Wot I Think: Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer

By Kieron Gillen on November 30th, 2010 at 1:00 pm.

In a year where a fake game about being a serial killer was at the center of an internet whirlpool, it’s somehow pleasing that another serial killer game was actually released and has performed its act of unspeakable brutality without drawing much attention to itself. Only the detectives of ElectronDance brought it to my attention. The contrasting approach to the subject matter of the two games seems to follow the ideas of serial murder which they’re most interested in. Serial Killer Roguelike was all cheap opportunism, (metaphorically) breaking in an open window, cutting up its victims and smearing itself in viscera. Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer is about the secretive killers who do their grim work for years and no-one will ever know – except their victim, and only too late. In other words, a serial killer who’s all the more disturbing.

Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer is also more disturbing in a key, important way. It actually exists.

Constructed in RPG Maker 2003, this is the second game released this year by Nicolau “Calunio” Chaud. The other one was Marvel Brothel. Like that, it takes a game which most would play for cheap laughs and actually takes it seriously (Very Seriously Indeed – Jarvis Cocker). You play as Verge, a junior and generally inconsequential member of international organisation of Dungeoneers. These are a group of organised Serial Killers – with shades of The Collectors in The Sandman’s Dolls House – who upload videos of their killings online for the appraisal of their peers. These are SAW-esque murderers, performing the deed by a series of traps designed to mentally and physically destroy their victims. Their paragon and dream is the “Beautiful Escape” – one which leaves the individual at the verge of mental and physical collapse, able to go free, but forever trapped in their experiences.

So a little like working on RPS for 3 years, really.

The game basically a Japanese style RPG which rejects the general conventions of the genre in favour of metabolising the dating sim and – no, really – the Tower Defence game. The former is the hunting of your victims, where after being presented with a brief bio of the person who caught your eye, you have to work out the best way to unpick their psychology to the point where they trust you. At which point, you utter the phrase that lies as close to Dungeoner’s heart as “Avoid Missing Ball For High Score” lies to Pong: “Come Home With Me”

We probably should have thought twice before recruiting Quinns, really.

The latter is what happens when they’re safely in your dungeon. They escape, and follow a direct path through the darkened cellar. Before they do so, you place traps along their way, each of which will either sap their sanity or their health or both. Plus other secondary effects, obv. A Chainsaw will lead to limb loss, and slowing their progress for the rest of the dungeon. The expressed aim is to try and create the aforementioned Beautiful Escape. In most cases, you’re happy to make sure they don’t leave the level, as that’s the game’s one game over. Assuming you haven’t made the fatal mistake of being unfatal, you upload your video to the Dungeoneer’s site and let the critics have their day.

Their blades tend to be far sharper than yours.

And that’s me doing pretty well.

As well as these core mechanics, the game’s held together by the actual story of Verge’s existence and the world which he moves. The reference would be the existential wearying gloom of something like Se7en, rendered in retro-RPG aesthetics. Backstreet armouries giving you traps in hope of a better quality of film than the hapless Verge has been delivering. Meeting names-from-the-internet at the Ballardian airport. And most memorably, the actual street scene where hundreds of figures blur past you at hyperspeed while the actual victims who catch your eye wander aimlessly like confused sheep. Then there’s Daily, a fellow Dungeoneer – but where Verge is mediocre, Daily is mercurial, feted by the whole community, and is trying to reach out of what they now consider a tired little ghetto. And Verge loves them, body and shrivelled soul.

You’ll note that I’m avoiding a sexual pronoun by Verge, because I’m not entirely sure the game ever used one. Look at Daily…

…and with that feminine, leaning androgynous look, it’s just about possible Daily is male. In which case, it’d make this not just the second great gaming love story of the year, but the second secretly homosexual love story of the year.

Or I may have just missed a sexual pronoun somewhere. Just a thought, because it’s the sort of game where you feel entirely comfortable making that kind of leap, as you suspect the author is all too aware of what they’re playing with.

Obvious point: Chaud is a psychotherapist. He’s thought about what he’s doing here. And there’s more of that in the spoiler-heavy section at the bottom.

Technically speaking, the game’s got a fair few weaknesses – though the old RPG Maker is used with impressive expertise — especially when you realise the game was made within a couple of weeks for a community competition based on the word “Escape”. The main ones come in the actual escape sequence, where it’s a little too much trial and error. It’s entirely possible you’ll get traps which are unable to kill the victim, in which case they escape, and it’s a game over. Also the sustainable traps – where you have to hammer the 1 and 2 keys on the keyboard – aren’t explained, meaning you’re sure to blow it first time. Since they’re things like the enormous drill – always a good thing to leave by the door just as someone can feel the light on their face – that can prompt a game-over. There’s a little too much backtracking upon loading a save too – as in, you don’t get a chance to save before you run the your torture, meaning you have to go through the mechanical “seduction” sequence again.

