Feb 1, 2007

Alter Ego: The Retro Life Sim

An obviously perceptive someone once said that "most game designers are sorely lacking inspiration, simply because most video game people have read one book and seen one movie in their life, which is Lord of the Rings and Aliens or variations of that". Quite true that, but what game would an expert in clinical and forensic psychology come up with?

Well, according to the brilliant Retro Gamer magazine (do yourselves a favour and check it out here), he'd come up with Alter Ego, provided of course he were none other than Dr Peter Favaro, an actual Dr. in psychology. Also, a man with a deep understanding of the gaming medium and a pretty twisted sense of humor.

Alter Ego, the game the good doctor designed, was published by brave Activision back in 1986 (PC, C64, Apple II), and was the first -and to this day only- truly complex and scientific life simulation game that wasn't afraid to stress the player or get really personal. Violence, sex, death, pure bad luck, humor and rock bands were of course included, and sarcastically narrated to the player through well written prose, successfully creating a sense of realism, that managed to feel as varied in mood as life itself.

The game though, definitely an inspiration to the Sims and Kudos (reviewed here), was above all a way to experiment with life choices using only a computer and a simple graphical interface. Interestingly, two different versions of Alter Ego were released: Male and Female. Both of them managed to be as psychoanalytical as a game will probably ever be. Sadly, none of them managed to give any good money-making advice. Pity.
Now, before you go and watch the Meaning of Life (a wisest of choices, if I may say so) you could choose to actually play a rather faithful remake of Alter Ego by following this harmless link. Or maybe have a look at the game's MobyGames entry. Better yet download the original DOS version (Male & Female versions included) while reading the Making of... Alter Ego in Retro Gamer issue 33.

[Update] Read an interview with Peter Favaro!

Related @ Gnome's Lair: the (early) history of the FPS, 80s CD gaming, hundreds of freely emulated NES classics

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  1. .Im detecting a running theme of innovation and experimentation in retro games, sadly lacking in current offerings....

    or is it something I ate?

  2. Nope, definitely not the food... Wait till my Timothy Leery game post...

    Can't say more. They're listening.


  3. (puts fingers to lips....) shhhh!

    (tip toes off to kitchen to boil kettle for cup of tea......)

    Timothey oh leery this'll be brilliant.....

    (sits down awaiting....post)

  4. Sitting down was a wise choice Mr. Elderly. The post -unlike the tea- might take a while more... Care for space-cookies?

  5. As in Acid Guru Timothy Leary?

    That makes me SMI2LE....

  6. The very same, my dear hippy FK, the very same...

  7. ...space cookies... yes indeedy.... (pours tea from a very big tea pot....)

    wow this is going to be brilliant....

    (resumes waiting position......)

  8. Woooooooow... Did you see that? Woh... Pffft... He...


  9. ? what happened? who turned the lights out... Gnome? the space cookies are vibrating... should they be vibrating? Gnome?

  10. Gnome's vibrating? Interestiiiing...

  11. Wouldn't you know, Vince Desi of Postal fame worked on it.
    He told us how they had to scrap the female version of the game, because some sexual parts just didn't translate well...

  12. From Alter Ego to Postal, huh? Then again, art and humor know no limits...

    Oh, and I'm pretty sure Alter Ego female did get released, even though it didn't sell well.


    And of course, cheers chentzilla!

  13. Well, maybe not scrapped, but significantly changed...

  14. That, my friend, I wouldn't know, so guess you're right :)

  15. I guess I can remark on my own game and its releases. The female game DID come out. Did NOT sell as well as the male version but WAS...

    1. The first game to come out in a female version.

    2. The first game to have a parental warning.

    Vince Desi was my very hard working agent at the time. He did not contribute to game design or content however.

    Assistance in that department goes to James Charne, a tireless project manager who I believe is now the president of a game designers group.

    Tim Leery contacted me many times during the development of his EA game, because he was clueless on game design. His game was a retort to Activisions innovation in this area. Looking back, would I rather have developed a designer's relationship with EA? F*ck yes.

    I have an online game coming out this year, based on "computer DNA."

    I am currently working on a project in UK. Let me know who wants to meet me at Chesire Cheese for a pint and the suds are on me.


    Peter Favaro, Ph.D. ("Piled high and Deep")

  16. (quickly tidies up)

    Ah, Mr. Favaro,

    it really is an honor to have yu commenting and setting things straight. Thank you very much...

    Oh, and would you be interested in an interview perhaps?

    As for the beer, well if you ever drop by Greece just let me know...

    Cheers and thanks a ton!

  17. My pleasure to give an interview. Contact me at pfavaro@aol.com.

  18. Thank you very much. I'll contact you as soon as I prepare the questions. Really appreciate it. Cheers!