There are a lot of things that I really like about Otherland, one of them being the simple fact that it followed the age-old trick of making the future seem real by only looking forward a little bit and making reasonable assumptions. The story doesn’t take place in the year 1999 on a space liner, is my point. Sure, VR technology didn’t become the focal point of computing for a lot of reasons, but the world put forth in the book feels plausible.
At a glance, it’d make a pretty cool game.
The Otherland MMO has shuffled developers and publishers more than once, but it always seemed like a really bizarre concept to me based off of reading the story’s setting far too literally. Not that it’s the fault of the programmers, who doubtlessly just wanted to adapt a vivid and interesting world to play in. At a glance, this seems like a no-brainer for a project; it’s only on closer examination that you realize the whole thing is damn-near impossible to pull off, and not terribly rewarding if you do.
In the oldest days of video games, this is what it was all about. We didn’t get an introduction to what we were doing. There were no explanations. If you were very lucky, there was an ending screen or two that tied everything that you had done into some sort of overarching narrative. More often than not, though, what you had was games clearly from the same food group as Just Get Through, challenges without context.
This is made somewhat more forgivable when you consider that the game is a one-person effort, and even more so when you admit, however grudgingly, that the game does a more than halfway decent job of living up to the spirit of what made older games fun without being tied into nostalgia or the trappings of the games. You start out by spawning in the middle of a cavern network with no real indications of what you should be doing, and no answers are forthcoming. All you can do is try to find the next portal. Or die along the road.
Eventually, you will die along the road.
I remember when I stopped caring about getting 100% completion in a game, and I remember the game. It was Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, and after having done the hard work necessary for 100% in both of the previous games, what stopped me this time was nothing like a challenge too difficult or a mission too irritating. No, it was a bug.
San Andreas consisted of three cities – Los Santos, San Fierro, and Las Venturas, functional stand-ins for Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Las Vegas, respectively. Each one had little tokens you had to pick up throughout the city for 100% completion; so far, so good. San Fierro asked players to take snapshots with the camera to imitate the standard San Francisco tourist. Only one little problem emerged – I snapped one of the pictures, and it marked as cleared, but the completion wasn’t noted by the game.
Getting the shot opportunity back was impossible. Going back to an earlier save was impossible. Just like that, the game had rendered 100% unreachable no matter what I did. And I was angry at the time… but then I realized that the game had kind of given me a blessing by freeing me from crap I didn’t really want to do in the first place.