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MausBack: Inherit the Earth

MausBack

PART ONE: INTRODUCTION

If you were a furry in the early nineties, you probably remember that Avatar and VCL were the largest repositories of furry art on the web, you talked to most of your furry friends through FurryMUCK, Furtoonia and IRC channels. And if you were a gamer as well as a furry in the nineties, you might remember that outside of the  customary cutesy platformer mascots such as Bubsy, Sonic and Aero, there was a general dearth of games with anthropomorphic characters. Well, at least ones that weren't aimed at children. There was no Ironclaw, and any fictional furry world had to be experienced online through text-based role playing in MUCKs and chat rooms.

Then, one day you bought your monthly issue of Computer Gaming World (mostly for Scorpia's reviews, admit it!) and, whilst perusing reviews and previews of upcoming games, you came face to face with this advertisement:

 

 

 

InheritTheEarthboxart

If you were at all like me, you held your breath and squinted to get a look at the oh so tiny screenshots, questions buzzing in your head: Why. Hadn't I heard of this game before? Why wasn't there a review in the magazine? When could I get my hands on it? Were  furries involved in its creation?
If you were in the United States, you probably had a slim chance to play it at some point, but the title didn't enjoy wide distribution. If, like me, you lived in a rather isolated third world nation, you had to depend on the kindness of your Internet friends to procure and ship the game to you (what did we ever do in the dark ages before amazon?) Fortunately I had one such benevolent friend, though it would take Tigerwolf (the owner of Tigerden, not the bona-fide sociopath of the same name in Canada) over a year to get a hold of a box- it was that hard to find.

Inherit the Earth went without much fanfare, a victim of rather low marketing expenses and a confused marketing department. Talin, the game's developer, discussed the difficulties of that the game faced in an interview several years ago. The game was created by the Dreamers' Guild Interactive, a studio famous for its Faery Tale series. The company through which the Guild published Inherit The Earth, however, was New World Computing. At the time the agreement was signed, New World was an affiliate of Broderbund – but by the time the game was finished, New World's new affiliate was – you guessed it- Electronic Arts*.

EA did not quite know what to make of the game: Its catalog consisted entirely of endlessly cloned sequels of sports games and combat games with paper-thin narratives. By contrast, the Guild wanted an intelligent and thoughtful storyline with a rich background and history for the world. Developer David 'Talin' Joiner  went as far as recruiting an active furry artist, Lisa Jennings,  to be a conceptual artist, key designer and story brainstormer. Also on staff for concept art was furry artist Terrie Smith, one of the most prolific (and long-lasting) furry artists whose most popular creation is Chester the Ringtail (featured on the excellent “Havoc Inc.” comic, among other works.) Unfortunately, the publisher did not quite see eye-to-eye with the developers on the audience (and therefore the content) of the game. Lisa Jennings expanded upon the subject in her interview with furryvideogames.org:

"Our biggest conflict was simple: the developers wanted something that was rather adult in nature. The publishers saw animals and equated it with children, and so forced us at every turn to cater to the 8-12 range, up to and including removing any death scenes to keep a Children's Rating."

The clash between concept and execution continued. Jennings estimates that only about 1/5th of the game's original content made it into the final release: “Whole regions, races, and plot branches were hacked to cut costs and we were told to 'dumb down' or remove many of the puzzles for the sake of the children.

Because of this deep divide and rather severe cognitive dissonance between developer and publisher, advertisement and promotion for the game was handled as awkwardly as a Catholic Nun flipping through the extended Associated Student Bodies** portfolio. The game received lukewarm reviews and did not sell well by EA standards, and faded into relative obscurity- except for a dedicated group of fans that grew over the years thanks to the Internet. As the decades went by, trying to obtain the game through EA's back catalogue was a Herculean task. Eventually the game emerged as a download on abandonware sites, though still maintaining its relative obscurity.

For years, in the hopes of creating an official or unofficial sequel, fans and the original developers were interested in seeking the rights to the franchise- but New World consistently refused to release the rights back to its creators (Jennings also reported that NW's behavior towards DG was “less than professional” but did not expand on the subject.) A re-release of Inherit The Earth (much less a sequel) seemed completely unlikely.

