Can you hear the voices, too?

September 23, 2007

Mental illness is often used as a dramatic catalyst in fiction, from Shakespeare to “A Beautiful Mind,” and while its portrayal in films and novels varies greatly in verisimilitude, in video games, it is remarkably narrow. In particular, the trope of “your character has woken up with no memory and is accused of an awful crime,” might as well qualify for a genre of game, somewhere on the shelf between “action” and “strategy.” While video game antagonists generally portray a wider array of symptoms, from sociopathy accompanied by hallucinations to sociopathy with a side of narcissism, by the end of the game, the player’s illness is generally explained as the result of happenstance or a transient phenomenon, while the villain’s peculiarities are never explored in depth.

While I am generally in favor of stopping megalomaniacal psychopaths, it would be interesting if games occasionally threw some well-rounded characters with real mental illnesses into the mix, which makes ProgZmax’s “Mind’s Eye” a unique adventure. The game begins with the player’s character recovering from an seemingly ubiquitous bout of amnesia; however, the tone is a bit different from other games, insofar as this rude awakening occurs not in a heavily-fortified military installation, nor in the back alley near a crime scene, but in the confines of a mental hospital. While the protagonist’s quest for self-knowledge inevitably puts him at loggerheads with the staff (some of whom are much more understanding than others), he soon comes across a sympathetic group of other patients who are definitely ill; and not just with dramatic amnesia, either.

Read the rest of this entry »

Recent years have been good for the pirate community. A trio of blockbuster films has resurrected the swashbuckling epic, and “talk like a pirate day” has caught on as a pseudo-holiday. More importantly, the hipster caucus has placed pirates somewhere above dinosaurs and only slightly below ninjas in the pantheon of the ironic, silly, and retro. Yet, there have been precious few quality pirate games in recent years. Although Sid Meier’s “Pirates!” was a welcome remake of an old classic, the grizzled gamers among us have been seeking a successor to “Monkey Island,” one of the great pirate adventure games of yore.

Thankfully, that peg-leg-shaped void within our souls can now be whole again, thanks to Alasdair Beckett’s “Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy.” “Spoonbeaks” follows the adventures of pirate captain Nelly Cootalot as she attempts to find out why the titular spoonbeaks, odd but particularly cute birds, have disappeared from the tropical Barony of Meeth. Armed with only her wits, pluck, and an accent from the vicinity of County Durham, Nelly must navigate both the island and the unsavory sea-dogs inhabiting it if she is to get the bottom of the mystery.

From the get-go, the game seems like a grand, careful production. The graphics are amazing: not only are they smoothly animated in high resolution, but they have a style that fits perfectly with the picaresque storyline, like a vibrant cross between Tim Burton and James Kochalka. The effect is enhanced by a number of sprightly sea shanties that subtly complement the action on screen. The interface is similarly well appointed, as well as streamlined, and should be easy to pick up and play even for non-gamers. Read the rest of this entry »