I haven’t mentioned the game’s main strengths yet, have it?

It’s disturbing.

It’s incredibly disturbing. It’s one of the more disturbing games I’ve played. Not out of sheer revulsion and horror – which is all too easy – but the sort of disturbing which one can defend and recommend. It’s a game which sets out a world and explores it, fearlessly. It’s disturbing, but something I’m comfortable with recommending. Meanwhile, like Marvel Brothel, Chaud plays fast and loose with the copyright laws and appropriates and uses whatever he wishes, game-creation like 80s-first-wave sampling. From the Abu Ghraib-remix title screen onwards, this uses every tool available to create something that’s strikingly atmospheric. It’s excellently written, in a carefully clipped style which fits the demands of its genres perfectly. It knows how to use the ironic effect of the low-res graphics to chill, in a far less garish way than – to choose a relevant example – Super Columbine Massacre RPG!

It’s also well aligned to the flow of popular culture. Vampires moved from horror objects to objects to sympathy to objects of fluffy lust. As our fictional monsters lost their edge, we turned to real world ones – or rather, a cinematic version of real world ones. And those in turn are turned sympathetic, first with pity, and then with identification. The line from early SAW (“All the people deserved it”) to Dexter (“If I was going to be a serial killer, that’s the sort of serial killer I’d want to be”) is pretty clear. Beautiful Escape positions The Serial Killer as tormented artist, as emo as a guy plonking out sad ballads about a girl in his bedroom. Verge is human impotence and isolation. And equating a serial killer with a more standard alienation is an easy idea to reject as immoral. Easy and wrong. I’m with Wilde here: “There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.” The same’s true about games, and in both the language of words and the language of games, Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer particularly well written.

It’ll probably take you about an hour to get through, if you pursue the central plot determinedly. It’s got one of the sharpest endings of the year. I recommend you play it. And when you do, come back, because I’ve got some extreme Spoilers – both plot and mechanic - to talk about beneath the following image

Dungeoneer is a pretty brutal finger pointed at all manner of things. The metacritical elements are immediately notable, especially in the Dating sequence. Normal Dating Games are a little questionable, but this reveals how openly disturbing they are by changing the identity of the person trying to befriend the individual. It’s all about hiding the self to gain what you want, and that’s all these games boil down to. Even the aforementioned mechanistic replay underlies the point – that dating sims have a blank hole in their chest were their soul should be.

Most profound – and talking about far more than just games – is the actual rating of your murders. You get given a score out of five stars from the community, sure, but… well, it doesn’t matter. Their applause or boos doesn’t change anything. In this interview with Jordan Rivas Chaud talks about how he wanted to comment upon the RPG Creator community, where “people create and be praised for games that reflected nothing of their individualities, but only reproduced current trend and community standards.” You try and kill people in a certain way, because other people say you should. “The Beautiful Escape” is a social construct you’re trying to conform to. That’s not art. That’s the opposite of art.

The game ends with Verge, having brought the now-submissive Daily back to the Dungeon for one last attempt at a Beautiful Escape. At the exit to the line of horrors, just as Daily is about to go free, Verge fires a bullet right through Daily’s head. He rejects the Beautiful Escape. He notes…

…Which is Chaud’s J’accuse at the community he finds himself.

The community walked into this carefully prepared trap. It didn’t place in the competition it was created to participate in. Its general ratings are mediocre, a product of the extreme responses it generates. It exists as a provocation against the stupefying rewards of dull conformity in favour of something more individualistic. It simply rejects anyone’s ability to judge it, a chainsaw brought against a Metacritic-average-beatifying culture’s kneecaps.

It’s also, as I said, a pretty moving short-form dark, dark romance. You can download it here. It’s strong stuff, however you choose to define that.

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98 Comments »

  1. RogB says:

    ‘smoking your cigarettes, drinking your brandy.’

    I do think ‘I Spy’ is possibly the finest track on Different Class.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      It’s a gloriously spiteful little thing.

      KG

    • jeremypeel says:

      For years I couldn’t stand to listen to that song; too difficult a subject position and a real shock on something people claim to be a straight classic pop album, you know?

      But then that’s really what Cocker’s writing was all about at that time, and he went on to use people’s discomfort with having their own objectification of others pointed out to much stronger effect on This Is Hardcore.

  2. Lars Westergren says:

    >leaves the individual at the verge of mental and physical collapse, able to go free, but forever trapped in their
    >experiences. So a little like working on RPS for 3 years, really.

    Awwwww. Come one everybody, lets hug Kieron and the others and tell them how much we love them. Seriously. Have I apologized for my snarky remarks in the Fallout:New Vegas review yet? Let me do so now: I’m sorry I let my inner fanboy get out of hand, Quentin, and I apologize for being rude to you and the rest of the RPS crew.

