Monday 3 April 2023

Missed Classic 119: Refixion (1991)

 Written by Morpheus Kitami

Well, anything is going to be a bit of a downgrade after one of the greatest adventure games of all time, and going in I already knew this wasn't going to be any kind of challenge. It's something I wanted to cover for a while, and one of the very first (pre-rendered) 3D adventure games. Actual early 3D, not the Playstation era.

Let's be very accurate here. Adventure "game". This is something akin to an interactive music video. There were a fair number of these things back in the '90s. Queensryche, Prince, The Rolling Stones and Devo, among many others. Some of these have more legitimate claims to being games than others. Its something we've all sort of forgotten since most people are only vaguely interested in music and superfans don't have any money because they spend so much on concert tickets.

I'm going to continue to call it game, without quotation marks, simply because that's easier for me to keep track of.

Refixion is the debut game of Japanese game company/probable art collective Synergy. From what I can tell they started in 1986 and released their first game in 1991. Why the long difference? I have a few theories. The first is simply that due to the fact that they don't mention this series much on their website they might simply not mention their earlier titles for whatever reason. Secondly, it's not unheard of for companies in Japan to do undisclosed work on other titles. Finally, most of their games are in Director, and take full advantage of what would become the Director style of adventure games. Can't do that in the '80s, so they probably just existed, in someone's closet, long before actually releasing anything.

A typical image from Galactic Empire, no, it's not very attractive

Synergy is known for their 3D graphical adventures. In fact, one might say this marked the point that 3D started to take shape rather than the early 3D we like to forget so much we call stuff like this early 3D instead. This, as far as I know, and I welcome dissent here, the first 3D game with textures. Not the first 3D adventure game, mind you, since Galactic Empire from Coktel Vision did it earlier...and weirder, and the Freescape Engine games were vaguely adventure-ish...but I'm getting away from where I was going.

The company today is not known for their games as much as factors surrounding their games. Alice: An Interactive Museum, outside of being a game involving a lot of looking at paintings, is more known for the price of the game on online auction sites, $100+ for a PC game few have played. Hardly the worst offender in general though. Zeddas, which they didn't even develop, is more known for the difficulty in finding a copy of its sequels. The search resulted in a somewhat strange controversy. A Youtuber by the name of Saint found the third game on a secret website, put it out there for all to see, which resulted in someone else putting all the other Japanese Win/Mac games on that site out on the wider internet, which caused the original uploader to scream at people, those people screamed back at him for being a hoarder and not even liking the games he uploaded. Everyone had a lot of fun. If you don't get a death threat a day why even live?

It was a very weird thing to see at the time. Most of these are adventure games and things I'll probably cover at some point.

Also, at some point they were going to make a game with David Lynch, but apparently they ran out of money and it wasn't very good as a game. But you should take that from David Lynch, known for enjoying video games. He's very big in Japan.

Refixion has no story to it. Except that its probably the company's first game. While their website is uninformative, this "game" involved four people. This was made by Minoru Kusakabe, who would go on to make the 3DO series of FPS games Iron Angel of the Apocalypse, known in Japan as Tetsujin. I haven't played those, but the 3DO games I have played...haven't been good, yet. Also an important figure, Hiroyuki Miura, who contributed to the visuals of one part (arguably the more important one) of the CD-ROM's programs, before leading the adventure/strategy series Yellow Brick Road, based off some unimportant children's book series.

The other Miura, Norikazu, is probably the other's brother, but more importantly, you may have heard of some of his work. He's done the more recent Suikoden games, and of future interest to this blog, one of the soundtracks to the Tokimeki Memorial games and Shadow of Destiny. The other guy, Koujun Kokuba has had no work that has achieved any kind of appearance outside of Japan. The closest thing I could find to another appearance was a thanks in an album from 1987. I suspect he's done something, but finding it is a task I shall not take.

While I'm not going to play them anytime soon, I do note an issue regarding some of the company's lineup. Alice was released in Japan. It was released in America in 1994. So if I do play it as a missed classic some day, it'll be a 1994 missed classic, since other games have missed their original Japanese release date yet are still in contention for mainline games. (I presume it'll be me since nobody else seems to be interested in Japanese games.)

