The Madness of Roland

Developer:  Greg Roach
Publisher:  HyperBole Studio
Year Released:  1992

Review by Steve Ramsey (February, 2003)
Of all the multi-media experiences I have "played" this one is the least like a game and most like a book. A well written book, full of colourful imagery and tantalising language, but a book nevertheless.

It isn't a game, and it isn't really that interactive. You click to "turn the page" (unless you choose the automatic option), and you click to bring up some hidden thoughts or pictures, or to see a notable piece of prose or a quote, or to watch a (generally short) video clip or animation. But that is the extent of the interaction. Don't expect choices, or to influence the story line, or to have to "solve" an interactive scene to be able to access the next chapter.

You don't even have to read the book from start to finish. If you want, you can jump to any chapter you like at any time. As such, you don't need to worry about saving, although you can bookmark pages.

So that is what it isn't. What, then, of what it is?

It is an intriguing tale of magic and myth, of betrayal and violence and loss and love. And of course madness. The madness of Roland obviously, but also the madness of human emotions.

It is a story, told from multiple perspectives, of Paris besieged in 778AD and the chain of events that is triggered by its saving. Some of the characters telling the tale are constant, others only contributing now and then. The most interesting is Durandel, the famed and fabled sword. Like the other characters, Durandel has passions and feelings, and a sword's perspective is unique to say the least.

It is a story punctuated by asides to the listener, by the inner thoughts of the protagonists, and by narrative both evocative and emotive. It is not so much illustrated as accompanied by visual images. These will occasionally appear automatically, but will generally only be viewed should you click the relevant icon and links. Some are borrowed or modelled on known artistic pieces.

It is a grown-up fairy-like tale of the middle ages, utilising occasional adult language and scenes. Not overly so, but "once upon a time" and "happily ever after" don't feature.

It is at times a written delight. Should you choose, the written word can be given further life by actors and actresses, all rather good but with Roland the stand out.

It is at times musically lyrical, at other times just this side of muzak.

It is accessed by choosing your chapter, then the tarot card representing the character you wish to hear from first. You can hear the whole 7 chapters straight through with just one character, or hear from all of those available chapter by chapter. You can have the pages turned for you, or turn them yourself. You can turn the narration off as well as the music. You can also access a short historical treatment of the real Roland, as well as a biography and a "to camera" monologue from the writer telling you some more about the project.

It is short, 3 hours at the maximum, less if you read it yourself.

It was conceived as a stage play "that would exist in the space between traditional theatre, dance, opera, mime and film", but which became a CD-ROM given the magnitude of the author's vision as to what he wanted the end product to be.

In summary Ceremony of Innocence remains the high point in audible book experiences, both in terms of writing and acting. Purely as a piece of writing I preferred Private Eye, but Roland would not be too far behind. It isn't even remotely a game though, with none of the true interactivity of Ceremony or the leaping swirling visuals. It peters out a bit at the end but overall it's a rousing tale, and as such it is not too bad so long as you know what to expect. rating:  

Copyright © Steve Ramsey 2003. All rights reserved.

System Requirements:
Windows 3.1 (played on 98), 486SX (486Dx recommended), 4 MB RAM, 5 MB disc space (15 MB recommended), 2x CD ROM, VGA graphics (SVGA recommended), Sound card and mouse

Macintosh 68020 processor (68040 recommended), 5 MB RAM, I MB disc space, 2x CD ROM, sound card and mouse