Lo-Fi Let’s Play: Neuromancer

By Leigh Alexander on September 3rd, 2014 at 3:00 pm.

[I've been doing a series of Let's Play videos exploring old adventures, text games and lost design forms from the 1980s Apple IIe and Commodore 64 era. In a time when young men shout over new action games, I will talk softly over strange old ones. Come along on a visitation of a different era that's one part meditations on my childhood, one part adventure game criticism, and one part preservation effort. Bonus: Everyone says the quiet talk, lo-fi handmade feel and keyboard tapping triggers ASMR responses. Please enjoy!]

Interplay’s 1988 Neuromancer game is only very loosely based on the William Gibson novel of the same name. As it turns out, legendary acid psychologist Timothy Leary was the one who originally wanted to make a game about the book — he thought escaping into computer games might be the next psychedelic frontier.

The soundtrack is based on a Devo song, so at least go have a look at the title screen if you can. It’s tough for me to manage narration and in-game sound through the same mic (some of you may remember the infamous Bugle Incident from the very early Dallas Quest video), so I usually don’t bother with sound. These videos are supposed to feel like hanging out at your friend’s in the summer, taking turns at the keys, playing over someone else’s shoulder, and as such I’m against audio polish and things.

This video also breaks my rule, a little bit, of avoiding games that were popular. Certainly there are better and more thorough Neuromancer Let’s Plays out there. But this week I didn’t really know what else to do. It’s been a hard time for many of us at work, and I’ve been coping by getting a few days off, getting a nice whisky (M&S’ very own single malt is very good, peaty) and slipping gently into a sort of liminal space populated by modern sci-fi and 1990s memoirs. You know, the kind of zone where I can almost remember why I got into this field in the first place — where I can remember the magic of imaginary spaces and the actual desire to connect with strangers online. A cyberpunk world seems to fit the bill this week.

When you’re done, you really should also check out the video Chris Person made over at Kotaku about Timothy Leary’s aims for the video game world. Games and computers as a magical, spiritual space — can you even imagine that right now? Can you remember?

The entire Lo-Fi Let’s Play series is available and regularly updated at my YouTube channel if you’d like to subscribe, but my friends at RPS are graciously syndicating them here from now on, with some additional written analysis and commentary.

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42 Comments »

  1. Premium User Badge padger says:

    Oh, now this is a property that needs a remake. One fresh Neuromancer please, intellectual property rebooters!

  2. arisian says:

    As comments are (entirely sensibly) disabled on youtube, I thought I’d use this space to say that the work you do is good, and valuable, and worthwhile, and appreciated. I know it’s been a rough week, but don’t let anyone convince you otherwise (easier to say than do, I know…).

    • Leigh Alexander says:

      Thank you. Boy, do I love my RPS family x

      • mr.black says:

        Hold on! You are great, you’re doing great work, and we appreciate it immensely!
        Oh, and the videos are lovely and soothing as well! :-)

      • easternexit says:

        This also seems like a good space to say I recently bought and read your newest e-book, Clipping Through — available here, folks! — and enjoyed it. In the wake of the drama, I realized that I have been enjoying your work (for free!) for years. So then I thought, “What’s the best way to support Leigh’s work? A supportive @reply? No, how about a fistful of dollars instead?”

    • Gog Magog says:

      So I was all ready to make a comment about having read Leigh’s “No Gamers Jargonism” (I haven’t managed to find a proper way to make a pun on Kieron Gillen’s thing because I suck) thingy and found it really unpleasant but then the author herself decided to be present and now I don’t feel that confident ugh

      Do love the Let’s Plays though.
      Hey that was a good one guy you sure saved face there ]#_#[

    • Big Murray says:

      Well now I’m just sad, because I wasn’t going to say anything at all, but now that you’ve made that off-topic post I now feel obligated to chip in and point out I find Leigh Alexander’s views downright unpleasant at times and her oft-posted blog post about “the dos and don’ts of combating online sexism” to be an utterly perfect example of the biggest problem with modern feminism in that it is someone attempting to dictate to other people what they should and shouldn’t be allowed to say in a discussion even when what someone wants to say isn’t said in any kind of abrasive manner.

      Which is a shame, because as an actual games columnist … she’s not half bad.

      Why did we have to bring this up at all here? Why couldn’t it just be about games?

      • Leigh Alexander says:

        The piece you’re discussing was a guide for people who want to help others feel better, not a dictatorship on self-expression. I’m sorry you have issues with modern feminism, but I appreciate that you enjoy my games columns nonetheless.

        I love games and I love being here. Thanks for your time!

      • Gog Magog says:

        Clear sky and cool breeze and the ocean against an amaranth horizon and every time I hear someone generalize about “modern feminism” I just close my eyes and feel the clear sky and cool breeze and the ocean against an amaranth horizon.
        I really do regret posting though. So I guess I don’t completely disagree.

        • Big Murray says:

          It’s not a generalisation unless I’m applying an idea to all modern feminists.

          • Gog Magog says:

            It’s not a generalization til I apply it to your FACE!
            HA!
            Didn’t expect that did you.
            Er.

            ..
            Sorry about that. Sometimes I get weird when I drink.
            Um.
            *shufles away awkwardly then breaks into full sprint after few meters*

          • Big Murray says:

            Plot twist: My face IS a generalisation.

            AHA!

      • lurkalisk says:

        How is expressing opinions on a blog in any way an attempt at some kind of censorship (paraphrasing)? After all, she’s allowed her opinion too, fellow. Your camp isn’t the only one that gets a say, no matter how much you disagree with other opinions.

        I know this because everyone else is dumb and I’m always right.

