Harvester (video game)
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European cover art
|Designer(s)||Gilbert P. Austin|
|Release date(s)||August 31, 1996|
Harvester is a point-and-click adventure computer game. It was designed by DigiFX Interactive and published by Merit Studios in 1996. Written and directed by Gilbert P. Austin, the game was a commercial failure when released.
The game stars Steve Mason, who awakes with a case of amnesia in a strange town in 1953 called Harvest. He can’t remember anything from his past and when he tells the people that claim to be his family, as well as townsfolk, they all tell him what a kidder he is. All of the town inhabitants are extremely eccentric and many appear to be more a satire or stereotype than real people. They all continuously stress to Steve that he should join the Lodge, which is a large building located at the center of town that serves as the headquarters of the Order of the Harvest Moon. Steve visits the Sergeant at Arms at the Lodge, who tells him that all of his questions will be answered inside the building. To enter, he must first join the Order of the Harvest Moon. But in order to join, he must perform a series of tasks that range from simple vandalism to arson for his initiation.
While snooping around town, performing these various tasks and learning more about this bizarre and corrupt town, Steve visits the Pottsdam residence. Here he meets the overweight and perverted Mr. Pottsdam, who tells Steve that he is to marry his daughter, Stephanie, in a few weeks. Steve meets his alleged wife-to-be upstairs and she explains that she has amnesia as well, and, like Steve, notices that something doesn’t seem right about the town. Over a series of days Steve successfully performs all of the required tasks and when he visits Stephanie in her room, he finds nothing but a mutilated skull and spinal cord. He takes it to the Sergeant of Arms and asks him if this is really the remains of Stephanie, to which the Sergeant explains that, inside the Lodge, he will learn the truth, and grants Steve access.
Inside the Lodge Steve visits three floors consisting of mayhem and murder. He must solve various puzzles along the way as well as visit different rooms, referred to as “temples” by their occupants, where he must take on several moral decisions. Eventually he makes it to the Inner Sanctum, where he talks to Principal Herrill of Harvest’s Gein Memorial School, who explains that he is second in command of the Harvest Order and is to be addressed as Vice Muck Herrill. The head of the Harvest Order, the Grand Muckity Muck, shares a few short words with Steve, and then attacks him. Steve successfully kills the Grand Muckity Muck and meets the Sergeant at Arms one last time.
He reveals Stephanie to him, who is alive but hooked up to a special torture device, which gave her pain whenever Steve climbed a rope in the Lodge. He releases her from the device and explains to Steve that everything in Harvest is created by a virtual reality simulator, which he and Stephanie are hooked up to. The Sergeant at Arms explains that this simulation was created in hopes of successfully turning Steve into a serial killer in real life. He then gives Steve a final ultimatum: Marry and live out the rest of his life and die of old age with Stephanie in the virtual reality that is Harvest or kill Stephanie, where she will die in real life but Steve will be released and free to live in the real world as a serial killer.
The following are summaries of many of the game's more interesting characters:
Steve: He is the game's playable character, who wakes up in Harvest one day with amnesia. He, like all residents of Harvest, must attempt to join the Lodge if he is to learn the truth about this strange town. No one in town (except Stephanie) appears to believe he has amnesia as he claims; almost everyone in town reminds him, "you always were a kidder, Steve."
Steve's Mom: She stands in the kitchen, endlessly smiling and baking cookies, appearing very much to have been cut from the pages of Life or Look of the early 1950s. The cookies are for the Charity Bake Sale; the sale is not until Friday, so she throws out the cookies as she bakes them, since they'll be stale before then.
Hank: is Steve's younger brother, He also doesn't believe that Steve has amnesia and is a huge fan of the TV show "Range Ryder". He is also constantly seen wearing a cowboy hat.
Stephanie Pottsdam: Literally "the girl next door", Stephanie tells Steve she, too, has woken up in Harvest with no memory of her past. She and Steve are to be married in two weeks, but she is "grounded", for unspecified transgressions, confined to her bedroom where her parents can (literally) keep an eye on her and ensure that plans do not change.
Mr. Pottsdam: The overweight, alleged father of Stephanie who keeps her locked up in her room to ensure that she doesn't call off her wedding plans with Steve (although Mr. and Mrs. Pottsdam both blame each other for having grounded Stephanie). Pottsdam has an obvious lust for raw meat and since Steve's dad owns the meat company, the marriage is his ticket to an unlimited supply. Thus, he constantly implores Steve to "remind your dad about the MEAT, won't you?" He is also a perverted man who apparently spies on Stephanie through a peephole in the bathroom and kidnaps Karin, the daughter of restaurant owner Edna.
Mrs. Pottsdam: In a kitchen nearly indistinguishable from Steve's Moms', she is, in fact, rather obviously played by the same actress, in a different wig and dress. When Steve asks her about this, she claims to be deeply insulted that he would say such a thing.
Mr. Johnson: An older man who spends most of his time maintaining and guarding his prized Tucker automobile and obsessing over his car, sex and / or Edna Fitzpatrick (and / or several combinations thereof). He offers to drive Steve and Stephanie around on their honeymoon night, because the Tucker is "real spacious" and he swears he "won't even look."
