Wot I Think: The Beginner’s Guide

The Stanley Parable creator, Davey Wreden, is back two years later with a solo project, The Beginner’s Guide [official site]. Released under his new development name, Everything Unlimited, this is an abstruse wander through a mysterious collection of games and game ideas, quite unlike anything else you’ve played. Does it work? Here’s wot I think:

The inevitability of comparison with one’s previous games can often stifle a developer. Especially when your previous game was a cultural phenomenon in gaming. How do you follow The Stanley Parable? Well, co-creator Davey Wreden appears to have embraced this destiny in The Beginner’s Guide, almost as much as he’s ignored it.

Narrated by Wreden himself, we’re presented with what is apparently a collection of short, often unfinished games by a friend of the developer named Coda. It begins in an experimental Counter-Strike level, with Wreden explaining (as you’re free to wander around) that he hopes by creating this project and sharing this work it will encourage Coda to create new projects once again. Wreden explains a bit about what makes this simple level interesting to him (floating blocks, odd deliberately unfinished textures, and so on), before you’re whisked away and put into a crude, barely started first-person shooter.

And so it goes on, as you experience these short games, or short excerpts from games, Wreden narrating the experience, pointing out what interests him about the level, commenting on common themes, reflecting on his relationship with the author, and noticing when you wander off the main path and commenting on that, too.

So as strikingly different an idea as it may be, there’s an awful lot in common with Stanley, and so inevitably your head draws comparisons. First-person levels, a narrator, environments changing themselves around you, a level in which you can only walk backward with the scenery changing while you’re not looking, and a (rarely) reactive narration that occasionally notices when you’re not ‘playing along’.

And that caused a strange reaction in me – so many semiotic similarities changed my behaviour. I started wanting to disobey Wreden’s informal descriptions. Say, he tells me I can speed movement back up from an almost imperceptible crawl by pressing Enter, I find myself wanting to get to the destination at that slowed pace, to defy it, to see if I can provoke a response. But I’m not sure it’s that sort of game at all.

What developed as I played was a peculiar sense of disconnect from the experience, not because I wasn’t enjoying the fiction, but because the conceit of the fiction began to feel too big. Wreden is purporting to have this directory with all of his friend’s experimental games, and he’s stitching them together, explaining that he’s changing back-end things to allow you to jump ahead, or remove walls, or speed up, and casually giving you his interpretation of the meaning behind the esoteric and artistic projects. But, since these are obviously his own games, created for this game, his analysis and commentary is therefore all false, empty, deceitful. (And when he’s boldly praising the cleverness of them, a little uncomfortable.) I rather liked that about it.

I deliberately wrote everything above at a midpoint of the game, which lasts maybe two hours. I kind of assumed that if I wanted to describe the game both honestly, and without spoiling it, I’d need to write my thoughts before it was over. I was right. If you finish it then read that bit, you’ll realise the mistakes I was making. I’m fairly paralysed to write usefully about it at this point now it’s over, knowing much more about what it is.

So, in a more detached way, I can say that this is clearly a very personal project from Wreden. Where Stanley was extremely detached, wry, sarcastic and even cruel, The Beginner’s Guide is much more about intimacy. About the deeply personal relationship a developer can have with his games. It’s about meta-analysis, Barthesian semiotics, the deaths of authors, and just trying to figure out why you like a thing. It’s about understanding, identity, fear. It’s about themes that would spoil it to mention. It’s a game that’s probably about an awful lot of stuff.

How well it works is, more than in most cases I suspect, going to be in the eye of the mouseholder. I think the game’s greatest weakness is that the celebrated game ideas within often aren’t that great. A couple are, but I found myself desperately wishing this project could have been used to deliberately throw away some extraordinarily brilliant ideas. The walking backward level comes close, but then I think it mostly drifted toward an easier, more obfuscated place. The emphasis on being esoteric rather than clever, obtuse rather than surprising.

The overall narrative also doesn’t really hang together if you give it too much thought toward the end, but I’m also fairly convinced it doesn’t need to. Well, yeah, I can’t really say more there.

In fact, most frustrating of all for me just now, to accurately describe the atmosphere of the game is to most spoil it. I want to say, “It feels like X to play,” because that would best convey the experience to you in the most useful buyers’-guidey way. But it’s such that I can’t.

So did I enjoy it? Kind of. I think I appreciated it more than I enjoyed it, and then that appreciation was tinged with a wish that it could have been more. More clever, more surprising, more deep. But more importantly, it made me think, made me worry about people I care about, made me uncomfortable. And for that, I think, it deserves praise.

