llustration by Kyttenjanae

HOMUNCULOID

Ready player go: You are Homunculoid, formed of spit and clay. Your objective is to become an Entity of Means and Privilege. Gameplay is, of course, completely random.

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Jun 15 2015, 2:00pm

llustration by Kyttenjanae

HOMUNCULOID: A Brief Overview of the Controversial Mid-21st Century Computer Game

Welcome back to "Blasters from the Past," a monthly column dedicated to exploring the world of classic videogames. From the Cathode Ray Amusement Devices of the mid 20th Century to the next-gen super-consoles and beyond, we are dedicated to the preservation of electronic gaming history! In this installment, we take a look at one of the last great MMORPGs of the 21st Century—the controversial hit, HOMUNCULOID, produced by Mandrake Studios.

Type of Game:
MMORPG, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. A style popularized in the late 20th Century, and a direct precursor to the current Universal Gaming Platform in which, of course, all games now exist, in a single, interactive universe stored on Cumulus. HOMUNCULOID has been described as a cross between The Sims, Second Life, and Grand Theft Auto with an RPG-style attribute system. The game represents a logical progression from those classics (each of which have been explored in previous columns), as it reimagines the life simulation genre by raising the stakes.

Objective:
To be born an Entity of Means and Privilege, or EMP.

Character:
You are Homunculoid, formed of spit and clay, gestated in a fermented horse womb by Paracelus, The Alchemist, birthed into one of two spheres within The Known World.

Setup:
A third person sandboxer set in the early 21st Century, HOMUNCULOID is a true rarity: a game where your fate (i.e.: completion of the Objective) is determined by chance, as opposed to player proficiency. In addition, completion of the Objective (or failure to do so) occurs at the beginning of the gameplay session, rather than the end. Despite this, the player is required to finish out the Story Mode, making superfluous decisions that may affect their "life," but have no effect on the pre-determined outcome of the game.

Gameplay:
At the onset of gameplay, a random Ethnic Aesthetic is assigned, determining your Social Status. If the Objective of the game has been achieved, an existence of varying degrees of frivolity is awarded. As an EMP, the player has limited Interaction Restrictions and a low Rate of Consequence. They are free to pursue, explore, and enjoy. It is possible, if one achieves the Objective, to finish out the Story Mode focusing on the betterment of those who didn't (known as Differently Fortunates), although this is considered a futile endeavor within the social structure of the game. It does, however, boost the EMP's Perceived Self Worth.

If the Objective is not achieved, continuation of the playthrough, though mandatory, is a moot exercise. A Differently Fortunate has many more Interaction Restrictions and a much higher Rate of Consequence, resulting in a greater Endangerment Level (determined by Gender and Gentry, amongst other metrics) and a shorter Lifespan.

Average completion time depends on the Assigned Ethnic Aesthetic and Social Ranking of your character. A successful EMP can "live" between 700 to 1000 game hours, but a DF's Lifespan is inversely proportionate to their Endangerment Level. Movement between Economic Strata is possible, but Ethnic Aesthetics cannot be modified. Gender can be reassigned, but this does not necessarily result in improved ranking.

Environment:
Setting is a mixture of pre-industrial and post-apocalyptic, with both rural and metropolitan locales, existing under a conservative political entity in a borderline dystopia. Interaction with the Governing Hierarchy varies wildly based on Ethnic Aesthetic and a character's Provocation Ethic. The better your standing with the Governing Hierarchy, the less restrictions will be placed on your Allowable Radius of Migration.

Visually, the game design holds up remarkably well, even by the standards of today's graphics. The photorealistic modelling and lifelike character animation make for a thoroughly immersive storytelling experience!

Walkthrough:
As a Differently Fortunate
Since winning or losing is a completely randomized event, there is little purpose in offering a traditional walkthrough explaining how to complete the game's Objective. In the past, numerous intranetwork communities existed for different character Aesthetics. These communities acted as a type of surrogate family to help guide DFs through the Story Mode. Although every Story Mode experience is unique, there are certain strategies that apply to most DF playthroughs:

- You can't choose your Aesthetic, but the initial moments after a DF emerges from the Amniosis (literally: horse wine) are crucial. You are born fully formed, but diminutive. Seek a safe environment within which to increase your Mass of Form. This growth period is considered by many players to be a highlight of the game. Less restrictions are imposed on gameplay, thus permitting a level of freedom rarely later attained in the character's Lifespan.

