Friday, 20 February 2015

Dark Seed (MS-DOS)

Dark Seed Title screen
Developer:Cyberdreams|Release Date:1992|Systems:PC, Amiga, PSX, Saturn, CD32

Today on Super Adventures, I'm taking a quick look at the long awaited, repeatedly requested, HR Giger illustrated, horror adventure Darkseed!

This was released on more systems than you'd think, even making it across to the PlayStation and Saturn in Japan, but I'll be playing the original PC version released back in...

Actually no, I can't do this. There's a reason I put this off for so long, and that's because I really can't stand this game folks. I can't really remember why exactly, but my brain's telling me I want none of this and it's usually right about this kind of thing. Life's too short to play terrible adventure games, and you don't want to sit there sifting through 30 screenshots worth of complaints and whining anyway. So instead I'm skipping ahead to something else, something less dark...



Developer:Nintendo|Release Date:1990 (JP)|Systems:SNES

Today on Super Adventures I'm taking a nice good long look at a classic Nintendo platformer! I can't believe it's been 8 months since I last featured a SNES game on my site, I don't even know what happened there, but consider this my apology. 9 out of the 10 of the internet lists I just checked agree that this is a top 5 SNES title beloved by all, plus it's even got 'Super' in the title, which is always nice.

It became a thing during the 16-bit era to tag SNES games with 'Super' to help make it clear to customers they weren't accidentally buying a NES or Sega game (or whatever), with the result that over 10% of the system's library begins with the word. But the Mario games had been super since the NES, so for the plumber's SNES début Nintendo dropped his 'Bros'. and added the 'World'.

Don't worry though, Luigi's still around, he's just had a falling out with Mario or something and won't appear on the same screen as him. It's same deal as in the Super Mario Bros. games basically, with player one and player two taking turns. The two brothers wouldn't work together again in simultaneous same-screen platforming multiplayer until twenty years later in New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

But anyway, check out this world map! It's always a pleasure to see one of these turn up in a platformer, especially when I get a choice of where to go. Both of my choices here look equally flashy though, so I suppose I'll go left.

The basic gameplay hasn't changed one bit since Super Mario Bros. 3, but... OH SHIT THAT'S A BIG BULLET! Damn, I can't believe I managed to lose a life less than 10 seconds into the first stage. I mean usually I'd be able to believe it, but I've been playing a lot of Mario this week and you'd think I'd be better than this.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how to get a game over in Super Mario World on the very first part of the very first stage while making a legitimate effort not to. That has to be the absolute worst anyone has even done in the game and I feel blessed that I was able to be here to witness myself do it first hand. This is right after I managed to play through two entire worlds of Super Mario Land on my first try without losing a life as well.

You know, I bet that's what it is: all that Super Mario Land has wrecked my aim. Has to be it. I can't be this bad at video games, it's utterly implausible. Or maybe there's something else on my mind, stuck in my head, distracting me...

Oh FINE, let's get get this over with then.



Developer:Cyberdreams|Release Date:1992|Systems:PC, Mac Amiga, PSX, Saturn, CD32

So here's Dark Seed then, for serious this time. You knew I wasn't really going to pull a bait-and-switch on you (especially if you scrolled ahead to check). It's weird though that I'm playing a game with a 'three days until doom' timer so soon after Majora's Mask, and a parallel universe nightmare world right after Super Mario Bros. 2.

This is the first game developed by Cyberdreams and also the antepenultimate one, as they only made two more (CyberRace and Dark Seed II) before transitioning into more of a publishing role, with the development work handled by external studios. Then two games later they transitioned into being defunct.

The company had a habit of working with big name creators to make their games stand out from the crowd, with Blade Runner and Tron artist Syd Mead contributing car concepts to CyberRace and notorious sci-fi author Harlan Ellison co-designing I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. But for their first game the name they got belonged to legendary Alien creator H.R. Giger, who was hired to bring some of his idiosyncratic biomechanical weirdness to the project (well, they were allowed to use his library of existing art at least). These collaborations proved to be a smart plan in the end, from a marketing standpoint at least, as it's probably the reason people still talk about these three... well two of the games to this day.

Dark Seed begins with advertising executive and author Mike Dawson learning that he doesn't bleed, in about the most fucked up way imaginable: having his skull split open by a pair of claws so that an alien embryo can be fired into his brain, all while gross looking pipes drip alien goop all over his suit.

Whoa, I never realised this until now, but that's no ordinary dark seed that's been planted in his cranium: that's one of Giger's famous birth machine bullet babies!

