Home > Clement's Game > Fantasy Round 32: Geneforge

Fantasy Round 32: Geneforge


I love this game.

It’s actually the first in the Geneforge series, a set of five games by Spiderweb Software.

It’s super old-school (and from 2001!) so the graphics aren’t that great.

But you don’t play this game for the graphics.  Play it for the tidy turn-based combat, and the deep puzzles — both technical and moral.

A screenshot from Geneforge.  Most of the critters in the image are actually the player's minions...

A screenshot from Geneforge (from the Spiderweb Software website). Most of the critters in the image are actually the player’s minions…

Any Sufficiently Analyzed Magic…

… is indistinguishable from technology.  A lot of that happens here, with the magic of the Shapers being essentially biotech focused.

And this is one of my favorite parts of the setting.

This is the logical conclusion of codified magic.  The Shapers are essentially mages who meddle with the fabric of life, and who learned that life’s parameters are written into DNA.  And then they used that knowledge to create the Geneforge.  (Also, apparently magical powers can be encoded into DNA.  Cool.)

I enjoy the extrapolation, and the tying together of concepts from different points of view.  The Shapers also have clear lab procedures — gloves, other protective gear, prohibitions of untrained personnel dealing with dangerous experiments.  That kind of thing.

That’s the good side of it.  On the bad side, they’re basically all mad biologists and disasters waiting to happen.  Their safety standards are weak.  Seriously, who sets up a power core without an off switch for maintenance so you don’t get horribly killed by the magical energies floating around?  And they left the Geneforge out where anybody could, you know, touch it and get killed.

Mind The Side Effects

Speaking of issues with safety compliance…

The Shapers are not environmentally friendly.  Whole areas of Sucia Island are entirely devoid of life — or worse, soaked in toxic chemicals that poison you as you walk across them.

Of course, this might be unrealistic.  Nobody ever does damaging and deadly experiments like that in the real world, right?  Right?  </sarcasm>

(Sad examples: Lead poisoning.  Methy-mercury poisoning.  Coal slurry.  People affected by nuclear bombs, as well as production and testing.  And then there’s Lake Karachay.  And those are just a few examples…)

Now, I’ll note that people are frequently more concerned about “chemicals” (everything is made of chemicals) and radiation (bananas are radioactive… and so are you) than they really need to be.  But, sadly, it’s waaaaaaay too easy to believe in people doing magic/technology and not considering all the consequences.

Similarly, some of the issues are from depots of toxic magical chemicals that had been left behind… and not sealed well enough.  That’s an issue we deal with today, in the form of chemicals left over from various processes and figuring out what to do with our nuclear waste — which can stay dangerous for quite some time.

Speaking of which…

Who Are You Working For?

It’s a good question.

There’s a lot of gray to go around in this setting.

One of the scariest bits is the part where you discover that the serviles — sentient humanoid creations of the Shapers — were originally human, but modified into a slave race for the Shapers to use and abuse.

Will you join the Awakened, who hope for peace between serviles and Shapers, working together, but who have limited influence?  The powerful, but power-mad Takers, who seek to take their freedom from the Shapers by force?  Or the still subservient Obeyers, who seek to follow the will of the Shapers, as they were designed to do?

Will you destroy the Geneforge, and wonder what might have been?  Use it, go insane, and start a power-mad war against the Shapers?  Work with the Outsider who wants to use it himself, and seems reasonable… except that he condones the most heinous actions of the Takers?  Something else?

There’s no way to really have your cake and eat it, too.  You can’t have all the power, all the success, and all the people be happy at the end.  You have to choose what is more important… and sometimes, you can make an early mistake that makes it really hard to get the ending you want.

Pff.  Politics.  It’s much more fun when you can try to find all the different endings, and optimize.

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