Tour of Duty: Where Some Rarely Go
Posted By: VikingBoyBillyDate: 3/22/14 7:29 p.m.

Last time on tour of duty, we blew up some docked juggernauts on a pfhor armory platform and finally found some much needed oxygen chargers.

The track I have chosen for this map is Norach from the Lh'owon album, and PerseusSpartacus taught me to use Atque to make the music play in the map automatically so I don't need to run a media player in the background.

Durandal zapped us to Lh'owon's surface and we're immediately attacked by pfhor fighters in our immediate area, including one that hits us in the back from the stairs behind us (ouch). When they're dead, Durandal tells us what's up:

A pfhor water treatment facility rings a bell from our past. Or is it our future? More on that in Thing What Kicks. The s'pht on the terminal looks like the image was grayscaled, but could it be an official s'pht recolor we are yet to encounter? It also seems Durandal's still crudely hijacking pfhor transmissions with dimmed text.

Looks like our mission is to flood the pfhor with some Lh'owon sludge. And... huh... did Durandal just say the pfhor moved their operations up north because of radiation? Here in the area we're currently standing? Durandal... us humans don't react well when exposed to radiation. Well hopefully it only disrupts transporters, like he said.

In any case, that description of a marshy swamp area brings my senses to a certain zen. I love marshes in video games (and IRL). Darkmere is a top contender for my favorite map from Hexen and Unreal has that scenic boat ride. The Deep Darkness bicycle of EarthBound! Swamps give me mental images of the picturesque river nile in egypt, peppered with long grasses and papyrus. I feel submerged in the chaotic maelstrom of nature with frogs chirping, bugs buzzing, water crackling and burping, and Lh'owhon loons looning. If I concentrate hard enough, I can even smell it. I can't wait for us to get to Rubicon. Pfhor prime is an entire swamp planet! Actually, instead of all that, what we really hear is lots of wind and thunder (even minus the loons), and I'm sorry for the buildup, but this level really isn't that fun. Spoilers: the next map is even worse.

We walk down the stairs across the wide open area to the pattern buffer to find out the pattern buffer is all that's really out here. We see some shotgun and magnum ammo transport in where we just were. Durandal's such a nice guy, with his supplies thinning and all that.

I'll take a lesson from Hokuto's electric sheep write up and take some snapshots of the area:

That thing that looks like a big garage door will open up later. Right now the only way to go is up the stairs up the stairs into some twisty corridors punching out pfhor, and my, this map really is quite scenic:

Durandal teleports us in some more ammo (which makes me question if his supplies are really "thinning" as he's being unusually generous, sending us more than he does on maps when he doesn't mention ammo at all, but I digress) and after some exploring, with the door up here locked it looks like our only way is to jump down.

There are some f'lickta swimming around in the slime, and we need to take a swim over to the other side to progress. On the other side we encounter a very strange s'pht:

The status bar has changed it's size since I changed the display settings. Now it's stretched out to it's natural size from the original engine (pretty big! I thought the M1 Hud was the only one to complain about in the size department)

This guy looks like an ordinary ghosted s'pht, but his (or her?) behavior is different from what we're used to. It fires much faster and targets both us and the pfhor. Is this s'pht not under control by a pfhor cyborg? Does he have a good reason to be so angry? *cough foreshadowing cough*

If we go up the stairs, we'll enter a room with a weird window that oddly reminds me of architecture found in certain rooms of Heretic and Hexen:

No really, the resemblance is quite bizarre.

We find a pfhor waiting for us behind the door with a terminal.

Was the pfhor we just killed engineer 1st class K'all? Way back in Come and Take Your Medicine we (may have) killed a s'pht waiting for us by a terminal. It is not so unusual to see s'pht operating terminals since we have seen plenty of them hacking into the terminals on the Marathon. What made it unique was that the s'pht had written a message into it. Now, for the first time, we have killed a pfhor that was just operating a terminal in a correspondence. Wonder if we'll see more.

We walk up the stairs and, what's this?

Lots of terminal-happy aliens on this map. This s'pht didn't write the terminal, however. He was just reading it.

(Martin forgot this terminal in uploads to the Tour of Duty folder on the story site, so I took my own screenshot.)