Fortunately it was all a dream! In reality Mike is actually trapped in an early 90s point and click adventure game, so when he finally got up I immediately got to work on systematically clicking on everything in the room. I haven't been given any kind of goal so far, except maybe to stop him from whining about his headache.
"My head is killing me!"
"My head feels like it's going to explode!"
"Boy my head hurts!"
Honestly after listening to this music I know how he feels. I could only find the Amiga version of the tune online, which sounds a bit less harsh than the MIDI track, but I'm sure you could still get a mild headache out of it: youtube link.

Mike Dawson is actually a strange example of a game designer starring in his his own work, as he was photographed Mortal Kombat-style performing all the actions to provide his namesake's digitised sprites. He even provided the voice for the CD version I'm playing, according to IMDb anyway.

Neither the telephone, the towels, the hot water heater, nor the bath proved to be much use, but clicking on the mirror seems to have done the trick. There's was no clue that mirror had a cupboard behind it, though the cursor changed when I hovered my mouse pointer over it so I knew I could interact with it in some way.

The Secret of Monkey Island (MS-DOS)
It would be nice if the game used that big-ass text box to tell me what I was pointing at, like in a civilised adventure game. Then I wouldn't have to investigate everything manually to see what they are.

I can cycle the mouse cursor between 'walk', 'examine' and 'use' modes, so I can look at items to see what they are, but you saw how much use that was in this case. "I look great. Then again, the mirror is dirty!" isn't telling me that it's actually a cupboard door with painkillers behind it!

Right, with that task taken care of... I have no other goals! It seems that I've successfully completed the game.

Oh hang on, someone just rang the doorbell, so I'm not quite out of objectives. Seems I've got a package! Hey look, Mike's got that mysterious Illuminati eye-triangle from the top of the game window above his door.

This is actually a pretty tiny game window for an adventure game now that I think about it, but then it is running in an unusually high resolution for its time. 640x350 is a pretty unusual resolution in general actually, but considering that this came out a year before games like Sam and Max and Day of the Tentacle, it's downright futuristic.

Actual size of a 1992 adventure game (Curse of Enchantia)
The extra pixels came at a cost though, with the trade off being that Dark Seed is only able to use 16 colours per screen instead of the normal 256. That's why it looks like an Amiga game if you were wondering. Also it was made on Amigas.

Okay, so what's in the package then?

A doll that melts into tubes, huh? Mike really needs to stop visiting eBay when he's drunk

Well can't think of any immediate use for that right now, but I'll keep it handy just in case. Or not, as it doesn't seem to have made it across into my inventory. Well pointless creepy doll interludes with distorted lullabies playing over them are always fun, even if Mike himself had absolutely zero reaction to it and nothing to say.

I suppose I'll carry on exploring the house then, in the absence of anything better to do.


SOON.


The phone rang, so I ran back up to the bedroom to answer it. Turns out that there's a book on hold for me at the library, so collecting that has now become my PRIMARY GOAL. Well beside getting the evil embryo out that's going to kill him in three days.

I assumed that time in Dark Seed kind of works like it does in Gabriel Knight, with the day ending once I progressed far enough in the story, but the clock chimes I've been hearing have me worried that I have an actual time limit here. I need to get finished with this house so I can jog down to the library.

"This picture is very... alien to me," is how the voice actor delivers the line if you're wondering. Nothing inspires unease and dread in a horror game like an in-joke.

Mike's only just moved into this place, and it seems that the house's previous owner was a bit of H.R. Giger fan as his art is all over the walls. The clock and the mirror are the only things that seem relevant though, as one needs a key and the other has a corner missing.

Well I need to check everything, but I get the feeling that the game thinks I'm an idiot for doing it. "Yep the third cabinet was empty too, but you're going to go and check the fourth aren't you? Dumbass," is what it's silently whispering to me.

Every time I enter a new room I have to sweep my cursor across the screen checking if it changes to show there's something I can interact with. But 9 times out of 10 the only reward I get for finding something is a message from Mike telling me it's not worth his attention. Well stop letting me click on it then! I can't click on the curtains, I can't click on the toaster looking thing, I can't click the cabinets along the left hand wall, so why can I waste my time on this equally irrelevant crap?

"This collection of various books reminds me of my collection of various books. That's unsettling!"

Oh hang on, is that an item there on the desk? Holy shit, I think I've found an actual item in this game!

It's a blueprint of the house, which might have been useful somehow if I hadn't searched every inch of the place already. Wait, '5. SECRET PASSAGE'? That's definitely something new.

I could be really pedantic and point out that the first column of numbers isn't bold like the rest are, but there's no time for that! I've got something to investigate at least!

