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Video Game / Total Distortion

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A 1995 Adventure Game for the PC and Mac.

Taking place within an Alternate History setting, mysterious devices have suddenly appeared on Earth that scientists have found to be useful teleporters (albeit dangerous for living beings as it puts them into a six-week coma). They also noticed that they can teleport to different dimensions, most of which are based on pop culture. You play as a music director whose just recently come into a large sum of money and somehow come up with the insane idea to invade a dimension of chaos based on rock music to shoot music videos out of the weird imagery there. However the endeavor is quite risky as you spent most of your money building a tower to transport in and getting the go ahead to transport there which your government has starchly warned will not bring you back if you don't have the funds. What's more there's the matter of the dimension's dangers as well. So your mission? Get in, get the footage needed and hope you come out of this alive and financially sound.

It was acclaimed for its creativity though was criticized for the numerous backtracking and limited editing of the videos.

Total Distortion provides examples of:

  • A Winner Is You: There's no ending here, you basically head back to Earth. Your score is totaled and you're presented your award for how you did, along with a specialized song either mocking or praising you. Surprising considering how in depth the game was in establishing its world and your backstory.
  • Aborted Arc: Along the journey you find a memo from the Metal Lord who knows of your presence in the dimension and orders his troops not to kill you if possible as he doesn't want to draw suspicion of his invasion plans of Earth. However the game never follows up on this. Heck you don't even see the Metal Lord through your adventure.
  • Acid-Trip Dimension: The Distortion Dimension itself has shades of this, but the TV Maze halfway through greatly qualifies.
  • Acme Products: Your tower's fuel rods are made by Acme Power, based in Dallas, Texas.
  • Advertised Extra: Mr. Red is featured prominently on the box, but most of his actual role is at the beginning of the game.
  • All There in the Manual: Before you begin the game, there are three optional videos that explain the setting, your base, and your mission.
  • Alternate Universe: The protagonist's home universe, Parallel Earth #27, is an Earth where alien tech that enabled teleportation mysteriously appeared in the mid-90s.
  • Apocalyptic Log: One of the books in your base is a notebook from the CIA, containing a transcript of dimensionauts who first visited the Distortion Dimension and came in contact with the Metal Lord. Though some sections are redacted for national security reasons.
  • Auto-Kitchen: The kitchen in your tower largely consists of a pair of programmable dispensers for food and drinks, as well as a pair of robot arms that slice and pack your sandwiches when prompted.
  • Bag of Holding: Your guitar case serves as a handy portable gateway into a dimension purely used for storing items such as multiple guitars, your video camera and, more likely, the metric ton of synthesized sandwiches and drinks that you wasted your food goo experimenting to make. It also doubles as a mailbox of sorts, since items you buy from Earth are automatically teleported into it.
  • Beatnik: Jed, the first MacBeatnik module, is one of the minigame books in your tower. If you use him, he spouts completely random words in a rhythmic fashion in a parody of beat poetry. The best part is he comes with a warning label.
  • Blackout Basement: Your entire Media Tower can turn into this if your fuel rods run out, and the only machine that works is the elevator chair. Worse, if the power is out when you're trying to get back in, you have to force the door open. And heaven help you if you didn't bring enough sandwiches.
  • Book Ends: The game starts with your Media Tower leaving Earth, and ends with a return trip, both set off by talking to Mr. Red beforehand.
  • Careful with That Axe: Johnny Fang's song "Fang Blues" ends this way.
  • Cool Chair: The elevator chair in your Media Tower, and the chain-mounted audience chair in the L.A. Stage area.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Yuji Dude, who rambles in rapid Japanese and mangled English slang whenever he talks - such as "Ice crazy wow" and "Stone cold heavy". He's also slightly unpredictable with how much he pays for the videos you sell.
  • The Computer Shall Taunt You: Happens for almost everything in the game, from voices mocking you if you fail certain puzzles, to the game's awards screen showing "Ha ha! Loser!" if you view it after you die.
  • Creator Cameo:
    • The game's developers have their own FMV clips in-game, which you can buy and insert into your videos if you wish.
    • Joe Sparks himself plays Edgar Death.