Col. Buster Monroe: A legless World War II veteran who, having been found "too mentally unstable" for combat, was relieved to a post in command of the Harvest Nuclear Missile Installation. He became unbalanced when his lower torso was shot off in Düsseldorf, Germany by Nazi forces during the war. He crawled all the way "from Germany to England", dragging his lower intestines behind him, and stopping every three miles to reel them in. On his belt is "The Button", which (of course) can launch a nuclear holocaust. If Steve throws him too many suspicious questions or answers one of the colonel's questions wrong, he will shoot Steve for being a "Commie", balancing on one hand while he fires his M-16 rifle with the other. This, of course, leads him to fall on his belt.
Sheriff Dwayne: Sheriff Duane Dwayne, the short arm of the Law in Harvest, who often seems more interested in eating pie than in solving crimes. He arrests Steve if the player commits some unlawful act.
Deputy Loomis: Dwayne's half-imbecilic Deputy, only good for minding the jail while the Sheriff investigates another pie at DNA's Diner, and for sneaking in the jail when no one else is around and "staining the mattresses", especially if he gets his hands on any of "them French postcards, the kind that men like".
Tetsua Crumb: Also known as the Wasp Woman, Tetsua lives in the abandoned house down the street from Steve's, surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of wasp nests. She explains to Steve that modern prejudice for bees over wasps results from the Judeo-Christian work ethic and its focus on productivity and sacrifice. The wasp, on the other hand, is the perfect hedonist, living only for now, stinging only for pure, "ejaculatory" pleasure. Not easily angered, she explains, they are instead easily aroused to ecstasy - and the skin of her face and hands bear the welts to prove it. Her nickname is not merely honorary: if the player kills her (as he/she can do to several characters in the game), she is revealed to have a wasp's abdomen in place of her lower body.
Jimmy James: A young schoolboy who greets Steve as he leaves his house each morning and insists that Steve "put out the paper" for him. Since the newspaper building burned down, he explains, he has nothing better to do, so Steve should just "keep putting that paper out, and everything will be Jake, ok?" If Steve fails to do so for more than a day, little Jimmy pleasantly shoots him in the face.
Fireman Sparky: Sparky, one of the obviously (and overly) homosexual firemen at "Flame Central", where the fire engine is bright pink, and the fireman fill their open moments painting portraiture. "So what if [they] only paint nude men? So what if it's the same nude man, over and over? Process, not content, Steve!"
Range Ryder: An actor who stars as the main protagonist in the western TV show "Range Ryder" which is very popular in Harvest. It is known to contain very high amounts of violence and gory content. Hank is also a huge fan of the series.
Mr. Moynahan: A dark, mysterious figure who serves Harvest as both hotelier and mortician - he runs the only funeral home, as well as the only hotel. Apparently, in Harvest it is common for "bums, the homeless, those with no one to care for them" to just drift into town, and drop dead for no apparent reason. Moynahan is so kind as to take these needful strangers into his hotel for free, and to see to their final arrangements likewise. It is for his sake that the Lodge has organized the Charity Bake Sale.
Sergeant at Arms: He guards the entrance to the Lodge and briefs the initiates, using telepathy, with the morally dubious tasks they must perform in order to join the Lodge. He also explains the truth about Harvest to Steve at the end of the game and gives him an ultimatum that will affect Steve and Stephanie’s lives.
Harvester is a point-and-click adventure. The player must visit various locations in Harvest, via overhead map, and speak to various townspeople and click special "hotspots" at each location to learn important information or to collect items to progress through the game. The items he collects will be shown on a special inventory screen, which can be accessed by clicking on Steve. The game's progress can be saved through multiple savestates.
Harvester also features a fighting system, which is rarely found in the adventure genre. The player can attack other characters by selecting a weapon item then (right-)clicking on the target character. Accordingly, the player's character also has limited health and can die. However, although many puzzles have an alternate "solution" involving killing another character, the game is largely a traditional inventory-based puzzle adventure.
The graphics in Harvester consist of 3D rendered backgrounds with digitized characters played by real actors. It also uses a "Dynamic Dialogue System (DDS)", advertised as having over 12,000 lines of spoken dialogue among all of the game's unique characters.
Harvester features mostly open game play. This means you can largely go and do the things you want. Although there are certain requirements in order to progress, said order of events on a specific game "day" is flexible.
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Harvester contains various scenes of violence and gore; implied sexual intercourse, masturbation and S&M; murder; suicide; child abuse; profanity; cannibalism; prostitution; pedophilia; molestation, arson, theft, serial killing; geronticide, vandalism, sexually transmitted diseases; and stereotypes of homosexuals, Native Americans, Italians, and others. This caused controversy when the game was first announced, as early as 1994 at that year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). At the time, several television news programs such as CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News included the (supposedly upcoming) new game in stories focusing on the link between video games and violence, as well as the need for a more established rating system.
The game was banned from stores in Germany. It was considered for release in Australia, but the local distributor for the game backed out, believing it would probably be banned there, as well. The game was released in United Kingdom, albeit with numerous scenes removed from the game by the BBFC. 
Few titles at that time had managed to match Harvester's volume of gore - a distant contemporary would be Phantasmagoria. However, despite the extremely graphic content, the game only received an M rating in the USA instead of an AO. Much of the violence consisted of crudely animated blood and gore superimposed over rotoscoped live-action actors - as opposed to realistically rendered makeup effects. Gilbert Austin has stated that his ambitions for the game were much higher (including live video during conversation, instead of simple close-up photos), but that he ran out of both time and money.
For whatever reason, the game was not actually released until 1996, and wound up being largely ignored: the victim of lukewarm reviews, having missed its initial window of notoriety, and graphics which appeared already outdated by the time of its release.