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"Who has the courage to allow themselves to be rewritten, remade?"
— Shaping journal, Geneforge One
A series of 5 Role Playing Games for Macintosh and Windows by Spiderweb Software, which is more or less the brainchild of Seattle-area programmer Jeff Vogel. The games revolve around Shaping—the most prominent form of magic in the game world—used to make creations that, in theory, obey their creators absolutely. The masters of Shaping—Shapers—have absolute control over the known world. Occasionally, a creation will go rogue, but the majority seem to be happy with their lot. Naturally, it all Goes Horribly Wrong.In the first game of the series, the player is a new recruit sent away to finish their training. Instead, they wind up on Sucia Island, which was abandoned two centuries ago and declared Barred by the Shapers. The player must then decide how to respond to all the creations living outside of Shaper control and forbidden technology lying around. In the second game, the player starts out as an apprentice Shaper who discovers that the forbidden technology and independent creations have secretly found a foothold on the mainland. Each subsequent game follows the attempts of human and creation rebels to overthrow the Shapers and the attempts of the Shapers to regain their old level of control. In every game, the war and chaos escalates.It can be purchased at the official website, here. The series is also available for sale on Steam and GOG.
This game provides examples of:
Action Bomb: Pyroroamers do this automatically when killed. Unstable creations, wingbolts, and rotdhizons in the later games also explode on death, though it isn't their main purpose.
A God Am I: Abuse of canisters can trigger this in the PC. Don't ask what happens if you actually use the Geneforge.
Ain't Too Proud to Beg: One of the subtle differences between the Shaper PCs in the first three games and the rebel PC in the fourth.
Always Chaotic Evil: Averted with most species, but Gazers/Eyebeasts definitely fit. They look upon other sentient beings primarily as food, and even the other rebel creations rarely like or trust them.
Ambiguous Gender: Quite a few of the character models, allowing them to be used for both males and females. (Others are just always male or always female—only townsfolk get different models for different genders.)
Amulet of Dependency: Canisters provide the user with a substantial power boost, writing magic and shaping abilities into the user. Side effects may include emotional dependency, cravings for more canisters, lack of empathy, uncontrollable temper, and feelings of A God Am I.
A Nazi by Any Other Name: Taygen in the fifth game, down to the concentration camps and plan to exterminate all creations (Even serviles). The fact that some people consider his side the best should give an idea of to what degree Grey and Gray Morality applies in this series.
An Economy Is You: Averted. Merchants explicitly only show you what you might be interested in and some you can't trade with at all because they only have things useless to you.
Anti-Grinding: Once you get too powerful, you start getting very little experience from killing weaker foes.
Artificial Stupidity: Deliberate; any creature without intelligence investment will behave like this. Those with intelligence will be less likely to flee, and those above 2 levels of intelligence can be fully controlled.
Bittersweet Ending: The first game's best ending. You defeat Trajkov and destroy the Geneforge, and are hailed as a hero, but your excessive use of canisters (which occurs regardless if you used any at all) causes your body to mutate into something not fully human, and while you're still considered a hero, you're forced to remain out of public eye. Also, the Shapers forcibly bring the Awakened, Obeyers and Takers back under their control, and the future Big Bad Duumvirate secretly steals the plans for the Geneforge, setting up the events of the future games.
Cerebus Syndrome: In the sense of an already darkly comic series becoming bleak enough to suggest a Creator Breakdown, ultimately culminating in the entire series being nothing but the final memoirs of a long dead era.
Closed Circle: The first game. You're on an island, and you have no idea where a boat might be. Later games often limit where you can travel with impassable checkpoints and gates. Some can be passed at a certain point; some are just walls by another name.
The Goettsch ending of the first, obtainable by defeating Trajkov and destroying the Geneforge, but leaving Goettsch alive. The ending plays up much like the best ending, but quickly turns into this as it's revealedthat Goettsch, driven mad by the loss of the Geneforge, gathers what's left of Trajkov's forces and incites a bloody war that lasts for centuries.
The Taygen ending of the fifth. No reason is given for why the Purity Agent killed Taygen's wife.
The Astoria ending of the fifth combines this with For Want of a Nail: sparing Greta leads to Rawal becoming High Councilor. Preventing the latter requires not doing the former, which allows the more unpleasant Akhari Blaze to represent the rebels. Nothing in the game or the ending text makes clear how these events are connected.
