Don't Look Back

Slip inside the eye of your mind.

In Greek myth, the hero Orpheus went to the Underworld to reclaim his dead love, Eurydice. He sang a song so sad that it persuaded Persephone to argue his case to Hades. Eurydice was released to him, but he was warned not to look back while escorting her to the world of the living, or she would disappear forever.

Terry Cavanagh's Don't Look Back follows a very similar story, complete with Cerberus and Hades as bosses. But where Orpheus used songs to move the hearts of the very gods, you get a pistol and a jump mechanic.

Apart from the story, Don't Look Back is a platformer. There are bats and snakes to shoot, disappearing blocks to fall from, and fireballs leaping from pits of lava. What makes this game stand out is that it uses a very minimalistic theme to convey a stern ambience on top of the general nervousness of managing sometimes difficult platform mechanics.

It uses a monochrome palette ranging from black to pink and a soundtrack of somber strings, somehow managing to make pink feel both depressing and foreboding.

Why You Should Check This Out: Don't Look Back is more than a Flash game that shares its name with an awesome Boston song and a documentary with bad grammar. It's a solid, entertaining platformer built on a classic myth.

[size=20]Play Now (Kongregate)[/size]
[size=18]Download for Mac or PC[/size]
[size=18]Soundtrack[/size]

Comments

Don't Look Back is more than a Flash game that shares its name with an awesome Boston song and a documentary with bad grammar

Unfortunately, I got both of those references.

I played this some time back. One of the things I liked about it was how it uses an extreme level of difficulty to convey the Hellish environment you're traversing but the fact that you always restart on the same screen lets you progress at a regular pace. It's also just a beautiful game, fully exploiting its limitations.

Sounds Edgy!

Hey Pyro, The IGF just announced it's list of winners. See the RPS writeup here.
I think you should do a special edition of Fringe Busters and cover a bunch of the winners. I wasn't a big fan of Cortex Command OR Musaic box, but I'm sure there's something there for someone.

I want to talk spoilers, but I'll give it a while. This has only been posted for an hour or so.

Mere Anarchy wrote:
Don't Look Back is more than a Flash game that shares its name with an awesome Boston song and a documentary with bad grammar

Unfortunately, I got both of those references.

That's how you know you belong here.

This game also reminded me of the January topic for Blogs of the Round Table (lead by Corvus Elrond of Man Bytes Blog).

Dysplastic wrote:

Sounds Edgy!

Hey Pyro, The IGF just announced it's list of winners. See the RPS writeup here.
I think you should do a special edition of Fringe Busters and cover a bunch of the winners. I wasn't a big fan of Cortex Command OR Musaic box, but I'm sure there's something there for someone.

Thanks for the link. It's truly amazing how many good indie games are out there!

Hey WS, just noticed you did this week's FB. Good work on backup.

I hung in there. But it irritated me. And I got frustrated.

Latrine wrote:

I played this some time back. One of the things I liked about it was how it uses an extreme level of difficulty to convey the Hellish environment you're traversing but the fact that you always restart on the same screen lets you progress at a regular pace. It's also just a beautiful game, fully exploiting its limitations.

Oh please. The extreme level of difficulty is a result of bad controls and hit detection, not to emphasize how unpleasant spiders and bats are in hell.

The graphics aren't "minimalist," they're easy to produce. I'm sorry wordsmythe, but it's neither a solid platformer nor particularly entertaining once you "get it."

I'm getting really sick of these "art house" games that take a single gimmick and dress it up in graphics and gameplay that, without that "arty" gimmick, would be indicative of nothing more than a lazy, terrible game.

Oh please. The extreme level of difficulty is a result of bad controls and hit detection, not to emphasize how unpleasant spiders and bats are in hell.

Thanks, glad I wasn't the only one.

Outlaw for the Atari 2600 was a more in depth game than this...

The graphics aren't "minimalist," they're easy to produce.

Okay so you don't have alot on art budget, so you go for a style that's easy to produce. That doesn't mean it's not "minimalist", or intentional. He intentionally limited his color palette to have more impact.

How the hell is limiting yourself to 4 colors some kind of budget saving measure? Is a 16 color palette 4 times as expensive? Seriously?

How is the hit detection bad? I get the controls complaint, they've made it so you can't do more than one thing at a time. It's different than normal platformers. Would you have been satisfied if they'd just remade Mario's jumping controls? Why would someone do that?

