Category: Zahhab Region


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...

7/14

In an effort to get the Commerson’s Dolphin in the Cavern of the Gods to be my new partner, I looked carefully through Nancy’s catalog for two things that might be symbols of protection. It wasn’t easy—I wanted to find just the right thing for my lady. I finally settled on a charm and an amulet, and bought them with Pelagos I’d been saving from my little part-time job in the islands. Then I flew halfway across the world back to Zahhab, found the Echoing Terrace, entered the Stone Cavern, up the stairs up the Pillars of Light into the Celestial Mausoleum, to the god’s golden chamber to lay the symbols of protection lo! at my lady’s feet…

And now she wants something else.

Poof! go all my chivalrous notions. Oh, I can see where this is going—I’ve been there before. If I bring her what she wants now, next she’ll want something more. Guys: Women—amiright?!

So rather than use my frequent flyer miles going back and forth to Nineball Island with giftboxes on my knees, I decide to buy everything from Nancy that comes with a bow on it (after all, it’s not like I need that money for anything now). Then I return to the Cavern with the whole papa’s brand new bag. I gave her everything I had—it took a few minutes of automated demands and exchanges, during which I got up and got a beer from the fridge. Finally, she was satisfied enough to allow me to be her partner. When it came time to name her, I was tempted to call her something like “Miss Fussy,” but, perhaps softened by the grace of our friendship dance, I decided to call her Kee Kyu.

7/13

We’re back again at the Cavern of the Gods, and this time we’re in it for the loot. First though, I stop by Mushroom Rock to get a good picture of Big Boeing the whale shark, at the request of mystery man ML. Then we turn on the mulitsensor and pick up everything we find (except the Pacifica Treasure in the Celestial Mausoleum—that’s off limits). There’s a lot to pick up: nearly every room in the temple has salvageable material in it, many yielding lucretive lightning bolts. The bag fills up super fast.

Then in the Celestial Mausoleum, something weird happens. One of the Commerson’s dolphins swims right up to me and starts shouting,  “Kee kyee kyee! Kyu! Kyu! You must make an offering to the lady! She requires two symbols of protection!”

"Kee! Kyee! Kyu!! Kyu!!!

Jean-Eric is flabbergasted by this, and recalls us back to the boat straightaway. In the pilothouse, he’s throwing his hands up and shaking his head in disbelief. “It’s impossible! Dolphins can’t talk! I mean, you’re a trustworthy fellow and all; I believe you, but…you must be crazy!”

“But boss,” Hayako puts in, “we all heard the voice on the transmitter. It’s got to be true!”

“And beside,” I wish I could say, “You believed in singing dragons, and moving islands, and magic balms and all kinds of other nonsense—why not talking dolphins?”

More hand throwing and head shaking.

“Hrmmm…I-I…just don’t know! Let’s all go back to Nineball Island and talk this out.”

Okay. Back on the island, another confab around the table.

“Two symbols of protection, huh? What could that mean? Well…let’s see what Nancy’s got.”

So the upshot of all this overheated drama is that we’ve got another animal companion to recruit, and it involves buying those Christmas gift boxes Nancy’s got in her catalog.

Meanwhile, our treasure haul was enormous, including an orichalcum ingot worth 13,000 P and a flask of Amrita ointment worth 11,000. Orichalcum, as  you armchair Platonists might know, is the mythical metal found only in the Lost Continent of Atlantis. Amrita ointment conveys immortality on the applicator.

In other news, ML was happy to get his whale photo, and in appreciation, gave us a new photography gizmo—the ability to develop pictures in Black and White! Because as everybody knows, underwater photography is much better in shades of grey.

What a weird day in EO!

7/7

On my second return to the Cavern of the Gods, I’ve decided to take Felix the false killer whale with me. That way, if I run out of air he can tow me back to the surface more quickly than I can swim.