77 Comments

  1. Geebs says:

    I’m a bit confused by this WIT; you make it sounds like this is very self-indulgent in a way that Stanley really wasn’t. Having played Stanley I would think that Wreden’s abundance of cleverness and taste would mean he wouldn’t fall into that trap. Am I assuming correctly?

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      I get the sense it starts out that way, deliberately, to start a real discussion later about what it means to be a creator but to describe that would be to spoil it

    • Beefenstein says:

      Is something self-indulgent, or is something a thing which a person finds to be self-indulgent?

    • noodlecake says:

      Is self-indulgence necessarily bad?

      • Geebs says:

        Depends on the skill which accompanies the self-indulgence, although I was using the common meaning of the term which implies self-indulgence that is deleterious to the work.

        I’m not into creatives being self-indulgent about expressing the nature of creativity itself, though. For truly gifted creatives it’s asking a fish what it’s like to be wet; for anybody less talented you just find out that they had to work really hard.

      • Canazza says:

        Honestly, I think that’s the very question the game tries to answer

    • SamLR says:

      Literally just finished playing it. For risk of spoiling it it feels a LOT more personal than Stanley Parable and VERY different. It is a bit self indulgent but equally worth experiencing.

    • Premium User Badge

      burn_heal says:

      The expression “self indulgent” implies something negative – that the creator should have been more disciplined. The Beginner’s Guide is certainly a personal statement but I didn’t find it self indulgent. Sometimes personal statements can be the best ones.

  2. quietone says:

    I couldn’t help but hear the voice of Stanley Parable’s narrator as I read your article.

  3. Text_Fish says:

    Looks like a giant NIPPER map.

  4. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    I really don’t know whether I want to experience this game or not now.

    • ExPostNinja says:

      I’d highly recommend it; it’s an examination of the creative process, of the things we see, of our relationships with our own creations, and of what we expect to see in works. It’s a mildly interactive movie in places, yes, but it’s a very well-made one, and whilst it’s a very different beast than Stanley it clearly has a shared ancestor.

  5. Natanji says:

    Okay, obvious spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned.

    Why is nobody talking about how the ending reveals this whole game to be… totally not even okay to exist? Coda created these games and explicitly told Davey to stop showing them to people. He broke things off pretty harshly, but was very clear about it. And Davey just goes all crazy about how he needs to find Coda in order to find redemption, blablabla, and ignores every single request that Coda has made.

    That is just utterly horrible, and I also can’t see how it can even be legal. You may not publish other people’s content on Steam and then even sell it for ten bucks. It just seems utterly selfish to capitalise on this apparent cry for help and desperation.

    • ExPostNinja says:

      I’m relatively certain that the premise there is a narrative conceit; the game is presented as “here are games made by Coda and showed off by Davey Wreden” when the reality is “here is a single game made by Davey Wreden strung together with a narrative about a character also named Davey Wreden involving a fictional character named Coda.” The alternative would be, well, yes, monstrous.

      • Natanji says:

        I think anyone in the press ought to ask Davey about this and make a clear official statement about this fact, and I don’t get why nobody got the idea to ask about that. Imagine what it would feel like to be abused, then for your abuser to openly say so and capitalize on it, *and nobody even questions it*. These are questions that journalists ought to ask, and get behind.

        • Michael Fogg says:

          You know when the Pope died he left a will that requested that all his personal writings be burned. The Vatican heavies decided to keep all of these writings as a ‘vital historical document’. That’s how it goes ;)

          • Natanji says:

            Coda is not an important historical figure, you’re comparing apples and oranges.

        • Premium User Badge

          Cooper says:

          Someone from the games press asking Davey for a “clear statement of fact” about whether Coda is fictional and who actually made the games is like asking Bram Stoker for a statement about the veracity of the documents that appear in Dracula. Or asking Swift whether the autobiography of Gulliver was written by a real Gulliver or just made up. Or asking Defoe whether he made up Crusoe’s diaries up or not. And those are just the obvious ones that come to mind…

          • ExPostNinja says:

            I’ve been informed that some bookstores still have a standing joke about those who ask for the version of The Princess Bride without Goldman’s annotations, assuming that the framing device must be based around a real novel he edited.

        • ribby says:

          Coda isn’t real. This is fiction…

    • Premium User Badge

      John Walker says:

      You know the review you’re commenting underneath? You could read it.

      • Natanji says:

        I did read it. You just say that they are “obviously” his own games, but give no reason for why you think this is the case, and we have no official statement on it either. To me it’s not at all obvious, so… could you elaborate on it, please?