Look, if you didn't like it, that's entirely valid, but you're not complaining about that. You're complaining that other people do like it for reasons you think are gimmicky. You don't like it you don't have to play it, Don't Look Back isn't going to come over and beat you up while you sleep. There's no reason to attack other people's motivations for enjoying it.

*edit* And where is this expectation that this is some freaking mind-blowing experience for the people that do like it? It says pretty clearly in the article that this is a "solid" platformer. Every time someone says they like a game it has to be the gaming equivalent of the Sistine Chapel now? I enjoyed playing through it, it was interesting. If you read the description and you think it sucks, don't play it.

LobsterMobster wrote:

I'm getting really sick of these "art house" games that take a single gimmick and dress it up in graphics and gameplay that, without that "arty" gimmick, would be indicative of nothing more than a lazy, terrible game.

Certis, From this week's podcast thread wrote:

It's ok not to like something and express the opinion, Dysplastic. Now, if Lobster starts trolling threads to continue reaffirming his aversion, then we can bust out the troll mallet.

Troll mallet! Troll mallet! Where's the troll mallet!

I'm all seriousness Lobster, I can totally understand why you don't like games like this, I just think we could have a better conversation about it without such Lobsteriffic anger!

Pyro wrote:

How the hell is limiting yourself to 4 colors some kind of budget saving measure? Is a 16 color palette 4 times as expensive? Seriously?

I'm not talking about the number of colors, I'm talking about how everything is made out of about 8 big chunky pixels. I don't think it's wrong for me to point out that many of these artsy games look like they could run on an Atari and if that was an artistic design decision it's both overused and lost on me.

Maybe "bad" isn't the right word for the hit detection. What I mean is that it's extremely precise, and with the controls as tight and unforgiving as they are that leads to a lot of deaths. If a game is about getting a message across I don't think it's well-served by frustrating gameplay. If someone gives up half-way, they don't hear your message.

I don't feel I'm attacking anyone's motivations for enjoying it and you're all entitled to like it if you so choose. None of you who like it are stupid for liking it. I just think that in games like this there's a fine line between art and lazy design. I think that without the art aspect to it there would be no reason to play this game. But there is an art aspect, and if you like it enough to play it then that's totally fine.

Dysplastic wrote:

I'm all seriousness Lobster, I can totally understand why you don't like games like this, I just think we could have a better conversation about it without such Lobsteriffic anger!

Sorry.

(Did Certis really say that about me? )

EDIT: Aww man, he did! Guess I didn't notice because I didn't return to that thread to reaffirm my aversion.

I'm not talking about the number of colors, I'm talking about how everything is made out of about 8 big chunky pixels. I don't think it's wrong for me to point out that many of these artsy games look like they could run on an Atari and if that was an artistic design decision it's both overused and lost on me.

When referring to "minimalist" here, it's specifically referring to the 4-color palette. Not the blocky pixels, though I'm sure those play in. I can definitely see an argument that the 8-bit look is getting kinda overused at this point, but this isn't a good example since I feel it works really well here. There's plenty of sh*tty 8-bit sprite games that are just rehashes of NES games to make fun of.

LobsterMobster wrote:

I think that without the art aspect to it there would be no reason to play this game. But there is an art aspect, and if you like it enough to play it then that's totally fine.

Personally, I was more of a fan of the music and interplay of the Orpheus myth than with the color scheme alone.

It might be important to point out that most of the Fringe Buster titles are likely to be independent jobs, with sometimes only one person doing all the work. I could argue that the limitation is enough to justify diminished expectations, but I'm also interested in how the designers find ways to navigate those limitations in interesting ways.

But then I still play Atari games and love them. I even like their graphics sometimes.

LobsterMobster wrote:

I just think that in games like this there's a fine line between art and lazy design. I think that without the art aspect to it there would be no reason to play this game. But there is an art aspect, and if you like it enough to play it then that's totally fine.

This is a good point. But I'm not sure how much of it is "lazy design" and how much of it is just "one dude with an idea for a game that doesn't have the time/money/skills to make it really polished". We have to ask - how long is this game, how big was the design team? I haven't played it yet, but I imagine it's a short game made by one dude - I can totally understand why stuff like graphics/hit detection/etc. weren't great - he had an idea and he wanted to get it out there, to see if it would work. I think that's what the "Fringe Busters" series is to me - a column about great game Ideas, that don't necessarily translate into amazing gameplay.

I think it's more fair to criticize a game like The Path, which had a larger development team and costs money, for it's design choices than a game like Don't Look Back, where the limitations seem to appear more as a result of constraints than actual choices.

EDIT: Damnit, Wordy beat me to it. Tarnation!

