Hailing from the distant lands of 1995, D is not a title that has aged very well. Not at all. If you’re looking for an enjoyable game to invest long hours into, sorry friend but this isn’t the one for you. D is more of a title you may enjoy checking out for the strange quirks but I don’t expect anyone to fall in love over this thing. Well, that and I really just want an excuse to talk about the development behind the game.
Laura Harris is the main character in D. She’s also the digital actress which I’ll explain later on. The 20 year old San Franciscan scholar is going about her business when she receives a call that her well-respected father, Dr. Richter Harris, has snapped. Uh oh, it looks like Dad has gone on a mass murder spree at the local hospital so we better find out what that’s all about. That’s it. There really isn’t much of a back story to D which instead opts to just throw the player into the game’s scenario without any proper context at all. Dr. Harris will appear in ghost form every so often telling Laura to turn back as he “can’t hold on for much longer”. I won’t spoil the ending but put simply, Dr. Harris is changing, along with the hospital which now has the interiors of a medieval castle. He attributes the interior redecoration to the fact that Laura has crossed over into an alternate reality that will close in 2 hours time. That is, you’ve got 2 real world hours to finish the game. The game is pretty short by design although you can finish it well within time no sweat. You can replay for a few different endings but personally, I don’t think there’s any real excuse for such a non-existent story. I suppose it was back in a time where gameplay was made it rain awards.
So, the gameplay is really great, right?! Hahahaha, no. The gameplay is alright but it’s pretty boring really. Wikipedia labels it as survival horror which is a bit of a joke since the only actual enemy that you encounter is no more than a QTE encounter mid-game. If you miss or are too slow, you’ll just be booted into a pit only to climb a ladder back out to try again. It’s an adventure game where you have to solve puzzles by interacting with the environment. The game uses pre-rendered 3D CGI backgrounds that you navigate around by pressing d-pad buttons to slowly move between preset directions. Ready to set off into the next room? Well, feel free to get up, get yourself a cup of tea, maybe a few biscuits and by the time you’re back, the full motion video should be done playing. Seriously, Laura moves as if she’s just come fresh out of hip surgery, decided to go on a bit of an quest and forgotten to realise that she has the mobility of a pensioner in the midst of a heart attack. Mind you, I suppose if I was in hospital-turned-castle littered with bodies and an apparition of my murderous dad kept bugging me every 20 minutes, I’d be just about ready to give up as well.
I think the game is still something to see despite what I consider to be its failings. The opening and ending are kinda cool and the game can actually be a bit scary at times. Not so much due to the “scary” bits but looking back at the graphics today, they have a spooky uncanny valley style to them. I suppose that’s to be expected since back then, the visuals were considered impressive despite only taking 3 whole Commodore Amiga’s to create. D is also the spiritual prequel to a game I’ve been really looking forward to playing: D2 for the Sega Dreamcast but we’ll save that one for another day.
Let’s rewind a bit to when I first mentioned Laura. I said she was a digital actress. D marked her first appearance and she would go on to star in Enemy Zero as Laura Lewis and D2 as Laura Parton. She’s the same character as far as her first name and 3D model but her personality, history and last name changes in each title she appears in. It’s a strange concept and I’m not really sure how to interpret it. I’m not going to assume that developer WARP were just being lazy reusing the same character model but at the same time, there’s no reason given. There is no background to Laura the actor, only Laura the protagonist. There aren’t any quirks to imply that the character is acting in a videogame either. I thought maybe they would have eventually messed with the player, perhaps one of the sequels has enemies appear but you soon realise that they are real and you have to escape the set into the real world. Maybe I’m missing something but I just don’t really get the reason they created the idea of digital actors.
Alrighty, what I really wanted to talk about the most were the hijinks that the development team pulled to actually get this thing released. The story, in particular Dr. Harris’s cannibalistic murder spree and the FMVs in the game were considered to be quite gruesome at the time. Kenji Eno, head developer, was worried that the game would suffer poor sales due to an inevitable Adults Only rating. Instead of editing the game, he opted to keep the storyline a secret from other members of the WARP team, submitting an alternate version of the game that had no controversial elements. Once the game had been approved, he deliberately let the submission date for the master copy lapse as the penalty for doing meant that Eno would have to fly to the US and hand deliver the game to the manufacturer. While in midair, he swapped the alternate version of the game out with the more gruesome final copy which allowed it to slip past any censorship entirely.
The game went on to sell extremely well in Japan with the Sega Saturn version hitting #1 on the charts but it didn’t fare too well in America. Acclaim stepped up to fully localize the title in both the US and Europe on the Saturn, PS1 and MS-DOS which did fairly well. Sony were given confirmation that there were 100,000 units preordered for manufacturing but Sony opted to spend more resources on in house titles spitting out a mere 28,000 titles of D, according to Eno. He would later go on to unveil his next title, Enemy Zero, during a Sony conference. Still annoyed at Sony’s manufacturing blunder, the trailer behind him ended with the Playstation logo. Much to the audience’s amazement, the logo then slowly transitioned into the Sega Saturn logo with Eno announcing that all of his future titles would be on Sega platforms where I assume he promptly left the stage. He later stated some years later that a few press members were left confused thinking Eno had just announced that Sony was buying Sega which he thought was humorous.
So there you have it. That’s D for you. I suppose you could call it an indie game really since the development team was no more than about 10 members. I’ve got some issues with the game and how it has aged but don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect for the WARP team. Their later titles would play around with the idea of using sound, rather than visuals as a game input which was perhaps only contested by Seaman at the time. They were a small studio but they weren’t afraid to try things out of the ordinary even if their games can be a bit jarring at times. They were even once home to a relatively unknown animator in his late 20s. You might know him now as Fumito Ueda, director of Ico and Shadow of Colossus.
After the release of D2, WARP officially left the game industry, rebranding their company to Superwarp with a newly found focus on online music, DVD products and network services. By 2005, Superwarp was officially retired with Eno founding game development company, From Yellow to Orange. His last and only game with the company was a Wiiware title called You, Me, and the Cubes.
On February 20, 2013 at the age of 42, Kenji Eno passed away due to heart failure.
Publisher: Acclaim Entertainment
Released in 1995
Platforms: 3DO, MS-DOS, Playstation 1, Sega Saturn