Blue Bottle Games’ NEO Scavenger is predominantly the work of Daniel Fedor, an ex-Bioware technical artist and occasional designer/producer. BBG’s mission statement, “video games for players who enjoyed pen and paper role-playing games and want to have those experiences on the computer”, is a decent conceptual starting point for what it has to offer. NEO Scavenger features some fairly deep and complex systems, and the first few times I tried to play it I bounced right off, alienated by its rough UI and lack of hand-holding.
More recently my perseverance paid off. And I discovered that like many pen and paper role-playing games, NEO Scavenger is a great vehicle for generating memorable stories.
The rough theme and concept is this: you wake up in a cryogenic facility and very quickly discover that the world outside is in a bad way. Basic necessities – shelter, food, water – are hard to come by, and it’s not impossible that your first game will end with your character dying of hypothermia dressed only in a flimsy hospital gown. But if you utilise the skills available to you, and manage to scavenge enough gear and resources to attend to your immediate needs, you’ll find yourself with the freedom and flexibility to find whole new ways to die.
It’s a brutal game. My first recent attempt was probably my most successful. I found a child’s backpack, a meat cleaver, a sleeping bag and lots of warm clothing, which combined with my foraging skills (which enabled me to locate non-poisonous berries and mushrooms in the wilds) left me a sense that I was flourishing. Thus emboldened I walked eastwards, towards the horizon-brightening glow that marks Detroit, and found a shopping trolley. This qualifies as a vehicle, and meant I could carry even more stuff. Fantastic! Minutes later I was bum-rushed by a pair of dogmen, fast and dangerous enemies attracted by the noise of my rattling metal contraption. My attempts to ditch the trolley and flee, then hide, failed. Without much effort one of the dogmen left me bleeding out.
On my next attempt I picked a different set of skills and set out to the north. I was attacked by a few wild dogs in succession, but it turns out that them’s good eatin’. I also found a set of binoculars and discovered the joys of extra tile visibility. Unfortunately, as I’d not taken the ‘Tough’ skill I was less resistant to the kinds of things that flourish in non-sterilised water. It wasn’t a pretty death, and that’s in the context of “recently eviscerated by dogmen”.
I’ve taken a little break from NEO Scavenger but I’ll be going back to it. I’m sure there are many more stories to experience, and perhaps one day I’ll even make it to what’s left of Detroit. Where, no doubt, there will be even more exciting ways to die. Other fans of emergent storytelling should try this game too, if only to experience a confused sense of joy upon finding an old plastic bag.