There's a popular belief among gamers in the US that the traditional adventure genre is dead, despite the fact that companies like LucasArts continue to produce quality adventure games and that sales of such games are doing better than ever in Europe. According to Neil Young, vice president of Oregon-based developer Anim-X, the adventure genre in the US isn't dead; it just needs to be reinvented. To that end, his company, in conjunction with Electronic Arts, recently announced the development of Majestic, a nontraditional adventure game that hopes to capitalize on another American myth: the conspiracy theory.
The game is named after the Majestic Documents, a series of recently "uncovered" papers that reveal the existence of a group of people called the Majestic-12, which was originally formed by President Harry S. Truman in 1947 to investigate and recover downed UFOs on American soil. It's really the stuff of fantasy and X-Files scripts, but it is admittedly intriguing. But unlike other games that have focused on this subject matter - like Deus Ex for example - Majestic isn't so much a game as it is an experience. That is, there's no physical game to buy from a store. In fact, when it launches next March, Majestic will consist of a simple download no larger than 1MB in size. So what is Majestic? Put simply, it's a suspense/thriller adventure game that's played both on- and offline wherein you are the main character. Think of it as the movie The Game meets the Internet. In addition to dealing with each other, Majestic's characters will also interact with you, and soon after you've installed the small download on your hard drive, these characters will appear to have come to life. "We'll go to any length to suspend your disbelief," explains Young. "The game will reach out of the computer and connect with you personally." Majestic makes use of not only your computer and the Internet to progress its story along but also devices and utilities like your fax machine, phone, e-mail account, and even AOL's Instant Messenger (AIM) chat service. The game's characters will use all these devices to interact directly with you, which means that you can expect to get e-mails, Instant Messages, faxes, and even phone calls from the characters in Majestic as the game progresses.
Anim-X has gone to great extremes to bring Majestic and its characters to life. Hundreds of phone numbers from all over the United States have been purchased, phony Web sites have been erected, and even dummy corporations have been founded as part of the company's elaborate and living set. While neither EA nor Anim-X is ready to talk about the game's plot just yet, it's clear that Majestic will involve a story about some far-reaching government conspiracy to cover up a series of events that it doesn't want the public to know about. Beyond that, little else is known about the game's plot, other than the fact that Majestic is episodic, with new installments releasing every 30 days. According to Electronic Arts, Anim-X is currently three months ahead of schedule on production of these episodes, so when you play the first installment, up to three others will already be in the can.
Majestic progresses in absolute real time, meaning that if you're having a conversation with a character over AIM, and that characters tells you he'll get back to you tomorrow, he'll literally get back to you tomorrow. The game's technology is truly amazing. Young said that Anim-X has licensed the latest in natural-conversation-recognition technology to make real-time chats over AIM seem truly realistic. According to Young, you'll be able to sit down and have a conversation with a fictitious character and not be able to tell that you're chatting with a computer. Additionally, Anim-X has made this technology open-ended, so a system administrator could in all likelihood sit at a terminal and assume the role of the character that you're conversing with.
The heart of the game is called the Majestic Alliance, a resident program that runs in the background of your computer. It's a typical Windows interface that's just slightly larger than a typical ICQ dialogue box, and it has features like a Java applet for various animations. Through the Majestic Alliance, you'll receive certain files, like streaming video and audio, which depict the game's characters acting out their roles. The Majestic Alliance will also notify you when there are any updates to the Majestic Web site, the second half of the game's core. Set up by EA.com, this Web site will contain Majestic-related events, links, and a search engine, as well as an online log of your current game's progress. Additionally, this Web site will mix real news stories with ones concocted by the Majestic team to make it difficult for you to discern between fact and fiction. Anim-X hopes that by doing so you'll start to question everything you see, read, or hear.
In essence, Majestic is being set up to be a giant wild-goose chase over the Internet. You'll be fed clues through the various on- and offline technologies mentioned earlier, and you'll use them to progress through the game. Some puzzles can't be solved by using the Majestic Alliance or the Web site, however. Sometimes, for example, you will have to physically call a phone number received through an arcane fax or e-mail to listen to someone's voice-mail messages. Those messages will contain more clues, which you can use to move forward. Interestingly, some characters will actually call you and warn you to stop snooping around restricted Web sites or private voice-mail systems. This raises some concerns about privacy (what if your roommate answers the phone and receives a threatening message meant for you?), but Young assured us that Majestic will have various levels of interactivity, so users can choose how involved they wish to be before starting the game. Of course, Young says that to experience Majestic's full effect, you'll want to select the most interactive setting.
Majestic is nearing its final stages, and the first episode is scheduled to be available for download at EA.com in March. Anim-X will then release a new episode every month for the next eight months. If the game is a success, the company will launch a new "season" the following year, releasing episodes at monthly intervals. Electronic Arts hasn't announced a price plan for the Majestic subscription, although it should be comparable to the rates of other subscription-based games. As TV shows and movies like X-Files have proven, the public's fascination with this sort of government conspiracy is quite popular, and it certainly seems that Electronic Arts and Anim-X have the potential to reinvent not only the genre but the way games are played altogether. We'll soon be traveling to the Electronic Arts offices to bring you hands-on impressions of this ambitious game, so stay tuned.