Indie | Today I Die
Genre: Oddball | Developer: Daniel Benmergui | Available from: http://ludomancy.com/games/today.html
By Lewis Denby
In less than five minutes, Today I Die manages to encapsulate all that oozes potential in videogames.
All the high-octane shooters, all the point-and-click adventures – they’re all missing something key. They’re obsessed with the separation of narrative and game design. You shoot the baddies or solve the puzzles, and you’re told a story in between. The exposition is your reward for beating that boss, or decyphering that conundrum. In other words: it’s all thematic stuff that has little to no bearing on what you’re actually doing, how you go about playing the thing.
This isn’t inherently problematic, but it leaves something to be desired. There’s nothing about, say, the space-age saga of Mass Effect that defines it as an RPG, or demands your ability to fire from behind cover. You play the game bits, and you watch the story bits. The narrative-driven game, so very often, is a collection of movie scenes with tenuously linked challenges keeping you active.
Today I Die, the new flash offering from Daniel Benmergui, begins with a girl floating in the ocean. A passage at the top of the screen reads “Dead world, full of shade, today I die.” Two other words sit in view. Replace “Dead” with “Painful,” and the scene turns red. Replace it with “Dark” and a group of evil critters clutters the bottom of the area, blocking something from your view.
Across the three screens, a collection of simple yet logical puzzles sits between you and progress. Each results in a change to the passage, and grants you access to a new area or ability. Your actions directly affect the simple flow of the story. This girl, on the brink of self-implosion, begins to shine. She grows. It’s remarkably beautiful.
Though the whole game is shrouded in metaphor, and clearly set in a reality beyond our own, it’s abundantly clear what the message here is: through conscious decisions, you can embark on a journey of self-improvement, one that redefines your outlook on life, and one that makes the world around us a more amiable place.
Mainstream games can learn from this. Though something this simple would clearly stagnate over a longer play time, it’s not difficult to imagine how such concepts could be applied to a full release. Intelligent, thought-provoking and genuinely moving, it’s a real masterstroke of real, narrative-driven game design, rather than the separation technique we’ve become so unfortunately accustomed to. More of this, please.