Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ignorant American Gaming: D

Availibility: Was released on Playstation, Sega Saturn, 3DO and PC. No ports or re-releases have been done.

Version I Played: Playstation version. Although the cover art I used was the 3DO cover art cause I really like it.

Review: This one is really hard to review. It's truly a product of it's time. D was released at a time when CD-ROM games were first coming out. This provided better sound, visuals, and full motion video could be included now (aka FMV). The biggest was the FMV. That's not something that could be done on a cartridge. Any cutscenes on a cartridge had to be done through creating a video with in game graphics. Now it could be done by pre-rendering CG video or even including actual movie footage/create a movie for the cut scenes. In other words this was the dawn of a lot of new bad ideas that will live on for a long time. Honestly a lot of the things that came up in this era of gaming are now looked back on as a big joke. The technology was sorta there only it was used in a sloppy way. Since it was so new nobody knew how to use it properly. They were considered revolutionary at the time but this was at a time when bits sold systems (for the most part) and people were still very concerned about the visuals and tech behind a system. So a lot of these new games with FMV were sold on the technology. In the grand schemes these wound up being more like tech demos of what could be done in the audio and visual department, only not the gameplay. As a result a lot of these games aged very poorly. That's why it's so difficult to review games like D. It did not age well. When this game first came out it got rave reviews. When people do a retrospective they call it horrible. That's why I need to review this one in the context of it's time. I know it hasn't aged well, but I will try to look at it in the way it was presented to a world who didn't have the gaming we do now. I do this out of respect.
I actually kinda remember when this game came out. Keep in mind I was anywhere between 8-10 years old so my memory fails me in some respects. There were only a few things I remember. One is the box art (The non-3DO cover art) cause it depicted a  black and white photo of a shadowed woman's face with what appears to be bloody tears. I also remember seeing some screenshots but never saw any video on it or played it. I had no clue what this game was really like only that it looked scary. Well, scary for a kid at least. This was a T rated game! OooooooOOOOOOooooo! Well unlike the hundreds of other games I've breezed past in stores and in magazines this is one that stuck with me throughout the years. I know it was because of the horror aspect. A couple of the screenshots I saw were decayed corpses with spikes through their bodies, much like it shows on the back cover. That kind of stuff will stick with ya for a while well over the typical platformer or shoot em up. I eventually picked it up when I was in high school. When I played it finally after all these years of waiting what I got was only partially what I expected. I will say I was not disappointed after all these years of waiting.
The story of the game goes like this. You play a young woman named Laura. One night your father, who is a doctor, goes crazy and kills everyone in the hospital he works in. Despite it being a crime scene you go into the hospital to investigate. While there this bizarre portal opens up and transports you to this giant, old mansion and the game begins. From here you have only two hours to complete the game. No saves, no checkpoints just straight through. By today's standards this seems strange but really there were a lot more games back then that required it than they do now. But it also could be classified as an adventure game which requires sometimes extensive thought to figure out the logic in the puzzles the game presents. So that type of game would typically have a save system so you don't have to go through the same puzzles over and over. Well, in this game you do if you don't get it done in time. A bizarre choice for this type of game but I think it works in a way. It gives a sense of urgency to get through the game, providing you with more of a fear of losing the game for taking too long. Also I think it may have been done to extend the replay value of the game. Once you know the solutions, or most of the solutions it won't take long to go through the game because it is really short.
Before I continue with that, though, I want to touch on the gameplay. This game took full advantage of the new technology by putting FMV into the game. The developer, WARP, took literally full advantage of this technology by making the entire game out of FMV videos. Thankfully this isn't in the same style as Dragon's Lair (although there is one sequence of the game that does turn into that). How it works is that there's predetermined positions you can move to and every time you hit the arrow button toward the next spot there's a brief video sequence to show the travel. Think Myst but with more animations. It's because of this free-ish flowing movement that I hesitate to call it a point and click adventure like Myst but I can't think of anything else to call it. It's technically a point and click but you use the arrow buttons on the controller instead so it feels more FPS-like but I dare not call it an FPS cause it's nothing like that except it's perspective. Because of the animated transitions between moves it does make the game move very slowly. If you go up the stairs into a far off room and need to bring a key back down the stairs and across the hall, only you didn't get the right key you needed, it's gonna take a while to get back to where you were. You can't skip any of these videos. So if you also select the wrong area or key item multiple times you may be looking at the same animation multiple times. Outside of the repeats you'll run into the slow pace of the game is actually really nice. I find it to be very atmospheric. Horror really should never be fast paced so this gives the game a prime surrounding for what it wants to accomplish.
So the game is a bit slow. How are the puzzles? An adventure game like this should at least have decent puzzles. Well the puzzles are alright. I don't have a ton of experience with adventure games outside of the Myst franchise. Most recently I have been playing through Phantasmagoria which does require a certain level of thought to understand the game's logic and complete the puzzles in there. D on the other hand has much simpler puzzles. Part of that could be because I believe this was intended for home consoles (despite making it's way to PC anyway) and this is an era when console games were far more simplified compared to the games coming out on PC. Also I think it was limited ironically because of the technology boost. Keep in mind that for the time this game looked amazing visually. The graphics were a knockout cause before this some of the best looking 3D in gaming was Star Fox which looks like paper mache. Having this power did sacrifice the variety a lower tech game would have. So while this game was on three Playstation discs (Although after digging around I found out the other consoles only needed two discs) because of how much space it takes up the game can only ever last two hours without potentially restarting the game. Whereas on this same console there would be Final Fantasy Tactics. A game with minimal 3D and mostly 2D sprites but is on a single disc and allows for tons and tons of hours of gameplay where no game could be done the same twice because of the variety (pretty much). Unfortunately this was a common theme in this technological advancement. So with that said the creators couldn't afford for the game to be more complicated or include more content because that would require more video, which would require more space, which would require more discs, and next thing you know it's another two or three discs. Then you start looking like Riven which had five discs because of the detail in the imagery. So even with the game coming out on three discs (which is usually a sign of a long game) it won't be as extensive an experience as you may hope.
