Well, another Ludum Dare has come to pass, and the latest theme to build upon was “minimalism.” That is up for total interpretation, of course, and one game called Gods Will Be Watching focuses more on the gameplay aspect of it than anything else. By that, I mean you are limited in what you can actually do. First, the setup, which sounds something a bit like Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream,” but is not it completely. Either way, I dig.
The cyberfuture is now, and your research group–consisting of a dog, soldier, doctor, psychiatrist, engineer, and robot–has been ambushed and stranded on the paralytic landscape of Medusa, home to a devastating virus capable of surfacing one’s own madness. A broken radio is your only way of getting in touch with civilization, but it will take time to repair the thing. Days, actually. The main goal is then to repair the radio in 40 days, or sooner if you can. However, the biggest roadblock is that you can only take so many actions per day, and Sergeant Burden’s group is slowing starving and losing their minds. Hard decisions incoming, for sure.
I’ve played Gods Will Be Watching twice now. My first outing saw me succumb to the elements on the very first day, as I did not realize how vital a burning fire was to the group’s survival, though in retrospect it makes obvious. I was too curious with learning who the group members were that I spent my five actions simply talking to them. Everyone froze and died overnight. Okay, lesson learned. My second attempt saw me lasting eight days in total, losing the engineer on day six, but continuing on without him for two more days until…well, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I did wrong. I had plenty of food, some medicine left, and the fire still going. And that’s probably my biggest worry over this, that a lot seems determined by randomness. That might not actually be the case, but the game doesn’t present you with any indication you are doing things correctly or mucking it all up. You just live, talk, repair, gather food, struggle onwards. Sometimes if you do that in a different order or miss one element…you die. Hmm. Blame those fickle gods that are watching, I guess.
Graphically, it is what you see above: a single screen, with a line of characters around a lake that occasionally change postures, but otherwise remain stationary, depending on if they are still alive or not. If the fire gets too low, they begin to shiver. If the madness starts creeping in, they will show signs. For pixel art, the characters do come across as realized and unique, and strangely people you care about and want to see stick it out for 40 days. It’s more defined than Sword & Sworcery, but less captivating. I really appreciated the purple sky reflecting its color onto the frozen lake.
I did find some problems with the writing, mainly from a basic grammar perspective (several misspellings throughout, such as “wich” instead of “which” or “its” when they meant “it’s”). The dialogue between Sergeant Burden and his group changes based on the day and scenario, and it’s written in a way that leaves you guessing about where you should be spending your limited action points. The soldier mentions he loves his dog, the engineer says he himself should die before the psychiatrist, and so on. You even have the option from the very beginning to go on a slaughter spree and kill certain group members. It makes every action you take seem absolutely vital, and they might very well be. Or not. Again, there’s that behind-the-curtains randomness that can feel unfair at times.
I don’t believe I have the endurance to last 40 days, but you can give it a shot. Let me know if you and the entire group made it off Medusa safely and soundly, and don’t forget to tend to that fire.