Closet of the Odd
The Journey to Wild Divine
Review by MrLipid
On November 22, 2003, Jen posted the following message:
"I know not everybody celebrates Christmas, so I will
make this a generic 'what game do you really wish someone would
give you out of the blue' thread.
"Me? Journey to the Wild Divine. For the sole reason
that it's too much dineros for a pig in a poke."
Jen, this one's for you.
I have long maintained that interactive electronic entertainment,
whatever the platform, functions, regardless of the intention of
those building the software, as a teaching machine. Players supply
an input; the game universe responds. Players supply another input;
it doesn't respond. We, as players, are taught, input by input,
how the universe before us works. It doesn't feel like being taught
because we feel we're in charge and we get a happy jolt whenever
what we predicted would happen, based on past inputs and responses,
happens. We live for that jolt: that moment when the pieces fall
into place, when the dots connect, when the universe we've been
providing with inputs responds in a way we've been quietly taught
Viewed as teaching machines that provide responses to inputs, both
installments of The Journey to Wild Divine (The Passage
and Wisdom Quest) look and sound, at first glance, pretty
much like every other adventure set in some vaguely Mystoid
world. Navigation, as in most such games, is handled with the mouse.
As for everything else, well, that's what makes the Wild Divine
offerings unique. Instead of using a keyboard or a Wiimote or
a gamepad or a touchscreen to accept player input, Wild Divine
I and II use fingertip sensors on the index, middle,
and ring fingers to monitor skin conductivity and heart rhythm variability.
The hand with the sensors remains still while the physical state
of the player drives events on the screen. Thus, unlike any other
adventure game, The Passage and Wisdom Quest consist
of challenges that can only be overcome by the conscious manipulation
by the player of his or her physical state. This is the skill these
teaching machines teach. The oddest quality about learning this
skillcontrolling items on the screen without movingis
that it doesn't seem odd at all.
In a November 2003 article in Wired, Brian Lam described
the uniqueness of The Journey to Wild Divine: The Passage by
asking readers to meditate on this: You are the controller. After
experiencing both The Passage and Wisdom Quest, I
think it would be more accurate to say: You are the puzzle. Solving
the challenges in The Passage and Wisdom Quest would
be trivial with a mouse because they are not about what needs to
be done but whether the player has sufficient focus to do what needs
to be done. Success requires players to develop an understanding
of the variability of their energy levels and a grasp of techniques
to regulate those levels. Players are solving themselves. The modest
puzzles on the screen are just there to provide a measure of how
the solution is going.
As someone who grew up among pragmatic farm folk on the prairies
of the midwestern United States, I found myself wincing, flinching,
and cringing at the look and tone of the Wild Divine website, the
Wild Divine packaging, and the Wild Divine products themselves.
Everything about all of it felt way too much like a flashback to
the heyday of headshops, Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock
Musical, renaissance fairs, the Age of Aquarius, crystals, dreamcatchers,
and whatever the New Age was supposed to be. At the same time, as
an amateur medical historian, I found the idea of bringing the technology
of biofeedback to a general audience by wrapping it in the trappings
of an adventure game appealing. The first step in my journey was
clear: I had to allow my curiosity to override my impulse to recoil
if I hoped to experience the effects of guided biofeedback. Giving
in to my curiosity turned out to be the biggest step of the journey.
What's in the Box?
I don't usually do commentary on how products are packaged, but
The Journey to Wild Divine: The Passage is not a usual product.
The packaging of The Passage does everything it can to assure
buyers that the $159.95 MSRP is appropriate. The box is covered
with lush images of game scenes, endorsements from Deepak Chopra,
M.D., and a promise that you, as a buyer, can expect to "Discover
the power of your inner magic with easy-to-use biofeedback technology."
Lift the lid and you'll find ... another lid, also covered with
imagery and copy, promising a "truly inner active experience"
courtesy of biofeedback sensors. Open the inner lid (which is unaccountably
blank on its backside) and you'll find a vacuum-formed clear plastic
cover that fits snugly over a vacuum-formed black plastic tray covered
with faux black velvet. The faux velvet tray securely holds the
biofeedback unit, PC and Mac game CDs, a Soul Flight music CD from
the Wild Divine Band, a bonus CD featuring an interview with Deepak
Chopra, M.D., a user's manual, and a spiral-bound Companion Guide
for The Passage.