        • Tim the Corsair says:

          …do you really require an explanation of why a game publicly released for sale on a privately owned marketplace by a prominent figure in the games industry is probably a work of fiction rather than an incriminating direct admission of betrayal and a possible actual crime?

        • RagingLion says:

          I don’t think Natanji is being stupid here.

          I was surprised, John, to read that you were sure this was all made by Davey Wreden from the beginning. I have just finished the game a half hour ago and I genuinely went through that whole game assuming that these are made by Coda (which I think is an amazing thing to witness) but once we got to The Tower and Epilogue that gets harder to understand and then things get extremely emotional and Davey comments more explicitly on himself.

          Basically, right now I’m trying to figure out what was going on fully and so wanted to read some articles about it to try and figure it out. This is my first one. What I end up thinking about this may change quite a bit in the next few hours.

          • yogibbear says:

            Okay, SPOILERs (although we’re beyond that at this point), here’s my explanation (TBH I have no idea why people think Coda is a real person… but whatever… I have no idea why people think a lot of things that they do).

            Coda is a personality/persona of Davey’s that is the social recluse / developer / introvert but is also the creative essence of Davey scared of showing off his games to everyone. He lost this essence and stopped developing games in 2011, then he had to re-show himself and re-experience his own games to rediscover Coda, allowing him to then finally make the ultimate prison game, AKA The Stanley Parable.

    • Fireprufe15 says:

      You uhm…realize this is fiction, right? Please tell me you know this is fiction…

    • Troika says:

      It says more about you than about him.
      =)

    • SamLR says:

      So apparently Laura Dale (@laurabuzz)[1] reached out to Davey Wreden who has said that Coda is based on a real person (credited as ‘R’ at the end). Quiet how auto-biographical TBG is is debatable but yea :\

      [1] link to ohnovideogames.com it’s a recording but they talk about it in the first 5min

      • banananas says:

        Thank you for the link!
        I just want to point out that “Coda” in musical terms has a very interesting meaning, which might be vital for interpretation.

        • EnzoYug says:

          You’re totally correct.
          In steam the icon for TBG is indeed the very symbol for a ‘coda’.

          Clever.

    • EnzoYug says:

      For those interested in who “coda” really is – do this.

      Load up steam and take a look at the games icon.
      Then go here: link to en.wikipedia.org

  6. Premium User Badge

    steves says:

    Yet another unimaginative developer jumping on the “Barthesian semiotics” bandwagon…

    Seriously though, I had to look that up, and it is interesting stuff!

    • languidbaboon says:

      I did also and agree. I like the RPS articles,they often prompt me to fill the myriad gaps in my knowledge.

  7. Flaf9090 says:

    I was the shadow of the colossus slain
    By the false azure of computer games…

    My way of saying this sounds like Pale Fire: The Game.

  8. TechnicalBen says:

    I am not even sure if this game really exists. Does it?
    I mean, I never got to play the Stanley Parable (I probably should go do that), but from what I hear it’s very meta.

    Is this going to be meta? I note the link on the website goes to the store, or to youtube.com. I was not sure if that was a typo, and the video missing, or so meta they were like “youtube is our trailer”. :P

  9. Vandelay says:

    Bought and already digested it all. I can imagine that many people that loved The Stanley Parable will be far less impressed with this work and I can see it not being as well remembered. It is probably a much more interesting piece though, having a far stronger narrative and covering broader themes.

    There are far fewer laughs than in Stanley (only a couple really to be had, the biggest of which for me was the realisation of the restricted movement that John mentions above,) but I can see many peoples’ biggest complaint being that it falls far more into the dreaded “Walking Simulator.” The amount reactivity that the narrator in Stanley had made the experience far more interactive than it otherwise would have been. In contrast, the levels on display here are, as Wreden himself says, linear corridors with mostly single paths. There are the odd moments when the narrator will react differently to your actions, but I must admit to not encountering many. Perhaps there are more than I had, but, unlike John wanting to try to defy the narration, I was quite content to go along with what he told me to do. This felt much more like a museum piece to me and I never feel like turning left when a museum audio guide says to turn right.

    I do think John highlights my biggest issue with this though; the games themselves, without the narration, just would not be that interesting or good. A few have some interesting ideas, but never really do too much with them. For example, not mentioned in the review above so lets say it is a MILD SPOILER, there is one section that says you should close your eyes before a level starts. I didn’t do this, but if you had of, all you would get is the sound of the music playing until it reaches a crescendo and restarts, followed by Wreden saying you are going to have to open your eyes to solve this. There is dialogue going on that would heighten the experience, with the playable character saying they are blind and don’t know what to do, but this is all done in subtitles, so not much good if you have your eyes closed. You wouldn’t even know you had to do anything until Wreden says there is something to solve.