        • Big Murray says:

          It’s a blog post expressly saying what you should and shouldn’t say. It weakens the argument somewhat to say “It’s just my OPINION … that you need to never say the following things unless they are in these contexts within which I deem them acceptable”.

      • arisian says:

        In response to “Why did we have to bring this up?”, the answer is “because it was clearly an important part of the context for the video, which referenced how difficult this week has been for the author.” As a human being, it’s one of my jobs to try to make life suck less for other human beings whenever practicable.

        • Big Murray says:

          Considering the only negative things which have been said about her are in the comment thread specifically addressing (and thus bringing up) the negative things said about her, I think it would probably make her feel better if we had a conversation about the thing she actually wrote and not “the context within which it was written”.

          It must suck to not be able to just be a games journalist without people bringing up other irrelevant shit.

  3. Premium User Badge Hodge says:

    I played this one a kid and loved it, even though I couldn’t really get anywhere in it. I had enough fun just walking around, selling all my organs and getting arrested. Never did make it to all the cyberspace stuff though.

    Looking back I get the feeling that the devs didn’t really plan much of it in advance and just threw in ideas as they were making it, it has that sort of stream-of-consciousness thing about it. A game based on a big licensed IP would never get made like that now and, yeah, I miss those days a bit. I wonder what William Gibson made of it.

    If anyone’s interested, Richard Cobbett did a crapshoot of it a few months back. And thanks for doing these Leigh, they’re great :).

    • Ex Lion Tamer says:

      “[T]he color of television tuned to a dead channel.” Classic, no question. An interesting game to revisit in our current context.

      The Leigh Alexander + RPS team-up remains a delight to me weeks in. It’s sort of like…Criterion releasing Seijun Suzuki films? Guillermo del Toro and Kojima? Fearsome internet cabal SVGLRPS? I have no idea what the games writing comparison I want is, but I’m a fan.

  4. JFS says:

    Escaping into games IS the next psychedelic frontier.

  5. ben_a_adams says:

    Thank you for your work :)

  6. Artiforg says:

    One of my favourite games from the Amiga days. Thank you for the memories :)

    Edit: Just managed to watch the video, that was utterly lovely. Just too short, I’d have sat here and watched you play the whole game.

  7. Premium User Badge phuzz says:

    I did not know this game even existed. Is it any good?

    • Chuckaluphagus says:

      In my mind, it’s tied up with sitting in awe next to my older brother in front of our Apple IIgs as he navigated an incredibly detailed future-noir world of intrigue, danger, and super-realistic and terrifying VR artificial intelligences.

      In short, saying I have fond memories of it is a little conservative. But those memories are not to be taken as objective – best take a look at Leigh’s Let’s Play instead.

  8. Janichsan says:

    I still have the original C64 version of that game which I won in a contest, with autographs from the developers Charles H. H. Weidmann III and Troy Miles – and from William Gibson.

  9. quietone says:

    Oh, such memories on my C64! One of my favorite games.

    I used to play a meta-game, though. As I loved this kond of games but usually sucked at them, I had a friend which was a lot smarter and comptetitive than I was, but also more naive. So I would casually mention that I was at some point well into the game (when I probably was just a few minutes in) and he would go crazy trying to know how did I get there, in the meantime giving me a thorough walkthrough to the part he was in.

    Granted, a little more convoluted than Gamefaqs (which didn’t exist, of course), but waaaaay funnier.

  10. harmen says:

    Really like this series, Leigh! The time you put in preparation really shows, they are a joy to listen.

    Obligatory Dr Who reference about the police in modern SciFi: http://youtu.be/JXMCC_279zY?t=2m10s

  11. cai says:

    Wow, this game looks kinda interesting! Neuromancer is an old favourite book of mine, though I haven’t read it too often. I’d not heard of this game before, but it seems like it might be a cool new take on the same world. The jokes in the news bulletins seemed out of character from the source material, though… weird choice. Thanks for showing it. A top-notch LP, too. Great work Leigh Alexander.

    I’m really sorry you and so many others have had a terrible week online. I have watched aghast. I don’t have to deal with sexist abuse on a daily basis, so it’s a horrifying shock when that particular curtain gets pulled back. The fact that you keep on working in spite of the push-back is inspiring, thank you.

  12. meathelix says:

    This series is great. I love the opportunity for exposure to oddities I’ve missed.

    I wonder if the Alternate Reality series fits your criteria. I think that was a really exceptional and strange set of games that could probably do with more publicity. Wikipedia entry

  13. Reefpirate says:

    William Gibson, and especially his Neuromancer, is among my favorite things! I knew this game existed but I never got around to giving it a try in my several trips into emulators. This was a great way to experience it and I thank you for your efforts. Great voice and commentary!

    I only vaguely have an idea what the ‘terrible week’ was about, although I thought it was kind of neat how you linked it to cyberpunk. Keep your eye on the ball, and I hope things become much less terrible for you in the near future.

  14. wonderingmonster says:

    The sadness and frustration in this video hit me quite a bit, I wasn’t aware what had happened and had to look it up. I’d just like to say I appreciate your work and really enjoy the gentle shared moments this series brings.

  15. geldonyetich says:

    I actually beat Neuromancer on the C-64 back when I was in Junior High. I even got out of the major twist trap room on my first guess. It was definitely one of my favorite games on the platform, and I played it so much that I was walking around with the swag in the animation of the character in the C-64 game.

  16. jarowdowsky says:

    Goddamn this game. I missed an early breaker and ran against some ICE I could just damage a tiny bit whilst slowly healing myself…

    7 hours later I’d just stayed up all night playing a game for the first time (hey the 80s weren’t all rock and rock at 13) and completed a task that should have taken just minutes…

    Lovely, lovely game

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