Electronic Arts' new flagship, Majestic, is a fresh and innovative
approach to computer games. Instead of having cutting edge 3D graphics,
it caters and pans to the passive television audience or the supposed
growing ranks of casual computer gamers. By incorporating a game within
technologies like instant messaging and websites, the developers of
Majestic have sought a different avenue of entertainment. Clearly, its
content is influenced by television franchises like X-Files.
The premise of Majestic is to immerse you into a world of conspiracy
theories, corrupt governments, black operations and what not. This game
puts you in the center of all this. You will then interface with
various characters from around the world in order to aid them to reveal
this mass conspiracy, primarily through a proprietary application called
the Majestic Alliance. Most of the game, however, will unravel over the
net. The plot is about as compelling as a cross between The Matrix and
X-Files in a serialized nature. The developers of Majestic have devoted
an immense effort to create this network of intrigue. Indeed, one of
your very first tasks is actually to find the real Majestic website that
mysteriously shuts down. I won't give any details but the pilot episode
is quite compelling.
Majestic recently began its second episode but you need not keep up with
the latest developments. Majestic allows you to halt the game at any
time and play at your own leisure. Most of the puzzles that come
involve you in scoping out information, usually in the form of websites,
and relaying them to the proper specialists. One interesting thing is
the need to call certain numbers (long distance) in order to solve
crucial clues. You'll work phony voice mail boxes, listen to fake radio
shows, all set up by the developers of Majestic. These components are
easily identified because of the signature AOL Time Warner banner ads.
However, the amount of secondary or tertiary content developed for this
game is remarkable. Often times, you'll surf to personal websites and
it becomes tougher to separate the game content from the real content.
Added to the mix is Electronic Arts' partnering with mainstream news
media portals. For example, if you run into a part of the plot that
involves satellite communications, articles from a portal like Space.com
will be pushed towards you.
The challenges presented are not that ground-breaking. Often times, a
keen player will already figure out how to deal with problems two steps
ahead of the game. Because the game is specifically paced, you might
actually have the key to the next puzzle twelve or twenty-four hours
ahead of the game's pacing. This becomes a bit of an irate problem for
gamers who are devoted to finishing in a quick manner. Clearly,
Majestic is structured so that the actual player devotes less than an
hour to the game each day. This way, I'm guessing it does not overwhelm
the casual audience. However, I found it quite a pain that I had to
wait half a day or even a full day for things to continue rolling along.
As the puzzles atrophy, more clues are provided. For example, in one
instance you are to hunt down a certain system administrator's name.
You must pass this name on to a hacker who will assist you in getting
information for this yet other third party. Waiting a day will prompt
someone to point out the site to retrieve the name. Further delay will
prompt someone to actually send you the actual name so you can pass it
on to the hacker. Despite all this help, it becomes redundant for the
clever players to actually canvas obscure clues and leads to find the
answer first. Since in the end, their only reward for doing so is being
one step ahead of their fellow player.
Though Majestic is supposed to be fully interactive with other people,
my only interaction is with those who started the game with me. Of
those people, there were large numbers of fallout who decided the game
was not for them. Frightfully few people finished the pilot episode
with me and only one person managed to get into the real pay service of
the game. The only conversations I carried on with "real" people were
those who were behind me in the game trying to ask for hints on how to
complete the game quicker. Originally, the developers were aiming for
Majestic players to converse about conspiracy theories. It is too hard,
however, not to think this is just a game since everyone is put in the
center of the list. You all get the same video conferences and e-mails, so
it becomes evident that this is a game rather than a real conspiracy.
Beyond the pilot episode, you have to pay a $9.95 subscription to
Electronic Arts' Platinum service. This payment ensures that you are
able to access all current and future Majestic content. To fully enjoy
Majestic though, I have to prescribe a small suspension of disbelief.
Hacking in this game is nothing more than running fancy Flash or Java
scripts. Real technophiles will be disappointed about the limited scope
of their game. You won't be running packet sniffers, attacking specific
servers, etc. Rather, the game's difficulty is aimed at a much more lay
level. Conversely, those who are cynical will find it hard to believe,
for example, that a building is burnt down for the sake of the game.