Right at the entrance, directly in front of us is an ascending stone staircase. I don’t know how I missed it the first time, but I did. This leads immediately to the upper level of the temple, to the Pillars of Light. How in the world did I miss this? These silt-shrouded columns are like the trees of an enchanted forest, teeming with strange sealife. Pods of sleek black and white Commerson’s dolphins and albino humpback whales, including the Singing Dragon herself, unharmed by the rampage that wrecked the temple. Swimming up a pillar, I discover a Nomura’s jellyfish, floating near the ceiling like a grand chandelier.

Commerson's dolphin

The Singing Dragon

Nomura jellyfish

Through a skylight in the ceiling I pass straight into the Celestial Mausoleum. It’s all there as it was before: the windlass, the animal statues, the golden god that sits in the vault, with the Pacifica treasure spread at his glittering feet. Months ago, I’d barely gotten a glimpse at that statue before everything started coming apart.

In the lap of the gods.

I no sooner lay eyes on the Pacifica Treasure than Jean-Eric gets on the phone and urges me to leave it alone. According to him, they’ve received an offer from the mysterious Karia Foundation to undertake the salvage; they’ll pay us 50,000 p not to touch a thing. It’s hard to pass up treasure when my mutlisensor is going crazy, but okay. Back on Ninball Island I’m gifted with a frogman suit for leaving well enough alone.

7/5

After 124 hours and 58 minutes of gameplay, I’ve returned to the Cavern of the Gods.

I forgo taking a tour there—this is a family affair, no vacationing bonds traders or rockstars need apply. We will, however, take salvage requests, and a nice lady in a pink and brown wet suit is seeking a gold watch somewhere in the inner chambers of the temple.  This mission is pure exploration, but while we’re exploring, we can turn the multisensor on from time to time and help her find it.

Together with GG, we dive off the Super Dropoff and head west. The water’s murkier than I remember; it takes a while to find the box-shaped slot called the Echoing Terrace that leads into the temple porch. There we find the Stone Cavern Entrance on the left side, magically thrown open. Tingling with excitement, I turn on first-person view and plunge forward.

What do I remember about this place? The last time we were here, all hell was in the process of breaking loose. A white whale, the Singing Dragon of our long quest, was going berserk, slamming its head against the columns holding up the roof of the temple. Rocks were tumbling around our ears and we were almost out of oxygen, trying open escape doors by solving complicated riddles as the clock was running down on our lives. Beyond that, there was a confusing maze of passageways, with a dead end or a sudden current or a goblin shark waiting around the corner. I was simply too panicked to pay attention to my surroundings. When we finally escaped and the entrance filled in with rubble and silt, it was like a curtain going down on my memory. I will barely know what to expect once we get back in.

Inside the entrance, we turn to the right to head north, beginning a counter-clockwise survey of the temple. What immediately greets us is an opah, an immense round fish with silver flanks and red fins. Shaped like sunfish but more closely related to oarfish, pictures can’t convey how large, splendid and doofy-looking these are.

Opah!

 After rounding a corner, on our left is a vast doorway. We descend a wide stone staircase into the first of the large chambers, the Altar of Osiris. At the far end, there’s a huge statue of the god, gazing benevolently on a roomful of worshipful ribbonfish.

Osiris

Turning around to exit, we find a pale Japanese horseshoe crab, lying there on the stairs like Cinderella’s cast-off slipper (if, y’know, Cinderella had really weird feet).

Next we come to the Altar of Horus, which looks identical to the other altar, except that here there’s a trapdoor hidden behind the statue leading into the Subterranean Reception Room. Guarding the passageway is one of the creatures I’d always hoped to see—the ancient chambered nautilus! Common in gift shops but rarely found alive in the sea, I’d been fascinated by this evolutionary throwback ever since I saw a Cousteau special about them. (Now I sound like my tour clients!) Although I’m anxious to see what’s beyond the door, there’s no way I’m going to pass up this moment without swimming around the nautilus, taking pictures of this living fossil from multiple angles.

Chambered nautilus

Through the door and down, our subterranean reception committee consists of two ghostly Japanese spider crabs, waving their claws (invitingly?) at us.

