Bad Day on the Midway
First posted on 06 June 2010. Last updated on 06 June 2010.
Bad Day on The Midway (also known as The Residents: Bad Day on the Midway) takes you to a decrepit and creepy carnival fair, where a twisted tale of death and mystery unfolds through the eyes of the midway's freakish denizens in their rundown attractions. Created by The Residents, a group of avant-garde musical and performance artists whose members have maintained their anonymity on stage by wearing trademark eyeball masks, the game offers a visionary, enigmatic, and sometimes distributing experience that is emblematic of the music produced by the group.
You begin the game as Timmy, a young boy drawn to the attractions of the local fun fair. There is no quest or puzzle in this game, strictly speaking; instead, the game is based on exploring the inner sanctum of an amusement park, making acquaintance of the strange characters living or working there, and discovering their tormented life stories and secrets. The game does not play like a traditional point-and-click adventure. In fact, as Timmy converses with the denizens of the park and listens to their heartbreaking tales, you can choose to "possess" any character with whom Timmy is currently interacting. If you decide to do so, you will leave Timmy and take control of the new character. The switch can be done every time you meet another character (human or otherwise, even a rat) in the game. This allows you to explore the twisted world of the midway through the eyes of different characters, revealing events in the game from the perspectives of these outlaws and outcasts. There is not a linear story, and there are many different endings, depending on what characters you choose to play and what you have discovered. As such, the game is intended to be more of an interactive story in which you have total freedom to explore the different traits of the game's characters and eventually discover the many dark secrets behind their personas. Still, there is a time limit imposed on your free exploration. If you do not complete some important tasks by a given time, everyone in the park will start dying, including you.
Due to the many open-ended, complicated, and twisted subplots, it is difficult to understand completely the overall story. Indeed, for a good part of the game, you are left clueless wandering in the park. However, this is a distinctive charm rather than a fault of the game, even though some gamers can be left disoriented by it.
The graphics for the game are good, albeit of low resolution. The game is developed using Macromedia Director. There are plenty of pre-rendered animated cut scenes, but because of the poor screen resolution, their playback is often marred by significant pixelation. The game supports 256 colors and a resolution of 640x480 that is par for its time.
All the arts in the game are drawn in a grotesque and exaggerated style. Each character or attraction has a peculiar look that matches perfectly to the bizarre carnival atmosphere, with vivid colors to create an immediate visual impact. A special kudos must be given to the many artists, including famed animator Jim Ludtke (who has previously collaborated with The Residents on The Residents: Freak Show) and comic illustrator David McKean, who have collaborated to create the many graphic illustrations that are used to tell the personal story of each character. Each illustration serves up its own distinct artistic style representing the style of the artist behind it.
The sound effects for the game are fairly basic. There is a perpetual rotation of carnival styled melody playing in the background. The voice acting, however few, is deliberately overplayed, making some characters even more unnerving to hear. At times it is quite hard to understand what the characters are saying, and the lack of subtitling just adds to this annoyance. The music by The Residents, on the other hand, adds much depth and pathos to the game. Sometimes weird and frenetic, sometimes nostalgic and sad, the music depicts, better than the graphics, all the madness, confusion, and disquiet in the game.
A distinctive trait of the game is its capacity to make you feel disoriented. This feeling is enhanced by the game's minimalistic and discrete interface. Only a crystal ball above the game window tells you which character you are now controlling. Beneath the game window are your thoughts and conversations that are displayed as a stream of consciousness. You use the mouse to interact with other characters and objects in the game. You also use the mouse to "jump" to another character or trigger an event. You move only between fixed nodes, though you pan around in full 360° view at each node. There is not much in the environment with which you can interact. There are no standalone puzzles to solve or inventory objects to collect. In a sense, the whole game is a giant puzzle in itself, and you can only solve it by finding out what is happening in the park.
To discover the secrets of the midway, you need to explore the different carnival attractions (such as Kill-A-Commie Shooting Gallery, The Sperm Whale Gives Birth to an Electric Eel, and Lottie the Human Log) and talk to certain characters there. This task is not always easy, however, because many of the encounters are randomized each time the game is restarted. For instance, if you are killed the first time you play the game (and chances are that this will happen to you), you can be fairly sure that the order of characters you meet next time will be different when you restart the game. In effect, to get a good sense of the whole story, it is necessary to replay the game several times so that the different elements of the story can be pieced together.
The game has won a number of industry awards, including the People's Choice Awards at the 1995 Macromedia International User Conference, for its innovative use of multimedia. It is also among the few video games that have ever received major attention from the mainstream press, including the Hollywood Reporter and Entertainment Weekly, probably because of The Residents' celebrity status. A separate soundtrack album, Have a Bad Day, has also been released by The Residents later in 1996. The game is released on a hybrid CD-ROM for both Windows and Macintosh.
In conclusion, Bad Day on the Midway is a game that you either love or hate. Frustrating, weird, and disorienting, it is lesser of an adventure game than an interactive story. Playing the game is like reliving a surreal and strange dream from the night before; when the morning comes, you cannot remember exactly what it is about, but you are surely glad that you have dreamt about it.