Wednesday, October 4, 2023

What if Clippy was your life coach?

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PSweet is both cyberpunk-y and outdated, reminiscent of the noises of the dial-up era, floppy disks, and the ugly neon turquoise-pink color scheme. The vaporwave graphics have an almost terrifying quality, a reminder that the same anxieties surrounding evil AI and the all-expansive power of Big Tech have and likely will continue to exist forever.

The game is fairly straightforward, relying on text-based dialogue options. Your main objective is to help stage the Film of the Year Premiere – The Universal Viewing Experience produced by LUX, a fiction and media mega-company. Along the way, you bond with hand-drawn characters, each with their own particularities. Although calling the characters “romantic” is a bit of a stretch, they are memorable and feel so human that it is possible to forget that they are computer programs after all. From PSheets to PCalendar, every program has a preselection responsibility and you, the almighty user, are here to help. The first part of the game seems harmless enough, but the second part quickly turns into technological nonsense, as you desperately try to fix the virus-like villain you accidentally dropped along the way.

What’s really remarkable about Future Proof’s work is that the PSweet game is just one piece of a bigger transmedia puzzle. All performances, media and other works from Future Proof (covering podcasts, museum visits, and Twitter bot chains) exist in the same universe, which revolves around LUX, a corporate giant willing to do anything to convince you to consume their products – or in this case, to attend their film screening. Legacy objects, characters, and stories exist in their projects, as they are recycled and reshaped into new storylines, surrounding you with content in a way that literally feels. immersive.

It’s entirely possible (I could even bet on it) that the universal viewing experience you help organize in PSweet could find its way into other Future Proof work in the future. (as evidenced by his bogus advertisement from 1998.) If you’re like me, you could spend a good hour tracing crumbs of LUX content that exists in the universe but outside of the PSweet game. It’s remarkable to say that while the sheer breadth of content is nice to have, you certainly don’t have to be familiar with Future Proof and its works to enjoy the gaming experience of PSweet.

Future Proof’s team of eleven are small but powerful and, as you might expect, must have worn a lot of hats in the game’s development. PSweet Executive Producer and Creative Consultant Dave Morrissey Jr., known for his supporting roles in shows like Mr. Robot and functionality to come Now again, took up the torch for the creation of the soundtrack, which pays homage to the best of the 80s: think of Van Halen but with the instrumentation of Simcity. And the game is all the better thanks to the soundtrack, which is sure to induce waves of nostalgia in those who have spent far too much time playing. Dungeon master like children.

The game comes across as a decently short game, around five hours for a single branching path, and feels like a serious celebration of the visual novel genre, as opposed to anything overly underhand or self-referential, which runs the risk of dying. ‘alienate more casual players unaccustomed to the format. Rather than spending screen time making fun of visual novels and the players who play them, Future Proof has chosen to delve head first, embracing the genre with all its heart.

Speaking to Alex Chmaj, co-owner of Future Proof with video technology and operations management credits at Rooftop Films, I got a glimpse of Future Proof’s intensive research process. Japanese visual novels like Snatcher, one of – by Hideo Kojima Death Stranding– iconic cyberpunk works predating, to the weekly film series the collective has hosted in-house, with sci-fi classics like RoboCop and THX 1138, appreciation for ’80s geek culture is abundant – and almost overwhelming. As part of a younger demographic of gamers who weren’t fortunate enough to experience the ’80s, I enjoyed but probably missed most of the references, having to do my own research to determine which soundtrack I had heard or what movie a prop. was from. Of Dragon ball z to the Back to the future DeLorean references are plentiful – from background props to character dialogue – and a treat to seek out if you have the time and energy. However, the transition from full immersion (as might have been possible in immersive theater) to digital immersion can be awkward at times, especially when the last thing you want to do after staring at a computer screen all day long can be awkward. day is literally going back to obsolescence. 80s operating systems – buffering times and all.


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