['A Game Collector's Melancholy' is a bi-weekly column by Jeffrey Fleming that follows the subtle pleasures and gnawing anxieties of video game collecting. In the last column we discussed the Panzer Dragoon series so it seems appropriate to stay with the theme for a bit and take a look at Panzer’s Zen tripping spiritual sister Rez.]

Drop the diamond in a groove and let it ride awhile...

In the 90’s Tetsuya Mizuguchi was one of Sega’s rock star designers. Heading up the internal group AM Annex which later became AM 9, Mizuguchi oversaw a series of very successful high velocity racers including Sega Rally Championship, Manx TT Superbike, and Sega Touring Car Championship. As the century closed out, Mizuguchi wanted to move in a new direction and formed United Game Artists in 2000. Drawn to the electric pulse of club music booming out of London and Tokyo, he gathered a diverse group of artists and musicians (including ex-Team Andromeda member, Katsumi Yokota) to create games whose quirky design aesthetics would be informed by Electronica and Turntabilism.

Hyperaesthesia

stg1_02b.jpgOne of the most unique games to emerge from Mizuguchi’s experiment was Rez, an esoteric mix of rhythm and color. Characterized (unfairly I think) as a shooter, Rez can seem a little austere to the uninitiated. At first glance, it seems to be an artifact from an alternate future in which the Vectrex became the dominant home console. You see a simple figure traveling along a fixed path, riding a current of metronomic dance music while shooting at abstract objects that rise up from a geometric landscape. The sound of laser fire is replaced by the ticking of a snare drum and explosions are sublimated into synthesizer blips. Interesting, but nothing that is going to change your life.

However, spend some time with Rez, focus your attention and be amazed as it reveals itself to you. Iterating wire frame, laser light show images grow in complexity as you progress through the game, over saturating your retinas. The music’s relentless beat rises in intensity as overlapping synth lines stitch tighter and tighter. The targets spinning around propagate exponentially until the screen is a crazed riot of boiling color. It is at this point that your senses open and you are shot through the forehead by a diamond bullet.

Everything in its right place

stg2_16b.jpgAfter playing Rez late one evening, I went to sleep and had a strange dream in which everything that passed before my eyes was highlighted and selected. Cars, people, trees, dishes on a table, all marked and arranged by a ghostly cursor. When I woke up I had a new insight into Rez’s appeal. I realized that the game was not really about shooting things. Rather, it presents a chaotic loom of information and requires players to rapidly identify and organize the rush of sensory data pouring into their cortex, separating meaning from noise. It is a uniquely computer age experience.

Score Attack

Rez has a complicated publishing history. Arriving in Japan late 2001, Rez was released for both the Dreamcast and Playstation 2. At the time Sega of America was so busy pulling out of the Dreamcast market that they did not even bother publishing it for the aborted console, instead waiting until early 2002 to bring Rez to the Playstation 2. However, Europe received a simultaneous release for both the Dreamcast and Playstation 2 in 2002.

If you are looking for Rez on the Dreamcast, Europe is your best bet. In Japan, Rez had an initial print run that included a large number of defective discs so good copies are hard to find. Instead, search online auctions for the European version and expect to pay around $65. PAL discs will work fine in your NTSC Dreamcast although you will need a mod chip or boot disc to bypass the territorial lockout. You will also want the Jump Pack for your controller and the game features undocumented support for the Dreamcast Mouse. While you are kitting out your Dreamcast you might as well locate a VGA adapter so you can output Rez to a high quality monitor.

stg3_02b.jpgThe Playstation 2 version of Rez is more readily available. In addition to the regular game, a special package was sold in Japan which included a vibrator that plugged into the PS2’s USB port. Called the Trance Vibrator, the device throbbed and pulsed in sync with Rez’s thumping music. No one was quite sure what its official purpose was, so users were left to er... tickle their fancy in whatever manner they saw fit. Manufactured by ASCII, the Trance Vibrator was also sold separately and could be used with Disaster Report and another UGA game Space Channel 5: Part 2. The Special Package of Rez auctions for around $65. The Trance Vibrator by itself is no longer made and will fetch about $35. In 2003, Rez was reissued in Japan as a budget priced “Playstation 2 the Best” game.

A Japanese CD of remixed selections from the Rez soundtrack was published as part of the “Gamer’s Guide to...” series and can be imported for around $25. Analog loyalists may want to search for the Rez OST on vinyl.

Here in America, Rez had a small print run and made little impression on buyers. As a result, finding used copies in stores was difficult and Rez’s auction price had become very inflated. Fortunately, Game Quest Direct stepped in and arranged with Sega to reprint the game, making brand new copies available online for $44.99. A used copy of Rez can now be acquired for a very reasonable $25.

Go to synaesthesia

stg4_04b.jpgUnited Game Artists’ life span was a short one. By 2003 they were merged with Sonic Team and Mizuguchi left to form Q Entertainment, his first company independent of Sega. Since then he has been busy producing hit games for portables like Lumines and Meteos as well as the recent Ninety-Nine Nights for the Xbox 360. A sequel to Rez is supposed to be in the works for one of the new generation consoles. I can only hope that the lightning bolt of enlightenment will strike twice.

Further Reading: Go To Synesthesia... Jake Kazdal’s Journey Through The Heart Of Rez interview by Matthew Hawkins, Gamasutra, May 6, 2005

[Jeffrey Fleming is a Bay Area book dealer and writer. More of his writing on video games can be found at Tales of the Future.]

Images: (C) SONIC TEAM/SEGA, 2001