Bit Part

We’ve got to hand it to ad­ven­tures with in­trigu­ing set­tings and non­lin­ear struc­tures.

PCPOWERPLAY - - OPINION: GEN XX - MEGHANN O’NEILL in­vites you to write in and tell her the name of that 90s ad­ven­ture with the sev­ered hand. She’s looked ev­ery­where for it and still has no idea what it was.

Ihave a few cred­its on games, mostly for com­pos­ing mu­sic. Un­til re­cently, I had thought Thim­ble­weed Park’s ‘Hin­tTron 3000’ would be the strangest, but it seems I’ve out­done my­self. Tech­ni­cally, it’s more of a griz­zly cameo in Lamp­light City, an ad­ven­ture game by Fran­cisco Gon­za­lez, of Shard­light and A Golden Wake. I knew the story was go­ing to be dark when I signed up for the weird role, but I was ac­tu­ally a lit­tle shocked when I saw how ‘my con­tent’ is pre­sented later in the game. I’ve now played the de­tec­tives’ first case...

The game opens with a horse and car­riage ride. You’re meet­ing a florist who has fallen vic­tim to a spate of bur­glar­ies. An air­ship, the HMS Ligeia, drifts op­ti­misti­cally over­head. The city is shrouded by an or­ange, in­dus­trial haze and your part­ner likes to drink. It’s recog­nis­ably rooted in 1844, although prob­a­bly in an al­ter­nate uni­verse. I’m not sure be­cause, even af­ter try­ing to re­search the set­ting, the whim­si­cal tech­nol­ogy pre­sented has a kind of ar­ro­gant plau­si­bil­ity to it. Can you en­large plants with aetheric cur­rents? Did peo­ple try?

I love that his­tory can be more than you imag­ined. My grand­mother was born in 1910 and she told sto­ries about World War 2 that I’ve never heard, or found re­ferred to, any­where else. Her sis­ter self-pub­lished a mem­oir which de­tails how the fam­ily’s women worked, loved, and lived, in ways I hadn’t even con­sid­ered. Al­ter­nate uni­verses can also chal­lenge the lens through which we view the world. Ishig­uro’s Never Let Me Go may seem grotesque, un­til you read about the real life traf­fick­ing that mir­rors the story’s ‘fic­tional’ tenet.

Again, the pres­ence of an in­ter­ra­cial mar­riage in Lamp­light City didn’t

... it is rel­a­tively rare for the genre to al­low you to fail along the way.

im­me­di­ately make me think, “Oh, this must be an al­ter­nate uni­verse.” I sim­ply be­came in­ter­ested in find­ing out more about the le­gal­ity and preva­lence of this through his­tory, be­cause it’s not hard to imag­ine peo­ple lov­ing each other, re­gard­less of cir­cum­stance, through the ages. There’s also com­men­tary on spir­i­tual and med­i­cal prac­tices (bloody leeches), that seems to ob­scure the line be­tween what we ‘know’ peo­ple ex­per­i­mented with and where their imag­i­na­tion may have led to, in pri­vate.

This am­bigu­ous­ness suits a de­tec­tive story and in­ves­tiga­tive ap­proach. Where a du­bi­ous doc­tor has tran­quilised a man from whom you need in­for­ma­tion, con­coct­ing a way to get him right again makes for a good puz­zle. Su­per­nat­u­ral el­e­ments, in­clud­ing in the form of ghostly com­men­tary, might be blamed on trauma and medicine, but in a way that doesn’t quite ex­plain mo­ments of cu­ri­ous in­sight. Gon­za­lez clev­erly fore­shad­ows events, too. As soon as I ‘looked at’ the air­ship, I knew what would hap­pen to it later.

So, what cameo role could I pos­si­bly play in such a game? I re­mem­ber a point and click ad­ven­ture from the early 90s. I can’t tell you what it was, but it was mostly green, black and white, pos­si­bly with a grid based in­ven­tory. The mo­ment I re­call most clearly is find­ing a touch­pad in a base­ment and re­al­is­ing I needed to cut the hand off a dead body to open the door. As a young teenager, I thought this was the pin­na­cle of puz­zling. I’ve seen sev­ered hands in games since. Now I am one. My credit is ‘Sev­ered Hand Model’. How great is that?

My grue­some ap­pendage isn’t an in­ven­tory item, sadly, but it’s in­ter­est­ing to note that the ac­tion in Lamp­light City of­ten pro­gresses as a re­sult of de­ci­sion mak­ing, in ad­di­tion to find­ing and us­ing ob­jects. In fact, I ac­ci­den­tally of­fended a cou­ple of char­ac­ters, which ap­pears to lock con­tent. When I failed to find enough ev­i­dence to lead to a trial, I will­ingly con­trib­uted to the fram­ing of an in­no­cent man. The game treated these as a valid choices and the story con­tin­ued. Although the first case is ex­plicit about when you’re ‘fail­ing’, fu­ture cases may be less so.

I also re­mem­ber fin­ish­ing Laura Bow: The Colonel’s Be­quest. I was like, “Cool, that’s that.” And then there was a lit­tle cutscene where Laura was float­ing down the river on a steamer think­ing, “Gee, ev­ery­thing that hap­pened was a real shame, best for­get it and move on with my life, maybe the po­lice will find the an­swers.” And I was like, “Wait, what?” The idea that you could fin­ish an ad­ven­ture game badly was a rev­e­la­tion. Again, I have seen this many times since, but it is rel­a­tively rare for the genre to al­low you to fail along the way.

I’m pretty proud to have a strange cameo in a game as clev­erly struc­tured as Lamp­light City, and with such a thought pro­vok­ing set­ting. Due for re­lease in Septem­ber, there will be a num­ber of cases to solve, which seem tied to­gether by an over­ar­ch­ing plot, per­haps sim­i­lar to in The Dark­side De­tec­tive. It’s def­i­nitely one for fans of the ad­ven­ture genre and branch­ing nar­ra­tive sys­tems. If you de­cide to visit this colour­ful past, made slightly askew, make sure to look for me. I prom­ise I’ll give you a wave.

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