    Also, thanks for a really interesting article KG. But no, I don’t think I’ll be playing this actually. Sounds a little too disturbing to be fun. I prefer my horrors to be from beyond time and space, not something that might actually happen to people.

    • Mirqy says:

      yeah, don’t think I’ll be playing it myself, but I’m glad it exists. Which, morally speaking, might be the wrong way round?

    • FifthFret says:

      ^^^

      Yeah, too grisly for my tastes as well. The title screen is an edited version of an actual photo of prisoner abuse from Abu Ghraib. You have to admit that’s kind of demented.

    • Bhazor says:

      Yes the photo is questionable taste but it does show that “dungeoneers”, ie non-sexual sadists, do exist so I think it’s important for the game.

      I’d put the game in the same area as Lolita or American Psycho very questionable taste, some what sickening, undoubtedly sensationalized but still based on something real and thats what makes it so unsettling.

    • FifthFret says:

      Yeah, maybe it’s purposely in “questionable tastes”. I mean, the guy’s a psychotherapist, he probably knows better than most the moral territory that he’s wading into. I’m guessing he’s also knows about the Stanford Prison Experiment, and just how real the topic of situational evil is.

      My guess, having read the interview, is that he’s making an attempt to break the spell of “numbness” towards violent acts in gaming. He will probably consider his project a success if even a few players have a moment where they think “My god… would I actually do some of these things in real life under certain extreme circumstances?”. It’s an all-too-true revelation that you won’t get playing Black Ops, that’s for sure.

      My knee-jerk reaction was that “this is BAD”, but I guess it isn’t that simple, is it? I do like the trend of game design targeting “emotional responses” in the player (e.g. Heavy Rain). There’s an opportunity in the role-playing nature of games that just isn’t there with a passive media experience like watching a movie.

  3. Lilliput King says:

    So roughly how long should this take to complete? It doesn’t look like the kind of thing I’d play just for the fun of playing.

  4. Hunam says:

    “…and with that feminine, leaning androgynous look, it’s just about possible Verge is male.”

    Did you mean to say Daily is male there instead of Verge?

  5. kastanok says:

    Well, with this and finally getting around to Digital: A Love Story, that’s going to make quite the entertaining afternoon. I’ll be back in a bit for the spoilers.

  6. Rich says:

    Gloomy day today then. Someone been at the Mother’s Ruin a little too early this morning?

  7. Ergates says:

    Yeah, but what rating do you give it?

  8. Cooper says:

    Launched, black screen, couldn’t Alt+F4 or Ctl+Alt+Del out, had to reboot.

    Shame, looked like something interesting for once. I’ll choose to blame the shody RPGmaker back-end.

    • Sinomatic says:

      Had this exact same problem. Twice.

      And then it was fine. Comodo firewall playing silly buggers, so you might want to try it again in case its a similar issue?

  9. WoopK says:

    The problem with such a well written article is I feel like I’ve experienced (and indeed enjoyed) enough of the game and its reason for being, that I have no need to play it. If indeed that is a problem at all.

    And quality Pulp reference :)

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      That would be a shame. There’s much more to the game than I presented here, especially involving its plot structure.

      KG

    • Temple to Tei says:

      I never even thought of RPS as a computer game selling site -the only time it inspires me to buy is to support a dev or game I like.
      I read for the writing and the comments and then don’t need to play them as they are covered so well.

  10. Rich says:

    Today I learned: Never trust anyone with glowing yellow eyes.

  11. Dawngreeter says:

    Kieron’s last work can be considered average.

    In the depths of his small yet creepy RPS cubicle, Kieron wrote a fair game review, making the game seem somewhat interesting. A few different literary devices were used to review the game down to complete analysis of story and mechanics. Giving readers insight into metanarrative whys and wherefores, Kieron managed to find a way to touch the audience where it hurts the most.

    This sweet review ended with a reccomendation.

    • blind_boy_grunt says:

      Yeah, but what rating do you give it?

    • Ben says:

      When reading any computer-generated description, I now feel compelled to echo Dwarf Fortress. In this case the obligatory snark with be either “It menaces with spikes of typographical errors” or “Kieron has to drink to get through the day.”

  12. cuc says:

    It’s all about hiding the self to gain what you want, and that’s all these games boil down to. Even the aforementioned mechanistic replay underlies the point – that dating sims have a blank hole in their chest were their soul should be.

    I’ve arrived at this conclusion almost a decade ago, and hasn’t been able to work out a good solution yet.