And then, fortune smiled: when the rights to the property lapsed, Joe Pearce (one of the founding members of the Dreamer's Guild Interactive, a company by then defunct) started a new company (Wyrmkeep Entertainment,) re-acquired the rights to the property and re-released Inherit The Earth in 2000, retooling the game to work on modern operating systems and iOS devices such as iPhones, iPods and (now)  iPads. Wyrmkeep also started a web comic that continues the narrative set in motion in the first game, and a potential sequel has been discussed over the last few years.

Now that you know a partial history of this title, you might ask "what was it like?" Never fear, we shall discuss what makes this game a special moment, if not in the overall history of adventure games, then in the history of the fandom in Part Two of this review.

PART TWO: INHERIT THE EARTH: QUEST FOR THE ORB

FIND A NEW WORLD

We see the sky, we see the land, we see the water And we wonder, Are we the only ones? Long before we came to exist, the Humans ruled the Earth. They made marvelous things, and moved whole mountains. They knew the secret of Flight, the secret of Happiness, And other secrets beyond our imagining. The Humans also knew the secret of Life, And they used it to give us the four great Gifts: Thinking minds, feeling hearts, speaking mouths, and reaching hands. We are their children.  They taught us how to use our hands, and how to speak. They showed us the joy of using our minds. They loved us, and, when we were ready, they surely would have given us the secret of Happiness.

Now we see the sky, the land, and the water we are heir to, and we wonder: Why did they leave? Do they live still, and whence? In the stars? We wonder, was their fate good, or evil... And will we also share the same fate one day?
- Creation Myth of the Morph.

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The  world of ITE is one in which humans have passed from the present day and into the realm of myth and fables. Inherit The Earth is a post-apocalyptic world, but don't start collecting bottle caps and Nuka-Cola- the apocalypse is old news. At least a hundred years have passed since some unspecified catastrophe wiped us off the face of the earth- but while it may have swept us off, it somehow spared our 'children', the Morph- those who inherited the Earth after us.

The Morph, as the name implies, are anthropomorphic animals who have assembled into tribes according to species (and diet) and exist in a more-or-less stable society, roughly at the technological level of the very late medieval period and on the brink of the Renaissance- although, of course, not exactly: moveable type hasn't been invented, telescopes such as the ones Galileo employed are unknown except to one Morph who found one in human ruins, quaintly referring to it as a “lightcatcher.”  Tribes seem to have specific specializations: the ferrets and otters are builders and engineers, the foxes seem to be rovers with a reputation for theft, wolves and dogs are canines, the elks are law-maintaining herbivores, the boar are headstrong warriors and the rats are record-keeping  information brokers. Rogue individuals who do not conform to these tribal standards do exist in this world (and you encounter two of them throughout the course of the game) but do not seem to be actively persecuted. There are villages and small towns, and business and trade are common between the races.

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The drama opens on a fair festival day with Rif, our young fox hero, in the final turn of the great Puzzle Tournament. Rif, you see, is an expert puzzle-solver, which is why he has been sent to compete. Victory is snatched away from him by the crafty rat opponent, and the silver medal is all he gets for his troubles. Foxy lady-friend Rhene's attempts at cheering Rif up are interrupted by members of the Boar and Elk guards, however, who bear dire news: The Orb Of Storms has been stolen!

The sub-titular orb they refer to is one of the few working vestiges of human technology that the Morph have in their paws: a seemingly omniscient orb that tells the Morph (through the Matron of the Sanctuary, Elara) what the weather will be, when to plant crops and when to harvest them. Because they have grown up with this technology but do not have the knowledge yet to master it, or even replicate it, they have grown up as a society essentially dependent on this information without discovering it on their own (or having the necessary technological savoir-faire to extract the method of knowledge from the orb.) The theft of the orb, then, is a catastrophic event for Morph society- and it also makes the holder of the orb into an extremely powerful Morph: the sole holder of seasonal knowledge in an agrarian society!

Both parties immediately suspect Rif, by virtue of him being a fox (foxes, I will remind you, have a reputation for thievery) and having no alibi to speak of for his whereabouts at the time of the theft (he was with Rhene, but as she is a fox, her word is in question as well.) Rif convinces the Elk and Boar Guards to grant him a chance to clear his name- but the Boars take his friend Rhene hostage 'as insurance'- and to add insult to injury they also foist two companions unto his quest: Eeah of the Elk Guard and Okk of the Boar Guard to keep watch on him. The trio only has until the new moon to clear Rif's name, so they must embark upon their investigation at once!

