Review: Moebius: Empire Rising

 

Originally posted on indie-love.com

Moebius: Empire Rising is a new point and click adventure game produced by Phoenix Online and Pinkerton Road Studios. It’s written by Jane Jensen, best known for the Gabriel Knight series and Gray Matter. The game follows Malachi Rector, a brilliant antiques dealer with a talent for spotting patterns, as he tries to unravel the paranormal mystery behind a possible conspiracy of global proportions.

After reading the e-comic for backstory, the game launches into  promising opening credits, full of images from history, famous art work, and just enough supernatural feeling imagery (like what initially looks like some sort of tarot cards) to make the nerd in me gleeful. Once in the game, you find yourself in an antiques shop that the main character, Malachi Rector, owns. I was intrigued by this. How many protagonists of a video game are into art history?

After some dialogue, you eventually find yourself in the office of a secret government agency called FITA. You’re asked to look at the bio of a man and match him up to someone in history. To do so, you read data points about the man then compare them to data points about historical figures. This is pretty cool because it gives you the chance to relearn trivia that you might have forgotten since history class. After you successfully do so, Malachi is asked to go to Venice and draw similar connections to a woman who was recently murdered there. The story progresses from there, and you get caught in a world of unraveling mysteries and conspiracies that are closely connected to Malachi’s own life.

Malachi is not the most conventional of video game heroes and that was what initially drew me into the game. It’s a different feeling from the start. Malachi is successful and completely aware of his talents, to the point of arrogance. Plus he’s a history nerd with a photographic memory. It’s certainly different from being a small town peasant who overtakes an entire evil empire with just the help of a magical sword and a few friends or something.

I rather liked that aspect of it. I’ve studied a bit of art history myself, so opening the game with determining the authenticity of some relic from the past was an interesting hook for me. And Malachi, while coming off as a jerk, has a dry wit that made me smile. You see more of this when you begin to analyze people using Malachi’s rather uncanny ability to read people.  You can tell right away that some of Malachi’s gifts are deeper than just being very intelligent, and it makes for a good mystery. Combined with some fun puzzles designed to help spot and unlock historical patterns, this should have been the kind of game that I couldn’t stop playing.

As Malachi, you travel all over the world, trying to piece together clues relating to the mysterious Moebius theory, an idea that the future can be predicted by looking at patterns in the past and the key players in it.  Along the way, you meet people who tie into that theory and your life as well. Without spoiling too much, the premise of that theory and the relationships it hints at is what makes this game compelling. It’s an interesting idea, and one that I think has a lot of potential.

Potential isn’t enough to make a great game though. The game has its immediate flaws. The graphics aren’t anything special and look dated. The proportions on the bodies are off. Why are their armpits so high? It’s the kind of thing that once you notice, you can never unsee. And the animations aren’t really that great either. Walking looks strange, fighting looks clumsy, and people tend to look like they’re sneering when they talk. With freaky teeth.

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This man is not actually being possessed.

There are weird clipping issues. The backgrounds, while better than the characters themselves, really don’t look that wonderful either. They’re fairly low resolution, and there’s nothing special about them, no “wow” moments when you feel compelled to take a screenshot just because something is pretty. The music is okay, but not particularly memorable, and it gets repetitive.

Graphics, however, aren’t a make or break factor for me. I can play games with lackluster graphics, as long as the story is good and the gameplay is more or less enjoyable. As a point and click adventure game, I wasn’t expecting Moebius to offer anything terribly compelling in the form of gameplay. It was a little slow, but I could deal with that. However, there’s far too much back and forth. Every time I was in a new setting, I would explore it thoroughly, find all sorts of goodies that displayed the “take this with you” icon and then be told that I had no reason to take it with me. Which made sense, but when I would discover I needed that very thing in the next setting, go back to get that thing, return to the second setting, then figure out that I needed another goodie from the original setting, it got redundant. Fast.

