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Help me discover hidden secrets in Synnergist (1996, DOS)

Crane

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Synnergist.jpg


Synnergist is a 1996 point and click adventure game with a graphical style resembling Noctopolis. It had pretty (unintentionally) funny FMV scenes as well as voice acting & animation.

7IwOyIo.png


It was notable for being Vicarious Visions' first video game - the company's founders supposedly made it in high school. Here's a plot blurb:

In Synnergist the player takes the role of Tim Machin, an ambitious young journalist forced by cruel circumstances to work for a trashy tabloid newspaper. Set in the year 2010, the game puts the player on the streets of New Arhus—a city of extremes, crammed with both cutting edge technology and the decaying remnants of a once proud past. Very soon, Tim finds himself on the trail of a sinister force that appears to be connected to the crime and killing...

You can watch the game's introduction here:


Here's the interesting part. A magazine in the 90's called Coming Soon Magazine revealed that

The storyline to Synnergist is much deeper than it appears to be. There are some hidden easter eggs in the game that will reveal the secret to the game quite blatently if found and you'll know what Synnergist actually means. Vicarious Visions is offering a big grand prize to the first five people to discover these hidden easter eggs within the game. Coming Soon Magazine received this information from a reliable source at VV who says that even 21st Century and most of the developement team at VV don't even know they exist. The hidden areas will include new video sequences, rooms, puzzles, etc. If you think you've found these hidden easter eggs, you should email VV directly atchance@thematrix.com. To give you a start to finding these easter eggs, don't always assume that the word GO, goes to where you think it will.

I am seeking help in uncovering these secrets. the Vicarious Visions old website linked directly to that Coming Soon Magazine, and the current site links to the four fat chicks review which says that the secrets might exist.

About a year ago I found one of these secrets. I explained it on the vogons forum, but be warned that my explanation assumes you have basic knowledge of the game's structure.

I previously said:
It doesn't tell me much about the plot, though. In chapter 3, if you don't collect more subway tokens when Tim is running low, you'll eventually be forced to go to the subway station at the Murder Scene location. In here, you'll witness a drug deal go bad, where one person ends up being stabbed.

SYNEE200.png


From there, you can either ignore the body and head to the skyline restaurant, for Tim's date with Jessica, or you can investigate the body. You have to investigate the body for this easter egg to appear, as far a I know. After the two cutscenes play out when Tim investigates the body -- including another black & white vision -- you're transported to the entrance of the skyline restaurant.

SYNEE201.png


Instead of investigating the body, you need to click Go To Subway. Normally, this would have the same effect as if you just brought up the map, but this time it leads to a secret area. It's worth noting that, normally, the arrow points to the left, but this time it points down. If you didn't investigate the body, this doesn't happen since you're on time for the dinner.

SYNEE100.png


There's a hooded man to talk to, but he just mutters some vague dialogue about watching "everything and nothing at the same time", before saying that you should be going. Then you can't interact with him at all. There are other things to interact with, but they seemingly have no effect on the plot progression. I can't tell if this area is supposed to lead to more secrets, and if you leave, you can't get back. Tim says that it's "interesting" that the second garbage bin is larger than the first, but that could just be another red herring that the game likes to throw at you. I'm wondering if the player is supposed to find a way to shut down the electricity so they can travel down the tracks, but there's seemingly no way to do that.

Here's a video I made of the dialogue with the hooded stranger:






Now, looking through the files on the disc, I can get a glimpse into what the secrets are. The first two are encounters with this hooded stranger. The dialogue FMVs are stored in a folder called "CHARVID", then further separated into folders C01-C51 (separated by characters.) These are in .VID format. I can't play them using anything at my disposal. Changing the extension to .AVI gives me a glimpse into which characters are in what folder:

1rp9s4H.png


I cannot play these AVIs. Scrubbing through them with virtualdub gives me an error after a few frames.

However, in some of the folders are videos of these secret characters. For example:

7YhAuPe.png


So I've worked it out that there are 3 hidden scenes with character interaction. See this:

Ci1MGDq.png


So, two of the encounters are with this hooded stranger. The other is with Karthik Bala, the co-founder of Vicarious Visions. I can trick the game into playing these videos during other character interaction. See this for example:



I have not gone through the trouble of getting all the videos to play through this method (which is really just renaming the files and creating a new .ISO). BUT I have played one from the second encounter with the hooded stranger, and he says "Take this, Tim!" or something like that, meaning he gives the player an item.

I believe I know what this item is for. Near the very end of the game, the player finds themselves revisiting the revolving cafe. Going into the unlocked security room (required to progress the game), the player can find a loose tile on the ground. This is easy to miss, and is optional to bother with.

