Byzantine won’t betray gamers looking for a realistic thrill

Byzantine: The Betrayal
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Imagine you are a journalist (in other words, a very curious person) and you receive a postcard from an old schoolmate and a friend in Turkey that basically says: come have fun and get a good story out of the trip.

Chances are you would not turn him down. But no sooner have you arrived in Turkey’s waterfront city of Istanbul, where your friend Emre Bahis lives, than you start regretting your decision.

Typical of Middle Eastern intrigues, the unsuspecting foreigner finds himself involved in a mischief not of his doing.

That, in essence, is the storyline of Byzantine: The Betrayal released in October by Discovery Channel Multimedia. The game, the first CD-ROM game in Discovery’s Planet Explorer series, has several things going for it.

The six-CD game is Discovery’s biggest budget title ever and is the first mystery/thriller CD-ROM to film totally in another country. In journalism, there is a rule that says, “Don’t write a story unless you fully understand it yourself.” That’s what Discovery has done. It did not just tap into history books and take pictures from a book on Turkish culture and architecture. Their staff actually committed time and money to mirror reality.

Harry Moxley, the game’s executive producer, says Discovery spent 16 months producing the game. A research team traveled extensively in Turkey, with the government’s cooperation, and shot rolls after rolls of pictures and video tapes of anything from police cars and taxis to mosques, museums and palaces.

Turkish soap opera actors and actresses were hired to tape audio for the script, even though Moxley says, many of them barely spoke any English.

Developed by Stormfront Studios of San Raphael, Calif., one of the things that’s most permeating about Byzantine: The Betrayal is that it has vivid resemblances to reality. The architecture, the culture, the geography, the color of police cars, the way a Turk would greet you into his shop are all real. As a journalist who once worked in Turkey, I know authentic Turkish culture when I see it.

But the game is also intriguing because it does lock itself in the past. It is not a game about aged cultures of a remote world. The storyline is carved in reality. There is a heavy emphasis on international trade and commerce and technology. I would easily argue that the hero of the game is not of the human actors, but a computer database.

What is also refreshing about the game, and this one the developers and the publisher brag about, is that Byzantine: The Betrayal is not alike the umpteen mindless shoot-to-kill games that have flooded the market. To play this one, you actually have to use your brain and all deductive senses that comes with it.

Like many other publishers, Discovery Channel Multimedia is offering an online version of the game, as the first in a series of Planet Explorer games.

Discovery certainly hopes it will make a lot of money. Here is a word of consolation even if it doesn’t: it’s a great title that is certain to broaden the horizons of all who play

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