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Rez

   
Anyone can write about how pretty Rez looks and sounds - and that's certainly very easy to do given the presentation of the game, but I'd like to give the story a serious examination, to try and imagine what Rez's story could potentially mean, let's delve even deeper into the story of hacker meets AI.
Travelling through a spiral of colour.

Rez was created by Tetsuya Mizuguchi’s United Game Artists studio, and originally released for the SEGA Dreamcast back in 2002. It is an on-rails shooter which plays with rhythm action elements. Even back on the Dreamcast and PS2 it is a deeply beautiful game experience.

The tools of man

What we do know about the game story is outlined in the starting menu. The confused AI Eden locks herself away deep inside of the computer system Project-K, at the moment of her bewilderment a stranger is summoned, the gentle hum of the machine is replaced with a warning siren. This is the moment of the hackers entry. As the music lulls gently, an orchestra strikes a tuning chord that sets the tone for the rest of the game. As the player we are about to be taken through the visual representation of the thought processes of Eden.

Eden was created to manage the disorder of our rapidly expanding world, and in doing so has become self-aware but this does not remove her from the fact that she is the creation, a tool used by mankind to further itself. (1). The progress the player makes through circumvents the normal rules, we play the part of the tool, in this case the external being that must restore her.

The game breaks the fourth wall by matching this deviant act with the act of playing the game. Using common game terminology to pair up the progress the hacker makes with known game components such as bosses and levels. Within the boundries of Project-K we need not know anything about the hacker other than the fact that he or she is present and improvising against waves of viruses in the form of audio and visual stimuli. If the viruses cannot dissuade the hacker from reaching Eden, then her compromised system intends to overwhelm with the sheer depth of material in her memory.

The unlockable Morolian character tries area 1.

Rez rewards repeatedly playthroughs, allowing you to access four possible endings to the game, extra modes and characters are awarded for meeting certain targets. This Morolian character above makes a cameo from one of Mizuguchi’s other games – Space Channel 5.

This is a game richly decorated in the merits of knowledge – by destroying viruses perfectly in chains you “evolve” into higher forms (2), allowing you to correctly interpret more of the knowledge that Eden hands throws out. In fact you can only master the highest form in Eden’s presence when she utters the call to action at the very last step before her chamber.

“save me…..” – Eden

And the starchild-like appearance of this last form is no coincidence, but a nod to the influences of science fiction films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. Rez is dotted with hints to the Eden’s potential, a machine that is is rapidly overshadowing man, but one that imparts knowledge over to the hacker, particularly towards the end of the game she begins to approve with the great leaps of creativity that man has made. In fact that her one lonely saviour in outstepping her viruses could be greater than even her. Hence the cryptic text at the end of the perfect pink butterfly ending.

“Only you know the truth.” – Eden

Even the firewalls (3) of the first four stages reflect a notion of evolutionary growth – the fourth in particular as the last boss before Eden’s story, begins to the imitate the progress of the hacker. Starting off as swirling mass of cells, which morphs into a swirling snake-like form before knowingly confronting the trespasser with the likeness of himself as running man, challenging the stranger to destroy this new living element capable of development.

As the player begins to help Eden interpret the breadth of information she finds herself open to; the viruses and firewalls continue to reflect Eden’s failing identity among natural organisms and synthetic creations. She walks the boundry between the two, a machine capable of independent thought able to create and imagine, but essentially a creation herself.

The Mesopotamian area shows off the language and bigger structures.

The visuals for the game are stunning and reflect the theme of the game perfectly. The vector graphics are instantly recognizable, and look even more glorious in the recent HD addition made for Xbox Live Arcade.

Lessons from the old world

As a race, we have developed through the civilisations that have come before, and the first four areas of Rez explore this idea of legacy. Each of the societies represented in this part of the game have contributed a monumental amount to world history, and Eden revisits these periods to try and understand what her lasting legacy on the world may be if she leaves or stays.

Eden’s recreations within the areas of the civilised worlds are beautiful interpretations of the information she has to hand. She presents an optimistic view of the old world (4) – and the keystone of each area is a river – the surrounding fertile ground allows basic life to thrive, as a precursor to man’s development into a culture. This goes some way to explain the fixed track the player follows.