    The only thing I’m sure is when playing a story-focused game, I firmly see myself as a facilitator of story rather than project myself into it, but I understand that’s not how most people play games.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      BioWare games tend to have the same issue. Most obviously – Dragon Age and your interaction with the companions. They are dating sim minigames where you are encouraged to find out what every companion wants to hear you say, and then say it. If the implication there was for the protagonist to be sincere, he was probably a proud owner of a particularly heavy case of schizophrenia.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      What we tried to do in the Curfew – which didn’t always come across due to the whole win/lose thing being borked on release – was that while you could play and be mildly successful just telling them what they wanted to hear, to get the big successes you had to make them understand something that they didn’t necessarily want to know or admit, and if approached badly, would probably end up alienating them.

      Of course, it wasn’t a seduction game, but rather a persuasion/argument game, which also tweaks a few things.

      In short: TRICKY.

      KG

    • Rinox says:

      @ Dawngreeter: Dragon Age actually did something interesting with that please-everyone mechanic, imho. Morrigan is not a very typical damsel-in-distress, and will often react better to cheeky (often a little daring/macho) stabs than to being nice and worrying about her. Well, looking back what I wrote this may more be a change from how female romances are treated in games in general than a critique on the please-technique.

      But it still felt neat that my character (a major asshole) had more success with her by being a bit of a dick in his lines with her than actually trying to be nice. The red-headed girl, otoh, was scared off pretty quickly by harsh remarks.

    • Basilicus says:

      That’s a player problem, as far as I’m concerned. You’re role-playing, and BioWare gives you the tools to do just that. It doesn’t matter if you KNOW the correct answer to get what you want; you get the best experience out of answering just as that character would answer.

      I can understand the criticism, too, toward ME2′s Paragon/Renegade “Auto-Success” buttons, but you’re only ruining the game and story for yourself if you choose them every time. If you are truly role-playing, you won’t be choosing those answers every time.

      Believe me, I love games like The Witcher, where your choices come back to bite you in unexpected ways, but BioWare’s design strategy isn’t a problem; it’s just a different approach to telling a story. I can’t wait to play through ME and ME2 again as “milquetoast” Shepard, destined to hem and haw his way through the universe.

    • DMcCool says:

      Not treating all female characters like a damsel in distress is something we should come to expect, not appauld. I noticed the same sick thing in the Bioware games – to seduce any character, all you have to do is act exactly like them until they sleep with you. In my experiance of REAL LIFE the opposite tends more often to be true. Its just a sad, utterly dispassionate and slightly creepy view of romance that pervades every Bioware game (which covers just about every RPG that attempts romance).

      This is exactly the problem I’m trying to address (explore?) with my Dating Sim game, sadly floundering due to my inability to do pixel art. A game about romance premised on each character being treated as human beings with feelings first and foremost, its a worringly rare thing. Digital did it, actually. The Dating Sim genre is just facinating though, I can’t think of a more insiduous set of accepted game mechanics that any genre sticks too.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      While you can certainly roleplay your little heart off, you are doing that on your own and most certainly not within the confines of the game you are playing. The game mechanically supports a certain set of actions and rewards the correct ones. It is possible to chose not to play for those bonuses, yes. The character you are roleplaying could be someone who doesn’t like rewards and is more concerned with being an asshole. You can also roleplay a bad game of yahtzee regardless of the fact you are getting awesome die rolls because the character you are playing is bad at yahtzee. You are not, however, playing yahtzee in that particular example.

      I’ve seen a lot of arguments like that, being a huge RPG geek. It’s the first line of defense for bad game design. You don’t NEED to play a Dragonborn or a Dwarf in D&D 4E (forgive my lapsing knowledge of subject matter, I forget which races give which attribute bonuses) if you want to be a fighter, you can also be a Thiefling. Regardless of the fact that by the numbers, within the scope of the system which defines the game you are playing, Thieflings will always be worse at Fightering (heh). And nothing in the scope of the game justifies this in any way, shape or form. You are given nothing, except the fact that you chose the wrong race and that might be your thing. This is a bad game design decision, forcing people to roleplay “on their own”, completely outside of the scope of the game mechanics and have the game never, ever, in any way support this.

      So, yeah. You can roleplay anything. But you can’t play a game of Dragon Age where your roleplaying is recognized as anything other than having a bad playthrough.

    • Jockie says:

      Alpha Protocol still had a basic, like/dislike slider,but the difference there was that in some cases you were better served trying to make people actively dislike your character. You could provoke people into revealing something, or have them try and stay to kill you, when they should probably leave.

      In the context of that game the whole schizophrenic thing made sense too, as a spy, manipulating people by pushing their buttons works rather better than just trying to stick with a consistant persona.

      @Basilicus, the problem with both DA and Mass Effect is that both games reward you for treating it like a game, rather than roleplaying a character. In Dragon Age, your companions grow more powerful the more they like you, in ME2 it’s impossible to get the ‘perfect’ ending unless you’re sufficiently far up either the paragon or renegade scale (which needs you to be consistantly a dick, or consistantly a virtous hero).