Fantastic Racism: Humans towards serviles and drayks; drayks towards humans; drakons towards everyone.
Fantasy Gun Control: Batons fill the niche of guns. Originally, Geneforge was intended to be far more traditional SF, but fusion cannons and the like would have been too powerful, necessitating this trope in a development sense.
Gone Horribly Wrong: So frequently that properly designed laboratories and workshops can be sealed off instantly, even if it means killing everyone inside.
Graying Morality: Word of God has it that this was intended to occur over the course of the first game. Arguably, it's more subtly developed over the course of the series, as the rebels got more opportunities to make their arguments (and even took the spotlight in the fourth game.)
By Geneforge 4, the rebellion is willing to unleash highly unstable and powerful creations into Shaper territory, programmed to do nothing but seek out settlements and wreak havoc, killing Shapers and innocents alike.
Hide Your Children: Since Geneforge is the sort of game that lets you kill innocents if you want to, you won't find any humanoid kids — aside from a couple of serviles whose descriptions indicate their youth. However, you will find packs of drake children in some of the games (though they look the same as adults). Since they haven't learned to be civilized yet (picture an angry toddler in the body of a dragon), you may actually HAVE to kill them in order to avoid becoming their dinner. One also has to consider whether sending newly-made intelligent creations (drakes, gazers, etc.) into battle is equivalent to employing child soldiers. What Measure Is a Non-Human? is probably in play.
Inherent in the System: The consensus in-game is that now that there are Creations who can themselves Shape, it will never be possible to keep Shaping under control again like it was hundreds of years before the first game. Unless you're a member of Taygen's faction, anyway.
In the Hood: Shapers are commonly illustrated with faces deeply shaded by their hoods, sometimes to such an extent that only their Glowing Eyes of Doom are visible.
It Gets Easier: Shapers are usually not surprised when initiates question their wisdom (read: express empathy for creations), but they expect this phase to pass. Litalia's mentor invoked this when she was forced to destroy a group of disobedient serviles, leading to where they are in the story proper.
Ironically, Litalia's journal also shows this. Each account of a kill is followed up with "It was a pity it came to that", but the narration wryly notes that it becomes less convincing after the first fifty times.
Item Crafting: An early form appears in Geneforge Two, and the next three games feature a complete system, as well as what amounts to Socketed Equipment without the sockets.
Jerkass Has a Point: The Shapers may be arrogant, controlling, abusive toward creations, and fanatically secretive of their practices, but as the series goes on, it becomes obvious that in some ways they're right: once Shaping was available to laymen and even creations, the amount of devastation and destruction unleashed is great. When Shaping goes bad, it goes bad in a big way.
Kill All Humans: Unintelligent rogue creations, plus insane intelligent ones.
Kleptomaniac Hero: The PC. Sure, there are some things that NPCs will get pissed off at you for stealing... but the game tells you which ones they are. In fact, when you open a cabinet or something, the game automatically has you take all money inside and puts it in your event log. Unless it's marked as Not Yours, in which case the money just sits there with the letters "NY" in the top right-hand corner.
LEGO Genetics: Not horrible, and often avoided with creation research, but present.
Locked Door: Occasionally. Some locks won't open even when you use the max mechanics skill of 30 on them... then, if you've cheated, you will find that some of them still won't open even when you use the maximum-strength Unlock spell on them, which is the equivalent of trying to pick the locks with a mechanics skill of 210. You will wind up having to use many of the game's lockpick equivalents on these things of you don't have the keys.
Magitek: Shaping is used to fuel most of the technology used by the Shapers. Living batons that shoot (possibly poisoned) thorns stand in for guns, automatic doors are opened and closed by plants, and living minds work as computers. The element that kicks off the plot of the first Geneforge is the rediscovery of a barred island that had discovered DNA.
Mana: Two types, energy and essence. The former is used solely for spellcasting. The latter is also used in many spells but is mostly used to make and strengthen creations.
The unopenable door in the middle of Geneforge One and the end of Geneforge Two, plus many small things.
