I was probably more excited to get my hands on a demo of Astrologaster than any other game I scheduled an appointment for at PAX East this year. A lot of that comes down to the email I received, which sold the game exceedingly well, describing it as a “dark humor narrative driven game that’s based on a true story.”
Truth can be stranger than fiction, and it often makes for a damn good premise for a video game.
London, 1592. A great plague sweeps through the capital. When doctors flee the city in fear, a hero rises. His name is Simon Forman, “Doctor” of Astrology and Physick. Not only does he have the power to cure the sick, he can find their lost pets or even predict their futures, by reading the movements of the stars!
But when the plague ends, Forman’s problems begin. The real doctors return to London and they will stop at nothing to expose Forman as a fraud and bring him down. But Doctor Forman is determined to prove them wrong!
Astrologaster is based on a true – and truly ridiculous – story.
Part of what really grabbed my attention in the meeting request email I received was the story of how Jennifer Schneidereit, the creative director of indie studio Nyamyam, happened upon this story. Jennifer attended a University of Cambridge presentation on Simon Forman’s casebooks given by Dr. Lauren Kassell and became fascinated with this ambitious astrologer and his patients. In Astrologaster you’ll be cast as this doctor, placed in a humorous tale with some surprising consequences.
Astrologaster unfolds like a pop up book, with beautiful visuals in hues of blue and orange. It’s a striking visual style that works incredibly well, and is accompanied by a wonderful, atmospheric soundtrack and fantastic voice acting. Even in the din and chaos of the show floor at PAX East, I could feel myself getting pulled into the experience thanks to the audio attention that had been paid.
The story of Astrologaster is told in a series of visits to Simon Forman’s office by various patients, each looking for a diagnose and treatment for their ailments. These ailments aren’t all strictly medical as we would understand them, and include issues that are economic and social in their nature. In the demo I played, I saw three patients, each presenting different sorts of issues in vastly different temperaments.
No matter the cause for their worry, you will consult the stars in Simon Forman’s distinct mixture of science and astrology to divine a cure or solution for these patients. Mechanically, this is done by showing you a number of option after hearing the complaints of the patient. Each of these possible choices are tied to an astrological sign or a set of astrological signs. Each of these can then be clicked on to give you a bit more context as to what they might mean in terms of a diagnosis, but things are obscure and vague at best. After selecting your choice, Simon Forman delivers the diagnoses and treatment advice and you see how the patient feels about these revelations.
Part of what I think is going to be the real fun of Astrologaster is the fact that NONE of these options are particularly satisfying. They’re unclear, largely non-specific, and in many cases seem to have bits that aren’t exactly pertinent tacked on to them. So the diagnose your giving these patients is very much a “best I’ve got” answer, not a “100% correct” answer.
Combine this with the fact that each patient you see has a likelihood to seek return visits influenced by your treatment, and a threshold for giving recommendation of your service to others, and you’ve got the real meat of the game. This is a process of weighing what patients want to hear against what advice might actually help them in the long term. Jennifer told me as I launched into the demo at PAX East that I wouldn’t really see the full scope of the game, and I understand why: this is game full of ripple effects, where your choices are going to have long term, subtle effects on your playthrough.
I’m incredibly eager to play more of Astrologaster, and see what other patients and problems assail me as I play through this tongue-in-cheek look into the life of “Dr.” Simon Forman, and to see if it’s all enough to stop me from being run out of England as a quack!
Astrologaster will be released on iOS devices May 2, and is currently available for pre-order.
The PC Launch of Astrologaster will follow on May 9th on Steam.