These controls are awful. I'm kept dying because I would press the jump button and the guy refused to jump for half a second.

I liked the ending yet I feel indifferent about the experience as a whole.

BTW:

spoiler wrote:

[color=white]It's not Hell. According to the achievement that I received for completing the game, it's called the Underworld. That is damn confusing considering the color palette and monsters.

[/color]

PyromanFO wrote:
I'm not talking about the number of colors, I'm talking about how everything is made out of about 8 big chunky pixels. I don't think it's wrong for me to point out that many of these artsy games look like they could run on an Atari and if that was an artistic design decision it's both overused and lost on me.

When referring to "minimalist" here, it's specifically referring to the 4-color palette. Not the blocky pixels, though I'm sure those play in. I can definitely see an argument that the 8-bit look is getting kinda overused at this point, but this isn't a good example since I feel it works really well here. There's plenty of sh*tty 8-bit sprite games that are just rehashes of NES games to make fun of.

When I used the word minimalist I wasn't actually referring to wordsmythe's description though it's very obvious how you might think I was. Sorry for not clarifying.

Wordsmythe wrote:

Personally, I was more of a fan of the music and interplay of the Orpheus myth than with the color scheme alone.

When I said "art" I meant the interplay of the Orpheus myth, not the game's "art assets." Man, I'm sucking at getting my point across today!

Now, I definitely understand that one guy making a game in his spare time isn't necessarily going to be able to produce nice art assets, especially if he's a lousy artist. So while I'll agree that we shouldn't necessarily be as harsh about polish on a game like this, I don't think we should give it a free pass either.

Dysplastic wrote:

I think it's more fair to criticize a game like The Path, which had a larger development team and costs money, for it's design choices than a game like Don't Look Back, where the limitations seem to appear more as a result of constraints than actual choices.

I'd love to go criticize The Path but unfortunately I haven't played it, so I'd be talking purely out of my ass instead of just mostly.

Mystic Violet wrote:

These controls are awful. I'm kept dying because I would press the jump button and the guy refused to jump for half a second.

I liked the ending yet I feel indifferent about the experience as a whole.

BTW:

spoiler wrote:

[color=white]It's not Hell. According to the achievement that I received for completing the game, it's called the Underworld. That is damn confusing considering the color palette and monsters.

[/color]

Sorry you didn't like the controls. They're not the easiest to manage, but I'm used to being frustrated with platformers. I thought clumsy controls were a standard genre element.

Greek mythology's realm of the dead is often referred to as the Underworld. The term "Hell" is slightly different.
Wikipedia

This reminds of the reason why I only liked strategy games in the past.

Played it. Liked it. Beat it in about 10 minutes. Does this mean I'm good at platformers now?!

Controls worked fine for me. /shrug

I was itching to map the controls to my gamepad though, I must admit.

PyromanFO wrote:
The graphics aren't "minimalist," they're easy to produce.

Okay so you don't have alot on art budget, so you go for a style that's easy to produce. That doesn't mean it's not "minimalist", or intentional. He intentionally limited his color palette to have more impact.

How the hell is limiting yourself to 4 colors some kind of budget saving measure? Is a 16 color palette 4 times as expensive? Seriously?

How is the hit detection bad? I get the controls complaint, they've made it so you can't do more than one thing at a time. It's different than normal platformers. Would you have been satisfied if they'd just remade Mario's jumping controls? Why would someone do that?

Look, if you didn't like it, that's entirely valid, but you're not complaining about that. You're complaining that other people do like it for reasons you think are gimmicky. You don't like it you don't have to play it, Don't Look Back isn't going to come over and beat you up while you sleep. There's no reason to attack other people's motivations for enjoying it.

*edit* And where is this expectation that this is some freaking mind-blowing experience for the people that do like it? It says pretty clearly in the article that this is a "solid" platformer. Every time someone says they like a game it has to be the gaming equivalent of the Sistine Chapel now? I enjoyed playing through it, it was interesting. If you read the description and you think it sucks, don't play it.

Amen Pyro! I couldn't agree more.

P.S.- Lobster, you don't like games that people call 'art-house'. Seriously man, we get it- except no one is calling this an amazing art experience or anything like that. This particular incredibly short/simple piece of free-ware is not worth mounting the soapbox over.

Sorry Dax, sorry everyone, I'm not trying to be super duper negative but I did an ass job of making myself clear and I want to respond to the questions people are (rightfully) asking.