Now that Mike knows that there's a secret door in the study he's able to get it open and find the secret route to the bedroom. Sadly he hasn't worked out how to get the bedroom door open from the other side so it's a one way trip.

I got a rope out of it at least, and the passage might come in useful later if I need an escape route for whatever reason. Though there's only one way out of the house and that's on the ground floor, so I'd still be stuck unless... hang on, I've just thought of something.

Look at this crap, I had to push the box three times before it was entirely out of the way. I knew I could get it out of the way somehow though, after seeing the balcony marked on the map.

There you go, that's how to escape a house when you're bored of the front door. It's also a fine demonstration of how the inventory works. Along with my recently acquired blueprints, I'm carrying something that can only be described as 'money' (Mike doesn't want to go into specifics), and a brown unlabelled floppy disk that probably brings up the save options. At least I hope it brings up the options, as I need to save the game after that incredible display of puzzle-solving intuition.

Dark Seed DOS options screen
Looks like they've used an edit of Giger's famous 'Li II' painting for the background here. Though it's possibly better known these days for being the face on Dark Seed's box art.

"My house seems somehow out of time, a relic of a dark past or perhaps a dark future."

Well Mike either doesn't know what the word 'relic' means, or he's hedging his bets in case this turns out to be a time travel plot. That room on the top left of the house is definitely out of time though, as by the time I get back inside it'll be gone again. There's only an attic and a balcony on that floor, unless the blueprints are lying to me and there's another secret door somewhere.

Anyway, I need to visit the library (and maybe a hospital if I spot one along the way), so I'll head down the road to the left and see where that takes me.

This... isn't the library. In fact this seems like a graveyard filled with jokey tombstones!

It turns out that this is the final resting place of Guybrush Threewood from Monkey Island and Harry Mudd from 'Star Trek'. Those were easy, though I'm struggling more with the others. Nostromo was the name of the ship in 'Alien' (and the title of a Joseph Conrad novel), but that S is a mystery to me. Could be short for Sulaco perhaps, the ship from 'Aliens' (also the place the book is set). John Campbell may be the guy who wrote the story that 'The Thing' was based on. I imagine that Sherrie Daze is probably a reference too, but I don't get it.

Weirdly it was female voice that said "Step back! You're on hallowed ground!" when I investigated the last tombstone, and this game doesn't have a narrator. Was it a spooky ghost or just some kind of electronic tombstone security system? All I know is that I've only encountered two people in the game so far and they've both been disembodied voices. Well there was the postman too I suppose, but he might as well have been a cardboard cut-out with a box in his hand, and I didn't even get to keep the box.

Anyway, I kind of have an impending head explosion to deal with, so I need to find this library already.


SOON.


I've found a town! Well I've found a barber anyway, and when you find one of them a town is never far behind. Shame Mike refuses to step inside without ringing for an appointment, as he could do with a bit off the back.

It's all gotta come off eventually, when the neurosurgeons finally cut that skull of his open to scoop out the alien. Might as well get it over with now.

Uh, what? Dude, if you're that concerned about your personal hygiene, how about you stop sleeping in your suit?

Okay fine, shower first, then library.


ONE HIKE BACK TO THE HOUSE LATER.


Here he is taking a shower. Well now that's done I can put his stinking clothes back on and jog down to the library again. After arranging an appointment with the barber of course.


ONE TREK BACK INTO TOWN LATER.


Mike refused to call the barber, but that's fine as I've actually found another living person here I can interact with! Well I could click on her to collect my book at least, we didn't actually get into dialogue trees or anything.

Our hero's having another one of those 'melted doll' visions, but this time it seems to be working in his favour as there's a message printed here especially for him! Or perhaps he's just reading the paragraph out of context, he did open it up on a random page after all. Uh, I mean I'm reading it out of context, Mike himself doesn't react to, or comment on anything plot related. He's got plenty to say when I tell him to touch something dusty, but he zones out whenever it comes to mind-bending parallel universe weirdness.

Yeah, I'm sure she doesn't notice you staring at all mate.

I tried to chat with her further, but the best I got was that comment up there about it being "the sort of thing that your former co-worker Larry would've tried to do!" Going off those gravestones I'm guessing this is a Leisure Suit Larry reference, but for all I know it's just a weird in-joke. Have you noticed I've said the word 'joke' a lot more so far than I've said the word 'scary'? Isn't that strange for a horror game?

Anyway, I need to find a radio now to tune it in to the 'right station' mentioned in the book. Or a television I guess.


SOON.


Or a car!
"Steal from those who protect you, or you will not be able to protect yourself in the Dark World." 
Another message from a disembodied voice, this one slightly more cryptic, though I think I get the gist of it. Time to pop back into town and pay a visit to those who protect.

