The Tulse Luper Journey
|Review by Thaumaturge
He was a traveller, wandering the world, and an observer to the twentieth century. He was many things to many people: a lover, an artist - even a spy.
Tulse Luper was a prisoner for most of his life, yet he was present for events that shaped the world in which we live.
To posterity, Tulse Luper left a strange chronicle of his life: ninety-two suitcases, scattered around the world, each containing its own enigmatic collection. Now three major research centers around the world are studying Tulse Luper's life through the suitcases. As they are uncovered, each suitcase is sent to one of the Nordberg Institute in Norway, the Huyen Centre in Japan, or the Capmid Research Facility in the United States, where researchers try to puzzle out the mystery behind their contents.
Why would Tulse Luper pack one suitcase with fifty-five men on horseback, and another with the pencils used to draw a prophecy? What does the radio equipment in yet another suitcase mean? This is the puzzle behind the puzzles of the Tulse Luper Journey.
The Tulse Luper Journey is part of a greater body of work by Peter Greenaway, a project spanning multiple media, from book to film to game, all centered around the figure of Tulse Luper.
This part of the project takes the form of an online browser-based game, in which the players take the part of researchers attempting to solve the mysteries of the ninety-two suitcases.
To unlock a suitcase, the player is first required to play a short game, based on the theme of the suitcase's contents. In each game, the aim is either to complete a task or set of tasks, or reach a particular score, sometimes with a time limit. For the most part, these are small puzzle games, but a few call for skill with a mouse or the keyboard. While some of these games may well have very familiar inspirations to some players, they often have their own particular twist on the idea, and many are highly imaginative.
From flying through clouds collecting letters, through popping colored bubbles while avoiding fascist masks or fighting your inner villains, to using logic to traverse glowing connections, to collecting whistles while avoiding your would-be spiritual captors, the games cover a wide range of game play types. The themes are similarly varied, running from mundane tasks, to matters of survival and even spirituality, as well as other, sometimes stranger topics.
While this variety prevents any particular play style from becoming tiresome, it does run the risk that a player will encounter a game type that they will dislike, which can potentially result in frustration. In particular, it should be noted that some games call for speed or skill with a mouse, and one involves typing quickly and accurately.
The atmosphere of the puzzles as a whole – and of many of the puzzles themselves – is highly surreal. They bear no real relation to the operation of opening suitcases, seeming rather to serve as representations of the contents of the suitcase in question, and of the event, time or place from Tulse Luper's life that the suitcase marks.
While it is possible to lose at a suitcase game, and in some cases loss takes the form of death, this “death” does not transfer to the player character. Instead, the player can simply replay the game, as many times as they like, regardless of the losses. Indeed, in at least one suitcase game the player is “shot” how well they do – but achieving a certain score before the shooting results in the case being unlocked. In effect there is a separation of the larger player character, the researcher, and the player characters in the suitcase games, who are created at the beginning of a game, each time it is begun, and do not exist beyond of it.
The overall quality of the puzzles is very good, in terms of game play, creativity, design and aesthetics. In addition, for the most part the controls are good, although in a few cases they are leave something to be desired.
Each of the ninety-two suitcases is associated with one minute of a ninety-two minute movie. In unlocking a suitcase, the corresponding minute is also unlocked for viewing – with a catch. Succeeding at the suitcase game only provides one of three layers of the clip. With only one layer, large parts of the clip will be missing.
Succeeding at a game earns the player credits, at a rate of thirty credits per success, regardless of how often this is done. The first main use that these credits have is in travel. The suitcases are distributed between the three research centres mentioned previously, and their game may only be attempted when the player is at that research centre. Travel is limited by cost: each journey between research centres costs the player one hundred credits; if not enough credits are available the player is effectively restricted to the current centre until sufficient credits have been gained to be able to leave.
The second use of the credits is in trading. Unlocking the suitcases only earns the player one of the three layers of a given segment of the movie. To acquire the remaining layers, players must trade.
To do this, players enter the community area of the game. Here players are represented as silhouettes, red in the case of the your own character, and either blue or black in the case of other players. Above each silhouette hovers player information, a button which allows you to send a message to a player, and a button which initiates trade with that player. The player information includes name, whether they're busy or not, their rank (at time of writing, researching enough suitcases can grant the rank of “junior researcher”), and their “status” - where they are in the game, such as the laboratory or the community area. Clicking on the trading button brings up a trading table, on the other side of which you can see a larger silhouette of the player with whom you are trading. On either side are inventories of both players' film segments. Your own inventory will appear to the right and the other player’s will be on the left.