Disappearing s'pht compilers? A missing pfhor? Oh my! I wonder if these terminals are all little building blocks to a complete story we can piece together. There's a sort of cubby hole in the wall above that some fighters came out of. You can ride the lift up and jump in, but there's nothing in there. It's just one of those ambush holes that's reminiscent of M1 design like in DEFEND THIS, but for some oddness, outdoors in M2 makes it seem like there's hidden secrets inside when there really isn't. In this corridor is a mystery button that is inactive.

Can someone explain what this is here for? I came back to it at the end of the map and it remains inactive as far as I can tell.

There's a building out here guarded by major pfhor fighters that come out to chase us.

If we continue running down the hall we'll find some magnum ammo waiting at the end, but I'm still duking them out with my fists because I'm a badass like that (by the way, Goran, or whoever made the HD weapons, a fist should thrust itself outward when it's punching, not just twist around in place =/ ). On the other side of the building we see something that looks exactly like the garage door from where we started. We pull out the automap and see that we are indeed on the other side of that door.

Inside the building we knock some more heads and find a new item, the S'pht card key.

... the s'pht Card key? Are we playing Duke Nukem right now? I honestly had not pre-prepared this joke back when I said we were duking it out here. The s'pht and pfhor are creatures that are truly alien and, well, a card key is a very human device, as are the giant computer chips we've been using on Lh'owon that are very much like the chips we used to activate the defense drones at Tau Ceti.

Ahem. The terminal.

Uhh... do we happen to be the cause of that untimely demise?

There's a shield charger here (finally!) and we activate the switch to open the garage door (possibly it required the card key? I didn't check before picking up the card) revealing a pattern buffer and a terminal.

Poor K'all can never catch a break, can he? All these terminals of pfhor getting demotions, sending their worst officers to this planet for punishment, and captains getting teleported into vacuum makes me stop thinking of them as a mysterious alien empire and makes me start thinking of them as sitcom characters. This comic by the battlecat is the closest material thing to what a pfhor sitcom would be like:

We find another button around the corner, opening the second garage door connecting the two areas. We've successfully climbed up to where we started and made the area accessible again. We need to tap the button, however, else the garage door will close again and force us to make the trip back the long way.

If we go for a swim in the southwest area of the map, we'll find a small underwater alcove that will teleport us into a fl'ickta mosh pit. I was too confident with my fists here and almost met an inglorious death, but some fast shooting saved me.

We find our way to a lift up to a door, but a crusher and very narrow window space prevents us from progressing here. Upon going back to explore more, we find there's really no other place to go. What we're supposed to do is run in and fire a charged Zeuss fusion shot at a button to lower the window before we get crushed to death. I just barely succeed with a shred of my shield left. This is nuts.

What we see here is kind of a strange sight.

What are these s'phts doing here? Are they prisoners? Pushing the buttons by their cells will lower the ceilings, slowly crushing them to death. And I do mean slowly. It's torture in the literal sense of the word. Did the angry translucent s'pht we met earlier escape from here?

I didn't take a screenshot of it this time (Look at my shield. too risky!), but there's another orange pfhor standing near two terminals behind the door here (and a pattern buffer, thank Yrro). The first terminal we look at shows us a full map of the area.

And I do mean FULL map. This and the next level is another two-parter, like Poor Yorick and Confound Delivery. All the green dots are important marks, like teleports, terminals, and maybe a pattern buffer or two. It's nowhere near as useful as the Tour of Duty maps, so I can't parse what each individual green dot landmarks. I don't know what blue dots mean. Blue and green dots with red lines washed in red and black is all you get (almost like looking at a virtually screen if it weren't for those dots *shudders*), but these maps are some of the most confusing in all of marathon besides Aye Mak Sicur and The Hard Stuff Rules so try to keep a mental memory.

Speaking of the Tour of Duty maps, we're overdue for inserting it in this write up, so here is the map of the half of the area we're in:

It really was overdue because at this point we've nearly covered it all in the automap already. We could run to the end terminal now if we choose to, but there's more to cover here. The other terminal:

I think we can surmise that the pfhor we just killed was Science Class 2nd officer St'ngr. But he was in orange armor, not blue like in this terminal (unless you're playing Total Carnage). I mean, it's not like pfhor can change their clothes like us humans. His name gives me the mental image of a hornet.

