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June 6th 2014, 04:53 AM
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Cocomonkey
Bard Male United States
Please Cindy, say the whole name each time. 
132: Cycles of Evil Author: Dan Walma Release Date: September 13, 2002

"It isn't exactly cool... a tragedy is never a cool thing."

I had to turn true color mode off to play this! That's a first. Tragically, this ruined all my screenshots. We'll have to do without.

It's curious that this DMOD came out of the Alternative Hero Contest, because I don't think it contains any heroes. A couple of the characters you play as attempt to do heroic things; one of them sort of succeeds, but I still don't think I'd call him a hero.

Another curious thing is that the rules of the contest were stated awkwardly at first, because this DMOD contains zero characters from the original game. All of the character GRAPHICS, with the exception of one animation, are from the original game, which is what redink1 actually meant by that requirement. If you look at the original announcement, there are further statements that make this clear.

"Cycles of Evil" is unique among DMODs so far in that it focuses entirely upon telling a story, to the near-exclusion of all else. You have the choice to talk to a few characters or not, but apart from that you're riding a rail just as sure as a 1930s hobo. There is actually quite a bit of required combat, but it isn't too difficult, and there are no experience points. Your stats, apart from life, are also invisible. The combat is there just to heighten the impact of climactic moments in the story. Removing the elements I just mentioned was a good idea; they would only have distracted the player and given them the wrong idea about the sort of video game they were playing.

The plot about a village being afflicted for generations by an evil curse that causes death and suffering is fairly standard RPG stuff, but the method by which it is told is creative. The game takes place simultaneously across four time periods:

AUTUMN, long, long ago, Allison the Fairy seeks to rid herself and her sisters of the Wizards of Dubious Morality. The cycle of evil begins.

WINTER, 50 years ago, Farmer Ted plans to murder his abusive wife.

SUMMER, 20 years ago, disaster awaits a young boy named Tim who transforms into a bonca when he becomes angry.

SPRING, in the present, young Billy tries to destroy the source of the cycle of evil in order to avenge the death of his father.

The game opens in winter, and the time-shifting device is not revealed until the time suddenly shifts in the middle of things. All of the time shifts are like this; you'll be headed along, a specific purpose in mind, and your perspective will suddenly shift. Toward the end the shifts become more frequent; in a couple of cases, only one line of dialogue will happen before the scene shifts again. I found this device to be powerful, exciting, and well-executed. The tension becomes high as you can see the climaxes of all four stories happening as if at once. The seasons, in addition to their symbolism - autumn being the moment before the harsh 'winter' of the cycle of evil begins, winter representing the bitter cold feelings in the farmer's relationship with his wife, summer showing the heat of madness and anger, and spring symbolizing hope and renewal - also are convenient reference point to prevent the dizzying shifts from becoming too confusing. An icon for the current season is displayed in the place your armed item would usually be, as this game has no inventory either.

For the first time in this entire project, I really don't want to spoil the story here. Suffice to say that things don't turn out well for much of anybody. It's worth experiencing for yourself. Again for the first time in this project, I would recommend this DMOD to people who know nothing about Dink without even necessarily playing the original first. If you haven't played this yet, please do so. It's not long. I can't recommend it highly enough. "Cycles of Evil" is my new favorite DMOD. The stories it tells are simple, but the way they are interwoven is powerful.

Video games have a lot of potential as a storytelling medium that is completely unlike the potential of media like writing, films, or comics. Even if you strip player agency down to practically nothing, the very fact of player input changes what a story means. A player can't help, if your story engages them at all, but to feel participant in the events that happen while they have control of their character. The "language" of video game genres like the RPG also becomes an important tool that can be used to make the story more involving. This is demonstrated in a limited way here. Even the Dink Smallwood screenlock we're used to made me realize here how trapped these people were in their situations. All right, that sounds pretentious, but the point I'm trying to make here is that video games can tell stories in different ways. If you take the text from a video game, compare it to a book, and say that it isn't as good, you're missing the point. It's never going to be as good because you aren't writing a book, and if you tried to write a book into your video game you'd get something less than either form. "Cycles of Evil" isn't perfect, and it could be improved, but it really grabbed me with its form alone and stood out from all the other DMODs in a big way.

There's some impressive technical work behind the changing seasons and time periods. The seasonal backgrounds are made using copy_bmp_to_screen, which does just what it sounds like. Load_tiles might have worked better, except that it didn't exist yet because Dan hadn't made version 1.08 yet. There are some lovely seasonal trees that a lot of DMODs could use. The farmer character has a clever sickle-swinging animation made with some quick rotation and "spinning" that is pretty convincing. It would be nice to have these things available in case another project needs them, but I wouldn't use them without asking first.

It blows my mind that this got submitted to a DMOD competition... and didn't win. "Lyna's Story" must really be something special. I'll find out soon.