by: Gary Hayes
So been having a nice break here in Bondi, doing all sorts of cool commercial and/or creative non-LAMP projects plus playing some great new games (Fallout 3, Mirror’s Edge, Elder Scrolls/Oblivion etc:) on the Wii, PS3 and PC/Mac. Hunting around the old games stores in Bondi Junction I came across a dusty old cross-platform game called Life III: Escape from Reality in the $10 bargain bin. The system specs said it runs on all platforms, consoles & even has some locative real world elements, but is ideally meant to be played as a 24/7 casual game - which struck me as a bit of an oxymoron
OK so I got stuck into this old game and it became apparent that it had a very intricate and sophisticated engine and was in fact the most detailed MMRWRPG (tm!) (massively multiplayer real world role playing game) I have ever seen. So for those who haven’t played this cool game, what follows is a run down of the game play, various quests/levels and the rewards at various stages.
TRAINING & TUTORIALS 1-7
Basically what happens here is that two mentor characters (a man and woman) follow you around and tell you the way the game works. They chastise you if you make mistakes (or what ‘they’ think a mistake is) and encourage you if you do what they consider beneficial to your progression through levels 1-8. There are some funny moments too in these early stages as the controls don’t seem to do what you tell them too and you end up crashing into walls, speaking at inappropriate moments or dropping items that you need for good health and karma.
Most disconcerting is that you often find yourself randomly projectile pooing and vomiting which causes you to drop 1 or 2 levels - pretty bad game design here. A final point about this level is that there is no obvious button to quit that game, so you have to grind on.
GAME CHEATING Levels 8-13
There is a little too much emphasis on giving out information across levels 8-18 with the Non Player Character ( NPC) ‘info’ bots endlessly spewing forth historical background, do’s and dont’s and communication and number skills. This was particularly boring but the two mentors from earlier levels are still around and keeping pushing you into these information areas, all the time. Only very occasionally the NPC info hubs inspire you with poetry and music - but the mentors said that wasn’t much use in the game, so you can ignore those bots.
I actually found through these levels I was constantly trying to cheat, involved in breaking things, putting them back together or fiddling with my avatar to make it more attractive. This was useful because as soon as you hit level 14 the online MMRWRPG features kick in and you become aware of other players in the 2-3 environments you are hanging around.
ONLINE CREATING YOUR OWN RULES Levels 13-18
- The levels of attractiveness to opposite sex
- Coolness quotient from your peers/friends
- Amount of risk taken
- Body Odor (best to keep this low)
- Stimulant balance (you have to take as much as possible without going into the red)
One thing I noticed about some of the other players who had been through their tutorial in small country towns and outback areas and as their connection was quite laggy, they were unable to do any of the more sophisticated quests other players were doing. I was surprised this bug made it through q&a as it really needed to be fixed.
Also at this point in the game I found most players had already teamed up in guilds and the players that didn’t were mostly trapped with the information bots who had convinced them to do more text based quests, and they were almost playing a different game at this point (should have really been an expansion pack).
MAKING FRIENDS, LEAVING THE NEST Levels 18-20
I expect the game designers were not quite sure on the transition here and thought it best to consider anything up to level 20 as training, even though as your playing it does come across as pretty heavy game play - especially the dating scenarios where you have to constantly deal with other psychotic players of the opposite sex who just don’t want to help you achieve the ‘getting-it-on’ challenge.
Being dropped into what is essentially a different game altogether with new rules and without the ability to save should have not made it into the final pressing.
BUILDING AND WORKING WITH OTHERS Levels 21-35
The most powerful quest giver and one that often gave you red herring challenges to accrue credits quickly was the inworld ‘media boards’. These were screens placed at seemingly endless locations that showed you how well other players were doing and suggested how you could try some of their quests - which seem to be focused on how skinny the avatar can be or how many players were ‘following’ you (called the ‘fame status’).
The only route that seemed to pay off in this game though was the ‘work’ quest. This involved rather tiresome, mundane activities (reading messages from people, sending messages back, walking around office floors and generally trying to be nice to everyone you met). As soon as you tried to do something adventurous or break quite rigid game rules here your credits dropped and you found yourself dropping back between 5 and 10 levels to begin it all over again. The key skill here it seemed was to be friendly and helpful to other players and regardless of any other skills you may have, your credit balance would slowly but surely accrue. One player told me that having a variety of skills really helps at the higher levels so helped (in retrospect) that I built up skill levels in other areas - whereas some players were just spending their credits on fast cars, bling and fancy clothes for their inventory and places to put all this stuff.
CREATING FACTIONS Levels 35-40
It suddenly becomes obvious that you are now one of the mentors from an earlier level and you are a lot more deeply involved in the game play. Several players for whatever reason do not complete this challenge, even though they attempt the ‘making’ bit a few times.
But unless they have enough credits, a place to grow the small creatures and a strong ‘credit’ flow in, they cannot complete. It didn’t seem to affect my gameplay much as I was a member of several in-game guilds with a variety of interesting quests. But the game writers could have been much clearer in how important or not this particular game quest was.
Other challenges involved tweaking your avatar to convince others around you that you were a level 20-30. This proved harder than it seemed as fiddling with the shape of your nose or the size of your breasts cost a lot of credits with little reward. After repeating this quest a number of times the avatar would start to fall apart. The game programmers must have had a ball creating this quest.
A key problem through these levels though was the fact that as at the start of the game the controls occasionally didn’t do what you told them and in some social situations rather embarrasing body noises were emitted, or on one occasion I completely lost it in a driving quest at the local shopping mall car park, crashing into several other players. Although these were kind of fun in retrospect, they seemed a quite frustrating at the time.
GAME FINALE AND EXPANSION PACKS Levels 50-70 (+15)
What you thought was a pretty static city or home environment suddenly becomes ‘elastic’. By that I mean the graphics become almost translucent and everything you see is earlier game elements and lots of glowing light. This makes the rather simple challenges at these higher levels much harder - trying to walk to the shops in a glowing pink hurricane of childhood memories is pretty hard, but you get used to it. As you level up to 70 the final quest is a simple task of ‘letting go’. It wasn’t clear in the game cheats on the web what this was, but it kind of meant, you did nothing for a while and you levelled automatically. A nice touch I thought. So the final element of the game was the game graphics/world dissolving into white and rainbow coloured lights…great music here too btw!
When I was at the store they actually gave me another box for free the Life III expansion pack called “AfterLife III”. I said I probably wouldn’t get that far, but here I was. I installed it and low and behold it gave me an extra 15 levels. Now much of this was the same as 50-70, kind of spiritual quests, asking questions about what kind of character you were and all that stuff. But the interesting thing was at level 84 as you travelled around this ‘celestial’ environment (with wonderful particle effects) you kept getting flashes of another bedroom in suburbia. Yes incredibly as you hit level 85 you became a noob again, with two different mentors hovering over you. I didn’t really have time to play the whole game again, so I managed to find the quit option at this point. I did save it for another time though.
I am not sure what happened to the company that created this game, I suspect they fell out of favour with most Life I and II players who found the whole thing rather grindy, difficult and certainly were unable to commit more than 70 or 80 years to it - given there are plenty other games to play which are far more exciting and have much more interesting rewards.
Also if there are any parts of the game I may have missed or have cheats for please comment below! If you have played this game and you want to write a review I will add it to the bottom of the post - please include your player character name so we can hook up in game !
Finally, finally - an obvious prototype for the immersive version above discovered on YouTube - I can see why they left out the ‘revenge’ bit !