A vision: adrift in space, a red-suited figure curls in a foetal position around a cube of some dark material. A low oxygen warning flashes. Life support failing. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Fade to black.
I awaken. Was that myself I could see before? Where am I now? The wall in front of me is white. Shakily I try to stand. I am holding a cube in my arms. The adventure begins.
In the course of my adventure I hear two voices:
MAID, an AI resident in my suit, speaks in the flat tones of a Windows text-to-speech converter. She serves as companion, commentator and alarm clock, never says much at a time, but seems to show genuine concern for my well-being. At the outset she advises me to use a pen and paper, make notes as I go. Sound advice: several times I encounter puzzles that would be nigh-on impossible without making notes. Wandering alone, MAID's company helps keep me sane. She also provides me an interface to the menu where I can save my game or adjust settings.
Philippe Forte, a French astronaut who arrived here some 46 years before I did, is a different matter. I find his diary recordings, read the entries and hear his voice - a warm, human voice. He explored the ship - the Ark - before me, lived here, learned about the Cubes and the race that created them, visited planets and even met aliens. He's human; his motives are not always clear and his decisions were sometimes selfish. As MAID is my guide to what I see now, Forte is my guide to history and context. But can I trust him?
The scenery is beautiful and varied - two different alien worlds, in addition to several distinct environments within the Ark. Looking out through a window at the stars, just able to see my own reflection in the glass. Walking through the Ark's greenhouse, seeing steam coming off the leaves of the plants. A roller-coaster ride in a mining car. The background music also contributes to the atmosphere: Zen-like synths in the white expanses of the Ark, cinematic orchestral accompaniment as I venture out onto an alien planet. Navigation can be a little awkward at times - hotspots are not always located intuitively and it can be frustrating to see where I'm trying to get to yet have trouble clicking in the right place to go there. But these are worlds to be explored and appreciated, not just traversed in search of the next objective.
The puzzles are varied too. A few involve finding and using appropriate items, but most are more abstract - looking over my notes afterwards I see cryptograms, wiring diagrams, computer commands, scribbled passwords, tales of heartbreak and sketches of insects. A couple of them seemed a little obscure - one necessary object seemed a bit unnecessarily tricky to find, and once near the end I needed information from a location I could no longer reach (fortunately I had been saving regularly - thank you MAID!). Other than those, the moments I got stuck were generally followed by the moments I realised the answer had been staring me in the face. Which isn't to say they weren't challenging, but fair and made sense in their worlds.
I completed the journey, put the pieces together, made my decision at the end.
And then I rested.
ASA: A Space Adventure is a first-person slideshow-style game for PC by indie graphist Simon Mesnard, available from his site:
Some other things I should probably mention:
- o The game crashed a few times, particularly around the alien village. I was glad I'd saved regularly.
o There is a patch available already: http://www.aspaceadventure.fr/updates.html
o One puzzle involves sound. Several involve colour.
o I'd guess Simon is a big fan of the Myst games and 2001:A Space Odyssey.
o The game comes with a walkthrough. I'll admit to looking at it a couple of times.
o When I tried a key in the wrong lock, the response was "not the right key". Kudos.
o This really is a very pretty game.