Porter’s Log, #101: On the Road Again (Can we build it? Yes we can!)

A road being printed with chiral matter

A/N: This post is an experiment in writing a serial ludotravelogue. Hey Janelle, what’s a ludotravelogue? Uh, I don’t know yet? Stay tuned? An exercise in flying by the seat of your pants? A travelogue that focuses on my travels and play experiences? :thinking_face: I’m figuring it out as I go along, isn’t that one of the tropes of travel narratives, anyway? This is the first (in a potential series of) quasi-narrative logs of my adventures playing porter. For reference, no, I will not be keeping track of how many motorcycles I lose in this particular ravine trying to Evil Knievel my way across (it’s at least five, don’t talk to me about this ravine).

Image of Sam standing over the ravine that I have lost at least 6 reverse trikes in

NOTE 2: This is a porter’s log, which will include spoilers for any porters who haven’t progressed to the end of episode 3. Spoilers ahead!

Edit: I forgot the picture of the ravine, but it’s here now.


I’ve written before about how I enjoy completing concrete tasks whenever I sit down to play an extended narrative or open-world game. I devoured the first two episodes of Death Stranding and have been slowly winding my way through episode 3, which is meant to take place across the US midwest. Call me unhurried, though my porter rating doesn’t reflect that.
All this to say, I’m leisurely building up a familiarity with the systems and biomes players explore in episode 3, from the heart-stopping silence of the remnants of South Knot City and the relative safety of the rocky, dry ground surrounding Lake Knot city, to the dusty red dunes protecting the Film Director and the Junk Dealer.

Image of a Bridges truck overlooking a mountain range and rocky terrain

Image of Sam taking a break in a grassy area

Image of Sam carrying the Chiral Artist to the Junk Dealer's shelter. The Chiral Artist is in a body bag to protect her from timefall.

But what I’ve been really invested in is building up the road. A winding, inky, oily road is “printed” with the materials I (and others) gather, ultimately connecting people together even as the road itself, made of dense chiral matter, seems to drip ominously into roaring streams and chasms that would otherwise make the journey much more of a hassle. These road-building efforts to reconnect the cities and individuals of the US Midwest create a literal and emotional connection between the player-character and the characters of the region. It furthers the clear investment in creating layers of connections between characters, the player-character, and players. I mash the 5 key while driving down this road, hoping to grant players a like or two if I’m quick enough since we all did the work of printing this massive road.

A road being printed with chiral matter

An image of a Bridges truck driving on the chiral-printed road, meant to demonstrate the way the road bleeds into the world around it.

So much of my gameplay lately has been ferrying materials back and forth to different road-building sites, trying to further the construction of this road (Route 23, according to a massive logo repeated across the asphalt) which will connect the few remaining cities together. It’s gratifying to get a veritable swarm of likes each time I plug in for all my road-building efforts, creating a sense of the world around me being filled with other people (other players), even as I traverse the world almost entirely alone (with my BFF BB). Each time I can snare an hour of Porter time, I find myself clearing MULE camps and running regular deliveries between Lake Knot, distribution centers and the “preppers” scattered across the US Midwest, trying to gather up as much ceramics, metals, and chiral matter to make this road happen. As I figured out once I hit the end of episode 3 at the end of this week, building this road is entirely compulsory—for all that it eases the haul of getting materials in and out of South Knot city, it has taken a lot of hours to build the road as far as it’s gotten. Part of my zeal for getting the road completed all the way to South Knot was to make what I knew would be a heavy delivery to the city much easier, knowing from previous experience (casually taking on life-threatening tasks just to prove to characters like the Junk Dealer that Sam and Bridges’s offer for connection is serious) that the road to South Knot is treacherous and filled with BTs.

An image of a Bridges truck on Route 23 overlooking a massive waterfall

It’s also beautiful, in a lot of ways, like with this view of a massive waterfall right outside South Knot City, which I only noticed thanks to the elevation of the road.


Suspicious Bridges courier explaining the reason for the hand-delivery of a mysterious package

Toward the end of Episode 3, An Obvious Villain appears. Never in my life have I met such a nervous and Obviously a Villain courier, and as soon as the character appeared on-screen I had a terrible feeling. They hand Sam a black package, which is not one of the common colors for Bridges-approved packages, providing some obviously false reason for needing to personally deliver what the player immediately discovers (post cutscene) is a small, deadly, thermonuclear bomb. While Sam doesn’t discover this until Fragile opens the package back at the Distribution Center South of Lake Knot, the player knows as soon as the cargo screen appears to finalize the order. This means that the player immediately knows about the threat and has strong reason to believe that the Bridges courier is, in fact, obviously the game’s main villain, Higgs. Once Fragile opens the container, players get a close-up of the ticking time, furthered by the ominous ticking sound that began as soon as Sam woke up from a nightmare during which he realized he was played by Higgs. I was pretty damn grateful for that road, right then, with only 19 usable minutes to get the bomb to Crater Lake, the only viable place to drop a nuclear device, with the hopes that its depths were dense enough to swallow the blast.

Image of Sam overlooking Crater Lake outside South Knot City

Now, the region outside South Knot, as I have mentioned, is crawling with BTs. I know this after carrying a living human as cargo from just east of Crater Lake (and discovering that the Anti-BT handgun does, in fact, make as much noise as the name implies—true story). However, after realizing Fragile and Sam were set up by Higgs and speeding to Crater Lake, I realized there was no timefall in a region that is otherwise constantly covered by the rain which ages anything it touches and tends to signal the presence of BTs. No timefall in a timefall place = extreme suspicion. My familiarity with the road, which I had built up enough by this point to take me almost to the gate of South Knot, told me that something in the biome had drastically changed: midway between the Cosplayer’s shelter and South Knot, timefall and the close proximity to BTs generally causes Sam’s hoodie to pop up and for the odradek to start scanning for ghosts. But not today, with a bomb aboard that I was designed to carry. Suspicious, right? This absence of a standard danger, then, set me dually on edge given that Higgs has demonstrated clear control over the weather and specifically, timefall and BTs.

 

In the next log(? maybe?), we pick up on Episode 4: Unger and talk about space-time.

If you made it to the end of this post I’m wondering: what’s your favorite story of playing porter? How far did you build the road, and was that something important to you, or did you decide to rough it and run/drive your way across the Midwest? What’s the biggest cairn you’ve found?

Janelle Malagon

I am a PhD student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the English department’s Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies plan. My research in media is multifaceted, ranging from platform studies to game studies, but above all I am always interested in the relationship between media and the climate crisis.

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