Today I Die

Mister, you don't want to walk on water, 'cause you you know you're only gonna walk all over me.

Have you been on the internet this week? If not, then allow me to be the first to point you to Daniel Benmergui's Today I Die. It seems that just about everybody in my world is talking about it. Benmergui took some of the basic ideas of his I Wish I Were The Moon (which you should also play) and built something better. This gaming amuse-bouche shines in story, soundtrack, mechanics, dynamics, and emotional resonance, though according to the designer it's a simple story: "It’s about the daily choice of waking up in the morning."

It's not just another indie game, though. It's a poetic (and I use the term carefully) piece with a number of innovative mechanics. You'll have to figure out those mechanics for yourself by playing with the elements of the screen, but I will divulge that they all work via click-and-drag, and there are multiple endings. The story of this admittedly short game is also poignant enough that you might want to keep a tissue handy. Quite the experience for so simple a premise.

The game's making waves for more than just its contents. You'll notice a link outside the game window for once you've decided to stop playing. Benmergui has put a patronage-spin on the usual request for PayPal donations. The tiered donation system feels a lot like an NPR or PBS pledge drive, but with more enticing prizes than a tote bag and Big Bird reading your name on the air.

Why You Should Check This Out: Because everybody's doing it. You don't want to be the one kid on the playground with your fingers in your ears yelling "Spoiler alert!" So take five minutes and gain some cultural currency. Then take another five minutes to think about what you've just played, and maybe play through again. Like any good poem, you'll find that it rewards each new examination and angle.

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Comments

I spent about 10 minutes trying to get the word "free" in the right place.

I don't really get what's so deep or meaningful about these types of games (The Majesty of Colors being another example). Whatever poetic meaning was in this is completely lost on me. I got a lot more out of, say, the first half of BioShock than I did this.

Really it's just a different kind of storytelling. I see it as different kinds of music. My wife will cry at country music. I cry too, but for a totally different reason. Something in me has the right harmonic tuning for this kind of thing. I think part of Benmergui's genius is his understanding that these things are poems, not epics, and he keeps them deliberately short.

rabbit wrote:

I cry too, but for a totally different reason.

Sympathy tears for how excruciatingly tight the male country singers' jeans are?

FenixStryk wrote:

I don't really get what's so deep or meaningful about these types of games (The Majesty of Colors being another example). Whatever poetic meaning was in this is completely lost on me. I got a lot more out of, say, the first half of BioShock than I did this.

And I think this is the problem. Some folks apparently go into these games expecting an epiphany, or soul-stirring experience. The lesson here is to appreciate simplicity, elegance, and perhaps the moment or two of emotion brought forth by the game. This game is to Bioshock as haiku is to Beowulf.

Clemenstation wrote:

I liked it. Was initially frustrated, then figured out what the 'actors' were (things that could be made to interact with other things). From there, five minutes of experimentation yielded a nice swimmy ending.

I had a similar experience here... Somehow 'figure out the game mechanics on your own' approaches can be really frustrating, but also really satisfying once you have them. (Reminds me a lot of Braid in that way.)

I don't think the point of these games are to force / show one to see or feel some higher Truth, but rather to get you thinking about things you might not have thought about today.

I think this is done better than Bioshock and Braid. Bioshock wasn't subtle at all (Hey! check this out! It's a dummies guide to Objectivism! [oxymoron? - eds.]) and Braid was obtuse (I had to read up on the interwebs to realize it was about [redacted]).

Although it's not like this moved me as much as the deaths of Aeris or Sniper Wolf.

P.S. If someone bitches about spoliers here, I'm cockpunching them. =)

dramarent wrote:

Bioshock wasn't subtle at all (Hey! check this out! It's a dummies guide to Objectivism! [oxymoron? - eds.]) and Braid was obtuse (I had to read up on the interwebs to realize it was about [redacted]).

P.S. If someone bitches about spoliers here, I'm cockpunching them. =)

For some reason I keep reading these two sentences and laughing hard out loud. The combination of the editorial metadialog, the word "cockpunch" which is almost always funny, and the smiley. I'm totally serious. That's a quality 30 words right there.

I'm totally serious.

I don't get it...I completed it though

A little frustrating at first because I could not figure out what to do to make the game "work." It was nice though. That's all I can say about it.

mrwynd wrote:

I figured it out, but I really didn't enjoy it. I don't like it when games try to make the puzzle "figure out the game mechanics" it feels so phoned in. Like they couldn't come up with a decent puzzle so they just made the gameplay unintuitive. I can definitely see how someone who likes casual games would HATE this. It's the exact OPPOSITE of a Popcap game.

- Help for Today I Die Game -

When the game loads, just sit there and don't do anything.
You win the game when the zombies get to your house.

Well that was interesting. Took me a minute of wiggling around to figure how to play.

I liked it a lot

The story of this admittedly short game is also poignant enough that you might want to keep a tissue handy.

You have got to be kidding. Anyone who cried over this "game" has some emotional issues or some other major stuff going on in their life.

