Harvester (video game)
|Designer(s)||Gilbert P. Austin|
|Platform(s)||MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, Linux|
|Genre(s)||Interactive movie, point-and-click adventure|
Harvester is a 1996 point-and-click adventure game written and directed by Gilbert P. Austin, known for its violent content, cult following, and examination of the relationship between fictional violence and actual violence.
The game stars Steve, who awakes with a case of amnesia in a strange town in 1953 called Harvest. No one there believes he is genuinely amnesiac. 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 tasks and learning more about Harvest, 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. 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. 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 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 an ultimatum: Marry and live out the rest of his life with Stephanie in the virtual reality that is Harvest or kill Stephanie. She will die in real life but Steve will be released and free to live in the real world as a serial killer.
If the player chooses to kill Stephanie, Steve beats Stephanie to death and then removes her skull and spinal cord. After the murder is complete, Steve awakens within the virtual reality simulator. Steve, hitchhiking, brutally murders the driver. Steve returns home, where he plays Harvester with his computer. His mother disapproves the game and criticizes violence in video games by saying that people who watch violence commit violence. Steve ridicules his mother's assertions and laughs at her comparison of violent media to "Road Runner cartoons."
If the player chooses to spare Stephanie's life, the Sergeant at Arms expresses disappointment. Steve says that he'd rather die than become a serial killer, to which the Sergeant at Arms responds that he should enjoy his life "such as it is". Steve marries Stephanie in a ceremony officiated by the Sergeant at Arms and the two have a child together. Their graves are then shown, followed by the death of their bodies in real life as their virtual lives only lasted a few minutes.
- Kurt Kistler as Steve Mason
- Ryan Wickerham as the voice of Steve
- Lisa Cangelosi as Stephanie
- Kevin Obregon as Sergeant at Arms / Technician #1
- Ryan Wickerham as the voice of Sergeant at Arms
- Mary Allen as Mom / Mrs. Pottsdam / Generic PTA Moms
- Gilbert P. Austin as Mr. Moynahan
- Nelson Knight as Sheriff Dwayne
- Bob Cawley as Mr. Johnson
- Graham Teschke as Col. Buster Monroe
- Tracy Odell as Dark Exotic Woman (as Tracy Napodano)
- Mike Napodano as Cue Card Man / Technician #2
- Michael Napodano Jr. as Baby Sister
- Tim Higgins as Chessmaster
- Rheagan Wallace as Karin
- Roxanne Lovseth as Edna Fitzpatrick
- Travis Miller as Mr. Pottsdam
- Tom Lima as Kewpie
- Christopher Ammons as Jimmy James
- Charles Beecham as Postmaster Boyle
- Jack Irons as Grand Poobah
The game utilizes a point and click interface. Players must visit various locations within the game's fictional town of Harvest via an overhead map. By speaking to various townspeople and clicking on special "hotspots", players can learn information and collect items that progress the game's story and play. Harvester also features a fighting system where players can attack other characters by selecting a weapon and then clicking on the target. Both the target and the player's character have a limited amount of health available, allowing for either the player or the target to die. Players can choose to progress through the game by solving puzzles or by killing one of the non-playable characters.
Development and controversy
Harvester was developed by FutureVision (renamed DigiFX by the time of the game's release). Writer/director Gilbert P. Austin recounted:
My feeling was that FutureVision, being a small company, would need something “high concept” to compete with the industry giants of the time, and I argued that Harvester was exactly that idea. It was really the only idea that I pitched. I remember that it came to me in a flash. That’s how I get a lot of my ideas, in creative rushes where I can barely write fast enough to get it all down. ... The concept of Harvester, the idea that at the end of the game I wanted the player to mull over whether he had internalized the over-the-top violence and surreal imagery of the game in the same manner that Steve had, and the primary ending…all this was in the initial concept that I jotted down in one of those small reporter spiral notepads in about 30 minutes. That’s what I pitched to FutureVision, and they bought it.
