Friday, 24 June 2011

Digitising Alice

A history and round up of Alice's Adventures in Videogameland…
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is perhaps one of the most enduring children’s stories in the western world, and many, if not most, of us have probably grown up with it on one form or another. Alice has spanned many film versions over the years, starting with the 1951 animated Disney version and including at least one ‘adult’ version. The book has practically always been in print, in one form or another, since first published in 1865. And I’m sure you are all at least relatively familiar with the various book and film adaptations, but how much do you know about Alice’s long and often rather obscure digital history?

For many people the gaming history of Alice started, and for a while stopped, with the original American McGee Alice game released in 2000. If you were one of those who assumed this you would of course be wrong. And I’m not referring to the newly published ‘Alice: Madness Returns’ 2011 sequel ether, although that, along with the Tim Burton film adaptation, has brought the series back in to the media spotlight.

The real history predates the American McGee’s game by quite a few years. As far as I know the first commercial game to appear based on the Alice in Wonderland concept was in 1984 for the Commodore 64 home-computer, although I’m by no means certain that this was the very first instance of an Alice inspired game.  There have been quite a few other games based on the concept over a range of 8 and 16 Bit home-computers of the eighties and nineties, and although it is perhaps an iconic western story, Alice based gaming was also taken very-much to heart in the land of the rising sun, an it is from Japan that much of these early and forgotten games originated.

However, Alice’s adventures aren’t just limited to her own games, there have always been many other games where ether she, or Wonderland in general, makes an appearance. The following is a short (and by no means exhaustive) list of the more instantly recognisable titles: Kingdom Hearts, Psychonauts, Rule of Rose, Silent Hill, Thief, Bloody Roar, and not forgetting the LaserDisk game Dragon's Lair II.
But Alice-based gamming is most definitely not a thing of the past. As of 2011 we had a brand-new American McGee game released. And another parade of game incarnations came, part-and-parcel, with the release of the 2010 Tim Burton film adaptation.

Alice Based Games of Note…
The following is not an exhaustive list, just my own personal view and take on some of the more interesting curiosities. So just let me know if you feel something should be added:

Alice in 16Bits or less:
All these games would require the relevant emulation software unless I’ve specifically stated otherwise.
1984 Alice in Videoland, a top-down graphic-adventure/puzzle type game for the Commodore 64
1985 Alice in Wonderland Adventure, a graphical side on platformer type arcade adventure for the Apple II and Commodore 64
1989 Marchen Maze, Arcade Game conversion for TurboGrafx-16 and SharpX68000
1990 Wonderland, is a Magnetic Scrolls text adventure, with still illustrations, for MS-DOS, Acorn Archimedes, Amiga, and Atari ST. Magnetic Scrolls games can all be run directly through the MAGNETIC interpreter or similar programs on various platforms including the PC, MAC, and various handheld devices
1991 Alice In Wonderland Adventure, for Philips CD-I (with clay animation graphics)
         This is a, very much, reworked revision of the earlier C64 and Apple II title of the same name

Alice in the Arcades:
In 1998 Namco’s Marchen Maze arcade game took the Alice in Wonderland concept into the arcades with a fast-paced action game.
This isometric viewpoint outing had the player guiding Alice through a series of Wonderland inspired colourful and surrealistic mazes, collecting items and battling enemies as they went.
The original arcade game is emulated through the MAME project, so this one at least should be preserved for posterity.
Although two home-micro computer conversions were made (see above) only the X68000 conversion was arcade-perfect. This version was only ever released in the Japanese territories.

Land of the rising Alice:
Quite a lot of Alice games based on the Japanese romance-adventure style have appeared over the years. Although big in Japan, this isn’t a genre that has ever really translated to the western market. There have also been a few out-and-out Hentai-based Alice outings, but we won’t be going into that.

Japan has a rather well known range of ‘Otome’ games based around Alice in Wonderland. These are: Heart no Kuni no Alice, Clover no Kuni no Alice, and Joker no Kuni no Alice.  The game titles are all plays on the Japanese translation of the ‘Alice’s adventures in Wonderland’ title, literally translated as: Fushigi no Kuni no Arisu. Although this is by no-means the end of the Japanese infatuation with the Alice concept.

Perhaps the best known one of these games, in the west at least, is Alice in the Country of Hearts (Hāto no Kuni no Arisu) it was released around 2007 and converted for the PlayStation 2 and the PlayStation Portable. It is described as a female-oriented romance-based Japanese-adventure style game, and is also known as Wonderful Wonder World.
As you may know, Japanese adventure games generally play more like computerised versions of the old multiple-choice role-play books, with the played choosing a path from given options. This game is more-or-less a multiple-choice date-simulator, and even describes itself as a visual-novel.

There are many more Alice enspired Japanise games covering a wide range of platforms, right up to present day. But this subject could easily fill several blogs on its own, so suffice to say that Alice as a concept has a fairly well established and flourishing fan-base in Japan.

Born in 1865, but still a thoroughly modern girl:
Of course, what constitutes a modern game is always measured on a sliding scale.
For the purposes of this blog, I’ve defined ‘modern’ as anything running on a 32Bit processor and up and using a genre or game-style comparable to today’s contemporary style of gaming.
Released By:  Nintendo
Released On: 2000
Released For: Game Boy Colour
Released By: Electronic Arts
Released On: October 2000
Released For: PC and MAC
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland: (the Tim Burton film adaptation)
Released By: Disney Interactive Studios
Released On: March 2010
Released For: PC, Wii, and Zeebo
Disney’s Alice in Wonderland DS:   (a different version, also from the Tim Burton film)
Released By: Disney Interactive Studios
Released On: March 2010
Released For: DS
Released By: Electronic Arts
Released On: June 2011
Released For: PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360

Curiouser and Curiouser:
The 1990 release of Alice: An Interactive Museum is perhaps more of a curio for the die-hard fan. This MS Windows offering isn’t exactly a standard adventure game. Describing itself as a ‘visual novel’ it is basically a western oriented point-and-click version of the Japanese-type adventure. This is an exploration game, mostly set within an old mansion. As I mentioned earlier, programs of this type are fairly rare.

On a more educational front a PC based piece of educational software also released in the nineties and also called Alice in Wonderland, was realised for the younger end of the market.

I’d really like to cap this blog off with some profound epiphany of why the Alice In Wonderland concept has endured through the computer games market from its early beginnings, but I don’t have any. All I can think of is that it is one of those rare, relatively, modern stories that has embedded itself in our psyche. So; although other games have been based, to a greater or lesser extent, on fairy-tales and other fiction; I think this is a fairly unique one-of instance where so much differing attentions have been paid to a single story concept. Perhaps The Lord Of The Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien could be an another such contender, but that doesn’t seem to have the same appeal to the Japanese. Why is this and why is Alice different? Well to be honest I don’t really know. But it’s interesting none the less, and the latest games featuring Alice look set to continue the trend…

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