    • Oozo says:

      The “Persona”-games worked around this particular issue to a degree, too – hell, they ARE called Persona, meaning that, in the end, nobody asks you to be YOU (who is an extraordinary blank character anyway), they just ask you to put up the act they want you to be.
      Admittely, they could have been more consequent in the implementation (while you can have multiple girl-friends and declare your love to all of them, it is of little consequence and they will stand by your side till the end anyway), but the concept of the Persona-games always seemed fascinating to me.

      You can ask Leigh for the details.

    • Basilicus says:

      @Jockie: But you’re saying the correct ending is the ‘perfect’ ending. There is no correct ending. In fact, an ending in which absolutely no one dies feels disingenuous to the buildup surrounding that last mission in ME2. The ‘perfect’ ending, to me, is furthest from being the correct one.

      @Dawngreeter: Yes, you can roleplay a terrible game of Yahtzee, but that game is a competitive one you play against other players. You say:

      “But you can’t play a game of Dragon Age where your roleplaying is recognized as anything other than having a bad playthrough.”

      Who’s doing the recognizing? It’s a single-player game. The experience is the one you build. The story is the one you build. The first time I played through, my character declined romances with anyone, because that decision felt most accurate to that character. Do I feel like his story was incomplete? Not at all.

      In fact, you miss out on certain experiences if you make everyone like you. I’d stayed wary of Zevran, and my first time through (*SPOILERS*), Zevran turned on me and I had to kill him. It was a very bittersweet experience and one I’ll remember. People left my party before the final battle. It was emotionally poignant. People who played the ‘perfect’ way never got to experience those moments, and – in my opinion – they really missed experiencing a deeper story that felt more real, more dangerous, and less like a game.

      Keep on playing ‘perfect’ if you want, though you don’t all seem too satisfied with it. I don’t like to play ‘perfect’. I like to be a character and see what happens, and I love that BioWare’s given me more of that than any other designer.

    • Archonsod says:

      “This is a bad game design decision, forcing people to roleplay “on their own”, completely outside of the scope of the game mechanics and have the game never, ever, in any way support this”

      That depends on the intent of the design. If it’s a roleplaying game as opposed to a board game, it fails as soon as players start looking at the mechanics in the first place. That’s usually why you put the rules in the GM section and the player books are primarily filled with background fluff.
      D&D has always been far too mechanically based, largely due to it’s wargame roots. Sadly enough, it finally seemed to be breaking free of those when WotC decided to turn it into WoW : The Boardgame.

    • neems says:

      When I was playing Dragon Age (I haven’t finished it, lost interest at the million out of a billion hours mark) I consistently found myself having to choose between how I wanted to play the game, and how the game wanted me to play the game.

      Zevran never joined my party, because why the hell would I let an assassin who is trying to kill me join us? Maybe I am doing DA a mis-service, and there is some more compelling reason for him to join up later on in the game.

      I really do think it’s time for Bioware to try telling a different story.

    • FunkyBadger says:

      As mentioned, Alpha Protocol comes right out and instructs you to game the conversation choices – you ability to do so being the main reason your character was chosen.

      A marvellous game in many ways.

    • user@example.com says:

      neems: He’s hot, and you can probably rely on at least one of your companions to kill him if he tries it again, and it’ll piss off at least one of the others, which’ll be funny.

      This was my warden’s in-character reasoning, at least on one play-through.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      @Basilicus: “Yes, you can roleplay a terrible game of Yahtzee, but that game is a competitive one you play against other players.”

      It’s a competitive game only if you choose to engage it. If you choose to roleplay it, then you are merely playing out a game that is competitive for your character while you are primarily interested in roleplaying. Is it ridiculous? Yes, it is. Roleplaying things outside of their mechanical scope tends to be that way.

      “Who’s doing the recognizing? It’s a single-player game. The experience is the one you build. The story is the one you build.”

      A roleplayed game of yahtzee can be considered singleplayer, insofar as your roleplaying is concerned, and other players merely provide circumstance for your character to fail or succeed at overcoming. The experience is the one you build, the story is the one you build. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses, it matters that you roleplayed your character the way you wanted. Meanwhile, the game mechanically recognizes what you are doing as having a bad game.

      I would argue, then, that you would have a better experience roleplaying a game of yahtzee without actually havign a game of yahtzee involved. You have your character, you have a fictional game of yahtzee, you figure out interesting ways these two interact. You can imagine it, you can write about it, you can tell it as an improvized story. This is all valid, that’s how fiction is created.

      “The first time I played through, my character declined romances with anyone, because that decision felt most accurate to that character. Do I feel like his story was incomplete? Not at all.”

      And you would get a better story if you just sat down to write such a story without ever engaging Dragon Age. What Dragon Age did, was acknowledge your roleplaying as “not getting the best bonus for any of the companions”.

