Archive for April, 2011


Drawing Down the Moon

4/8
After just barely getting away from the Pillars of Shadow with my skin, I’m taking advantage of a little down time at Nineball Island to pick up the guitar and do some serious brooding. That crab thing in the Zahhab Region Depths has started to bug me. According to the maps, there’s only one place it could be, but after diving at all times of day with different partners, I still come up a cropper. Looking up at the night sky, I wonder if it all has something to do with the moon.
 
After all, there have been other things in the game that depended on the phases of the moon. It was on a moonless night that I discovered the shadow that turned into the legendary Black Harbinger. Another time I had to wait a month for a full moon to watch turtle eggs hatch on the beaches of Zahhab. Maybe this crab has a bit of the werewolf in him, and only comes out under the influence of moonlight. 
 
Looking directly overhead (using the telescope is hopeless), I see a half moon just above the eaves of my bungalow. Now, I can fill the time needed for the moon to turn by running tours, training dolphins, and commuting daily to the aquarium in Japan. Or I can take a lot of naps. Many naps later, the moon is full and I’m refreshed and ready to head out.
 
But first I want to stop off in Gatama Atoll to follow a hunch I have. Remember way back in August, when Oceana and I stumbled upon a cuttlefish spawning ground? We were invited back to see them hatch sometime during the spring tides. I’ve been back to that spot a few times since then without seeing anything, but the mention of tides is probably a clue about the moon.
 
And it turns out, I’m right on the nose! A cut-scene fires up over a patch of elkhorn coral that informs us that the cuttlefish eggs have hatched. Each one’s only the size of a grain of rice — you can barely see one in the right of this picture. But I love that the game rewards you for remembering about it. You don’t get baby cuttlefish in Gears of War.

Baby cuttlefish!

 

The real Octomoms

Now let’s head for the Red Sea. This time, I’m not going to take Oceana or Hayako with me. In between naps, I found a forgotten treasure rumor in my notebook, something about dense metals being found in the Zahhab Region Depths around 500 feet. So I’m taking GG — at least this way, if I miss the crab I can still scare up a few pelagos.

It turns out GG is who I needed by my side all along. Entering the now-familiar mouth of Osiris’ Courtyard, I doubtfully click on the sparkle that up to now has only yielded an unimpressive little angler fish. Only this time…

The elusive giant sea spider -- at last!

If it’s any consolation, it doesn’t look much like the shadow in the marine encyclopedia. While we’re in the courtyard, GG and I scan the bottom and find a few large metal boxes, one of which might be our treasure. Turns out it wasn’t, but at least I found what I was really looking for.

Just to test my moon theory, I took Oceana and then Hayako back with me to show them the sea spider — both times it wasn’t there. So it looks as though GG is my only witness to finding the little beast that had so long eluded my grasp.

...but it was right there a minute ago!

3/30

Having given up on finding a crab in Osiris’ courtyard, at least for the moment, we turn our attention to the Chamber of the Gods, which is still teeming with cryptic critters. Oceana is with me — I’ve resigned myself to taking her along as my good luck charm — and it’s midnight, when I tend to find animals I missed during the daytime. As always, finding our way into the Echoing Terrace is an exhausting exercise, especially in the dark and after six months spent on dry land. But after arriving at the east hall, finding the first few fish is relatively easy and sedate.

First we find the prehistoric-looking frilled shark lounging in the corner pocket of the chamber, around D1.

Frilled shark

Rounding the corner and down the stairs into the Altar of Osiris, along the left wall I find the black pyramid butterflyfish and the too-tiny-to-photograph whitespotted boxfish.

Black pyramid butterflyfish

 Continuing west along the north hall, we run smack into a cave-in. Fortunately, amongst the rubble we find a trio of hot-pink painted frogfish, who look like their whispering about me.

Painted frogfish, conspiring

Next we execute that slick maneuver of descending through a trapdoor behind a statue of Horus, bypassing the Subterranean Reception Room with its many hungry spider crabs, and up through the ceiling into the Pillars of Shadow. Turning north here, we’re met with the impressive sight of the thickest concentration of Coelacanths ever witnessed. If, like me, you grew up fascinated by the discovery of this impossibly rare and ancient fish in the waters of the Black Sea, and assumed there were maybe one or two of them in existence, it’s mind-boggling to see so many packed in one place. All the more amazing that only one of these is the legendary coelacanth our Marine Encyclopedia says we need to find — we have to paw through the crowd, asking “Are you the one? What about you?”