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Even knowing that there is only one fifth of the original content put into the game, the feeling of grand adventure is palpable in Inherit The Earth. Spanning two islands, the places that Rif will visit are varied enough, with beautiful and memorable aesthetics. Much can be said of the realistic forests of Skyrim, rendered to perfection in gorgeous third dimension, but one should never forget that well-rendered pixel art can be just as striking in its own unique way, the difference being only one of medium- the artistic beauty of Disney's Sleeping Beauty is not marred by the artistic beauty found in the third dimensional world of Brave.

Early on, Rif will visit Forever Mountain, a high mountain that overlooks the entire southern end of the island and which also has a perfectly preserved human building, home to astronomer-dog Tycho Northpaw.  It is also one of the most beautiful scenes in the game, with a perpetual sunset painted boldly in purple, gold, red and shades of indigo, stars twinkling hazily overhead. It is a testimony to the kind of craft that The Dreamers Guild had acquired towards the end of their career that they could do so much with so little – by today's standards.  Forests are peaceful and bucolic, dwellings reflect the personality of their inhabitants, and the human ruins- preserved or ruinous, inhabited or abandoned- are haunting reminders of the world that existed before precisely because of how vividly they have been drawn.

The game world is unveiled in three ways: A world map for traveling between major geographic locations, scenes (traditionally drawn adventure game screens) and isometric tile maps. The latter are exclusively reserved for villages or similar dwelling areas (including some of the human ruins.) While the scenes are always gorgeous, the tile-based maps are less impressive but were probably necessary due to budget cuts forced on the developers- as they do effectively convey larger areas that otherwise would have taken a long time (and more money) to produce as stand-alone drawn scenes.

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Interaction with the world is a simple affair: the layout was directly inspired by Lucasarts' adventure game series Monkey Island, and so you have an (unlimited) inventory to the right and a series of verbs to the left. Clicking on a verb selects it, and then you select objects or people in the world to act accordingly (for example, Talk To Okk, Use Coin in Slot, etc.) It may seem a little clunky by later Lucasarts games with context-sensitive clicking, but it really isn't very intrusive at all- specially since you can choose a verb directly by tapping a key on your keyboard for it (“T” for talk, as an example.)

Puzzle-solving never reaches the obscurely insane heights that some of the games in the genre have explored in the past- rather the solutions tend to be rather logical if you think about it. At most you might be slightly delayed because you did not pick up an item you needed, but the game does not punish you with capricious death like some of Sierra's most infamous titles-- you can never advance past a point of no return without a necessary item, and if you find yourself lacking an item it is perfectly possible to backtrack to pick it up.

Conversation in the world is handled through dialogue trees, most of which are non-essential but which give a great deal of color to the world around you. The characters you meet are invariably very memorable: just talking to some of the fairgoers can be very entertaining. From the noble Elk king to the rather salacious gypsy cat, to the rough but ultimately good-hearted Okk and the gentle Eeah, characterization is solid throughout the game. Voice acting is simply superb, and this is a rarity for a game produced in 1994 when the majority of voice-overs from large companies (such as Sierra before the Gabriel Knight series) sounded as if they had yanked random people off the street and forced them to record in the studio washroom. Even bit parts (such as the wildcat chieftain's daughter) with only a line or two have quite a bit invested in them. The only notable fault in this area is the ferret village- where non-essential ferret villagers are voiced rather nasally and in a somewhat annoying way, but it is easy to overlook.

There are definitely vestiges of the game's original aim to older audiences: the aforementioned gypsy makes a pass on Rif, inviting him to spend the night in her tent “to rest before going on his quest”- and then there's a joke upon reaching the gates of the Sanctuary of the Orb that's a direct reference to Mel Brook's Young Frankenstein:

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Humor is prevalent throughout the game, with some rather adorable moments when the Morph come face to face with functioning human technology whose purpose they can't fathom - Upon encountering an enormous dam near human ruins, Okk quips “There seems to be water coming out of the windows in that building. Very disturbing.” When faced with batteries, Rif concludes that “they have the power to make things glow.” The rats have records that date back as far as the last days of the humans, though they are muddled and imprecise, leading this race to believe that they were equal partners in the scientific experiments conducted by the humans.