Turn the box overthe clear plastic cover, not to mention
the inner and outer lids, will keep everything from falling outand
you'll find even more imagery and copy, including an explanation
for how biofeedback works. Promised biofeedback benefits include
reduced stress and anxiety, increased relaxation and energy, enhanced
creativity and focus, restored balance of mind and body, and improved
mental and physical performance. All this for a mere $159.95. While
that's steep by game standards, it's not at all unusual for biofeedback
gear. And it's cheap when compared to the cost of most console and
launch title bundles, especially when players of The Passage
will likely revisit particular challenges over and over to refine
their breathing and meditation techniques.
Yesterday's QuickTime Blues
The Passage and Wisdom Quest are, like all games
that rely on QuickTime and Macromedia, hostage to the vintage of
the technology with which they were built. The system requirements
on the box state The Passage works with QuickTime 6 (or higher).
The website says QuickTime 6.3 or higher. If you're running Windows,
you'll find that higher means 6.5 and not a point release more.
Fortunately, 6.5 happens to be the version of QuickTime that ships
on the installation disks for The Passage. Seems there is
a fundamental problem with how Macromedia Projector 9.0 interacts
with QuickTime 7.x; a problem that makes the audio in the QuickTime
movies unintelligible. Hard for mentors to guide seekers if the
seekers can't understand where they are being directed to go.
Though the installation procedure checks for the presence of QuickTime,
it appears to assume that everything is fine if the version of QuickTime
present is 6.5 or higher. The first clue that things are not fine
comes when Sophia, the guide in the tutorial for The Passage,
opens her mouth and gives the impression of lip-syncing to an
AM radio broadcast riddled with heavy static.
For those running Windows who have QuickTime 7.x installed, there
is only one fix for the audio problem in The Passage and
Wisdom Quest: drop back to QuickTime 6.5. Of course, dropping
back to 6.5 means giving up, temporarily, all of Apple's iTunes
goodies. It seems a transcendent irony that one's journey to serenity
through technology begins with the installation of an older version
Anyone running 2000 or XP should have no trouble running both The
Passage and Wisdom Quest. While The Passage will
run on 98SE and ME, Wisdom Quest won't. As for Vista, well,
that's not clear yet. Folks at the Wild Divine Project claim to
have had success running both on Vista, but there have been hints
of some problems. Proceed with caution.
Finally Underway ...
So what happens once you've installed The Passage's two
disks full of data, made sure you're running QuickTime 6.5, hooked
up the "LightStone" interface to your PC or Mac, plugged
the three "Magic Ring" sensors into the "LightStone,"
put the "Magic Rings" on the index, middle, and ring fingers
of your left hand (assuming you are going to be using your right
hand to control the mouse), and clicked on the desktop icon to start
First, you'll have to register your copy of The Passage. It's
a painless process that can either be done through the Wild Divine
website or with a call to technical support. The registration process
generates a number that links the serial number of your LightStone
to the serial number of your software. Enter your activation code
and you're golden. And put your CDs away. They are no longer needed
(yay!) once The Passage is installed.
The Passage begins with a movie about creation and your
place in it. Seems you're a gardener. When the movie ends, you'll
be dropped off at the main menu. The main menu is worth a closer
Along with the usual New Game, Load Game, Save Game, Return to
Game, About, and Quit buttons, there are also How to Play, System,
and FAQ buttons. (There is no Options button because The Passage
only plays at 800×600. The only audio control is the one
on your speakers. Nor is there a your-name-here blank because The
Passage doesn't keep track of who's playing. Finally, there
is no difficulty adjustment. One either overcomes a challenge or
The How to Play button takes the mystery out of the interface.
Good thing, because the interface is, at first glance, pretty mysterious.
The System button shows the player what the Magic Ring sensors are
picking up in terms of heart rhythm and skin conductivity. The FAQ,
which shows up in the Readme.txt in most games, allows players with
questions to find answers without leaving the game. As for quitting
the game, be advised that the game will allow you to quit without
saving. There is no warning that you are about to lose all of your
progress. Then again, progress is such a Western idea.
