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Great Games: Alter Ego (1986)

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As a kid I think the thing I typed into search engines most was “Free Games”. Eventually after countless sites that loaded my computer with enough Malware for a “Firefly” MMO, I stumbled across HOTU.ORG, or The Home Of The Underdogs.

This place was loaded with the games I never thought existed. If you’ve never played “Starflight” or “Colonization” or any of the games from the early days of PC gaming, boy you are missing out. it was on Home Of The Underdogs that I stumbled across probably my favorite non-game game of all time, 1986’s Alter Ego.

For the uninformed, Alter Ego is a text based life simulator that’s based on actual psychological concepts coded and designed by an actual doctor, namely Peter J. Favaro. As a result it’s sort of a ‘choose your own adventure’ with a heart and some science behind it. It’s written deliciously, too, with a charm and wit that reminds me of the Harry Potter series.

In fact I think it’s the only text based adventure game where a baby’s first words are spelled phonetically over the course of 4 screens.

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Your Alter Ego starts out normally

Alter Ego starts out by having you select male or female. Not quite ready to cross *that* final frontier yet, I selected male and answered a series of about 30 true or false questions pertaining to my personality. “Do you get the urge to touch signs that say wet paint” “I typically do as my parents say” and other questions you’d probably get if you were under psychiatric evaluation at a local prison.

By this point in the game you’re either bored off your ass or thoroughly intrigued. If you’re a gamer who wants more “game” in their games, you’ll probably take one look at the white on black type, notice the lack of guns, military personnel, and online multiplayer, and hightail it for the closest FPS you can get your little hands on. This is not a game for the impatient, or even the logical.

Instead, what Alter Ego offers is a series of loosely connected vignettes, which all add to your alter ego’s score and spheres. As you age, you gain points in various attributes: physical, social, aggressiveness, and a couple of more all go a long way to informing the way your character will act in a given situation. If you have a low social sphere and try out for a school play, the odds are you’ll be booed off the stage and whisked back to the chess club where you probably belong, dork. Similarly if you have a habit of disagreeing with your parents throughout your youth, and suddenly decide to empathize with them, they will be suspicious of your motives.

Part of the problem with life simulators like ‘The Sims” is if you play those games as they’re meant to be played, they pretty accurately reflect the utter monotony and quiet desperation that is day-to-day life. Barely enough time in the day to eat, bathe, clean and work, let alone throw a party, learn to play guitar, buy a chemistry set or socially interact.

And if we’re being honest, in that game after I spent 45 minutes creating a character I wanted to look and act just like me, my first social interactions were met with the encouraging messages “Sue-Ann thinks Paul is being awkward” and “Sue-Ann is uncomfortable”. Depressing…but true.

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Your Alter Ego can be male or female

Of course, I’m probably one of three people who attempted playing ‘The Sims” game for keeps. Practically everyone else cheats at it, gives themselves the most money, the biggest house, maxes out their happiness, and generally scams the system to the point where really the game ought to be called “White Trash Wish Fulfillment: The Game”.

Not that I’m any less guilty. I still remember the password for 50k simoleans. (It’s Rosebud.)

‘Alter Ego’ avoids this by boiling life down to its essence: Social interactions, romantic interactions, and the various moments of truth that really define all our lives. It becomes an eye opening experience. Many a time I have played Alter Ego “as myself” answering questions honestly, only to find the moment when I acted against the type of person I am, blow up in my face. Especially since certain events can be fatal (for example in one game I stupidly approached a car offering free candy and was promptly raped and murdered), the effort required to play the game and succeed becomes its own reward.

And, then, well, I was humming along in my little Alter Ego life, toiling away in school for Social Services because it was always an interest of mine, dating some chick named Cathy I didn’t really care too much about, when BAM, I won 500 thousand dollars in-game and instantly stopped caring about the choices I would make, or the game in general. I had “Rosebuded” without meaning too!

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Alter Ego is a great retro game

Up until this point I was invested, eagerly pondering every possible outcome, attempting to be the best me I could be in the terms of the game. And at that point, I was pretty much me: Creative, a touch anti-social but overly sympathetic towards everyone, a “real character” as the game said. And now it didn’t matter anymore.

