Technobabylon Part II – Finally!

So a few months ago I said I would do this whole series.  Time sure gets away from you, doesn’t it?  It’s ridiculous, too, considering that I just played through this game in two hours and made all my notes for this post.  Granted, I knew what I was doing (except for a brief hang-up involving cooking gel and a hand), so it wouldn’t take me as long as it takes someone new to the game, but it’s still on the short side.

Speaking of being new to the game, if you are, I suggest you stop now.  Go here and download the game.  Play it.  Then come back.  Why?  Because I’m not holding off on the spoilers in any way shape or form.  This game *has* spoilers, so let’s just make sure that you know long ahead of time that there are many spoilers to come.

And if you didn’t get it: SPOILERS!

So, that being said, here I go.  The subtitle for Technobabylon Part II is The Weight of the World.  Sound a bit heavier than “The Prisoner of Fate”?  Well, it is.  The first five minutes of the game are a frantic puzzle that, the first time I played it made me panic and rushrushrush.  The game pulls no punches, even right away, by giving you a suicidal woman who cuts her wrist AND hangs herself from a tree.  The first game didn’t seem serious at first.  You were trapped in your room and, while it was obvious you had an unhealthy addiction to trancing, the story did not seem terribly serious.  Game 2 isn’t so.  Right away it hits you with “this is a serious story and we’re dealing with serious and unpleasant topics.”

That said, when I first started up the game, I thought the woman in the tree was Latha, the main character of the first game.  I had the notion of, “Is that her?  Why is she blond now?”  And for much of the first play through I still thought that had been Latha, and wondered why she was suicidal to start this game.  It didn’t feel quite so like a sequel for a while.

As an aside, the panic from the first five minutes seems to be unwarrented.  The girl will not die, no matter how long you take to finish the puzzle.  A part of me, though, wishes this were an option (feature?).  Perhaps the designers have a storyline involving the woman that I don’t yet know about.  Regardless, I want the girl to be able to die and it to have minimal impact on the story.  Why?  Because I want this to be part of the player’s story.  Thwarting a suicide attempt might make someone feel good, but knowing that you could have averted it when you didn’t can have a great impact.  This is compounded with the next section of the game where you can screw up, and it will affect the mood of the storyline.

The game doesn’t stop at suicide for difficult topics.  After saving the suicidal girl, the main character, Charlie Regis, explains that he had lost his wife and that they had embryos frozen somewhere.  The game then hits hard again, by using those embryos and Regis’s legacy to force the player down a dark path.

Regis is a geneticist for CEL (which is often referred to as Central, but I don’t think it ever says what CEL stands for).  CEL seems to be, essentially, the government of the world, or at least the FBI.  Regis has a partner name Dr. Max Lao, a somewhat tomboyish woman who is a bit more reckless with the law (though not much).  A note about Regis.  Unlike Latha from the previous game, who is almost completely connected to Trance, Regis is completely disconnected.  He can even shut himself out from transmissions if he wants, an ability envied by his partner.  The characters of Regis and Latha are, essentially, opposites.

In the second section of the game, Regis is tasked with negotiating with a biobomber, a man who was cultivated with explosives in his bones.  You’re allowed to choose.  Here, the biobomber can be shot by Max (after you say a code word), Regis can talk him into coming in, or the guy can explode.  This choice serves no purpose than to emotionally connect the player with Regis.  No matter what happens, the biobomber dies.  He has to for the story, but how the bomber dies is up to the player.  The game does a good job with emotions here, I think.  More games should make this kind of emotional ploy.

The next section of the game has perhaps some of the most progressive social portrayals of sexuality I’ve seen in a game.  Even in The Longest Journey, which has one of the homosexual relationships in a game (Fiona and Mickey, I actually cried happy tears after meeting them in that game).  During the course of the story so far, Max has referred to the Van der Waals and referenced that two people are married and living together, but it isn’t until you’re at the ghastly murder scene that it’s revealed casually that they were husbands.  No one thought to specially mention it at any point because it’s just *normal* for  this world.  The year is about 2119, and at least in Regis’s 50 or so years of life, it’s pretty certain that same-sex marriages were normal and accepted for all.  More futuristic games should allow for this  wonderfully progressive stance on the eventuallity of equality in human relationships.  Technobabylon does a bit of a two-step, though, as in this scene you are also able to (optionally) find out that Max is herself a transsexual.  She changed when she was 16.  Regis is surprised by this, but the two play it off rather friendly.  From my perspective, though, I noticed that, while same-sex marriages are perfectly normal in this world, being a transsexual is accepted rather than normal.  I have respect for Technocrat for actually trying to tackle this in a game.  I don’t know how I would have done it any differently.  It’s easy to pass off homosexuality as a norm with dialogue, just don’t make a big deal out of it.  Transsexualism is not so easy to bring up without making a point to bring it up.  Neir tried to tackle something similar with Kaine being a hermaphrodite, but this was lost on so many people due to the subtleties of how it was brought up in the game.  If the answer is “don’t make a big deal out of it” then I ask, how would you bring it up to begin with?

After the murder scene (which has some pretty typical adventure game gameplay), Regis is called back to CEL and presented with the body of the bomber.  Here, again, is kudos to emotional connection.  If you saved the bomber, then Regis is angry at CEL for killing the bomber anyway, despite the fact that Regis promised they would help the guy.    If Regis caused the bomber to explode, he feels guilty and wishes he could have done better.  It’s a nice little split that serves the player more than anything else.  Either way the bomber is dead and his femur is ripe for pilfering, which is a gameplay issue.

People will have a problem with how the game ends, particularly if they do not share Regis’s tie to his ego and legacy.  I, personally, would have rather sacrificed unborn embryos rather than succumb to the  mysterious caller’s will.  It makes more sense when you save the biobomber.  Regis becomes angry at CEL and rebels, but this is not the stance the game takes with it.  Regis only wants to preserve his  legacy.  This presents a bit of a problem: Why preserve your legacy if the children have no future?  How does Regis excpect to raise or even unfreeze the embryos when he may have just made himself a  fugitive?

What is good about the ending of 2 is the slow pan up one floor to where the first game ended.  We can see just how narrow the escape was, and now we feel at odds with ourselves.  After all we almost killed  ourselves.  It is a neat tie to the two games and leads us to look forward to the third installment.

And that’s the end of that one.  I hope you enjoyed this look at Technobabylon Part II: The Weight of the World.

Part I is here.

*A little something extra:  “Finally.” is the last line of dialogue in Technobabylon Part II.  It is spoken by Latha, as it is the last thing she says before exiting her room in Technobabylon Part I.

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