There’s another trap door at the far end of this chamber. Passing up through it, we enter the floor of the Altar of Isis. According to the map, it’s roughly here that we should find the gold watch. But before I can search for it, I see a shadow pass over us. This is Kraken Jr., the son of the giant squid that lives at the bottom of the Zahhab Region depths. I guess he couldn’t handle living by dad’s rules, so he got his own place.

Kraken, Jr.

Finding the gold watch proves to be a bit difficult, but we eventually find it just on the threshold of the trapdoor that lead us into the altar. Leaving the chamber and turning right, there’s another staircase that leads up to a loft area called the Pillar of Shadow. Here are the coelacanths I remember from before. According to the map, this should lead into the Celestial Mausoleum, but I can’t find an entrance. I’d explore further, but I’m out of pictures and nearly out of air.

I promised myself that we were going to swim out of the cavern—no beaming back to the Enterprise this time. There’s a shortcut to the southern gallery that leads us straight out of the temple, but it’s blocked by rubble, apparently in the whale-quake that brought the temple crashing down many months ago. Other attempts to find a quick way out are met with obstacles. There’s nothing left to do but retrace our path through the trapdoors to the northern gallery. As notch after notch of precious air evaporates, I begin to get that closed-in, panicky feeling in my gut that I last felt when we all dashed out of this ancient Egyptian death trap.

Eventually, we gain the exit and power swim out of the temple, out of the cavern to the open sea. My head breaks the surface just as the alarm starts to clang. Again we’ve cheated death and escaped the Cavern of the Gods, but we still have another half to explore.

7/2

I made it! Monaymonaymonay! One million pelagos, baby!!! For a few seconds there, I was a millionaire. And the best thing was, it was those cheapskates at the aquarium that put me over!

First things first—I returned fr0m a long vacation in the Southwest and needed a few days to get settled back home. The first thing I wanted to do when I got back to Nineball Island was paddle around Gatama Atoll awhile saying hello to some old friends. Then I had to finish recruiting Violet, the Pacific white-sided dolphin. I really wish there was another way to get to the Deep Hole, because I’m sick of crawling through the Kelp Tunnel—three weeks off did nothing to change that. It took two more dives for Jean-Eric to break his silence and announce that Violet was a companion. We had a very nice play date together, then I brought her back to her new home in Nineball Lagoon.

Next I took a nattily-dressed fellow named Matthew down to the Zahhab Region Depths so he could see popeyed grenadiers. These are especially good tour fish, because they glow, and as you know, when it comes to client payoffs, glow means dough. We toured the depths, did some salvaging, spotted the oarfish and the giant squid, swam all the way back to the surface and topped it off with a grey whale ride for dessert. Matthew paid out 3956  P for the tour. The salvage yield was poor, but it still brought me within a few thousand pelagos of the million.

That was enough for me to call it a night, but over the vacation, the fam and I visited a nice little aquarium at the Albuquerque Zoo, and I wanted to compare it briefly to EO’s. Really, the biggest drawback of the Tokyo Aquarium is that the main tank is far too big. There’s so much room, even with a couple of fully grown whales in it, that it seems stark and uninteresting. And there isn’t enough junk on the bottom—fake coral, rocks, pirate skeletons, to liven it up or make it look natural. The fish seem lost and depressed, and I can’t blame them. Honestly, when I have  ‘real’ oceans to swim in, why would I want to waste my time in what amounts to a city-block-sized holding tank?

Well, the word from the visitors wasn’t very positive either, as Hayako wearily informed me. On the other hand, receipts were steady if not spectacular, and so far no one had taken to relieving themselves in the tanks or dropping fishhooks over the sides, so so what? I was about to breeze out the door again when Hayako reminded me that I got paid for this gig, whether I put in any work or not. She presented me with a grudge-check for 2,400 P and with a tip of the hat and a smirk I was gone.

Back on Nineball Island, Jean-Eric immediately comes up to compliment me on my money management skillls. He wishes Oceana could be so frugal, spending all her dough on sea pig purses and fancy fins and whatnot. While I’m expecting this to lead to a not-so-subtle hint that she needs a man to help keep her in line, he suprises me by saying that we’ve got a big salvage job waiting for us…in the Cavern of the Gods!

