The Beggar


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Rating: 4.1/5 (110 votes)
| Comments (42) | Views (55)

GrimmrookThe BeggarThe sound of chainmail clinks in your ears, drowning out the merrymaking behind you. A gauntlet covered hand digs hard into your arm, and you stifle a whimper with whatever pride you have left. You stammer and plead, your pencil thin legs pumping wildly, your eyes darting back and forth for a kindly soul to come to your aid out of the sea of strange faces looking on with morbid curiosity. Despite your pleas, the guard hauls you towards the gate, his face grim and uncaring, and tosses you to the cold hard ground that has served as your bed for far too many nights. Thus begins this experimental art game from Scott Brodie, The Beggar.

Now is the point in the review where we would normally discuss the goals and controls of the game. But much of what makes The Beggar a worthwhile experience is exploration. Not necessarily exploring the world itself — the entire map of the game is only a handful of screenshots long — instead, you must explore the mechanics of Brodie's pixelated world. It's up to you to discover the ins and outs of The Beggar, though I suppose it won't hurt to tell you that just about everything can be done with the [arrow] keys and the [Z] key.

Beyond that, you must carve your life out for yourself. You must figure out how and what to eat. You must figure out where to go and what to do. You must learn the laws of the land the hard way, and you must discover the nuances of interacting with the people you pass by on the street.

It's this last bit that is most important. If you've ever had the misfortune to live without a roof over your head, you will know that survival is often a gift bestowed upon you by the kindness of others. You must learn to subsist on the charity of strangers, lest you fade and wither away to nothingness.

Analysis: Like Gray or Passage, The Beggar distills a complex and difficult concept into a small package that sloughs off the white noise of everyday life. Brodie then takes this simplicity and combines it with the sense of serendipity found in games like The Majesty of Colors, to create something that is at once simple and complex. Your personal experience in The Beggar is governed by your explorations of both the game and your own thoughts.

The BeggarIt seems that these days to call a game with big pixels beautiful is all too easy. Still, The Beggar is quite beautiful. The anonymity provided by the simple graphics works well here, as it highlights the actions of the characters, and frees the player to attribute emotions and feelings to them. Meanwhile, an interesting selection of colors, both bright and drab, do a good job of subtly setting the mood.

Though the graphics are simple, Brodie is masterful in expressing complexity and making points with visual cues. Pay attention to how your beggar fades and withers as he goes without food, or how people throw their money on the ground for you. A careful eye may even detect the shrinking of bread as you carefully ration out a loaf as long as you can.

But these are all a sideshow for the main focus of the game, which is your interaction with other humans. There is a world of communication expressed here without a single word of dialogue. Furthermore, you find that over time your relationships with others can change, evolving from your own choices and actions. I would say more, but I would hate to ruin the sense of discovery for you.

Unfortunately, The Beggar has its shortcomings. It can sometimes be a bit too vague and abstract. Abstraction in works like this can be good, because it lets the audience draw from their own thoughts and experiences, but there are times when Brodie fails to give enough cues to trigger this form of introspection. Perhaps a bigger letdown are the endings, all of which are abrupt and a little unsatisfying.

The endings can be forgiven, though, because the game itself is its own reward. No one game lasts very long, but there is quite a bit to do, and once the doing is done there is even more to think about.

The Beggar's greatest success as a piece of art is that it doesn't preach. It never drags you by the nose or forces the message down your throat. In fact, perhaps there is no central message to the game. Maybe it's just a vehicle for you to contemplate a subject. Whatever moral you take from The Beggar is one that you have arrived at yourself.

Play The Beggar

Update: For anyone experiencing issues with the Shockwave browser version, free download versions are available at Scott's site for both Windows and Mac.

42 Comments

Shockwave doesn't run on Intel-based Macs (i.e. Apple computers of the past three years) except through emulation, so that MacWin tag is deceptive.

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Huh, strange. I'm running a Mac with a 3.06 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, I went to the shockwave site, installed, and played the game. It was slightly buggy (would go black if I moved my mouse around too much) but it worked.

I liked the game, cute idea, very thoughtful :)

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kenshiro Author Profile Page July 31, 2009 1:06 PM

@Ezra: The MacWin tag only means that the game will run on at least any one Mac and any one PC. There are games on this site that have the Win tag that won't run on my PC (Apocalypse Penguins or something), but that doesn't mean that the Win tag shouldn't be there/is deceptive. you just have to know that some (for you and me: most) games won't run on your computer because of the old parts (graphics card for me).

Anyway, does anyone know how to get Ending 3? I already got 1, 2, and 4.

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Shockwave Player 11 runs on Intel-based Macs.

If you still have v10 installed, then you will need to update your Shockwave plug-in here:

http://get.adobe.com/shockwave/

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Kenshiro - Ending 3:

Get $200 to go to the rich part of town, buy a balloon, use balloon make friends with king and then become king, I think!

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Interesting little game.. I had to laugh when I died just as a cop was arresting me, and he dragged my tombstone off to the jail.

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Anonymous July 31, 2009 1:40 PM

Eileen-

I don't think the beggar became friends with the king. "Z" is the take things button- I think the beggar took the king's scepter, and that's how he became the king.

