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Dreaming Out Against and Overboard

  • kumada
  • 01/17/2012 10:16 PM
Before I say anything else, that title was a test. If you recognized it, you're probably going to like this game. If not, give it a chance. It'll win you over.

I.G. At A Glance

Iron Gaia is the story of a man who awakens from cryosleep into hell. The space station that he's been in storage on has decided to creatively and systematically begin murdering its slumbering crew, mostly so it can crack them open and suck out their dreams.

Being a reasonable human being with reasonable desires, our hero promptly begins looking for a way out and, in doing so, crams himself head-first down the mindscrewiest rabbit hole this side of a Gainax film.

Iron Gaia, as a game, is an example of all the best elements of amateur design. It's one of the first major, high-visibility projects of creator Max McGee, and as such is very much the kind of game a teenager would make. I mean this strictly in a good way. The creator's enthusiasm comes through clear and strong, sometimes surfacing as profanity or a minigame, but mostly taking the form of a script that unapologetically loots the best bits of every genre it can find, and then scrambles them all together into something new.

Iron Gaia is a blender full of cyberpunk and survival horror tropes, with a hefty dash of Campbellian hero story, two shots of anime, a good long pour of alt rock, and some space opera sprinkled over the top. It's got angels and replicants, warring AI subroutines and psychic aliens, sword fights on a space train and take-no-prisoners-R2-D2. It even has a surprisingly deep metaplot propelled by that most teenage of concepts: hope.

On a mechanical level, Iron Gaia is not faultless. It has some clunkiness to it, outdated graphics aside. The game uses a random encounter system and favors big, industrial maps, sometimes making it hard to find your objective without wading through twenty encounters. It also doesn't usually give you an indication of when you're about to irreversibly advance the plot and miss cool stuff (although it does give heads-ups and saves before a lot of major fights.) A lot of features are implemented once, and then left for dead when the creator wants to try out a new idea (there's a lock-picking system I found a use for in only one area, there's a 'world map' that's really just another screen to progress through, and several areas include a feature where you have to 'unlock' the save/equip/use items menu, but this gets ditched by the midway point in the game.) More frustratingly, for a completion like myself, a lot of bonus content is hidden in ways that would make it painful to search for (the world map allegedly has secret areas, but also has neigh on thousands of dud rooms. Meanwhile, several important areas and items--not to mention the new game+--are hidden behind password protected doors.) It is possible to proceed smoothly through the game without getting any extras, but not if you have gamer OCD.

There are multiple endings to the game, and in a surprising twist, none of them are really objectively 'good.' One is a frustrating narrative sucker-punch that nonetheless ties Iron Gaia into the Backstage universe, but it may only be accessible by completing the new game+ (I didn't play my main save as a New Game+, but the download fortunately comes with a handful of save files at important junctures in the plot. This is either a flaw or a blessing, depending on your impatience.)

In-Depth Design Analysis

As far as interactivity goes, there are a handful of other places where the player is given a chance to make decisions on his own, but most of the time the plot stays on its rails. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, since Iron Gaia is an intensely story-driven game, but people with an unquenchable hunger for branching plot-threads may not find much to satisfy them.

To allow players to glide cleanly through that plot, Iron Gaia doesn't have quite the ruthless difficulty curve of more modern McGee games. As in his other works, status effects and equipment matter more than fancy special attacks, but it is entirely possible to straight-out slug your way through certain sections of the game if you get bored of pressing anything other than the enter button.

Combat isn't quite as visceral as To Arms! or as strategic as Mage Duel, but it's heavy on fluff. Rather than reading something like 'Mech poisons you. You are poisoned,' you'll get a description like 'The Mech injects you with a hypo full of nanites. Nanites swarm through your system.' Sometimes, this fluff is at the expense of explaining the crunch (I never actually figured out what it was that nanites did,) and sometimes the textbox gets a little crowded with words. One particular teammate has a wind-up for a special attack that includes about a minute more fancy lights and chanting than is strictly needed (although he will then proceed to rip apart everything on the field after it's used, so this balances out.) Generally speaking, though, combat doesn't much interrupt the plot, and in some ways it enhances it.

As far as sountracks go, Iron Gaia has a pretty robust one. Embracing the fact that it is an unpaid labor of love, it rips tracks from metallica, the offspring, resident evil, coheed and cambria, system of a down, linkin park, final fantasy, NIN, and a whole host of other sources from the late 90's and early 2000's. The sound quality is a little scratchy in places, but mostly very apt.

Iron Gaia is not the most polished game you will ever see. It's rough around the edges. What it does have in spades, however, is heart. It's the kind of game the invites you to actually care about things. Maybe that means getting angry at the injustice of the (game) world, or having to sit down and just think for a minute after the credits roll, but if art is measured by its ability to inspire emotion in people, this is certainly art. It's also pulpy as hell, and quite fun to play. For me, at least, these are the three qualities that will sell me on a game every time.

