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Video Game / Gadget: Past as Future

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Gadget: Invention, Travel, & Adventure is a point and click video game (though honestly more of a Visual Novel) directed by Haruhiko Shono and first released by Synergy Interactive in 1993. In 1998, a better-known remake of the game titled Gadget: Past as Future was released by Cryo Interactive.

The game is set within a Diesel Punk nation called "The Empire," ruled by dictator Paulo Orlovsky, that feels and looks similar to that of George Orwell's 1984.

The plot is quite esoteric and ambiguous. A lot of it is left to interpretation or told only by inference. As far as anyone can tell; the nation commissioned this group of seven scientists (headed by Horselover Frost) to build a Mind-Control Device called "Sensorama" to brainwash dissidents. However, the scientists spotted at the observatory a comet approaching the earth, along with a mysterious giant spaceship, and realized the world was going to end and that the spaceship was there to rescue those who would come. So they hacked into the Sensorama so that those subjected to it would obey Horselover instead. The nation became suspicious of the scientists and has a secret agent investigate them. You take the role of that agent. Prior to the game, however, you get subjected to the Sensorama yourself, and the rest of the game is played under its influence.


You get assigned by your commanding officer, Theodore Slowslop, to investigate the scientists again. You travel around a bunch of train stations (the operative word of the game is "locomotive," imagery of them abounds in the game to a borderline fetishistic degree), talking to the scientists at their secret laboratories, and under the Sensorama's influence you begin helping them, gathering gizmos to complete a small-scale spaceship called the "Ark," which, supposedly, the scientists will use to fly up to the big one. You are riddled throughout with hallucinations of what appears to be a post-apocalyptic swampland; and a creepy little boy who keeps appearing and disappearing, never saying a word, of whom the identity and intentions are completely unknown. By the end, very little is explained and it is left unclear exactly how much of the journey has even been real.


In appearance, the game is very similar to Myst. However, the game is entirely linear; you cannot do anything or travel anywhere that isn't scripted. You click to move ahead and activate things; that's it. There's only one puzzle in the game; a relatively simple maze at the end when you navigate the Ark through some underground tunnels. It is therefore really more a Kinetic Novel that you play for the beautiful scenery and eerie atmosphere more than it is a Video Game.

Three pieces of tie-in media were published, the latter two of which help to clear up a small measure of the mind-screwiness:

  • Gadget Trips: Mindscapes: A (plotless) animated film which is essentially just a feature-length cutscene of random imagery from the game.
  • Inside Out with Gadget: A book of concept art which also contains a lot of background story.
  • The Third Force: A Novel of Gadget: A novel by Marc Laidlaw (of Half-Life fame).

This game provides examples of:

