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Empress of the Deep

Travis Donnell / May 22, 2015 at 8:00 AM / Gaming, Opinions

Last year, I was spending a weekend with Chicago based socialite Lorelai Sandoval when she insisted that we stop at a place she referred to as a “dive bar,” and it certainly lived up to the moniker: It was loud and disheveled, used bottle caps in its interior design, and you were made to seat yourself. I had spent most of the day rather sternly warning Ms. Sandoval off of her then current engagement to a musician who looked more at home in a tattoo parlor or an alleyway than on a stage, so I gave her a win and acquiesced, feigning what little I could remember of local-yokel mannerisms in order to fit in.

After we sat in a booth of dubious sanitation, she immediately began to drone on about her budding interest in sponge painting, a topic that I had no patience for. As I tuned her out and began thinking about things I would rather be doing, I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation going on at the table next to me: A young fellow was telling his table-mates about his ownership of a website pertaining to video-games, which piqued my interest, as I own them all.

You see, when I was eleven, Father got tired of me getting underfoot and playing the kinds of practical jokes that ended with injured servants, so in an effort to keep me busy elsewhere he had an accountant dedicate one of our charge cards to buying monthly video-game releases from various catalogs, which is to this day ongoing. I detest incompletion, so some years back when I discovered eBay I ordered the same accountant to retrieve every existing game and console from before the boon started, and now the whole lot of it resides in a storage warehouse in the east wing.

In an effort not to taste the swill that this den of mediocrity deemed ale, I had drank it hastily, and on an empty stomach no less, putting me well past relaxed and into tipsy. Perhaps it was the buffalo’s head shamelessly mounted over the bar, or perhaps it was because I simply couldn’t bear to hear any more about pastel landscapes willed into insipid being by the edge of a makeup sponge, but, whatever the reason, I excused myself from the oblivious Ms. Sandoval and strode coolly to the adjacent table.

Their conversation died down as I approached them, and, remembering that locals respect directness, I thrust my hand out at the website owner and introduced myself. For whatever reason, he apparently hadn’t heard of me or Father’s enterprise, but I was less concerned with that than I was discussing this business of video-games. No one invited me to sit, yet there was plenty of room at their table, so I took this to be a kind of bumpkin custom in which the newly introduced seat themselves in a show of confidence or some such thing. I did and began regaling stories of my acquisitions to the small gathering who were indeed stunned into silence.

Unfortunately, it seemed they were all late to a previous engagement of god-knows-what and had to make exit, but the site owner gave me his card and told me to “shoot him an email”. Pleased with myself for having made such a positive impression, I steeled myself and dutifully returned to my table with Ms. Sandoval and her sponges.

I imagine the running of a website to be a time consuming affair, as my numerous emails went unanswered. It was only after I hired a notary public to deliver a penned letter to him at his home address that the site owner finally responded to my inquiries, and he was clearly excited to be reminded about me, as evidenced by his strongly worded email that he composed almost entirely in capital letters. “I’M SOOOO GLAD TO HEAR FROM YOU,” it read, and continued “I WAS GETTING WORRIED YOU’D FORGOTTEN TO REMIND ME SINCE YOUR 18TH EMAIL 12 HRS AGO!! THX FOR SENDING A RANDO TO MY HOUSE THO THAT WAS SUPER HELPFUL.” After some jolly online banter, it was decided that I would begin writing for the esteemed yet questionably themed website that you are now currently reading, no doubt hanging by my every word in anticipation of what might come next! Well, I shan’t keep you in suspense any longer.

My first foray into the waters of video-games journalism will be to give you my admittedly inexperienced but innately sage observations of the hidden object series “Empress of the Deep.” While I am told by the people I have hired to advise me in these matters that games of this ilk are considered to be lesser, or “casual,” by more experienced players, I remain unconcerned with whatever meager titles some amongst you may or may not bestow upon yourselves. If you are one of these, I humbly suggest that a lens less fogged by pretension will afford a clearer worldview.

Moving forward, the plot of “Empress of the Deep” could have been and likely was pulled directly from any number of the New-Age obsessed, late 1980s era soap operas that my dear, departed mother used to watch with her multilingual Venezuelan aide and, due to Mother’s station as then Duchess of Mecklenburg and subsequent slight grasp of the English language, sometime translator Rico before they, and curiously their entire boat, were shockingly lost at sea.

The gaudy elements on display here include but are not limited to an evil twin, a hapless heir to an extravagant throne, speaking purple orbs, benign, seasonal spirit children whom you are entrusted to protect, animal guardians, and literal crystal fairies which are, I kid you not, shaped like tiny flying dolphins and which fill your magic meter upon capture. The game-play consists of looking for and clicking on objects that are “hidden” amongst a plethora of others in a series of nonsensical collages seemingly fashioned from the confused dream journals of the incurably disturbed, while occasionally solving puzzles on par with the difficulty of those found in issues of “Highlights for Children.”

In what I can only assume was an oversight, or possibly a deliberate attempt at sabotage by the downtrodden third world help no doubt hired to program these atrocities, each game includes a tab at the top of the screen titled STRATEGY GUIDE, which upon selection details every aspect of the game’s solution should you be sufficiently too stupid by either design or injury to complete it on your own.

On a positive note, the aesthetics are deliciously chintzy in their brazen presentation: In the world of “Empress of the Deep,” you could keep yourself quite busy as a jewel-setter, being that almost everything in sight is riddled with them. Further contributing to the exuberant tawdriness is that each physical location within the games seem to serve no practical purpose other than to appear as opulent and garish as possible. While going about each task in the service of returning these places to my perpetually absent subjects, I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly it was they would be returning to.

Empress of the Deep fountains
“Shall we continue lounging by this fountain littered with refuse, or shall we lounge by the fountain bursting with large crystals?”

While the “Empress of the Deep” games practically play themselves, unlike the arrogant elitists amongst the gaming population, I don’t dismiss them out of hand. For instance, I would suggest this series to denizens of convalescence homes who have been long forgotten by their families and need something to pass the time before their eventual end, or to harried, blue-collar single parents who need a relaxing false sense of accomplishment after a long day of manual labor, custody proceedings, and the conscious use of public transportation. Ultimately, the world is large enough for everything to have a place, which is something we should all keep in mind before casting aspersions upon the works of others.

Travis Donnell

Creative Director

Creative Director & Producer @ TR