Videogame (1984). Automata UK. Designed by Mel Croucher. Platforms: Spectrum (1984); MSX (1985); C64 (1986).
Deus Ex Machina is a member of no recognizable school of Videogame design, though its anarchic ethos can be seen in many other British games of the time. It is, rather, the computer game reconceived as concept album (see SF Music); it shares more with the work of such musicians as Frank Zappa or David Bowie than it does with that of any contemporary game designer. The game is set in a generically Orwellian Near Future, one which contains many references to late twentieth century computer technology and the "Seven Ages of Man" speech from the Shakespeare play As You Like It (1623). The structure of the work is based on an included rock album composed by Croucher; users play along with the music, which provides context and timing for the various miniature games which allow them to participate in the story. These games cannot be lost, since play must proceed through the album at a constant rate until it ends, but the player can score well or badly. Voice artists include Ian Dury (of Ian Dury and the Blockheads), Frankie Howerd and Jon Pertwee (see Doctor Who).
The early stages of the game follow a genetically altered human, created inside the rebellious central Computer of its future Dystopia, from conception through gestation to birth. After emerging from the machine, this godlet attempts to overthrow the system with his Psi Powers; eventually he will conquer all, only to struggle against the temptations of power and finally be defeated by old age. Deus Ex Machina is a unique piece of experimental multimedia, but it is not a perfect work. Listening to the soundtrack and following the lyrics while simultaneously playing the synchronized miniature games is not easy, and the relevance of the games to the narrative is often obscure. It could be argued that Deus Ex Machina's status as a game adds little, and that it would be equally effective as a concept album with accompanying video. [NT]
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