Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
The Bitmap Brothers were one of my favourite studios back in the day, the day in question being the late eighties and early nineties. Along with Sensible Software, they made the games that captured my imagination, beautiful to look at and just that little bit unusual. Cadaver was probably the strangest of the Bitmap games that I owned; it’s a fantasy adventure, played from an isometric viewpoint, and it looked like I imagined tabletop Dungeons and Dragons games might look. I adored it.
I love looking back at games I played when I was too young to really understand the rules. By that, I don’t mean the rules of the actual game – hitpoints and stat sheets and the rest – but the rules of a genre, and the limits of what can fit into a computer’s brain.
Cadaver, I can see now, is essentially a puzzle game. Each room has certain objects and enemies, and the goal of the game is to pick a way through the levels by killing or outsmarting the enemies and combining the objects correctly. To my young mind, its beautiful environments were so detailed that they could only be part of a larger world. I imagined that once I’d dealt with the initial plotline, I’d be able to explore the entire world, and to exist in it doing whatever I pleased.
That was the promise of games, as compared to films or cartoons. I knew that I couldn’t step into the background of the latest episode of He-Man and explore the parts that the writers weren’t focused on right now, but with something like Cadaver, that possibility was very real. Of course, the world of the game was very limited, but part of the trick of the design was to gesture toward larger spaces beyond, and the Bitmap Brothers did that wonderfully.