    The moments that are interesting and when the levels reach a close to the greatness that Wreden puts upon them are when it captures an emotion. It is normally quite a simple emotion, but executed wonderfully. I wonder if that only works because of the story of Coda we are hearing from Wreden though. Without his inside into the man’s life and played by themselves, that could well be meaningless.

    Anyone that watched the sadly far too short Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip will recall one of the few failings of the show was that it was a show following a ratings winning comedy sketch show that never seemed to be funny. Often this feels like following the work of a supposedly great game developer that never seems to produce anything that great!

    Still, I think this is a wonderful way to spend an hour and half to two hours. I am not sure how much there would be to gain revisiting it again, but it is a one of a kind experience, telling a story that you really do not expect when you begin it.

    • ExPostNinja says:

      I suspect there might be a bit of value to replaying the game once you know the Big Reveal near the end and can more properly contextualize the work, recognizing that Davey is more antagonist than positive influence.

      It doesn’t hurt that I found the ending quite uplifting, however, so perhaps my perspective isn’t the standard.

    • Zurriel says:

      If you think that game touched on “simple” emotions, don’t quit your day job.

  10. Doomsayer says:

    There seems to be a bit of a secret in the game: Pressing the number 9 sometimes makes dialogue show up depending on what chapter you’re on, though sometimes it also makes the game shut down. Especially relevant on the last one, I think. I haven’t seen it mentioned anywhere else, so I thought I’d say it here.

  11. gbrading says:

    Played it this evening. It is really fascinating but it left me feeling dazed, confused and really rather depressed. I fear that a lot of people are really not going to like it, given how hugely different it is from The Stanley Parable. Nonetheless I think it deserves praise as potentially the most meta “meta” game ever devised.

    There is a clear reason why at the start of the game it reminds you to turn the sound on; it simply wouldn’t work without Wreden’s narration. It’s integral to the experience.

  12. Jericho says:

    I picked this up and played it this evening and I don’t think it’s fair to call the game “meta” about games when it’s more of a personal tour through the thought processes of a game designer and general mixed bag of a human being (that we all are). I’m going to go full SPOILERS, so if you haven’t played it and care about SPOILERS stop now.

    So, in the end I have to assume that “Coda” (clearly a fake name, at least) isn’t a real person, because if they are and the story that unfolds is in any way true, then Davey is a bit of a monster. I assumed at first that Coda was just Davey and that this was all going to lead to him trying to break out of his loop and show his games off, but that doesn’t make sense given what we’re told and see.

    So in the end I just have to assume that it’s a semi-biographical fictional account that is meant to share some deep thoughts on game design and the reasons why people make things the way they do. And if that’s the case I can really get behind the discussion.

    The most interesting part of all of this is that I felt I’ve known “Coda”, especially with the opening level being a Counter-Strike map. I don’t mean that literally, like they’re a real person, but that I have known people like the “Coda” described in the game. The level design and the quirks and the choice of engine reminded me HEAVILY of an old modder I once knew that went by the handle of “Hondo”. He used to make maps for Quake and Half-Life mods, mostly Action Quake and Action Half-Life. And his maps would contain both functional gameplay areas and “hidden” puzzle-like areas that contained abstract architecture, puzzles to solve, minigames, and other oddities that never really fit with the rest of the map. His “secrets” got more and more elaborate and obtuse as he made more maps, and eventually he just stopped making maps altogether and disappeared. I remember him popping up here on RPS years ago when Q. Smith (I think that’s who wrote it?) wrote up an article about his puzzle maps in AHL.

    Anyhow, I miss people like Hondo and the story of Coda reminded me of him in many ways. I have to wonder if Davey was also in that early Half-Life modding scene and also knew him, or if that type of personality just hovers around the modding scene and game jams.

    Anyhow, I’m glad I got to experience this game, but I feel I need to think about it a lot more.

    • VitalMoss says:

      I honestly felt really content at the cleaning chores map.
      It was peaceful and let my minds drift a bit while the narration went on.

      I really liked the game, personally.