  • After the End: The tie-in novel reveals that the meteor ore which powers several of the machines in the game (possibly including the sensorama) warps time. It is heavily-implied that the protagonist was brainwashed by the sensorama prior to the start of the game. As such, the aforementioned scenes set in a swamp might be visions of the future, after the Empire is destroyed by the impact of the comet, which the sensorama beamed into the protagonist's brain. Alternately, it's possible that the post-apocalyptic swampland comprises the present, and that the game is actually set after the impact of the comet, and that scenes set in the undestroyed Empire comprise flashbacks rather than the other way around.
  • All Just a Dream: Possibly. Given that the game starts and (mysteriously) ends in the same hotel room, and it's heavily implied that the player character was brainwashed by the Sensorama prior to its commencement, it's conceivable that the entirety of the events therein are nothing but a hallucination induced thereby, and that the character never actually even left the room.
  • All There in the Manual: The creative team behind the game also published a book of CG art expanding on the world and characters; much of the information given — transcripts of recorded conversations, reports on Sensorama experiments, the face and name of the protagonist — cannot be found anywhere else. It also reveals that the scientists are lying through their teeth to the government, and vice versa.
  • Ambiguous Time Period / Diesel Punk: Next to nothing is revealed about the setting of the game (it's called: "The Empire", and it's ruled by a dictator named "Paulo Orlovsky" - that's about it), but it seems to be a sort of pseudo-East Germany with 1920s - 50s aesthetics and Raygun Gothic technology.
  • Applied Phlebotinum: The meteor ore, unnamed in the game but identified in the tie-in material as "Xenium". In addition to being an inexhaustible source of power for the Ark, it influences the Sensorama in such a way as to make it beam the visions of the post-apocalyptic Empire into subjects' minds.
  • The Ark: Supposedly, the scientists intend to build this to escape Earth. In practice, though, the Ark turns out to be a Drill Tank that transforms into a plane... for some reason. It's possible that the giant airship/spaceship thingy seen a handful of times in the second act is the real ark, although this raises the question of what the first vehicle was for.
  • Bag of Holding: Your character's inventory is a suitcase he carries around.
  • Bald of Evil: Orlovsky and Oskar Gondarev (the guy in the black suit who you first encounter telling you to go back to your own hotel room at the start of the game, and then keep randomly encountering like the boy).
  • Blatant Lies: Early on, Charles Reif talks you into using the Sensorama by claiming it awakens latent powers. The experience couldn't be further from the truth.
  • Brown Note: Some of the people you talk to explain that this is what the Sensorama inflicts on people, through electromagnetic waves.
  • Chromosome Casting: No female characters, either significant or incidental, are seen or mentioned throughout the entire game. Averted in the novel, where the protagonist is a woman named Elena Hausmann.
  • Coincidental Broadcast: The plot gets kicked off by a radio newscast in your hotel room discussing the comet. An updated broadcast elsewhere describes what the comet's impact will cause.
  • Comet of Doom: What the scientists claim will destroy the earth.
  • Cool Plane: The player flies one at one point.
  • Cool Train: The entire point of the game is Cool Trains.
    • Most of the trains being depicted are based on real-life streamlined steam locomotives from the 1930's and 40's. The cover art features the Pennsylvania Railroad's experimental S1 locomotive.
  • Creepy Child: The boy.
  • Downer Ending: Possibly. What happens at the end of the game is maddeningly unclear, but a distinct possibility is that the scientists + Slowslop abandon you on Earth to live through the impact of the comet and go insane from Sensorama exposure after having no more use for you.
  • Drill Tank: The first morph of the "Ark".
  • Dying Dream: The ending might very well consist of this, after the scientists + Slowslop abandon the player character on Earth to live through the impact of the comet and go insane from Sensorama exposure.
  • Early-Bird Cameo: Opening the door directly across from your hotel room at the beginning of the game, shows the Sensorama that appears at the end of the game.
  • The Empire: It's literally the name of the setting.
  • The End Is Nigh: Horselover has been trying to warn people about the comet, but nobody believes him.
  • Fauxlosophic Narration: The beginning and end are accompanied by a narrator (the protagonist?) rambling about the symptoms of being subjected to the sensorama and about how: "From the beginning on... never moved a step" (the latter possibly implying that the protagonist never actually even leaves the hotel room that the game starts and ends in at all).
  • Featureless Protagonist: Nothing whatsoever is revealed about the player character, other than that they're a secret agent working for Slowslop. (Although this is probably just what they've been brainwashed into believing by the sensorama). The tie-in material, though, offers their name as: "Louis Hausmann".
  • Flooded Future World: See above. The visions of a swamp might be set after the impact of the comet and the destruction of the Empire.
