Crazy like a Dali painting. You know that whole “Can games be art?” debate that’s become fashionable in recent years (Answer: Of course they can. Don’t be stupid)? The one spurred on by Clive Barker and games like Braid and Flower? Forget all that piffle. The first art game came in 1985, and was released on the ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64.
As much a multimedia art project as a game, Deus Ex Machina is all about the sensory experience, with only limited player input. What makes it awesome though, is the ingenius way it achieves that on the Spectrum, a machine that can barely manage multiple colours, let alone multiple media. The experience is spread over two tapes; one to load the game and the other to play the soundtrack on a stereo. Both contain a countdown which allows the player to synch up the 8-bit visuals with the studio-produced audio in order to create an overall experience we’d never seen in a video game format before its release.
With a professional synth soundtrack and the most English voice cast one could ever hope to collect, in the shape of flamboyant Doctor Who Jon Pertwee, camp comedian Frankie Howerd and New Wave musician Ian Dury, Deus Ex Machina is beyond strange, but utterly compulsive with it. Maybe it's self-indulgent. It might certainly be pretentious to some. But nothing like it had ever been done at the time, and very little like it has ever been done since.
How did they sell this lunacy?
Bald computer chicks. The kids just couldn't get enough of them in the ‘80s.
In 1972, right in the middle of his run as The Doctor, Jon Pertwee actually released the show's theme music as a spoken word record. Like his Doctor's velvet suits and frilly shirts, it's about as early '70s as it gets:
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