      “In fact, you miss out on certain experiences if you make everyone like you.”

      You miss out on the experience of not playing Dragon Age if you play Dragon Age. It might be a valuable experience. I had quite a desire to play it and not fulfilling that desire creates memorable experiences. What I wanted to do, however, was play Dragon Age.

    • Dawngreeter says:

      @Archonsod: “If it’s a roleplaying game as opposed to a board game, it fails as soon as players start looking at the mechanics in the first place. That’s usually why you put the rules in the GM section and the player books are primarily filled with background fluff.”

      See, this is why we can’t have nice things. I should probably reserve this for a discussion on one of the Cardboard Children columns, when it gets around to RPGs again, but here it goes anyway since you already mentioned it.

      A game can never fail when players look at the mechanics. The only meaningful way to interact with the game is to follow the mechanics. You are not being deep if you ignore the mechanics, you merely stop playing the game you sat down to play. The fact that most people are only aware of the game that absolutely forces you to ignore the mechanics in order to get any roleplaying done does not mean this is the correct way to go about doing things. It creates absolutely horrid StarCraft-grade narrative stupidity where what you roleplay out as a story increasingly has nothing to do with what you mechanically do in order to play the game.

      If you look at actually good RPGs, you will find that the best ones make you rely on mechanics to do roleplaying. Because that’s how games work. Dogs in the Vineyard thrives on players using the mechanics. Every time you roll the dice, it’s goddamn intense. It creates roleplaying rather than suspending it. Good roll or bad, the game recognizes what you are doing as further engaging the game, building your character, creating new and interesting situations. Each time you grab a handful of dice, you know there’s awesome roleplaying waiting for you on the other side of the roll. Because of the roll. And because you knew how to engage the game’s mechanics.

      “D&D has always been far too mechanically based, largely due to it’s wargame roots. Sadly enough, it finally seemed to be breaking free of those when WotC decided to turn it into WoW : The Boardgame.”

      A game can never be “far too mechanically based”. It’s either a game or a piece of fiction. You can sit around fire and tell stories if you want group fiction. If you want a game, you need a way to play it and that’s mechanics. D&D has never stopped being a tactical tabletop game, it’s just more honest about it with 4E, which makes it actually good for the first time ever. If you want to play a tactical tabletop game, that is. If you don’t want to, you can get an actual RPG. I can recommend a couple dozen good ones.

  13. Adam says:

    Been trying to get this to work on my mac for ages. Grrr

  14. Pijama says:

    Ach.

    And here was I thinking that Bloodlines at it’s worst moments was a bit disturbing already.

  15. Bob Bobson says:

    The opposite of art is art, so long as it’s done with the intention of being the opposite of art.

  16. Auspex says:

    This looks both disturbing and interesting but sadly I’m too incompetent to get through the first dungeon without a “Game Over”. Is it possible to get a crappy selection of traps from the shop guy? It’s either that or I’m not mashing 1 and 2 properly :(.

    • Hallgrim says:

      The first on is pretty hard, since selection is limited.

      Save your game, and try to get things that focus on either health or will damage at the start. Be sure to manipulate the store guy to give you extra things (suck up, lie).

  17. Treymoney says:

    Verge crushes your head!

  18. Wilson says:

    Hmm, doesn’t seem to work for me. Just flickers a black screen a few times then pops up an error.

  19. kastanok says:

    I am glad this exists. More games should explore the darker side of humanity and it doesn’t get much darker than this.

    I’m not sure how I feel about the impression some people could walk away with that sadism, sociopathy and homosexuality are all on the same sliding scale (see “Weirdo Transvestite”, E. Izzard) but so long as you’re breaking social norms and expectations of what a game can include… go for it.

    This is probably a bad reflection on me, but like with most stories I found myself really getting in the character of the thing. There were some victims I preferred, and others that bored me. Like they weren’t worth my attention. And for what is, at its core, a familiar anti-love story I was bloody furious with Daily by the end.

    Mechanically, Beautiful Escape slips up (intentionally? either way, not good) with how you often have to talk with victims multiple times and farm their trust. I had to walk in and out of the firehouse scene about three times before the victim would even continue talking to me for more than a couple of lines. It totally spoiled the atmosphere.

    • Harbour Master says:

      Yes, there are a few design issues with how Beautiful Escape plays, but overall it works wonderfully well to disturb and intrigue at the same time. I thought the story, even though short, was excellent.

      To be honest, I didn’t come away with that sadism = sociopathy etc. vibe, but that could mean I’m either a fully realised player-character or I’m dead inside.

  20. Face says:

    Wow, excellent! I like this guy. One could rightly call him an artist. Thanks for the write-up, Mr. Gillen.

    “To hell with the reviews. This time I give myself five stars.” Bravo!

