Ludum Dare 29 — April 25th-28th Weekend — Theme: Beneath the Surface

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Esc

by Crumpet - 48 Hour Compo Entry

TRIGGER WARNING:
This game heavily addresses the theme of domestic violence. If you are uncomfortable with such subject matter, please avoid this game.
If anybody finds issue with my portrayal of the themes in this game, I am more than happy to incorporate your feedback. Please leave a comment, or email me at ihatecactus@gmail.com, and I will do whatever I can to see your concerns are met.


THE GAME:
Esc is a puzzle platform game designed with the intention of increasing awareness of domestic violence. You play as a married woman, exploring a cave with her husband, during the "honeymoon" phase of the cycle of abuse.

I interpreted the theme "Beneath the Surface" as being about domestic abuse. The pain of an abusive relationship is highly physical, yet the greatest of pains is the psychological damage inflicted by being repeatedly hurt by the one you love so much, having your self esteem torn down again and again. Abusive relationships can be very difficult to spot for outsiders, seeming normal on the surface, yet beneath is an entire world of horrors, horrors which nobody deserves to have inflicted upon themselves.

CONTROLS:
Controls are told in-game, but WASD or arrow keys move.
Up makes your character jump.
Down will make you tell your partner to stay where he is. Stand near him and press Down again to make him resume following you.
The R letter restarts the current level.

KNOWN ISSUES:
There are some issues regarding moving the character becoming stuck inside platforms.
Rocks sometimes struggle to fall down rock sized holes.


I would like to give a special word of thanks to those friends of mine who helped educate me on the subject of domestic abuse, allowing me to attempt to promote awareness of this terrible phenomenon.

FURTHER MATERIAL
If you feel like you are in an abusive relationship, or know somebody who is, there exist many resources online which you may consult for guidance.
http://www.helpguide.org/mental/domestic_violence_abuse_types_signs_causes_effects.htm
http://www.mensadviceline.org.uk/mens_advice.php.html
http://thisisabuse.direct.gov.uk/

Thank you for your time.

Downloads and Links


Ratings

Coolness51%
#32Overall4.03
#40Mood4.03
#76Audio3.71
#137Theme3.79
#138Fun3.62
#211Graphics3.76
#283Innovation3.47
#901Humor1.94

Comments

rogberth says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 2:06am

Nice game, I like how fast it is.

trueyomic says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 2:48am

Very good game. That twist... very well done. I also love the ambiance of her inner thoughts after the halfway point. The puzzles were frustrating at points but still fun. Best points: great mood and audio.

Korwegian says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 3:48am

I kinda gave up around the part where you had to roll the boulders on the moving pillars, but good job :D

dylanwolf says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 4:16am

I like that the game itself tells a story--the puzzles become extremely difficult after the halfway point.

Seconding the previous comment on the inner thoughts helping to explain what was really going on. It might even be helpful to have more early on, to give context for someone like me that has no experience with the subject matter.

IAmSpencer says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 7:37am

I like that you included a story, especially one as strong as this. The puzzles were also really well done. Good job overall :)

NPException says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 7:53am

This is absolutely great.
The best game I have played so far.
The puzzles might be a bit frustrating, but that somehow fits the tone of this game.
Great work!

Jed T. says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 11:00am

I love it. It's a beautiful game with a deep story.

So, I was wondering how was the theme put into besides the cave. Then I realized that it's the husband and wife relationship? am I right?

koozek says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 1:22pm

That was really moving. The theme was really well incorporated in the gameplay. Great job!
Only the pushing mechanics are a bit too fiddly. This might stop a few people from finishing the game and that would be unfortunate.

Crumpet says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 1:48pm

Thanks for the feedback everyone!

The high difficulty of the game post-twist is intentional, although it could be seen as a poor design desition. Onecould have quite a lengthy debate as to how much playability of your game should be sacrificed in the name of the story, the message.

I realize now that after having remove a certain line partway through development, how I fit the theme in is never quite explained. I added it to the game description, but basically the idea is that in such relationships, everything can seem so normal on the surface, but once you look beneath the surface, the horrific truth emerges.

Again, thanks everyone!

JonRB says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 2:14pm

I really enjoyed this game. It's hard to strike balance between making an enjoyable game and addressing a matter like this but I think you've succeeded.

I agree with some of the other comments that it's quite important to be able to finish the game, because this is definitely a game worth finishing.

Hyoga-3D says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 4:10pm

Nothing really groundbreaking from the game, but it was interesting for a long time. Liked the puzzles.

oatsbarley says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 4:19pm

Tough subject to make a game about, but - speaking as someone without any relevant experience - I think you did a good job.

The twist is very good and I was shocked when it happened. Well done!

Zccc says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 5:32pm

Brilliant how such a fun concept turned out to raise awareness of such dark theme... well done.

