My good friend Mark Barrett sent me a link to an article about Pathologic, a game from 2004 that I had never heard of before. Mark seemed excited about the game, and, after I read more about it, so am I.
The article is Butchering Pathologic, by Quintin Smith, over on the excellent Rock Paper Shotgun. It starts with:
I’m going to explain, right now, why a Russian FPS/RPG called Pathologic is the single best and most important game that you’ve never played.
Intrigued yet? Go read the article. It’s in three parts, so it may take a while.
So why am I getting so excited about a Russian game from 2004? Because somewhere, in an obscure little notebook, I keep a list of Things I Want To Do In Videogames. And Pathologic happens to contain an astounding number of those things.
Things such as ‘unfun': tragedy, horror, despair, negative consequences, ruin. We’re not using the full spectrum of emotions in games, and there’s no good reason for it.
Or playing with the medium. I looooove playing with the medium. A lot of my designs use it.
Or a living world that changes significantly during the game and reacts to the player’s actions. John Walker, in his review of Pathologic over at Eurogamer, correctly points out how shallow most so-called “living cities” in games are. Pedestrians walk around, but nothing ever changes. Pathologic apparently goes a lot further. And why not? I think people don’t do this for wrong reasons.
Or what I call ‘plastic reality’. In Pathologic, even the buildings become sick.
Or plain old weirdness, of course. I am a David Lynch fan after all. Things don’t have to make sense. Or at least, not in an ordinary way.
And finally, Ice-Pick Lodge, the developers of Pathologic, seem to take storytelling very seriously. And that is also something to be applauded.
Ironically, all of this happens in a game that is apparently very hard to play – in other words, the kind of game I would normally delete within 5 minutes, and then spend 30 minutes ranting about. Will I ever play it? Who knows. I’ve seen it online for 10-15 Euros, well within impulse-buy range.
I think what is most inspiring about reading about Pathologic is the fact that a group of people managed to cram this many non-mainstream elements into one game. That someone managed to make a game, to quote Quintin Smith:
[…] as daring and unique as one of those 15 minute indie games that everyone raves about (and rightly so!), only blown up into a 40 hour epic.
That warms the cockles of my heart. And it makes me wonder, once again, if I am not making games like this because of the constraints of “The System”, or because I don’t have the courage to do it. I console myself by the thought that I don’t know enough crazy people to make something like this with. Well, crazy and available people.
Contemplating why wildly ambitious games like these often seem to come from non-core games industry countries is worth a blog post of it’s own.
I realize, of course, that the game I am imagining based on the articles I have read is likely quite different from the real thing. But the excitement is real.
Update: Corrected the developer’s name.