  • Creepy Cemetery: The Sonic Cemetery, late in the game.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Edgar Death. When you summon him from his grave, he only wants to sing, not harm you.
  • Data Pad: Your DataBrick Video Phone, which folds out into 3 screens, for good measure.
  • Dialogue Tree: One of the earliest adventure game examples. Characters will remember you if you've talked to them before, and react based on what you told them previously. Averted in some situations, where all four available options are the same.
  • Diegetic Interface: Your inventory screen is a guitar case that you carry around.
  • Digital Piracy Is Evil: In-universe. The whole reason the Metal Lord wants you to leave is because videotaping in his dimension is stealing, so much that Guitar Warriors may steal your camera and other items from your guitar case if you pass out.
  • Dimension Lord: The Metal Lord, while never seen, is stated by the Guitar Warriors to rule over the Distortion Dimension. He's also the closest thing the game has to a main antagonist, as the one sending the Guitar Warriors after you.
  • Dimensional Traveler: NASA has a branch dedicated to exploring the other dimensions, with its members termed "dimensionauts". You essentially become this before the game starts, as well.
  • Easter Egg: Your tower has some of these.
  • Easy-Mode Mockery: If you pick the lowest settings for difficulty and danger, both Mr. Red and your status screen will make fun of you. Heck, the guy snickers even if you pick the second easiest setting.
  • Eldritch Location: The entire game is you traveling through these. Why did your character come to these dimensions in the first place? To get good footage for music videos.
  • Emergency Broadcast: Parodied. Your radio aquarium can at one point pick up a test of the "Emergency Distortion Broadcast", followed by a shrill, sustained guitar riff, then ended with, "In the event of an actual emergency, you would have been instructed where to shred."
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights: The Distortion Dimension has some of this, and the TV maze cranks it up to very trippy levels, particularly when you first enter.
  • Everything Talks: There's very little in this game that doesn't talk.
  • Evil Laugh: The Guitar Warriors do this if they kill you, and when dropping in from the sky in one area.
  • Evil Overlord: THE METAL LORD. He's also a Dimension Lord, according to the Guitar Warriors.
  • Exact Progress Bar: Shown when you launch the game, and just before you get your endgame award.
  • Expository Theme Tune: "Alien Bomb", a song that has lyrics describing the game's premise and motive, which strangely can only be heard in an in-game book about the game's creators.
  • Featureless Protagonist: Your body is never shown in the game, though you can choose between a male and female voice at the beginning. Humorously, your male voice sounds like a fast-talking text-to-speech program that sings its dialogue.
  • Food as Bribe: You can bribe Roxanne, the ticket woman with a hamburger instead of your bank card.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: Food Goo, sold by the rectangular prism by Taft Foods. It's a cheap but effective way to handle shipping costs, as the sandwich and drink maker in your tower are state of the art machines which can turn the base nutrients of the food goo to something edible.
  • Game-Over Man: The Guitar Warrior. It remains one of the most hilarious examples of this trope thanks to their musical track about how much you suck.
  • Garage Band: The motif of Hell's Garage, with its own set of songs, although the band itself is never seen.
  • The Ghost: We never do see what the Metal Lord looks like.
  • Give Me Your Inventory Item: Putting out a fire with booze qualifies.
  • Goths Have It Hard: Edgar Death thinks so, being a zombie and all. A radio broadcast in your tower implies that he became this by studying "mortuary science".
  • Great Big Library of Everything: Your Tower's book collection, ranging from instruction guides to your equipment, small minigames, celebrity interviews, and even an in-game book on the game's creators.
  • Hacking Minigame: Some of the Distortion Dimension's puzzles.
  • Have a Nice Death: In addition to unique animations, deaths are accompanied by a catchy theme: "You are dead. Dead. Dead."
  • "The Hero Sucks" Song: The infamous game over music is one long diss track that basically says "you're dead, and you suck" over and over.
    • The songs for getting anything less than the top two prizes at the end of the game. The Gold TV song really goes after you for stopping short of true victory.
    You've worked your tail off, now here's your reward
    A special prize, so you'll never be bored
    500 channels for you to absorb
    A gold TV set, ba-dee, ba-dee-borb!
    It's not the best prize that you can get
    It only receives, it don't transmit
    You made your money, you're a VIP
    You're such a square, that's the irony!

