7 Minutes: HyperNihilistic Indie Platformer

By Kieron Gillen on March 31st, 2008 at 6:59 pm.

Tell RPS something we don't already know.

This was brought to my attention by Bit-tech’s recent round-up of Indie stuff. It’s another of those hyper-short indie-games which use a bagful of semi-traditional mechanics to do something a bit emotional. And I’ve written more about this than I was planning, so I’m lobbing it beneath the cut…

While clearly more trad than Passage, is clearly less about a fun time and more about being a bad time. It’s essentially a 2D Portal but redesigned by whoever wrote top-depressive bible-book Ecclesiastes (Example quote: “Therefore I loathed life, since for me the work that is done under the sun is evil; for all is vanity and a chase after wind”). It lasts exactly seven minutes from your first Forbidden-Fruit decision, with you tormented all the way by a giant floating head, who recalls GladOS and SHODAN mixed in with Matthew Smith’s Jet Set Willy’s iconography.

The puzzles deliberately use some of the worst mechanics in platform games – instant deaths, trial and error – but, along with the bullying narrator, is using these failings to restress its point. Its strength is that this actually works – it brings to mind Stephen Bond’s piece of Interactive Fiction Rameses which – according to my reading, anyway – was writing a piece of Interactive Fiction where the character’s refusal to do anything other than be passive was an attempt to put you inside the death-by-inertia depressive mental state.

(“Bad” game design to create an effect is also what adds power to the central scene in Bioshock, for the record. It’s an interesting technique, and rarely used in mainstream design for obvious reasons. Alec talks about the perhaps accidental ones in Space Hulk earlier today, but the only example I can think of which was ever widely accepted was cinematic/shitty camera angles in Survival Horror in an attempt to compound fear.)

While it’s quite funny initially, and there’s a joy to when the reality-bending tricks get increasingly audacious, but generally your motivation is less out of exploration and more out of defiance. The ever-mocking head (“I Wonder What It’s Like To Die Alone?” it baits, and you grit your teeth and think that you’re going to show him exactly what that feels like. Which I always feel like when I’m playing System Shock with SHODAN doing that routine too. Of course, here, the end result is somewhat different).

And there is an ending, which may take a couple of times to reach – while you have infinite lives inside the seven minutes, that seven minutes is a rock hard ending and a unadorned dump back to your desktop (Which, I believe, is also how Rameses ended – the game-design equivalent of cutting from a orchestral crescendo to silence, I guess). This is about futility, the attraction of cowardice and the seduction of hermithood and I suspect that the more optimistic reading where you think – actually, yes, the brief life is worth the risk because it’s better than nothing, which is what we’ll have otherwise – isn’t intended by its creator.

I suspect this is software as a scream.

Play it here.

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31 Comments »

  1. Smee says:

    I got the proper ending and I felt like my character betrayed me.

    Playing a game character who has an ulterior motive to that of the player. There’s a game out there that does that, I’ve forgotten which one though. Well, that’s going to frustrate me tonight.

  2. Taximan says:

    Diablo I did that in a sense. The whole dungeon was just to make you strong enought to inherit Diablo’s forehead-jewel thing and become a stronger incarnation of him.

  3. nihohit says:

    finished it. disappointed.

  4. Smee says:

    Yeah, something like that, although I was thinking more along the lines of the character’s motive deliberatly hidden from the player, to be revealed late in-game. If I recall correctly, the Soulstone sacrifice in Diablo was a trick to fool the hero, not his ultimate goal.

    Other possible contenders may be Planescape: Torment and Quote from Cave Story, but both of those are realising after amnesia that the player character used to be a bit of a bastard in a past life.

    So, a game where the heroic player character turns around and shows that everything achived thus far was to reach a diabolical and selfish goal? I have a nagging feeling it’s out there somewhere, although I have another feeling I’ve simply made this game up in my head. Um.

  5. rb_lestr says:

    Liked it.

    Anyone stay in the first room for 7 minutes?

  6. Jae Armstrong says:

    @Smee

    I believe Baiten Kaitos (SPOILERS AHEAD) does something of the sort; at the end of the first disc you discover that the protagonist is working in league with (fuzzy memory here, apologies) some kind of nihilistic universe destroyer. Because he only had one wing. And is actually completely insane. Or something. I believe I put the game down at that point, never to return.

    Interestingly though, the player was explicitly acknowledged as a seperate character at the beginning of the game, a disembodied spirit that guides the characters’ actions from another world. The cliched player amnesia at the beginning of the game is explained as said turncoat erasing your memory when you refused to sign up to the conspiracy

  7. Smee says:

    Well Jae, I’ve never heard of that one, but it does sound interesting. Thanks for the effort.

  8. Bob Dole says:

    I’m stuck on one part. The third area, I believe. Trying to go to the bottom. I tried to be smart, and when it said not to touch it, I didn’t. Waited seven minutes, too, figuring something would happen. Obviously nothing.

  9. Bob Dole says:

    Figured it out as soon as I commented. This game is shit.

    Edit: Finished it.

