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Video Game: Geneforge
aka: Gene Forge
You cannot unring a bell.
"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.
  • All in a Row
  • Almighty Janitor: The first two games have you fresh out of Wizarding School, the third has you still in it when almost everyone inside is massacred, and the fourth makes you a new recruit into the rebellion.
  • 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.
  • Amazing Technicolor Population: a consequence of differentiating otherwise identical characters via Palette Swap. Interestingly, their appearance in-game may not match their description.
  • 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.)
  • Amnesiac Hero: The hero of game 5.
  • 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.
  • Armless Biped: Glaahks and podlings.
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: Default AI behaviour. Reversed while health is low.
  • 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.
  • Badass Bookworm: Every Shaper.
  • Badass Long Robe: Shapers again. This potentially applies to serviles, though NPC serviles are rather less intimidating. Lampshaded by the description text for cloaks and robes.
  • Barrier Change Boss: A few minor bosses.
  • Beef Gate: If you wander from the beaten path before you're powerful enough to handle the wilderness, the local monsters will come and destroy you.
  • Big Bad: Trajkov in 1.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: Zakary and Barzhal in 2.
  • 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.
  • Breaking the Bonds: Khyryk in the fourth game, when captured by Monarch.
  • Breath Weapon: Fire for fyoras and drayks, electricity for drakons and kyshakks, acid for roamers and artilas . . . Really, there are quite a lot of examples.
  • Body Horror: Canister addicts and Geneforge users have faintly glowing blue muscles constantly and visibly rearranging themselves, all beneath translucent parchment-like skin.
  • Bonus Dungeon: Every game, and they're not pleasant.
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: Shaping, Shapers, reShaping.
  • 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.
  • Color-Coded Elements: If it's red, it's probably going to spit fire at you. If an upgraded Palette Swap is blue, expect ice.
  • Com Mons: Fyoras, available from the start of every game and usually the only creation an Agent will ever make. They're something of a Magikarp in that with their stats maxed out they can take down a drakon, but compared to a drakon with its stats maxed out . . .
  • Convection Schmonvection: Played straight with heated floor tiles. Painfully averted (in more ways than one) with heat from machinery.
  • Critical Encumbrance Failure: Played straight until you reach encumbrance weight, though the AP deduction depends on how much you're carrying above your normal limit.
  • Critical Existence Failure: Pretty much played straight for the main character. Others may panic and flee from combat when badly wounded, however, and your creations may even attack you.
  • Defector from Decadence: Khyryk in the fourth game, having failed at Conspiracy Redemption. Litalia goes through this three times in the series, eventually taking up Khyryk's cause.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: Apparently, the purpose of the Monastery of Tears in the third game is for acolytes to gain "pure moral purity".
  • Determinator: Alwan. Granted, he begins as a Cowardly Sidekick, but he doesn't stay one. By the fifth game, he's leading his own faction despite having been rendered immobile and constantly in pain.
  • Diabolus Ex Machina:
    • 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.
  • Dialogue Tree
  • Dual Boss: Several, typically synchronized. Some are even Creepy Twins.
  • Duel Boss: Stanis in the second game—you fight him in an arena filled with devices that stun creations.
  • Easter Egg: Having 8 of the same type of monster on the title screen of Geneforge One (and possibly the others as well) gives you an interesting message that is otherwise unfindable.
  • Empathic Weapon: None are intelligent enough to talk, but a few are genetically engineered and crudely alive. Batons even eat and mate.
  • Emperor Scientist: The Shapers are either this or The Magocracy, depending on whether they qualify as scientists or magicians.
  • Enemy Summoner: Hostile Shapers in the later games can make new creations during combat. You can't.
  • Everything Fades
  • Everyone Hates Mathematics: Reading a textbook of "arcane engineering" in G4 horrifies the PC.
  • Everyone Knows Morse: Subverted in G4 when Greta tries to communicate with the PC through a locked door by tapping, but the PC muses that if the tapping is code, they don't know it.
  • Evolutionary Levels: Actually justified—a lot of the higher levels of creation were made by messing with the genes of lower-level creations.
  • Faction-Specific Endings: Each game in the series has an ending for each of the factions that it's possible for the player to join. The first two games also have a Lone Wolf/Omnicidal Neutral ending. The rest of the series, not so much.
  • 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.
  • Flunky Boss: Frequently.
  • Forced Tutorial
  • Forgets to Eat: Many Shapers.
  • Friendly Fireproof
  • Full-Contact Magic: Casting attack spells uses the same animation as physically attacking.
  • Functional Magic: Divided into Battle Magic (Elemental Powers), Mental Magic (Psychic Powers), Blessing Magic (non-healing White Magic), and Healing Craft (healing White Magic).
  • Fungus Humongous: Spawners and turrets.
  • Gameplay Ally Immortality: Alwan and Greta in Geneforge Three, along with Mehken in Geneforge Five.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: No one will comment if you make illegal creations.
  • Get on the Boat: Geneforge Three is horrible about this. Thankfully, no boats sink.
  • Global Currency
  • Golem: Part creation, part mechanical.
  • 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.)
  • Grey and Gray Morality: Every faction has its good points. Every faction is also willing to Kick the Dog to win. Many factions are willing to go even further.
  • Happy Ending Override: Each sequel opens with the war and chaos being bigger and bloodier than the previous installment.
  • Harder Than Hard: The Torment Difficulty is Nintendo Hard.
  • Healing Potion: Pods help the PC only. Spores help the entire party.
  • Heroic Willpower: Trajkov in Geneforge One and Litalia in Four and Five manage to avert With Great Power Comes Great Insanity.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: The Takers, as the series progresses. The narration will make sure you don't miss it.
    • 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.
  • Hyperactive Metabolism
  • 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.
