CD-ROM: Versailles 1685
Good-for-you games may not be on everyone's favorite menu, but even after too many years of school, I feel guilty that I haven't learned enough. So a digital tour of Louis XIV's palace sounds about right--and if there's a mystery to solve in the bargain, well allons-y. This game/database experience (officially sanctioned by the French government!) presents 40 rooms and 30 characters, digitally reconstructed to their status circa 1685. Which means that paintings long since in the Louvre are back on the wall, and the King's old mistress is moving out. Nearly every place or person leads to extra document files and a timeline. (Serious technical note: The game features a special panoramic rendering effect, so that a scroll with the cursor in any direction yields smooth transitions. In other words, space seems seamless and there are no hokey jumps from still photo to still photo as in other games. On the other hand, you need a fairly fresh computer costing more than a ticket to France to make this work.)
As with other role-playing games, the curious stroller meets characters, has "dialogues" with them, and discovers objects that may be of use. So far I've got a pair of scissors, a threatening note, and a piece of paper, either clean or stained with ink. And given my skill with Myst and the like, I'm not likely to get past that guard at the King's bedchamber.
Thankfully, there's an option to just look around, and here's where the rendering of marble, wood parquet, mirrors, and tapestry is fairly seductive. Subtle sound effects give a sense of atmosphere, and this suggests a whole new field for computer games: architecture-as-text. Imagine Monticello, Ted Kaczynski's shack, or the Watergate Hotel in 1972. Imagine what Oliver Stone will do with novelized history in this format once his film career is kaput. This is just the beginning!
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