Saturday, 8 July 2017

Deadly Premonition: The Sinner's Sandwich

Turkey, strawberry jam, breakfast cereal. It's the "sinner's sandwich" - self-inflicted punishment to atone for past sins. As a child I dismissed the possibility of God, and it followed logically that in the absence of a universal judge there were no universal moral laws. The universe is governed by physical laws, and human beings are limited by our biology, but morality is purely subjective. There is no right or wrong, no good or bad. Just animals dying under the sun.

Deep within our minds there is a set of primal fears. The fear of death, of pain, the dark, loneliness. The fear that we might not be masters of our fates, or that our conscious minds will not survive after the physical death of our bodies. The fear that we are being watched; and the fear that we are not being watched, that we are alone, and that our lives will amount to nothing.

Some of us never master our fears, but I have done so. I have no fear. I have learned to accept that the universe was not made in my image, and that if there is a God, he is an equation, or a mineral, and he is not conscious as we know it. As I created and ate my first sinner's sandwich my thoughts were not of Western society's perverse unwillingness to mix strawberry jam with meat, they were instead dominated by one question. Will this make me happy?

I'm sure you're familiar with Deadly Premonition. It's a Japanese murder mystery video game from 2010, initially for the XBox 360, latterly the Playstation 3 and PC. The PC port is famously bad. It runs at a fixed resolution of 1280x720 and has masses of bugs, as if it was a DOS port rather than something from the modern age. Fortunately an unofficial patch called DPFix makes the same playable. Deadly Premonition is now available on Steam, where the forum is full of people pleading for help in getting the game running. God does not answer their cries; there is only silence.

Deadly Premonition baffled the critics, attracting plaudits and opprobrium in equal measure. It's essentially a tribute-copy-homage to/of Twin Peaks, the classic TV show in which an eccentric FBI agent investigates the murder of a small rural town's beauty queen only to find that the murderer was a malevolent spirit called BOB, at which point people stopped watching because what was the point any more?

Deadly Premonition is also a low-budget copy of Silent Hill, Resident Evil, and the old LucasArts adventures, combining the simple combat and puzzles of the former with the memorable characterisation of the latter. Steam periodically sells it at budget price, and Twin Peaks has been rebooted - the new season is apparently very good - and also I haven't eaten for a while, so I decided to have a go.

It strikes me that a mixture of chicken, cereal, jam, avocado, and boiled egg would be even better. I tried to write FK with the jam. It doesn't come across.

Objectively it's a buggy, simplistic mess; the combat sections are boring, the plot is nonsensical, the puzzles are trivial, the "reaction events" are frustrating, the open world element requires you to wait for certain times and weather conditions before you can unlock sidequests, and the dialogue and digital acting can only be explained with a complex table. The lead developer is apparently fluent in English, so there isn't a translation element; nonetheless the dialogue is occasionally iffy, but delivered effectively by the actors, so it works, but sometimes it's bad but works because you laugh at it, and sometimes the writing and acting are fine but it doesn't work simple because it's not interesting, and sometimes it's rubbish but works because you get the gist.

But does it make me happy? The answer is yes, it makes me happy. The game is nowadays regarded as a minor classic. The hero, FBI agent Francis York Morgan, is likeable - if Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks was a transplant from an imaginary, supposedly more innocent 1950s, York is an out-and-out manchild - and although the characterisation is simplistic it's usually effective. The developers appeared to be sincerely in love with the source material and although it has none of Twin Peaks' polish (I hesitate to say depth), at a price of £1.99 it's a steal.

The one inarguably successful element of the game is the sinner's sandwich. It is the protagonist of an optional cutscene that is triggered when you accompany the town's lady sherrif to lunch at one of the local diners. The town's mysterious plutocrat, Harry Stewart, is wheeled in by his assistant, who relays his mute master's instructions. His favourite meal is a sandwich made of turkey, strawberry jam, and breakfast cereal:

Yes, I used the word protagonist deliberately. You might think that a sandwich isn't capable of conscious intent; you're wrong. You're small-minded, and limited, and wrong. The sandwich drives the plot and is the hidden master of the scene. Never mind that it is a bready puppet in the hands of the game's characters; we are all puppets, jerking on strings held by the physical laws of the universe, dancing and lying to ourselves that we are the masters.

I used chicken, because I didn't have any turkey. I also threw in an avocado, because I have a lot of avocados. In its standard form the sinner's sandwich is essentially a jam sandwich with a bit of crunch and some substance. It's really nice - light, filling, and tasty. The jam and chicken don't interfere with each other and the cereal gives it a pleasant mouth-feel. I experimented with Corn Flakes(r), Coco Pops(r), and Frosties(r), but there was no real difference. The avocado lifts the sandwich up a notch, giving it a cool, even lighter ambience.

Avgas is almost impossible to come by in Russia. If you're planning a flying trip across Russia, make sure you arrange supplies in advance.

The cereal is slightly awkward, because it tends to fall off the sandwich and land on the plate, or on the floor, depending on the geometry of your table and whether you are sober or not, but both of these problems are surmountable.

If I had some kind of funnel, or something like a paper hat from a Christmas cracker, I could funnel the cereal onto the bread. The possibilities are literally endless, unlike this blog post, which does actually have an end.