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