I’m in a strange town where nothing seems quite right. Everything, really, seems a bit off and the natural and the unnatural seem to exist side-by-side.
I’ve become embroiled in events and the prognosis for the outcome looks singularly bleak. The game makes a point to remind me that I’m playing a game, but even so – whilst the locals task me with this errand or that, there’s a constant sense that I’m in over my head.
While everyone seems to be keen on giving me instructions, I’m not at all certain what I’m supposed to be doing now, what I’m supposed to be doing next, or whether I’m doing the right thing.
The world of The Witcher, created by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, has been widely translated into numerous languages and adapted, into film, television, graphic novels, and a video game. It’s the video game that concerns us here.
It’s the early 1600’s, the plague is in town (again), business could be better, and Shakespeare’s gearing up for a new play at the Globe. You’ve got a dinner invitation from an old acquaintance, whose lively and ribald tales stand to brighten things up .
Well, you’d think. In fact, you’ll be lucky to make it through the week with your sanity.
The Might and Magic series (I’m not counting the Heroes of Might and Magic spin-offs here, which I really don’t much care for), has been around for a long time. The first game of the 9-game series was released back in 1986, making it about 23 years old now. That’s what you’d call fairly venerable in gaming terms.
The ninth (and so far the final) game in the series was released in 2002. There was also a first-person action spin-off called Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (recommended). But for the moment, it’s the first six games that concern us here today.
“You’ve been drafted into a war against a machine called the Improbability Drive. It lives somewhere in the jungle, over there. Improbability is leaking out of this bloody thing like radiation, so we’ve got to blow it up. The whole war is being televised, you’ve noticed the cameras already, so try not to do anything stupid while the world watches.”
“Your head hurts because the guys who burst into your living room with sticks and a great big sack probably hit you a bit too hard, and you might have landed badly when they tossed you out of the plane. You survived the fall without a parachute because of the Improbability Bubble surrounding the island, which makes the air notably denser about forty feet above sea level.”
“You’re naked and unarmed because everything that penetrates the Improbability Bubble gets changed in rather amusing ways, and we didn’t want to take that risk. There’s blood on my boots because I came across some monsters on the way over here – yes, monsters, stop gawping, you’ll get used to them – and you’ll either pick up the rest as you go along, or you’ll die in a very entertaining fashion.” She smiles. “Either way, it’ll make for great television.”
I’ve got a bit of a history with Ghostbusters, the film by Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray.
I was working in film marketing and PR at the time, wrestling a startup towards commercial viability. The cinema-release was staggered across some months, in various Australian locations, and I must have sat down and seen the film, in the cinemas, at least 60 or 70 times as a result.
The 1980s were a pretty good era for films that didn’t take themselves too seriously, and the film resonated rather strongly with audiences of the time. Off a 30 million dollar budget in 1984, the film raked in an easy 290 million dollars in cinemas, and another 132 million in rentals, never mind network syndication later on, DVD sales and all of that. The second film, Ghostbusters II, while considered by some to be something of a disappointment, still managed to do almost as well.
After more than 20 years, there’s talk of a third film – a changing-of-the-guard piece, with strong hopes of landing Eliza Dushku (Buffy/Angel/Dollhouse/etc) in a major role – but in the meantime, Aykroyd and Ramis have put together a new part to the story, in the form of a video game, developed in conjunction with Terminal Reality.
I leafed through my reports. Fully seven of our colonies on two planets were suffering damage and loss of life from attacks by the native animals and even plants. Originally there had been nine colonies on those worlds, but we’d had to abandon New Hope and New-New York.
While I’d been taken aback by the power requirements of the defensive shields the technical team had developed, I’d just now approved the construction of a siphoning facility that would allow us to generate vast amounts of power resources from the local gas giant, possibly even making some of our local power-stations redundant, if we could get the logistics right. A key part of the plan, however, required getting materials to the facility for maintenance. Chief Scientist Patel had proposed mass-drivers to tackle that part of the transportation chain.
What didn’t sound good was Patel and Officer Williams arguing about whether to destroy or study the series of alien towers that our exploration teams had found on the planet below us. One of them was very close to our primary colony and seemed somehow to be linked to our current problems.
Whatever I chose, I knew I wouldn’t hear the end of it in a hurry.
I’m crouching in the dark. I have a flashlight, but I dare not turn it on. I’m trying to keep quiet, and huddle close to my inadequate cover. I can hear the creature growl softly as it gets closer. Will it see me? I don’t dare look, because I know I’ll panic and it will be on me in an instant. I steal quick glances at it, then huddle behind the crate to calm down, like a kid hiding under a blanket from the monster under the bed.
Is it a dog? It’s might be some kind of a dog. I dare not face it. Maybe it was a dog … once. I don’t know what it is now.
I don’t dare move. The sound of its feet stops. It sniffs the air and growls softly, a bit like a dog, but something is very… wrong about the sound. It snuffles and I think I hear it move away. I steal a terrified glance. It’s moving away from me now. I creep as fast as I dare into a cross tunnel, and head for where I think the store-rooms are. Anywhere is better than here, right?