This Is Not An Escape
You wake up in a field. You have no memory of who you are or how you got there. How cliche. It's a nice enough place. There are trees, a pond, a road... and a fellow on a bike coming down that road. Maybe he'll have some answers. Maybe he won't. But you know you just can't stay here... This Is Not An Escape is an interactive movie adventure by Something's Awry Productions, and an entry in our escape-themed Casual Gameplay Design Competition #10. It's a slow paced, artistic kind of work that uses YouTube as its medium, as much as film or gaming.
Watch each video, exploring the suburban environment, until you are prompted to make a decision. Select a choice by clicking the designated annotation, which will take you to the next video in sequence. Occasionally, clues in the video will lead you to various pass codes to enter by clicking, and, when prompted to, it should be done quickly, as the annotations are quite time sensitive. Also, the More Info tab in the upper right of the imbed will often reveal extra bits of information or commentary.
Analysis: The worlds of games, especially escape games, are often empty places. Indeed, in many of the genre, the only motivations as to why you want to leave the place where you are trapped, is that it is lonely, and that getting out is what the game wants you to do. The emptiness of a world where fellow human beings are missing, replaced by codes and contraptions designed to who knows what purpose, is sinister enough in itself that few games take the time to question why we're in such a friggin' hurry. This Is Not An Escape is one that does.
Make no mistake. This Is Not An Escape is not a deconstuction of the genre. Parody is not its aim. Rather it is an examination of escapism, and the creative processes behind those avenues in which people escape. Perhaps it is a little too self-aware of its own clever meta-techniques, but it is also self-aware about being too self-aware, so it all works out somehow. Clearly, the creators of the work approached This is Not an Escape as a film as well as a game. Interactive movies have been derided for being neither very interactive, nor being particularly great movies. This Is Not An Escape shows what can be accomplished when a creator has the proper grasp of both cinematic story-telling and form. Particularly, the whole thing would have fallen apart if it wasn't for Nik Theorin's fine work as the protagonist. The character by definition needs to be a bit of a blank slate, so that any player feels comfortable escaping with him, a thankless task for any actor. But he gives off the right kid brother mix of vulnerability, inquisitiveness, and exasperation that, if played less subtly would have doomed the work to cheesiness. In the end, though, it's the creator's willingness to lay out both his talents and his manipulations, that makes This is Not An Escape such a breath of fresh air.
The game's flaws are mainly the result of attempting to construct complex input on a platform that was never intended to be used for such. This Is Not An Escape uses so many annotations to make its puzzles work, and while it's certain that it was more than a little tedious to put together, it's kludgey all the same. This, coupled with complex puzzles designed by a first-time gamemaker with limited playtesting time, definitely hurts the flow. But then again, what is an escape game without puzzles that you must consult the walkthrough for?
This Is Not An Escape approaches CGDC 10's "Escape" theme in a way both novel and familiar, and it makes for a mind-twist of an experience. Clearly this entry was a labor of love for its creator, and the result is something well worth watching, and well worth playing.
Author's Theme interpretation:
"The game incorporates Escape in two ways. First the main goal of the game is to escape the place you are in. Second, the game also examines the idea of escapism. The game constantly draws attention to the fact that the person who is playing it is "escaping" into the game. So while the character tries to get out, the player is trying to get in. I thought that this would be an interesting idea to base a game around." -Something's Awry Productions
Pastel Games' feedback:
"Well, you said it. :D"
"But joking aside - this is a game and this is an escape (of sorts). I have to admit, on the first playthrough I clicked that I don't want to escape and the game ended. So I should base my review on this part alone. But then played again to be fair."
"I think it might be a good idea to somehow alter the color in the movies, to give them some ethereal feeling. As it is - they're just home videos, if you know what I mean. Just small changes in hue and saturation might do the trick."
"I hate letters that show up on the screen one after another. Most people read faster than they appear, so we have to wait for them. Much better and smoother solution would be to just make the whole block of text appear at once. The simplest solutions are usually the best."
"The puzzle level was incredibly difficult as for a youtube game where we just click through videos. I'm not sure if that's good or bad. Probably could use simpler puzzles for the beginners. Like multiple choice puzzles where the answer is given in some other chunk of the video."
"There are some other gameplay issues, but those are caused by the youtube environment, not the game itself, so I won't hold that against you."
"This game gets a bit boring after a while. Again - not sure if it's the medium, or the "gameplay" was a bit too slow."
"Anyway - what seems to be a nice simple concept - is actually very complicated work of putting all the links and annotations in the right place. Kudos." -Mateusz Skutnik.
"I really like the idea but... this game is designed for someone who really likes waiting. Just a few puzzles and a lot of scenes which I just wanted to skip quickly. It was hard to understand what it's all about... So, I like the concept and appreciate the effort, but it wasn't fun (especially when the ads came out of nowhere in between the movies)." -Karol Konwerski.