What do the Japanese know about this game that Alan doesn’t?
In The Australian on 5 March I read a review of a game called, simply, “D”. The review began with the words, “While other titles flounder, one new game has set Japan on fire - and is now set for huge international success”. The hyperbole naturally whet my appetite to read on. In a few months D sold 500,000 copies in Japan, according to the article. The game went on to win Japan’s Minister of International Trade and Industry, Multimedia Grand Prix Award for elaborate graphics, innovative game play and dramatic sound- track.
The article went further - the creators of D (Acclaim Entertainment), have apparently invented a motion capturing technology based on biomechanical algorithms that create smooth and realistic motion in computer generated characters. Enough! I thought to myself, this is the game for next month’s Sixteen Bits review, and so off to BitStorm I went.
I wasn’t disappointed. The boys at BitStorm had, as usual, received some of the first copies of D in Canberra. The box looked good. It was black, with a large red D on the front and framed in the D, I could see the partially obscured face of a woman with what appeared to be blood oozing from the dark sockets of her eyes. Ooooohh, creepy I thought to myself. I turned the box over and read the blurb on the back. In bold letters, D promised me that in playing the game I would have to look into the dark pit of my soul!!
At the front counter I asked Andrew, “What’s this like?” He said it had only just arrived and no-one at BitStorm had had the opportunity to give it a whirl. I would be one of the first!
That afternoon when I got home from work I took the stairs two at a time (it used to be four, but I’m getting old you see) to the “Beast” - my 120Mhz 486 with amplifier and 60 watt speakers. I took my time, I read the box blurb again. D, it said, stood for “dark, demonic, danger…” and lots of other words starting with D which I now forget. The instructions specifically made the point that D should be played in a darkened room, with the door closed and the sound turned down so that others would not be frightened. Boy, I was scared before I’d even loaded the thing!
The tip about playing D in a darkened room was right. Late afternoon sunlight filtered through the window, enough light so that I couldn’t see a thing on the screen. I searched frantically for a game brightness control - there was none. So I closed the heavy wooden blind and blocked out the sun. The room was gloomy and I could see faint movement on the screen. So I closed the door and put towels around the gaps to keep even the smallest rays of light from spoiling my D experience…… Not until the sun had dipped well below the horizon, the night sky was black, all light in the computer room was blocked off and I was squinting into the screen could I see what was going on. D, I decided, definitely stood for dark!
At last I was set. The story line began with a well regarded Doctor at a famous Los Angeles hospital going berserk and shooting patients and staff before barricading himself inside (an unfortunate story line given recent circumstances). His daughter arrives to negotiate his surrender to the authorities. When she enters the hospital she is confronted by a grizzly scene of mass murder and a building in darkness. In a corridor she sees a shimmering portal in space and crosses through into a surreal world which is the creation of her father’s insane imagination. The daughter (played by you) then begins to unlock the dark secrets in the world created by her father’s diseased mind, in order to unravel what went wrong and why he suddenly turned into a mass murderer.
Things were sort of working for me; the background graphics were good, the computer generated character of the Doc- tor’s daughter was moving in a fairly smooth sort of biomechanical algorithm way, the music had hairs standing up on the back of my neck and there were some definitely scary bits when, all of a sudden, the game ended! What had I done wrong?
A frantic search of the instructions revealed that, oh my gosh! You only get two hours to solve the whole puzzle! That’s right, two hours and no way to save the game during play! If you get only part way through on the first go, too bad. You must play that bit over again the next time (and pretty fast I might add) to get up to the bit where the game quit the time before. And if that gets you only a little way further into the game, well, tough. You have to play all those bits over and over and over again until you finish it.
I was stunned. I started to say words like dumb, diabolical, disastrous…. and a whole lot of other D words that were not on the back of the box. I thought to myself, could I be wrong? Is this the worst game play joke that $100 can buy? Could 500,000 Japanese think this was enjoyable? I went back to the article in The Australian and this time read it very carefully. Duped was the next D word that came to mind. For when I read the article more closely it suddenly became apparent that the reporter had never actually played the game! The whole article was cleverly written on the basis of what this or that had been said about the game. I was guilty of the mortal sin of believing what I had read in the press. Damn was the next D word that came to mind.
That’s when I packed up the lot, called BitStorm the next day and told the guys the bad news.
D is Dreadfully Disappointing.