  • Gainax Ending: The game ends with you flying the Ark into this giant mechanical structure topped with a glass dome. Inside is what looks like a giant Sensorama. Slowslop, who previously was having you investigate the scientists but now seems to be working with them, tells you to give him your suitcase; then the giant sensorama activates, there's a hallucination and Slowslop disappears. Then you come to and find the machine destroyed, you go through some doors and end up back in the hotel room you began the game in; albeit with the aforementioned swampland outside the window. There's another regular-sized Sensorama which you use and see what Orlovsky planned for the empire, then the boy appears again, disappears, then you see some swirling lights outside the window; you fly out of it over the swamplands; a face rises out of a pool of water, and then the game ends. Not kidding.
  • Gotta Catch 'Em All: The first three quarters of the game involve you travelling around collecting four devices (a battery, a laser beam, a data storage device, and a container of fuel) which are then used to assemble the vehicle you pilot in the final quarter. This is seemingly what the scientists + Slowslop brainwashed you into doing right from the beginning, as part of their seeming plot to escape Earth.
  • Hallucinations: The player keeps intermittently witnessing inexplicable psychedelic scenes. At one point, you walk into the caboose of a train and see the boy, only for him to hover backwards into a swirling vortex in outer space. You exit the rear of the caboose, which disappears behind you, and find yourself in the aforementioned swamp, at the site of a plane crash, with two of the scientists standing around wordlessly, whom disappear when you turn your back. The train reappears, you re-enter it, and find a meteor floating in mid-air, which shrinks and disappears in a puff of smoke. And then you find yourself back on the original, ordinary train. The final ten minutes or so of the game consist of pretty much nothing but scenes like this. No explanation is ever given for what the hell is supposed to be happening during any of these instances, or if any of them are real or merely illusory, although the most likely answer is that they are Sensorama-induced hallucinations.
  • Hell Hotel: The hotel where you start and end the game. The art book reveals that it's actually a government research lab disguised as a hotel.
  • It's Up to You: Slowslop can't investigate the scientists himself because of his rank as Army Supreme Commander, which is why you were sent instead.
  • Just Before the End: Orlovsky's senseless pursuit of power has been driving the Empire into ruin, which is partly why the scientists want to leave Earth before the comet hits. Even the advanced machines you use contrast with the bleak, gloomy environment surrounding everything.
  • The Ludovico Technique: Victims of the Sensorama are strapped into a chair aimed at the device, and forced to endure the visions it beams into their brains.
  • Magic Meteor: The Ark is powered by a near-permanent power source derived from the ore of a meteorite. Some of the other gadgets are implied to run on it as well.
  • The Man in Black: Slowslop is just one man, but he fits the trope pretty well. Some kind of government agent. Black suit. Sinister Shades. Cold and emotionless. Weird surname. Gives you orders without any accompanying context. Allegiance and intentions unknown. To top it off, he might be the same entity as the boy, who in turn might be an alien.
  • Manchurian Agent: The scientists may have roped you into becoming this, using the Sensorama.
  • The Maze: The only puzzle in the game, set near the end of it, involves navigating a vehicle through some underground tunnels. There's only 4 - 5 intersections, every path other than those leading closer to the exit leads to an immediate dead-end, and a radar tells you if any given move has brought you closer thereto, so it's easy to the point that it can hardly be called a puzzle at all.
  • Mind-Control Device: The Sensorama. The art book and dialogue from some of the scientists implies that it was initially made to help people recover their memories, but the government repurposed it to brainwash dissidents.
  • Mind Screw: What the hell is/has been going on over the course of the game, overall, is never explained, and things reach 2001: A Space Odyssey levels of "what-the-fuck-is-going-on-here?" in the final act. What were the scientists trying to do - topple the Empire, escape Earth, or what? Was Slowslop working against them or with them? Was there really a comet, or not? Why did the "Ark" - ostensibly a spaceship to be used for escaping Earth - actually turn out to be a Drill Tank that transforms into an aircraft, which one has to pilot through some underground tunnels leading out of the factory where it was built? What was with those post-apocalyptic scenes set in a swamp - were they set after the impact of the comet? What was that giant airship/spaceship thingy seen flying overhead a handful of times in the second act? Who/what the hell was the boy - an alien, Slowslop's true form, or what? What the hell happens at the end of the game - does the comet hit the Earth, does the protagonist go insane, do the scientists + Slowslop bugger off with aliens or to the future leaving you behind to live through the impact of the comet and descend into sensorama-induced hallucinations, or what? How many of the events of the story actually happened, and how many were just sensorama-induced hallucinations? Did you ever even leave the hotel at all? If you're expecting answers to any of this, you ain't gonna get 'em.
  • The Mole: According to Horselover, Slowslop is secretly in league with the scientists, supporting their project under Orlovsky's nose. Maybe.
  • Museum of the Strange and Unusual: The Museum of Science, where the Empire's scientists fix broken machines and put them on display. It even has a working aircraft upstairs.