These are the people who will scrutinize the police reports, radio
Finally, a lot of press has gone on to speak about how revolutionary
this game is. They compare it to the recent movie, The Game featuring
Michael Douglas as the primary player. Let me be one of the first to
say, the intensity never approaches to something like The Game. It is
like a cheaper version of that movie. Although you will get phone
calls, faxes and what not, the difference is, you willingly signed up
for Majestic whereas Michael Douglas was haplessly whisked into a
conspiracy filled world. Compare what Michael Douglas' character paid
for his experiences; something in the amount of millions of dollars.
With $9.95, there won't be much interaction and certainly no one coming
to your door. The phone conversations you have will not be of people
screaming and they are definitely detectable. For example, the voice
actors issue pre-recorded phone calls and their conversations are such
that all you can do is nod or assent. Some of the threatening phone
calls sound, too threatening. Similar scripting comes with the IM
portion of the game. IM conversations with AI scripts are easy to
identify simply because some of them try too hard to be human. One
character, for example, never capitalizes his conversations while others
capitalize all their conversations. Thus, the two extremes become "too
human" to accept. Moreover, they refuse to talk about other subjects.
Often, their responses are tailored generically to handle any off-topic
things you might suggest but they do pick up on certain keywords.
Irrelevant keywords will lead them to tell you they aren't interested in
what you are proposing. Majestic characters may appear like other
players but they are also the only players that progress at the same
rate as you, as indicated by various numbers attached to their screen
Therefore, the privacy concerns are unfounded, simply because this game
can't afford to intrude on your privacy. The only place where I found
someone manning something was a Hotmail address, which I sent e-mail to
without being asked that seemed to possess a genuine human typo. One
particular annoyance I found with the game was its integration with AIM.
As I have an existing AIM account, I decided to use that alongside the
game. Even when I quit the Majestic application, I am still barraged
with Majestic character chatting me. Thus, it is more preferable to
start a new AIM account altogether.
If you fail to have a fax number or even a valid phone number, it is
never a disadvantage for all your messages are also available via the
web. Another fault I found was in the phone calls. Although Majestic
characters were able to leave messages to my cell's voicemail feature, I
had to physically go to the actual recording on the website in order to
trigger the game to move on.
Playing Majestic requires you to have some patience and temporary
suspension of belief in order to role-play your small part of the
Majestic plotline. I can see this as a great value to people who enjoy
playing casual games for no more than an hour a day. I can't see it as
being fun for those cynics who question and rationalize everything
Majestic will throw at you. Majestic is best taken in small doses. If
you wish to hurry the game, you will no doubt be frustrated. If you
wish to exercise your technical prowess, you will no doubt find it
underwhelming. Majestic is a novel idea. Its approach is totally
different from what has been done before. The thought of alarming
e-mails, threatening phone calls, are indeed unfounded. Unless you
actually run a conspiracy website or operate some UFO investigation
chapter (such that you always see this type of material), you will
easily figure out which material is part of the game and which is not.
The slow pace also guarantees you'll never be muddled about who is real
and who is not. I had a fun time within the Majestic world but I
couldn't see becoming a game wholly unto itself. Its moody soundtrack
may try to remind you the game is constantly in progress but often
times, I found myself glancing at tertiary or sometimes completely
unnecessary material. It is definitely great for gamers on the go as
well. Any computer featuring the Real's media player, a modern web
browser, AIM and the Majestic Alliance application is fully equipped to
play Majestic. Majestic accomplishes most of the objectives it sets out
to do. Yet, I think there were ways in which it could improve somewhat,
for example, in fostering communication between humans. In some sense,
I also wish they would hide their identity even more, so I couldn't tell
which characters were real and which weren't, or whether a phone call is
really from the game or not. Due to the recent tragedy in America,
Electronic Arts recently halted Majestic due to its sensitive material.
When it returns though, people with even the most casual interest should
definitely check out the free pilot episode. If it fails to hook you,
at least you will have had the chance to experience a totally new form
of PC gaming altogether.