Electron Dance
5Dec/13Off

Counterweight Companion: Suzy and Freedom

cwc-suzy

Here are my companion notes to this week's Counterweight podcast on Suzy and freedom (Nicolau Chaud, 2013). Big spoilers here.   

Mini-games

  • Chase the stars. Wasn't sure what to make of the plane mini-game. It billboards Dan's frame of mind while giving us an opening credits sequence; but why are the stars counted?
  • Clear your path. I played the full version first which I couldn't beat so pretty much hated this section. What Eric might have considered as "badly programmed" I can see as some intent; there's probably a correct technique to this section but found it frustrating.
  • Escape. This was fascinating because it's the kind of mundane game that made Cart Life so successful. Chaud previously exploited the physical actions of the player to amplify emotional impact. Also, the mini-game is so "boring", it quickly suggests there must be some other way to complete it. And, of course, there is.
  • Find love. This climbing puzzle feels too perfunctory. I didn't find it too difficult but it strongly echoes the kind of shoe-horned approach to context that feels really lazy. I had flashbacks to One and One Story and a number of other flash games with similar gimmicks.
  • Make him do it. Admittedly, this is a retread of Beautiful Escape's corruption of the dating sim but it's a great fit for this game. Works great.
  • Don’t die. Again, another stand out non-game where the player is impotent. Short and shocking.
  • Stay together to the end. Frustrating, but importantly so. I found this more affecting than the earlier platformer puzzle possibly because of the choice of music. The mechanic was far more taxing, perhaps a tad too frustrating. Felt like I relied more on trial and error than ingenuity.

Story

  • I liked the story which is larger than life yet human. The three conspirators are just not clever, they’re not even thinking. “I saw CSI” does not mean you're going to get away with murder.
  • Suzy seems sociopathic, Cris messed up and exploitable and Dan has a hollowness waiting to be filled. Three damaged people with no real justification for what they did.
  • Love the moment when Cris walks into the murder scene. That's totally unexpected and a wonderful surprise. (If you hadn't read about the original murder case, of course.)
  • Chaud goes for it; there's a conviction in the storytelling which can see players through even if they don't buy into every design decision or narrative trick Chaud has chosen.

Delivery

  • Chaud suggested that players are annoyed by gameplay when they just want to read a good story but I'm not so sure; some of the the mini-games on offer here are frustrating and/or do not tie very well into the plot. I'm tougher these days when the link between mechanics and story is weak when the game is supposed to be a vessel for a story.
  • The player starts out as Dan. Chaud then keeps rotating the player's perspective through different characters. Common in film and literature, it is more unusual in games. The masterstroke is when the player assumes the role of one of the parents during the murder scene.
  • Many games force players to "carry out" crimes and to make them feel "responsible" possibly even remorseful about a situation they had no real agency over. Chaud's own Beautiful Escape does just this. The perspective switching in Suzy and freedom cleverly swaps you into the victim out of the murderers' shoes at the key moment; this makes the scene far more unpleasant and produces an entirely different emotional response. It isn't about making the player feel disgusted about themselves; it's about the player experiencing a story.
  • Awkward dialogue has always dogged Chaud but I tend to give him a pass. Part of the problem may be the limitations of RPGMaker and trying to convey voice in dialogue alone, but I'm sure some of it is language. Other games, such as visual novels, have succeeded on this front. (Note that Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer is pretty much perfect in this respect.)
  • There's no real choice in this game. Chaud is telling a single story and this is pretty much Chaud's modus operandi. Here's what Chaud is doing: telling a story with a mechanical overlay to lend the story more texture. His games do not need multiple endings because that is not what they are about.
  • The "walls closing in" effect as the game progressed towards its inevitable end was powerful, I really liked that.
  • The glitch in the beach scene was also wonderful at signifying that Suzy's dream was just an illusion of freedom. The bubble was about to burst. I loved this nice touch also.
  • Not perfect - but I definitely found it worth my time.

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