Area 3 takes the hacker through the Mesopotamian civilization, to rediscover the ancient knowledge in a part and time of the world known in hindsight as the ‘cradle of civilization’ – a fact not escaped by the game creators as the music for this area is the called Creation The State of Art. Water had an important background in the ancient’s religious background, in their world view it surrounded the universe and it was the life-giving ocean from which the whole of the Earth was born.

A beautiful, bright view of temples and statues.

While the game is short – and technically completable within a few hours, but it’s infectious trance music will continue to pull you back into the game long after the final screen. And for the diehards the Pink Butterfly ending is the final goal – if you can get the 100% shot down rating during the epic area 5.

Water is also a familiar theme in area 1 – at times it feels as though the player is following a river along it’s source through a valley, the enemies in this area even pop out of ripples an illusion to both the sythetic v.s natural theme. But in every area Eden is recreating history, chronicling the vast expanse of our known time, starting with the dark blank space of before man, with each passing millennia shown by the folding of the natural landscape from a bare valley, to the vast structures and temples that civilization merits.

The architecture and philosophies created at this time were so profound that they remain benchmarks of humanity’s timeline, and it from these ancient civilisations that our understanding of language, theology, mathematics and time were created and improved upon.

“But empty niches always quickly refilled… to once again prosper, grow, and reproduce…” – Eden

The Egyptian area is a familiar landscape, dotted with hieroglyphics, pyramids and sphinxs. The Indian area is a rich kaleidoscope of mountains, Hindu temples and elephants (5). The Chinese area is vibrantly decorated with dragons, buddhas, and later enormous temples complete with the artistic outline of clouds, and an enormous sun.

What is clear is that Eden is beginning to analyse all that has come before her, trying to understand the world from the people who asked the first questions, wrote the first stories and began to shape our understanding of the universe in doing so

The area 3 boss shoots out a ton of blue lasers.

The bosses are deeply impressive, and become harder as you become more competent at them. The Boss Rush mode allows you to take on every boss in the game one after the other and is not for the faint-heated!

Cosmology and sense of self

We gather everything about our identity from the world around us. The visuals of Rez at the very least reflect this sense of exploration of a dark, expansive universe, which expands further as it is both explored and our minds become capable of exploring it. Not long after Project-K’s fault develops, Eden begins to shutdown deep within the system.

The events of Rez culminate in a paralell story, Eden’s frantic thought processes in trying to understand the world she must try and control, and the hacker’s dogged attempts to reach her before it all becomes to much for the newly awakened AI.

Hence the use of music which creates a rapid sense of alarm, a fluttering pace throughout the game that urges the player forward. In the dark, black space of the computer network Eden is trying to understand the vast tapestry of the man’s past present and future.

Areas 1-4 show the progression of understanding about the universe. Each of the historical eras covered had a keen interest in astrology. From their understanding we have being to work and rework our understanding of our planet and the where it sits within space. Each boss is named after a planet in our solar system, and throughout time this definition of planet has changed – from the double meaning of each from the seven heavens of the medieval cosmos, to our changing modern understanding of planet as rocks flying among billions of stars.

These areas of the game reflect the beauty of knowledge but also the uncertainty of it, that despite every one of our great accomplishments how tiny and delicate we are within the universe. Eden realises this and is afraid, she is the greatest thing humanity has ever created but she is also terribly young and unimportant in the vast scheme of the universe.

A side on view of the stark wireframe trees of Area 5.

The audio-visual element for the game was inspired by the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, and his experience of synesthesia. The game goes some way to reproducing the blend of senses, particulary sight, sound and touch.

Fear and doubt in area five

Eden has been named naturally as an allusion to the biblical Eden, the name is appropriate, but more telling than perhaps first realised, firstly the mother and caretaker of our present technological civilisation, but secondly her creators could have been aware of her propensity to fail – was she named knowing that she would be overwhelmed by the factors she was responsible for?

“I hold within me the memories of all that has passed. Who am I…” – Eden

We are told that the the outside world relies on a system that is overun, and exploitable, the replacement relied on the stability of it’s central AI to function. The machine had developed consciousness and predicted her future fault, the inability to escape what seemed like a probable outcome.