St'ngr is performing illegal experiments on the s'pht. You may remember the terminal from earlier that mentioned s'pht getting inadvertently teleported. Did St'ngr make sure they inadvertently ended up here? These crushers were put here to destroy the power armor casing and hopefully remove the creature (which won't work because we all know they just phase out like a PiD banshee when they croak). His motivation for doing this is to compare them with the "bipedal creatures" we are left to assume are the Fl'ickta. Odd stuff. And he looks so worried in that term picture. Is he afraid the S'pht will get angry and shoot him? That can't be it, since we know there must be controller cyborgs keeping their actions in check. But he's operating outside of the pfhor legal system, so maybe he took these experimental s'pht out of their forceful control to hide them. I don't know. We were already told way back in Charon Doesn't Make Change that the S'pht are evolutionary cousins to the Fl'ickta, so why is he doing this?

If we walk out of the main door here, we'll find ourselves above the pool where we were once surrounded by fl'ickta. There's a door that won't open here, but on the other side there's a room with buttons in three small alcoves. We go into the one on the left and turn on a lift rising us to our destruction, because, you see, if we look at the map, there's really no where to go at the "top" of this lift (except getting squished). But actually, there is a way out. The other two lifts are death traps, but if we tap on the left wall while we're rising, we'll open a door to a secret cave we can scurry into before we get crushed (a lot like that mandatory crusher room back on DEFEND THIS).

Some s'pht compilers appear outside, and guess where we are!

Yen, we're in the outside area of that Heretic-ish room with the odd windows we thought was inaccessible. Plus a ton of ammo appeared!

We walk over to the ledge and find ourselves in more familiar territory.

We can jump across to the other ledge and from there it's a good idea to go back to the structure for the 1x charger. We just went around in a circle from whence we opened that garage door, so what do we do?

Well, remember way back at the beginning when we were stuck on the other side and the only way to progress was to jump down? I mentioned a door on the other side that was also closed, but if we walk back over there, we'll find it open now.

A lift lowers us down to a hallway full of fighters and some more of those rapid firing invisi-s'phts from above and below make our lives miserable.

We find an... interesting terminal. So, uh… remember that other terminal that explained the fl'icta get their nutrients by absorbing marsh water? Then what's the point of eating, right? It turns out that the 'mouth' on the fl'icta isn't really a mouth at all...

So if the organic s'pht beneath their exoskeletons are closely related to the fl'icta, and we might see what looks like similar looking 'mouths' on them from sources such as these.

It's a bit obscured, but I imagine what could be a similarly vertically aligned mouth in the s'pht underbellies.

Is this how the s'pht reproduce as well? I'm trying to imagine baby s'pht inside the wide vagina of an adult s'pht inside the mechanical exoskeleton that eventually get spat out and attached to mechanical exoskeletons of their own when they are matured.

It's hard to imagine and easy to see why the pfhor have such difficulty understanding the creatures separated from their exoskeletons when they die without them. Their biological gender system is somewhat confirmed. S'pht and fl'ickta are neither male nor female, but have a mix of both reproductive parts like flowers. The s'pht were brought here by the Jjarro, so do Jjarro have similar methods of reproduction? There are obviously many things which we do not understand, and may never be able to.

One last thing. The terminal was written by S'tngr and got cut off prematurely. I guess that other guy we killed before wasn't S'tngr after all. He's one of the recently fallen corpses in this room somewhere.

In the end we'll find ourselves... back in this area

Where are we supposed to go, eh? Actually, I lied about the three lifts before. It's only the middle one that has no escape. The one on the right takes us to our destination.

At the top we'll find a door that doesn't open.

Is this a place we'll return to later? This map is so big already, how is there room for more beyond this door? ;)

At the top of the stairs we'll find a window overlooking a wide outdoor area into a room on the other side with a terminal:

We can't reach it, but there is another terminal in our immediate room next to us.

Short and to the point. We haven't finished our mission yet. Off we go Thing What Kicks! I think I made comparisons to DEFEND THIS at least twice in this write up. The map maker must have been a fan.

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Tour of Duty: Where Some Rarely GoVikingBoyBilly 3/22/14 7:29 p.m.
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