking pictures while it happens. Which is why these shots show them beating on <strong>me</strong>.  These were taken after I’d gotten their attention.
They really do engage the lady first, but it’s kind of important to stop them from doing that and not stand around taking pictures while it happens. Which is why these shots show them beating on me. These were taken after I’d gotten their attention.

…this. Oh look. More grandma-murdering guys.

I don’t suppose they beat any sense into you? No? Fine. Lead on.

Grammy turns a corner, turns another corner, leads me down an alleyway, then takes me into an even smaller alleyway, which is also a dead-end. Okay, so…

staronchest_kitty7.jpg

It’s an…. ambush?

The little old lady turns into a PSI-powered super-villain and leaps into action!

staronchest_kitty8.jpg

“Hang on a second there, Pinky.”, I say, putting up my hands in mock surrender, “Before we make the beast with four fists, I need you to go over your plan here. Because one of us has just been promoted to the biggest idiot in the city, and I’m pretty sure it’s not me.”

Ambusher gives out a third-rate villainous laugh and puffs out his chest, “Allright hero. I’ll use small words so your feeble mind can comprehend. Nothing can withstand-“

“Yeah. So, you began this thing by disguising yourself as an old woman half your height. That’s a pretty good trick. But then you made up this nonsense about a cat and confused the whole thing.”

“And you fell for it anyway!”, he says. And then does the laugh thing again. It sounds a little too forced.

“Okay. Point for you”, I concede, “But then – and this is where things went really bad for Team Pink – you had your men ambush us, with orders to attack you.”

There’s a pause before he answers, “Of course! I tricked you into defending me!” Then he pauses for a few more seconds before giving me another, “Hahaha-HA!”

“Yes”, I say with as much patience as I can muster, “You tricked me into killing your dudes, leaving you all alone.”

Ambusher shrugs, “Yeah, well. Good help is hard to find. Your point?”

“Why didn’t you just have them attack ME?”

His answer is a blank stare.

I try again, “You could have stood by and watched your men beat on me, instead of getting beaten up yourself.”

His shoulders sag a bit. “Shit”, he says at last.

“Yeah. Think about it: If I’m too strong for you, you’ll lose this fight. But if I was too weak, then your men would have killed you. Your entire plan depended on me being stronger than all of your men, but weaker than you alone.”

“Look, maybe I just don’t have a head for planning.”, he says bitterly.

I cock my head to one side and give him the raised eyebrow of ‘are you kidding me’? Finally I ask him, “Aren’t you a member of PSI? Isn’t your entire army of villains based around mind powers? How can you be bad at planning? Intelligence is your superpower!

“Well”, he says looking around, “I STILL led you back here and trapped you in this alleyway!”

You’re the one with his back to the wall.”, I point out, “If this doesn’t go my way, I can just turn around and bail. If this goes bad for you… what’s your plan, then?”

“I’ll call on my henchmen!”

“Dead. Remember?”

He looks past me, out towards the open area where all of his men have been piled up in a gruesome heap of hideous pink outfits. “Right, right. Damn. Well I could-“

“And no, I wouldn’t fall for it if you just turned into an old woman again.”

“Damn.”

“Basically, you tricked me into killing all your guys and then you tried to go through that brick wall head-first.”

“What are you talking about? I never-“

staronchest_kitty9.jpg

The first time I encountered this mission I didn’t see the woman turn the corner. When the message popped up saying “IT’S AN AMBUSH!” I was nowhere near the bad guy. The ambush fight is timed, so I was running around the alleyways, frantically searching for the ambush. I failed the mission because I couldn’t find the guy who was trying to ambush me.

I failed?

staronchest_kitty10.jpg

That… That was really something.

Dazed, I stumble back to Socrates.

I’m tired of fighting it. I’m just going to do whatever he says and not think too much about it. I’m just going to give in to the crazy. Whatever Socrates asks for, I’ll just do it.

“Hey. UNIVAC”, I say, slapping the side of his kiosk like a vending maching that just ate my quarter. “Where to next?”

He suggestion is actually rather welcome. He says I should get out of town for a few days. Apparently there are some problems brewing out west and they could use my help.

Yes. That sounds really nice.

An airship ride later and I’m in the middle of the desert. Let’s take a look around.

staronchest_burnside1.jpg

There’s a ghost town here. With ghosts.

staronchest_burnside2.jpg

There are some ghosts who are standing around, waiting for superheroes to help them defeat other ghosts. I’m not sure what there is to be gained from getting involved in a bunch of inter-ghost squabbles. The living have enough problems to keep a hero busy, thanks.

staronchest_wasteland.jpg

East of spook town is the atomic wasteland, a sea of noxious green vapor, boiling with radiation. There is a scientist nearby, looking for superheroes to go in and thin the armies of rampaging mutants within the green cloud.