The most prominent example would be Nodye Coast in Geneforge 5, everyone talks about it and describes it as a perfect, peaceful Utopia where all is well, even the map itself hammers this in by showing Nodye coast having more cities than the rest of Terrestia combined. The problem? It's impossible to get there, even with cheats. Councilors will constantly use a bait-and-switch technique by saying they'll give you a pass into Nodye Coast if you do a favor for them, and then after you're done, giving you money, weapons, fame...but no pass to Nodye Coast.
Munchkin: Since the Shapers and Rebels in Geneforge 4 often force you to choose between their quests and their respective rewards, wringing the best loot out of both of them has been elevated into an art form. The PC can also discuss this trope if the player wishes.
"I intend to find out who has the most treasure, kill them, take it, and repeat the process."
Omnicidal Neutral: An option in the first two games. Don't try to do this in the fifth, it doesn't work, but it should be pointed out that in the first two games, it's actually one of the best options in the results. The first game doesn't really use the sanity meter, but if you pull omnicidal neutral in the 2nd with a minimum canister run you can have the only ending where the council respects you in any of the games. Best option for you or the pragmatic choice, depending on viewpoints.
Our Demons Are Different: Demon summoning and binding is a banned form of magic. Since demons think the human world sucks compared to their home domains and are always looking for ways to turn against their summoners and go home, it's also not a very practical form of magic and is rarely practiced.
The Geneforge itself. In earlier games, it's the MacGuffin that impacts the story and the character who uses it, correctly or not, including the player. In later games it appears in the beginning, but there's always a more powerful Geneforge under construction somewhere, some of which your player may also attempt to use.
Power Degeneration: Charged creations in Four & Five are significantly more powerful than regular creations costing the same amount of essence, but continuously lose health and die when leaving a zone. A rebel Shaper in Four describes them as basically being Phlebotinum Overdosed.
Precision F-Strike: Given the use of a Narrative Profanity Filter, and the fact that the characters simply don't swear very often, finding the remark "Damn the Geneforge!" in one of the old lab books in the first game is quite jarring.
Reassigned to Antarctica: One possible ending in Geneforge 3 has the Shaper Council attempt to do this to Diwaniya, but failing because there is no place more miserable than his current post.
Required Secondary Powers: Here, the ability to magically read genes is developed before the ability to store the vast quantities of information involved in a small physical space. As a result, a lot of the findings have to be discarded.
Series Continuity Error: An entire continent mysteriously vanishes between the fourth and fifth game. It's barely mentioned in the fourth game, either. Consensus on the Spiderweb forums has it that it's been retconned out of existence.
Servant Race: Most of the creations in the game. Most notably, the serviles.
Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The ultimate ending in Geneforge 5 explains that the trials and triumphs of everyone in all 5 games, including every single decision the PC made, were all just the forgotten records of times long past.
Speaking Simlish: The background noise in towns includes people speaking random gibberish.
Stupid Good: In Geneforge 3, Greta believes strongly in the rights of creations but seems less concerned for all the people the rebels are killing. She becomes more nuanced in the later games.
Sufficiently Analyzed Magic: Shaping plays this trope to a T. New creations are traditionally made through experimentation, making one new creature after another with one slight modification each time and recording the results. The first game is about you being stranded on an island where you discover an abandoned research facility that had discovered DNA, and subsequently magical genetic engineering. The series as a whole delivers the message that the process of gaining knowledge gives you the wisdom to use that knowledge, and that simply being given power will lead to abuse.
Tele-Frag: Khyryk in Geneforge Three. Not a canonical death.
The Chessmaster: The Drakon Ghaldring, who created Ur-Drakons to be improved versions, but knowing how they operate, established a society of byzantine customs and heirarchy, in which he consistently plays the Ur-Drakons against each other, and themselves, to maintain dominance.
The Dragon: Litalia for the Rebellion in Geneforge Three.
The Dev Team Thinksof Everything: In 5, the Dark Golem is activated by Makar via dialogue, but you can just attack the latter, and if you manage to slay him without triggering the dialogue, then the former can be defeated without any reaction. Also, if you do little damage to the former after it is activated, it will aid you at the same time the latter attacks you.
Useless Useful Spell: Dramatically averted. On normal difficulty, debuffs and crowd control spells are useful but not overpowered. On higher difficulty levels, they're practically necessary. This is because while enemy damage and durability increase massively, resistance to debuffs goes up only a little, if at all.