Lifestream is the first game from
independent developer Christopher M. Brendel. It began as an idea he
had back in high school, but at that time the idea didn't progress
further than an outline of the plot. Six years later, in May of
2004, he returned to the project and the result is Lifestream.
The story begins as John, a young
man who appears to be in his early 20's, awakens from a nightmare.
He is troubled because his father, Randolph Holton, has gone missing
and he feels powerless. He can't report his father's disappearance
to the authorities because his father is a priest, and isn't
supposed to have children. To admit he was Father Randolph Holton's
son would ruin his father's reputation as a priest. So John decides
to investigate on his own. He isn't sure where to begin looking, but
starts out at the house where Father Randolph often stayed when he
needed a rest from his responsibilities.
In the course of his investigation,
John learns of Father Randolph's search for something called the
Lifestream. The Lifestream seems to be a sort of parallel dimension
to our own - a place where dreams can come true. But the Lifestream
has a dark side. Those who learn of it can become obsessed with it.
And once inside the Lifestream, it may not be possible to leave. Is
Father Randolph trapped in the Lifestream? If so, is there anything
John can do to free him?
Lifestream is divided into ten
chapters and a Prologue. The gamer plays in alternate chapters as
John in the present and as Father Randolph in the past.
Lifestream has both inventory
puzzles and a few standalone puzzles. By "standalone puzzles" I mean
puzzles that would still be puzzles if you removed them from the
game environment. For example, a slider on the lid of a box that you
solve to open the box would be a standalone puzzle. Most of the
puzzles are not difficult, and there are usually plenty of clues
about what you should do next. Often your character simply tells
you. And the game areas you have to search for hotspots are not that
large. There is no illogical use of inventory.
You meet and talk to other
characters in the game, but there are no real conversation puzzles.
Conversations sometimes serve as triggers for other events and the
availability of inventory items and other hotspots.
There is more than one maze, though
one of them was more a matter of finding the "key" to moving through
the maze than mapping. There is a 4x3 slider, a type of Chinese
checkers game, and a few other little standalone puzzles that you
solve to open locked objects. There was also a game you have to play
against another character which can be tricky to win. (There are
hints and solutions to these puzzles in the game guide. The slider
even has a puzzle skip.)
There is one dexterity-based puzzle
that requires steady hands and a smooth mouse more than speed.
Unfortunately if you have coffee nerves (or just nerves) it may take
quite a few tries to get through and some people may get stuck here.
(I found it much easier to solve this puzzle after reducing my mouse
pointer speed in Windows Control Panel.) There is also a timed
puzzle toward the end which some people have had difficulty with. It
is much much easier if you know where to click. You may die a few
times in this puzzle before you learn what to click on, but the game
restores you to before your "mistake" and loads quickly. It also
warns you before you enter the dangerous area by telling you to
save. A save point is useful if you need to go back and look for
clues in your inventory, which isn't available during the timed
Lifestream is a first person
point-and-click adventure game. It was made using AdventureMaker
software and the interface is very similar to the one used in other
independently produced games like The Arrangement and Harvest. The
default cursor is a big orange X. It changes to a "^" to indicate
where clicking will make you move forward or to a "v" to show where
you can back up. A "<" or ">" indicates where you can turn, and a
sort of diamond shape shows where you can interact with the
gameworld or inventory. A few areas have an up or down arrow to
indicate where you can look up or look down. When you can pick
something up, the cursor changes to a little blob with the word
"TAKE" spelled out next to it.
A small black rectangle that says
"Inventory" is visible in the upper left of the screen during most
of the interactive parts of the game. When you move your cursor over
this box, your inventory appears along the top of the screen. A
ToolTip-type description of an item will appear if you hover your
cursor over it. You use items in inventory by dragging them to where
you want to use them, whether the target is something in the game
environment or another item in inventory. There is a magnifying
glass at the left side of inventory that you can use to zoom in on
items in inventory. Dragging the magnifying glass over the item will
give a full screen view of the item along with a spoken comment.
Nearly all inventory items can be examined in this manner, but there
are a few rare exceptions, like the different herbs. Sometimes
you'll collect reading material, and you can zoom in on it to read
it. You turn the pages by clicking on a left or right cursor.
One difference between Lifestream
and games like The Arrangement is that Lifestream has transitions
that play when you move from one node to the next. This is an
ambitious undertaking in an independently produced game, but
unfortunately these transitions are highly compressed and most of
them don't look very good. They may even be hard on your eyes after
a while. The transitions can be skipped by clicking the Escape key
on your keyboard once or twice (it was usually twice on my
computer). Doing this makes it less clear where your character moved
to, but the option is available if you don't like the transitions or
simply want to move around the gameworld faster.
To save, you right-click and a
taskbar appears at the top of the page through which you can Save,
Load, or Exit. Saves are located in the game folder. You can delete
unwanted saves through the save interface (not the load interface)
with the "Remove Selected" button. You can also delete unwanted
saves by browsing to the game folder and deleting them as you would
any other file. You are allowed an unlimited number of saves.