WV0Jh3B.png


The player has to lift it up with their crowbar. They then find a floorboard underneath the tile.

RXx4m21.png


I believe this "hidden chamber" underneath the floorboard is where Karthik Bala is, or at least eventually leads to him. Attempting to break through by right-clicking leads to this text:

you try and crack the board with your feet, but even in its decayed state, the board resists your attempt.

Tim then thinks to himself:

ikfUifr.png


I have a hunch that whatever secret item the hooded stranger gives you is the item necessary to break through this floor board. No regularly-acquired inventory item will break through; the only one that interacts with the board is the crowbar, which leads to this text:

you swing your crowbar into the floor several times, but it is not heavy enough to break through.

Either that or the item is for something else in that room. You can also use the crowbar to take off part of the airduct:

uydlXXT.png


Notice that a person could crawl through it. Attempting to crawl through it regularly leads to Tim commenting that he could conceivably do it if he had a light source:

gsRkDYH.png


The only item the player has that might work here is a book of matches, but trying to use it on the duct does nothing.




This is why I'm asking for help. I'm stuck. I should mention that I've emailed Daevid Vincent, the former owner of thematrix.com before he sold it to warner brothers for obvious reasons, but didn't really get any relevant information to these secrets. I've also emailed the game's writer, Evan Rubenstein, which didn't really help to find these secrets although we did have a very good conversation. Apparently Karthik and Guha Bala were originally going to make these secrets only accessible if the player did not pick up a certain item. I don't know which item, nor do I know if that plan actually went through.

Can the codex help me discover the secrets of Synnergist?
 
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Crooked Bee

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Wow, now this is obscure.

I guess the easiest option would be for someone to hack the game's data files for a list of all items and all the in-game text?
 

Crane

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Wow, this is obscure.

I guess the easiest option would be for someone to hack the game's data files for a list of all items and all the in-game text?

I tried to do that once by viewing a bunch of the game's files in a hex editor. These were the relevant screencaps I took around a year ago.

Tbakxsl.png
wmqpVdL.png


I asked Evan Rubenstien about what I found, but he didn't know anything.

In the game files, I found references to three items that might be used in the aforementioned easter egg puzzles: a Broken Watch, a Grappling Hook, and a Rope. There doesn't appear to be any sound files attached to those items, so it may be Tim that's thinking the descriptions internally.

It's very possible that I missed something because I don't know shit about hex editing. I couldn't even view most of the files, I'm guessing they were too encrypted.



Is linking to abandonware on the codex okay or not? Having access to the game could probably help anyone who's curious enough to look.
 

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This is the sort of thing those bums over at gee oh gee should've been busy with.
Going straight to the top of my to-play list, so I should get to it in a decade or two; good luck to the more productive ones, and :salute: for the write-up.
 

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You say it is tedious to recreate the ISOs to force the video to be played by renaming them, but here's another idea. How about copying the contents of the CD to your hard drive, create a virtual drive using the SUBST command in command-line, and just rename them from there ? Many old games can be tricked in thinking they're running from the CD using that method.
 

Crane

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Good idea. That'll be a lot faster. I'll record all the secret videos, attempt to arrange them in their correct order (which might be difficult to do, considering branching dialogue paths, plus the absence of knowing Tim's possible dialogue choices), and post my results in the thread here.

I updated the OP with a video of the game's introduction. Give me a bit and I'll create a post explaining just why these secrets are necessary in order to fully understand the plot. Know that I'm assuming the secrets explain something about the story that isn't self-evident. I don't know if that's actually the case yet.
 

Crane

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I'm still working on the writeup, but guess what, it turns out media player classic can play those .VIDs I changed into .AVIs through editing the file extension. On one condition though: it can only play the audio, not the video. Weird, but it's great to be able to listen to those hidden videos whenever I want.

Here's one line from Karthik of particular interest:
Actually the only person who knows how to get here is my lead game programmer, Aaron. If I don't have to know it, I don't tell me and I don't let anyone tell me either. If I can't find me, no-one else can find me either!

Aaron Marsh, the lead gameplay programmer (also serving a number of different roles) is a digital ghost. Any traces regarding him and game development are nill outside of Synnergist, and the other game Vicarious Visions released the following year, Dark Angael.

Aaron played Doug, a very minor character in Synnergist, so this is what he looked like in the mid 90s:

VuowckS.png


If we can find him he might give us information regarding how to get to the secrets -- that is if he still remembers anything about it.

