While the rest of you mull over the Squad Mission I am proposing, I figured I would tell you a little about what I’ve been playing.

I cryptically mentioned that I had been playing something I didn’t want to reveal until I had spent a bit more time with it, and now that I have spent a few hours with it, I think it’s time to let the cat out of the bag. (Cats are always getting in bags… What’s up with that?)

I have been playing an indie PC RPG that came out in 2001 called Geneforge. Have you heard of it before? I hadn’t heard of it before. The entire Geneforge Saga (five games in total) dropped on Steam and GOG recently, so I’m assuming that it’s received slightly more attention as of late, but it’s about as indie as it gets for a sprawling old school RPG. And, when I say old school, I mean it. The system reqs for the first game are only 32MB Ram and 25MB of HD space with a graphics card capable of displaying 16 bit color at 800×600. I also want to note that, curiously enough, the game was originally released for the Mac in 2001 and ported to Windows in 2002. That doesn’t seem to happen very often. In fact, I’m struggling to think of another time this has happened…

This game (almost effortlessly) captures the things that made me fall in love with games like Wasteland, The Bard’s Tale, Fallout, Icewind Dale, and all of the rest. It borrows a lot of ideas from those games in terms of mechanics and flow, but the narrative trappings are entirely its own.

Geneforge is about a group of people known as Shapers. Shapers have the ability to create living entities using their own Essence (think mana in most other games). Shapers are also capable of doing the type of magic we expect from isometric RPGs (firebolt, heal, etc…), but what sets them apart is the ability to shape living creatures. As the game begins, you create a character in one of three different classes. Before I continue, it’s important to understand a bit about Shaper society. The Shapers have a rather rigid set of rules and order that they follow. Their society is stratified between the upper class (which outsiders refers to only as Shapers but which is actually composed of three different groups working in concert), and a lower class known as Serviles. Serviles are creations of Shapers and, as their name suggests, are a servant class.

You play a Shaper, which as I mentioned before is actually spread out among three groups: Shapers, Guardians, and Agents. If we think of the game as employing a class system, these are the three classes available when you start the game and create your character. Shapers are the magically inclined folks who create beings and engage in combat, if needed, by creating something ferocious to fight for them. Agents are the boogiemen of the Geneforge world. They aren’t adept at magic, but they will cut your throat while you sleep if you defy the Shapers. Guardians are a mix of the two, able both to Shape as well as fight. Here is a picture of the character creation screen that I took: http://i304.photobucket.com/albums/nn190/LoveIsUnity/geneforge1_zps8ac932c9.jpg

Now, I’m fairly certain that the builds are fully customizable and that choosing one of the classes only offers a suggested base point spread. (For instance, after choosing Shaper I was only give 1 point in Endurance, so I bumped that up to a 2 using my 15 free points.) The system actually seems relatively classless with the exception of appearance and initial stat allocation (which can be modified as I note above). I still have no idea what skills will end up being useful and which ones won’t, so I went with my gut and put points where I thought they should go. Fireball has already served me well, and I am glad I put points into all of my Shaping Skills, as those have also come in handy.

Once you create your character (and hear the one and only piece of music in the game, the title screen), the game begins with a static background and a text introduction. (Old school. Hell yeah!) You are off to apprentice as a Shaper, and it’s a two week journey to your destination. For the purpose of your journey, Shapers have created an amphibious creature that will function as a boat and lead you safely to your destination… You are not, however, safely taken to your destination. As you are admiring a nearby barred island, you are attacked by a ship you have never seen before that fires a javelin through the neck of the animal you are riding. The animal uses its last bit of life to help you safely to shore, but you are officially shipwrecked on a barred island.

(A quick note on the barred concept.) In Shaper society, there are places that you DO NOT GO. These are barred locations. As the game explains, locations are barred either because something catastrophic has occurred there, most frequently a failed Shaping experiment, or because the area is home to a secret that the population at large should not be aware of.

You wash up on Sucia Island, an island you have been barred by your sect from visiting, but you don’t really have a choice in the matter. Here is a shot of gameplay on the first screen: http://i304.photobucket.com/albums/nn190/LoveIsUnity/geneforge2_zpsc2414f12.jpg
The game plays out like most turn-based RPGs from the 90’s. You click on your character (or draw a box around him) to select him and then move him around. The buttons on the bottom are, in order, Shape, Search, and Log. I now have a few other ones added, but it’s a basic toolbar setup. The numbers on the keyboard function as hotkeys to select characters. I was alone here, but I have since created a companion who I can select by pressing “2.”

As you explore the island, you realize that there was once a Shaper civilization here. There are remnants of an Inn, a barracks, and a temple. In fact, in the temple, you find a canister that seems to be unused and is swelling with a live creature. The game informs you that Shapers have the ability to create potions with living entities that will bestow the user with a variety of abilities. This is how we gain the ability to shape our first creature. These canisters can also modify your stats as well as your abilities.

The first creature you gain the ability to Shape is a Fyora: http://geneforge.wikia.com/wiki/Fyora The Fyora is what a velociraptor would be like if a velociraptor could breathe fire. You have the ability to shape the creature in a variety of ways commensurate with your Essence. You can create a couple of basic creatures using very little essence, or create only one beefed up creature. I opted to create only one particularly vicious Fyora, and it has served me well thus far. If I ever want to try again, I can absorb the Fyora and start over, but as it has already saved my life when a feral Fyora ambushed me, I am beginning to grow attached.

After clearing out an area of hostile Fyoras outside of the temple, you and your Fyora make your way to a welcome station, where a disembodied head, which has been created for the sole purpose of sitting on a podium, greets you. The head explains that it can peer into your being and determine whether or not you are fit to enter the island proper. It has been created by Shapers and is in fine physical shape, but it refuses to answer your questions about where other Shapers are, only mentioning that you are the first Shaper it has seen in hundreds of years. After chatting for a while, you are given permission to enter.

This is when you come upon a lone Servile, who is startled to greet you, and speaks to you more casually than other Serviles you have interacted with in the past. They have not seen a Shaper in many years, and they have created their own society. You do not know where all the Shapers have gone, and you do not know anything about the culture of the Serviles that remain on the island…

And that is where the tutorial ends.

I haven’t progressed much farther than this tutorial, but I have explored enough to discover that the Serviles have created a society with three different factions and three different ways of viewing Shapers. Some wish to be ruled by Shapers and others reject Shapers entirely. I cannot wait to see where this takes me.