I guess I didn't elaborate my point. Regarding the controls and the graphics, I thought they were intentionally bad for the most part in order to evoke a certain experience both in terms of playing a ridiculously difficult retro game and a perilous journey into the Underworld. Only some backgrounds screens are visually interesting with blind jumps off cliffs and gradual lighting changes.

I guess the issue here is whether philosophically you believe that games must be fun to play or whether it's okay for a game to eschew maximizing fun in order to give you a different experience. Is this the most fun game in the world? Hell no. It's painful, frustrating, haunting, and sad. And especially after this last generation of molly coddling mainstream games, it's a refreshing experience.

LobsterMobster wrote:

Sorry Dax, sorry everyone, I'm not trying to be super duper negative but I did an ass job of making myself clear and I want to respond to the questions people are (rightfully) asking. :D

No need to apologize. I thought you made fantastic points after your initial post.

wordsmythe wrote:

Sorry you didn't like the controls. They're not the easiest to manage, but I'm used to being frustrated with platformers. I thought clumsy controls were a standard genre element.

Greek mythology's realm of the dead is often referred to as the Underworld. The term "Hell" is slightly different.
Wikipedia

It's probably not a fault with the game. I haven't died so much during a gaming session in a while. I believe the last game that made me curse so much was Mega Man 9.

I read the term "Hell" most likely in the stupid chat room right next to the game and that completely screwed up my first impression. So when I got to the twist, I was confused. When I figured out the truth, then I understood what had happened.

[color=white]Also, I didn't actually read the article. I'm glad I didn't because the first paragraph is a huge spoiler. I think part of the enjoyment was not knowing what was going on until I found her. ;)

[/color]

Latrine wrote:

I guess I didn't elaborate my point. Regarding the controls and the graphics, I thought they were intentionally bad for the most part in order to evoke a certain experience both in terms of playing a ridiculously difficult retro game and a perilous journey into the Underworld. Only some backgrounds screens are visually interesting with blind jumps off cliffs and gradual lighting changes.

Frankly, I don't care if it's on purpose. If that's what the game conveys, then that's what it conveys. I dig it.

Mystic Violet wrote:
[color=white]Also, I didn't actually read the article. I'm glad I didn't because the first paragraph is a huge spoiler. I think part of the enjoyment was not knowing what was going on until I found her. ;)

[/color]

I didn't think it was a spoiler. In fact, I thought it was pretty given away by the combination of the title, columns in the second screen, and Cerberus early on.

The ending of this game isn't exactly the same as the Greek myth, though. I'm still not sure what to make of that.

wordsmythe wrote:

I didn't think it was a spoiler. In fact, I thought it was pretty given away by the combination of the title, columns in the second screen, and Cerberus early on.

I didn't figure it out until the end. You are too smart. Please be dumber in the future.

I liked this one. I never expect decent controls, good graphics, or an imaginative story from free indie games. That way I'm pleasantly surprised about once a week.

wordsmythe wrote:

I didn't think it was a spoiler. In fact, I thought it was pretty given away by the combination of the title, columns in the second screen, and Cerberus early on.

Yeah, if you know the myth. I did not. I probably would have identified that dog as Cerberus if it had three heads and didn't sound like a chihuahua.

I don't know the ending to the myth but this is my interpretation:

[color=white]He never left the grave. The entire adventure is what he wished he could do or what he would go through to bring her back. Basically, a daydream.

Another thought I had... In one of the first screens, you have to jump off a cliff. Even though he landed on his feet, I thought he had killed himself because he entered the Underworld after that point. Maybe that person at the end is a loved one standing in front of his grave.

[/color]

I liked that endboss. He was fun.

Mystic Violet wrote:

I don't know the ending to the myth but this is my interpretation

In the myth, he looks back.

Mystic Violet wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:

I didn't think it was a spoiler. In fact, I thought it was pretty given away by the combination of the title, columns in the second screen, and Cerberus early on.

Yeah, if you know the myth. I did not. I probably would have identified that dog as Cerberus if it had three heads and didn't sound like a chihuahua.

I don't know the ending to the myth but this is my interpretation:

[color=white]He never left the grave. The entire adventure is what he wished he could do or what he would go through to bring her back. Basically, a daydream.

Another thought I had... In one of the first screens, you have to jump off a cliff. Even though he landed on his feet, I thought he had killed himself because he entered the Underworld after that point. Maybe that person at the end is a loved one standing in front of his grave.

[/color]

Both of those interpretations have been circulated in the dark corners of the net I troll for Fringe Buster titles. I'm just not sure which one I subscribe to, if either.