Drowned God Preview

Conspiracy, and some good old fashioned soul searching make for a whole new twist on computer gaming

The Bible and Darwin were both wrong.

That is the premise of Drowned God, a point-and-click, hi-res graphic adventure that will rattle a few cages and get plenty of ink. "It's obviously a contentious subject," says the game's producer, Algy Williams. "If we piss off a few zealots, so much the better."

The game purports that many thousands of years ago an alien race from Orion not only genetically engineered humans but also guided their social and scientific development. Then along came the great flood, erasing much of that work and concealing the world's greatest artifacts: the Rod of Osiris (the Egyptian god of the dead), the Holy Grail, the Philosopher's Stone, and the Ark of the Covenant.

Your challenge is to visit the four earthly and spiritual realms in which these items can be found, unlock a labyrinth of puzzles, and complete several tasks to gather them one by one. Sound like your basic treasure hunt? It's not - far from it.

"We are aiming for a totally immersive experience, a quest for knowledge," says Williams. "Basically you are uncovering a huge government and church conspiracy that has seriously altered human history."

Conspiracy theorists and other denizens of the alt.alien.conspiracy newsgroup will recognize many of the ideas presented in Drowned God: the Philadelphia Experiment, the Roswell alien autopsy, the alien race known as the "Greys," and pyramids on Mars. The game also disputes public perceptions about the Kennedy assassination, Leonardo da Vinci's inventions, and how Einstein formulated the theory of relativity.

Whew! Serious stuff. And in fact the developers hope players will ponder the issues raised in the game long after completing it. But they also want it to be entertaining. Surprisingly, the game has its origins in a "grand hoax" perpetrated by one of Scotland's best known authors, artists, and pranksters: Richard Horne, a.k.a. Harry Horse.

Thirteen years ago Horse was 23, the author of two books, on his way to being named Scotland's author of the year - and in desperate need of money. Getting published (and paid) would have taken too long. His solution: create an ancient-looking, lavishly illustrated, "lost" manuscript about the days after the destruction of Atlantis, then attempt to convince an antiquarian book dealer it was genuine. It worked beyond his expectations: Christie's appraised it at $20,000 and the dealer approached a publisher.

"He thought he'd found the next H.G. Wells or Jules Verne," Horse says. "The book not only had accounts of secret ancient societies but also had startlingly accurate references to World Wars I, II and III, plus nuclear fission and the equation for relativity." But the hoax soon unraveled. By chance the dealer went to Horse's publisher, who immediately recognized his illustration style. Horne talked his way out of jail and promised never to publish the material in the book.

That would have been the end of the story, had Horse not seen two breakthrough CD-ROMs - Myst and 7th Guest - 10 years later, in 1993. "I thought, 'I can do that.' They combined my interest in puzzles and cryptograms with my illustration, writing, and story-telling skills." Horse chose to break his promise. "It wasn't worth the paper it was written on," he says. "I was only 23 then and quite frightened about going to jail."

Horse and Algy Williams, who has a background in TV production, have assembled an eclectic team: another illustrator, a sculptor, a designer of "fiendishly difficult" puzzles featured in the London Times, a graphics and programming team from Epic Multimedia, and two musicians who go by the name of Miasma. "The graphics are photo-realistic and the audio and sound effects are stunning," says Williams.

From what I've seen so far, I agree. Drowned God promises to be a beautiful, challenging, and thought-provoking product. And to think its inspiration was a gleefully perpetrated "grand hoax."

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