I Can Hold My Breath Forever


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Rating: 4.1/5 (205 votes)
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DoraI Can Hold My Breath ForeverLatest in a long line of things that make you go "Hmmm," or "WHAT," is I Can Hold My Breath Forever, a short, experimental little title made by Jake Elliott for the Experimental Gameplay Project's March theme of "10 Seconds". The game controls simply using the [arrow] keys, and it's your job to guide the protagonist through a series of underwater caverns in search of his friend, who dove in long ago. Contrary to the title, your hero can actually only hold his breath for ten seconds, which begins to count down as soon as he dives, and if that runs out, he dies. To prevent this, keep your eyes out for caves full of air that you can swim up into and catch your breath to replenish the timer. Also within you'll find notes left behind by your friend that talk about various things and act as checkpoints you'll automatically return to if your breath runs out.

It's a strangely melancholic little title, despite the typically upbeat tone in the notes your friend leaves you, and hard to pin down. The first time I finished it I sat and stared at the screen for a good minute or so, then immediately started it up again to see if I'd missed something. The narrative is intriguing, but extremely loose in such a way that the ending feels abrupt and a little unsatisfying.

But as any old sage on a mountaintop will tell you, "Joy is not found in finishing an activity, but in doing it". While the environment could do with some variation the farther you go to provide a grander sense of exploration, what exists is still very atmospheric and a clever interpretation of the "10 Seconds" theme. The soundtrack is extremely simple, but very appropriate, and only adds to the tense experience as you swim through the maze of tunnels with only the fish to light your way. You feel a genuine sense of distress as your air ticks down to nothing, and the notes you find are a nice blend of sad nostalgia and foreshadowing.

I Can Hold My Breath Forever is an interesting, thoughtful little game that tries to do a lot with a small set of concepts. Whether it's successful for you depends entirely on what you take away from the experience.

Play I Can Hold My Breath Forever

40 Comments

i love these experimental pixelated concepty stuffs games

just so cool

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Your friend is an octopus

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An unexpected ending, just as I expected.

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I suppose it's supposed to be an atmospheric thing that the screen gets darker and the number gets more opaque as you begin to run out of air. But in practice, around 4 seconds the number is almost completely obscuring my sprite, which makes it difficult to make a jump, especially when the cave entrance is so blurred you can't tell if it's dark or light.

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Franticforgames March 31, 2010 11:16 AM

Your friend is an octopus or a squid or a kraken.

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Wow, what a great music!

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LadyOfTheNight March 31, 2010 12:13 PM

That game was beautiful. I love these little experimental pixelated games, they always seem to get to me more than other, more-impresively drawn ones (e.g Majesty Of Colours, Today I Die, Every Day The Same Dream).
This one was very beautiful. I love how your friend just spent his whole life waiting for you, having faith that one day you would come and find him. It was touching.

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Yes, absolutely lovely.

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Too slight for me, it's a very simple maze game. Took me about as long to read the review as to complete it.

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the controls are a little too slippery for the game. there was no admiring any of the scenery.

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Decent game. I had hoped it would be something like Daniel Benmergui's games, but it didn't come close. The movement controls were really too loose. I had trouble getting into some of the narrower passages. Though the idea of the numbered countdown was cool, as they became more opaque, I had trouble seeing what I was doing.

Just made me want to go play 'I Wish I Were the Moon' for the umpteenth time.

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I just realized that my friend would have had the opposite problem as me - octopuses can survive out of water for brief periods of time, so he would have had to dash from water to water in the few places an over-land crossing was necessary.

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I already knew that

The friend was not human. he hinted at it quite a bit.

Games are starting to converge on something greater, something where your experiences actually affect the game, and you can take something unique form it.

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Loved the title drop at the end.

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I found the last letter extremely touching. The sweet, childish hope of it...

"My dearest friend, When we were children I dove into this pond. Now we are both very old, and tired of exploring. I shall wait for you in the water, but you do not need to hurry; I can hold my breath forever!"
I nearly cried, especially when I saw his skeletal, octopus-like form, floating and glowing... He was no longer the dear childhood friend who jumped into a pond. He was one of them, and I would never get my friend back. All I could do was collect the letters he left for me, and treasure them, and hope that some day someone else would find them, and think of us... Or perhaps that, somewhere, deep in his mind, my friend still knew me. Perhaps he even knew that I had gone looking for him, and that he had waited for me for many of his years.
But deep down I knew that he did not. The day my dear childhood friend jumped into the pond we once fished in was the day I lost him, and the day I followed was the day I lost myself.
Towards the end, I forgot what sunlight looked like; the only light I knew was the soft glow of the fish, and of my friend of long ago; the only memory I kept was that of a letter from one I dearly loved, and missed.
I will never forget my friend. But he forgot me a long time ago.

Sorry, I get very sentimental and overly emotional at games like this.

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is that the person leaving all the notes at the end?

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Holly, really liked your description of the game. Reading it actually added to my appreciation of it...

Thanks a lot for sharing it :)

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Just curious - anybody have a good map of the game I could use?

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jasonz777z March 31, 2010 7:48 PM

Nice, imaginative, original, sad, with an I like factor of 10/10.