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Interesting bug.. Taking the king's scepter as a guard was pushing me past him caused me to be stuck in place and healing infinitely, effectively making me immortal but unable to do anything.

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I liked it, very cool for an experimental. Can anyone tell me the third ending? I got the other three:

Boat, Starvation, and Cliff

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Also the fisherman: He has died twice when I have played, does he die after a certain amount of time or if you take all the food?

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leppyr64 Author Profile Page July 31, 2009 2:12 PM

@JonC

Be the King

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How do you make friends? Use beg with a balloon?

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Gobsmacked Author Profile Page July 31, 2009 2:18 PM

Okay, so for once, a spot-on review.

Too abstract to even attempt to play. Got it in one.

Arrows and the Z key huh? You mean the 4 keys that accomplish and interact with absolutely nothing? The ones that let you just wander back and forth until you die of hunger (in something like 20 seconds, I might add, barely enough time to test the totally non-functional "z" key against all visible buildings, shrubs, and people before you expire).

I think you can call this "experiment" a failure. What a waste of page space.

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JIGuest - Ha, you're totally right. Revised Ending 3:

Get into rich part of town with $200, go to castle and use Z to take scepter from king!

And JonC, yes making friends is begging with balloon. People's eyes turn to hearts when you befriend them.

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Gobsmacked - and that's the beauty of art: different people see different things.

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omgitsgir July 31, 2009 2:45 PM

@Gobsmacked

You're doing it wrong

I can understand your frustration with some of the other games you've blazingly reviewed, but is it really that hard to figure out that the down key begs people for money and the z key picks up items like bread and fish? Especially since these keys flash on the screen when they can be used?

Seriously, man. At least try to play it properly before ranting about it.

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For anyone else having trouble with shockwave, you can download the game for both Windows and Mac directly from the site.

Windows: http://www.brodiegames.com/beggar/thebeggar_win.zip
Mac: http://www.brodiegames.com/beggar/thebeggar_mac.zip

Thanks for playing.

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i liked this a lot. I encountered a bug, though.

the king had called the police on me, and i pressed "up" as he pulled me away, and i started floating horizontally. it did that for the rest of the game. i chose to be the king in that ending and even when i became king, I was still horizontal. it didn't interfere with game play though.

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I can't decide what to make of this. Is it a comment on our generosity? The poor fisherman always gives, but the middle class will only give so much. And they're shallow, too. As soon as you have riches of your own, they're quick to be your friends, when seconds ago they called the police. And the wealthy kind, who thought that no one would dare usurp him... is it suggesting that society is fluid, that the peasants will rise again?

Or is it simply asking us to take a few moments to live like a beggar? His life is so bleak. And oh, how fast he starves. He dies too soon. He's in such a pitiful situation, but the police don't care. They're brutal, driving the beggar to his isolation on the sea, or suicide, or eating away his insides.

What a poor fellow.

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Small mention on something that ought to be worth mentioning -

First is a minor bug: if you decide to purchase anything as the king, it will come off your tab - that is, if you decide to drop the scepter, you will notice that the same amount of money will be deduced from what you had before kingship (this means you can even go into negative $ amounts too!)

Second is a far more grave matter that deserves spoiler tags:

I'm surprised no one mentioned this yet - but if you decide to "beg" as the king, you will realize that you will now have the power to "arrest people". If you 'beg' with a policeman around, he will run around angry, and if he happens to catch someone (not you, of course!), the police will arrest that person and drag them either to the enterance of the rich town, or the prison.

What's even greater is that as people get arrested, they become green shirted (just like our little dieing fish friend at the dock), and if you provoke any green shirt person (by 'begging' near them), they might just try to take your scepter! (and your kingship!)

I doubt there is much need to analyze the idea behind this - as king, you look down on all others, because to you, they are the poor beggars, not you. Despite how you had to live the begging life, the minute you get that scepter, you forget everything other than the riches and health before you. And when some 'beggar' steals your royal throne (much like you did before), you are already so much blinded by wealth and power that you are obsessed in getting it back... (I notice that the begs right after your scepter gets stolen are increadibly large.)

Putting things this way, there really is no "good" end to this game at all. Yes, you can certainly gain friends - but friends (at least in this game, not necessarily so in real life) don't keep you alive. In this way, this game shows the cruel reality of money, and its effects in life.

That's my two cents in this game anyways... no really, the 3rd ending, to me, meant the most. And oh yes, just so that everyone is aware, in order to end as the king, you have to -

sit on the throne, with the scepter. You can not do this without the scepter.

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I hadn't noticed that you could control the king, or make arrests. It's interesting to me, because the cliff is right next to the king. Perhaps the idea is that once the beggar realizes untold wealth, he sees its futility (and the futility in life), and decides to end his own life?

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This reminds me on the ancient Commodore 64 game Rags to Riches.

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...Huh. Thanks, Jay. I must have been confused.

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PandaKnight Author Profile Page July 31, 2009 6:08 PM

Ha, Gobsmacked insulted a game because he doesn't know how to play anything well, again.

Does he still do this on every game that gets posted?