His bio in the synnergist manual (I have a complete copy of the game) reads:
Aaron Marsh
Game Programmer and Assistant Animation Director. Aaron originally started out as a staff animator at Vicarious Visions. He was quick to show off his talents, which elevated him to the role of assistant animation director. As the graphics and animation work drew to a close, he decided to admit to the rest of the development team that he was a 'closet' programmer. After diving head first into programming, he wound up coding most of Synnergist. This eventually led us to shaping up the strong gameplay and some very devious puzzles embedded in the game. If you are seriously stuck on a puzzle, you can be sure Aaron had something to do with it! He currently attends Rochester Institute of Technology as a [sic] Applied Math major.
Aaron can be reached via E-mail at: Prime@TheMatrix.com.


I would ask Evan Rubenstein about this, but his website, unspokenword.net, no longer exists, from which his email was based.
 
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hello friend

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I'm still working on the writeup, but guess what, it turns out media player classic can play those .VIDs I changed into .AVIs through editing the file extension. On one condition though: it can only play the audio, not the video. Weird, but it's great to be able to listen to those hidden videos whenever I want.
You can upload those .VIDs to jewtube.
:popamole:



Audio is out of sync, but still better than nothing.
 

Crane

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^ Good to know.

An old iteration of the VV website said he was a hebrew language teacher in his off-time, so that's probably him. I'll shoot his temple an email and see what comes of it.

In other news, I found a high-res version (link) of a magazine advert for synnergist in the Nov. 1995 edition of Computer Gaming World magazine. Strange that I can't find any more than one mainstream English-language press reviews of it. Ultimate Future Games gave it a 91% in some unknown edition of their magazine, calling it "An adventure game to rival the finest...Synnergist provides us with an adventure that really sucks you in."

I sure can find slovak language ones, though.
 

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slantcarson

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Don't mean to revive a dead thread, nor do I really know if it's a generally accepted sort-of thing to, but I played the game a few months ago and it's stuck with me ever since. Not because it was particularly amazing, but there was a fascinatingly bizarre charm to it I still can't fully pinpoint. I've looked high and low for just about anything further on the game, because aside from it being completely unknown I figured any tidbit would be nice to know. This thread was such a nice surprise, and it's pretty much the sole reason I'm here (on the site) now.

I feel maybe all the easter eggs they spoke about they actually forgot to program, so if anything more could be found, it'd probably have to come from someone who actually knew about it, and unfortunately not the game itself.

My question to Crane is: Did you have any luck digging any further, emails or such? I seriously can't imagine what there is to be found, but I'm extremely interested.
 

Crane

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My question to Crane is: Did you have any luck digging any further, emails or such? I seriously can't imagine what there is to be found, but I'm extremely interested.
Nope. I mean I haven't tried to contact Aaron Marsh, or either of the Bala brothers, but since the game is over a decade old I wouldn't be surprised if nobody remembers exactly how to get to those secrets. I did contact the guy who played Tim Machin (the actor, not the voice), but he never got back to me after saying he'd get into contact with some of the people who worked on Synnergist.

On the bright side I am almost finished with writing an article on Synnergist for the codex. I just moved into a different house, which kind of put a wrench in the process, but it's almost finished.
 
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slantcarson

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Nope. I mean I haven't tried to contact Aaron Marsh, or either of the Bala brothers, but since the game is over a decade old I wouldn't be surprised if nobody remembers exactly how to get to those secrets. I did contact the guy who played Tim Machin (the actor, not the voice), but he never got back to me after saying he'd get into contact with some of the people who worked on Synnergist.

On the bright side I am almost finished with writing an article on Synnergist for the codex. I just moved into a different house, which kind of put a wrench in the process, but it's almost finished.

That's completely understandable. It's incredibly tough to get in contact with the people, and even then it's a question of whether they know or even remember.

Personally, I did everything I could to uncover any secret the game may throw at me, but didn't have any luck either. I did get an amusing glitch in which Tim actually walks on the title screen, which sort of showcases how buggy the game can be, but beyond that, nothing.

X8NNtJA.jpg


You've done some seriously fantastic work finding all this. Once you do finish the article I'd absolutely love to read it. Synnergist is such an enthralling mess of a game.
 

jedi23

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Is anyone still eager to discover the hidden secrets? Thanks to the findings in this thread, we know that there are three hidden items involved in the easter egg puzzles (a broken watch, a grappling hook, and a rope).
Luckily, I found one of them! And the cloaked stranger was happy to receive it, since he lost track of time...
 

