Closet of the Odd
Review by MrLipid
Once upon an Era ...
Remember the early 1970s? Nixon was still in the White House, George
Peppard was vexing insurance companies as Banacek and a young Englishman
released a bestselling album that became the musical signature of
Though Nixon and Peppard are no longer with us, that no-longer-so-young
Englishman is and he has been busy. That Englishman is, of course,
Mike Oldfield of Tubular Bells fame, and for the past decade
or so he's been intrigued by something he calls MusicVR.
Sounds ... Promising
Maestro, the second program to make use of the specially
written MusicVR engine (Tr3s Lunas was the first), enables
players, alone or networked and chatting with each other, to fly
through spacious fantasy worlds while searching for objects called
medalsmedals that look like self-adhesive premade silver ribbon
gift bows. In the namesake Maestro mode, players achieve the title
of Maestro by collecting enough medals to reach enough worlds to
find and escort a quartet of "Gravitars" to a special
Gravitar holding pen. (Don't ask what a Gravitar is. I have no idea.)
Another mode involves collecting precisely two dozen medals from
all of the worlds of Maestro. (If one is playing with a friend,
one can exchange medals or simply give them away.)
Maestro is, in many respects, the embodiment of what more
than a few adventure gamers have described as the ideal future of
adventure gaming: a nonlinear quest set in an enormous universe
that can explored from a first- or third-person perspective, alone
or with friends, with complete freedom of movement. What's not to
How about this: Maestro has no save game function.
Let me repeat that. Maestro has no save game function.
Exiting the current game, whether by choice (F4 = exit), accident
(F1 = new game) or crash (nothing's perfect), erases all traces
of a player's progress. The next time Maestro is fired up,
it will behave as if it has never been played before.
There is no clue, either on the website or in the game, why this
particularly odd design choice was made. There are oblique references
to leaving Maestro running"When you are not participating
in Maestro, leave the world running all night as an active
screensaver or as a Windows background to your day-to-day tasks"but
that's not quite the same as saying, "Leaving Maestro =
(Leaving Maestro running makes sense if it is possible to
minimize it and get some work done. While I was never able to minimize
Maestro in 98SE, it obediently shrinks to the task bar in
What's the Good News?
If you can't imagine yourself playing a game you can't save and
come back to, you might as well quit reading now. If you're a patient
soul with nothing else to do, read on.
Maestro's defining characteristic is scale. The worlds in
Maestro are huge. There are seemingly endless plains to fly
across and entire mountain ranges to soar over. There are massive
building exteriors to examine and immense interior spaces to explore.
While the player may not have a clear idea why a certain world is
full of floating clock gears or how to relate to a scorpion made
of circuit boards, there is always something to see and, more often
than not, that something is worth seeing.
More Bad News?
That said, there are more than a few instances where inspiration
appears to have failed, and a placeholder, be it an overly familiar
texture or an incongruous object, was inserted while Maestro's
creators awaited, in vain, the return of their muse.
More fundamental than the sometimes stale textures and overall
coarseness of the objects throughout Maestro are the limitations
of the game engine. Maestro is striving to offer the player
something resembling the dream state of flying. It needs a game
engine with the flexibility of 1995's Descent or 2000's Shark!
Hunting the Great White. Both of those engines offered players
full freedom of movement. Want to tumble in space? No problem in
Descent. Swim along the ocean floor while looking up at the
surface? Go ahead in Shark! A few moments of flying in Maestro
reveal that the game engine not only enforces the idea of up
and down, it also limits how far one can turn upon an axis. There
are times in Maestro when one feels one is dreaming the dream
of a tether ball, wrapped too tightly around the pole to move and
forced to "unwind" in order to proceed.
Control in Maestro could not be simpler. Pressing the left
mouse button moves one forward, and pressing the right mouse button
brings one to a full stop. Press the right mouse button after a
full stop and one reverses direction. While the control is simple,
it takes a fair amount of getting used to. Expect to overshoot more
than a few doorways and pile into more than a few walls. Though
Maestro is a nonviolent game, there are times when it is
necessary to open doors or trigger puzzles by launching a volley
of circuit boards or chunks of DNA at them by pressing the space
A substantial portion of the gameplay in Maestro consists
of drifting through massive spaces looking for the aforementioned
medals and Gravitars. The speed at which the worlds drift past is
determined by the MusicVR engine and, because said engine is designed
to convey a sense of scale, the pace is leisurely. Maestro is
not a title designed for those who can vividly remember demanding
to know, most likely from the back seat, "Are we there yet?"
Between long drifts, the player can ponder how each world works.
What ties to what and how does doing one thing affect another? Is
it a good idea to open the birdcage by pressing the spacebar and
firing what look like circuit boards at it? Should one pelt a chrome
statue with chunks of DNA? Is it always a good idea to fly through
a painting? And what about those unicorns?
The Living Diminuendo
For a game designed by someone who made his name as a musician,
there is surprisingly little music in Maestro and not many
sound effects. Just a quiet, slow drift through worlds that frequently
look like they were wallpapered with web page backgrounds from the
Am I glad that I've spent some time in the worlds of Maestro?
Yes. I haven't run into anything quite so odd since Welcome
to the Future or Weird. Can I recommend that
folks dash to the Mike Oldfield website and buy a downloadable copy?
No. What I can recommend is that folks drift to the Mike Oldfield
website and download the demo. If you like what you find in the
demo, you'll find even more to like in the full version.