The torturous tragedy of Solium Infernum: a Patreon review request review

You can tell a diver whose mask doesn’t fit by the ring pressed into his face after a dive. The angry red crease along the shallow skin of the forehead, then down around the outer edges of his eyes, into a furrow through the soft flesh of the cheek, and finally cupping the nose to bisect the philtrum. If it’s a guy, and he shaved that morning, and you’re all on a salt water dive, he’s really feeling it. He’s feeling the burn on his upper lip even when the mask is off, and especially when it’s back on. That maddening chafe, and more maddening still that the water kept getting in, up his nose, into his eyes, no matter how tightly he pulled the band at the back of his head.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Excellent review, and an extremely legit take on a game that I think is fantastic. Dan Thurot’s recent review got me to re-install it for the first time in many years, and I’m hoping to get in a PBEM game soon.

Tom, you’ve completely misjudged and misunderstood this game!

Imagine a counterfactual, that Solium Infernum was made with a modern game engine and GUI, and that the interface was smooth and clean and transparent and painless. It could have Endless Space like menus, with beautiful buttery transitions and fancy French art design. Notice how in this scenario, the GUI and the way you interact with the game would be completely at odds with the subject of the game itself. This is a problem that I like to call ludo-narrative dissonance. The experience of playing the game would simply not match up to what the game is about or the emotions the game is trying to evoke.

Now you start to realize the brilliance in Davis’ choice to use Adobe Director to create the game. In what better way could he evoke his imagined Hell and bring it into the player’s mind? The interface perfectly captures the world he wishes to portray. It is painful, alien, hidebound, and harsh, an endless baroque cork screw of madness and pain. Surely that is worth a 7/10 review.

Adobe is easily the worst thing about Cryptic Comet games. Looking at graphics for the first time in a while, it does look rough. Despite that, I adore Solium Infernum. It’s chockfull of cool ideas and systems. That said, it’s more of a game that I admire than enjoy. Not for lack of trying, I think the AI is good enough to make playing it solo worthwhile, but it does miss something when not played against actual humans. The one time I managed to play an actual multiplayer game of Solium Infernum is one of my most treasured gaming memories. It was excellent. But, the commitment it takes to actually play it multiplayer also makes it nearly impossible to play multiplayer. There’s an old Rock Paper Shotgun game diary on it—which is probably what introduced me to the game in the first place—that hints at how great playing it multiplayer can be.

The review mentions the Dune boardgame, which I played for the first time a few months back in its new printing. It certainly gives off similar vibes as Solium Infernum and not just because of the Bene Gesserit alternative win condition. (Not to brag but the one time I played SI to completion in multiplayer, that’s how I won. It was glorious, up there with the time I won Cosmic Encounter as the alien race who wins if it destroys itself. To humble myself, I’ve played Dune three times and have yet to win.) It reminds me that I’ve always wanted a Solium Infernum boardgame. It’s ideal for that medium—even more so than his other games, and they’re all pretty close to being digital boardgames—and with a bit of rules streamlining seems like it could work. I know that’s never going to happen, but a guy can dream.

That Vic Davis games were ahead of their time was never something I had considered, but given the boardgamification of video games, it’s a spot-on observation.

Six Gun Saga works cromulently well in Adobe Director. It is easily my favourite Cryptic Comet game because the mechanics are very simple, but there is a lot of deep strategy in playing the different bosses. Plus the art and music ooze style and design. And it’s quick to play!

I’ve seen Unity being used for everything, from reasonably complex 3D to very basic 2D mobile games (and these seem to be perfect iPad games). I know Vic isn’t interested in doing any ports himself, but how difficult would it be to port the game(s) to Unity, and how can I give the developer and Vic more of my money? Is it wildly unfeasible given the need to redo the art assets, etc.? I think this could be a nice King of Dragon Pass scenario, in which the mobile versions could reach a much larger audience.

We had so many great MP games over at OO. Had years of fun playing this. Vic was also very responsive to questions over at Cryptic Comet.

I don’t think it’s that unfeasible, and you wouldn’t necessarily need to redo many assets unless you wanted a ‘remaster’ rather than a port.

But it’d still take a good chunk of time and who’s going to pay for it? You’d basically have to find someone willing to do it for free who’d see it through.

Vic made a bit of a comment about it here

It’d have to be a Kickstarter with a reasonable minimum floor ($20k? Too little?), with a percentage of the initial outlay going to Vic and the artists. I don’t think anyone should do anything for free, but I’m curious as to what the man-days would look like from folks that are reasonably familiar in Unity (which I certainly am not). If the cost of the port is more in the neighborhood of $50k, well I think it’s back to the windowed version!

Not only an unexpected request filled, but Tom also fills as a bonus my request (that didn’t win) to write about diving!
Amazing treat.

PS: noted a small typo on an “attribute” midway through.

I’m pretty sure Armageddon Empires came out no more than five years ago, and you cannot tell me differently. (Or I will disappear in a puff of age.)

@malkav11 - pretty sure I was playing it already in 2011… of course I could have dementia myself…

EDIT: gosh it was as long ago as 2007…!

Had a hankering to play AE again as I am so fond of that game but kind of forgot it. Could not find my old copy so rebought it. Looking forward to playing again!

Wow. I will take the two stars and run. :)

I am glad that despite the horrendous UI, resolution and some very rough edges that people still like to play the game even today. Also, if you lost your download just email my info or support email address found on the website and I will resend them. If you bought a second copy in the recent past (last month or so) I can probably still refund you through the control panel. Send me an email if that’s the case.

Tom, that first paragraph is pure poetry. Now to read the rest. :)

The two stars are just a matter of finding the interface so insufferable after all these years. Ultimately, I really like what’s under there, but if I’m going to wrassle through an Adobe Director front end, I’d just as soon do it in Armageddon Empires. Or Six Gun Saga, which is my favorite tablestop game with a Western setting this side of Shadows of Brimstone!


Unity has progressed over the last year and a half when I looked at it and now includes hex map stuff. @Vic_Davis I hope one day to send you a prototype of the basic UI and whatnot for a remake of this and provided it’s to your liking we can talk a proper remake.

I had one extraordinarily memorable game of S.I. back soon after its release. I even wrote a detailed AAR (found here, in my ancient blog:, because these were the days when i didn’t have children and had time to write detailed AAR’s. So much to love about the game, and I’ve never seen some of the social dynamics that it achieved replicated in anything else.

I agree with @tomchick that Armageddon Empires is extraordinary, and was ahead of its time, and it still a joy to play. If only the AI could compete! Hey, just for the heck of it, here’s my detailed AAR of an AE game:

@Vic_Davis, we miss you in game design! All the best luck to you in writing and whatever new creative endeavors you come up with. Your design blog and game oeuvre were a great inspiration to me.

Great review. Well written as usual. To be honest, I’m just here to remark on how disturbing that Bene Gesserit artwork is. I’ve had Lynch’s Dune in the back of my mind whenever I think of them, even when reading the books.

This is such a departure.
That is some effed up Hansel and Gretel cautionary tale shit right there.

Hey TeeCee @tomchick
I didn’t expect you to go through (interface) hell for this review, but I appreciate it nonetheless. :D