    ————-SPOILERS—————-

    At the end, it sounds like you really were supposed to just stay in the room, which I did. The games website mentions credits, which I did not get. What the hell?

  10. Bob Dole says:

    Have to comment again, since it won’t let me edit my other comments. Just REALLY beat it. That was, as stated previously, unsatisfying.

    ————————–SPOILERS————————–

    Really, you should have to do what I did the first time, and wait in the first room, but not touch the thing. That’s what it tells you to do, and that would make more sense.

  11. MisterBritish says:

    I’m glad other people are playing this, reinforcing the notion that games are an artistic medium able to provoke a wide range of emotions and thoughts.

    I mean, I was off shooting colourful enemies in TF2 while giggling like a loon, but I really appreciate what you guys are achieving here.

  12. tcliu says:

    A game like that could only have come from Finland.

    Quite unusual, reminds me of that famous quote from Wargames about the only way to win.

  13. Zeno, Internetographer says:

    Spoilers, lawl
    ______________________________

    I haven’t tried not touching it, but I got the ending where you do touch it and wait in the first room for seven minutes.

    Here’s how I would have altered that ending to make this the greatest game ever:

    You turn all white or whatever, then start moving across the screen. But instead of blowing up, two long rectangles appear on either side and it turns out that you’re the Pong dot. A game of Pong ensues, and from then on whenever you try to play the game, it’s just Pong.

  14. jcnstn says:

    Spider and Web is a great game (a text-game), the premise of which is that you are being totally lied to by your game persona.

  15. Lightbulb says:

    I just can’t do it. The years of gaming have honed my reflexes. Movement is made using my left hand. Jump is via the thumb. I know it sounds like such a small thing but i literally can’t play this game because i can’t change the controls…

    Sounds like i’m not missing alot to be honest…

  16. Smee says:

    Hey jcnstn, was that recommendation for me? If so, thanks. I’ll check it out.

  17. Dracko says:

    A game designer acquaintance refers to these sorts of games as “masocore platformers”. Which really sounds utterly appropriate. It’s an intriguing movement nonetheless.

    This one does a lot of good things, really. The style is more immediately reminiscent of the works of cactus or messhof, I’d say.

  18. Kieron Gillen says:

    Dracko: “Masocore”: I may steal that.

    KG

  19. sbs says:

    well, it’s kind of clever to get the player to wait 7 minutes in the same room, doing something else(i.e. playing contra 4 on the ds in my case), after having properly played it to the point the head tells you that you should have waited.

  20. El Stevo says:

    A game where you have to do nothing for seven minutes to win. Snore.

  21. Synnah says:

    well, it’s kind of clever to get the player to wait 7 minutes in the same room, doing something else(i.e. playing contra 4 on the ds in my case)

    Super Paper Mario makes you do that at one point. Only you can’t really do something else, as you have to hold right on the d-pad for a good 10 minutes. I was at least able to walk around the house, thanks to the Wii’s wireless controller.

  22. Kieron Gillen says:

    Actually, I may write more on this, as I’ve changed my take a little.

    (It’s a Buddhist game, innit?)

    KG

  23. Hypocee says:

    Smee: That “hero actually doing evil” game you describe may well exist already, but if not it is coming soon. I apologise most humbly for the preciousness of not giving its name or even creator, but it’s such a HUGE spoiler that even I, with my virtual immunity to spoilification, balk at spreading it.

  24. Jonathon Halliwell says:

    I had to touch the blue thing, and out of sheer frustration at how much of a bastard the game was I had to complete it

  25. Hidden_7 says:

    Some spoilers, be warned

    Question for the people who “completed” it both ways. Do you consider having “won” if you stay in the room, thus complete it and get the credits, or make it to the “end” having not “completed” the game, but in defiance at least “beaten” it? For me it’s the latter. I’d much rather get an existential reading than a buddhist one out of this, but it seems that that is the Wrong reading.

  26. Mar says:

    I liked the game. It took me two tries to get the ending but it was worth the 14 minutes of play. Its pretty easy when you know what to do.

  27. April says:

    I like what this game taught me. If I have seven minutes to wait before I die I’m gonna read a book.

  28. Minerva says:

    This is like when someone tells you a crappy joke. You sit there staring at them like they are stupid and they say, “You don’t get it….”

    No, I get it, it’s just stupid.

    This game is stupid, there is nothing to get. It’s a crappy platformer with a shitty ending. It’s not “art” anymore then publishing a book with incomplete sentences and blank pages is art. The only thing it is, is original. But guess what, every day I take a crap and it is different then the day before. It may be original, but it is still feces.

  29. Joe says:

    @ April
    I’d not read – I’d go for a Fallout 2 speed run.

    Or boil seven eggs.

  30. chesh says:

    This really just goes to show how far behind I am on my feeds. I actually enjoyed it quite a lot less once I got through to the credits.

  31. Scott says:

    Definitely can’t get past the third or fourth screen, the one where it forks. I went up and there doesn’t appear to be any way out of that screen, and I cannot make the jump/fall for the lower route, I hit the spikes no matter what I do. Is there some mystical double jump or other controls that I’m missing?