Why would we need to do this? Even if I cleaned the place out, the place is still bathed in DNA-scrambling poison. And even if I cleaned the place out and someone else waved a magic wand to remove the rads, it still wouldn’t matter because we’re in the middle of the desert and nobody wants to live here anyway. If we exerted all our power, and then some, we could turn this atomic wasteland into a plain old regular wasteland. This doesn’t sound like the most productive way a hero could spend his time.

staronchest_viper_base.jpg

Ah. A Viper terrorist base. I have to admire the fund-raising abilities of terrorists who fail at every battle, produce nothing value, and are still able to build something the size of a major university in the middle of the desert. I make a note to smash up their stuff at a later time.

Looking to the east, I see…

staronchest_prison1.jpg

Stronghold prison, the most secure prison int he world, home to the deadliest supervillains who ever lived. Naturally there’s a breakout in progress.

staronchest_prison2.jpg

I know I sound like a broken record when I complain about all the statues, but I really do feel compelled to question the need for this sort of thing. The fact that there’s a breakout in progress supports the notion that the statue money could have been better spent elsewhere.

staronchest_prison3.jpg

Also, if you are going to waste money building huge statues for your prison, do they really need to be of the inmates?

The cause of the breakout is the supervillain Menton. He’s a master of mind control, and he’s using his brain powers to control everyone in the prison, inmates and guards alike. They have all been enslaved and are now guarding him. The place has gone from being his prison to his fortress.

staronchest_prison4.jpg

Outside, hero Isabella Maronni is using her powers to keep a cluster of men free from Menton’s influence. She and her men can hold this area on their own, but they need someone to go in and stop Mention.

But before I can go charging inside and punch Menton’s distended brain, Isabella has a list of jobs for me. Certain inmates should be rescued. Power stations need to be disabled. A few powerful baddies need to be neutralized. A half dozen guards need to be culled. Escort a-

“Hang on a second”, I object, “What was that last one? About the guards?”

Isabella nods, “Yeah. I need you to take out six guards. You know. Help thin the ranks.”

“Why? I mean… they’re just being mind-controlled.”

“They’re patrolling around the prison, defending it.”

I shrug, “I can fly right over them. No need to hurt any-“

KABOOOM!

“What the hell was that?”, I shout over the ringing in my ears.

Isabella regains her footing after the earth-shattering explosion, “Nothing to worry about. That’s just the bombing.”

“The bad guys are bombing their own prison? Is that how they’re breaking out?”

“No. We’re doing the bombing!”, she says while pointing skyward. I look just in time to see a fighter jet pass overhead. A dark shape falls away and drops into the prison yard.

staronchest_prison5.jpg

“Are those planes trying to-“, I begin to say before the explosion answers my question.

“Yeah I guess I should have warned you about that”, she says as she shields her eyes from the blast wave of dust and debris, “We’ve got fighter jets carpet-bombing the area. You’ll want to watch out for that when you go in.”

“You’re bombing the mind-controlled guys? And you’re not going to stop when I go in?

“We’re trying to soften them up.”

“You’re killing people. People that aren’t even in our way. People that could go home to their families once we stop Menton.”

“Don’t act so superior. You’re the one who just agreed to kill six guards”, she says accusingly.

I can see this isn’t going anywhere good, so I leave. There’s one last area here in the desert in need of my help. Whatever it is, it can’t be worse than this.

NEXT TIME: Wrong! Tune in next time for the stupid, anticlimactic, waste-of-everyone’s-time conclusion!

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201737 comments. Hurry up and add yours before it becomes passé.

From the Archives:

  1. Trizophenie says:

    The cowboy robot city?

  2. Polecat says:

    Technically 2 places left in the Desert to go. Area 51 and the Cowboy-Robot Park….

  3. Worthstream says:

    Do they *really* bomb the prison while you’re in?

    The “Watch out for random explosions that can kill your character if you’re unlucky” kind of bombing, or the “harmless special effects” kind?

  4. FFJosh says:

    The prison made even less sense than usual for Champions. Kill the mind controlled guards, watch out for the carpet bombs, escort some crashed pilot off a cliff

    And now that I think about it, Shamus, after everything we did there, did we ever even get to fight Menton himself? If we did, I don’t remember it.

  5. Joshua says:

    Man, is everything in this game this….stupid? Are there any quests which aren’t facepalms?

    Oh, and this reminds me of a face/heel turn from LOTRO, although I’m not sure you’re intending to play it long enough to see. “Aha! I’m an evil villain! Bet you never saw that one coming!” Me. “Um, no, because it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, nor is there a terrible sense of betrayal here.”

  6. SolkaTruesilver says:

    But… what about the kitty? :’-(

  7. Selifator says:

    Kitty ran off with the cake.

