#72 Deus Ex Machina

Posted: 3rd June 2013 by Jeroen in Games
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244th played so far

Genre: Action
Platform: ZX Spectrum
Year of Release: 1984
Developer: Automata UK
Publisher: Automata UK

Sometimes, finding the more obscure games on our list have surprises of their own. This game had one.  In what must be one of the first examples of voice acting in video games, Deus Ex Machina came with a separate audio tape, intended to be played alongside the game.

The book calls it a multimedia experience… I’m sure that must be true, in an early sense, based on those descriptions. Drawing some larger voice actors, such as Jon Pertwee, certainly makes it about more than a game. God, sounds weird, doesn’t it? Yet we haven’t even started talking about the music…

Our Thoughts

Wow. That was trippy. On its own, this game is really a collection of mini games, a number of which (especially early on) are very similar. In a way, progress here rewards you with variety. It still stays simple – keep your cursor over stuff to keep it spinning, protect things shooting ‘you’ and so on. They’re not documented, but that’s not as relevant.

While your score matters in that you are presumed to stay alive if it’s high enough, the game always lets you through to the next minigame. It’s a good thing too – the games are difficult due to some ugly timing and control issues and having to go through them that much more often would be excruciating. Luckily, as said, it matters little for progress except for the score summaries.

During the mini-games the maximum percentage of your life points you can lose is half of them, so there is little to be worried about in the beginning stages when you have no clue what you are meant to be doing. Then again, towards the end of the game we were playing on 0% and the game just kept on going which did lead me to wonder whether you can actually ‘die’ in this game.

With that said, that’s only one of the parts of the experience. The other part is the soundtrack. And that’s where the experience gets… weird. While the tape partially narrates your story (although only vaguely) – a defect in what sounds like a Matrix-like machine, where you’re protecting a baby and human as it grows up and lives its life in what sounds like a rather dark future.

That narration is only punctuation in a longer story, which mostly seems to be actors jabbering on about life and trying to sound too philosophical for a game like this. Add to that the music and singing of lyrics that fit the mood but don’t explain anything more, and it certainly becomes its own… experience. Thanks to this game I have had the refrain “I am machine” stuck in my head ever since… stupid game.

In the end, this is probably one of the earliest examples of a game that tries to be more than just a diversion, but instead tries to create art. Did it succeed? Well, strangely, it feels as if it could fit in with some of the 70s movies and artists. Maybe not that well, maybe not as top art, but then again, we’ve seen stranger.

Final Thoughts

In December 2012 the Museum of Modern Art in New York launched a collection of video games which included titles as diverse as Portal, Tetris, The Sims and EVE Online in with the hope to expand the collection in the future. Whilst I am not sure about how The Sims has earned a position in a Modern Art museum I am surprised to see that this game has yet to be included. It may not be the most famous game in the world but like the similarly left out, Flower, I think it deserves one in the near future.