Lost in Time: D/Generation
Of all the video games I know about, this one is perhaps the most unjustly obscure. This PC title from 1991 is a wonderful gem that suffered from poor marketing all around. To date, I only know 2 people besides myself that have even heard of D/Generation, and that’s shame. Featuring clever puzzles, bizarre enemy design, and some hilariously weird dialogue, it’s a mystery why more people haven’t played it.
Release: January 1991
Developer: Robert Cook
D/Generation puts you in the shoes of a courier. You were hired to deliver a mysterious package to a Dr. Derrida at the Genoq corporation. When you arrive, you find that the building’s security system is going haywire and all the workers inside are being held hostage by some weird creatures called “Generations.” These monsters are essentially bouncing geometric shapes that were designed for various battlefield situations. You encounter several computer terminals throughout the game that provide some very funny descriptions of their various functions. It quickly becomes your job to get the workers to safety, defeat the various Generations, and unravel the mystery surrounding the package and Dr. Derrida.
At first glance, D/Generation seems like a typical action adventure, but in actuality it’s a very clever puzzle game. Each room provides a series of switches, doors, and enemies to overcome in order to proceed. What may seem simple at first becomes a real challenge once you realize that everything kills you in one hit. In addition to the various security systems, there are four types of Generation on the loose: A/Generation, which is a bouncing red ball, B/Generation, which is a bouncing blue cylinder, C/Generation, which is a shape shifter that likes to decapitate you, and D/Generation, the final boss, all of which can kill you with the greatest of ease. Fortunately the game compensates by giving you plenty of chances for extra lives. You start with 5, and every person you rescue gives you another. Regardless, it’s worth your time to be very careful, as things can get quite tricky.
The puzzle solving elements come in as soon as you get your first weapon. Very early on you find a laser that can kill almost anything you come in contact with, but its functions are far more useful than simple offense. The laser shots can be used to toggle switches, ricochet off walls, and even travel through teleporters a la Portal. It’s in these puzzles that D/Generation shows its true brilliance. I often found myself stopping to make a plan every time I entered a room. The goal was usually very clear, but figuring out exactly how to accomplish it without killing a hostage or yourself in the process was the real challenge. The sound design is very minimalist, to say the least. With the exception of the rather cool opening, there is no music in the entire game. This could have easily resulted in a very boring atmosphere, but the silence creates an environment that keeps things both comical and creepy. With the challenge level being what it is, hearing the sound effect attached to saving a hostage provides the player with both a sigh of relief, and an incredible sense of accomplishment.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, D/Generation’s largest failing was its marketing. For some reason, Mindscape decided to promote it as some sort of scary survival horror experience, which it wasn’t. Just look at the game’s cover. “Virtual reality meets action adventure.” What is that even supposed to mean? Having never completed the game myself, I suppose I can’t rule out the possibility of a Super Mario Bros. 2 scenario, where the ending shows the whole thing was just some sort of strange VR experiment gone haywire, but even if that is the case, I fail to see how that would be a selling point. Couple that awful box art, with an almost complete lack of standard advertising, and you have all the makings of a complete retail bomb.
D/Generation is an awesome and unique game. It’s possible to “acquire” it via the internet, and if you have the means to do so, I highly recommend it. It’s worth mentioning that if you do manage to track this game down, you might want to use some sort of controller. Due to its isometric 3D view, controlling your character involves a lot of diagonal movement which is mapped to the number keys. A traditional D-pad makes life much easier. Besides emulation, this game has never been ported to any sort of platform since its original release for PC, Amiga, and Atari ST. Mindscape still exists, and its safe to assume that they hold the rights to the property, but it seems highly unlikely that the game will ever resurface.
If you dabble in the nefarious world of emulation, D/Generation is worth a try. It’s smart, tricky, and loaded with an offbeat sense of character that computer games of the early 90’s were known for. If you play just one game this year about a courier fighting bouncing bits of geometry, make it D/Generation.