I guess the paycheck from the aquarium put me just over the 1 million pelago mark—the irony! Oh, and we get a 50% discount from somebody for some reason, so that 1 million pelagos? Didn’t need it—we can keep 500,000 of it. The Cavern of the Gods is open whenever we want to return to it.

And that was that. No fireworks. No streamers. No cakes or balloons. Just another job waiting.

Time to get back to work.

It’s been a slow couple of weeks on Nineball Island. Between work, holidays and the end of the school year, there hasn’t been much time to devote to diving, let alone blogging about it. A tour here and a salvage there, salting the money away as it comes.  I’ve been back to Zahhab a few times, one of my favorite places. For color, variety and sheer numbers of fish, nowhere in EO can match it.

Coral Valley

Blackfin barracuda swarm near the Super Dropoff

Yellow longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus)

Big Boeing over Mushroom Rock.

I discovered this Crown of Thorns starfish almost by accident.

Stone Castle

 

I swear that thing was THIS BIG!

5/4

Zahhab Region—After several less-than-exciting days on the game, I passed three milestones at once today: One hundred hours, three quarters of a million Pelagos, and twenty dolphin shows!

The day began, as always, with dolphin shows. First Pinky, then Frodo, then Lilly. Elena, Francisco and Jessica nearly fell out of the boat as my little divas performed sick combos to their complete satisfaction, then returned to report back to Finley.

Next, I went after a salvage request from GG’s foil, FF. He’s promised us this would be his last. Once again, our map scavanger had only a cartographic scrap to go by without a place to reference it. And once again, by doodling it on a piece of  notepaper and thumbing through the Marine Encyclopedia, I was able to pinpoint it without trouble, somewhere in the Zahhab Region. About five minutes later, we had the Platinum Sword in our hands.

Since I knew the payout on this put us past the three-quarters mark, and there was no deadline on the treasure (believe me, I double-checked), I decided to explore the Zahhab Region a bit more. GG and I visited the Chamber of the Gods for the first time since we left it, casing the joint out for our imminent return. There wasn’t much treasure to be found outside the entrance, but investigating a crack in the cavern ceiling, I discovered I could peer through it to the sea’s surface! Apparently, the long fissure that snakes down the Zahhab reefs is directly over the Chamber of the Gods. I don’t know if that’s useful knowledge, but it was fun to learn.

Peering through the fissure

Leaving the Chamber and its ponderous sentinels, we explored the Long Fissure from the top side, but it was too dark to see down into the cavern. We found riots of fish around the huge basket sponges south of the fissure and I stopped to pulse and photograph them.

Then I returned to the boat and set the clock ahead to take a midnight dive with Hayako. Climbing up from the Super Dropoff, our lights spotted what looked like a nest of sparkly eels with their heads poking out of the sand. Upon getting closer these proved to be some kind of finger-shaped soft corals. I couldn’t identify them, and Hayako was mute about what they were. Later, we came ashore to see dozens of sea turtles sprawled in the sand, but not laying eggs, as far as I could tell. I turned to ask Hayako what she thought they were doing. “What this place needs,” she said,  “is a party!”  Now yer talkin’!

What are those things?

I wanted to stay another day at Zahhab, but I was out of film, so I decided it was time to return to Nineball Island.  FF received his treasure gratefully, paid us 20,500 P and jet-skiied into the sunset without another word. And so the GG/FF feud/romance ends with a wimper. A word of advice to the Arika game developers working on EO 3: CLOSURE!!

Just before turning in, I decided to check my records. I found I’d completed 19 dolphin shows. I wonder if I tried just one more? I had Pha put on a show for Elena, and immediately after, we received a visit from Finley, who’s concluded that he trusts us now, so he let us know about a beluga in the arctic ocean. So that’s my answer: all your previous dolphin shows count toward the twenty, and it doesn’t matter if they say it was excellent or crap and Oceana jumps up and claps her hands or not. As long as you don’t totally mess up and the dolphin doesn’t physically attack the judge, a show is a show—it’s all good. I’m not the worst dolphin manager after all!