PEGBRJE: The Search and Astrologaster

Art and Comedy, both utilizing philosophy of old.

Just LOOK AT THE LIGHTING. Dang this is pretty.

The Search is a visual experience puzzle-like game by Jason Godbey, 3D artist extraordinaire. Within this title, players follow a nameless protagonist with the voice of Cissy Jones (you may be familiar with her work in Firewatch or Life Is Strange) as they find themselves in a strange dark world, unable to recall why they are there, or what is going on. Following some prompts from a source known as The Invisible, the player recalls philosophical passages while attempting to maneuver between different places using their puzzle-solving skills. Where are they going?

The game revolves around players solving artistic puzzles based on altering the perspectives of the protagonist. Combining certain items together will create other items that will assist in creating the solutions, or some such as the camera are used to create new items from the environment instead. These areas are, for lack of better term, utterly gorgeous in all of their aspects. From realistic set pieces within the areas, to the lighting models that cast light and create shadows in them, to the interior design decisions that placed these items where they are, everything feels straight out of a movie set of a fantasy land. To navigate through each crafted area, players will click in certain directions based on the cursor orientation change (moving forward the cursor will change to an up arrow) to move around the different areas that they are transported to. Admittedly this is the weakest aspect of the game, as there were many times that I felt turned around or lost due to not being in full control. Once I had played long enough, however, I started to realize that this was the point.

The Search is a game of perspective, and understanding not only our own perspectives but understanding what may be limiting them. Much of the game is littered with quotes from philosophers such as Carl Jung, discussing what it means to be a ‘self’, what is limiting one’s potential and how to break free from it. These forced perspectives, while aggravating, appear to be 100% intentionally designed to emulate what the protagonist is going through. They bemoan creating artwork under another feels as if their creativity simply ceases to exist, that they are playing second fiddle to another’s orchestral performance. For many, such as myself, I don’t feel this way at all — I don’t consider myself a ‘creative’ to the same extent, nor do I have strong feelings about working creatively under another. Yet through this forced angle and lack of control, The Search forces the player to understand how those who resonate with this struggle feel, that while they have control over their direction in life it is through the forced lens of another rather than through their own freedom. This will lead to frustrations, but it does do the job.
The Search is an artistic game with an artistic message, meaning that not everyone will fully enjoy it. For some, it may come off a tad heavy handed, but for others it will resonate with due to the creative restrictions the protagonist is experiencing. If you are searching for a game that can pique your artistic curiosity and need for expression, then The Search will deliver just that.

Astrologaster is a narrative ‘choose your own adventure’ decision making experience made by Nyamyam, a dev team from England who’ve celebrated 10 years as a studio just recently. Players follow a slightly altered but totally accurate™ depiction of Simon Forman, the infamous astrologist and herbalist during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, who after surviving a bout with the plague becomes an astrological physician to solve the ailments of England. Forman then is tasked with treating the ailments of the people that come to him in the hopes of receiving a recommendation from the University while passing off his astrology as medical advice. All with a tongue in cheek flavour for all.

Astrologaster’s draw comes primarily from its writing, which is done with such an over the top nonsensical flavour that I can’t help but laugh at the simplest of sentences. Drawing on the prose of ‘Ye Olde English’, every character — which are all voiced by the way, to make it even better — speaks as if they are in a Shakespearean play. Each character that approaches has their own problem, which players not only have to decipher what they are trying to say, but also separate the inaccurate knowledge from the facts. It’s the 16th century after all, and myths of healing, religion, authority and understanding run amok. After all, apparently harboring a Jesuit priest is a horrible crime against God and England.

Thankfully for Forman, the stars are on his side so to speak, and after listening to his patients he is given a set of astrological signs to pick between to declare his verdict. As players, it is our job to read through the options given to Forman through these constellations and determine the best course of action. Unfortunately, as astrology isn’t an exact science, many of the answers will appear somewhat vague with only basic clear outcomes in the form of 2–3 ‘distinct’ answers. Does the patient have dysentery, are they with child, or is it just a digestive issue? Only the stars can tell, apparently, but it is in these decisions that the player must accept their verdict and see how the patients react. Some may react favourably and find their ‘ailments’ relatively cured during their next visit, while some may question where this knowledge even comes from as the symptoms listed aren’t the ones they have. It is in this clever decision making that Astrologaster shines, for it draws on previous conversations between the previous patients and the previous visits of the patient visiting to decide what may be the problem that they are describing. The patients may not even be describing an actual ailment, and it is up to Forman to understand what the implications may be for choosing sides during disagreements or assisting a certain religious figure make investments. It does feel a bit odd that a doctor is giving legal or monetary advice, until one remembers that this is the medieval era; any learned individual would be assumed to know everything after all.

All of this is wrapped in the most absurd yet polished virtual pop-up novel with a choir of vocals as the narration that is Astrologaster, playing into its medieval roots with tone of pure satire whilst providing fairly solid deduction gameplay and decision making. There are times when the writing falls a bit flat, usually stemming from just how oddly relevant some of these archaic thought processes are, but the writing usually picks itself back up to make fun of the system and people who created it. I still have quite a ways to go, seeing as I’m barely at 3 visits from some clients, which doesn’t take into account the possibility of different choices from the past or actually getting 8 letters of recommendation for the University. However, I can state quite easily that anyone who is a fan of humorous history will enjoy Astrologaster and all of its pop up madness, choir deliveries and blatant themes surrounding its era. Just try not to make too many people angry; even as an illegal practitioner, he knows that a noose isn’t cured easily.

Links to both titles.

Game Dev who decided to take on the monumental task of giving an overview of all 59 pages in the bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. We keep going.