Wednesday, May 21, 2014


ring around'a rosie, pocket full'a posies...

Imagine you aren't Superman. That might seem like a funny request, but gamers have acquired a certain unsavory overentitlement, an expectation of omnipotence which denies contrast and proportion. So when Miasmata asks them to step into the shoes (figuratively speaking) of a defenseless, diseased castaway stumbling around a tropical island picking flowers, it's a fair bet few will answer the call.

Though fundamentally this might fall into the "survival horror" genre, its tone and focus diverge from darker, more tense games. The island of Eden is, fittingly, a paradise, and though you'll spend a decent bit of time fleeing in panic, this is the sort of game which provides you with opportunities to stop and smell the roses or watch a sunrise. Miasmata's various challenges are quite straightforwardly laid out in the official description.
Explore by triangulation.
Catalog flora to find the plague cure.
Evade the creature.
The biggest challenge however is dealing with the rather punishing physics engine, especially at the start. You are a plague sufferer. You are a sick, sick man, and your body doesn't quite obey your commands. You'll find yourself stumbling and falling frustratingly often while attempting to navigate slopes. Even a waist-high molehill can send you careening out of control and the ensuing trauma usually causes your fever to spike, further disabling you in addition to scattering the precious botanical specimens you've been collecting. Even as a well-traveled, rather savvy (if I do say so myself) connoisseur of slow and frustrating games, I was enraged into abandoning Miasmata for a day or two several times over. However, once I got my Eden-legs, so to speak, and stopped tripping over myself every other step, I finished it in a single sleepless night.

Miasmata's problems largely stem from a lack of testing or outside input. Its features are all just slightly too exaggerated, proof they were evaluated only by those already too familiar with them to be objective. The character's momentum is too high, night-time is too completely dark, denying any possible gameplay until dawn, the one-of-each plant limit is too artificially restrictive, the creature's movements are just slightly too random, etc.
Other issues simply reflected the game's lack of funding, the usual misdemeanors of unpolished material: visual breaks in textures, a floating object here and there, objects not interacting the way they should (your lighter illuminates the map/compass but a torch doesn't) and even good old-fashioned typos.
All these can be forgiven though, because the adventure as a whole is so delightfully engrossing... but here I must also tender my one major criticism. Miasmata repeatedly sabotages its own hard-won immersion by continually reminding you that this is a game, needlessly listing out-of-character descriptions where flavor text was obviously mandated. As just one example, it would've been nice to find out about the creature in some other way than being told "you will be hunted by a creature" in the manual. Even the Rapa Nui "landmarks" were a bit too cheesy and repetitive. Combined with the middlin' writing (not fanfic bad by any stretch, but not quite coherent enough to put it among the best RPGs and adventure games - the shocking twist ending is given away halfway through) this turned Miasmata into more of a proof-of-concept than a finished product.

However, none of these flaws can actually wreck this excellent piece of work. Miasmata is not a story or challenge-based game. It hinges on process. Focus on refining your methods and routes, plan your character's day and the rest will fall into your lap. It was delightful to scramble across hills, streams, jungles and meadows chasing weeds and getting chased by my very own nemesis only to have to whip out my trusty old map and compass to figure out where I am and how to get to a camp before dark.

Honestly, how often can you get lost in a computer game?

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