Still, I kept slugging through because of the promise of a good story. Eventually, I got to the point where I was just on the cusp of making a great discovery and…I completely stalled. I thought I’d learned all the clues to move forward with the game, and technically, I had. But because I didn’t take something into my inventory after learning about it, I never “discovered” the data point for it. And so I was stuck, aimlessly wandering around a mansion, listening to the elevator music that the game provided for that particular scene, and wondering what I was missing. I checked walkthroughs. I checked for bugs. I turned off the game and went back to it. I decided I didn’t actually care that much about Malachi or the Moebius theory.

Eventually, I figured out my mistake, but this wasn’t a particularly good kind of frustration, like dying over and over to a difficult boss or being unable to solve a rewarding puzzle. It was a tedious frustration, and that is my main issue with the entire game. It feels tedious, as if the gameplay isn’t quite supporting the interesting story that they want to tell. I would have almost rather read this as a graphic novel, to be honest. Maybe some sort of interactive graphic novel where you have to solve puzzles before you’re allowed to read the next chapter…
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I’m torn on whether not I could recommend playing this game. I think I would, with some important caveats. I think if you can look past the slow gameplay and dated graphics, you can have fun with this. The plot is unique enough that it feels more like being in some sort of paranormal caper than in a traditional game, and that’s a breath of fresh air. It’s not particularly deep, more like the game equivalent to a beach read novel, but that’s okay.  And I actually enjoy Malachi, even with his arrogance. I see potential for interesting character development with him, development that asks a lot of questions about destiny and what the implications of it might mean.

If future installments of the game (because it’s clearly set up for them) can improve on the gameplay issues to make it more engaging, I would be willing to give them a chance. I’m curious about the characters and the Moebius theory, and so the game was a success of that level. If they can clean up the other aspects of it, the sequels might be as compelling as their story promises.

Moebius: Empire Rising is available for $29.99 directly from Phoenix Online or on Steam.

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Down the Writing Rabbit Hole

I want to be an author.

I write. A lot. But I don’t write things for anyone other than myself and one or two other people to see. Even just sharing  a silly fairy tale that’s inspired by a video game was not exactly easy for me. I want to write a book someday, and I have an idea for one, but like so many other people, I don’t have much to show for it, other than a thousand pages of writing that I don’t want to share with anyone.

This isn’t a post complaining about writing though. This is a post about one of my favorite side effects of writing, which are the rabbit holes I fall into as I’m trying to write. One minute I’m trying to describe how something smells and then two hours later I’m reading about how turpentine is made. And that’s one of the more normal things that I’ve randomly started researching because of writing. I should keep a journal of all the things I’ve read about because I bet there’s some good inspiration there. Off the top of my head I can remember reading about:

  • Voodoo
  • old names for illnesses and diseases (For example, phnemonia being called lung fever)
  • eleuthero
  • the can-can dance
  • snake oil
  • sled dogs
  • ice ages
  • chiengora (dog fur wool)
  • Montreal
  • horses
  • falconry
  • deer
  • holistic medicine
  • Iceland
  • biodomes
  • birds native to China
  • replacement knee surgery

Seriously, looking at that list makes me feel crazy. And that’s just a small sampling of all the crap I’ve read about, just to write stories that are intended for no one but myself! This is probably part of why I haven’t started that book I want to write yet. I’m overwhelmed by the amount of research I’ll end up doing to write a convincing story.

I need to get over that.

A Picture of Running

I run.

Okay, I haven’t been fantastic about actually getting out and running for the past few months, but once I get myself running, I’m much happier. One of my favorite things about running these days is having my iPhone with me. I love the sense of accomplishment I get from using Runkeeper or listening to the story of Zombies, Run! I like having my music with me, or sometimes a podcast or audiobook, depending on my mood. But strangely, what I like most of all is having the camera on my phone.

It started when I would finish logging a run with Runkeeper. There’s an option to snap a picture once your run is complete, which I think is cool. I like the idea of having an album of my activity. After that, I would start to look for things to take pictures of as I ran, noticing things about my town that I wouldn’t have otherwise while just driving around. Somewhere in the midst of the run, when my breathing has evened out and my legs seem to move on their own, my mind has an interesting clarity and sees art in everything. I enjoy finding art during my runs so much that instead of running there and back, I run my full distance and then walk home, snapping pictures as I go of the things I found beautiful along the way.