    (sour chord)
  • Hint System: The Crystal Ball in your tower gives subtle hints, depending on how far you've traveled, though it also uses power. Same case for some of the jigsaw puzzles in your bookshelf.
  • His Name Really Is "Barkeep": The red-haired man on the box cover and start menu is your government agent, Mr. Red.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Famously delivered in regards to the player's demise in the Game Over song.
  • "I Am" Song: Each of the three rockers has at least one.
  • It's All About Me: Every one of Johnny Fang's songs. One of them is even named after this trope.
  • Joke Item: The "Special VidChip" in your inventory. Examining it plays a particularly disturbing video that can't be used in your editor.
  • Large Ham: The first Guitar Warrior you meet talks to you in a deep, loud voice.
  • The Many Deaths of You: The Game Over screen shows a different visual depending on the way you died. So if you're tired of "Death By Guitar Warrior", there's also "Death By Flame" (in which your player character gets gruesomely incinerated) or "Your Life Force = Zero!" (happens when bat-winged skulls have drained all your life force). And don't worry, the "You Are Dead" song is still present.
  • Meaningful Name: The Distortion Dimension gets its name from the abundance of loud guitar noise heard there.
  • Mini-Game: Lots and lots of them, especially in your tower's book collection.
  • Morally Bankrupt Banker: Hans Kranger is a subversion. He hails from a long line of German bankers, and pays exorbitant amounts for good-quality videos, but finds passion in music more than money, as far as his autobiography claims.
  • Multiple Life Bars: You have three.
    • Physical energy which measures whether you can open doors or move objects, replenished by food.
    • Mental energy for solving puzzles, refueled by sleeping.
    • Life Force, which is your overall health. If it drops to zero, you die. It also slowly increases if the other two bars are full.
  • Mouthscreen: The video on the Special VidChip contains this, mixed with footage from the intro videos.
  • Mundane Utility: Alternate dimensions are used to expedite shipping in this game's universe (mainly because it's incredibly dangerous to teleport living creatures).
  • Musical Assassin: The Guitar Warriors, of course.
  • Mysterious Employer: Mr. Red, given that very little is explained about him in-game.
  • Nightmare Sequence: Used as minigames when you sleep, which generally involve avoiding nightmares that drain your mental energy.
  • No One Should Survive That!: The newspapers and game show hosts John and Jenna in the intro videos think your character couldn't possibly survive the Distortion Dimension. The game's goal is to prove the world wrong.
  • Ominous Multiple Screens: Two hallways are covered wall-to-wall with monitors, all showing videos that negatively impact your health in different ways. You have to upload a positive video to them in order to pass.
  • Parody Commercial: The Radio Aquarium in your tower is full of these between songs.
  • People Jars: Dimensionauts have to travel in Coma Tanks when teleported, nicknamed "soup closets" by the nutrient-rich fluid the user floats in during their six-week coma. You wake up in one at the beginning of the game as well.
  • Pixel Hunt: "Key Card X" and the door opener to Hell's Garage are hidden in extremely obscure spots. The former in one of four lights near the TV portal, and the latter inside a potted plant in the LA Stage's lobby.
  • Planet of Hats: The Distortion Dimension's hat is Grunge Rock.
  • Player Headquarters: Your Personal Media Tower.
  • Plug 'n' Play Technology: Occasionally you have to use video chips to upload or download footage from devices in the environment.
  • The Power of Rock: A common theme.
  • The Rock Star: You get to watch three rock star characters play a number of songs near the end, with background effects controllable from your keyboard. The characters in question are a Zombie Goth called Edgar Death; Punker Betty Pink complete with oversized Mohawk, and an Axl Rose-sounding rocker named Johnny Fang. Viewing all of them is your largest source of Fame points, and finding recorded footage of them is the most valuable resource you can get in the game.
  • Rock Me, Asmodeus!: Subverted in Hell's Garage, late in the game. Some of the files you can steal from a computer inside contain appropriately hellish sound effects, and a few songs dedicated to the location. The place's owner never shows up, though.
  • Rule of Three: The 3 intro videos at the beginning, The 3 VJs on Earth, three locations at the endgame, and three rock stars.
