In our article series “The hunt for the lost games”, we test game historical artifacts that are no longer available for purchase. Next in line is Cyberdreams Dark Seed-game.
Dark SeedThe series are two fascinating horror adventures, from a time when games dared to take clearly more risks than now. Part of this is because games cost less to make. At the same time, genres and mechanics did not really have as clear, generally accepted conventions as they do now, so the odd birds did not appear to be quite so odd here and there. Dark Seed and its sequel actually had a very simple basic idea – to build a horror series around various works of art by the giant HR Giger, the creator of the xenomorph from the Alien movies (and Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure, which we watched last week, for that matter).
The main character in Dark Seed is Mike Dawson, both behind the scenes and in the game itself. The mustachioed gentleman Dawson is one of the game’s producers and designers, and completely sonic put himself in the lead role. Just in time for the sequel, however, Dawson had moved on to other hunting grounds (according to IMDB, he wrote two episodes for the final season of the sitcom series Family Matters), so he has been replaced by another mustache man in the lead role. Funny enough, Chris Gilbert, who in his first and only role takes over as Mike Dawson in Dark Seed 2, younger than the real Mr. Dawson does in the first game. He also looks much more silly in the second game (which is not a comment about the actor’s appearance, but about more about how he was put into the game, but more about that in a moment).
Of the two games, the original is definitely the best known, not least because it has always been easier to get started over the years – as it is a DOS game that works well under DOSBox. Dark Seed 2 is, however, a Windows 3.1 game, and everyone who participated then knows how useless that platform was for games. It was not until the 95th edition that Windows began to become a platform for gaming. As you can see below, however, I have played Dark Seed 2 a little, through a Win 3.1 installation in DOSBox. It works just fine, after a bit of hassle. And it’s, in fact, worth it. Not because it is a successful horror game, but on the contrary because it is not. But as I said – more on that later.
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What is it?
A horror series that uses HR Giger’s art.
1992 (Dark Seed) and 1995 (Dark Seed 2)
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I have No Mouth and I Must Scream
First, maybe we should write a few lines about the first game. When the game was released, in 1992, it was definitely graphically impressive. At least in the sequences when visiting the dark world, and having to wander around in landscapes designed by the Swiss artist HR Giger. As a whole, it was certainly a rather brown game – both in terms of color scheme and gameplay. The script had a good idea, where poor Mike Dawson gets an embryo implanted in his skull, and has to find a way to get it out before it eats out. Unfortunately, the ideas end there, and most of the game you more or less wander around at random and solve more or less infamous puzzles that do not really click in this rather serious context. It’s pretty entertaining, though. Or would have been, if it had not been for the bugs and the rather deplorable dead ends. One of the few games where I tolerate that kind of dead end in adventure games, is KGB (or Conspiracy as it was called in the CD-ROM edition), where it is relatively easy to play the latest game and try something new. It is not unproblematic in that game either, far from it, but there it had a thematic point. IN Dark Seed it’s just junk puzzle design.
In the end, however, Mike Dawson, both the producer and the character, succeeds with his goal. It became a finished game in the end, and our dear, jacket-adorned protagonist defeats the evil creatures in the dark world and gets rid of his unwanted brain embryo. Also with the mustache intact!
Unfortunately, neither peace nor joy lasts, and not even a stately mustache can save one from evil in the long run. So poor Mike Dawson, now in a seemingly younger model, encounters new horrors when he moves home to his hometown. After the events in the first game, he is severely shaken and mentally unstable, which is highly understandable, and has lived for the past year in his old boy’s room at the home of his tender mother (who looks like a guy in a wig).
During this year, Mike has gone into therapy, and started meeting an old flame from school, named Rita. In other words, he is tormented, but slowly on his way to his feet again – when Rita is suddenly murdered in a violent way. In the game’s intro, Mike dreams a nightmare about how Rita’s photoshopped head floats around while her eyes melt. He also runs on the spot in such a delicious way that actors do when they are forced to act in a small space in front of a green screen. It’s comic gold, but maybe not as icy unpleasant as it is well thought out. The nightmare ends with Mike turning into some kind of buck monster. It’s fun too.
Then poor Mike wakes up, and the game begins. And here it gets, funny enough, more unpleasant. On the one hand, the music is a nuisance to listen to, and on the other hand, it looks as strange and wrong as it often does when digitized actors are put into pre-rendered environments. The perspectives and scale of furniture and the environment often feel off. In fact, it is the everyday environments that give me the greatest feeling of discomfort in Dark Seed 2. It works really well with the theme and narrative, where Mike feels wrong and out of place, as if he does not really know what is real and not, anymore. That’s probably not the intention, but it’s the effect nonetheless. Along with a more engaging plot than in the first game, where Mike is suspected of murdering Rita and has to solve the mystery, there is still a streak of discomfort in the game, which I appreciate – although the game’s main merits lie in being amused by the smaller good actors (some are perfectly okay, others are comically lousy) and perhaps above all by how unnatural the characters move. This is not an FMV game, even though it was released in 1995 – when FMV games were at their hottest (Phantasmagoria was released the same year). Instead, it is digitized actors who are animated in often directly absurd ways. Not infrequently it looks like they have pooped on themselves, and it is very comical to watch.
Of course, the dark world also returns in Dark Seed 2, with more high-resolution Giger artwork to strut around in. It looks really crisp, although it’s cooler than nasty to explore them. The plot does not really last all the way to the finish line, but the obvious influences from, among others, Twin Peaks give Dark Seed 2 more meat on the bones than the first game. There are more characters to talk to, the puzzles are more reasonable and, above all, the game is not full of annoying dead ends. It may not be a super-successful horror game, by today’s standards. But it’s entertaining for what it’s, and it’s more ambitious than the rather dry (and difficult to play) original in the name of honesty.
Dark Seedgames feel like necessary training for the developer Cyberdreams magnum opus – the impressive and delightfully depressing I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, based on Harlan Ellison’s pitch black science fiction story. But that game is a text for a different occasion and a different context. Although none of Dark Seedgames are available for purchase today, so you can still buy I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream on both GOG and Steam (and according to Ellison’s ancient website you can still order a physical version of the game there).
Unfortunately, there was never a third Dark Seedgames (Cyberdreams downloaded 1997). On the other hand, the game spawned at least one completely bizarre eight-bit sport for NES (or more specifically for Famicom, if you want to be picky), which was also released sometime in 2001. Of course a Chinese bootleg, but the choice of games is odd to say the least. The sickest of all is that the game looks surprisingly good. For those who have always wanted an eight-bit version of Giger’s art, you should throw a goat at the bizarre bootleg edition.
According to Dark Seed-mythology, the dark world is a grotesque reflection of our own. Maybe the NES version of the game is simply an escaped artifact from the dark world. In that case, a certain warning may be issued. You do not want to be drawn in too much Dark Seeds world. Then it can end with you starting to move as if you had peed on yourself.
Also Read: Aliens: A Comic Book Adventure – The Hunt for the Lost Games, Part 1