To make a bid, the player simply drags items from both inventories, and even credit, onto the table, indicating the desired exchange. This is then sent to the player being traded with, who is notified of the desired trade and, on responding to the notification, is shown the same interface, and may choose to accept the offer, decline it, or modify the deal in the same way as described above and send the modified deal back as a counter-offer. It should be noted that trades are taxed in credits, depending on the amount being sent.
Above your character’s head, in place of the information presented above other players' heads, is a text input line and a chat bubble. Entering text into the line and pressing enter causes the text to be “said”, or become visible to all others in the room. Other players' messages (and the player's own, when viewed from another's perspective) appear in a small window above the information hovering above that player's virtual head. In this way simple group chats can occur, a feature that can be very useful, especially in allowing established players to help newer ones in-game.
As has been mentioned, one of the pieces of information given on players is rank, which at the time of writing has only two levels. Advancing in level by unlocking suitcases opens up a new travel destination, in addition to the three research centres: the Moab Desert. In this location a series of short movies about Tulse Luper's time in the area can be uncovered. Each movie is uncovered by locating an active area and clicking on it. Finding and watching the first movie makes another one available, and finding and watching that makes yet another available, until a final sub-location, and its attendant movie, becomes active. I found that these two elements – searching for the active areas and, on finding them, unlocking a new area – instills a sense of exploration, of mysteries opening to the player. In addition, the movies themselves are well-made, and (to my mind, at least), pleasantly strange, and certainly in line with the overall feel of the game. They add interestingly to the information given about this unusual man: Tulse Luper. On the downside, there is occasionally a hot spot which might easily be missed.
The execution of the game is overall very professional. The graphics are for the most part realistic, albeit often slightly surreal or stylized, and are generally very appropriate to their subject and its themes. Sound and music is minimal, but it is generally used well and appropriately, although there are a few cases of intrusive or potentially annoying sounds. Finally, the writing is fairly good, although some errors in spelling and grammar were noted.
It might be noticed that little has been said of how the story comes through via the game play. This is because it is entirely possible to play the game, as described thus far, with little or no regard for the story. However, for those who wish to delve into the strange myth of Tulse Luper, another aspect to the game exists.
The Tulse Luper forum serves as a venue for discussion about the man and the suitcases, allowing players to discuss theories, post links to interesting articles, and in general to speculate about the meaning behind the suitcases. In this way, those who are interested in the greater myth of Tulse Luper can explore it with other players of the game.
In addition, the forums allow players to request help, not only with the game on a technical level, but also to ask their fellow players for help for tips in the suitcase games themselves.
Finally, there are a few technical issues which should be noted. Primary amongst these is the fact that this is a web-based Flash game which, given the size of some of the content, can lead to notable loading times on slower connections. An occasional problem has been difficulty in contacting the game server when loading suitcase games - again this seems to be related to slower connections, although this is uncertain. Finally, minor glitches do occasionally rear their heads, although these seem to be for the most part transient.
In conclusion, the Tulse Luper Journey is overall a very good game, and, what's more, it is free to play. The suitcase games can at best be a great deal of fun, although a few may be frustrating to some. While the individuation of the game play into stand-alone games decreases the possibility of extended immersion, it does have the advantage of allowing the player to choose a preferred pace. Since one game does not explicitly lead on to another, and most games are fairly short, the Tule Luper Journey doesn't press for long periods of play-time, while still allowing those who desire just that to indulge.
Even though the story may not appeal to all, it is largely optional, and may add a great deal for those who do enjoy it. A score system attached to the suitcase games, as well as the desire to earn credits for travel, trade, and any special events that may appear, add incentive to replay previously-completed games. Technical issues do detract, albeit primarily for those with slower connections, but these issues should not prevent potential players from giving this game a try, especially if they enjoy the game style or are intrigued by the ongoing myth of Tulse Luper.
At time of writing thirty-eight of the ninety-two suitcases have been released; new suitcases are announced once per week, with occasional exceptions.
Finally, it should perhaps be noted that this game does include a minor amount of nudity, and some strong language.
All in all, the Tulse Luper Journey is a game that I would certainly recommend.
Final score: 87/100
Visit The Tulse Luper Journey Web site to play the game.
|PC System Requirements:|
|Pentium® III 1 GHz|
|64 MB RAM|
|56k Modem, Internet connection|
|Flash Player 8|
|Screen Resolution of 1024x768|