  8. Mephane says:

    Shamus, you haven’t seen the whole thing. If you do some optional stuff in a later mission, you can even call in one of these airstrikes yourself. However, I only knew after touching some apparatus that this would call in the fighter jets…

  9. Teldurn says:

    I’m kind of glad I never got into this game. But, MAN, reading the inanity is some flavor of awesome.

  10. AnZsDad says:

    I have to second Teldurn’s comment. The only part of your articles I’m not enjoying, Shamus, is the deep sense of foreboding I feel when I consider that there are people in this world who like this crap, and that any one of them could one day become a world leader.

    *shudder*

  11. Kiwipolish says:

    I didn’t read all the other posts, so maybe you’ve mentioned that’s what old people look like before? Because that looks to me like a seventeen year old refugee from the eighties.

  12. Old_Geek says:

    Never trust an old woman.

  13. UtopiaV1 says:

    Is it me, or was that old lady kinda… attractive? Like, hot bod type-thing goin on…

    Do all games programmers like cougars these days? Or are they feeling ashamed of the nearly-legal supermodels that used to adorn these games, and are trying to make up for it?

    And my GOD is this game thick. “Save the guards by killing them!!!” “Get rid of this toxic spill in the middle of nowhere!!!” “You failed to get ambushed in time… FAIL!!!”

  14. tremor3258 says:

    That is one… I’m going to go with fit… Crazy Cat Lady.

  15. Simon says:

    The bombings that actually hurt you are in fact initiated by other player heroes – spaces don’t actually spontaneous explode on players. There’s a laser sighting thingy facing the entrance that you can use (whilst targetting someone in your target area) and then it explodes. Might be a mission associated with it – I cannot exactly recall. Only way for some land-based heroes to actually get *in* really since the groups are like HUGE and can be nasty trying to fight your way in. In fact, this entire area HATES earth-bound players even more than MC if that is possible – a complete nightmare if you cannot fly/swing.

    Of course, most players don’t give two hoots about other heroes in the target area when playing with the laser targetter. Or they are not sure how it works (no instructions – yay).

    I love the prison break concept but yeah – the counter-attack from the “good guys” is odd… And you constantly have to keep in mind that no one ever dies – they just get “defeated” so beating guards up to subdue them isn’t entirely unreasonable – if not for powers that are hard to justify as “non-lethal”, like the Orbital Cannon.

  16. J Greely says:

    I knew it was an ambush, because she didn’t remember me as the person who rescued Reggie during the Qulaar invasion. I’d like to think that this was a deliberate clue left by the quest writer, but I know better.

    Speaking of the desert, has anyone ever found any quests related to the large number of Demon henchmen camped out far away from anything interesting?

    -j

  17. TSED says:

    Yeah, I never take it as ‘kill the guards.’

    It’s obviously ‘send the guards to Intensive Care.’ Obviously.

  18. ps238principal says:

    You can’t quit here! You’ve still got Monster Island and Lemuria to take the piss– er, review!

  19. Mephane says:

    In fact, this entire area HATES earth-bound players even more than MC if that is possible – a complete nightmare if you cannot fly/swing.

    I have recently done both on a new character with Acrobatics, and Snake Gulch is much worse than Stronghold Prison in this regard.

    Speaking of the desert, has anyone ever found any quests related to the large number of Demon henchmen camped out far away from anything interesting?

    There is one quest that starts in there, I can’t remember exactly, but there should be some kind of altar in the oasis which you can use.

  20. someboringguy says:

    Maybe they were pretending to beat their leader?

  21. Leese says:

    “I knew it was an ambush, because she didn’t remember me as the person who rescued Reggie during the Qulaar invasion.”

    But then again lots of people you meet in the invasion forget who you are – most notably Defender. When you get the mission from Witchcraft to go meet him in MC, he says…

    “Ah, the hero from the Desert! {name}, knowledge of your feats travel far. Witchcraft speaks highly of you which is enough to convince me!”

    He’s forgotten who you are and how you saved him in the three or four hours it takes to go though the 5-14 game. That was the dialogue that finally convinced me the writers didn’t know their arse from their elbow.

  22. Dev Null says:

    I’m sulking. The only sane person on our side (the good guys) is actually being mind-controlled by one of the bad guys.

    Uhm Shamus? Who exactly was it who told you you’re supposed to be the good guys? Without that – apparently warrantless – assumption, some of this makes an awful lot more sense.

    What happens if you let the “old lady”‘s henchmen beat her to a pulp?

  23. Incidence says:

    First of all, I’ve really enjoyed this series and I’m sad it’s ending.

