Alter Ego

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Alter Ego

Alter Ego - C64 - USA.jpg

Commodore 64 - USA - Male version - 1st edition.

Developer Activision
Publisher Activision
Published 1986-Q3-??
Platforms Apple II, Android, Browser, Commodore 64, DOS, iOS, Macintosh Classic
Genres Educational, Interactive fiction, Management simulator, Simulator
Themes Childhood, Management, Romance
Distribution Commercial

Alter Ego is a cross between a management simulator and an interactive fiction video game about the life of your alter ego. It was developed and published by Activision for the Apple II, Commodore 64, Macintosh Classic, and MS-DOS in published in the fall of 1986. Many years later it was ported to modern Web browsers, Android, and iOS.

In the game, you must you make life decisions for your alter ego from birth to death. These include major decisions, like when you'll start dating, if you'll go to college, where you'll work, when and if you'll get married and have children, as well as many more day-to-day decisions like how you will respond to friends, family, co-workers, and strangers. Depending on how you react in these decision-making scenarios you may find yourself living a long fulfilling life, dying young in a blaze of glory, become a successful doctor or movie star, drinking yourself into oblivion, murdered on the side of the road, and everything in between. The game doesn't shy away from adult themes like bullying, sex, drug use, and crime, so these will all come up throughout your life. And, just like real life, the game also includes some randomness as well: some alter egos are born with a trust fund, others with a birth defect, sometimes if you do something dangerous you make it through unscathed, sometimes you're arrested or maimed.

Personal

Own?No.
Won?Yes. Female version. Childhood to old age.
Finished2023-05-15.

I frequently try to find older games that I missed in order to broaden my understanding of video games. This title came up on various web sites listed as an important game to play. I played the original Apple II female version and finished a full life from childhood to old age.

Review

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5 3 2 1 4

Best Version: Browser

— This section contains spoilers! —

Good

  • The game has a lot of scenes, many of which are quite interesting and kept my attention from start to finish.
  • I like that the game contains trigger warnings before overt sexual content.
  • Writing a female version of the game was a nice addition.
  • In response to the decisions you make, the game actually gives a lot of helpful advice. For example, you're given various options on how to tell your significant other's parents to stop butting into your personal relationship, and, the doctor who wrote the scenario explains what will likely happen based on what you choose.
  • After growing up from an infant and going through all the major life events, when I finally read about my death, it was actually mildly emotional.

Bad

  • All the disk swapping really slows down the game. It's too bad they couldn't use a better text compression algorithm to cut down on it. It's not as bad on the later games, but the Apple II original will have you swapping disks about 100 times before the end of your life.
  • Nearly all of the scenarios are the same every time you play the game. While you can choose different options, and some results change randomly or depending on your stats, it still makes the game very similar each time you replay it.
  • I don't see the purpose of the mood. Most of the time you're required to match a mood to an action anyway, so they're almost always a 1-to-1 response. In those cases, why bother having the player player choose them?
  • Although a game of this type doesn't need flashy graphics, those that it has are pretty dull. It also doesn't take full advantage of the hardware. The Commodore 64 port could have been much more colorful than the Apple II or MS-DOS ports.
  • The semi-winding path used to lay out the scene cards is meaningless. The cards don't change depending on what you choose, and you can basically do everything regardless of which direction it takes you. I guess it's meant to look like the winding path of your life, but, since it's always the same, having to navigate it is just pointless busywork.
  • The female version has some pretty problematic content. I expect that from a game published in 1986, but, it probably would have been a lot better if they hired a female author write the content.
  • Every alter ego is forced to be straight and cis. You can avoid dating and marriage, but that's it.
  • The game is sometimes too transparent about which factors are being affected or assessed. For example, when you try to get married, it points to specific factors which must be high in order for you to succeed.
  • I feel like more could have been done to balance money with health. For so many people in real life, their poor health is often due to the inability to afford a doctor. However, in the game, even if you're poor, you can still choose to go to the doctor or dentist whenever you need to.
  • For all the effort you put into your life, there isn't much of an ending.

Ugly

  • With only a few poorly-drawn icons for graphics, the game looks terrible. It's primarily designed to be cerebral, and there wasn't disk space for illustrations, but they still would have helped the game immensely.
  • The game's only audio is annoying beeps heard during input prompts. The developers could have at least added some jingles to the Commodore 64 port, as the computer had a built-in audio chip.
  • There seems to be several some bugs in the Apple II port.
    • In the college section, after I reached adulthood, I just keep getting the message that it's going to be tough and cost $500 each time you go, but there are no options to do anything with it or even drop out. And, because of this, I couldn't get a better job because it said I was still in school.
    • After I got married I tried using the "live together" option, but the game told me I must first be going steady with someone.
    • When I prepared my will, the game told me I couldn't will my possessions to my children because I didn't have any, but, in the very next scenario, my son got married!

Media

Covers

Documentation

Video

Longplay - Apple II - Female version.
Longplay - Commodore 64 - Female version.
Game play - MS-DOS - Female version.

Play Online

Browser, Commodore 64 (Female), MS-DOS (Both)

Representation

Strong female character?PassIn the female version, you can play as a strong woman.
Bechdel test?PassIf you play the female version, your alter ego will speak to a number of named women.
Strong person of color character?FailI don't remember race ever coming up in the game.
Queer character?FailThere is one character who you assume is gay, but it turns out he isn't, and you can't play as a queer character.

Links

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