Crane

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Is anyone still eager to discover the hidden secrets? Thanks to the findings in this thread, we know that there are three hidden items involved in the easter egg puzzles (a broken watch, a grappling hook, and a rope).
Luckily, I found one of them! And the cloaked stranger was happy to receive it, since he lost track of time...
I am! Where did you find the item? How did you give it to the cloaked stranger?
 

jedi23

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dx2fajnd.jpg


This is the location where I found the broken watch. However, the item is not there all the time. I got it during my first play through two years ago, when I played very thoroughly without a walkthrough and tried a lot when I got stuck in the game. Maybe some action triggers the item to be there or it is only collectable in a certain time window.
On a second play through, I wasn't able to get the watch. For me, it was just a red herring until I discovered this thread.

You can give the item on the first meeting with the stranger.
 

Crane

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Synnergist's secrets are so hidden I doubt whether anyone will be able to legitimately discover them.
 

jedi23

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At least we a have a clue how to move on:
Let's have a look at the video frames:

Ci1MGDq.png


The orange background fits to the subway where I gave the broken watch.
The next step is obvious: to find the next item (grappling hook or rope) and give it the hooded man upon the second meeting.

Now let's have a look at the other video frames: It gives a clue about the second meeting place.

bcxdv7u6.jpg


So where could this place with the dark green and brown background be?

Your suggetions are greatly appreciated!
 

jedi23

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Since I was able to get the broken watch a second time, I can provide screenshots.

3dlibdvb.jpg


Now I will draw some conclusions what to do next after the hooded stranger received the watch.
(I think the act of giving the broken watch will make a second meeting possible.)

The next meeting with the stranger should occur in chapter 4, so the search is limited to these parts of the game!

Again, thanks to this thread, we know that we receive an item from the stranger upon the next meeting. This should be either the grappling hook or the coil of rope.
(By the way, both items look combinable. However, you can't combine items in your inventory.)

And to raise the chance for a second meeting, I'm now playing the 4th chapter with this in my mind:

Yes. wrote:
"Apparently Karthik and Guha Bala were originally going to make these secrets only accessible if the player did not pick up a certain item."

There are quite some items you don't have to pick up to progress the game!

There is the bottle with sulfuric acid from the forensic lab, which apparently has no use in the game, so I didn't pick it up.
(Provided this is the correct item we don't have to pick up. Otherwise, there is maybe a hidden use for the bottle?)

Another possible item is the tranquilizer gun from the underground lab.

And I found this out: if you only read the envelope from the safe in Felden's office and do not click on the red book, you don't get a surprise visit from joetv and still can progress the game.

All in all, messing with things like that in the game should help to discover the secrets!
 

SYNdy

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What did you do to get the broken watch now that you've done it the second time?

Do you know where you are in the plot? Obviously you're before the Date time since that's the only way to get to the Hidden subway.

I've been replaying this section over and over again to see if I can unlock it, but I'm wondering if it has to do with Time + plot progression.

As for not picking up a certain item -- I'm not sure how much this plays a part. I've watched the Karthik videos - He says he doesn't know how to get there, that only Aaron Marsh does.

And I'd rather not bother the Rabbi until I expend all other avenues.
 

jedi23

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You can get the broken watch after you escape from Jessicas apartment in Chapter 2. But the watch isn't there yet. You have to go to the Last Chance Bar first. I don't know what exacty triggers the watch to appear, but I talked to the drunken lady, the barkeeper and played the pinball machine several times.
When you return to the apartment now, the watch should be there!

Regarding not picking up a certain item: indeed, maybe it is not that important, but playing the game like a beta tester maybe helps to solve the mystery...
Another such item is the pager. If you don't pick it up, you get the storyline where Jessica dies even if you collect the Subway tokens in advance.
 

SYNdy

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You can get the broken watch after you escape from Jessicas apartment in Chapter 2. But the watch isn't there yet. You have to go to the Last Chance Bar first. I don't know what exacty triggers the watch to appear, but I talked to the drunken lady, the barkeeper and played the pinball machine several times.
When you return to the apartment now, the watch should be there!

Regarding not picking up a certain item: indeed, maybe it is not that important, but playing the game like a beta tester maybe helps to solve the mystery...
Another such item is the pager. If you don't pick it up, you get the storyline where Jessica dies even if you collect the Subway tokens in advance.

Yeah, Not getting the pager makes it much easier to be too late to the date. Though you can still make the date if you don't look at the body in the subway.

Also, Can confirm - it's the pinball machine. One of the messages says "I love Multi-ball, I even managed to STOP THE CLOCK."
Once you see that, the broken watch is at Jessica's.
 
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jedi23

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Great! This part of the mystery is solved!

Now, let's think about how to move on, after the stranger received the watch.
I think the next meeting place with the stranger is Heisenberg Park. I thoroughly checked the background and my conclusion is that the picture frame fits perfectly with a column in the park.

But what could trigger the second appearance of the stranger?
 

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