Still Alive? Just Checking
Before starting any session, it's a good idea to click on System
to see if your skin conductivity and heart rhythm are being successfully
monitored. The warmer and sweatier your fingertips, the better your
chances. Or you could use an electrode gel, conductive paste, or
just some hand lotion on your index and ring fingers to improve
the connection. Keep your middle finger clean because the heart
monitor is optical, not conductive.
The Sun Realm: New, Yet So Familiar
Once you're connected, click on New Game and get your first look
at the Sun Realm. The Sun Realm, wherein both The Passage and
Wisdom Quest transpire, is a lovingly realized imagining
of a bright, verdant, nontechnological paradise. Lots of stairs
and columns and arches and potted plants and misty valleys and quiet
pools and hanging banners and soaring birds and fluffy clouds. It's
a close cousin to the worlds Maxfield Parrish created in oils back
in the 1920s and George Lucas subsequently recreated in pixels.
Put another way, we've been here, or someplace a lot like it, before.
Moved by Stillness
Upon arrival, you'll get a tutorial from a kindly older woman named
Sophia. The tutorial will give you your first opportunities to try
out your biofeedback chops. You'll move a pinwheel, juggle three
colored balls, levitate a sphere, and start a fire, all without
lifting a finger. Once the Lady in the Woods has given you your
Magic Bag, you're good to go. Helping guide you through the Sun
Realm is Sophia's faithful dog, Flash, who has probably guided many
a noob to enlightenment. Flash quickly manifests himself in his
graphic swoosh form and maintains that form for the duration.
There are other sources of assistance throughout the game. A visit
to the Temple of Awareness will earn you the advice of former Buddhist
monk and famed Tibetan flutist Nawang Khechog. Whenever you encounter
a new challenge, he'll appear and, if you ask, fill you in on what
you need to do. A visit to the Double Durga (they're dancers to
the Mother Goddess Durga) earns you a pair of eyes that will offer
a hint of where your energy needs to be to meet a challenge and
an energy meter that will give you real time feedback on where your
energy level is.
Movement in the Sun Realm, like movement in Dog
Day, involves triggering QuickTime movies that create
the illusion of gently gliding from one point to another in a three-dimensional
world. Once one stops, one may be offered choices of where to go
next or a guide may appear with advice on how to approach a particular
biofeedback event. (An "event" is how challenges are referred
to in the Sun Realm.) The cursor takes the form of a golden wand,
and when the wand begins giving off a soft purple haze (peace, Jimi!),
clicking the cursor will activate an event. Upon completion of an
event, it's time to jump back on the QuickTime express and see what
shows up in the next movie.
While there are few areas in the Sun Realm that are closed at the
beginning of the quest, there is an order in which some events need
to be experienced. Remember, no matter how twee this place looks,
there is a teaching machine lurking behind the sunny scenes that
won't let you go places you are not trained to handle. It may take
you to them, but it will not let you enter.
Round, Round, Get Around, I Get Around
Perhaps the biggest issue with The Passage is navigation.
Simply getting from one event to the next can take a while. Make
a wrong turn, and it can take quite a while. With all movement handled
by QuickTime movies, an errant click can turn into a tour of areas
you may have no interest in visiting. Nor does it help that the
navigation is not consistent. Sometimes, clicking to the left or
right will take you left or right. Sometimes, it will trigger a
panning move. Other times, it will turn you completely around. Nor
can one skip a transitional movie. Once it begins, there is no choice
but to sit through the whole thing.
There is a map, but it's isometric and it's inert. No zip mode
here. The best that players can do is find a landmark and then try
to orienteer from that. There is a teleport mode, but it is limited
to moving you back and forth between places you've already visited
and bookmarked. And the teleport mode only works with two places
at a time. Add a third and you give up one of your previous bookmarks.
The challenge of simply getting around is compounded by the fact
that there is a sequence to some, though not all, events. Miss picking
up your Magic Bag in the beginning and you'll soon find yourself
stalled. Fail to solve the riddle of the Rainbow Rocks and you'll
never meet the Lady of Compassion. And she's a very important lady.
