Hands–down the best game I've played in years.
August 27, 2016 2:25 PM   Subscribe

else Heart.Break() (trailer) is simultaneously one of the most delightful, and most melancholy, games in recent memory. Welcome to Dorisberg, a town in which reality itself can be reprogrammed—using a variant of BASIC, no less!—and in which a group of aimless twentysomething rebels suffers under the watch of the all–seeing Ministry. The story is short, but the town is ridiculously complex, as hinted at by the sheer length and breadth of its soundtrack. There are secrets within secrets. And sadnesses within sadnesses, too. Users have been writing delightfully complex scripts, too, rewiring the entire city to suit their purposes. eH.B() was created by Erik Svedang, whose ultrashort Blueberry Garden has been one of my favorite games for close to a decade.
posted by rorgy (21 comments total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
Personal "is it over yet?" tip: play this game until you know who Ratvader is, have figured out Siri's deal, and found all the things the Doctor mentions in her journals. (I think that's oblique enough not to give anything away.)

Oh, and don't look at the code in the links above too closely. A part of the game's delights is learning how different objects function, and how you can link them together to do astoundingly complicated things.

On a more general level, I haven't been this emotionally affected by a game since Jason Rohrer's Passage and Gravitation shorts a long while back. And else Heart.Break() is considerably more complex and rewarding of an experience.

It's a very flawed game, but a phenomenal one. I couldn't recommend it more highly.

(I played Blueberry Garden when it was released in a Humble Bundle with Braid, and IMHO it's Erik Svedang and not Jonathan Blow who should be looked at as gaming's possible savior. I'd call that a hot take but it's remained more–or–less consistent since 2008, so eh.)
posted by rorgy at 2:29 PM on August 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

rorgy: "IMHO it's Erik Svedang and not Jonathan Blow who should be looked at as gaming's possible savior. I'd call that a hot take but it's remained more–or–less consistent since 2008, so eh."

Just reading those two names side by side is a good enough reason for me to check out Svedang's output. Thanks! (Especially since Blow's The Witness left me somewhat disappointed and I've been looking for a new savior ever since.;))
posted by bigendian at 2:40 PM on August 27, 2016

Ugh, The Witness. I spent years waiting for it, only to ask for a refund two hours in. That was heartbreak.

I don't see many videos of people doing things in eHB—it's a hard game to capture in video, for Reasons?—but this street light–to–strobe light hack is a pretty basic one, and a more complex semi–success was my sister's attempt to programmatically force everybody in town into a conga line. I think my pride and joy would give too much of the game away, but my latest half–baked idea is to program a script that auto–handles your character's process through the game's story, effectively playing it for you and making sure you don't miss out on anything important (because missing shit is ridiculously easy, and there's a lot of story crammed into unexpected corners).
posted by rorgy at 2:45 PM on August 27, 2016

I'm only a casual gamer, so the name didn't really ring a bell for me. I clicked on the Erik Svedang link to find out more about him, and clicked quit in about ten secs as soon as my eyes alighted on a post which mentioned, along with professional things he was currently doing, 'I'm dealing with turning 30'. This is an extension of my 'don't look up the ages of the Olympic athletes or the stark inadequacies of your own accomplishments will be uncovered and your obscenely small head will slowly turn 360 degrees like a large pestle crushing sinews into the mortar of your neck' rule.

Game looks absolutely wonderful though. That and Blueberry Garden added to the Steam pile.
posted by Collaterly Sisters at 2:52 PM on August 27, 2016

posted by effbot at 4:31 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I admire this in concept but in practise it stressed me the heck out because you keep getting told "meet me at x place at y time" and I frequently would have no clue how to get to x. Friends have reassured me the game world isn't that large and you get the hang of it eventually, but in ny hour or so with it, that sense of direction never clicked with me.
posted by juv3nal at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, s/sprak/språk/s to get Swedish :-)

Haven't tried it and doubt I ever will, but I the like idea of the FakeDOS implementation written in sprak, which iiuc lets you write assembler programs for a DOS-like operating system running on an arcade machine inside the game.
posted by effbot at 5:23 PM on August 27, 2016

Does anyone know if this will run on OS X 10.6.8?
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:25 PM on August 27, 2016

Steam page says 10.7 or newer.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:43 PM on August 27, 2016

juv3nal: Yeah, the game's urban architecture is so confusing that I mostly suspect it's deliberate. It would definitely tie in with the main theme of the game, which is that youthful feeling of being simultaneously free and liberated, utterly confused, and trapped within a world not of your own making.
posted by rorgy at 7:11 PM on August 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

The Witness is my favorite game I've ever played, in part because I've been playing in chunks every Sunday afternoon for months with my teenage daughters, one of whom made me this amazing Father's Day card based on the game's puzzles that Jonathan Blow himself had to explain one of the nuances of to me.

(But mostly because the design of everything in The Witness is marvelously clever, witty and sublime.)
posted by straight at 8:01 PM on August 27, 2016 [15 favorites]

Looks interesting, but $25 (on GOG) is a little rich for me. Maybe when it goes on sale.
posted by pjmoy at 8:06 PM on August 27, 2016

I should give this game another try. The first time, I couldn't find the guy I was supposed to meet. The second time, I found him but forgot to talk to the DJ at the cafe who told me where the club was and couldn't find the club. It was like Heisenberg's uncertainty principle.
posted by BiggerJ at 10:44 PM on August 27, 2016

this amazing Father's Day card

This is the greatest thing.
posted by naju at 11:17 PM on August 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

First off, since no one else has mentioned it explicitly; programming is an integral part of the game and I think you either need to know some very basic programming or have an interest in learning to enjoy the game.