  13. Boozebeard says:

    The Beginners Guide hit extremely close to home for me. For a lot of people that can directly relate to its narrative it is going to be a very powerful experience. In fact I probably wouldn’t even be writing this if it wasn’t for the game; I tend not to get involved with comment sections but one of the many things this game has shed light on for me is that I shouldn’t be so withdrawn, especially from people who ultimately have similar interests (even if our tastes and opinions may differ at times).

    This is a game I am going to keep on my hard drive for a very long time just in case I ever need to feel like I’m not alone.

  14. IvoryOwl says:

    So, in essence, this game is really just one big “Rorschach Test”. Its all psychological interpretation that, in reality, reflects the person analyzing rather than the object that is being analyzed. Give a bright and colorful painting to a depressed person and they will point out all sorts of dark and gloomy aspects in it.

    :MILD SPOILERS BELLOW:

    When Coda wrote on the wall “The fact you think I’m depressed says more about you than you think” (or something like that) says it all. Davey perceived all these “problems” in Coda’s work because that’s how he(Davey) was feeling deep inside.

    I can actually understand why Coda called him a “detriment” and “poisonous” – people like Davey are selfish without actually realizing it. They fail to understand that in order to help someone you first need to understand them and what they want. Using a solution that you find is justifiable doesn’t always make it so for other people.

    In the end, helping Coda was just a mean to an end – Davey wanted to feel better about himself and helping a friend through his misguided intention was the solution.

    At least that’s my interpretation of the game…

    • DarkSyndrome says:

      Well said. Just finished the game and I kinda felt the same way.

  15. Monggerel says:

    Ain’t that just the thing.

  16. Marclev says:

    So, umm … is this actually fun to play?

    • SamLR says:

      I’d say “No”. It left me in tears.

      That being said I finished it over 12 hours ago and I still can’t get it out of my head. It was very moving and has really made me think about both it and myself. So with that it mind it’s certainly worth playing, just be warned.

    • RagingLion says:

      I can say that these are the games I personally live to play. The ones that I get most excited about and especially since currently hardly any of them exist.

      Fun is not the word to use, but I loved going through it. The set of emotions it drew from me were much broader and richer.

  17. Laurentius says:

    Oh good, another game for game critics people to write about for months, and then write some more. It’s funny how “What you are playing this wekend” new format with RPS stuff own admission opened my eyes to the fact that games they are playing almost alwayes are not ones that are written about.

    Yeah , sure, Pip’s been doing Dote’s Nights and John went and started replaying some games but since it was more about “Look how I came to terms with my youth being gone” and no one get it and give him pat on the back he got bored with it anyway…

    • mukuste says:

      That’s silly. The Stanley Parable and presumably this one aren’t the type of game you sink whole weekends into. They are short, one-off experiences, and that they stick with people for months despite their rather short length speaks to their quality rather than deterring from it.

      In fact I wish more games would give you a meaningful experience for an afternoon rather than padding everything to 20+ hours.

    • Jekadu says:

      The game takes less than 90 minutes to finish…

  18. Laurentius says:

    I don’t have problem with these games quality, being RPS GOTY and so one. That’s not in question, I question and I still stands by fact, that game critics alwayes value these games more from egoistical stand point. They are word crafters after all and that spearates them from rest of us.

    • Flit says:

      So, you don’t like that RPS writes about the games they like to write about? Is that right?

  19. shrieki says:

    i agree with SamLR – i cant say it was fun to play.
    but i did not feel disconnected from this at any time in the game. it glued me to the screen and i couldnt stop playing until the end.

    this was not just entertainment. it felt very personal,very honest and it touched me to the point i started to cry.not just some lil tears rolling down- no that was more like a deep outburst with sobbing and all that. i´m laughing about it now but it was tough how the game pulled out all my own troubles and fears related to my own creative work. it was very powerful. i live for and from my art for many years and i am in the very lucky situation to be free to create what i want and be able to make a (modest) living with it … but now that i achieved that basic part i´m afraid of the next step whatever that will be.

    first time i ever cried in a computer game. first time a game – or any media had such an powerful message for me.

    and in the end it was a very positive thing because it made me aware that there are others out there that deal with the same uncertainties and worries where one officially should be all happy,productive and creative.

    every creative person,every artist,everybody with an open mind should have a look at this. i´m sure glad i spontaneously bought it and experienced it.

    • Flit says:

      I agree, not fun, but it felt good, a little bit like falling in love? That’s a weird thing to say isn’t it, haha. It was sad and inspiring at the same time.

      I slipped some tears but I cry easily. I’m very happy a game like this is reaching a wide audience

    • Shazbut says:

      I appreciate your writing this. I’m an artist myself. Was gonna pass this by, but might look into it now.