Click on some doors and you'll find yourself being transported to
places you are not ready to visit; places where, once there, you'll
be told you can go no further. Fortunately, you'll most likely be
tossed back to the point just before you selected the Gate of Overeagerness
or the Portal of Prematurity ... or whatever a door that gets you
someplace too soon should be called.
What's That Sound?
Let me pose a rhetorical question.
When a game is released with a CD of music from a band that takes
its name from the company responsible for the game and that features
the company's founder as lead singer, how likely is it that the
music on that CD is going to memorably shed new light and give new
voice to humanity's longing for the divine?
The Passage answers that question by making sparing use
of the Wild Divine Band, relying instead on a peculiar mixture of
orchestra, wordless choirs, incidental guitar riffs, and techno
ambient of the sort heard in the original 1996 version of Safecracker.
The soundtrack of The Passage needs, as one of the guides
might suggest, some controlled breathing to help it align its discordant
rhythms and bring harmony out of its dissonance.
Playing Through the Passage
The big question, of course, and the only question that matters
is: Once the software's set up properly and the Magic Ring sensors
are working and you've managed to find your way to an event, how
does it feel to play a game by manipulating your skin conductance
level and heart rate?
Great. That's how it feels. Just great. Where it really counts,
The Passage really delivers. The core experience of biofeedback-based
gaming, as realized by the Wild Divine project, is wonderful. No
other game I've ever played has required such an intense level of
concentration and stillness and produced such a feeling of calm
and satisfaction. It is tremendously illuminating to learn how controlling
one's breathing can affect one's overall sense of being. And it's
hugely gratifying to watch, and feel, one's energy level change
in response to what one has been taught. And because The Passage
and Wisdom Quest really are teaching machines disguised
as adventures, what one has learned is very portable. It's easy
to take the techniques into new situations and enjoy the benefits
without the assistance of the Magic Rings and LightStone training
What About Wisdom Quest?
Wisdom Quest's packaging, because it contains nothing more
than the PC and Mac installation disks, the User's Manual, and the
Training Manual, is considerably less grand than that for its predecessor.
It's just a box. After installing Wisdom Quest's four CDs
for Windows, applying the patch (available here
for Windows and here
for Mac), and registering online, I was eager to see what had changed.
Short answer: Just about everything.
If one views The Passage as proof of concept, then Wisdom
Quest is the concept both refined and, perhaps inevitably, exploited.
The refinement is immediately obvious. Everything looks better,
from the sharply chiseled Main Menu to the QuickTime VR nodes that
allow one to take in the full beauty of the imagined surroundings.
Wisdom Quest features images and sequences that are truly
inspired. There is a flight in a magical boat through a snow storm
that is exquisitely realized. And in keeping with a more polished
look, everything sounds better, too, thanks to a more unified soundtrack.
Players can choose from five difficulty levels and select screen
resolutions ranging from 800×600 all the way to 1150×768.
If a QuickTime movie is losing your attention, click and, in most
cases, it disappears. Nor is navigation as trying as it was in The
Passage. It is now possible to navigate using the map. One can
return to anyplace one has visited with a click. In addition to
the return of the "Purple Haze" to alert players of events
with endings, there is now the "Orange Mist" signaling
events that are just for practice.
Also immediately obvious is the perhaps inevitable exploitation
of the franchise. While it's good to see Nawang Khechog again, this
time he is joined by two new wise guides, both sporting M.D.s and
publishing ventures: omtrepreneur Deepak Chopra shows up as Rama
and diet guru Dean Ornish weighs in as the Wisdom Keeper. Ornish,
in his brown robes, looks like Harry Shearer doing Merlin in a road
company production of Camelot. Whether you view them as pedagogues
or peddlers depends on how much value you place on what they have
to offer. Nor do the offers stop with the cameos of these wellness
Wisdom Quest also features product placement of Chopra's
New York Times bestseller, The Book of Secrets. An
extended animation sequence centering on a rendered version of Secrets
left me wondering if his books are imported into the Sun Realm
or if a resident pixie had picked up the local publishing rights.
Fortunately, as with the transition movies, a single click can make
all of the advice and the ad go away.