I enjoyed the game, but I don't think nearly as much as rorgy did. Near the beginning of the game, I had gotten my job and enjoyed just walking around in the city. I had no place to be so it was no big deal if I got lost. After figuring out how to make the story go along and getting the ability to tinker with things I enjoyed that too. I think the "game" part, the story, was what felt like a letdown for me.

Being able to hack not just computers but also various objects was fun, but I think I got to a point halfway through the game where I felt I was basically playing on "god mode", which removed a lot of any challenges and also broke the story in some ways.

The people you're working with keep talking about what they want/need to do, or where they need access, or who they need to find. But when I could do all those things I was unable to tell anyone. I could literally solve all their problems, but the game wouldn't let me. This, combined with the fact that some missions somehow overlapped for me, cutting the earlier ones short and not giving me an ending to those, kind of reduced my enthusiasm.

So anyway, talking about games that emotionally affect you, I recently played The Beginner's Guide which hit me a lot harder than eHB. Other than that I can't really compare it to eHB, The Beginner's Guide is a lot less interactive and a lot shorter, but definitely made me feel things while playing and think and feel things afterwards in a way that I'm not sure any other game has.

I am really happy there's space for games which aren't just about entertainment, and which might make you feel things, including uncomfortable things. I think another good example would be Depression Quest.
posted by bjrn at 2:50 AM on August 28, 2016 [6 favorites]

There are instructions on how to program Sprak in the game, but you have to break into a guy's house to find them, as with most things you'll want to do in the game. If you're familiar with adventure games this isn't terribly surprising. The other characters don't usually care. It's a genre convention, deployed here with a little more self-awareness than usual.

It's weird that it doesn't support Steam Workshop! Maybe it will, but I imagine Erik is preoccupied with fixing the various scripting problems like what bjrn described.
posted by LogicalDash at 10:44 AM on August 28, 2016

bjrn: Thanks for mentioning The Beginner's Guide. I played it today after reading your comment, and it hit me hard as well.
posted by metaquarry at 11:58 AM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, I really liked this when I played it at release. It's too bad that the game breaks so easily; I warped into some secret room and got superpowers far too soon. It's just another way to play the game, though, I guess.

Re: the place with the Sprak tutorials, no, you don't have to break in. I think the owner of the house just sits on the bench outside at certain times during the day and invites you in, though my memory is fuzzy.

I was more engaged in this game than I can remember being in a long time – learning how to manipulate the world was very exciting. I think I logged several dozen hours.

TIS-100 is another "fun" "game" about programming, albeit less exciting and much more infuriating. Still, "fun", for masochists at least.
posted by Aiwen at 2:40 PM on August 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have discovered a walkthrough (spoilers obvsly), I think I may take another crack at this game and just walkthrough my way through until I can at least hack things which I never got far enough to when I bounced off it last time.
posted by juv3nal at 2:57 PM on August 28, 2016

This looks interesting!
posted by flippant at 7:13 PM on August 28, 2016

The tricky thing about else Heart.Break()—and I'm trying to write this in a way that doesn't ruin the game for prospective players, but that maybe lets people prepare for what they're getting into—is that the "gameplay", as it were, is by its nature extremely easy to break. You can beat the game in ten minutes flat, if beating it is all you care about. The game's designed to let you become "superpowerful", as y'all are putting it, just by prodding at different things and seeing how they fit together.

But the game was not designed for you to beat, and therein lies the rub.

Virtually all of the story—all the parts that matter, anyway, are parts that you have essentially no control over. I'm not talking about the central story, though that story is deliberately an anticlimax that frustrates you if you're trying to look at yourself as a hero. The real tale is told all across the town, almost as a treasure hunt, and it's made up of notes and scrawlings and bits and pieces that don't immediately fit together, but that slowly, slowly reveal things about how these people fit together, and about what the world they live in is like.

I think it's a deliberate part of the game that, while you're superpowerful in the sense that you can make or do anything, you are virtually powerless when it comes to other people. This town is like the world of Majora's Mask if you didn't have the Bomber's Notebook, couldn't cure the townspeople of their woes, and couldn't even get them to tell you face–to–face what those woes consisted of. There are Big Things Afoot here, but nobody will even bother telling you about them.

I'll repeat what I said up top: find Siri. Hers is IMO the quintessential story of this town—as evidenced by the fact that, odds are, you'll play through the game and beat it without meeting her once. In fact, the better you are at "playing" the game, the less likely it is that you and she cross paths.

Svedäng's games are all oblique like this. The world and the play are at odds. The story you enact is different from the story that just sits there, quietly, refusing to let you take part. I love this game because, more than any other game Svedäng has made, this one gives you the illusion of freedom. It even ties that freedom into computers themselves, into rewriting this world to make it yours. That just exposes the painful barriers that you can't clever your way through. As a synecdoche of youth culture, it cuts deep: I think it captures the ambiguous line between joyous, rebellious liberation and desperate disaffected inertia, and gets at how the two are very nearly one and the same, better than maybe any other artistic experience I've encountered does. (Definitely more than any game I've played, though I'll readily acknowledge that it wasn't until I was 4–6 hours in and felt myself coming back without knowing why that I started suspecting the game was anything deeper than a hot mess.)

straight, I'd completely agree with your description of The Witness, except perhaps the word "sublime"; I'd also say that eHB is as unlike that game as you can get. The Witness is a perfected form of a game that, upon seeing it clearly, I realized I somewhat despised; else Heart.Break() is a clumsy fumble in a direction that touched me powerfully and deeply. "Your mileage may vary" may be understating it a bit, in this case, though on some level I'm excited that games are finally becoming artistically sound enough that we can choose to dislike them for purely moral and philosophical reasons. I mean that completely sincerely. It's a massive step forward.
posted by rorgy at 7:18 PM on August 28, 2016 [5 favorites]

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