Now the puzzles come in three varieties. There's pretty clever thinkers, the obvious and easy ones, and then the tedious ones. I'll give an example of each respectively.
One clever thinker was an early one in the game. Early on you find a blank piece of paper in a dresser. If you take it back down the dining room table where there's a large bowl of water and place it in there it'll reveal your next clue. The only reason I knew how to do this right away is because it somehow stuck with me after reading the clue in a magazine many years ago. Not too hard but I felt was clever enough to justify saying so.
An obvious and easy one is to use a numeric code you find on a door. When you find the number you go back to another room where you can enter the code. After it's open you get a key. Not much else to say.
Now there's also the tedious ones. The best example I can think of this is a moment late in the game when you're required to use a crank to rotate the round room you're in to different areas. This is the type of room with one door and depending on how many times you twist the crank you'll either turn around and see a full brick wall or a new door to a different area. A simple-ish puzzle, but also time consuming and very tedious. I say this because this is when the technology of the game get in the way. Unlike in an FPS where you roam free as quick as you'd like or even in a game like Myst when it's just images that are quick and easy to click through but in this game you are forced to sit through animations with every moment you make. So once you get to this crank you start by turning it (takes a couple of seconds), then when you want to check if you've turned it enough times you back up (another second or so), turn around (take a couple more seconds), then if it isn't in the right spot you need to turn back to the wheel (a couple more seconds like before), move back toward the crank (you see where this is going), and start turning it again (yawn). This is such a long process and will drive you to a walkthrough online if you haven't already. Also even if you know how many times to do it, it's still a long process. Sometimes you need to turn the crank anywhere between five to nine times! Add on not knowing when to stop and you're looking at the spot where you are close to running low on time or will be mad you ran out of time later because of this problem. There's only one part in the game that is worse than this spot and that's because the part I want to talk about is more frustrating than boring.
Earlier I mentioned how there's at least one spot in the game similar to Dragon's Lair and thank the Lord there's only one spot like this because it's the worst part of the game. During the crank yanking portion of the game you go down a hall filled with suits of armor and a deep pit at the end. What happens is one of the suits of armor comes alive and you're forced to fight. What follows is what would now be known as a QTE cut scene. No problem, right? No. This is so unresponsive and you're going to see yourself fall down that pit over and over again even on the first button press. I don't know if it's the Playstation controller or not but I think that it would have trouble recognizing the buttons I was hitting. Either that or the timining I hit it was off even though I was hitting it when it prompted me to. I never played the Saturn or the 3DO version so I don't know how well those controllers worked in this scene but the Playstation controller (and I was using a PS3 controller in my most recent playthrough) wasn't doing a great job. Either that or it's the game.
I really hating shitting all over this game because in the end I really do like it a lot. It's also really hard to look at it properly as I keep saying because of what it is and when it came out. It's just so sad how horribly this game has aged. You could almost see it as obsolete withing a couple years of it coming out. It was very of it's time but seemed to make enough change to warrant a sequel some years later. I think if I got it when it came out and I was of a more mature age I would have adored this big time. This type of game and it's atmosphere is right up my alley. It's got a silent protagonist who doesn't bombard us with exposition and therefore she remains very mysterious yet pure. You do have a real sense of being alone in this bizarre world which makes it even creepier cause you wonder what's going to happen next and what will come out of the next corner, if anything, but you're pretty sure there will be, but you can't be sure, and you're crapping your pants in the process! I think that's why I like this game so much. It's horror done in a very Japanese style it gives you an overwhelming sense that something is out there that wants you dead but wants to torment you first. As opposed to American horror which would be jump scare after jump scare. Althought I suppose that was done because of the tech limitations again but I can guarantee you that an American studio would have found a way to include more jump scares.
I think this is a horror classic. It's like almost nothing else out there. if you can get past how poorly it has aged and take it in within the context of the time then I think you'd have a great experience. However the best way to get into this game was to have lived through the era it was born in. Sadly many people would not appreciate what is great about this game especially in modern gaming. I would never try to push this one on anyone unless I knew for sure they would find some level of interest with it. Of all the people I've known who are gamers I intentionally presented this one to only one person and they did appreciate it on a similar level I did. Minus the poorly written plot at times I think this would make a great horror film as well. Just translate it almost straight and into a ninety minute film, heck it could even be a shorter one and still be good, and there ya go! I suppose it could also expand on an extra portion of the game where you find out more about Laura and a dark part of her past. Ah yes, the main reason to play through again after beating it the first time. To unlock the full video that exposes SPOILERS that Laura killed at ate her mother because she is a descendant of Dracula END SPOILERS.
As an added bonus I found a complete walkthrough of the entire game! It's technically the 3DO version and is the director's cut, and it's in Japanese so the little dialogue there is, is in Japanese. Strangely the text is in English. Regardless of these facts the differences aren't something that are easily noticed. This is essentially what the version I played was like. And a little piece of trivia. You'll notice the title says D's Diner, which was the original title in Japan.

If America Made It: Outside of concept designs and methods of execution I can't imagine this would be a lot different. These types of games were a bit deal in the advent of CD-ROM games. I guess the differences would have been more on the end of jump scares, and it may have been a point and click adventure style instead of the constant FMV approach WARP did.

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