Thursday, 7 November 2019

SYMBIOCOM (aka SYN-FACTOR)


After helming one of the best interstellar Mary Celeste adventures in Majestic: Part 1 - Alien Encounter, the one-man design team of Istvan Pely got to work on some thematic sequels. Released 1998, the same year as Zero Critical (a future Chamber escapee I'm sure), Symbiocom shares a lot with his previous game in that you are searching a deserted space vessel seemingly abandoned in the deep recesses of space.

Considering that the only outsourced work was in the screenplay, music and sound design, the game looks exceptionally good. The pre-rendered backgrounds are detailed and varied, with transition animations the give you a real sense of location. Granted, these visuals are stuck inside a small box surrounded by a sparse user interface, but for a one-man team, the scope is impressive.

You can view your status to see how hot and heavy you're getting (left) 
Type in any relevant word to understand it better in the database (right)

You play as a maintenance engineer aboard the I.S.T. Rident, an interstellar passenger liner. The passengers have all fled after the vessel is attacked by two warships but in the ensuing chaos, you have been knocked unconscious. You wake to find a deserted and unmanned Rident adrift in the blackness of space. Your aim is to make it to safety and find out what the heck happened!

Apart from the occasional droid or talking head on an intercom, you are alone in your adventure save for your inner dialogue. I say dialogue instead of monologue because you also have an AI implant in your brain that offers some back and forth with your thoughts. This slightly sarcastic bot, which appears as text at the bottom of the screen, is known as a SYM Implant or SYMplant for short. It's the Amazon Echo of its time, giving details of your surroundings and offering the occasional clue. It'll also give you access to a database where you can type in any relevant word for a detailed description. Type in SYMPLANT for more info.

Read the info text of your inventory items for clues on where to use them (left). Your SYMplant will 
remember coordinates, but you're still required to first access the computer to enter them (right).

This augmentation also aids in linking to computer systems, which is where most of the story will be told in-game (the rest is apparently found in the manual, which was unfortunately missing in my copy). Here is also where many of the more difficult puzzles can be found. To escape the deserted Rident, you'll need some passcodes that you're position is too low level in status to know. You'll have to pay real attention to any readouts the computer screens gives you for any information on how to find these random numbers, and a lot of them aren't easy. For example, a couple of passwords are found by overheating the core system and figuring out the info that has subsequently been dumped. It's more than a little daunting for newcomers to the genre, and I was a little set back at first but with a trusty notepad by my side and a little more caffeine to aid concentration, I found it to be quite fun to figure out.

Beyond these observational puzzles, there are a few straightforward inventory ones. These are more familiar fare, with simple use-item-on-object design, but are nonetheless satisfying to solve. At one point, your actions will annoy a surly maintenance droid in a fun if explosive sequence. Another has you picking parts off panels to replace missing ones elsewhere. Not the most complex, but the presentation and implementation are what pulls you in.

One of the many info-dumps (left). Clued up players can decipher 
which ones are important enough to be a password (right).

There are five chapters to complete, with each one taking place in a different location. Those antagonists in their warships soon give way to a larger conspiracy involving the technology of this future world. You see, those SYMplants I mentioned may have more sinister undertones than the humourous quips your own occasionally spews out.

Make no mistake, Symbiocom is not a comedic game overall. The way some of the plot's minor details are diegetically told through visuals can often be poignant. A crew-members concerned note on a message board about his missing cat, a suicide note ominously placed on a bed - there are some deeper plot points hidden in there even if they're easily overlooked by the esoteric nature of the main plot.

There is a reason why Istvan Pely has garnered a small but dedicated fan base in the gaming community, and it's not for his work on the Fallout franchise. His adventure games have a depth in both its story, plot and game design that few development teams can boast, let alone a sole voice such as his. Pely is responsible for the game's design, its graphics and its programming and that has resulted in a satisfying singular vision that any adventure gaming enthusiast should not miss out on.



To download the game, follow the link below. This exclusive installer uses PCem running Windows '95. Press Ctrl-Alt-PgDown to toggle fullscreen. Press Ctrl-End or middle mouse button to release the mouse. Tested on Windows 10.

IMPORTANT - Remember to shut down the emulated version of Windows before exiting PCem. This could potentially result in errors, lost saves and corrupt data. Close the program only when it is safe to do so.