This game is interesting to get running. Like that fake Chinese saying, "may you live in interesting times". A stealth insult implying that interesting means times of violent upheaval. This is a very interesting, but not the most interesting game to get running. Refixion was made in Director, as I mentioned, but it was only released on Mac. Not a problem, I think, Macintosh emulators work fairly well. After all, no game I've played has had problems. (I have played a few.) Well, it works, but the music's choppy. The one video on Youtube of this game actually demonstrates that issue. So I sat on the game for a little while. (it also has troubles keeping the right palette)

I did this not because I was planning on buying a real old Macintosh or anything, but rather because I knew that the good folks at ScummVM were working on Director compatibility. Probably later than it should have been done, but at least this should be working. I note that officially, this doesn't work yet, but I'm sure someone reading this will inform the good people there that it does, at least partially. Though while I'm wishing for unlikely things to happen it might be nice if ScummVM had support for the Incas and Galactic Empires...

That said, this game has a very unique issue, unique to it and one that can't be fixed. Not relating to any ScummVM or emulator issues. Despite owning some minor number of CD games, I do not actually own this game. It is exceedingly unlikely that I will own this game. Short of wandering around Japanese thrift stores like I sometimes do American ones, it's just not happening. It's not available for purchase at this moment, anywhere, online. Which isn't a problem since I can just play the game...except that the rip the game has is slightly bad. One of the music tracks didn't get ripped properly, in its place is silence. This isn't the end of the world since it's just a remix, but it is annoying. It also means there's not much point in me posting a "fixed" video or an incomplete soundtrack. (the only video of the game on Youtube has bad sound)

The game starts off with a neat little video of a camera going through some wireframe tunnels, occasionally stopping to give the player one of two options. Credits or program, movie or music. This is basically a tech demo to show off the developers 3d modeling and animation skills, so you're missing something from just screenshots. The primary choice of game is between The Anthrax Robot Works and Shangri-La. We'll start with The Anthrax Robot Works. When you start this you get two options, regular or Funny Fish Mix.

This is regular. The boxes in the middle spin around, while the bars on the sides go up and down.

And this is Funny Fish Mix. The bars do the same thing, but the boxes in the middle move around in a kind of patty cake formation. It moves very quickly, I think that's an issue with ScummVM, but it isn't like you can run this in a Mac emulator. This part actually crashes in a Macintosh emulator.

I am uploading two songs from the game, but none of the remixes. If you want those you can find the game yourself. At this point, you might be asking, Morpheus, is that really it? A 1991 music visualizer? I dunno. The back of the box shows a lot of robots, you can see them above. Like I said, this part doesn't run in an emulator, but I'm unsure why it doesn't do anything here.. Obviously I don't understand anything beyond whatever errors the status window throws out at me. Perhaps there should be a video playing under the boxes and bars, but is that really something so unfathomable that another, working game didn't already account for that? The other is some bizarre ripping issue, but it seems doubtful it would be so precise in its damage.

As there doesn't seem to be any interactive parts here, it doesn't seem like there's much of a loss.

Shangri-La is more of a game compared to the other bit. It has its own title screen, and we are placed outside a pyramid. Not a pyramid I can explore around like one could in Myst, just one where the "player" looks at a pyramid, clicks closer, and is put closer. No backsies either, this is incredibly linear. Egyptian-esque stuff seems to be a source of early 3D modelling work, perhaps because a pyramid is the second easiest shape to make, outside of a box. Or at least I assume so, I barely understand how '90s 3d modelling programs work, let alone something jury-rigged in someone's basement in the '80s.

When I talk about these things, my experience working with 3D models is with Blender. I will not pretend to understand texturing or sculpting 3D models. The former is making it so you don't look at a featureless blob of color, and the latter is how people turn something like you'd see in the late '90s to something you would see in a modern game. All I understand is creating something like you would see in the late '90s, and not very well. The last human I created in such a program looks like Lara Croft's ugly cousin. I understand animation, but suffer the usual animation problems of people walking on air.

I feel like describing this is all very underwhelming today considering that I could probably do a decent enough imitation of this in a couple of weeks. And you really have to see it to enjoy it. I click on the pyramid and move closer. I click on the little stone slab on-top twice and the stairs slowly shrink into the ground. It does this in a weird way, we see the slab flash and the stones slowly move downward. There's also a bit where the stone base changes size in a weird way, bigger, towards the foreground, but also weird in that it gets oddly rounded.

I'm sure I don't understand why that last bit happened, but I understand the theory. So the simplest way of animating 3D models is by simply changing the size and orientation of the object. A hundred pixels to the left or right. Changing size is much the same, if you want something to be a hundred pixels in size or one. You can change it along one axis, think The Outer Limits intro. If you don't know what that is, look it up real quick. In a modern program you have a bunch of numbers you can change at will.