There are also very serious moments- walking through the abandoned laboratories of a ruined air base and seeing a flashing red sign with the words 'EVACUATE' blinking on and off, buildings that look as if they were abandoned quickly and without warning, only for a century of neglect to eat away at them. Fallout 3's post-apocalyptic world is at times unsettling to us because of how familiar it is, the disaster still feels recent. Inherit The Earth's world is unsettling because of how unfamiliar it feels: the forest has grown over areas that once were probably populated, leaving nothing except isolated ruins. Impeccable white tile is interrupted by spurts of green as weed and root erupts to disturb the pattern, moss and ivy clinging tightly to geometric shapes whose purpose we can only guess at. Humans came and went, leaving behind only remains of absentee gods for their children to ponder over.

Our exact fate is never known in the game, and that mystery only deepens as Rif moves forward in his quest to find the fate of the Orb of Storms and finds his feet traveling through roads that human hands built. There is a sense of melancholy that lingers over any mention of the humans- because many Morph believe that  humans exist somewhere, out there, watching over them and hoping that one day we will return... and we have a feeling that it is not a likely scenario.

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The game ends on a cliffhanger, but not one that ruins the game: Rif's story arc is resolved satisfactorily, it is only the greater arc of the humans and the world (as you discover some unsettling news that could mean strife is on the way for Morph society) left hanging. Jennings admitted that the game was conceived as a trilogy, but NW/EA did not allow a sequel to be produced through them. Wyrmkeep has mentioned the possibility of a sequel, which means that the elements that were left out of the first game could very well be featured in the sequel (perhaps, through an effective Kickstarter?)

The game has its flaws: some of the isometric maps tend to be repetitive (most likely a budget issue) and their layout can be slightly confusing. There are four short mazes in the game; two of which can easily be solved by remembering the clue to solving any maze, which is to stick to one wall and follow it all the way through. The fourth maze in the human ruins is modular and will require a little more finesse, but none of the mazes particularly bothered me during my play through. They were most likely included to pad out the length of the game due to the content cut that NW/EA forced upon the developers.

Even with these issues, Inherit The Earth is a game that has to be experienced- the world created by the Guild is a vivid one, and fascinating- you will wish that EA had kept its grubby paws to itself so you could see more of it. And really, that's one of the best compliments you could pay an adventure game: better to keep them asking for more than saying they've had enough. This was also the only time (at least known to your reviewer) in which artists from the furry community were hired by a major studio to create a game that featured a thoroughly furry content.  Until a sequel comes around, the storyline has been continued in an official webcomic sponsored by Wyrmkeep at  http://inherittheearth.net/

The game can be purchased on CD-ROM (Windows, Mac and Linux) at http://www.wyrmkeep.com/ite/, and you can also purchase t-shirts, printed editions of the webcomic, and the rather nice “Adventurer's Guide” which is essentially a strategy guide of the game, but which also includes a good helping of original conceptual art by Jennings, Smith and prolific fantasy illustrator April Lee who occasionally produced anthropomorphic art. IOS versions are also available in the Apple app store by searching for the game title.

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I would heavily recommend Inherit The Earth, and I encourage you to purchase it from Wyrmkeep in order to make the possibility of a sequel a real one. As of 2012, the domain name of http://inherittheearth2.com/ has been acquired by Wyrmkeep (though no development is currently active) featuring concept art by famed furry collaboration team BLOTCH ( Kenket and BlackTeagan.)

Final Verdic: Although the game suffered under the hands of its publisher during development, it still remains a rather unforgettable experience and an incredibly enticing teaser into a world to which most who have experienced it want to return. I grant Inherit The Earth four adventure tigers:

adventuremausadventuremausadventuremausadventuremaus

*I think I should start a counter to keep tally of how often EA is at the center of something shady going on with a franchise. You'll see this cropping up if I review some of the Ultimas. Oh, boy, will you...

** If you were a furry in the 90s, you caught the reference. If you didn't, look it up.

 

MAUSBACK is a recurring feature penned by Maus Merryjest, where he reviews games that are:

-Part of the 'Golden Age' of adventure/RPG computing (Sierra, Lucasarts, Origin, 1980s-1990s) and which are a must play for anyone who loves good games.

 -Not as recent, but noteworthy games nevertheless (The Whispered World, Psychonauts, Freedom Force.)

 

Inherit the Earth Image Gallery

{gallery}NewsImages/Reviews/ITE{/gallery}

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