File Size: 462 Mb.  Install Size: 822 Mb.  Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ

Download


Symbiocom (aka Syn-Factor) is © Media Technology Limited
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me


Like this? Try These...

http://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2018/05/majestic-part-1-alien-encounter.html  https://collectionchamber.blogspot.com/2019/04/star-trek-deep-space-9-harbinger.html  http://collectionchamber.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/the-daedalus-encounter.html

9 comments:

  1. Nice one! I was waiting for this, ever since our own "one-man design team" said on Majestic Part 1 that he would seek out Istvan Pely's other works at some point in the future. It looks great. Good luck with Zero Critical. I can just about run it in Windows 10, but the screen is tiny and I can't save, so can't get very far.

    As a bonus, I learned a new word from this review. For others: "diegetically" = story told through visuals within the game or film, or sounds within the film (as opposed to soundtrack or voice-over).

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    1. I've made some progress on Zero Critical, but I've not played much of it yet. It's different in that it's in the third-person which makes it less isolating. I probably should've focussed on that first as I believe it's his second game in the so-called trilogy, but from what I understand they're each can be played on their own.

      As for the word diegetic, I first cam across it when studying film at university. It was particularly useful when discussing the stripped-down nature of the Dogma '95 films (ie. Lars von Trier's The Idiots and Thomas Vinterberg's Festen). Now I find it useful to describe the more interesting storytelling techniques best suited to games.

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  2. They were both made at the same time, apparently, in 1998, while The Majestic Part 1 was in 1995. I suppose "Part 1" means those two are considered the other two parts, even though they are separate stories.

    Not having studied film at university, I watched both those Dogma 95 films without knowing the word "diegetic". I suppose the lack of music and other filmmaking paraphernalia helped to focus attention on the shocking events occurring in the stories. I wouldn't want all films to be like that though, as I do like gorgeous, sumptuously produced films as well. I suppose the most famous example of a diegetic game would be the recent Gone Home.

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    1. Absolutely. Gone Home is an excellent example. Diegetic elements do enhance a game like that. It's hit and miss whether or not it will do the same for film (I hated the confused unfocused plotting of The Idiots, while the style heightened the emotional beats in Festen and Dancer in the Dark). It has its place.

      I've not played much of Zero Critical, but I did read it was a direct follow up to the events of Majestic. That ship does have the occasional mention in Symbiocom, but it's not a key plot point.

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  3. Oh hello! Diegetic is used a lot in my nerdy circles when talking about adventure games: diegetic puzzles are the ones that have some relation to the narrative, and non diegetic ones are the ones that are not. Now, what's diegetic and what is not can be arguable, as you can say that the mechanical puzzles in Syberia or the tabletop puzzles in 7th Guest are actually part of the narrative.

    Let's say for example that the cookies puzzle in Still Life is purely non diegetic.

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  4. Hello Risingson. Thanks for the clarification and examples. I wish I got that last reference, but unfortunately I still haven't played Still Life. I wouldn't have expected non-diegetic puzzles in that. Hmm, I admit that makes me less inclined to try it, because I greatly prefer adventure games which make an effort to integrate their puzzles into the story. Narratives which are interrupted by random minigames are the most off-putting, for me.

    It's one of those strange coincidences that I only learned the unusual word "diegetic" a week ago, then just came across the word again on TV. It was a programme called Travel Man, where Richard Ayoade gave a rapid voiceover torrent of facts about the city he was visiting, then apologised for the non-diegetic interruption and resumed his travels.

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  5. Just wanted to say that I found this discussion very interesting. Diegesis was something I was very interested in when I first came across it at uni - I was an instant convert and felt like it could only improve all and any media it was used in! Films like Reservoir Dogs, and games like Mafia, made a big impression on me - even if they were only diegetic in parts. I got it into my head that using non-diegetic elements, especially music, was a crass attempt at manipulating the audience and therefore cheating on the part of the creator!

    I've softened my stance considerably since then! But I do feel the swelling crescendos can sometimes add more emotional weight to a scene than it might otherwise have earned.

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  6. Curiously, I just rewatched the film First Man today, and was just so grateful for the ethereal score featuring the theremin. They went diegetic in parts, such as when they stepped out onto the moon, and we heard simply the silence of space, followed by the astronauts breathing. If the sound was muted like that all the way, it wouldn't have had the same emotional impact on me.

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  7. I cannot get this game to run properly, it is so slow and choppy. I have a pentium quad core, and 4GB of RAM, more than enough. I used to play it all the time, I even own the CDROM but that doesn't want to work either. I tried some of the settings in PCem, but no help. Anything?

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