Jools64 says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 6:15pm

This was a very intense game to play in terms of themes and story. I thought it was very well done bringing up serious real world issues while keeping them in a very video game like world. It allowed you to get across a powerful message while still having a fun game behind it. I especially loved the initial subtlety with the little bits of dialog between them as I left one character behind.

Excellent game, the only two small issues I had were rocks not falling in holes very easily and jumping sequences between screens. The last jumping sequence was quite a pain because of the ground and the moving platforms being on different screens

Burnside says ...
Apr 28, 2014 @ 11:51pm

This game confused me quite a bit. Seeing that the message was "domestic violence", I quickly started sympathizing with this guy at the beginning of the game, who seems to be at the beck and call of this lady, forced to be just a weight to hold down switches while she goes off and does interesting things. I pushed him around with rocks, of all things, and in the second puzzle, I was supposed to drop rocks on his head as he stood on a switch. Twice! I saw it clearly. I was the abuser in this relationship, forcing this poor man to be some sort of object to further my puzzle-solving needs. I was impressed that a game would be progressive enough to have a female as the abuser and a male as the abused.

And then he was standing up for himself! He's starting to complain when I force him to be a doorstop! Yes! He's finally fed up with being abused, and he's doing something about it! Yes! He's... dropping her in a pit, and now she's battered, and she's clearly intended to be the abused person in this relationship? What?

Because you had pushed all my sympathies away from the player character and onto the companion in the first half, then when the twist happened, I didn't feel sorry for her the way I'm sure you wanted me to. I mean, I didn't feel like she deserved it or anything (the guy should have just left, without trapping her), but I couldn't sympathize with someone who I had seen being cruel just a little while earlier. By making the lady the "bad guy" in the first half, you kept her from being a sympathetic "good guy" in the second half.

Also, at the very end, I assume I was supposed to trap the dude in the cave, but I got past the screen without doing that.

Crumpet says ...
Apr 29, 2014 @ 1:33am

Thanks again for the feedback:

@Burnside: I'm afraid your comment is unfortunately quite an example of one of the big problems of domestic violence.

See, in abusive relationships, the abuser often tries to shift the blame onto the abused. He makes it sound like it's your fault. Like you are the one to blame for everything. Like it's your fault that he now has to drop you down a huge pit to hurt you to punish you for treating him in a way which he does not deserve.
In the earlier parts of the game, he shows the traits of an abuser in what is known as the "honeymoon" phase, where the couple try to forget anything ever happened. This is why his behavior is somewhat normal at the time. However, this doesn't last.
After the twist, the female character blames herself for what happened. The male character blames her for what happens. The scary thing is, as an outsider, it would be quite easy to also fall into this pitfall of blaming the abused.
The reason I always imagined as to why he gets pushed around with rocks and told to wait, all that jazz, is that the lady is trying her best to entertain him. She's trying to take him on a fun journey to a cave. He is reluctant, but she's trying her best to please him. She's doing all the work, so that they can progress further into the cave. She's doing everything she can to make him happy, and he's doing no work, as the lady feels she shouldn't be letting him do any. Until suddenly control over him is taken from you as a player, as he decides you are not entertaining him sufficiently. Begin act II.

Honestly, I did think about making the male character the abused. As you said, it would be a highly progressive thing to do.
BUT
The biggest issue with doing that is that I myself am male. Had I made the male character the abused, the message had a very high risk of being interpreted as "Nevermind abused wives, abused husbands are the real problem".
Don't get me wrong, abused husbands is a very serious problem. But much like a man standing up for women's rights, or a straight person standing up for gay rights, a message is always so much stronger if the person giving it does not stand to benefit from what they hope to achieve.

Crumpet says ...
Apr 29, 2014 @ 1:34am

I must also insist that male abuse is also a huge problem.
http://www.mensadviceline.org.uk/mens_advice.php.html
offers advice specifically to men in abusive relationships.

Newt_ says ...
Apr 29, 2014 @ 10:29pm

Very, very nice work.

Apr 29, 2014 @ 10:32pm

Very good game, I love the music.

Gins says ...
Apr 29, 2014 @ 10:38pm

Wow. An incredibly powerful message. This really leaves me thinking, and that's a good thing to achieve. Good luck to whoever inspired you to make this game.

Tuism says ...
Apr 29, 2014 @ 10:40pm

Wow!!! So good! At first I thought it was really meaningful how the usual roles were reversed, then when *twist*... It was really powerful. I wish I hadn't read the description to the game before heading in now. Very well designed, the forward and the return trip really tells the story well.

NIIICE :D

Only gameplay gripe is the inelegance of puzzles that could be broken necessitating the reset button.

Lrnk says ...
Apr 29, 2014 @ 10:44pm

Wow, this is really special. I genuinely jumped at the twist. Perfect graphics, perfect music. Loved it.

rnlf says ...
Apr 30, 2014 @ 6:27pm

I do also think that everything that was "done" to him was necessary. They would be completely unable to do anything if he wasn't being pushed and stones dropped "onto" him (I rather felt it like dropping a stone behind him).

