AUTOMATA'S ORIGIN OF THE FAECES
PLAYING THE part of a mouse dropping may not be everybody's idea of fun or even good taste but you will soon forget that representation when you start to play the new Automata masterpiece, Deus Ex Machina.
The plot seems simple enough. It takes place in the future and a large computer rules the political roost. The last mouse crawls to its extinction within the machine and as the nerve gas kills it the ultimate mouse dropping is released by the rodent.
That is taken into the machine and the game, which takes up two sides of a cassette tape and an audio soundtrack, starts in which you must create a lifeform within the machine. You can take that lifeform, if it survives, from birth through middle age to old age, playing a series of weird games.
Those make more sense when you listen to the soundtrack and realise that author Mel Croucher is trying to put a series of complex political, philosophical and theological points across.
The scenario is created, almost psychedelically, within the mind of the player with a background coloured by shades of Orwell's 1984. When you have been born you are tested by the Defect Police who want to know everything about you. They probe you with their emotionless eyes, blinking out of the darkness and trying to discover the secret of your body and what lies within.
The game even depicts the life form's first sexual encounter, frightening and automated. The emotions evoked are standard and, of course, part of the system.
As old age creeps into the game, on the second side of the tape, you suddenly discover that it is not just the forces of government which are attacking you. Your body rebels as it grows old, and towards the end of the game you will have to fight blood clots and red cell destruction from within. Even that system which you trust all your life lets you down in the end.
Mel Croucher does however, give you some hope as your body dies. The final image is of a spinning embryo, one of the first images of the game. The circle is complete and even an accident rarely disrupts the system.
The game and its soundtrack, featuring the talents of John Pertwee, Ian Dury, Donna Bailey, Frankie Howard, E P Thompson and Mel Croucher, is a revolution in gaming technology. It has its genesis in the concept record album of the late 1960s and 1970s.
Croucher has cleverly manipulated the elements of computer gaming and brought in concepts usually found only in movies. The result is a piece of software which even those people who usually find games boring and computers even more so, will enjoy and play time and again. That is not to say, however, that the program is only for those who enjoy deep thought. Automata would have been foolish not to include classic elements of the arcade within its novel conceptual twists.
In the final analysis Deus Ex Machina is a game to be played first and talked about later. So, go ahead and do it. We won't look but we will guarantee - well, almost - that you will be intrigued.
Joystick: Kempston, ZX