AlterEgo: The Browser-Based Life Simulation Game
While everyone's been off playing Titanfall and other heavily interactive MMOs, I've been stumbling around the web in search of obscure games that I feel more people should be aware of. Easily one of my favourite games, Alter Ego is a text-based life simulation with plenty of, well, life in it.
Text-based games have always attracted me in some special way; maybe it's because I am a writer myself. I can more easily form the story into something my own imagination can get hooked on, creating my own mental images in place of rendered wire frames covered in texture that I may or may not like.
This particular online version is a port of the original game that was released for Apple II, Commodore 64, MS-DOS and Mac OS and was originally created by Activision in 1986. Fair warning: the text and situations hilariously still refer to 1960s and 1970s experiences, so you may find yourself in high school deciding how to handle a friend who wants you to sell "ludes." There's also a bit of sexism present in the game; it's mild, but very reflective of attitudes from when the game was first released. It all adds to the hilarity of the game.
When you start the game, you'll be presented with a set of quiz questions. This is easily the least favorite part of the game for me. Simply put, it's kind of boring. But these quiz questions are what the game uses to put together your in-game personality, so don't skip them. We all have to do difficult things in life that we don't enjoy, after all.
The questions can be a little strange. You've been warned.
Once you make it past the very-boring questions, it's time to dig into the real fun - being born! The game allows you to choose whether you want to come out fighting, come out peacefully, or stay in a while longer. While this may seem like it has no impact on the way your simulated life plays out, it does impact certain variables. I won't reveal which, because part of the fun is learning the game and how it works.
Once you've officially decided to be born (or you have been pushed out whether you like it or not), you'll enter infancy. This is where the skills tree is presented. This tree is representative of all of the experiences you will have during each life stage. Click the graph bar to see where your stats stand, then and there. Click the hourglass to skip a life stage or to see your current age. Click an icon to have an experience. Later down the road, in successive life stages, you will have access to school, vocational, and relationship icons where you can have a child, get married, attend college, or start your own business. Your choices within each of these dictate how your life will play out, how healthy you will be, and how happy you will be.
Personally, I like to mix things up. Sometimes I intentionally make bad choices just to see what will happen. When I came across the childhood stage that had a stranger drive up and motion me towards his car, I got in the car. Then, I got kidnapped and had to start the game over. Lesson learned! Sometimes the results are a little unexpected, so be wary of trick questions lest the game peg you as boring and unwilling to take any risks in life.
You'll work your way through:
- Young Adulthood
- Middle Adulthood
- Old Age
Suddenly, when you reach the end of the tree for old age, you'll find an experience that has you lying down in bed for the night peacefully, everything feeling wonderful.
After a long, but very relaxing day, with a deep sigh you climb into bed and sink into the warm, cushiony fabric. As you drift off, feelings of intense serenity and well-being overwhelm you. Pleasant images of childhood visit with sweet memories of Mom and Dad, school, and growing up.
The memories flash by your mind's eye with startling reality -- the smell of school on your first day, the flowers your boyfriend brought you on your first date. You recall places you haven't visited for years in picture-perfect detail. Friends and neighbors who have gone on greet you.
They are filled with excitement to see you, though you soon realize they are not communicating their joy in words. It's almost as if...
this will go on forever...
You have died, and the game is over. The first time around I thought that the game would allow you to play every icon for every stage--this is not the case. There is an algorithm that decides when you've had enough experiences to advance.
All in all, this is an excellent game, even today. I've lost hours playing it. A few tips to follow when and if you play:
- Beware trick questions. Think about each response before you give it; for example, picking the "safe" option constantly will lead to emotional problems later because you become boring.
- Work early, and focus on school if you want to get into a good college and have the money to have interesting experiences.
- Drugs are bad, even in Alter Ego, but you will be presented with choices about them.
- Because the game does include adult themes like sex, drinking, and drugs, it's probably not appropriate for children.
- If you really feel you want to cheat, a rough walkthrough can be found here.
Since Alter Ego is free, you can get started right now by clicking on this link. Note that you can make a donation to the developer if you choose; I'll leave that up to you. Happy living!
EDIT: It seems as of March 2015, Alter Ego is no longer free. Which is really, really sad. You can still purchase it from the same link for a nominal fee. In my opinion, it's still worth the fee simply based on the sheer amount of work the creator put into it.
Sorry for the bad news, everyone.