What? Seriously? I'm playing a point and click adventure with a day/night cycle here?

I guess all I can do now is go home and sleep, and throw the last few hours of day one away. Two days left until his head explodes.

Come on man, at least take your shoes off before you climb under the covers!

Another night, another dream, this time about the mirror in the living room. In it he sees his alternate universe double. A disturbing reflection of himself stares back, identical except for his white shirt. Hey he had a white shirt in the intro as well, I wonder if that's a Dark World thing.

Before I get on with my pointing and clicking I need to get the morning routine over with first, or else he'll be complaining about his head all day.

I should probably do another quick sweep of the house as well while I'm here to make sure there's nothing I missed.

Huh, I'm sure I examined this before without this message coming up. No really, I'm absolutely almost entirely certain of it.

I just started a new game to double check and yeah, it gives you a different message the first time. You need to examine it TWICE before you can collect the library card from it. Well I guess now I'm clicking twice on everything just in case. And then I'm sending Mike back down to the police station to follow the radio's advice.


LATER, IN THE POLICE STATION.


Seriously, it's this easy to stroll in and help myself to a revolver? Well I'm always after new items for my collection, so how can I resist?

Oh damn, the general store next door is full of items! Finally an adventure game where the hero can just go to the shop and buy things that he needs instead of going through crazy convoluted schemes involving cat hair moustaches. Of course the ones I can buy don't stand out at all so I have to hover the mouse cursor over each in turn. I've no idea what I need so I'll just grab one of everything.

Crap, it turns out that my money wasn't actually infinite, and I just ran out after buying crackers, insecticide, and soy sauce. Well I guess I'm loading a save game now, as I'm pretty sure I just lost. In fact after fucking up so badly in day one I think I should probably start a new game. I didn't want to resort to a walkthrough, but for this shop I'll make an exception.


A FEW MINUTES LATER.


Oh I see, I buy the Scotch and that makes a guy I've never met walk in for absolutely no reason and give me a 'Get Out of Jail FREE' card. He doesn't even take the Scotch in exchange or anything, I'm just controlling fate through capitalism.

I'm going to go ahead and give the game the benefit of the doubt and assume that there was going to be some clue here eventually that I'd need to do this. Right then, I should deal with that library card I found in the coat pocket while I'm here in town.

Bringing the library card to the library got me another clue: a piece of a journal from the former occupant of Mike's house who seemed to think it was a smart move to hide the clues they wanted the next owner to read.
"I had a light moment the other night when old man Tuttle grabbed the key to my clock and swallowed it. What a joker!"
So old man Tuttle swallowed this person's clock key and they were seriously thinking about breaking into his final resting place and rummaging around in his remains to get it back? They must have been pretty fond of that clock.


LATER, BACK AT THE GRAVEYARD.


I can't be bothered to identify things any more, so I just interacted with every urn until I found old man Tuttle's with the key inside. I think this might actually be Mike's best acting, as he sounds increasingly exasperated with every new relative he's covered with. He's really not happy about any of this.

Aha, so the previous owner was a guy called John McKeegan. I recognise that name from one of the tombstones in the second screen of the graveyard. I was kind of expecting something a bit more important to be hidden in here, considering what I had to do (and what the owner was thinking of doing) to get it open.

Oh no, don't tell me I have to dig up the owner remains now too! But I haven't found a spade yet.

Fortunately I've just learned a new trick: pressing 'T' will skip ahead an hour, so I can fast forward through Mike's last days and get this over with!

Wow, H.R. Giger should've sued the shit out of them for that. Oh wait.

It turns out that Mike needn't have worried about his skull splitting open after all, as the Dark Seed creature actually erupted out of his mouth! Man I'm glad that's over with now. Except it isn't, is it? I need to get at least one screenshot of H.R. Giger's Dark World before I turn the game off.

Right, where did I put that walkthrough?


EVENTUALLY.


Well at least now I've learned that his shirt really does turn white in the Dark World.

I don't know which is the most bullshit here though: the fact that I had to be waiting inside my house at 10am on day two to get the missing bit of the mirror to turn it into a portal to a parallel universe to collect a shovel, or the fact that touching a near invisible lever was an immediate game over.

Neither issue is quite as bad as what I had to do to collect a bobby pin though. Remember the room where the librarian was stamping books?

Yeah. Not even a twinkle on the thing. Mike did make a joke earlier about it being quiet enough to hear a pin drop though, which just makes me want to punch him in retrospect.