Everything he does to her is completely unnecessary and just for his own satisfaction and anger.

I liked the way the twist was foreshadowed and he became more and more obsessive and aggressive.

I never thought too much about the topic besides a generic "be nice to your partner and every human being in general" attitude. Luckily I never had to deal with the topic myself nor do I know anyone who has or had the problem (at least none that I know of). The game made me really think about the issue.

The moment the mood changes was probably the most intense moment I ever experienced in a game, perfectly orchestrated visuals and music and such a strong message.

Thank you very much for making this game. I hope many people outside the Ludum Dare world see and play it.

Cake&Code says ...
Apr 30, 2014 @ 7:36pm

Really well done game. I got stuck on some of the later puzzles, which was both challenging and frustrating. I pulled through only because I saw some of the comments mentioning the ending and I really wanted to get all the way there. I might've eased up a bit on the puzzle in order to get people all the way through to the end. But it was a great game, and the message was touching.

VictoryGarden says ...
May 1, 2014 @ 12:07am

Interesting topic.

Your level design is excellent with nice graphics and a good gameplay mechanic, but the writing was ham-handed and it's irresponsible to ask the audience to empathize with the abuser. Domestic violence does not generally consist of "A person is abusive [the woman talking to her husband like a dog; she is not being *annoying*, she is being *demeaning*], and then the abused party escalates [the husband drops her into a pit], and then the new abused party escalates further [the wife turns the tables on the husband and locks him in the cave]." If you had indeed chosen the husband to be the abused party, having the player arrive at a sequence in which she "needed" to drop him down a pit in order to progress, at which point perspective switches--then you might have had something. As-is, please continue to refine your narrative style and read more accounts written by survivors.

Your audio choices also somewhat detracted from the feeling of the game, being kind of sappy.

Gazok says ...
May 1, 2014 @ 2:35am

I couldn't play to the end because it ran like a brick on my computer. Even accounting for that, the later puzzles seemed very frustrating. Obviously the music was great. I think the violin sound in context was a bit overwrought, though. Also, helmet hair.

rnlf says ...
May 1, 2014 @ 9:19am

@VictoryGarden: Nobody said you'd have to lock him in the cave, you know. It didn't even occur to me that I might do that. Just walking away is also an option.

rnlf says ...
May 1, 2014 @ 9:29am

Oh, by the way. I just replayed the game. You can finish it without either pushing him around or dropping stones onto him.

jacklehamster says ...
May 3, 2014 @ 1:12am

Interesting twist! The levels are a bit frustrating sometimes because it's more about being precise than solving them, but that's ok. I guess the frustration does fit the mood of the story. Good work!

Tifu says ...
May 3, 2014 @ 12:24pm

I don't think Burnside's perception of the game is really a 'problem with domestic violence' - it's how I was viewing the game, you drop objects on his head, treat him as an object, drag him around, he has absolutely no agency in the relationship... that really seems like a valid interpretation of the first part of the game, as it stands. Some of his dialogue points to a problem in the relationship, but by the time he started saying these things, I'd already been treating him pretty badly it seemed... it doesn't seem so much like he's refusing to do any of the work, but that he's not being allowed to, because all he is doing is what I tell him. Stand still. Wait. Come. Obviously none of that justifies dropping you down a pit or any of the stuff afterwards, it's just how the story came across up to that point.

Reading your explanation that she is trying to entertain him, he is being reluctant and refusing to do any of the work... that makes that all make sense now after reading your comment, but that could have been present in the game more, so that this confusion doesn't happen. It was all pretty clear in the latter half who the abuser was, of course, I just think it could be clearer at the start that you aren't making this guy stand still etc, but that he is making you do the puzzles. I enjoy doing the puzzles, so I assume my character does also, absent any narrative telling me otherwise. Maybe some dialogue saying why they are at the cave... or even if she explained some of this in the latter half, why they were there, why he was just following you around etc. it would preserve the twist but still explain that better.

That all said, this is a really good game, some interesting puzzles, good story despite my confusion at the start.

King_Mew says ...
May 3, 2014 @ 9:21pm

I liked the twist! I felt like it was a bit didactic, but still, a great game!

ThingoStudios says ...
May 5, 2014 @ 10:12pm

Harrowing! I sort of wish you didn't spoil the middle of the game in the screenshots, as it would have been that much powerful if you hadn't.

But the mood change was super disorienting and well-executed.

Caridorc says ...
May 6, 2014 @ 7:10pm

This is one of the best Ludum Dare Games I've played so far, it is excellent in every thing.

May 8, 2014 @ 7:15pm

Nicely twisting game, great music. A bit too difficult for me as I know nothing about jump and runs, but the difficulty might also keep some people from completing the game, which is a shame, I think...

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