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Captain Blood

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1988; vt The Ark of Captain Blood in continental Europe). ERE Informatique. Designed by Philippe Ulrich, Didier Bouchon. Platforms: Amiga, Amstrad, AtariST, C64, DOS (1988); AppleII, Mac, Spectrum (1989).

The protagonist of Captain Blood is Bob Morlok, a computer game designer who somehow injects himself into the fictional universe of the game he is working on, apparently by virtue of his sheer creativity. There he merges with his alter ego within the game, the eponymous Captain. Shortly after his arrival in the gameworld, Blood/Morlok is multiply duplicated during an aberrant Hyperspace jump, an event which leaves the original critically short of "vital fluids". In an apparent reference to the evils of software piracy, the Captain realizes that he must hunt down and eradicate every last copy if he is to survive. Soon, his ship's Computer begins the process of converting him into a Cyborg to help him withstand the damaging side effects of the copies' creation; as more and more of his original parts are replaced it becomes clear that in the end he could be entirely remade, leaving only a Robot. Hundreds of years later, at the beginning of the game proper, Blood has managed to eliminate most of his duplicates, but is running out of time to find and destroy the remaining five.

The actual game places the player on the bridge of Blood's gigantic biomechanical Starship, the Ark. From there they can travel to many different (though often quite similar) planets searching for clues to the copies' location; once a duplicate has been discovered its stolen fluids can be extracted and returned to the player. Unsurprisingly, this is a fatal experience for the copy. While the actions available to the player are different, the sense of freedom to travel within a simulated galaxy is reminiscent of a space exploration game (see Space Sims).

For reasons which are never explained, every being in this artificial universe can be found at the end of a long, narrow trench cut into the surface of a planet (displayed as a set of three-dimensional outlines for technical reasons). On arriving at an inhabited world, the player must fly a living probe down into the appropriate channel, continuing until they find the resident alien (there is never more than one). They can then negotiate with this individual, offering information or interstellar transportation in return for news of the duplicates' whereabouts. This is the real heart of the game. An iconic Communications system allows the player to communicate with any of the game's many Alien species, despite the assumed lack of a shared language, by using a set of symbols representing emotional and conceptual states. The deliberately primitive nature of this interface cleverly disguises the limited nature of the intelligence which could be bestowed upon the game's nonhumans by its programmers. Thus the game's characters can obsess about obscure concepts or spout utter nonsense without breaking the illusion of real interaction, since their lapses in communication can be attributed to the difficulties of translating an alien language into a simple symbolic code. Many of the aliens (not to mention the Captain's duplicates) will cheat and lie during these discussions; it is common (though by no means necessary) for players to do the same. Interestingly, the approach taken to representing conversations in Captain Blood greatly resembles that of Trust and Betrayal: The Legacy of Siboot (1987), another unusual Videogame created in the 1980s.

Captain Blood is noteworthy in many ways, among them its offbeat sense of humour and the eclectic combination of disparate elements which make up its gameplay design. It features many quirky alien races of varying intelligence and disposition: two species are dedicated to the destruction of each other, a third express their feelings by the projection of human fantasies, while a fourth are the senile remnants of ancient Berserkers. The title music is an early example of a licensed Videogame soundtrack, having been adapted from Jean Michel Jarre's album Zoolook (1984). Ultimately, Captain Blood's appeal depends on the conversation system. Some players fail to find this interesting, but others are fascinated by the challenge of decoding a complex web of lies, truth and gibberish woven by an assortment of bizarre aliens, using a language consisting of only a hundred and fifty hieroglyphs. Very few, however, find this easy.

The sequel is Commander Blood (1994 Cryo Interactive [CI], DOS) designed hy Philippe Ulrich, Didier Bouchon. As the title suggests, this time the player adopts the role of Commander rather than Captain. The titular character is a biological construct created by the original game's Bob Morlok (here "Morlock"), now the oldest (and possibly richest) being in the universe. Knowing that it will soon become impossible to further prolong his life, Morlock has decided that he should see the Big Bang before he dies. So he places himself in Suspended Animation and sends his body back in time, having built the player's character to pilot his new Ark through a series of Black Holes.

The mechanics of Commander Blood are quite different from those of its predecessor. As in the first game, the player character remains on the bridge of their spacecraft throughout, but here Full Motion Video and real-time three-dimensional graphics are used to display the visuals. All actions, including conversation, are performed by activating a control on the bridge or selecting an option from a simple menu; the iconic Communications system of the original is not used. Instead, the gameplay revolves around puzzle-solving, as in an Adventure game. Similarly, in contrast to Captain Blood's open universe the extensive plot of Commander Blood is entirely linear (see Interactive Narrative). While the various times visited by the player are beautifully portrayed, and the assorted alien designs – including many not seen in the first game – are as eccentrically inventive as ever, Commander Blood is arguably a less interesting, if much easier, game than its original.

Related works: A third entry in the series, Big Bug Bang: Le Retour de Commander Blood ["Big Bang Bug: The Return of Commander Blood"] (1996 CI, DOS) designed by Philippe Ulrich, Didier Bouchon, was only released in French. This game begins after Morlock and Commander Blood have reached the Big Bang, only to discover that they have broken the universe with their meddling; the player must solve various puzzles to foster the Evolution of life in the new reality which will replace Blood's original continuum. [NT]


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