But “Alter Ego” *does* matter. It’s enriching and poignant and funny and gentle. A game that’s more intriguing than exciting. It’s the ‘Boyhood’ of gaming. As for how your ‘Alter Ego’ would fare, there’s only one way to find out. Play the game!

 

Paul Meekin is a media sponge, video editor, review writer, and former producer for "Ebert Presents At The Movies", in addition to working for decade in tech support, he's written movie, game, and TV reviews for a variety of outlets.

Gaming

Skull and Bones Launch Causes Surge in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag Gamers

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It’s intriguing to note that the launch of the long-awaited piracy simulator Skull and Bones has led to a notable increase in players returning to Ubisoft’s previous game, the pirate-themed Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

PCGamesN gathered data from SteamDB and observed that on February 15, 2024, the day before Skull and Bones launched, approximately 971 players were simultaneously playing Black Flag. By the 16th, the figure had nearly doubled, hitting 1,662. By the 17th, the number had increased to 2600, and by the 18th, it reached 3,226. After a week of continuous gameplay, a new peak was achieved on the 26th, with 3,594 players online simultaneously. With the game’s peak hitting 16K a decade ago, it’s a fascinating illustration of how success can benefit everyone involved, pun intended.

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One can’t help but sympathize with developer Ubisoft Singapore in this situation. We thoroughly appreciated Skull and Bones after overcoming the initial comparison to Black Flag, which was a point of contention in our review. Ubisoft’s latest release faces a major challenge due to players’ existing expectations and a lack of clear direction for several years.

As an Epic Store exclusive, it’s challenging to gauge the performance of Skull and Bones, especially since console numbers have not been disclosed. Insider Gaming cites sources within the company who claim that 850,000 people have downloaded the game, with the eight-hour free trial that Ubisoft is offering contributing to this figure. It’s worth noting that the developers described the game as top-tier quality and were adamant about pricing it at $70.
Are you feeling inspired to revisit Black Flag after trying out Skull and Bones? What are your thoughts on Skull and Bones if you’ve had the opportunity to try it out? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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Shibuya Action RPG REYNATIS Coming to PS5 first, with a later release on PS4 in the West later this year

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FuRyu’s Shibuya-based action RPG REYNATIS has sparked significant interest since its announcement for the PS5 and PS4 in Japan last week, with many eagerly awaiting news of a Western release. After the release of the full-length trailer this week, NIS America has stepped in as the publisher for North America and Europe.

While a specific release date hasn’t been announced yet, the company has confirmed that the game will include Japanese audio and English text upon its arrival in this region, along with a PC version being added. Fans will have to wait a little longer for the localized version of the upcoming adventure, which will feature several well-known Square Enix veterans.

“In search of liberation through power, the wizard Marin embarks on a journey to Shibuya, encountering Sari, a member of the MEA, a group committed to regulating wizards,” the description hints. Hide your magical abilities to blend in with the crowd and freely roam the city, engaging in various activities or missions. Alternatively, unleash your powerful skills to access hidden areas and confront any obstacles that cross your path.

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When Shadow of the Erdtree releases, I might stop fighting Malenia in Elden Ring Legend and focus on soloing her

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It’s astonishing that two years have passed since a standout Elden Ring player emerged victorious, solidifying their claim to the Elden Lord throne by engaging in repetitive ritual battles. The character known as Let Me Solo Her valiantly defeated the game’s toughest boss on behalf of players, earning legendary status in the gaming community.

Currently, LMSH is engaged in a battle against Malenia but is eagerly anticipating Shadow of the Erdtree as a potential opportunity to end the conflict. After the DLC was announced, IGN interviewed a player with extensive experience in Elden Ring, boasting over 1,200 hours of gameplay. They claim to have defeated Malenia thousands of times and even completed the game using a unique mod.

LMSH is eagerly anticipating Shadow of the Erdtree, expressing confidence in director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s ability to deliver another outstanding masterpiece for players to enjoy. The terrifying Messmer, who Miyazaki confirmed to be a significant character in the DLC and on par with other potent figures in the game, is the new enemy in LMSH, as depicted above. Could this be a new adversary for LMSH?

The upcoming DLC for Elden Ring, Shadow of the Erdtree, is highly anticipated and is set to release on June 21st for PS5 and PS4. Do you think LMSH will be able to progress? Or do you think they are destined to dance with Malenia forever? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

 

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