But we’re just starting to mingle when some uninvited guests show up to spoil the party. I’m talking, of course, about that most unhandsome of elasmobranchs, the goblin shark. More specifically, a whole passel of ’em, marauding and striking every time we try to introduce ourselves to a docile coelacanth.

G-g-goblin shark!!

I whipped out my pulsar and started zapping like crazy, and just by accident happened to tag another legendary, the ferocious Okeanos’ Guardian. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep my hands steady enough to get a clear photo of it.

Okeanos' Guardian, passing under my fins

 Eventually, I got the goblins subdued enough where I could quickly tag a few coelocanths, and eventually found the Living Fossil I was after. Yet I barely had a chance to line up a good photo op before the sharks attacked again en masse. In the middle of this, my “out of air” claxon went off. With no time left to swim out, we had to drop everything and beam back to the ship.

The Living Fossil

 For the first time since the height of the game, I was a relieved to find myself back on dry land. I suppose I should go back there to study the goblin sharks as part of my “Know Thine Enemy” series, but I wouldn’t say I’m in a rush.

3/27
If yesterday’s episode of Sea Hunt was an exercise in tedium, today’s is a deep-probing adventure. With all Gatama Atoll’s tiny critters accounted for, we turn our attention to that other frontier of fugitive fauna, the mysterious Zahhab. The Chamber of the Gods holds about a dozen undiscovered species, but the Twin Crevasses hold two creatures whose shadows are very distinctive: a long-legged crab hiding in the northeast corner of Osiris’ Courtyard, and something that looks like a feather duster in the Chimney Forests of B3, C2, and C3.
 
Because I don’t know where these things might be hiding, I’m trying something different tonight — the “Expert Diver” toggle. Basically, this turns gravity off completely, allowing you to turn upside down, sideways, anyway you want. Together with first-person view, it seems to get my head into tighter corners, exploring nooks and crannies from angles I couldn’t reach before. It’s also extremely disorienting — the first few minutes of turning around with this on can really be stomach-turning, nicely approximating the sensation of “rapture of the deep.” My advice is to ease into it slowly, and not right after dinner.
 
I’ve got Hayako with me, and turning on her fish-finder from time to time seems to calm my seasickness. The only problem is that the thing’s useless — the sensor penetrates the rock walls, picking up fish that are in other depths or tunnels we can’t reach from where we are. After some minutes of fruitless search, we head for the surface.
 
I return, this time with Oceana,  at sunset. I don’t know if it was in this game or somewhere else, but I’d read that deep sea creatures rise from the bottom at sunset, following the vertical migration of millions of swarming plankton toward the dwindling light. Or maybe the other way around. Chain of life, whatever. Anyway, diving with Lil’ O always seems to do the trick — at about 470 feet over the Chimney Forest, a cut scene shows us an undulating curtain of silver beads, headed by a jewellike, translucent bulb. A giant siphonophore, we’re told — not a creature in and of itself, but rather a colony of individual organisms cooperating together as a single entity — a living hive, if you will. It’s seriously spooky and awesome, like one of those weird sentient space beings Captain Kirk would try to reason with on the old Star Trek.
 

"Lieutenant Uhura, open a channel..."

 I spend a lot of time marvelling at this sight and trying to get a decent photo, so before we can continue it’s back to Nineball Island for more film.

Returning again, we enter through the north crevasse, the better to reach Osiris’ Courtyard without crawling through a confusing maze of tunnels. About 300 ft down, I start to notice a lot of movement below, perhaps a Risso’s dolphin caught frolicking. But no, it’s too big for that, and there’s frantic twisting and shaking. Suddenly I realize I’m looking at that most legendary of animal conflicts, the giant squid vs. the sperm whale! I believe I’d seen a cutscene of that bout once before in the game, but this is the first time I’ve happened upon it going on without me, as I assume it must have for millions of years. Wow! The second awe-inspiring sight in a single night’s play!

Whats going on down there?

Fight! Fight!

As with the giant siphonophore, I suck up a lot of oxygen and celluloid trying to savor this moment and capture it on film. Finally, I force myself to swim through the titanic struggle with only a few frames left. As it turned out, that was my excitment for the night, as we still couldn’t find the crab creature.

Not a creature was stirring...