Harvester was first announced to the public at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 1994 in Las Vegas. The video footage was all filmed in the back warehouse of publisher Merit Software. Though he was only contracted as the game's writer, Austin voluntarily directed the filming to ensure it stayed true to his vision for the game. Austin finished the creative work in autumn 1994 and moved on to the other projects, leaving producer Lee Jacobson in sole charge of the remaining development. The game was set to be released the same year but the programming took two years to finish, and it became a commercial failure.
In a December 1996 press conference, Dr. David Walsh released a list of games that he considered to be excessively violent. Jacobson publicly demanded that Harvester, which was not included in Dr. Walsh's list, be added to it. Gaming journalist Christian Svensson described Jacobson's actions as "shameless", and did not refer to Jacobson, DigiFX, or Harvester by name so as not to provide positive reinforcement for such publicity seeking.
The game was designed by DigiFX Interactive and published by Merit Studios in 1996. On March 6, 2014, Lee Jacobson re-released it in GOG.com, for PC and Mac. On April 4, 2014, Night Dive Studios re-released it in Steam for PC and Linux.
Harvester received "mixed or average" reviews, according to review aggregator Metacritic. PC Gamer gave Harvester a positive review upon its initial release, but panned it in a 2011 review where they called it the "goriest, most confusing, and above all stupidest horror game ever." Allgame remarked that the game's delayed release negatively impacted its reception, as the game felt dated when it was finally released. They felt that this was indicative of the game as a whole, as "conversations with characters are frustrating and often make little sense, plus the manner in which the plot develops is disappointing. ... there are things that are never explained, and the final third of the game is dull and pointless." GameSpot's review was mixed, as they felt that there was "nothing actually revolutionary going on in Harvester" but praised the game's full-motion video segments as "truly disturbing" and commented that it had "tried-and-true adventure mechanics with entertaining twists".
Entertainment Weekly gave the game a B+ and wrote that "Blue Velvet, Leave It to Beaver, and the Friday the 13th series are some of the allusions that come to mind while playing this truly weird adventure game. Assuming the role of an amnesiac small-town teenager in the '50s, you get mixed up with a mysterious cult, predatory aliens, and neighbors who rant and rave about meat, Communists, and shotgun weddings. (How over-the-top is Harvester? At the start of this three-disc diversion, I unintentionally took a swing at a freckle-faced delivery boy, who promptly shot me dead in a bloody spray of bullets.) Like a late-late movie on some obscure UHF station, this gratuitously violent game doesn't make much sense, but it is a lot of twisted fun."
- Elston, Brett. "The bloodiest games you've never played". Games Radar. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
- Malin, Aarno. "Inside Harvester - A Fan Interview with Gilbert P. Austin". GOG.com. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- "What Is Senator Lieberman's Problem with Videogames?". Next Generation. No. 28. Imagine Media. April 1997. p. 11.
- Svensson, Christian (March 1997). "Lieberman Back in Action". Next Generation. No. 27. Imagine Media. p. 28.
- "Retro Gaming: Harvester (1996)". Weird Retro. Retrieved 2016-10-28.
- Computer Gaming World, Volumes 150-153. Golden Empire Publications. 1997.
- GOG.com (2014-03-06). "Release: Harvester". CD Projekt.
- Valve Corporation (2014-04-04). "Now Available on Steam - Harvester". Steam.
- "Harvester for PC Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
- Indovina, Kurt (October 30, 2015). "Harvester Review". Adventure Gamers. Retrieved October 30, 2015.
- House, Matthew. "Harvester". Allgame. Archived from the original on November 17, 2014. Retrieved 27 January 2014.
- Hudak, Chris (August 29, 1996). "Harvester Review". GameSpot. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
- Gamer, PC (April 27, 2014). "Harvester review - December 1996, US edition". PC Gamer. Retrieved April 27, 2014.
- Cobbett, Richard (May 14, 2011). "Saturday Crapshoot: Harvester". PC Gamer. Retrieved April 27, 2014.