- Directly following this period, you may choose to pursue Educational Enhancement, although the Resources and Opportunities available to you will be scant. These are generally reserved for EMPs with very few Advancement Impediments (due to the accumulation of Grandfather Points, which can be gifted from EMP to EMP).

- Instead of/in addition to Education, you may choose to participate in "Workforce!" The earlier you enter the so-called Occupation Stream, the less likely you will be branded as Non-Contributing. You will also begin accruing Barter Tokens, which are necessary for survival after the gestation period.

- Align yourself with a philanthropic EMP early on. It can be demeaning, but being a Philanthrogent has its advantages.

- You can also choose to align yourself with other Differently Fortunates, and organize a Mutual Support Network, but you run the risk of being branded as Militant by the Governing Hierarchy if that Network grows too large.

- Cultural Appropriation is considered a powerful camouflage technique. Acquiring the appropriate culture-mods may render you less intimidating to EMPs.

- A Declared Spiritual Affiliation has its social advantages. However, remember: even though The Alchemist created you, he will never, ever intervene on your behalf.


As an EMP
If you win the Genetic Lottery ("Alchemist be praised, but not depended upon," as the game intones), The Known World is your oyster. You can choose to become a Productive Member of Society, or you can live a Consequence Free Lifestyle. These are a few of the gameplay options with which to celebrate your lack of Empathy. Players can:

- Start a Sex Cult. Everything is legal when you have Spiritual Exemption, and limited startup capital is required. Once an in-game Church gets going, it practically pays for itself. (Spiritual Exemption does not extend to Same Sex Sex Cults.)

- Destroy an Economic Infrastructure. In Homunculoid, building something up isn't half as much fun as tearing it down! And if you run out of Barter Tokens, the Governmental Hierarchy will not hesitate to institute a Waterbucket Mandate.

- Get away with murder. Literally.

- Start a blog.

Custom Skin Modding:
Although an Assigned Ethnic Aesthetic cannot be changed, there are Custom Skin Mods that allow EMPs to alter their general appearance. One of the more popular Mods is the Somatosensitory Mod, which allows the EMP to resize its body parts according to physical sensitivity, typically resulting in comically proportioned limbs and genitals. As an EMP, you are permitted to wield said genitals with impunity. This Mod can be unlocked by pursuing a Workforce! Occupation Placement in the Neurotosciences.

Replication:
Both EMPs and Differently Fortunates are capable of Replication, or creating Homunculoids of their very own. However, these are not created in the same manner The Alchemist created you. Homunculoidal Reproduction is achieved via the expulsion of mini-Homunculoids (also called "Animalcules") present in the spermatozoa. These are then deposited in the Gestation Bank of a (preferably, but not necessarily) Willing Participant, where they must stay until they become large enough to survive Post Womb. If a Participant is not Willing to bring your progeny to Term, you can enlist the Governmental Hierarchy to modify their Agreements to the Term.

Interesting side note: since each Homunculoid is equipped with a flesh satchel full of Animalcules, each with their own satchel full of even smaller Animalcules, we are presented with a Paradox of Infinite Reducibility, ad absurdum. Basically, it's testicles all the way down.

Replication is not recommended for the inexperienced gamer playing as a Differently Fortunate. Despite the potential raising of your Fulfillment Index, it is a considerable drain on time and resources better spent on your own survival.

Consensus:
Even if you do not complete the game's Objective, Story Mode is still a rewarding, albeit challenging, endeavor. Although controversial at the time of its release, the game has since developed a strong following among retro-gamers and is now considered a classic of the era, despite what is viewed as a flaw in its goal structure.

In fact, most gamers consider a playthrough as a Differently Fortunate to be the preferred mode of gameplay. The limitations and restrictions placed on the DF seem to be largely responsible for the game's enduring popularity, since many of the problems of the time period have of course been all but eradicated by modern society. There is an element of cultural tourism at play in HOMUNCULOID, no doubt, seeing as how the hardships it depicts are largely relics of a thankfully bygone era rife with unfortunate economic and political absurdities.

This would no doubt come as a surprise to the game's developers at Mandrake Studios, who, despite their intentions with the creative direction of HOMUNCULOID, managed to produce a hit game with lasting social impact. An impact, in fact, that has long outlasted their company, which went bankrupt shortly after the game's release.


This dispatch is part of Terraform, our home for future fiction. Illustration by Kyttenjanae.