DARKSEED / Cyberdreams / PC
 
 
Author self-insertions in games don't necessarily have to be a bad thing. Just look at the first Max Payne, which owes the bulk of its charm to creator Sam Lake's grimacing performance as the title character. Darkseed's creator Mike Dawson, whose title character carries not only his digitized likeness but also the same name, unfortunately doesn't really lend a whole lot to the role. His digitized face awkwardly inserted into the H.R. Giger artwork in cutscenes just looks goofy and sort of unintentionally humorizes what are supposed to be pretty grim scenes. No offense meant to Mr. Dawson's looks; he looks like an average guy in the cutscenes, it's just the low-frame-count janky digitized animation that does it. His in-game sprite is an entirely different story, though; for some reason he looks like if Rowsdower got a job as a community college professor.
 


Anyway. Darkseed is a point-and-click old-school adventure from the early 90s, most notable for getting license to use H.R. Giger's art. Protag Mike is the chairman of an ad company who runs off to rural California to become a writer, and buys a mansion (apparently sight unseen.) No sooner does he spend a night than techno-alien beings are inserting embryos in his brain. Mike doesn't initially realize this, but he has 3 days before the embryo hatches, killing him and opening the gates to world domination by the nightmare alien creatures and etc.

What this ends up being, however, is largely Mike puttering around his house doing random chores and picking up random items. Eventually you stumble across a diary from the previous owner of the house that sort of explains things and gives them some focus, and then Mike will eventually find a portal to the Dark World via his hallway mirror, but until those things occur it just feels like you're stumbling about the house and surrounding environs at random just doing whatever the game will let you do. Though this vague setup does lead to some unintentionally lulzy moments early on, for example when you stumble across a rope on the upper floors and Mike rappels down the side of his house for no logical reason while triumphant music plays.
 


I can forgive a lack of focus and exposition in an early 90s adventure, especially when we now have the Interbutts to easily fill in the blanks. However, Darkseed also unfortunately suffers from generally poor design. There's a lot of cheap timed events and Sierra Hang-Ups that can bring the game to a swift and sudden end without you realizing it, letting you putter about for quite awhile before finding out you are irrevocably fucked. Aside from the constant pressure of the time limit (and the requirement to be in certain places at certain times, often with no prior indication), the game also has a problematic day-night cycle. Mike apparently got a serious case of narcolepsy along with his embryo implant, and instantly falls asleep when darkness falls wherever he is. If you're outside the house, all of your items get stolen, most likely taking away something you need to complete the game. If Mike falls asleep while in the Dark World, the Night Gaunts get him and he's dead.

Mike Dawson has become the literal face of Darkseed's shortcomings in design thanks to his digital self-insertion, but I don't think the game's failings are his fault so much as a combination of a rookie design studio taking on their first largeish-budget adventure game, and a commitment to aesthetics over everything else (considering that largeish budget was predicated on the use of Giger's work.) The resulting puzzle design relies on a lot of random contrivance, pixel hunting and general cheap design that is commonly seen when poor or inexperienced designers need to create challenge without really knowing how to do it properly (or are just on a short schedule and have to throw something together in a hurry.) And when time spent on mechanical design has to take a backseat to art and atmosphere. Whatever the case, Darkseed does come out impressively atmospheric, but also quite rough to play.
 
 
Links :
 
* Interview with Mike Dawson from 2006 - Looks like his self-insertion as the lead wasn't so much about ego but simply budget!
 
Videos :
 


 

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