Alongside neon, cocaine, and capitalism, conspiracy theories remain one of the enduring cultural touchstones of America during the 1980s. Some of the best crackpot theories happened in the preceding decades— the Philadelphia Experiment, Roswell and Area 51, MK Ultra, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, Watergate—but the Iran-Contra affair and the ensuing crack epidemic happened under Ronald Reagan’s wrinkly watch, putting a doughy, plastic face on years of alleged coverups. It’s no surprise that X-Files was created in 1993.
Conspiracy theories are an American pastime, and a new game by Epiphany Games hopes to tap into the paranoia, secrecy, and intellectual adrenaline rush that come with them. Majestic Nights is an episodic role-playing game set in an alt-history 1980s in which there really is a shadow government controlled by a cabal of Illuminati power brokers.
In Majestic Nights, you’ll play as either Cardholder, an intelligence operative at the heart of the American government’s illicit coverups, or Cal, a lowly gumshoe with skeletons in her own closet. Epiphany describe the mechanics as “fast and light," and they seem to focus on conversation, investigation, and exploration, with some stealth and gunplay mixed in for good measure, all explored through the grimy, isometric lens of so many edited Zapruder films.
“Essentially this setting came about because I was researching secret government projects and found there was a large amount kept secret and the reasons were not clear," Epiphany CEO Morgan Lean explains via e-mail. “I don’t want to say I’m a conspiracy theorist but during this development, I have become a conspiracy theorist."
Eesh. That may sound startling, but it didn’t stop the Australian government from supporting the Sydney-based company: Screen Australia threw $128,000 their way during its most recent round of funding, which is probably enough to order exactly one (1) black ops hit on a political opponent. Follow the money!
In the game’s prologue chapter, called “Sunset After Dark," Cardholder searches for a missing movie director who has proof that the Apollo 11 mission to the moon actually took place on a Hollywood sound stage. The prologue will be released for free in September, with the other six (!) episodes to follow. If Epiphany can stick to the timeline posted to their website, we’ll get a Majestic Nights episode roughly once a month until February 2015. If the prologue is convincing for you, there’ll be a Season Pass option to buy all future episodes.
Until then, to crib a line from X-Files: “Trust no one."