After the Fall
Where The Passage was built around the idea of the individual
player doing a Joseph Campbell-style hero(ine) journey, Wisdom
Quest is built, in the mold of Jewels of the Oracle, around
the idea of recovering seven jewels that were lost when an enchanted
being of beingas opposed to a being of doingaugered
herself into an enchanted sea. Recover the jewels and restore balance
and harmony to the Sun Realm. Under New Game Options, you can choose
whether or not you want to be joined in your mission by a green-winged
pixie girl who'll pop up at the end of each event. Only in the world
of computers can one select "pixie girl" as an option.
Harder than it Looks
The events of Wisdom Quest are frequently more complex than
those in The Passage. It is no longer enough to raise or
lower one's energy level to pass an event. One may have to raise
and lower it repeatedly within an event, a fitting requirement for
advanced training. There's a glass tubing maze wherein a player
must alternate high energy with low to navigate a complex path that
is designed with dead ends that demand additional shifts in energy
to escape. And then there is the sacred serpent event. A massive
cobra guards one of the seven jewels. The jewel itself sits within
a cage. Calming oneself causes the cobra to withdraw into its basket.
But to retrieve the jewel, one must use the mouse to lift the cage.
Since any movement, any change of focus, can affect one's energy
level, it's an impressive feat to sustain the calm necessary to
keep the cobra in its basket while lifting the cage and taking the
jewel. Think Thief
with mandated yogic breathing. While it is possible to get through
each of Wisdom Quest's events once and consider the challenges
fulfilled, the variability of one's energy level provides ample
replay opportunities and acknowledges the title's true identity
as a teaching machine rather than as a diversion.
Tours Now Departing
For those who just want to jump in and test their self-control
at a specific challenge, Wisdom Quest offers a Guided Mode
that allows direct access to 20 of its events. The Passage also
offers direct access, either through completing all of its events
or by downloading the appropriate patch (here).
Orphans of the Store
As much as marketers like to be able to say "There's nothing
else like it!" they know that uniqueness can also be a curse.
The folks at Wild Divine have created a two-SKU market segment and
watched while only a few other brave souls have coughed up the hefty
fee for the SDK and developed titles that make use of the LightStone
and Magic Ring hardware. While the uniqueness of the experience
helps keep the price up, every day that passes renders the software
just a bit more out of date. Assuming the Wild Diviners want to
keep their investment alive, they might consider what it would take
to offer, as did Got Game with Bad
Mojo, Redux versions of The Passage and Wisdom
Quest. Then again, the market for this type of product may already
be saturated. It may be that pretty much everyone who was interested
in taking The Journey to Wild Divine has already taken it.
The reason The Passage and Wisdom Quest are being
placed in the Closet of the Odd is that neither one of them is actually
a game. They are, instead, multimedia experiments in biofeedback-based
instruction (and shameless cross-marketing) masquerading as games.
I'm giving the pair of them a Thumb Up because they demonstrate
just how much potential biofeedback has as a game interface. Of
course, until the Wild Divine Project releases the last installment
of the trilogy or someone else comes up with an alternative system,
the potential will remain just that.
Let's Go Shopping!
The Journey to Wild Divine: The Passage originally sold
for $159.95. It still does. The Journey to Wild Divine: Wisdom
Quest originally sold for $59.95. It still does. The bundle
price of the two, from Wild Divine, is $199.95. Frugal shoppers
can find both titles for less. I got both for 20% off retail. Had
I looked longer, I could have gotten 20% off the bundle price. Of
course, I didn't know at the time that I wanted both. Still, every
penny saved is a penny toward the next game.
Release Date: December 2003 (The Passage); September 2005 (Wisdom
Four Fat Chicks Links
1.5 GB free disk space
256 MB free available system RAM
800×600, 24-bit color display
QuickTime 6.3 or higher
PIII 800 MHz (PC); G3/G4/G5 500 MHz (Mac)
Windows 98SE,/ME/2000/XP (PC); OSX v10.2 or later (Mac)
16 MB video card (PC)
2.4 GB free disk space
256 MB free available system RAM
800×600, 24-bit color display
CD-ROM or DVD drive
PIII 800 MHz (1.25 GHz recommended) (PC); G4 or higher (Mac)
Windows 2000/XP (PC); OSX v10.2.6 or later (Mac)
16 MB video card (PC)
Where to Find It
Links provided for informational purposes only.
FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into
by any party(ies).