Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Be Good or Be Better

Be Good is a free alpha project by Jake Spencer. It's basically a point-n-click adventure game done in claymation. You play through a montage of scenes from your life (growing up as Donald Martin) making binary decisions and reactions before your inevitable death. It's supposed to be somewhat thought-provoking, making you wonder if things would've been different if you'd acted differently yourself. It's an interesting way to spend some time, even if the gameplay is somewhat crude and doesn't quite reach its potential, but it's still worth checking out. More about Be Good after the jump.

Every time you launch the game, you start in a random scene as an adult. One time I was in an office cubicle, one time I was the boss at the same office, another time I was working a cash register at a grocery store, another time I was on a set acting in a movie, another time I was visiting family. Something happens in each one, and you can respond by smiling or frowning. Some sort of consequence presents itself, and then you go through the death sequence, in which a hand comes down and mutilates the environment around you as you stroll by in a wheelchair. 

As your body is laid to rest, the game remarks that you've lived quite a life, but asks if it was the life you wanted, and if you would change anything if you could go back and do it over again. Then a hand comes down, takes you out of the ground, and tells you to be good. 

And then the credits roll, and you're probably thinking "What was the point of that?" Once the credits finish, you're dropped back into the game as a baby crawling around on the floor. Approach some people, and they say things or ask questions and, once again, you can smile or frown at them. Cut forward and you're in elementary school having different interactions with your peers. Cut forward and you're a teenager. Before you know it, you're back at the original scene you started the game with as an adult, making the same decision again. Do you do the same thing you did the last time, or do you try something different?

Your house from a street-side view. Stylized graphics indeed.

Every time you launch the game, you'll begin with a different ending/beginning-as-an-adult scene, but the rest of the game seems to play out the same, depending on the choices you make. You might see different sequences if you don't talk to certain people or if you react differently. There are a lot of different branching paths to take, but they don't affect much of anything, since you still wind up in the same place you started, regardless of the decisions you make. 

This is where the game loses some points, in my book. The bulk of the gameplay is inconsequential and has no real effect on anything. Different things happen, but the effects are fleeting and have no lasting impact. It might have been nice if the game somehow kept track of your decisions and reminded you of them, or had the effects come into play later on. You can keep replaying the same "life" over and over again, but the impact of your decisions is undermined once you realize that each life is basically the same and that the effects are only superficial.

A lot of the design is crude and not well-polished. Navigating your character can be finicky and annoying, because you click on a doorway to go to another scene and he goes through a different door. It's not always clear who's talking in the captions; even though there's a shot of the person's face, the claymation makes a lot of people look very similar. Sometimes characters will mention someone by name, but you're not sure who they're talking to. It took me several playthroughs to figure out which character was me in some of the scenes where you can't control your movement.

I have no idea who these guys are or which one is me.

There are also no directions or goals to guide you, which makes the game a little confusing at first. (The confusion doesn't necessarily clear itself up. You figure things out but you never really strike a "eureka" moment of clarity.) Some may be put off by the lack of clear direction, not knowing what's going or what to do, but I found it appealing. It adds intrigue to the experience, and leaves things open to interpretation. 

I do like the soundtrack, however. Everything seems to be done on an electric guitar, with guitar riffs and progressions playing along with you. The "death sequence" has distorted guitar noises, from hitting on the strings haphazardly, sliding a pick up and down a string, or just playing dissonant chords here and there.

There's also something to be said about starting at the end, and then returning to that same moment. I like the idea of the repetition, since it gives you a chance to reflect on your life and your decisions. Even though nothing you do affects this final scene, it's kind of thought-provoking to realize that none of it really matters. It's all about how you perceive yourself, not how the game judges you. It's a nice sentiment, but again, I wish there were some sort of functional role to the decisions, besides just branching the "story" in different paths.

Ultimately, Be Good is an interesting concept that doesn't seem to capture the effect that it's aiming for. At least not with me. I like the idea of the game beginning at the end, so to speak, and then letting you "replay" from the beginning, and I like the ideas it's trying to elicit. I just wish the decisions had more of an impact on the gameplay. Even still, it's free to download and only takes about five minutes to play through, so if you're intrigued (I think it's worth checking out), you can download it here

1 comment:

  1. Not bad for a student made game. The idea is unique and interesting. I played it several times and found different scenarios each time. Like life, you know where you'll end up. But, would you live your life differently if you had the chance? It's a good concept. Try playing through a few times- I found new things each time I played.