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It Came from the Desert

Entry updated 2 April 2015. Tagged: Game.

Videogame (1989). Cinemaware. Designed by David Riordan. Platforms: Amiga (1989); DOS (1990); rev PCEngineCD (1992).

Much influenced by the "atomic ant" epic Them! (1954), It Came From The Desert is suggestive of such contemporary films as Tremors (1989) in its loving homage to the Monster Movies of the 1950s. The game conspicuously references Hollywood traditions, especially the narrative conventions of the action movie. Unlike later "Interactive Movies" such as Obsidian (1996), It Came From The Desert is structured as a series of action sequences within a narrative framework. Most of the gameplay is provided by a collection of real-time action games – including two-dimensional plan view chases and three-dimensional first person shooting galleries – linked by cinematic animations (using a succession of static images in the original, and Full Motion Video in the PCEngineCD version). The player adopts the role of a geologist in the small town of Lizard Breath in the early 1950s, somewhere in the American Midwest. A meteor lands near the town, a portent which is quickly followed by an outbreak of mysterious disappearances and other unexplained phenomena. It soon becomes clear both that the town is menaced by gigantic ants, and that convincing the townsfolk of the reality of this threat will not be easy.

Although the player has considerable freedom to move around a map of Lizard Breath, investigating locations and talking to the locals as they choose, the game's story continues to unfold throughout, creating an essentially linear plot (see Interactive Narrative). The player cannot die until the end of the story, but if sufficient evidence has not been gathered to persuade the Mayor to call out the National Guard within two simulated weeks, the town will be completely destroyed, and the game will be lost. It Came From The Desert was not the first game to use a combination of action sequences and cinematic scenes to transpose this kind of narrative from the cinema to the computer; the basic approach was developed by Cinemaware in such predecessors as the Retro-Pulp Rocket Ranger (1988 Cinemaware, Amiga, AtariST, C64, DOS; 1989 AppleII; 1990 FMT, NES) designed by Kellyn Beck. (As It Came From The Desert echoed the B-movies of the 1950s, Rocket Ranger's story of a US army scientist who must use a rocket pack sent back from the future to prevent the Nazis winning World War II prefigured Hollywood's own tribute to 1930s B-serials in The Rocketeer [1991].) Many of the miniature games included in It Came From The Desert revolve around real-time combat or chase scenes, which can become repetitive, but the strong sense of style and atmospheric evocation of the America of fifties teen movies make playing the game a memorable experience.

Related works: Antheads: It Came from the Desert II (1990 Cinemaware, Amiga) designed by David Riordan is an expansion for the original game, with a new storyline set five years after the events of the original. [NT]


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