  • Insurmountable Waist High Fence: Over and over.
  • 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.
  • It's a Wonderful Failure: Geneforge One, Two, and Five have one for Refusal of the Call. Five gives one if you anger every faction. Every game also has a shorter version whenyou die.
  • 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.
  • Joke Character: There is a hard-to-get canister of create ornk (a pig-cow hybrid) in every game.
  • Karma Meter: Combined with Relationship Values for factions instead of individuals.
  • 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.
  • Lemony Narrator: Because of the snark.
  • Limited Sound Effects
  • 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.
  • Luck Stat
  • MacGuffin Title
  • Made of Explodium: Just about any power spiral or complicated piece of machinery is prone to exploding. It gets several Lampshades.
  • 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.
  • Mentor Occupational Hazard: Shanti in Geneforge Two. Definitely a Player Punch.
  • Mind Hive: Gazers and Eyebeasts tend to refer to themselves in a collective plural, as though each of their (many) eyes were its own entity.
  • Missing Secret:
    • 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.
  • Mons: Creations.
  • Money Spider: Thahds and battle alphas. Most other foes drop appropriate items.
  • Mook Maker: Spawners, a creation that can Shape a never-ending stream of weaker creations.
  • Multiple Endings: The number of endings is huge, mainly depending on which faction you helped and your hidden Karma Meter, but there are also some minor changes that depend on small plot points. Almost all are Downer Endings or Bittersweet Endings.
  • 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."
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Servile cultists (with names like Unending Purging) and occasionally canister addicts (like Monarch).
  • Never Split the Party: "You cannot leave the area until all your companions are near you.". Problematic with AI controlled creatures.
  • News Travels Fast: If you give an opinion or do something else to change your reputation, everyone will know about it instantly.
  • No Ontological Inertia: Averted to the point that the damage done by an early threat can remain a plot point and source of conflict long after it's been defeated.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The game has no soundtrack, which means that outside of towns, everything is creepily quiet.
  • NPC Amnesia
  • Numerical Hard
  • 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.
  • One Size Fits All
  • One Stat to Rule Them All: Parry in the second game can make you almost indestructible.
  • Optional Party Member: Alwan and Greta
  • Organic Technology: Doors, control panels, weapons, and much more.
  • 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.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Drayks and drakons.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Some are the spirits of the dead. Others are creations. Still others are spontaneously created by high concentrations of magic.
  • Pamphlet Shelf
  • Person of Mass Destruction: Anyone who can Shape is an army.
  • Phantasy Spelling
  • Phlebotinum Overload: One way Trajkov can be killed in Geneforge One. You can also kill yourself this way.
  • Play-Along Prisoner: Khyryk in Geneforge Four.
  • Player Mooks: Your creations.
  • Plot Coupon That Does Something: The canisters and Geneforges that frequently drive NPCs insane also affect you.
    • 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 Born of Madness: Servile cultists.
  • Power Glows: Canister addicts develop Glowing Eyes of Doom and glowing skin of doom.
  • 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.
  • Psycho Serum: The canisters and Geneforges.
  • Quest for Identity: The PC in Geneforge Five. It turns out you are a Protagonist Without A Past.
  • 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.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: Giant rats.
  • Schizo Tech: The setting is a fairly generic fantasy world except for the huge laboratories and complicated machinery necessary for advanced Shaping.
  • Scratch Damage
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The basic premise of the series.
  • 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.
  • Sickly Green Glow: Canisters. And their users.
  • Side Kick: Alwan and Greta in Geneforge Three.
  • Sssssnake Talk: Drayks and drakons.
  • Solo-Character Run: A popular choice when playing an Agent/Infiltrator or Servile.
  • Soul Jar: Spharon in Geneforge Three.
  • 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.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence
  • Take a Third Option: The Trakovites in Geneforge Four, complete with an ending that's somewhat hard to get.
  • Take Over the World: Shaper Monarch in Geneforge Four.
  • Talking Your Way Out: A major use of the Leadership skill. Often by Talking the Monster to Death.
  • Team Switzerland: Astoria's faction in the fifth game is a variant, trying to end the war (by any means necessary) rather than to impose their philosophy. Spiderweb itself can be considered this in due to its dedicated maintenance of Grey and Gray Morality in Geneforge—even Taygen is Necessarily Evil, and there's a small but dedicated group of fans who choose his faction in the fifth game because they support his philosophy.
  • 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.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: The rebels are frequently as bad or worse than the Shapers, especially the drakons. If you align yourself with Ghaldring in V and help him destroy the Shaper Council, the epilogue mentions that there is subsequently another rebellion against the drakons when they start oppressing the humans and lesser creations.
  • Third Option Adaptation: Every sequel changes the backstory of the previous installment just enough that no ending is ever canonical.
  • Title Drop
  • Tuckerization: See this thread for a list.
  • Tyke Bomb: The smarter creations.
  • Universal Poison
  • 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.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Every faction is willing to Kick the Dog to achieve their ends.
  • Vendor Trash: Complete with actual trash.
  • We ARE Struggling Together: The humans, serviles, drayks, and drakons of the rebellion do not get along with each other.
  • We Buy Anything
  • We Cannot Go On Without You: Typically justified, since your party members are Monster Allies, but not so much in Geneforge Three if you have Alwan and/or Greta with you.
  • Wings Do Nothing: Drayks.
  • What Measure Is A Nonhuman: One of the main reasons for the rebellion. Under the Shapers, creations have no rights and any overly independent creations are supposed to be killed.
    • Interestingly, use of canisters and the Geneforge make the user, for all intents and purposes, and less human. This can include the Player.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: The nearly inevitable result of canisters and Geneforges.
  • You No Take Candle: Many humanoid creations. Some intelligent serviles choose to speak this way.

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alternative title(s): Geneforge
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