Why are certain segments of the gaming community/press (GWJ definitely included) so desparate to create the illusion that gaming has its own artistic/elitist scene? Was this kinda clever? I suppose, but if you're falling all over yourself praising it then you are either lying or you have an agenda.

Sorry for being cranky, but I don't want gaming to ever become like other industries, such as the one that thought Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were better films or had more to say than The Dark Knight.

Meh, never mind.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

Awesomeness

See? Now this is why I'm proud to be a part of this community. Well done, Adam!

Where this game works, and others have mentioned this, is in the successful execution of its holistic approach to gameplay and narrative. The story it is trying to tell—or if you prefer, the experience that it is trying to capture—is the thought processes that a depressive might go through in choosing to face her day. As someone who has struggled with depression in the past, I can tell you that it works much like this game: you're initially faced with multiple possible ways of viewing the world, all of them equally negative, and you have to use aspects of each of those views to progressively create a positive enough worldview that it's possible to face the arduous task of getting out of bed. What Today I Die has done is to create a mechanical framework for players to recreate this experience. By working through the game's puzzles, players create a more positive view of the world literally one word at a time; this can be a tedious and obtuse process, particularly in the beginning, but it's like that in real life, too.

I admire the creator's ability to find mechanics to back up what is, for some of us, a common emotional experience. While games like BioShock and Call of Duty 4 are working to explore games' potential for political and social commentary, it is left to smaller games like this one and The Majesty of Colors to explore games' ability to comment on human emotional experiences in ways that are unique to gaming.

Where this game ultimately fails is in the very mundanity of the emotion it explores. For some, the choice of whether or not to face the day has never been so arduous and so the game seems trite or overwrought. To others, the process of choosing optimism over oblivion is so commonplace that the game seems to be saying nothing new and so is an easily-reached-for and manipulative cliché. I wish that if nothing else the game had been anchored around a piece of poetry that didn't feel freshly ripped from a high schooler's LiveJournal. Beyond that, I wish that it had better explored the gray stages between dead worlds of pain and bright worlds of love or independence; there are vast areas of compromise between those two points, but by offering only two saccharine end points, the game doesn't completely do its subject matter justice.

Dysplastic wrote:

I could probably explain what I'm trying to say better, but screw it, I'll just let adam.greenbrier do it for me.

How did I do?

adam.greenbrier wrote:

Awesomeness

I'll echo Coldstream here, that was a great post

And Vandermint, you can think whatever you want of games but don't impose your belief on others, please. To me Today I Die had a lot more value than a ton of other games, to you apparently it didn't ring that bell. If you don't believe in art and purpose then fine but don't try to convince me that I shouldn't care.

Adam Greenbrier wrote:

How did I do? ;)

Phenomenal. Holistic is the perfect word to describe this game.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

Where this game ultimately fails is in the very mundanity of the emotion it explores. For some, the choice of whether or not to face the day has never been so arduous and so the game seems trite or overwrought. To others, the process of choosing optimism over oblivion is so commonplace that the game seems to be saying nothing new and so is an easily-reached-for and manipulative cliché.

Yes, nicely written adam. This ^ is me. I enjoyed the game fleetingly but was unable to connect with its themes on a personal level. I wouldn't say that I found it excessively cheesy or 'emo', but at no point did I make the connection between dragging evil piles of cloud poo away and my everyday life. If a game doesn't really affect you, is it still 'art'?

Kidding.

Vandermint wrote:
The story of this admittedly short game is also poignant enough that you might want to keep a tissue handy.

You have got to be kidding. Anyone who cried over this "game" has some emotional issues or some other major stuff going on in their life.

Why are certain segments of the gaming community/press (GWJ definitely included) so desparate to create the illusion that gaming has its own artistic/elitist scene? Was this kinda clever? I suppose, but if you're falling all over yourself praising it then you are either lying or you have an agenda.

Sorry for being cranky, but I don't want gaming to ever become like other industries, such as the one that thought Slumdog Millionaire and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were better films or had more to say than The Dark Knight.

The Fringe Busters series tries to focus on games that are well away from mainstream developers. GWJ certainly has no problem with bigger titles (Elysium excepted), but there's enough stuff going on off the beaten track that we thought we should pay attention. It's not for everyone, though.

I enjoyed it, it's like an interactive story/poem. I like BioShick and L4D too, but there's a time and place for every type of game and interactive experience.

Free world
Full of beauty
Today I swim
Until you come

Nice ending, mine was kinda cheery.

I ran it in the background at various stages yesterday. Interesting that there doesn't seem to be a fail state.

Edit: That is, the game is based around the concept of choosing not to drown, but no matter how far or fast you sink, it's the same distance to the surface.

I really like this - "but no matter how far or fast you sink, it's the same distance to the surface" and that you need to reach the bottom before you can swim up make really poetic points I think.

Inspiring.

urbanlegend wrote:

I really like this - "but no matter how far or fast you sink, it's the same distance to the surface" and that you need to reach the bottom before you can swim up make really poetic points I think.

Inspiring.

Sucking up to Wordsmythe will get you everywhere on this site.