However, there's also vertice by vertice animation. 3D modelling is basically a really complex geometry problem, with vertices being points. This is of course, very time-consuming, which is why they replaced it with skeletal animation, which is exactly what you think it is. Now, if they did do vertice by vertice animation, I don't think that answers the question of why the moving slab looks curved. It's basically a box, there's no reason for something that's basically a box to have enough vertices to create any kind of curving effect.

Inside is...the inside of a pyramid. It is what it is. There aren't a lot of angles to see this stuff, and you basically just get forward and this little side bit. You can see this statue move around. This is the only part of the game that's optional.

Next we have...eggs. A wall full of bouncing eggs. The music has changed too, to some epic fantasy piece. I feel like they wasted it here. Anyway, click on these eggs, they walk away, then more pop out of the wall. Click on them, or on the way out, and they disappear. Then there's a a mushroom. Those making obvious jokes relating to that and this game shall be fined 10 CAPs. I feel like they were trying to imitate a JRPG battlescreen, only without the game part. This too, goes away whenever you click on the right spot. Not really a puzzle either. While replaying this, I found out that maybe all this clicking stuff in this section is just a placebo, clicking does nothing.

Perhaps it's just not very well made under the surface

This brings us to the only actual puzzle this game has. It's not a good one. And no, that's not how it's supposed to look, it just tends to do that here. I tried replaying it once or twice, but it kept happening so, you get this. Anyway, click on the left tubes and you get a tube, which if you click on has a mushroom image inside. On the right, you get a tube with a human heart inside. You're supposed to click on the side of the screen closest to the bootleg Stargate here. Why. I dunno.

We travel through the gate. Hopefully Sam remembered to send the code and we won't get splattered against the iris.

Funny, the correct coloring came back here

Anyway, this takes us to a catwalk we can travel across to enter a room with a pedestal. The pedestal has, something in it. Click it twice and it explodes, ending the game. What happened? I dunno, but I'm guessing there were some Japanese guys around that time sorely disappointed they didn't just rent The Mind's Eye. Assuming they could do that.

My total time playing through it was something like 20 minutes, but a single playthrough would be something like 5, maybe 10.

Puzzles and Solvability

Do puzzles exist? Did I really solve any puzzles? Do you think I solved a puzzle? Or did I just press things with my mouse cursor until things happened? The world will never know.


Interface and Inventory

There's no way to skip past anything, which is annoying. I dislike how you can't quit out of the Anthrax part. Otherwise it's so simple there's not much to screw up, but basically no inventory.


Story and Setting

I like the direct concept of this being something inside my computer. Shangri-La is strange, first trying to be Egyptian, then...uh...inside someone I guess? Finally, Stargate. I know Stargate came after this, but it's Stargate. It's the same concept, just weirder. They look neat, and that's about it.


Sound and Graphics

The Anthrax Robot Works track is kind of bland. Not offensive or anything, but I wouldn't want to listen to it again. The Shangri-La and menu tracks, on the other hand, are at the minimum good for a game, with one of the Shangri-La tracks being very good period. Which is funny, since we those were made by Kokuba, who as far as we know, never worked again. Visually, it looks pretty nice when the game isn't glitching out. It feels like a small sampling of what adventure games would look like over the next 10 years, minus awkward looking models. Could have used a lot more angles of stuff though, and animation is stiff.


Environment and Atmosphere

You only get like one thing unrelated to the actual playing. This is ridiculously simplistic, to the point that they'd have been better off not including the interactive part. It's a shame because I think they created something that would have been a nice world. I'd like to be able to wander around it. I'm always a sucker for something Egyptian themed; The fleshy section is a concept rarely used in adventure games; The final bit is just that sort of glorious location I love to see in adventure games.

But you just get nothing. People argue about Full Throttle and how short that felt. That has nothing on this. (at least I presume)


Dialogue and Acting




On one hand, that was an experience. It didn't drag on for longer than it should have. I enjoyed it. On the other, I really think there could have been a lot more to it. More interesting. Something worth playing instead of something you could literally put a video up of on Youtube and miss nothing.

How much was this? Ah, ¥6800, according to the box. How much is that in USD? $51 when I wrote this. For the record, at this point an actual CD would set you back ¥3000. Not really surprised these didn't sell that well. Dunno when I'll be reaching the sequels, but Refixion 2 is more of a game than this, no idea what the third one is. I note that mostly the staff on future Refixions didn't really interact with the main company, at least to my knowledge. I wonder what this means for their future titles.