There aren't any game options that
I could find.
The graphics are in 640x480
resolution. Still shots aren't photorealistic, but look reasonably
good. Characters' faces were nicely done and the animation of the 3D
character models in cut scenes is probably the best I've seen in an
independently produced game. Lip synch was especially good, matching
mouth shape to speech. Care was taken with the way the cut scenes
were put together - how the characters were placed on the screen,
when closeups were used and from what angle, when and how music or
sound effects were used, etc. I was impressed by this, especially
since these are details that even commercial game developers often
fail to consider.
The graphics weren't perfect.
Sometimes the characters have an odd way of posing with rigidly
straight fingers, which looks a bit unnatural. But the only place
the quality of the graphics really falls down is in the transitions
which play as you move from node to node. These were highly
compressed so the game would fit on one CD. Some gamers say they get
used to the look of the transitions and don't notice them after a
while. Others are very bothered by the compression artifacts.
Sound was very well done in
Lifestream. Voice acting was mostly very good. John Bell did many of
the male voices and the other voice actors were also convincing.
Sound effects and background sounds
were well used. The ones that played during cut scenes were
particularly good. I only remember a couple of sound effects that
bothered me. A fire burning in a the fireplace sounded more like a
big furnace. And the sound of your character's footsteps often
seemed too fast considering how fast he appeared to be walking. But
for the most part sound effects and background sounds were well
done. The sounds that played as you click on puzzles gave good
feedback. I didn't care for the "music" that accompanied the star
puzzle. It was shrill and somewhat atonal and not conducive to
coherent thought processes. Perhaps it was meant to confuse the
gamer and make the puzzle harder.
The music was one of the high
points of the game. It was used very effectively in cut scenes and
worked well to set the mood during the game and build tension. Much
of it was also nice by itself and I'd have liked a soundtrack CD
like The Arrangement had.
Lifestream comes on one CD and
installs completely to the hard drive. After installation you can
put away your game CD. The installation process will prompt you to
install the XviD codec toward the end of the install. The game needs
this codec in order to function.
The game also needs Flash and
Shockwave installed in order to run. Most computers that have been
used for browsing will already have these installed. But if you have
a brand new computer or a computer you don't use for online
browsing, you may need to install them. The Lifestream CD includes
installers for both. The "Install Flash Player 7.msi" is obvious and
the sw_pub.msi file is the Shockwave installer. You can install them
by double-clicking on them. Don't worry if they just open a box that
says "preparing to install..." and then appear to quit. They do
install. They just aren't very obvious about doing it and don't
notify you that your install was successful. You can also download
and use the Flash and Shockwave installers from the
www.macromedia.com website, which are more obvious about doing
something when they install.
(as listed in the Install.htm file in the Help folder on the game
IBM PC or compatible
Pentium 733 MHz
64 MB RAM
600 MB Hard Drive space
24-Bit Color display
4x or faster CD-ROM drive
Windows-compatible sound card and
Macromedia Flash Player
The computers I played it on
Windows 2000 SP2
Athlon XP 1800+ (about 1533 MHz)
512 MB system RAM
16x/10x/12x/40x Toshiba SD-R1202
Matrox G550 graphics card with 32
SBLive Value 5.1
Windows XP SP1
Pentium 4 3200 MHz
1024 MB system RAM
16X Samsung SD 616E DVD drive
ATI X800 SE graphics card with 128
SBLive (OEM version from Dell)
The long cut scene that unfolded at
the end of the game explained most things, while leaving some
mysteries. I thought the ending was satisfying. It was sort of
bittersweet and poignant rather than being a completely happy
ending. But I don't see how the story could have ended otherwise
without seeming forced. I generally don't like unhappy endings
unless they work with the rest of the game. I felt this one did.
Lifestream and its companion guide
are available through the Lifestream website at
I recommend getting the guide along
with the game, as it contains tips on where to find Easter eggs (Lifestream
had some of the funniest Easter eggs I've ever seen in a game) as
well as a walkthrough and a separate section for help in solving
individual puzzles. There are also darkened "Spoiler" sections
interspersed throughout the walkthrough which may help clarify plot
details. I suggest you not read the "Spoiler" sections until you've
played the game through at least once. But they are interesting to
check during a replay. The game guide is available at a discount
when purchased along with the game.
Recommended for fans of
independently developed and published games and those for whom story
is more important than a state of the art game engine. Not
recommended for those with severe hearing difficulties because of
the lack of subtitles and one sound-based puzzle.
Overall Grade B+
It's hard to know how to rate a
game when you know some players will be very bothered by the fact
that the graphics aren't state of the art and the node-to-node
transitions suffer badly from compression artifacts. But I think
this game has enough going for it that it rates a B+. If I were
rating it solely as an independently produced game, it would easily
get an A.
October 12, 2004
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