CONCLUSION

I would recommend Dark Seed without hesitation to anyone interested in developing a point and click adventure game of their own, as you could likely learn a lot from it. I'm not sure I've ever seen anything in the genre screw up in so quite many ways.
  • It doesn't display the names of items when you hover the mouse over them, so you have to click on them with the ! cursor to tell what they are.
  • Half the time objects don't stand out from the background so you have to sweep the screen and watch the cursor to tell what can be interacted with. The whole screen. Even that tiny crack in the floorboards.
  • Being on a timer means you can't relax and explore new places properly, but you do have to identify everything twice as you never know what's important to trigger some other event.
  • You have to be home at certain times on certain days, but the watch you need to tell the time out of the house is well hidden enough that I never found it. Plus you apparently need to remember to wind it occasionally.
  • You have no way of knowing what times you need to be home for most things unless you've been there by chance at the right time on an earlier playthrough.
  • Mike is not a LucasArts character and can get himself killed off and shoved inside a pod for touching a lever. You have to keep saving just in case, but use different files so you have something to go back to when you accidentally end up in an unwinnable situation.
  • You can't tell if you've ended up in an unwinnable situation.
  • Certain items have to be collected on the right day or else you've lost. Fail to open the chest in the attic or buy Scotch on day one and it's all over.
  • Some of the music is horrifying for the wrong reasons (though it does help you feel like an alien's about to burst from your skull.)
It was rare that I felt that I was solving anything in this game; I wasn't finding ingenious ways to achieve my goals, I didn't even HAVE any goals for most of it. I was just going around town, following any instructions I was given, and seeing if anything else could be done in each place before going off to the next one. The connected parallel universe concept should've opened up some clever Day of the Tentacle-style puzzles, with things in one world affecting things in the other, but that's apparently barely ever done. You'd think that a game like this would work better on replays, but you can't even take advantage of your own foreknowledge (to locate the secret door in the study for instance), because Mike has to learn about things first before he can do anything about them.

Plus there aren't even any dialogue choices in the game! There's barely any interesting interaction going on with anything at all, and the story is a real let down after the intro. It wastes its hook immediately, as Mike is basically happy enough once he takes his headache tablets and shows no interest in investigating his condition or the house.

On the other hand, it looks very nice for a 1992 adventure game, especially considering there's only ever 16 colours on screen. H.R. Giger's Dark World art is as incredible and distinctive as anything he produced (as it's pretty much made from everything he produced), but the real world backgrounds are good too, and somehow the digitised Dawson fits in either way. It's a shame none of the backgrounds scroll, but they're fine. Dark Seed actually plays and controls just fine on a technical level. To be honest I don't want to sound so down on the game as it's clear that a ton of work was put into it. It's definitely an interesting game, and with H.R. Giger's artwork, the designer playing himself, and the brain-burster alien set-up, it's going to be remembered for a long while.

It's just... a bit crap really.


If you'd like to leave a comment about Dark Seed, feedback about my site, or just want to say "hi, I exist" then you're welcome to use that message box down there.

Next time: Super Mario World, the rematch.

11 comments:

  1. Hi, I exist and my mom thinks I'm funny!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Existing is good, you should keep that up.

      Delete
  2. Death by exploding alien head monster seems like a fair punishment for that jacket and jeans combo.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was 1992 man, that was how advertising executives probably dressed back then.

      Delete
  3. Awesome! I'm glad you gave it a review. Very cool. I approve and you should be an Editor in Chief of a gaming magazine btw.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Side note: I just started playing Monkey Island, Waxworks and Dark Seed along with Ultima Underworld SA on dosbox and nice little (?) April Fools joke reviewing SMW but I scrolled ahead lol.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey, even I'm not badly organised enough to put my April Fools joke halfway through February!

      Also I'm not keen on April Fools jokes really, so this April I'm planning to do the same thing I did last year: play a first person shooter everyone else thinks is a joke and see if I can find the good in it. Because I'm nice like that.

      Delete
    2. I was jk Ray but some friends I know start pulling April Fools jokes in February. I am still playing Dark Seed btw. Something draws me into playing it. I hope you review in the future Dark Seed II but please don't hold back your inner critic, show that game no mercy! 😊

      Delete
    3. Hasn't Mike suffered enough? Haven't I suffered enough!

      Delete
  5. Hi, I exist. /jk I seriously thought that you trolled everyone and started to review Super Mario World. :P

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Nah. I thought about doing something like that before in the distant past, but then I remembered that I LIKE people dropping by and reading my site, and it's harder to build an audience when you're driving everyone away with trolling and trickery.

      Mario World coming soon though (I promise it won't turn into Dark Seed halfway through).

      Delete

Semi-Random Game Box