Videogame (2004). K-D Lab (KDL). Designed by Andrey Kuzmin, Yulia Shaposhnikova, Michail Piskounov. Platforms: Win.
Perimeter is a Real Time Strategy game, set in a sequence of sub-worlds located in a region known as the Psychosphere (or, in a less felicitous translation from the original Russian, the Sponge). The Psychosphere is a separate layer of reality, one in which human fears and dreams become manifest, shaping the physical environment. Humans entered these worlds with the assistance of a caste of Priest-Scientists who created a new occult science based on their Psionic abilities, using which they could open portals into the psychic subspaces. Humanity's explorations, however, rapidly resulted in the formation of aggressive, nightmarish creatures in the Psychosphere. At first these beings simply attacked the intruders, but soon they began to follow them home. An already polluted and dying Earth, invaded by monsters from the id, decided to seal the portals to the sub-worlds. By this act they exiled a group who intended to move deeper into the chain of psychic spaces, searching for exits leading to new planets circling other stars in Earth's reality.
The game begins centuries after the closing of Earth's portals, when many generations have lived and died on the giant city-ships in which the exiles fight their way through the hostile territory of the collective unconscious (see Generation Starships). Most of the cities' inhabitants have been subjected to "personality elimination", in order to minimize the number of hostile entities generated by the Psychosphere in response to the presence of human minds. The remainder have long since forgotten the details of their past, and are dividing into mutually hostile factions – those who wish to continue with the journey, those who want to try and return to Earth, and a group which intends to conquer the Psychosphere itself, taking possession of the human imagination. The game's highly linear plot follows the conflicts between these three groups and between all of them and the entities created by the sub-worlds (see Interactive Narrative). Unfortunately, following the storyline can be awkward; the narrative switches confusingly between multiple viewpoints, and the explanations of the framing backstory within the game (as opposed to on external resources, such as the publisher's website) are quite inadequate. However, it appears that in the end both the faction which intends to continue to the stars and the one which prefers to return home will arrive at the same new world, which is in a sense also their old one: prehistoric Earth.
Perimeter's gameplay is genuinely original, offering a notably different vision of how Real Time Strategy games might play to that epitomized by such works as Starcraft (1998). There are no physical resources which must be mined or gathered before new buildings and units can be constructed. Instead, the player's ability to create new material depends on their available energy, which in turn is determined by the amount of land which they have flattened – or "terraformed" – so that they can construct energy gathering devices on it. Conflicts are thus primarily about control of flattened areas and the power grids which can be built on them. Another interesting feature is the use of Nanotechnology-based Robots for all combat and support units, a conceit which justifies the instant conversion of one group of minions into another. Thus a set of ordinary "soldier" and "officer" robots might transform into a tank, and back again, with minimal effort. This leads to combats which resemble magicians' duels, with one side converting their units into a superior form, only to have their opponents create something which counters their new shape. There is, of course, no single form which outmatches all the rest. Finally, the eponymous Force Field allows a player to make their city-ships and constructed buildings impervious to attack, but only for a short time. Some of these features may not be perfectly balanced; use of the energy shield, for example, can lead to prolonged wars of attrition (see Worlds in Balance). Nevertheless, the game design is both novel and highly entertaining, an impressive combination. Perimeter is also notable for its wide variety of exotic and strikingly visualized environments, and for the distant, almost inhuman tone of its narrative. The game's most memorable characteristic, however, may be its vision of the human unconscious – a dirty, dangerous place, dominated by endless warfare and expedient evils. The impression is of a sort of grimy transcendence that could, perhaps, be described as mystic grunge.
Related works: Perimeter: Emperor's Testament (2005 KDL, Win) designed by Yulia Shaposhnikova, Michail Piskounov, Andrey Kuzmin is an expansion pack for Perimeter which contains additional, more difficult, missions for the basic game, presented as events which occur during a new storyline.
Perimeter II: New Earth (2008 KD Vision, Win) is a sequel in which many of the innovative aspects of Perimeter's gameplay have been replaced by more conventional designs. Thus the ability to transform between many different types of robot is replaced by the power to convert air units to and from ground ones, Psionic crystals can be mined and used to construct special weapons, and so on. Unfortunately, the elements used are generally considered to have been poorly chosen, and the resulting gameplay to be unbalanced. The game is set in the new world that is reached at the end of the original Perimeter, where the two surviving city-ships continue their civil war. [NT]
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