Play if you like:
-plot-driven games
-cyberpunk survival horror
-games the creator enjoyed making
-a hearty helping of coheed and cambria

Avoid if you don't like:
-out-dated graphics
-a few dud minigames and some dropped mechanics
-fluff-over-crunch design philosophy
-too much coheed and cambria


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Max McGee
My name is Legion: for we are many.
I have to say that unsurprisingly this is one of my favorite things I've ever read on RMN, and although (perhaps justly) no one will believe me, that really has nothing to do with the score attached.

I personally don't think Iron Gaia: Where Angels Fear To Tread is anywhere near as good of a game as you do (at this point I'm even slightly embarrassed of Virus, which is kind of this plus at-the-time-newfound knowledge of basic game design principles), but this was nonetheless an absolutely entertaining and informative read.

And somewhere (or somewhen) my 13-18 year old self, bygone these past 7-12 years, feels particularly validated,

Note: Contrary to popular (and really understandable) misconception, the game has THREE endings. Two are accessible from the getgo: the "Dream" ending and the "Escape" ending (which may not be what they're actually called in game, I literally don't remember) . These are the main endings, and as far as the rest of the universe is concerned, BOTH are canon. There is a third, completely non-canon ending, the "Xenos Was Right" ending, where the Iron Gaia is actually controlled by

Mortimer, the dread Praxis lord who you fight as an alternate final boss.

This THIRD (and least important) ending is the only one which you need to complete the (thoroughly ridiculous and embarrassingly untested) New Game+ mode to see.
Huh, okay. The bundled save files were of the regular game, then. That makes sense.

Completely cracked out narrative analysis to follow:

Also, this may just be my reading of canon, but I have this theory where they're all basically right. Because of the nature of the Iron Gaia entity and its impending godhood, reality is kind of bubbled around the inhabitants of the station. They can interact with each other, but they're not all seeing the same things at once.

To complicate things further, the IG already exists on multiple layers of reality and is trying to 'wake up' into another (the 'real world' where Backstage takes place.) The way it's doing this is through the dreamer, who by dint of being in a coma was able to brush his consciousness against another reality, where IG grabbed onto it.

To complicate things even further, I have a sneaking suspicion that the comet that hit Iron Gaia was the one that was threatening Earth, thereby fragmenting it and causing a more survivable apocalypse (which in turn leads to the events of ETG and Vermicide.) This means that Origin is very probably Earth, and that Iron Gaia completely greenstick fractured the laws of causality by traveling to the moment just after its departure.

I don't know if any of this theorizing has a basis in rationality, and obviously I sat and thought about this way too much, but I do like that it all tenuously connects.

And to think I ragged on people for liking Lost...
I wholeheartedly agree with this review. This was one of my favorite RPGMaker games back in the day. I have since played other games that were better on a technical level, but this still holds a place in my heart. I thought it was a very well crafted story. My main complaint with the game were the inconsistent graphics and facesets. That's why I became very excited some (and subsequently disappointed) some years back when Max released the first 10% of the game with updated graphics.
I liked this game up until I died twice after watching a massive cutscene. I think if the saves were a little more forgiving I would eventually have beaten it. Still, it's one of those games I always told myself I'd go back and play again eventually.
I know exactly where you're talking about. Just keep using energy crystals and Slade's rage limit, interrupted by the occasional medipak. The Deltus fight took me a couple tries until I figured that out.

You do have a point, though. The pacing on the save spots was a little uneven, ala some of the more recent final fantasies.
can someone tell me some password as help also iam stuck to don.t know where to put virys blood sample five digit code DHVXH thanks for help
reedemer, I think you want the page for Iron Gaia: Virus, the gaideny thingy that follows Slade instead of Carter. It has the med lab puzzle where you have to vector a virus through several hosts to get an encoded combination for a door.


Everyone gets stuck on that one. Here's what you need to do:

-obtain virus

-inject virus into xel, cleaning the code slightly

-inject virus into reaper, which then attacks you

-hack the autodoc, diagnose yourself, realize you need some iridium

-backtrack to iridium chest, return to the autodoc and get a diagnosis and vaccine for the mutated chimera virus

-crunch the letters for the virus into a simple substitution cipher (i.e. A=1, B=2, etc.) There is literally nothing anywhere telling you to do this last step.

-arrive at the answer: either 3721237 or 4822248
If you really want to break the game over your knee up to the final boss (edit: of IG1), just grind Carter up to ... I want to say lv20 and get Deatomize. It pretty much fucks the difficulty sideways.

The one drawback is that Max did realize near the end of development that the skill was completely unbalanced and made the final boss immune to it, so you can't cheese that fight. But with Carter at that high a level, you can just buff him and go to town.

edit: re: crackpot theories:

Max McGee
My name is Legion: for we are many.
As much as you love that image macro oto, everything that kumada said is....actually kind of pretty much 100% right. I mean there are a few things wrong but they are so incredibly minor that...yeah. It is startlingly accurate, especially coming from someone with no knowledge of Systems Malfunction.

And you're 100% right about Deatomize.
Oh, I wasn't claiming that the theories were wrong/bullshit. That macro can also mean "holy shit mind blown" in some interpretations.
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