  21. CMaster says:

    Well, I’ve just done my first run 4 times, with 3 different characters and they’ve escaped each and every time. It seems the blowtorch, even when you hold it simply doesn’t do enough. Picking the humiliation kit seems to be instafail. :(

    Edit:5th time. Wanted to try it and then read KG’s spoilers, but not really prepared to sit through the whole intro to pick my first kit again.

    • Harbour Master says:

      You can drown your victim with the water tank if you can keep it going too long. That’s meant to be a “mistake” on your part but if you’re having trouble preventing an escape, you can always use this as a last resort. You will at least progress onward through the game.

      This game… it’s lovely it makes me type such things.

    • CMaster says:

      I don’t have a water tank, or anything that can finish anyone off, is the problem. Max damage from everything that I’ve got lets them escape. (I have a strip, a razor and a blow torch, and no way of getting anyting more.

    • Harbour Master says:

      You can usually get more items if you’re persistent with your conversation with Lorry. I just had a quick go: got 2 razors, a drill and a fake door. The 2 razors and drill were enough. But I guess you’ve probably had enough already…

      EDIT: You can finish someone with a blowtorch and a razor. You just have really jab the 1 and 2 keys like mad to keep the blowtorch active. I just did it. It didn’t make me feel like a good person.

    • CMaster says:

      @Harbour Master
      Lorry won’t talk to me – remember this is the first kill. He just has a stock “go away” line and thats it.
      Maybe it’s possible, but having tried spamming 1 and 2 as hard as I can 4 times, not so inclined to try again.

  22. Lucas says:

    I would criticize this, but it’s just not for me.

    http://www.penny-arcade.com/comic/2004/03/24/

  23. Krimson says:

    There actually is a way to find out Daily’s gender at the end of the game by, uh, using a certain tile. From what I remember, I think she was female, but that could vary per game.

  24. Chris says:

    I think the fact that this site has promoted a game as sick and twisted as this one is, goes to show the sad line that is now commonly walked past in the idea that anything is ok. It is the gradual slide into accepting that we are all slaves who are worthless and should be fed a daily gruel of darkness. What a waste of human effort in the direction of driving things to bottom of the bucket where zero imagination exists, yet is glorified as an amazing adventure in imagination in the warping of reality by telling lies.

    Does anyone take any time to look at what they are being fed before stuffing it into their mouth anymore?

    I am not writing this to condemn rockpapersshotgun.com but address a tangled path that leads here and the fact that everyone seems to feel that it is somehow totally fine, as I don’t see a single post speaking to anything else. That gore, violence, rape, torture, murder, racism is now being marketed as the norm across most of the media in more and more extremes, in the attempt to keep us constantly diminished from the beauty of what it really means to be a human being.

    • kastanok says:

      You appear to have mistaken ‘includes’ for ‘approves of’.

      Beauty of being a human being? Never seen any such thing.

    • Tyshalle says:

      More importantly, what a bunch of nonsense. “the beauty of what it really means to be a human being” is some meaningless pretentious drivel that you made up. There is no universal truth as to what it “really means” to be human. The idea you have in your head is something you invented, and it’s not something that everyone is going to agree on. If you wanted to actually seek out some kind of universal truth about humanity, it would wind up falling more in line with gore, violence, rape, racism and murder than whatever construct you created to make yourself feel superior to other animals.

      In a world where our modern TV consists of brainless reality TV shows like Hell’s Kitchen and American Idol, and our mainstream news media are little more than commercials for gold, it seems to me that having some intellectually and morally challenging games out there in a sea of Call of Duty’s and World of Warcrafts should be celebrated.

    • Nova says:

      @Chris

      The game has been downloaded only a 1000 times (says the RPGmaker page) and many of those downloaders probably haven’t really played it.
      If anywhere then the Medal of Honour or the CoD Black Ops article would be a better place for your comment.

    • Archonsod says:

      Humanity isn’t beautiful. In fact, once you get over the novelty of the “shaved monkey” effect they’re pretty boring. Although to be fair, the same is true of many species. Apart from lemurs, those guys rock.

    • Lilliput King says:

      I thought it included some fairly interesting discourse on the nature, generation and appreciation of art.

      Which is good, because it fails as a genre or a horror game. The foundations were too bare, and you ended up approaching it mechanistically, ignoring what was supposed to actually be occurring. Reasonably fun mechanics, though, it wasn’t a torture to play. Heh.

    • Thants says:

      Horrible violence has always been a part of human existence. One of the reasons we make art about it is to cope with that fact. The world isn’t going to become a loving, non-violent place just because we sweep this kind of stuff under the rug.

