Making contact with Contact's makers
In The War of the Worlds, it was the Earth's bacteria that saved the day. In Tim Burton's outrageous Mars Attacks, the alien invaders were turned back thanks to the catwauling yodels of Slim Whitman.

But in Contact, the quirky Japanese RPG that sounds quirkier the more we hear about it, the relationship between Earthlings and our alien visitors is more akin to ET trying to phone home.

Here the alien in question is the Professor, who's crash landed on Earth and damaged his spaceship. It's up to you, playing as young turk Terry, to get him back into space.

"The Professor can't be controlled," explains Akira Ueda, Contact's director. "His role is to help Terry from his lab, from where he gives hints and advice, as well as talking directly to Terry about the quest he's on."

This separation between the Professor in his lab, represented in a pixel art-style on the DS' top screen, and the player as Terry, who operates the more realistically rendered touchscreen, is one of the game's main features.

"The separation is quite deliberate," agrees Ueda. "It underlines how the player and the Professor are aliens to each other. They must make contact, communicate and co-operate to make it through the game."

"There's also the idea that the game is a form of contact with an extra-terrestrial consciousness. By playing the game, the player is teaching the Professor about planet Earth."

In terms of what you'll actually get up to as Terry, Contact is best thought of as a collection of mini-games.

"The main storyline provides a framework of diversions," reveals Ueda. "Elements such as combat, item-collecting and monster-hunting all fit into the overall concept, but Contact is more than just an action RPG."

Most of these activities seem to involve the DS touchscreen, and consist of simple games such as knocking fruit out of trees by tapping them with the stylus. More involved are the stickers that can be selected from an in-game book, and then peeled off to be applied directly into the game world to trigger events such as damaging enemies, boosting Terry's performance, or even summoning the Professor's pet to help.

"We've endeavoured to use as many of the DS' features as we could, but not in an obvious way," Ueda says. "Our philosophy was 'How can we use these fantastic features properly?'. We wanted them to work for the story rather than dictate it, which is something we feel is incredibly important for an original concept like Contact."

Due to be breaking through the Earth's atmosphere during the autumn, click the 'Track It!' button to receive more news as it comes on Contact.
Jon Jordan 18/4/2006
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