      Also, since you mentioned crying, do I now get to talk about Undertale and how it is literally the best game this millenium?

      No? Ok fine. But I will have my moment.

    • ribby says:

      I’m not a very cry-ey person, but this one didn’t really come close. The twist was upsetting, but not in that way.

      The closest I’ve been with a videogame is at the end of the Walking Dead, first season.

      I’ve cried at about two movies before-

      “The Crucible” because it all seemed so hopeless and pointless and bad

      and…ahem…um…

      Frozen… Because I was already tired and emotional.

  20. Jekadu says:

    I just don’t know about this game. I want to be a creative person. I want to make video games. But I just… can’t. I’ve got psychiatric diagnoses that can make things feel hopeless.

    During the first half of the game I was starting to feel inspired. All the talk of choosing a tool, of expressing yourself in private, of experimenting and finally discovering a quirk that you wanted to base your work around, all that was inspiring.

    Then the tone of the narrative changed, and I wasn’t really able to empathize with what was going on anymore. The desire to create faded as things got more and more personal and I realized that what was being described wasn’t resonating with me any longer. I decided instead to focus on how difficult it seems to be for neurotypical people to understand neuroatypical people sometimes, and how maybe my interpretation was too clever for the narrative to support it.

    None of this is bad. The game spoke to me on many levels. I especially enjoyed the format, and some of the gameplay concepts shown are wonderful.

    It’s hard to say anything about The Beginner’s Guide that’s not weirdly personal. It’s that kind of game.

    • ribby says:

      But don’t you see? All the interpretation was probably wrong.

  21. Nick Jerrison says:

    I don’t think you can really review this game. Everyone accepts it his own way. But what I want to say is that after finishing the game I thought for a while. The while game I really thought that Coda was indeed depressed and didn’t want to make games anymore… But I decided to make a little experiment. Just turn off the narration. Completely ignore it. You will get a completely different experience. Then I understood how Coda really felt and in fact, I just realized that I felt that way too, and I made some stuff that was humiliating myself in a jokey kind of way. I can’t really explain it, but it was the same way that Coda had gone. And now in my eyes I saw Davey as an antagonist. It’s crazy to think that if someone shares his opinions before you get to make your own, it can influence how you understand everything. I don’t think any game made me think as much as this one. Sure, there were a lot of moments when I just said “This game is just oure genius”. That happened with “The Stanley Parable”, “Only If” and some others. But I didn’t think about them. They were very clever and that’s about it. But The Beginner’s Guide (and even its narrator) left you at the end of it just to let you think everything through: whether everything was how Dave said, whether Coda was even a real person or not. This game surely left its mark in me.

  22. Kerbal_Rocketry says:

    Played it with no info other than “it’s nothing like stanley, just forget its the same person” and can’t really sum up how i feel about it. The narrative really draws you in and gets you thinking about their relation and the whys behind Coda making games.

    I think that this Wot I think spoils far too much of the game to go in unbias, which is what the game really needs.

  23. titotito says:

    The beginners Guide to Video Game reviewing.
    To me this game was obviously a jab at video game reviewers and other self appointed and self titled “culture critics”. The game tells you, in no ambiguous words, to stop placing lamp posts in other peoples games. Critics create nothing, yet take other peoples creations and turn and twist them into their own interpretations, and even if that is not enough they peddle these twisted images to other people, thinking highly of themselves for having “solved the puzzle” for themselves and for everyone else that plays the games, the lowly peasants, they will never get the combination right! so here it is laid written on the floor for them.

    • Xocrates says:

      Not too long ago a journalist asked Tim Schafer about what he thought about his (the journalist’s) interpretation of Broken Age. His reply was:

      “Hey, I just make the games. I don’t analyze them. That’s someone else’s job!”

      What a creator intended and how the worked are perceived are two separate things. And it’s not unusual for the reading to be perceived as more important than the intention (see: Death of the Author), not least of which because it’s not uncommon for the creators to subconsciously add a lot of stuff.

      You can complain about other people given meanings that were never supposed to be there, but keep in mind that saying that’s “clearly” the message of the game is you doing the exact same thing

    • Jekadu says:

      So what was the game about? What part of it wasn’t up to interpretation? You interpreted that particular scene as being a jab at critics; I interpreted that scene as highlighting one of the problems that creators face: that of whether they’re making something for themselves or for others. By showing their work to someone else, they risk letting their vision be compromised, as whatever they are trying to convey suddenly needs to be accessible; conversely, not showing their work ensures that no concessions are made, but also that no external validation is received.