    Second, as for the games writing, my personal theory is that the respawn points aren’t just a game mechanic, they really exist in the game world. It explains most of the generally insane behavior of the NPCs if they know they are immortal like the heroes, the key being that the local authorities control the points, so when my Munitions toon is mowing down gangers with her minigun they really are getting arrested when they respawn at the jail. If you extrapolate out that maybe the tech isn’t perfect and the side effects include aggression and memory loss it explains most of the rest of the insanity.

    Ok, that whole paragraph is a lie, the writing just sucks, but its a lie that lets me enjoy the game despite the insanity.

  24. DKellis says:

    The old woman is (supposedly) the same one you return the cat to in the tutorial. You can even ask this “old woman” about the cat, and I think the answers hint that she is an imposter.

    Sadly, this piece of detective work does nothing, and you have to go through the mission anyway. Or drop and ignore it.

    And as the comments prior mention, they don’t bomb the prison compound while you’re in it. You bomb the prison compound while you’re in it. One of the questlines does make you do this, although I can’t remember why.

    A lot of the “who are these villains and why should I care” would have been mitigated if pulling up their info tab did not simply throw “Default Critter Description” at me.

    • Because then, you might get off the railroad and stop the game designer from griefing you.

      Actually, both in tabletop and video game settings, things like that “ambush” bug the crap out of me. It’s just a way for the designer to slap you in the back of the head without you being able to retaliate. Not only was the ambusher’s plan mind-numbingly stupid, but the developers have to know that a) not everyone will have done the quest where you save the cat earlier, b) that any other clues that could help you figure out the true nature of what’s going on don’t exist in the context of the gameworld because the resolution into the world isn’t high enough, and c) that most of us will accept absurdities instead of viewing them as warnings because we know how insane MMOs are (the designers could just have forgot that you returned the cat to her, or didn’t want to code in an alternate path where you know she can’t be real because not everyone did the quest; we accept PSI agents just beating up on a woman for no especially good reason because that’s what escort missions are). If I’m a max level Psi hero, or a super-sleuth, or something, don’t you think I’d figure out what an obvious trap this is?

      Escort missions always do that kind of crap. Random spawns come out of nowhere? Yeah, that’s totally fair. I think that 60% of the problems with escort missions aren’t even the bad AI or the concept, but designer jackassery like that.

      In tabletop games, this kind of griefing is easier to prevent, but it’s still galling when the person is being played for playing a roleplaying game. For example: GMs that give real-time limits on your actions. Yes, it does simulate the rush of combat better. Too bad were I my character, I’d SEE everything without having to ask for clarification instantly, and would be professional and instinctual in my own body, rather than having to imagine how someone else would act based on by-necessity incomplete descriptions. Most betrayals in games are that obvious and telegraphed, with a few noteworthy exceptions (Jade Empire’s, the way KoToR 2 actually played out, etc.)

  25. Another Scott says:

    I think by now it is clear that the only recourse left for Star-On-Chest is to become a villain and enact vengeance upon the ‘the good guys’ that he has such strong reasons to despise.

  26. 1d30 says:

    I think that would require that he come up with idiotic plans, huge statues of himself, horrible quests, and punish anyone using Acrobatics mercilessly.

    Hey, I guess the real villains are the developers!

  27. Monkeyboy says:

    @ Dev Null
    Uhm Shamus? Who exactly was it who told you you’re supposed to be the good guys? Without that – apparently warrantless – assumption, some of this makes an awful lot more sense.

    That my friend, is brilliance.

  28. Instinct says:

    I just wonder how much the writers were paid by WoW to include this much suck and FAIL into the quests.

  29. Namfoodle says:

    It’s too bad you can’t really talk to the ambush-er after he drops his old lady disguise and explain to him how flawed his plan is. Is it possible to let him get beat to barely alive by his own henchmen before triggering the ambush? Or does he automatically start at full power once he drops the disguise?

    I agree with Dev Null. Assuming the heroes are working for the “good guys” is just not the right way to look at it…

  30. Deadborder says:

    Please tell me you at least got round to making your Nemesis beofre ragequitting. I’d love to see who Star On Chest’s arch-enemy would be – other then a Cryptic Designer.

  31. Galad says:

    “I failed the mission because I couldn’t find the guy who was trying to ambush me.

    I failed?”

    I love how this extra bit of punctuation goes a long way towards making a mental image of poor Shamus facepalming himself and glaring at his monitor =D

  32. wootage says:

    Hmm, likely that Menton = Mentok the Mind Taker.

    Thank you for saving me from this game Seamus!

  33. Are you sure you don’t mean, “Multivac?” :D

    Hey, let’s give them credit for something. They wrote an escort mission that is different and explains, however poorly, all the stupid shit the AI did to make the escort mission hard.

  34. natureguy85 says:

    I really enjoy your writing. I was laughing during the entire “Ambusher” bit.

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