I’ve a slightly longer post brewing about the games I’ve been playing over the past couple of months. They’ve been longer and fairly involved, so I’ve been dragging my heels on getting something out there. But I just completed a game I chose at random from my collection, which turned out to be about seven hours worth of Good Times (well, mostly) and featured a whole lot of cyberpunk hoo-ha and stylish graphic nonsense, created by a very small team.
TLDR? I’ve been hanging out with an AI that has boxy hair and an alarming habit of exploding.
Fumiko! is a game which takes its cues from Serial Experiments Lain, a Japanese animated series about identity and conspiracy that I’m not hugely well acquainted with. What I gather, though – the who am I? what am I? drivers – are very similar.
The title – “child of treasured beauty”, loosely translated – fits into the story pretty well. You play Fumiko, an AI that seems to be a bit of a fly in the digital ointment. But who created you? And why? And how do you fit in to a bunch of interconnected networks?
Ah, the networks. Think of the VR sequences from The Lawnmower Man and you’re getting there. It’s all boxes and flying and humanoids and pulsing bits. It’s THE FUTURE and systems are shown as puzzles to be solved, as some sort of giant Minecraft arena with a lot of flying warning signs that’ll fuck your shit up if they run into you.
(And that’s without getting too deep into the enormous AI that seems to want to eat you, or the protector robot that just wants to care.)
Artistically, the game looks very similar to one of my favourite titles, Rez. Like that game, there’s a big William Gibson boner: it’s Neuromancer-styled stuff, with the occasional pop-up ad, or intrusive distressed text message. It’s sometimes like a chunky Second Life – one level sees you chat with a bookish tie-sporting avatar, president of a land of shelves – and sometimes like a bullet-hell tunnel nightmare. But there’s always the sense of THE FUTURE writ large: CGI demo-style aesthetics, and cascading rivers of binary code.
Where Rez is an on-rails shooter, Fumiko! has a free-look camera system. This takes some getting used to, as finding focus in a level that looks like an acid trip constructed from Lego can be challenging, to say the least. The game allows you a ridiculous amount of freedom – within reason – once you power up your jump and dash abilities: the sense of speed is pretty great, even if it does come at the cost of, y’know, being able to point in the direction you really want to go.
One thing I like about Fumiko! is that it’s an unashamedly DIY kind of approach. The player character figure is taken from a Creative Commons-friendly resource, and exists in its in-game form thanks to a chance mistake in a modelling application. Sound effects come from publicly accessible audio libraries. Fumiko Games is a one-person affair, and even counting the help of some others – profusely thanked in the endgame credits – it’s remarkable that something this polished and enjoyable has come from such a small creator. The game was begun in 2014 as a side-project to keep coder Sylvius Fischer’s hand in, and grew from there. It’s nice to know that a little passion project can come to fruition, especially since I was able to note that Fischer appears to be the author of the game’s Steam walkthrough page, where he makes no bones about welcoming feedback on the product, so he can improve it.
(There’s only so many bugs one dude can squash, after all.)
There were things about the game that irked me, sure. It was often difficult to tell where I had to go, or to understand how mechanics worked within the world on screen and I’d often find myself wrestling the camera to keep myself from snuffing it – particularly on tunnel flight levels. Some on-screen text has slight pacing issues, or sounds weird in English. Sometimes there’s chunks of melodrama where they don’t really fit, and the narrative can seem a bit obtuse, especially as the game ends with a pretty cold stop, leaving a lot of questions unanswered – especially if the player hasn’t made the effort to find additional areas that reward exploration with textual explanations.
BUT. But but but.
The game is remarkable given the size of its dev team, compared to the scope of what it tries to be. It doesn’t make it to the levels of obscure greatness that I think the creator intended, but it is a particularly fun way to spend a couple of hours, particularly if you’re into the aesthetic. That part of the game is killer.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to figure out how to pixelate my hair.