Some of these pictures are old, but I like sharing them all the same:

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Friendship is a beautiful thing.

Friendship is an especially beautiful thing when someone presents you with a Lego nyan cat that they created from scratch because they know you like Lego and cats and nerdy internet stuff, all because you took the time to listen to them when they were having a bad day.

Pay it forward, folks.

Wearing my geek on my sleeve

True story: I got my high school boyfriend because I was wearing a Princess Leia t-shirt.

This was before the prequels were released. It might have even been before all of the special editions were released. It was spring of 1997 (which seriously was only about five years ago, right?) and Star Wars merchandise was not exactly easy to find. I believe that particular shirt, a ringer with a big glittery decal of Princess Leia with her blaster, was from Hot Topic.

Leave me alone, I was 16.

Anyway, while hanging out after school one day, this tall, blonde haired, blue eyed guy who was extremely out of my geeky league turned to me and said, “Is that the Millenium Falcon behind Princess Leia? Or a B-Wing?”

“It’s the Millen–” I began, glancing down at the shirt. And then I blinked. “Uh. B-Wing,” I replied. I’d never even noticed that before. And who was this guy that he actually knew what a B-Wing was? He then launched into a discussion with me about Star Wars that ended up last for over an hour.

We ended up dating for three years.

Sixteen years later, I’m still just as much of a geek (I believe my husband fell for me because I started discussing Final Fantasy while sitting on a ski lift with him). Now, of course, being a geek is trendy to the point where I don’t even like using the word anymore. I’m just me, but my favorite movies are still Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, and I read Harry Potter every year and I’m completely obsessed with Borderlands 2. Oh, and I bought a 3DS XL purely to play Pokemon. And what I love now is that I can find some shirts and merchandise that are downright fashionable, all while having a geeky flair to them. I can almost feel like an adult while still being true to myself! I’ve collected some of my favorites from Etsy here.

By the way, Etsy? It’s like a haven for awesome geeky finds. It’s also a haven for questionable knock off goods that look like they’re better suited for Ebay, but let’s ignore that for now and bask in the glory that is handmade geek stuff.

My Star Wars AT-AT Pet

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By EngramClothing

I’m proud to say that I own this shirt and wear it pretty often and I usually receive compliments on it as well. Because I enjoy copying off of my big brother, AT-ATs are one of my favorite vehicles in Star Wars. And dogs are just the best. So an AT-AT dog being walked by a little girl?  ❤ ❤ ❤

I love that the store has that design on a few different items, such as a skirt and dress. Oh, and they also have a shirt of Darth Vader riding a bicycle and another of a stormtrooper wearing a suit, so that’s pretty amazing as well.

X-men Mystique inspired apron

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By HauteMessThreads

I didn’t realize that aprons were a thing that people were wearing again until I joined Pinterest. Then I logged in one day and was like, “Oh, that’s a cute dress,” and clicked on it only to realize it was an apron. I confess that I don’t entirely get it, but then, I don’t entirely love cooking either. Wait, am I allowed to say that? I’m pretty sure the internet, and blogging in particular, has become the one true home of amazing cooks. I mean…I can cook. I just find the entire process really stressful and also I suck at taking pictures of my food as I prepare it. How people manage to make raw chicken look good is beyond me.

Anyway! I’ve never wanted an apron in my entire life, but the other day when I was trolling Etsy for interesting geek related things, I found an apron that was inspired by Mystique. When I found myself checking my bank account to figure out whether or not I could purchase said apron, I realized that I had probably gone insane. Seriously though, this thing is badass! If I were the type of woman who held dinner parties and cooked a ton of delicious baked goods for my friend’s kids, I would totally want this apron to complete my look of grown up geek. I love the fact that it definitely references the mutant without beating you over the head. Subtle geekiness. I like it.

