...But That Was [Yesterday]
Who are the people who have given you the most in your life? I don't mean the sort of giving that comes with a price tag at holidays, but the sort of giving that left an indelible mark on you. ...But That Was [Yesterday] is the first place award winning entry into our 9th Casual Gameplay Design Competition by Michael Molinari (OneMrBean); a game that's more interactive narrative than gameplay, and in which you follow one person through their emotions and memories to learn about the influential people in his life and what they've left him with. The end result is a bitter-sweet, introspective game that feels at once both deeply personal, but at the same time universally relevant for everyone.
Although the game doesn't present you with any instructions, it should be fairly simple to figure out what you're supposed to do. From time to time, and from different characters, prompts will appear onscreen to indicate you should hit an [arrow] key to perform an action. These actions will help you bypass obstacles as they appear, and will carry you through the story to the end.
Analysis: Since [Yesterday] fits most easily into the category of interactive art and narrative, let's get the aesthetics out of the way first. When it comes to immersion, a lot of people underestimate the importance of audio; you may not always realise it, but an appropriate music track, even a very unobtrusive one, can mean the difference between a game that remains in your memory for years versus one you can't remember playing the next day. The soundtrack here is perfect and really captures the mood, and the art design is striking, full of soft colours and simple, fluid animation that bring the faceless characters to life.
As lovely as it all is, it does sort of feel as though some sequences drag on a little longer than they should. Each character the game introduces to you teaches something new, and more often than not they want you to prove you can follow instructions over and over until the game will let you progress, and then you have to do it all over again alone for a while. [Yesterday] is a very slow, thoughtful sort of game, and the emphasis here is definitely on the experience and the narrative. You'd also be forgiven in thinking there's not much to the gameplay; since you can't fail, and there's only one path, from a very basic perspective you're just accomplishing tasks to advance the story.
However, there aren't many games that have made me give a soft, satisfied sigh upon finishing them, the sort of thing generally reserved for snuggling into a warm blanket at the end of a long day, but [Yesterday] managed it handily. It was amazing to watch the flood of comments, both on site and on Twitter, from people who got emotionally involved in [Yesterday]; they ranged from simple messages of praise to more personal stories of events that impacted their own lives in a manner the game identified with. It's one of the strongest community reactions I've ever seen, with people commenting not just as critical gamers, but as human beings, and for me it was completely unexpected.
...But That Was [Yesterday] is still a lovingly crafted title that is an absolute must play for anyone who enjoys art or emotional stories. While there's not much gameplay, there is a lot to take in from it, and for the ten-fifteen minutes or so it'll take you to play it, there's no finer way to get a little bit of warm sentiment and perspective ...from a game.