2, Issue 13
February 23, 2000
few columns ago I wrote about
intros to games that try to encapsulate a mountain of back-story
in an almost comically brief span of time, such a set up being
pretty precarious. Septerra Core, a new game
from Valkyrie Studios and Monolith, is yet another example of
the tightrope this narrative technique forces creators to walk.
no one is forced to do anything. Choose a style and fail
and you can’t turn around and blame it for your downfall.
Not that Septerra’s opening is the kind of thing that would
promote as dramatic a thing as a "downfall," maybe just
a slip. The game’s opening is a perfect example of frantic
plot weaving. While we watch a series of vague images, a
woman recounts a myth that presumably gives depth to all the goings-on.
The result is neither ridiculous nor sublime, instead coming across
as rather bland.
case being unremarkable is a more serious problem, however, highlighting
the piece’s otherwise relatively minor flaws.
opens with the image of a spinning armillary sphere on a desk
in some polished study. The sphere is replaced with the
image of a planet composed of various layers, all revolving around
one another. A female voice tells us that this is the world
sphere, a site of great power. Long ago “the Creator” took
off for parts unknown but not before sealing some kind of unimaginable
force in the sphere, leaving his son Marduk to protect it.
The only thing that can unleash the world sphere’s strength is
the Key, which apparently vanished soon after Marduk did.
But now the time approaches when the key must be found and used
to reawaken whatever waits in the sphere and thereby save the
universe. All pretty simple...except that it isn’t.
tries desperately to take root but isn’t given much of a chance
by the breakneck pace of the delivery. The most damning
thing is that the narrator speaks farcically quickly. Now,
I know that time is a factor for the designers but this really
seems a tad too much. Might as well get that Micro Machines
guy to do it and save valuable seconds. It doesn’t help
much either that the actual visual presentation is a bit wilted.
While the animation of the sphere is quite nice, the epic battle
between Marduk and the villain is a let down, both looking like
figures straight out of street fighter with none of the acceleration.
And even though the sphere is indeed nicely realized, fine detail
with a hint of the mysterious, the overall effect is numbed by
the rushed pace.
these complaints, I must admit that Septerra Core has a
definite charm. The hurried pace, while absolutely detrimental
to the piece, is also appealing on a gut level. You feel
as if time really is running out and you’ve got to suck it all
in before being shot out into the game’s universe, like a skydiving
instructor shouting last minute instructions in your ear before
pushing you out the plane door. Such a fiendish jumble of
facts also gives the impression, whether deserved or not, of control
and confidence, the narrative so sure of itself that it can afford
to hurry (“hey relax, it will all pan out in time”). I can’t
say this is deliberate on the creators’ part, given the nature
of the piece that would be patently ridiculous, but the technique
can be seductive. Just think about how those thrillingly
brief movie trailers put it to good use, drawing you in even when
you know the film will most likely stink up the screen.
Make the audience think they’re seeing more than they actually
are, and they might just bite.
Core’s opening is, overall, nice to look at and for a short
introduction it deserves some praise, especially for it’s somewhat
skillful juggling of complicated backstory. The information
is pitched wildly, but moves with enough grace that it doesn’t
completely fly over the viewer’s heads. The problem is that
there just isn’t all that much to be caught. A few bizarre
names and dramatic bits about heritage and saving the universe
are not enough to hold it all together. Much like the multi-layered
sphere itself, Septerra Core’s opening waits for something
to unify its glittering pieces.
Joshua Vasquez is the resident film critic here at loonygames.
He also writes for the Internet film site Matinee