Next time, I finally get around to playing a title that was once upon a time considered one of the greatest adventure games ever. Only took me six months...


  1. So... is it like The Manhole for adults?!?

    1. The Manhole, from Joe's review of it, is more of an interactive book, and definitely has more interactivity than this game. You basically just walk in a single direction with a couple of side things to interact with.
      It's also not necessarily for adults, in that there's nothing about it that's technically adult, it's not like that creepy 3d stuff from The Lawnmower Man, but it still has a good shot at scarring a child methinks.

  2. I went to a bar in Chicago called "The Manhole" once. It was most definitely for adults.

  3. So glad to see some love for Synergy here! I played the Refixion trilogy last year after playing Gadget and going down the Synergy rabbit hole. I did it using the Basilisk Mac emulator (first time trying it). I tried them with ScummVM too but there were some bugs, like the color thing you show and some FMVs not playing in the second one. Still, what they're doing at ScummVM is super awesome, the library of Director games is immense and this will probably save many of them from oblivion. Oh, and I also couldn't see anything else in The Anthrax Robot Works, guess we'll never know what that section was.

    I added the first two to Mobygames with some screenshots, in case anyone else wants to see the Stargate thingy with the correct colors:

    I think the second one is the best of the three, with a bigger place to explore (but still no puzzles). And the third is the least "game" of them. It's just an animated short about one of Santa's reindeer, which is awesome in its own way actually and I've thought about uploading it to YouTube but haven't gotten around to do it.

    Anyway, hope to see some more Synergy games here! They were definitely one of the most fascinating companies of the 90s.

    1. Nice to see someone else knows of Synergy. They feel very much at the forefront of experimentation in '90s adventure games, both for good and ill.
      Interesting, you managed to get the second game working in ScummVM? The tool they created for these sort of games just hangs for me when I try to rip the game files. At least in this case I can actually play the game in an emulator. I trew some minor shade at them, but I really do appreciate being able to play like 50% of adventure games released in the '90s without having to screw around too much with obscure WINE settings or installing a VM.

      I'm curious though, in the second game did you find a win state? I remember screwing around with it back when I originally started writing this and couldn't find one.

    2. So, I used the ScummVM Dumper Companion to create the Windows files for it, and it loaded fine on ScummVM. Last time I tried it I remember there was some issues with the FMVs not playing or something, so I decided to try again now with the updated version of ScummVM. The game loads fine and I can explore the first room, but after I click on the first barred door an FMV plays and then the game crashes. So I guess ScummVM is not there yet for Refixion II.

      About the end state, I remembered getting to a room full of giant cogs and some metal bridges, after which a very long trippy FMV plays. I wasn't sure if there was more to it after that, so I did a quick replay now using Basilisk. Indeed, I got again to the long trippy video, but after it finishes playing the game crashes. It seems there should be at least one more room to explore, as the ending of the video suggests you get to that new space. Maybe experimenting with Basilisk and the Mac game files could fix it, but I'm not sure. I guess I'll just have to wait until ScummVM fully supports it to see what's beyond that.

      Of the other Synergy games I only played Gadget and Four-Sight for now. L-Zone, from 1992, seems to be the more "puzzley" of their games, and it's been tested and is fully supported on ScummVM. I also recommend playing through the enhanced version of Gadget, as it's truly a masterpiece (it's over at Zomb's Lair).

    3. See, whenever I try to do that with the Refixion 2 image, it just doesn't complete, it sits there, loading it. Doesn't matter if it's the original disc image or one I converted, nothing happens. Still, it sounds like, at least for now. Still, glad it can be completed.

      Also, Four-Sight? Isn't that one of their titles that actually requires you to understand Japanese? Or is it just like Refixion where you don't need to understand anything?

    4. That's weird, maybe something to do with the "Allow Unicode file names" option or the language? I can send you a zip with the files I used in ScummVM if you're interested.

      And Four-Sight is like Refixion, yeah, it doesn't have any text so no need to know Japanese (I don't know any Japanese, by the way). It's included in the Gadget Collection on Zomb's Lair.

    5. Nah, don't bother. It's something that would be nice, but isn't necessary. And yes, I did select both the Unicode thing and the Japanese language, but nothing happened. Curiously I remember with the original game before converting the image to a different format it wouldn't convert since it was apparently too big.

    6. No worries! There's not much that can be done in that game with the current version of ScummVM anyway. But if you still want the files some other time, let me know. And if any future update lets me go past the first room, I'll let you know :D