My first ever finished game, a final project during my art studies at VMA in 2008/2009.
An experiment in how far one can go by stripping the elements of a video game down to its bare essentials of mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics, while in the meantime, showcasing the importance and the purpose of audial elements in interactive entertainment.
Set in a bleak sterile world of white, where nothing exists except the disturbingly pure visuals, the game follows the avatar's journey through the bleak levels of the world, accompanied by a soundtrack, to migrate and merge to the unknown entity which called for him.
Susannah was showcased at the Þrír í Þriðja exhibition in Verksmiðjan, Hjalteyri (Iceland) in 2009.
Firstly, I should like to say that I played this on a Mac, but the launcher app that comes with the Mac download is an ancient 32 bit thing, meaning it will not run on modern Mac OS!!! Therefore, as of 8/4/2023, if you want to play on a modern Mac, you’re going to need to (counterintuitively) download the Susannah Windows version, then drag a copy of Aleph One into the Susannah Windows folder, and then launch that copy of Aleph One.
I suppose Susannah could be called a “Total Conversion” since basically nothing from the original Marathon game is kept. There’s a new menu screen with some rather cryptic options. For example, the begin “Begin New Game” option has been replaced with “Begin Life,” whilst the “Continue Saved Game” option has been replaced with “Restore Life.” And actually, I’m not sure how you could actually continue a saved game in this campaign, since there were no pattern buffers of any kind that I could see. Not that you really need them; it took me exactly twenty minutes to complete the entire campaign.
Anyways, starting the first level introduces you to this campaign’s striking aesthetic choices. The world of Susannah is a pure white world, with a few shades of gray to provide some sense of location. All of the graphics are new and simple. There is ambient music that sounds vaguely ominous and lends itself to the surreal setting. Movement speed has been reduced and there is no HUD. The automap is disabled. I found myself looking for my trusty pistol but…no! There are no weapons of any kind in Susannah because there is no combat.
Exploring for a bit, I discovered a blue data stream. Now, unlike many people, I actually read “Read Me” files, and one of the few things the Susannah “Read Me” stated was that to interact with the blue data steams you need to walk up to them and press the spacebar. So basically the blue data streams are like the terminals of this campaign. I do have to wonder how many people are going to be tripped up by this however, since the blue data streams look nothing like the typical Marathon terminals that players are used to (in fact, you can actually walk through the data streams, they are not solid!). So, I figure a few people will get frustrated and quit because they won’t understand what the blue data streams are. Should we have sympathy for such people? I kind of feel that they should have read the Read Me file, or heck even looked at the description given on Simplic7y, because the info is there as well. On the other hand, a dev should try and idiot-proof their campaign by making the gameplay as intuitive as possible, and I do feel the blue data streams were lacking in that regard. Perhaps they could have been more terminal-like in their appearance, or have some other way to telegraph to the player what they are.
In any case, interacting with the blue data stream led to some strange poetry and a teleport to a new level. There are four levels in Susannah, and the levels do have names if you look in the mapmaking tools, but you’ll never see them in-game (remember, there’s no auto-map!).
The new level featured new data streams with more bizarre poetry. Exploring some more yielded a floating black sphere. Walking up to it temporarily changed the lighting and caused the ball to disappear. So, pretty quickly it became obvious that the level was a scavenger hunt and the goal was to collect eight black spheres. There was even a sphere counter on the edge of the screen, showing that X of 8 spheres had been collected. Once all spheres were collected the blue data streams take the player to the next level.
This pattern of sphere-hunting was followed for the remaining two levels. Once the final black sphere is collected a huge blue data stream emerges and, with nowhere else to go the player has to jump into it. This triggers a teleport, successfully ending the campaign. But, what exactly did we succeed in accomplishing? The poetry in the data streams is so surrealist and obtuse that there could be many different interpretations. My own personal interpretation is that “Susannah” was an artificial intelligence that wanted to merge with the player for some undefined reason. The architecture of the final level even kind of resembled a computer’s circuit board, or perhaps some sort of cyberspace version of the interior of a computer. My one criticism of this campaign, which is actually quite minor, is that the ending was abrupt and didn’t really give a sense of closure, or even an understanding of what the plot was about.
Now for the most important question: Was it fun? Yes, I enjoyed myself for the twenty minutes of playtime. Unlike many Marathon scenarios, in Susannah I never got lost, frustrated, or stuck for any significant length of time. For the novelty factor alone, I rate this 4 out of 5 stars.
Brilliant use of Aleph One -- the style perfectly plays to the engine's strengths. I can't recall a better use of fog. The pacing drifts from "deliberate" to "tedious" at times, and the abrupt ending lacked closure. Despite that and some minor student-project bugs (a few untextured sides and geometry issues), it's a fresh approach to Aleph One mods and a must-play for fans of art games.