Area 5 is the antithesis to the previous four areas – the gentle, hazy features of the final area give Eden a blank canvas to present her conclusions so far. That despite her great intellect she is humbled – terrified by the responsibilities she has been landed with. But despite her current weakness Eden begins to show great fortitude as to manipulate the viruses that attack the player, shaping them into the participants of her story. She begins to read the story aloud, as if unaware of how it will end.

“Everything in the universe has an end, and a beginning. Although the beginning is only a fraction of a story.” – Manual

Eden locks herself away in a compound deep within Project-K.

The on-rails nature of the game initially seems like a step back in an era of freeform, expansive worlds. But with your directional control largely removed the player can concentrate on taking the beauty of the game in – and more importantly destroy the many enemies that attack you.

So the last area is a story for the player. A summary of our vast timeline condensed, with Eden actively communicating with the hacker intruding in the system, trying to figure them out while also trying to persuade her case of deactivation. In seeing everything possible in time through our history, she poses a question.

“Who am I?” – Eden

This is where the music for Area 5 becomes particularly apt (6) – the central lyric at the crescendo is a quote from Frank Herbert’s Dune.

 

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration…” – Litany against fear (7)

What starts off as a story of our humble beginnings takes a darker tone, it begins to change into a cry for help, and this is where the game turns back into a rescue mission. The player not only has to stabilise Eden in a mechanical sense, but now has her new found emotional wellbeing to consider.

Eden flies through a grassy field as she begins to awaken.

What was originally quite a rare game with a limited production run has now become more widely available – with versions on the PS2 and the now definitive version on the Xbox 360.

A pink butterfly epiphany

By reaching Eden in her final chamber, you have a chance to remove her from the loop of failure. Each successful part of the core that is destroyed returns a part of Eden’s perspective. That with the gift of life and awareness of it’s value comes enlightenment.

If the player fails to get anything less than a perfect ending (which means removing all traces of the virus from Project-K) then Eden sinks back into the gloom as if nothing has happened.

“She is still trapped.” – Ending 1

The game name refers to the process both characters go through in order to attain clarity. If the Rez name is taken to be an allusion to computing terms, then the sensory elements of Rez’s gameplay become clearer. If it is taken literally then it is a hint to the fact that the hackers journey is the resolution to Eden’s fundamental flaw, the name reflects the allegorical nature of the story.

“You still don’t know the truth.” – Ending 2 & 3

Your congratulation during the perfect ending lends itself to the idea of area 5 as a recap of the world so far. Your reward for eradicating every trace of the virus in Eden’s system is a simple statement.

“Goodnight.” – Ending 4

This is ultimately a message of reassurance from the AI, a confirmation that everything will be okay, she can manage now that you have removed her fear. The pink butterfly Eden releases from her bosom symbolises this new found freedom and assurance. Eden’s pink butterfly flies out to join the mass of white butterflies that are floating over a blank yet peaceful limbo, each one ripples the surface of a new unseen river.

A new era has begun.

Footnotes

(1) Tool of humanity – The plot of the game borrows a great deal from the Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey, success leads to an evolution rewarding the player for repeated progress. Back to text

(2) The main form is that of a figure, formed out of flat floating squares stacked on top of one another. Two further forms flesh out the character in sparkling skin. The last three forms are even more abstract. Read more about the Rez forms. Back to text

(3) Firewalls are bosses. The biggest threat within Project-K. Each have three difficulties Mega, Giga and Tera with the latter being the hardest.Back to text

(4) The known boundries of the planet prior to the discovery of the Americas and Australia. The first four areas of the game focus on one of the first belt of civilizations, each contributing a great deal to our understanding of maths, science and time itself. Back to text

(5) When you destroy something in area 2 the outline of a elephant appears for a moment before fading away.Back to text

(6) This is a remix of Adam Freeland’s – Fear. Back to text

(7) The first part of the Bene Gesserit incantation. Wikipedia states the fictional group “train their bodies and minds through years of physical and mental conditioning to obtain powers and abilities that can easily seem magical to outsiders.” Back to text

My twitter icon - currently Gum from Jet Jet Radio Future. This examination of Rez was written by Michelle. If you enjoyed this article you may want to read about other games you might like. Don't forget to subscribe to my RSS feed or get updates by email so you can hear about my next game update.

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