First posted on 28 October 1997. Last updated on 07 August 2009.
H R Giger is well known for his surrealistic and macabre art that combines the essence of flesh and machine. His masterpiece, Necronomicon, has inspired the creatures featured in the Alien movies. Now, the brilliance of Giger has been translated onto the computer screen by Cyberdreams in Dark Seed. Based on a parallel universe called the Dark World, Giger's art gives a distinctive biomechanical look to an alien race with an agenda to destroy the Normal World.
You play as Mike Dawson, an inspired science fiction writer. Ever since Mike settled in his newly purchased old Victorian style house, he suffers from daily headaches and nightly nightmares. Little does he know, however, that his symptoms are harbingers of something more sinister.
The Dark World is a parallel world inhabited by an alien race called the Ancients who are trying to take over the Normal World. It seems that the Ancients are the ones who have caused the troubles in Mike's life. When Mike discovers a portal to the Dark World through a mirror in his house, he also realizes that the source of his headache is from a growing alien embryo that has been implanted by the Ancients into his head. You must guide Mike to foil the Ancients' evil scheme by disabling the power nexus and then escape back to the Normal World in a spaceship with his head still intact!
The Dark Seed series is based on a fictional universe known as the Dark World that is inspired by the macabre art of the Swiss surrealist Giger. Giger's popular art book, Necronomicon, has lead to the design of the alien creatures in Ridley Scott's Alien movies (Alien and Alien 3). Giger has also contributed in the movie Poltergeist II. He has revolutionized the look of science fiction with his unique biochemical style that depicts the synthesis of technology and biology as they may evolve with the influence of man.
The original concept for Dark Seed stems from a collaborative effort headed by junior producer Mike Dawson. Only after lengthy negotiations has Giger agreed to lend his artwork to the game, provided that Cyberdreams uses only high-resolution graphic mode in the rendering in order to avoid the "square and jagged" look of low-resolution images. The game engine has been in development since September 1990. The Normal World is created by combining imagery pieced together from various architectural sources with original art, whereas the Dark World is constructed entirely from Giger's artwork. One of the significant steps in the art design process involves the development of customized palettes used in the Dark World locations. Because of the precedence of biomechanical beings in much of Giger's work, the Dark World's coloring is designed to reflect the ominous mood of Giger's nightmarish imagery.
During the development of this game, Cyberdreams has complete access to Giger's artwork library. Some of the works selected and included in Dark Seed include Work No. 453 "N.Y. city III" (straight), Work No. 350 "Hommage a Bocklin" (1977), and Work No. 251 "Li II" (1974). The images are digitized and are then cleaned up with Electronic Arts Deluxe Paint IIe and Newtek's Digiview 5.0. By using the perspective tool, an image could be manipulated to create doors, walls, floors and characters in the Dark World. Highlights, shadows, and translucent overlays are added to further enhance each picture. A video camera is used to capture human movements of live actors performing specific actions to be animated. An extra 6 months of development time is taken at the end solely for debugging purpose. Incidentally, Dawson's name is used as the name for Dark Seed's main character. Dawson also plays himself in the live action sequences. Voiceovers and sound effects add to the eerie atmosphere of the game, along with an original soundtrack. The game is released in both Floppy Disk and CD-ROM versions.
Over 75 locations are available to explore in Dark Seed. The game interface is clean and uses a simple point and click system. Clicking the right mouse button cycles the cursor through three possible actions—look/inquire, touch/manipulate, and move. Up to 75 games can be saved. The puzzles are mostly inventory based. There is a lot of traveling between the two worlds, since the puzzles in each world often require objects or clues found on the other.
While Giger's artwork is captured beautifully on screen as still images, the animations are choppy and slow to play. Walking Mike from one edge of the screen to the other takes an eternity. This is annoying since the game involves heavy backtracking between the two worlds to solve many of the puzzles. Although the puzzles themselves are mostly straightforward, they are time sensitive. This is because the game takes place over 3 days with day night cycles. After completing the puzzles designated for that day, Mike must return home before nightfall. If Mike falls asleep outside the house, all of Mike's possessions will be stolen. Even if some of these stolen objects may be recovered at the Police Station, others must be backtracked. It is also possible not to be able to finish the game if these objects are not recovered in time. If Mike falls asleep in the Dark World, he will die. Moreover, pixel hunting is a major hassle in this game and adds no real value to the gameplay except for creating more player frustration. Given there is a limited number of save slots, one must exit the game and delete some old save files first before more can be saved.
The notion of a parallel universe, though commonly glorified in other science fiction medium, does not commonly appear in a computer adventure game. Cyberdreams has successfully used this concept of an alternative reality to create some clever puzzles in Dark Seed. Giger's macabre artwork is a treat to see. Its unique biochemical metallic tone provides the eerie mystique of the Dark World. The monotonic look of Giger's art, however, does not consistently translate well on screen. Still, Dark Seed is a respectful adventure game, marred only by minor flaws in animation and puzzle design.