  24. pailhoarse says:

    Logged in just to say I loved playing this. I bought into it fully and – aside from some contrived narration toward the end – I think it’s a lovely, artistic (yeah I said it) and critical piece of work. More of this sort of thing, please.

  25. DevilishEggs says:

    Finished it tonight. I think I liked the early, more playful parts the best. As the overdubbed narration became more intense and was claiming greater insight, I became more skeptical and started to dislike the guy. ::spoilers coming:: Turns out the narrator WAS drawing too many conclusions, and the game reckons with this in the end. Very satisfying! But then the epilogue is sentimental and generally aimless. At this point, I don’t have much patience or empathy left for the guy. I like that the real drama of the game, in retrospection, is the echo-chamber that develops in the narrator’s mind. That’s cool! I really don’t care — after a game structured like the above — about his path to healing. Whatever that means. Being less clingy? Being less dramatic when analyzing friends’ Source games?

    Probably the interplay between the chapters and the narrator could be more interesting or ambiguous. Definitely I thought the epilogue was tiresome and the “prison” levels kind of flagged. The good news, for me, overall, is that (half of) the talent behind Stanley seems to be alive and well.

    • Jekadu says:

      Maybe the epilogue is supposed to play out like that. Maybe you’re supposed to feel like you’re playing a very forced level as the narrator is trying to come up with a suitable bookend but utterly failing to because the prior level was, essentially, telling him to stop.

      Of course, the person narrating is also a real person, and… gods, this just became very meta. My head hurts.

      • DevilishEggs says:

        That’s an interesting point. Art that imitates life that closely is sometimes accused of committing the fallacy of imitative form.

        link to nytimes.com

        To sum up this line of reasoning: The Beginner’s epilogue is a vague, maudlin chapter about a vague, maudlin character. That doesn’t make it somehow “fitting.” That makes it vague and maudlin, which is, to most people, bad art.

        My general feeling is the end needed to shift into satire. But whatever, definitely a fun game to talk about.

  26. PumpalerroPops says:

    I made an account here just to talk about this game. I finished it about thirty minutes ago after buying it on a whim, and this was the first site I came to to look for discussions about this game, and I think it is quite ironic that it is a game that tackles the themes as The Beginner’s Guide does that caused me to want to open up and share my opinion. While the interpretations I’ve seen that look at the real aspect of the game; at why Davey made this (which I think it is apparent he did) I think the more interesting thought is within the lore established within the game, so I will be going under the assumption that Coda is a real person, and that the games within TBG are made by him. But assumptions probably aren’t the best thing to make about this game, because assumptions really make up the whole game. To me, this game was about how a person’s art is the most personal thing a person can have, and that sometimes it doesn’t have a meaning. Like Davey says, “Maybe he just liked making prison levels.” After the Tower and the epilogue, I felt real sorry for Coda, more so than I would have he had really been someone who was lonely and depressed and was essentially digging himself into a bigger hole as he was making more of these games that drained him. In my eyes, Coda is someone who just enjoyed making games. He didn’t share them to others because they weren’t meant for others, they were meant for him, to be made and discarded with as he wished. This paints Davey even more as an antagonist that before, someone who ruined Coda’s passion for games presumably forever. During the Tower Coda talks of how Davey’s insentient need for answers was causing Coda to add meaning into his work, thus destroying the machine that caused him to make games, making it harder and harder till he just shut down. And that was still not enough for Davey. Coda couldn’t give Davey this meaning that he needed, so he added to it. The line when Coda asks Davey to stop adding lampposts to his games sent chills down my spine, and the fact that Davey didn’t mention it at all drove the point home even more. Other’s took it figuratively, but I took it literally. Davey was obsessed with these games, really, and he needed there to be a meaning to it, so much so that he added the lampposts to the ends of the levels, something he could grasp on to and say was the central meaning behind Coda’s games, and to me, that was despicably.(Plus the fact that in the lore, Davey took someone else’s games and sold them for $8 on Steam. That’s pretty bad too.:)
    Well, that’s all I really have to say. This game struck me in some really sensitive places, and I felt I had to say something about it. I’m really excited to see what comes next from this developer, and hopefully his next game won’t make me cry.

  27. April March says:

    Sounds a bit like Nabokov, a bit like Borges (very strong shades of An Examination of the Work of Herbert Quine here). I think I’ll like it.

