Originally published in 1997, Gadget ~Past as Future~ has stamped an inimitable hallmark in the history of interactive CD-Rom as one of the most profoundly influential works of digital art whose inscrutability has mystified video game critics, still unable to attain a fitting label with which to categorize it. Consisting of a renovated version of the original 1993 release, entitled Invention, Travel & Adventure, this rare masterpiece by Haruhiko Shono bears witness to a pioneering cycle of history when advancements in technology have succeeded in inviting established artists from various fields into dabbling with the stirring new prospect of interactivity; but also a phase of particular meaning to video game studies and criticism, then treading their very first steps into a wider understanding of that once trendy term. Though often paired with adventure game experiences, given the few remote similarities, it can never be said that Gadget is truly a video game, more than it is a prodigious journey into digital film, contemporary music and photography.
With today’s release, under the quaint title of iGadget, Shono expects to pass on this same dispute to a newer audience, undoubtedly more attracted to such portable formats. Keeping in mind the distinction between devices, this formerly low-res design with black & white QuickTime film clips finds itself in accordance to HD quality standards, with some of the CGI footage having been rendered once again for a higher quality display. Albeit the minimal changes, this version is bound to offer the same vintage computer graphic appeal it retained throughout the decades, as well as its engrossing and perplexing narrative set in an alternative universe whose true parallels with ours are perhaps too alarming to consider - let alone enunciate.
Having earned a solid reputation in its genre, the Mugen Kairou series (known as Echochrome in the west) has yet to be recognized for its greater value in the context of videogame history. Firstly, the deeper understanding of this game series is in close connection with an extended tradition of Sony Computer Entertainment / Japan Studio creations that unite a series of highly conceptual geometric puzzles, very stark and subtle in their visual composition, though accompanied by refined and erudite musical composition.
Given the absence of a concise thematic, these games are also defined by the use of anonymous avatars, of human or anthropomorphic nature, and are intimately related to distinct conundrums of our reality: space, time, visual perception, ratiocination and mutuality. On the back of such peculiarities, a spiritual link between this recent series and the uncelebrated creations by Masahiko Sato can hardly be overlooked. Sato, an experimental artist, author and professor at the Tokyo University of Arts, has associated himself with SCEJ at the very birth of the PlayStation console for the creation of a series of works based on similar precepts, as is the case of the groundbreaking game Intelligent Qube and its sequels; as well as a recent gem named Influence, developed by members of his studio. In truth, the tie between these apparently unrelated series intensifies when taking into consideration not only the origins of Jun Fujiki’s award-wining OLE coordinate system and its subsequent transposition into a ludic context; but also the manner in which Masahiko Sato’s pioneer work in uniting conceptual art and interaction has greatly influenced Yoshio Ishii’s minimalist masterwork Cursor*10 – in effect, the blueprint for Jigen Kairou (Echoshift).
As in Intelligent Qube before it, the designers of Mugen Kairou soon understood that the purely mathematical and geometric kernel of Fujiki’s unadorned structure – highly reminiscent of Oscar Reutersvärd’s optical illusions – was best accompanied by music that, in its turn, followed strict patterns of composition. Identical to the games, and despite of their aesthetic rigidness, both Hattori’s and Sakamoto’s musical accompaniment for I.Q. and Mugen Kairou - respectively - were by no means destitute of sentiment, nor of a vastly ambiguous gist. Toning with a similar conformation, Yutaka Minobe’s music for Jigen Kairou introduces an all-new facet in direct result of a singular system as initially envisioned by Ishii’s in his humble browser game. Whereas the music in the aforementioned cases is comprised of concise themes meant to be played during the game experience in a more or less random order, Minobe’s music bears an increased affinity for its specific contexts.
Due to the intricacies of Ishii’s original game concept, the completion of levels in Jigen Kairou depends on the successful outcome of different actions taken place therein in separate occasions that, when synchronized in perfect harmony, allow one of various figurines to reach the desired exit. This, however, implicates that the player must understand how each of the figurines – representing overlapping time-limited attempts to resolve the puzzles – must cooperate with one another in time and act according to the last one’s behavior. In spite of its rewards for an optimum amount of attempts to resolve the enigmas posed with each new stage, the game allows up to nine different tries. Each of these nine potential tries have been taken into consideration while creating the score, thus resulting in nine different overlapping melodic phrases that can be heard on each series of levels. In other words, Minobe’s music was composed to match the game’s mechanics to perfection.
As can be heard in this ninefold melody, pertaining to the first stages of the game, Minobe has kept the simplicity and rawness of instrumental music as was first employed by Sakamoto’s string quartet music for Echochrome; nevertheless, his themes are not only limited to the time window established for each level according to its difficulty, as they present a substantial change in tone mostly because of the replacement of string instruments for woodwind ones – namely different members of the saxophone family from Baritone to Soprano. As the different strata of delicate music come together, an added sense of anxiety is also noticeable in the final phrases, indicating the urgency to complete the level before the player runs out of tries. With such a remarkable format, the composer has sought to underline how the harmony between instruments is essential in the creation of music: much as the solution to the game’s very own enigmas lies in a similar arrangement of harmonious actions.
Interestingly enough, the sense of continuity in the series is as much indicated by deliberate similitudes in system and visual solutions as it is discernible, to the heeding ear, in the unique bond between the different scores. As mentioned, the original Mugen Kairou soundtrack astounded listeners around the world with its use of string instruments; Minobe, on the other hand, recaptured that quintessence with the more contemporary sonority of saxophones, conserving the original voice solo from the first game yet adding blissful piano chord arpeggios. Lastly, Sakamoto’s return to the role of chief composer in the recent third rendition of the series, Mugen Kairou Hitari to Kage no Hako (or Echochrome 2) has recovered the original string appeal in his bold one track-composition where the presence of the piano is once again recurrent even in the form of sporadic solos. Accordingly, the presence of Minobe in the context of this particular series not only confirms him as one of the most gifted artists presently cooperating in the making of videogames, as it also confirms the highest musical standards to which this series has always aspired.
Irem halts the production of Zettai Zetsumei Toshi 4
Given the recent tragedy that has taken Japan by surprise, irem has decided to stop the production of Zettai Zetsumei 4: Summer Memories which, I recall, was meant to be the fourth episode of a game series based on characters struggling against a series of natural disasters. As the team does present a very precise and humble vindication for the suspension of the game’s production, already nearing its final stages at this point, we are no doubt witnessing some of the first indirect consequences of the dreadful calamity; and how even the sphere of video game creation isn’t exempt from being indirectly affected by it.
Accordingly, the release of such a title in the near future would fail to honor the memory of the numerous victims; not to mention the profound repercussions it could potentially cause, given the general public’s particularly fragile state of mind during the following recovery from what has been the largest calamity in recent memory. Bearing in mind the rare display of integrity and earnestness that characterizes and sets apart this recent communication, it is therefore likely that the cancellation of this single project will certainly signal the very end of this remarkable cult series.