  • Mysterious Stranger:
    • The boy is this in spades. He switches his suitcase with yours at the start of the game, and then you just keep encountering him in random places only for him to immediately literally vanish in puffs of smoke, without him ever saying a word. Who or indeed what he is, and what his intentions are, are never even hinted at. Several other characters who you eventually learn were subjected to the Sensorama (as the player character most likely was) mention seeing him, possibly implying that he is just a hallucination which anyone who is subjected to it experiences. Or, he may be an alien from the future or another dimension. And he and Slowslop may be the same being.
    • The bald guy in the black suit who orders you back to your own hotel room at the start of the game. Like the boy, you proceed to keep randomly encountering him right up until the end of the game without any hints as to his identity ever being given, and there are even fewer possibilities to speculate on. The tie-in material, however, identifies him as Oskar Gondarev, the overseer of the hotel's Sensorama. Meaning that once again, his appearances are probably nothing more than hallucinations.
  • New Era Speech: Your final Sensorama-induced vision shows Orlovsky giving one, gloating about the Empire's many machines and his drive to perfect the Sensorama, complete with his face shown in a Hitler Cam.
    Orlovsky: Complete and total power. That's what my Empire will have.
  • Only Sane Man: Several characters throughout the game insist that they are this.
  • The Patient Has Left the Building: One of the minor characters you meet on the trains is an escaped mental patient, and another is a doctor looking for him.
  • Point-and-Click Game.
  • The Republic: It isn't actually mentioned in the game itself - only in the tie-in materials - but the Empire is about to go to war with another nation which, again, is literally named this.
  • Sanity Slippage: It is heavily implied that the protagonist is going insane over time due to having been brainwashed by the sensorama, accounting for the increasing frequency and severity of the bizzare hallucinations they experience, and possibly culminating in the seeming complete breakdown of reality at the end of the game.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Slowslop, on several occasions.
  • Shadow Dictator: Paulo Orlovsky, who views the scientists as terrorists and tries to suppress the news of the incoming comet. He also has a creepy smirk whenever you see him.
  • Sickly Green Glow: The meteoric ore gives off this when used in the various gadgets, including the Sensorama.
  • Sinister Subway: Suburbia, the smallest, dingiest train station on the line. You visit it only once to talk to Slowslop, and then never see it again.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Quite a few characters mysteriously disappear on you while your back is turned.
  • Story Bread Crumbs: A few lines of dialogue and vague clues afford the only tidbits of context for anything. A document found in a dining car, for example, reveals that the passengers you encounter on the trains are failed sensorama test subjects - the insinuation being that you are the only successful one, whom the scientists + Slowslop have roped into their scheme to escape Earth.
  • Suddenly Voiced: Most of the dialogue is given solely in subtitles, so it's rather unnerving to answer a ringing phone and hear Slowslop on the other end.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: It is heavily implied that the protagonist was brainwashed by the sensorama prior to the start of the game as part of a plot by the scientists + Slowslop to rope someone into helping them escape Earth. As such, the entire game might be this, with the protagonist's sanity decreasing all the while, accounting for the bizarre hallucinations throughout culminating in the Gainax Ending described above.
  • The Tower: Your hotel room has a picture of the huge communications tower from the endgame. Tie-in material explains that this is used as propaganda of the enemy Republic the Empire is engaged with.
  • Track Trouble: Towards the end of the game, the train track back to West End is hit by glowing space debris, forcing the train to backtrack and reroute to another line.
  • Transforming Vehicle: The "Ark" - supposedly a spaceship to be used for escaping Earth - actually turns out to be this... for some reason. It starts out as a Drill Tank, which bores through a wall out of the factory where it was built into some underground tunnels, then transforms into this weird, rectangular, hovering... thing, for flying through said tunnels, then transform into a plane for flying overland after exiting said tunnels. And all, apparently, so that you could travel from the factory where it was built to this tower containing a giant sensorama. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.
  • Tunnel Network: The final act of the game involves you digging into and navigating through this with the "Ark". Once again, no explanation is given for what it is supposed to be (An abandoned mine? An escape network the scientists constructed?) or where you are travelling to via it.
  • Unwitting Test Subject: Some characters and a hidden document reveal that there were 12 failed subjects exposed to the Sensorama before you, each of whom appear at least once during your frequent train rides. Slowslop reveals at the end that you are the 13th subject.
  • Where It All Began: The game starts and ends in the same hotel room. Quite how you wind up back in it at the end is unclear, to say the least, but it's possible that you never actually even left it at all, or you were simply moved to the room across from it.