  • Sequence Breaking: As noted by one Let's Player, your in-game video editor can export projects to your computer's hard drive if you so choose. This allows you to effectively bypass making new music videos entirely if you have existing ones with very valuable content.
  • Sound-Coded for Your Convenience: Guitar battles go back and forth with this trope, depending on difficulty. Low difficulty adds colors to each note, while high difficulty requires playing entirely by ear.
  • Stylistic Suck: The songs and video clips you start with are intentionally low-quality, and aren't likely to make profitable videos.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Stevie Groovie, who is very picky about videos you sell to her, only paying highly if she enjoys it. The bank of monitors behind her even change to reflect her mood.
  • Surreal Music Video: You get a whole editor dedicated to making these and In all honesty a good majority of the game's fun comes from messing with this editor.
  • Teleportation with Drawbacks: Travel to alternate dimensions consumes a lot of energy, dependent on the size of the object being sent. Living creatures sent through are put into six-week comas - as such, you have to use a highly durable nutrient-fluid-filled tube when you want to travel to and from your base, and the sheer energy cost means it has to be pre-approved. (Also, the millions of dollars in energy bills it took to get your tower across put you in hock, and your tower's fuel will run dry if you can't come up with some good videos fast.)
  • Television Portal: With a maze between channels.
  • Three Chords and the Truth: Betty Pink's general style of rock.
  • Totally Radical: Some of the game's songs and radio commercials run on this. Justified, since it's set in an alternate 1990s. Even better, one of the commercials advertises "Hooked-On Slang" tapes to learn it.
  • Tower Defense: Somewhat. On high danger settings, Guitar Warriors will occasionally dismantle parts of your Media Tower, including the antenna on top. They can be automatically repaired, but this costs power to do so.
  • Trauma Button: The three TV producers each have some form of traumatic past, and they will reject any video containing elements that remind them of that.
  • Unintentionally Unwinnable:
    • If run on modern systems, most of the minigames run faster than players are able to keep up with, some of them with time limits. This means players won't have enough time or reflexes to keep up with them, making the game fit this trope without locking the CPU speed through DOSBox or similar emulators.
    • If the tower runs out of power while you're away, you need to force the door open to get back in. Problem is, this requires a certain amount of physical energy. Since physical energy can only be restored by food, which requires access to the tower to make, it's possible to become permanently stuck outside of the tower if you run out of energy and don't have any sandwiches on you.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment: Being a rude jerk to the various sponsors you can talk to is an easy way of losing out of a ton of potential money and eventually lose the game.
    • Also, as tempting as it is do NOT click on Roxanne's breasts.
  • Void Between the Worlds: Your Personal Media Tower is stationed on a guitar-shaped asteroid inside a purple nebulous void of stars, with a wormhole into the actual Distortion Dimension that opens up when the tower first appears.
  • Warp Whistle: The player can construct a portable teleporter midway through the game, which can take the player back to wherever it was set, within two available uses. The Windows port of the game renders it unusable due to a non-working "EXIT" button in the HUD, though.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life: Almost identical words ("What a pitiful waste of a human life") are actually part of the lyrics of the Game Over song. Quite fitting since the protagonist is basically an entrepreneur who wanders an alternate dimension chock-full of hostilities merely for profit...
  • Who Dares?: When you summon Edgar Death from his grave, he asks, "Who dares disturb my...sorrow?"
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Literally with Yuji, whose real last name is apparently "Dude".
    Joel: Dude-san? DUDE-SAN!?
  • Wolverine Publicity: Mr. Red is prominently shown on the box cover, but he only appears in-game to mock you in the start screen, and to authorize your trip home at the very end.

"You are dead, dead, dead..."


Video Example(s):


Guitar Warrior (You Are Dead)

how fitting that a death by the Guitar Warrior would be musical

How well does it match the trope?

3.6 (47 votes)

Example of:

Main / NonstandardGameOver

Media sources: