Hushed and humbly poetic, Moon gave players a small time-based sandbox with which to manipulate variables in an effort to discover one of several outcomes, but Moon‘s only part of Benmergui’s evolution that brought him to this point.
His Storyteller, released shortly after Moon is the other key to that puzzle. Like Moon, it’s an exercise in variable outcomes, but in contrast, it’s one in which all of your decisions are made at your leisure, and where all outcomes are shown on the fly in real-time.
Somewhere in between, then, is Today I Die: like Storyteller, you’re free to experiment with your variables — here both represented by the actors and the very words themselves — to shift and morph your surroundings, but, unlike either of the earlier games, these lead to sudden shifts that demand faster attention. Nothing, though, is outright undo-able, until the very last moments of the game (so far as I’ve found in a number of repeat plays) but it is the most ‘action-oriented’ of the three, for as much as you can call it that.
The most fascinating part of Benmergui’s indie output is watching him work at ideas in which he’s essentially alone, or at least on this digestible a scale: it’s all the volumes of open-world and meaningfully-consequential design challenges that Deus Ex and Far Cry 2 have tried to tackle reduced to one delicate little pamphlet.
As above, it’s a game that demands replayability, though not necessarily to explore parallel realities (as with Storyteller), or to tick off X amount of endings (as with Moon — though I am curious if there are more than the two I found, I could easily be wildly underestimating the options), but more to reflect on what the variable flickers are trying to say, rather than the rote mechanical meaning of how you do them — to dive further into its poetry rather than its playability.
Today I Die [ludomancy]
[As a sidenote, Benmergui is experimenting with a patronage system, with an anonymous donor helping him keep the game on a “quiet, ad-free website”, but in return, he’s set up this page to accept donations of three dollars and up for a downloadable package of all games mentioned above, with special bonuses to those that donate even more — do him the favor of at least making the minimal donation: he’s a voice in games we definitely want to support.]