The tie-in novel, The Third Force provides examples of:

  • Abandoned Mine: At one point, Slowslop visits an old army mine on the outskirts of the Empire, where the scientists have been digging up Xenium from a meteorite that crashed here. The Ark turns out to also be here at the end, disguised as an excavating machine.
  • Astral Projection: In one scene, Slowslop grabs onto a piece of raw Xenium and effortlessly moves through a wall, allowing him to listen in on Orlovsky in his room next door. The boy is heavily implied to be capable of this as well, and doesn't stop appearing until Louis gives him his own Xenium shard.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Louis and Elena fly the Ark to the big spaceship and flee Earth with the scientists, but everyone else perishes when the comet hits.
  • The Brute: Oskar Gondarev, a hulking man whose main job is overseeing the Sensorama. He appears in the game as well (the bald guy in a black suit who orders you back to your own hotel room at the start of the game? That's him), although there his name and role are not specified, and he's just another mysterious figure who keeps appearing and disappearing without explanation, like the boy.
  • Chronoscope: The binoculars have a retractable third lens that several characters use to see the future of what they're looking at.
  • Convenient Coma: The mysterious boy first appears in a coma, having been found in the Restricted Zone and kept at the Army Hospital for study. Louis accidentally wakes him up when trying to scan his body with the data recorder.
  • Crazy Homeless People: A group of post-Sensorama convicts wandering West End Square qualifies.
  • The Dragon: Slowslop is this to Orlovsky.
  • Fantastic Nuke: The scientists' largest project Slowslop made them create is a Xenium bomb to be used against the republic.
  • Hot Librarian: Elena Hausmann works at the Imperial Library across from the Museum of Science, and Orlovsky wants to marry her.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Slowslop is very much this. He orchestrated the scientists' pursuit into building the Empire's xenium-based technology, and collected clusters of Xenium for his own ends. When Louis and Elena frame him for murdering Orlovsky, he explodes under the Sensorama's rays, disintegrating several guards and leaving nothing but another Xenium shard behind.
  • La Résistance: The Third Force.
  • Living Battery: Late into the novel, Elena reveals that every ounce of Xenium ore is sentient to a degree, including the incoming comet.
  • Mental Time Travel: Horselover and later Elena gain the ability to mentally travel forward and backward through time via the shockwaves from the Xenium bomb, while their bodies remain put. Louis also experiences this while in a Sensorama-induced coma.
  • The Mole: Oskar Gondarev was secretly a spy from the Republic chairman Onegin, observing Orlovsky's work and leaking it to the Republic, which the Third Force intercepted.
  • Our Hero Is Dead: When Horselover forces Elena into the Xenium nuke's blast range, everyone in the Empire gives her up for dead, only furthering Orlovsky's descent into madness. Except she didn't die, thanks to Xenium's non-lethal radiation.
  • Portent of Doom: No matter how hard the scientists try, the Xenium in the Sensorama keeps showing visions of the destroyed Empire. Even Louis gets this just from standing near the device.
  • Reluctant Mad Scientist: None of the scientists enjoy working for Orlovsky. Charles Reif in particular detests handling the hotel's Sensorama.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: When Elena lets Gondarev's motive slip, Louis has him subjected to the very Sensorama he supervised. Gondarev's reaction is so strong that he eventually kills himself near the end. His dead face is also the same one in the swamp at the end of the game.
  • Room 101: Room 306 in the West End Hotel, where dissidents are sent to be brainwashed by the Sensorama. In the game, it's also the room directly across from your hotel room, 308, and it's possible you were brought to room 306 at the end as well.
  • Schizo Tech: The Nova Express is a hybrid train, adapted to run on Xenium.
  • Skewed Priorities: Orlovsky spends more of his time fantasizing about Elena and writing books than actually running the Empire, forcing Slowslop to do most of his gruntwork.
  • Spinning Clock Hands: Played with. When Thomas Reich sets off a chain reaction in a pile of Xenium ingots, Elena sees a clock's minute hand dart back and forth until a whole hour of real time flies past.
  • The Spook: Horselover Frost. He's not listed among the scientists, but is a member of the Third Force.
  • Supernatural Gold Eyes: The boy's eyes appear greenish-gold. The same color of Xenium...
  • Toxic Phlebotinum: Several miners exposed to raw Xenium ore have "green lung".
  • Villainous Crush: When Orlovsky shows Elena around his place under the West End Hotel, one of the things she sees is an album of dozens of photos of herself throughout the years, some of them taken from surveillance cameras. Orlovsky's unicorn fetish doesn't help.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Bernhard Diaghilev, one of the Third Force's members, loathes riding trains after surviving a crash that took the lives of his wife and child. The Sensorama purges him of this fear, but damages his psyche in the process.

Alternative Title(s): Gadget Invention Travel And Adventure