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mick0305 Author Profile Page July 31, 2009 7:01 PM

it's good to be the king

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jingidy Author Profile Page July 31, 2009 7:07 PM

I like all these experimental art games, but I think this one fell short of its potential.

Whereas in previous games I was able to experiment and fully understand my actions and consequences, the little beggar starved too fast for me to be able to stop and reflect. Although, you could say that was making a point about life too..... but I don't feel like the game has done its purpose when reading the explanations people have here was more thought-provoking than experiencing them in-game.

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MrProsser Author Profile Page July 31, 2009 7:38 PM

Gobsmacked's review reminded me why I rarely read comments. Sadly it seems fairly common to complain about how bad a game is based upon whether or not a person is good at it, but this case is different. The game is not difficult to explore, it tells you the basics, and if you cannot learn those after a few seconds then I am afraid there is a major problem, and not with the game.

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Ahem every ending right here

Ending 1: Take the boat

Ending 2: Die i think

Ending 3: Get 200 gold go to the rich part of the town and jump off the cliff

Steal the kings scepter and sit on the throne

i also noticed that the more bread/balloons you buy the higher the price gets and as the king pressing the down arrow Key MAKES people give you money and makes the cops arrest people and if your the king other people can steal your scepter and become king

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You're doing it wrong, it was easy not to starve when you hang around your food sources (the fish, most of the time).

I think the green people are the lower class folks, and red are the rich ones, judging by how much I've gotten from each by begging.
This explains why the red people usually stand in place and shout when begged. Also, if an orange person gives you money, they can turn green ;____;

Also, I've had a green person steal a fish from me, green people may steal things, they are not rich either, after all. Orange people can steal scepters too, though.

Also, Gobsmacked, 1/10 trolling, the arrow keys and the z key are 5 keys, not 4.

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ok, did anyone notice how when you are arrested

you lose money?

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blumley July 31, 2009 9:03 PM

i really liked this game, especially the square clouds! I kinda reminded me of the peerless fishing girl, in that there was game objective but it was variable and not too pressurising. What i really wanted to do though was, on becoming king, bestow my riches upon the kindly fisherman before he died - which I thought was possibly the ultmate objective... only I just stood there, all regal and that, while the fisherman just went ahead and died...

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I dunno, Reibear--I think the color of people represent personalities. Green are generous and will always give. Orange are the type who are unpredictable: maybe they will ignore you, but maybe they will give. Sometimes they feel so good about giving that they become generous types. Red are the kind who are disgusted by the needy, and will even complain to the police.
As for losing money when the police catch you, it's probably a fine (roughly 25% of your cash?), but at least they feed you enough to stay alive. Not enough to last long, but it's something.
Is there any way to keep the fishermen alive? Maybe if you buy bread and then pick up fish, does it actually give him the bread, or do you just drop the bread?

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Is there any way to keep the fisherman alive?

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For anyone wanting to try this out in Linux, it does appear to run in WINE.

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I really want to try this game, but every time I do, a few seconds in it crashes. This happens both with the online version and with the downloadable one. Does anyone have any clue why this might be?

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@ Galewav

I'm actually inclined to agree with Reibear a bit more - I too notice that the orange citizens turn green, and red citizens turn orange (then green) over the course of the game (as they give out money, or as they get arrested). After a while, I can basically have an entire town of green folks, and they don't go the other way.

Also, these green guys do rush you for that scepter when provoked - just food for the thought. I've already given my thoughts about that before.

@ All

As for the fisherman, I've tried giving him bread, fish, and the scepter, but nothing works, and the police are programmed to never move there (therefore I can't arrest him). The only thing that I've managed to do is befriending him before he meets his demise... so sad...

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Sad game. I felt so bad for the fisherman once I realized what taking his fish had done.

Also, I thought that the bread was cigarettes. It gave me a different message from this game than I should have, huh?

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I didn't really understand the game, but it seemed really sad to me :(

Maybe that's because I was sad to begin with :P

eyra

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blakyoshi7 Author Profile Page August 2, 2009 2:08 PM

I can't sympathize with a fisherman too stupid to eat his own fish.

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Lovely!

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I think the fisherman dies of old age, not starvation, so he's not "too stupid to eat his own fish", and I don't think there's anyway to save him, unfortunatly.

I really enjoyed this game. With the exception of the fisherman, everyone was a jerk.
The Red People would attempt to get you arrested, along with the Orange People.
The Green People didn't seem to try as hard to get you arrested, but they would steal from you, whether they were your friends or not. The King just goes around getting people arrested, and the Police.. I guess they're technically just doing their jobs, but you can't help resent them a bit.
The Beggar never really gave back, even once he was King. I guess he gave his friendship when you have the balloon, but I had kind of hoped once I became King I would be able to contribute somethiing to my community.

Overall I found this a beautiful game to play.

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Mitchell April 3, 2011 8:05 PM

the red people are the rich mean kind(they almost always report you but when they don't they give you a a lot of money),the orange people are middle class(half the time they report you but give you less than the red), and the green people are lower class(give you small amount of money and rarely to never report you) and this I also think because they go from red to orange to green as they give you more money

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