Let it be stated right off the bat: This post is not particularly safe for work.
There are a lot of aliens out there. A species for every mood. For every one of H. G. Wells’ notorious martians, you’d also get your share of green-skinned Orions for Captain Kirk to test his moves on. I’m sorry to admit that my list thus far has fallen into that first category. I’ve been a little one sided. So much for journalistic neutrality! Too many tentacles, teeth, and bad intentions. Lets do something about that. Why don’t we finish with something a little different? Lets have a look at a practically unknown game by the practically unknown German developer Blue Byte.
If you’ve heard of Blue Byte, odds are you’re probably familiar with their series of strategy games called The Settlers. What is less known, is that the Ubisoft owned company is actually pretty damn prolific in their own right. Publishing a slew of games through the eighties, nineties and the aut-auts, Blue Byte is still going strong to this day. They’ve also managed to come up with some very original contributions on the side. One of their more ‘unique’ games was a science fiction role-playing game called Albion published in 1995. Odds are, you haven’t seen anything like it.
Albion has you filling the role of a shuttle craft pilot named Tom Driscoll; just another cog in the wheel of Terran expansion into the frontier of space. You’re aboard a large interstellar mining vessel called the Toronto intended for a remote world where (why else) you’ve been designated to begin excavations. The game features a strong storyline, weaving with plot twists and mysteries that hook like any summer bestseller. Intrigue early on propels the story forward. An unexplained murder aboard the ship has you teaming up with a government official named Rainer Hofstedt who is also a physicist/xenobiologist. Lucky to have, as we’ll soon see. (Oh! And also.. if you plan on playing the game, be sure to seek out the pistol before departing! You never know when a bit of human technology might come in handy.)
During a scouting foray to the unnamed world, things go awry. As they tend to do. Tom and Rainer find themselves plummeting into the planet’s gravity well with little chance of survival, much less rescue. The marooned men soon find themselves on a world they wholly didn’t expect. Not only is the air breathable, but there’s an entire ecosystem of living creatures, from fungi to top predators.
But oxygen isn’t always a good thing, it turns out. Fire and the shuttle’s fuel don’t mix, and our intrepid heroes end up being rescued by Albion’s local denizens. A catlike race of aliens called the Iskai. And herein lies our memorable moment.
Up to this point, Albion has been a game that sat soundly in the science fiction camp. It featured stark and metallic surroundings, shuttles and outer space. The sudden shift to the planet is one of those Wizard of Oz ‘black-and-white to color moments’. Stepping out into a riot of color and sound is change enough.. but the moment you greet your first alien rescuer is the real kicker. I understand I’m shooting my own foot here when I say this – but if you want the full effect, I suggest you stop reading now and just play the game. There’s nothing like going into this game without a clue in the world to go by and then getting suddenly slapped in the face.
Maybe it’s just the conservative culture I live in, but there’s something about an alien species that seems so liberated like that. They’re the creatures that our hippies and Naturists would point out as being highly advanced. Most of us would ignore the fact that nudism only makes sense in a rainforest environment. Our catpeople should be like those blue dudes in Avatar. At least the Navi had the decency to cover up their naughty bits with loincloths and seashells.. or whatever they did. Perhaps the Iskai are just too proud of what they’re packing? They do put that lady from Total Recall to shame.
There’s something refreshing about a game that decides to be forthcoming like that. We don’t have to be childish about it, even though we still totally are. What will we find out there? Something that would make our immature inner child piss itself laughing? There’s as good a chance as any. Thank you Blue Byte for taking the chance. Lazer-toting lizard men on steroids are a dime a dozen. Seeing things a new way are rare. This American appreciates the gesture. It isn’t every day you get to see such boldness to push the envelop in storytelling. Especially in the video game industry.
Albion is a good game. More than strong enough to stand on its own in areas of gameplay and story. Its use of both twodee and threedee palates was great. The in game library that you accessed through typing words to the various NPCs just goes to show how much depth was involved. The planets culture was fleshed out and vibrant. Its use of magick (the extra “k” included) and technology was refreshing. Its fantasy elements were novel. In an industry where fantasy almost invariably includes elves and dwarves, Albion was more than a decade before its time. Take me to Nakiridaani over Azeroth any day.