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!
Lo-Fi Let’s Play has been on a little break, but now we’re back on the regular, DOS willing. This time, we visit the year 1990. I remember once seeing a couple screenshots of Altered Destiny on the back of the box, or among the ads in the manual or something, from some other computer game I owned. I don’t remember which one, but those two screenshots instilled in me such a fierce wish to own this game that it took me quite a while, playing it over the holiday, to be certain that I never actually did.
You know that feeling? Isn’t it magic, to spend the Christmas days finally playing that game you wanted with full-body aches as a child some 25 years ago?
If there’s something familiar to you all about Altered Destiny, it’s because it’s written, designed and ‘directed’ by Michael Berlyn, whose Tass Times in Tonetown we’ve played in this series before. Some common traits are immediately evident: Weird fashion, an accidental tumble through an energy field into a weird pastel-iverse to kick it all off. Other elements of what I assume to be the Berlyn signature are a little more subtle, from something a little “swingin'” about the vocabulary to its offbeat I-dunno-what.
As with Tass Times, Altered Destiny is always a little bit smarter than you expect it to be, and that actually makes it frustrating, because it’ll expect you to intuit the unintuitive, and often. You can solve the puzzles with some guessing, some blunt force, and a lot of trauma, and you’re usually left with that familiar feeling, the one that slowly choked the vigor out of adventure games over their lifespan: you know, how the F was I supposed to know to do that?. On a practical level, basic navigation can be abjectly torturous — walking around floating islands, sidestepping perilous whirlpools or tiptoeing one arrow tap at a time down precarious staircases? Save. Save. Save. Oh, 1990!
At the same time, though, there’s a lot to recommend about Altered Destiny — the world has a singular, distinctive look and feel, where prodding it curiously is always rewarding. It’s no wonder just a couple glimpses made me want to fall into it when I was young. The parser has some delightful and rare flexibility, particularly when it comes to conversations with the many beautifully-drawn alien creatures in the game. It puts me in mind of Space Quest sometimes, particularly the part where you can’t touch any alien mushrooms or they’ll suck you up.
If I had owned this one as a kid, I would have made little to no progress and I would have loved every minute of it.
I feel lured ever onward toward the HyperCard era. Many things in store for Lo-Fi Let’s Play in the year to come, please join me!
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.