Fingerless Dragon Egg Khaleesi gloves

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By Mareshop

I found these because I had just found a dragon egg necklace on HBO’s site that I thought was cool, but assumed Etsy could probably do even better. As I had assumed, there were a ton of dragon egg necklaces on the site, so many that they all blended together. That’s probably why these gloves stood out so much to me. I’ve been wanting fingerless gloves forever now (my office is usually freezing), and I love the style of these. Again, they’re subtle. Looking at them, people wouldn’t necessarily guess that I’m pretending to be Khaleesi even though she’s not even my favorite character in Game of Thrones.

But I would know. And that’s all that matters.

Rain Poppies: A Folk Tale

As I mentioned before, I used to be quite an avid player of World of Warcraft. And while I play far less these days than I used to, I still love the game and the story behind it. One of the biggest gifts WoW has given me (other than some amazing friends) is a shot in the arms as far as creativity goes. I’ve always liked writing, you see, but after college it seemed all of my inspiration dried up. I didn’t write any fiction at all, and even my beloved livejournal fell by the wayside. I think I was just too caught up in my hectic New York City lifestyle to even think about writing anymore.

When I started playing WoW, I was immediately drawn to the story of the game. I didn’t even know that things like raiding existed, nor did I care. I was more concerned with making up a story for the elf druid that I was playing. It made her more interesting to think about why she was doing what she was doing and where she’d come from, even if I didn’t know the lore very well. This is something that I really love about WoW, and MMOs in general. Your character is who you decide. You’re not playing through someone else’s storyline. Unless you’re in Uldum, in which case you’re just a plucky sidekick to Harrison Jones.

I’ve always said that I wish I could get a job at Blizzard making up incidental lore that has absolutely no effect on the game’s storyline. Things like the life story of the stable master in Agmar’s Hammer. Or writing a story about an elixir that trolls take to let them share dreams with each other. Or, my favorite, coming up with uses and details behind the various herbs in the game. I still have dreams of writing an entire herbal guide to WoW one day that has no details on how to quickly level up herbalism, but plenty on the history of sungrass and how it got its name.

Inspired by Pandaria when the latest expansion was released, I decided to write a folk tale about how another herb,  the Rain Poppy, got its name, and I thought I would share it here. It’s meant to be a fairy tale, not a historical account, so some of the details won’t make perfect sense (the same way that the Grimm tales don’t make perfect sense in the real world). I hope you enjoy it!

Rain Poppies

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Once upon a time, there was a man name Xiaotong. Xiaotong was a soldier in the emperor’s army. He spent his years marching through the land, using his spear to fight in the wars that his emperor commanded him. He was happy with his life. He was a soldier through and through. One day while scouting he a song rising up from valley below him. He followed the sound of the song until he came over a rise and saw a woman kneeling by a river, washing a basket of clothes. She was beautiful, with a voice like the breeze on a perfect summer day. He watched her for a long time, listening to her song and watching her work. Before she had even finished, he decided he would speak with her once her song was done. When the last word was sung, he moved forward to approach her. She heard the sound behind her and glanced over her shoulder. With one look at him, she jumped up from her washing and took off at a run.

Xiaotong chased after her, only wanting to learn her name. He was a soldier and he could run, even with his armor. But she was fast too, much faster than he would have expected her to be. He watch mystified as she ran sure footedly along the river, dancing across the rocks in it to get to the other side. But Xiaotong didn’t give up, still running after her, his heart pounding through his chest. He called for her to wait, but that just made her run faster.

They reached the end of the valley and Xiaotong thought for sure he would have her since the climb up was difficult, even for a soldier. But once the climb began, Xiaotong had another surprise. The girl jumped onto the wind and ran along it, the leaves that had been swirling through the air dancing around her feet. Xiaotong’s eyes widened. Never in his years of traveling with the army had he seen such a thing.

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Playing “Gone Home” made me feel as if I were…home.

For Christmas this year, my dear friend gave me a Steam code for Gone Home by The Fullbright Company. I’d heard about this game several times since it was released over the summer, and I wanted to play it, but kept getting distracted by the urge to play another ten hours of Borderlands 2. So when I received the gift, I was excited. Part of me was hesitant as well. I knew it was a game of 90s nostalgia, and some recent not so awesome events have made me miss that time of my life a lot more than I normally do. I was a little worried I’d be crying the whole time. I finally did play it the other day though, and I’m so glad that I did because the game really did make me feel as though I had gone home.

