The Beginner's Guide
This game isn't as good as the creator's previous work. That seems like the best place to start. Honestly, nothing could. The Stanley Parable is an unmatched satire of it's own medium that has elements that will continue to be relevant and funny long after it's memory fades. The Stanley Parable is funny, weird, endlessly quotable and fun. I love it. It's going to take a long to time before it's surpassed and longer still to get that song out of your head.
You know what I mean! I bet it's playing in your head right now.
How about now?
The Beginner's Guide tries for something else, however. By Celestia, it tries! It wants to be sincere. It's not funny, it's wanting to be heartfelt. It strives to be insightful, touching even. It wants to be a tale of one developer enveloping you what made him love his craft by showing you what inspired him.
Does it work? Eeeeeehhhh....
Though, that is the extent of the story. Davey, one of the head guys behind The Stanley Parable, is using this game as an opportunity to show you - the player - a selection of games made by the enigmatic developer Coda. Coda started off messing around in the Valve built Source Engine but then slowly grew into a taste for making peculiar, idea driven games that are designed to evoke some emotional journey. Davey's magical mystery tour through all the games that Coda only ever let him play is narrated by Davey himself, allowing you to play through each game while Davey attempts to explain and contextualise everything.
So, as a Game Development Student for many years and hopeful future developer, this is my kinda thing. Davey speaks my language and even though he's translating so that anyone can get the gist, I am eagerly ambling along, listening to my friendly and experienced tour guide chat about bits of this tiny, simple game. This is my idea of a museum! I can be hands on! I can see everything and experience it too but someone is still there, over my shoulder, pointing out parts that I missed.
"I dunno Davey! Maybe we have to go deeper! *INCEPTION WHAOM! NOISE*"
Davey would occasionally alter the code to show off other things or to allow access to stuff that the game wouldn't allow normally. The tour guide idea does give this added layer to every simple game, even offering a narrative where there might not be one otherwise.
This part of the game was incredible to me! I was being steered around the games on display, learning as I played with a friendly, knowledgeable voice in my ear. It's like the developer commentary of Portal or Team Fortress 2.
Yes! I'm one of the five people that enjoyed them!
Please! Tell me why The Heavy is designed like that. Tell me all about the turrets or early versions of the Companion Cube puzzle. I want to know and it makes sense because it's similar to how Valve works. They play test to an endless degree, so they can just let a player wonder around with bubbles to help you understand how Wheatley was animated or the use of impossible spaces right when it's prevalent. I can't help it! I find it fascinating!
It's the reason why I watch so many critic shows and write my own critical articles. I like poking around, seeing how things work. I get that extra layer of magic by knowing what's underneath.
That would be great...If it was all The Beginner's Guide was attempting...
Yep! It's time to get all artsy and stuff!
Right! Spoiler Alert from here on out. Got it? Good.
The Beginner's Guide is steeped in metaphor. To the point where I would struggle to believe that Coda is a real person. The games in the collection give me the sensation of having the veneer of being amateur created. The later games are too neatly picked in order to fall right into a pattern of depression. The theme if self imposed isolation that the collection dives into is far too clear cut to make me believe that this is anything but Davey's narrative through and through.
Heck! A little reading at other critics seem to pan this out, suggesting anything from 'Coda and Davey represent a developer and the players that play the games' to 'Coda is actually Davey himself, before releasing The Stanley Parable'. I see some merit in both, honestly.
As you play though the games, things change. The tones of experimentation in these abstract, curious little projects slowly sours. The turning point being a game featuring a lavishly furnished prison cell that Coda has spent many, many attempts to get right. This frustration appears to lead him towards making the game equivalent of comfort food where the game hands out praise for completing simple tasks. The next few games are angry, bitter cries of impotent rage as the imaginative drive of Coda slows to a complete halt. He's spiralling, trashing everything that he's made. He blames his mind for failing him. For sucking the fun and joy out of his work.
Though, some games are seriously odd. This one is supposed to lock you in a prison
cell for an hour before letting you out to continue on. Why? Because ART! Maybe...I really
Distraught at Coda's recent games, Davey shows them to others against Coda's permission. While the response is very positive, Coda does create a game for Davey himself in order to respond.
It's a gauntlet of deliberately frustrating mechanics, foreboding atmosphere and miserable bleakness, all in service of the gaming equivalent of a playable middle finger.
But what does it mean? It's a metaphor right? What does it mean? Well...uuhhh...Uhhmmm...Honestly? I can't tell you outright.
What your paying for in the end is a big ol' tangle of thoughts. Davey does plenty to communicate his part in everything, ultimately feeling distraught for forcing his friend and idol out of his comfort zone against his wishes. Heck! He actively says that he's stamping on the initial trust that Coda extended to him by creating The Beginner's Guide. Davey plays his part well in order to convey the tragedy of his position. He wants to help the person that's affected him so profoundly, even if they're not too keen on being helped. It's a gut punch that things did lead to decently, presenting a moment of utterly frantic thought Davey conveys on the nature of a fan.
There you go! Have fun Brain!
On the nature of being satisfactorily content just to create compared with satisfaction with a work coming from the praise of other. Both ultimately fall, leaving them both burnt by the fallout of Coda's creative fatigue.
While I did enjoy the experience, I would level two major complaints at Davey's feet.
One is that £10 is a lot to ask for a game that doesn't feel like I could get more than two playthroughs out of it before letting it rot in my Steam list. Sure, I could trot it out for others to enjoy but I can't say that it will tickle every person I know. Unlike The Stanley Parable, The Beginner's Guide is highly niche. It's an auteur project down to it's marrow. I would have to be very specific with the Tale of Davey and Coda because there are some people I know that probably couldn't be bothered with it.
And that's because it's full message is a little muddy. Surface reading appears to be able to lead to thinking about the game. It does cling to your mind however it's heavy symbolism does lead all over the place with interpretation. On one hand, great! No interpretation is correct so you can argue over it. But that interpretive element is all there is. I could only ever recommend this to people that want a puzzle to chew over. For anyone looking for entertainment with a brain, I'd think of a bunch of other games first, then maybe The Beginner's Guide if they want something unusual or ponderous. Though, "not for everyone" isn't a criticism so much as a consideration.
It's all about whether you like arguing over arty-farty stuff like this with others or not. Or at
least can dig doing a surprisingly little amount of interaction but a lot of walking in
mostly vacant voids.
It's a niche game. Heavily so. Heck! I'd say it's more of a 'parable' than The Stanley Parable on the relationship between creator and fan. Thank Celestia I don't use a scoring system because I'd have to go with an "eeeeehhh out of ten". There's nothing that compares but then that's the appeal and turn off. It's an adventure that only you can decide to go on. I enjoyed it but then again, I'm weird. Throwing my brain a little tangle of metaphors is like Christmas to it so, I got some worth. But if your playing 'Super Awesome RPG/Shooter' of the moment, I can't exactly say if your missing out.
It's a review of airy-fairy conclusions I'm afraid.
That said: can we get more analysis games where you play a version of a game that's that's been altered to show a new side to it? Like a commentary where they show you new stuff as you play like a little tour. Heck! How about a game riff track where some group rips into the game as you play it? I'd love that! Would be great fun for a mod!
MS3K mods for games. Is it too late to suggest that for their kickstarter?
I would say that this is a screensaver from Windows 98 but it's actually a level from the game.
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