Who would have thought the music industry would force my hand in giving in to the Cyber Revolution? With more and more bands releasing enhanced CDs, it’s obvious where the future lies. I like that it’s a subtler change in that the format is basically the same. No need to buy new shelves, even. And since most are hybrid audio/computer discs, consumers can buy with confidence knowing that they can experience part of the album and enjoy more from it when they get around to updating their equipment. It’s closer to going from mono to stereo than from record to CD.
I have a backlog of various enhanced CDs, but the main instigator of my change is Bad Day on the Midway from The Residents, which is a computer-only disc. I could tell just from the description on the box that it would take a lot more time to absorb than their previous efforts, so having my own computer was the only reasonable solution. With my son’s guidance, I now have a Macintosh Performa currently dedicated to enhanced music presentations.
Bad Day is the logical culmination of the group’s earlier CD-ROM titles. Mechanics-wise it has the open exploration of Freak Show paired with the individual character control of Gingerbread Man. The carnival setting of the former returns, but the latter’s “setting” of being inside the character’s mind is also retained. In Freak Show you acted as an outside observer who uncovered the secrets and motivations of others; in Gingerbread Man you became another character for the duration of the song. Here you control a single character at a time, with the others acting on their own, but you can switch perspectives within a single play. You uncover secrets from the other characters as well as the one you are currently controlling.
The role of music is also midway between the previous two games. This is not a strict “play the album while watching interactive videos” experience, nor is it “wander around and occasionally find some music.” Their recent television soundtrack work has paid dividends here – all of the characters have a theme which plays in their respective areas and also becomes the default music when you enter their point of view. And the visuals are simply amazing. Everything is rendered in such off-putting detail, and the use of Clutch Cargo-inspired animation lends a real creepiness to the proceedings. The leaps of quality are staggering, and I can only imagine how excited the creators are when they think about future possibilities with the format.
I had praised the open-ended nature of their earlier titles, and at first the fact that Bad Day on the Midway has winning and losing scenarios made me lament that The Residents had given in to pressure from traditionalists. But after playing through it the last few weekends, and even winning a handful of times, I find that this game upsets the idea of what winning means. Winning in Bad Day is not saving the day or finding a hidden treasure. Winning in this game is simply not dying – just get through another day and live to see the next. It’s a lot like life: every day we are winners, sometimes bad things happen, and we feel as if we’ve lost, but we survived and gained experience and perhaps a bit of wisdom.
Knowing The Residents, though, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a winning scenario that involves your character dying. Perhaps if there’s a way to kill Timmy that would be considered a win, as he wouldn’t have to grow up to lose his innocence and childlike wonder with everything he encounters. When playing as Timmy, his thoughts are often nonsensical or even outright stupid, but he is excited about everything and is jaded about nothing, and I envy that. While I’m happy with my knowledge and experience, there are times I wish I could simply see the wonder of the world again – if even just for a single, good day.