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Oh what a simply splendid game! :D
I enjoyed i thoroughly!
plucked a little at my heart strings because the signs got sadder as you got deeper!
But I luved it!

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Good stuff - The game doesn't really go somewhere; it's just in what you take from it. Great music, good level design, and the narrative was interesting - you kept going to see what happened to your friend.

Also what benjabby said.

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cjquines April 1, 2010 12:25 AM

I found a bug:

Pressing n will teleport you to the next letter.

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myffical April 1, 2010 10:18 AM

@cjquines: Sounds more like an Easter egg than a bug!

I loved the aesthetics of this game -- the shimmering metallic soundtrack, the cursive handwriting, the glowing fish, the warmth of the words in a cold dark place. Quietly beautiful.

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That was oddly touching.
I think

your friend wasn't always an octopus. One of the notes says something to the effect of "That climb took a lot out of me, as you'll see when we meet".
To be honest, I was half expecting him and I to both turn into fishes. After all, we're all the same colour

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Snizzbut April 1, 2010 2:55 PM

I think it would have had more impact if you found your friend dead, as it is it was a bit of an anti climax what with the sinister music and slightly mysterious letters.

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What the--- WHAT THE...!? That. Was. Scary.

I mean, first when I played it, I died immediately because I didn't know there were underwater caves, so I thought you played (for just 10 seconds) the friend who jumped into the lake. It was really disturbing do find your "friend"'s skeletal form in the end of all the caves... I shudder just thinking about it!

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Its not a skeleton It just has a cross shaped eye.

And did the author intend for the character to resemble a nude woman?

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the music, combined with the timer and color really can give you a clostrophobic feeling as if you're actually in a dark underwater cave! i liked the 10 second rule thing, as you always KNOW there has to be an aircave somewhere near...

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WOW! just finished it... the way i understood the ending was...

that 2 kids were playing around one day, when one jumped into the pond and dove and dove and dove. the other kid followed him some time later and when he finally caught up with the first kid, he had been under water for so long, that he actually turned into an octopus thingy.

what do you guys thing abou it?

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I think this game has some deeper meaning

I think that when your friend jumped into the pond it means that he got into a bad lifestyle such as drugs. You always hope that he'll be the same and you start trying to be like him, but you realize that you've both lost yourselves and he is too far gone. Or I think that's what it means.

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Oh boy, another experimental pixel art game!

Can we please, for the love of god, just move on? I'm getting really sick of people heaping praise upon these games that are constantly dragging up an era of gaming it's better we left behind.

Protip: It's not alternative if everyone else is doing it!

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Knife Guru April 1, 2010 10:00 PM

I thought that

your friend was really another human but he was eaten by the octopus/squid/kracken thing

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Jonny_s April 2, 2010 3:32 AM

I thoroughly enjoyed this game. It was inventive, and had a very captivating storyline for how little you are actually shown. My thoughts on the ending are

that you and your friend used to live together on the surface, and play in the pond, but then your friend wanted to see what was deeper. He was able to hold his breath far longer than you, so you made a promise to follow him some day, when you were able to, and he went ahead. Eventually he changed to be able to breath underwater. Obviously the caves are meant to represent a much more vast network, which takes you years to get through, and yet the thought of finding your friend makes you persevere despite both being away from the surface and your inability to hold your breath for long. Quite touching, to me.

@ Brent, if you don't like this kind of game, don't play it. I am not fond of escape games, but that does not mean I am going to degrade the genre for those who enjoy JIGs weekly weekday escape. There are many of us who do appreciate this style, in fact Silent Conversation and and REDDER are two of my favourite games.

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Markonite2 April 2, 2010 5:07 PM

Brent, these sort of games aren't made to be "alternative" but because they are good.

Playing this sort of game is like reading a short story out of "The October Country" by Ray Bradbury.

Have you every tried Dear Esther?
It is the same concept, but a mind-blowing highly graphical version will be coming out soon. The old version is very enjoyable though.

Anyone who liked this game and also has Half-Life 2 should try Dear Esther.

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The game's rather anti

tentacles, isn't it? haha. Perhaps something more Cthulu-like ... as it is, the end creature is kind of cute rather than dreadful / melancholy.

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@cjquines: Thanks for the easter egg, it makes it easy to catch those notes you missed before, as well as relive the ending for a second look. :)

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This game reminds me of the sample from DJ Shadow's "What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 2)". It goes:

There's a game out there, and the stakes are high. And the guy who runs it figures the averages all day long, and all night long...

Once in a while he let's you steal a pot. But if you stay in the game long enough, you've got to lose...

And once you've lost, there's no way back.

No way at all.

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Anonymous October 9, 2010 1:19 AM

I'm really sad! But it's not 'cause of the game! IT WON'T LOAD!!! I've been waiting 2 hours!!! It loaded to 66% but then it just got to a standstill and now I can't play it! Which really sucks because I LOVE pixelly, experimenty, sad games!!!!!

GRR! WAAH! D:

[Try reloading the browser page. If that doesn't work, empty your browser cache and then reload the page. I just tried and it loaded just fine for me. If you find you still can't get the game to load, try updating your Flash Player. Rinse. Repeat. -Jay]

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there is a really nice cheat

use the n key to read all the notes

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