  28. Damanique says:

    This game for me approaches what ‘art in videogames’ could be about, in that it does much more with the player than it has meaning from its creator. I found a lot of themes resonated with me, such as isolation to cope with depression; the endlessness of house chores that at the same time give satisfaction and happiness when completed; the need to have a destination or a goal like the lamppost; the relief at familiar puzzles like the door; the need for human interaction and to not feel alone in a strange, often cold world where we feel out of control; how daytime work might feel like going into prison for a few hours; and so on.

    I never assumed Coda was real. This seemed to me obviously a character created in Davey’s narrative, and rather than playing different games I feel I am very much playing one game with different levels.

    In the end, I was left with a sense of being understood by another human being through this game, and that might be its strength, that all of us recognise and resonate with something in it.

    As for whether or not Coda is real, and Davey really did rip off their games: to me that is even more meta. It almost seems like an extra layer on top of the game that plays us, making us think and argue amongst ourselves. Never mind that artists are quite good at ripping each other off, creating, re-creating.So in many ways, this game succeeds at being a legitimate work of art. I dig it.

  29. Marcelo says:

    I know most likely nobody will read this, but if anyone does, here it goes.

    I think this review is unfair and limited. This game is a Parable, unlike Stanley’s, this game is actually about depression, it’s about loneliness, it’s about work, it’s much more about the inner workings of the thinking mind then it proposes originally. I think that’s rather dumb from the creator, if this was sold properly, advertised in the right way, this game would have had a much different reception.

    I’ll give a lot of spoilers, and I might talk about some complex themes, however bear along, I cannot make any promises, although I’ll try my best to convince you that this is the best game you’ve ever played.

    First of all, I’ll start correcting myself this is a game about games, it’s meta in that way, it’s a game, not necessarily about game developers though, I think it’s a game about gamers themselves. Think about it’s title, “The beginner’s guide”, it’s a guide alright, every decent game, has one, a tutorial of sorts. Any game that aims to achieve anything must have one, so gamers can learn the mechanics and the basic controls.
    But this is not a guide for games, this is a guide into other people’s minds.

    I believe Davey was based on one of Psychology and Psychotherapy fundamental principles “You’ll never really know anything about anyone, all you’re bound to have is your own self projected onto others.” I first realized this towards the end of the game. Right when Davey is whining in the background, not sounding like himself.

    It hit me as a punch in the stomach, it made me want to cry, and then it made want to give Davey a hug for being so brilliant developing this game.

    Well, after that I realized this ‘game about games’, had a lot of psychological themes in it, the constant jailed feeling, which is ‘original’ and not a mod by Davey, is to show that “Coda”(kudos for this puzzle; aka Code) thought that most people is stuck, most people feel as if they were arrested by their own devices. I know that because his original programming was to free you from the prison in the first place. Then he makes it impossible to be freed, he makes it like that, because, as in real life, one cannot escape their own minds by themselves. They need others to do so.

    By the end of the game we learn that the Lamp post was set on the stages by Davey, we learn that to understand that the games had no purpose. That’s is of the essence, keep this in mind, I’ll come back to it later.

    After some other levels, we get to the “Notes” level, which Davey says all the comments were left by Coda, that’s a lie. If you read all the comments near a door, after the painting you’ll realize this, because Davey has a fixation over doors, doors can be very symbolic, and even tough everyone is entitle to their own interpretations, I believe that to Davey doors mean New, Exciting things, because Davey is anxious, Davey is insecure, Davey is not an antagonist, he’s simply alone.

    This game is about depression, Davey’s depression. Davey’s girlfriend dumped him, remember when we visit the prision for the second time, there’s a girl in there?
    That’s to symbolize Davey’s heart. He made it a prison, and locked his girlfriend, or his memories of her, there. She’s crying because he’s crying.

    This brings us to the second fundamental of psychology this game addresses, as Freud puts it “Everyone in your dreams is you, and you’re everyone in your dreams.”

    There the game changed drastically.

    But the best is the finale. You have to kill yourself to save others, you literally have to do that in the end, but not to save others, to save your own self. This is when the game transcends to another level, because right there the game stops being about depression, and it becomes a beautiful metaphor for overcoming depression.

    You have to kill your older self, in order to become a new self. And when you do, you realize life is but a maze, surrounded by nothingness… And it’s alright, because this nothingness is, ironically, fulfilling. You’re a lab rat, life is your maze, but in the end, you can see it all, and you’ll see it was all worth it, the universe is, quite literally, surrounding you all the time, but only when you’re able to see it, you can experience it.

    Well I hope to have shed some light into different parts of the game, and if anyone disagrees with me, please let me know. :)