    • Christian Dannie Storgaard says:

      The beauty of being a human being is that you can defecate, feed and feel shame about doing both at the same time (at the same time).
      Human beings aren’t beautiful, but they (sorry; we) are occasionally amusing to observe, often because of the limits imposed on themselves out of what they believe is some form of enlightenment – like demonstrated by your comment.

  25. The Great Wayne says:

    *spoilers*

    I didn’t really found it disturbing past the discovery of the first dungeon. Sadly, even the part where you discover afterward you just tortured your brother just doesn’t make much sense or makes you feel you just did something horrible.

    The hero is a whining sociopath, and you quickly just play the game based on its mechanics, not really on instincts even in the dating part. It’s trying too hard being gruesome (the game makes it clear that people you can pick up to torture are good people, kinder gardener, girl working to sustain family, etc.) to cause any resonance which would trigger the “disturbed” feeling.

  26. Hallgrim says:

    So I have now stripped, tied up, burned, lacerated, partially drowned, drilled, and chainsawed half a dozen strangers (+1) to make “art”.

    Why does placing a rape trap make me feel queasy? I almost refused to put it down, until I examined my other actions and asked myself why it makes a difference.

    • sinister agent says:

      It’s weird, isn’t it? Murder and torture are surely far worse and more final crimes, and yet it’s rape that makes us thing “hang on” in games or films alike. How many people are shot to crap in action films every year – many of them nameless mooks – and we still cheer on their killer? But if the same person were to rape one of these people it’s apparently okay to kill, it’d seem horrific.

      I like that a simple DIY game quietly raises questions like this.

    • Sinomatic says:

      Certainly is strange, isn’t it?

      But then I suppose as gamers we’re all horrendous people who are desensitized to violence……*ahem*

  27. Sarkhan Lol says:

    It just struck me that the conscienceless manipulations that comprise the ‘conversation’ sections give me the exact same vibe as companion conversations in something like Dragon Age. Only instead of luring them back to a death basement, you’re buttering them up or romancing them for a slight save bonus.

  28. Torqual says:

    Yeah the gaming world definitely needs more serial killer games to improve its reputation. I wonder how long it takes for some politician to abuse this title for their ‘All PC gamers are potential serial killer’ agenda.

  29. Jon Lynch says:

    The RPG Maker communities are incredibly bizarre sects. I’ve been lurking around them since the release of RPG Maker 2000, and their inwardness and rigid social structures are ripe for study by sociologists. If anyone’s interested in the most negative products of these groups, I suggest reading this piece on Vibrant Story.

  30. heroin says:

    “Ballardian airport”, “80′s first-wave sampling” – you sir, have just gained yourself a new reader and this game sounds very. very interesting.

    • JuJuCam says:

      Unfortunately for you, Mr Gillen no longer posts here regularly, but definitely chase his name around the nets and elsewhere. He’s an established comic book writer among other things.

  31. Mut says:

    I feel terribly unclean after playing that, but it was an interesting experience.

  32. outoffeelinsobad says:

    This game is like playing a Lars von Trier movie.

  33. Jetsetlemming says:

    It took me three tries to get my first run down (I wasn’t clear on where the “beautiful escape” lines were), but I got a “great” (3.5/5 stars what) review for it. Water tank + drill seemingly makes it impossible NOT to get a beautiful escape. The other crap I had (razor, strip, rope (rope seemingly has no purpose except to prevent a “Hope” bonus from long uneventful sections of dungeon, but you can just backload all your crap to avoid that)) was for extra scream points I guess.

    Anyway, not really finding this game’s content all that disturbing since I played a similar sort of game in the PS1 era. I can’t recall the name but you were a girl who signed a pact with the devil, and had to set traps in a 3d house to kill invading heroes trying to stop the devil. You’d get combos for doing stuff like knocking them down stairs into a spring that threw them into a spike pit and then dropped a chandelier on them, stuff like that.

    The strip tile is the one thing that I find questionable, because of the combination of pixel nudity and horrific violence.

  34. Twerty says:

    Daily is certainly male, the Australian reporter B-whatever says “I love him.” right after kissing him. I would hope he of all people would know!

  35. John Williams says:

    This is an excellent article, and it made me see the game in ways I had never thought of before. Truly amazing read. Nice to meet you.

  36. sbs says:

    Uh, I feel mighty stupid now but, how can i run this game? The only thing it does: it takes me back to desktop after a short moment of black screen, and then theres a task in my taskbar, which doesnt do anything. Readme.txt is worthless, faq suggests i get the rtp, i got it. still same thing.
    now i’m looking for rpgmaker 2k3 from advocate but they appearently do not want to be found on the internet. What the fuck?

  37. toastmodernist says:

    harbour is right. Firefox or other browsers really messes up rpgmaker, also various other shortform indie games i’ve been playing recently. Don’t quite understand it.

    Also having a second monitor turned on causes interference for me, v. infrequently though so i understand that even less.

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