Thing One: I would be happy to participate in Squad Santa if we are doin’ it. I am not fabulously wealthy, but it’s fun. 🙂

Thing Two: Like Pete I am an avowed story-fiend. I feel that there are all sorts of ways to tell stories, some more “truly” interactive than others (and that’s a minefield, for sure), but all valid and with the potential to be enjoyable. It’s all in the execution.

And on that note, Thing Three:

Mark and I loaded up Miasmata yesterday for the first time. It’s a bit like this:

As you start the game, a very brief text crawl informs you that your name is Robert Hughes, and that you are a sick man; you have contracted a plague that is slowly killing you. A vague reference to some sort of betrayal follows, and then you are told that you’ve come out to an island where a bunch of scientists were working on a cure. But your ship, if ship there was, has wrecked.

And then you wake up on a rocky beach, the shattered remains of a small boat nearby. There is no interface to speak of and a single objective in your journal: Find a cure for the plague.

Of course, you have other priorities. Your fever is always slowly rising, and you must synthesize drugs to keep it down from the local plants and fungi. Then there is the matter of finding fresh water, and of navigating the island by finding crudely-drawn local maps and using cartography tools to triangulate local landmarks.

Perhaps some of the scientists posted here could have helped you – if only there hadn’t been a massacre of some sort; dead bodies are a distressingly common find. Freshly dead, too: could whoever – or whatever – have killed them still be out there in the island’s forests? It is not long before you begin to find references to “the creature” in the scientists’ notes…

This is a low-budget, small-shop operation, but Mark and I are enjoying it more than I really expected to, in part because the game is so completely and unabashedly what it is. True fact: This is a game about exploring – about mapping and about finding new and rare species of plant and testing them to determine their medicinal properties. If you are careful and scrupulous, it’s also a game about piecing together small fragments of the world beyond the island’s shores and the story of what happened there. (Most encampments contain at least one tidbit of information for you.)

Things I haven’t been so crazy about so far:

  • Your character has a lot more inertia than I am used to seeing in a first-person game, and will often continue moving a short distance after letting go of the W key. This isn’t USUALLY a problem, except that there are steep slopes liberally scattered around the island and it’s very, very easy to accidentally step just that bit too far forward and plummet to earth, sometimes losing items you have gathered along the way.
  • For some silly reason, despite this being a game that largely consists of foraging for medicinal plants, our hero refuses to fashion any manner of carrying device to contain said plants. He can carry up to three, in one hand, and no more than one of a specific plant type at a time – frustrating if you wish to stock up on a particular specimen. A Resident Evil-style “specimen storage” relieves this problem somewhat, but as it can contain only six plants, this can still be an issue if it’s been a long haul between synthesis stations. At least it appears to only be possible to carry one of each type of medicine at any given time, so there is rarely any reason to double up on ingredients unless you want to be able to make a basic medicine quickly.
  • Despite the existence of lanterns on the island, Our Hero also refuses to carry one of those, despite the utter pitch-blackness of the game’s night cycle (it is nearly impossible to do much after dark. Just as well there is a “sleep” option available to advance time!) It is instead makeshift and very temporary torches all the way. This can make navigating at night very frustrating if you do not happen to have a nearby source of sticks. (Yes, of course, you’re in the woods, surrounded by sticks, but only certain sticks may be picked up for this purpose.)
  • The game’s “hostile” encounters can be extremely frustrating to deal with. While it is certainly possible to hide (usually, though it takes a VERY long time for them to “lose interest”), and to run, actually attempting to fight has failed us every. single. time. As you can take only two hits at the most, it becomes very important to save early and often.

Things that are actually rather awesome:

  • Triangulating landmarks to fill out your map. I am sure that somewhere there is a hardcore cartography nerd who is upset about how you have not traveled the necessary number of degrees for real triangulation or something, but since I know nothing about it I am able to blithely enjoy climbing up somewhere high and tagging interesting-looking points to work my way toward.
  • Collecting plants. There are plenty of these, not all of them useful, and it’s kind of fun to fill out your research notebook with the properties of each. They are also typically pretty colorful, making the experience of hunting for them rather visually appealing.
  • The atmosphere. Miasmata is a very atmosphere-heavy game despite not having AAA graphics; weather patterns and angles of light make exploring the island an interesting cocktail of moods, some bright and rather beautiful, some oppressive. We spent a few minutes watching the sun go down and listening to birds. one in-game evening.
  • The way the game’s “story” is handled. It is more “lore” than “story” in this case – the proper story of the game is just your experience trekking around collecting things and trying not to die – but as you explore, particularly if you are thorough, you’ll find that there are actually a lot of tidbits lying about for you to find regarding the world you come from and the events on the island. These range from the informative (Oh, THAT’s what year we are in!) to the somewhat creepy (the cabin with the art, for instance – you’ll see when you get there) to the sort of gently tragic (a message in a bottle.) Piecing it all together is amusing.
  • Solid justifications for some of the things you’ll see around the island. My suspension of disbelief is willing to accept that, for instance, a crew of scientists might well have stocked nearly every encampment with at least the necessary gear to identify and evaluate plants, if not to synthesize drugs: that is, after all, why they were here. Also, your extreme fragility (you cannot even swim at the game’s start, despite it being very possible to fall into the water) is justified by your being very ill when the game begins. (Happily, you can do things to restore yourself to somewhat-normal functioning even before you manage to cure your illness.)

It’s definitely not for everyone – this is mainly a game about doin’ science in the wilderness – but if this sounds interesting to you, check it out! The investment is small. 🙂