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The first thing I saw when I entered the game was a loading screen featuring a mix tape. At that point, I was already hooked. I spent many a night during my teenage years trying to craft the perfect mixtape for myself and my friends. In fact, back then receiving a mixtape was one of the finest gifts in the world, proof that the person who gave it to you really cared about you (and probably that they were trying to send some message to you in the songs they had selected). That just doesn’t exist now, and that makes me feel sad (and old). So I was already smiling as the game loaded up.

A quick summary of the game: It’s the middle of the night on June 7th, 1995 and you’ve come home from a year abroad to a house that your family moved into when you were off having fun in Europe. No one’s home and there’s a crazy storm going on outside, and by the way, this house is super creepy.  Through exploration, you can piece together the story of what’s happened while you were gone.

For the next three hours or so, I explored this house, picking up objects and examining them, reading letters and forms, finding tapes with some thoroughly 90s riot grrrl music on them, discovering secret passages, and best of all, finding the objects that played a voiceover from the younger sister in the game. Those voiceovers were what let me slowly put together what had happened here.

Perhaps it’s because in 1995 I was a 14-year-old girl who played the drums in a riot grrrl band and had an obsession for all things creepy that this game really appealed to me. When I found the bright red hair dye in the bathroom that was clearly supposed to be Manic Panic, I was grinning because of course I had used the exact same color on my hair back then.  And then I found an Ouija board in a hidden compartment in a wall, and it brought back memories of playing with one of those with my best friend, trying to figure out if the guys we had crushes on actually liked us back. A folder in the closet that was clearly supposed to be made by Lisa Frank? Well shit, I had one of those too! And so in its efforts to capture the tone of the 90s, this game was perfect for me, someone who was a teenager in the 90s.

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I made my way through the house and discovered the story, and by the time the game ended, my eyes were stinging with tears. The story of the people in that house certainly wasn’t a mirror image of my life, but it made me remember those years and miss them and miss my Pennsylvania hometown and friends.

I went to check Steam afterwards to make sure I hadn’t missed anything (I had), and was generally dismayed by the reactions I read by users there. Despite receiving a lot of critical acclaim and generally glowing reviews, the forum posts written by people who had just finished playing the game were generally negative filled with a lot of “wtf, this game is stupid, it’s not a game at all! I was expecting a horror story!” I feel like those people missed the point.

They are right though, it’s not a game in the traditional sense. It’s an interactive story, and the story is about the world that we actually live in (albeit 20 years ago) not one of fantasy or science fiction. So if you’re expecting to be outrunning zombies or blasting away at aliens or something with a gigantic gun, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you just want to discover a story told in a great atmosphere and you keep an open mind about it, you might love it too.

In fact, my only real criticism of the game is that there was one storyline in it I wish they had done more with. The house is as much a character in the game as the missing family is, and I wish the history of the house had been told with a bit more detail. It would have made exploring  that much more fun.

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But I have to wonder if most of the criticism is coming from young men in their early 20s who have no frame of reference for where this game came from. I work with a lot of people in their 20s, and while I love all of them, it’s sometimes hard for me to remember that when I was playing drums in that riot grrrl band, they were only about six-years-old, and only really cared about their Power Ranger toys.  The story of the game is a timeless one, but since the setting is what makes it comes alive and it’s definitely not played like a traditional action game, I guess I can understand why some people don’t see the point. I simply think they’re missing out if they don’t put aside their notions of what a game should be to enjoy what this game is.

Overall, I obviously loved this game, even if it did make me feel homesick. I expected that, especially since the best friend I have had since I was 13 is very sick and I wish more than anything that I was back in PA with her. And perhaps that’s part of the reason why this game resonated with me and inspired me as well. I want to make a mixtape, complete with illustrated tape cover for my best friend for her to listen to while she’s recovering and I hope she gets the message of love and hope that I will undoubtedly work into it.

Nostalgia can be dangerous, but it can be hope as well. For that, I’m giving Gone Home 9/10 mixtape masterpieces.