Posted on April 23, 2014, Phil Hornshaw Gods Will Be Watching Hands-on Preview: When You Fail, People Die
Gods Will Be Watching is a game about failure.
That’s how Jordi de Paco, the game’s director and founder of Spanish developer Deconstructeam, describes the point-and-click adventure. It’s a game meant to task players with difficult, perhaps impossible, choices.
Set in a dystopian sci-fi future, its six different scenarios all feature dire situations — during the preview offered at PAX East 2014, players experienced scenes marked by slow starvation, cannibalism, and desperate attempts to endure torture.
Each of Gods Will Be Watching’s six scenes takes place in a single setting, with little or no user interface information beyond contextual clues such as character actions. Each one forces players to make choices and work through “narrative puzzles.” In one scenario, for example, player character Burden and his science team have crash-landed on a planet, where they’re stranded. They can use their radio to call for help, but it needs repairs that will take some 40 days. And in the meantime, the team has to withstand freezing to death, starving to death, a deadly plague, bandits, and one another.
Players must choose how to use each day, and there are only so many actions that can be completed at a time. Should you choose to work on the radio, it might mean sacrificing a chance to check in on the team’s mental state. Hunting could force you to sacrifice ammunition that could be used to ignite a fire. And some members of the team are less useful than others, and may quickly become a burden to your survival.
De Paco said all these elements come together to make Gods Will Be Watching purposefully difficult. The decisions are supposed to be tough, and bad leadership on the player’s part has consequences for other characters.
“I like to be mistreated in games. I like games that make me angry. I think when you beat it, it’s really rewarding, that feeling of ‘Oh yes, I beat that game,’” de Paco said. “So Gods Will Be Watching has very little help for the players. They have to read the context of what’s happening to the characters. It doesn’t have any user interface besides the menus for selecting the actions. There’s no health bar, there’s no sort of information. It’s all told by the expressions of the characters and the things that happen around you – you have to read that and understand it.”
Things go from bad to worse over the course of each scenario in Gods Will Be Watching, forcing players to make decisions about who lives and who dies. The idea started with an entry into Ludum Dare 26, a weekend game jam whose theme at the time was “minimalism;” that philosophy of keeping things simple is still with Gods Will Be Watching, with the game’s stories taking place in a single scene, while still putting players through tough decisions and scenarios.
It’s possible to make it through each scenario without losing any members of Burden’s teams, but it seems incredibly difficult to do so on the first run through any of them. It seemed that most players trying the PAX demos struggled to keep Burden alive, much less anyone else.
“This game is a game that’s a lot easier if you don’t have feelings,” de Paco said. “Feelings are a handicap – like, if you don’t see people, you just see food. For example, the dog (a member of your team in the marooning scenario) is not very useful, so you can shoot him on the first day and eat him. In fact, there was a walkthrough, with a couple of guys, who were like, ‘Okay, to beat this game, on the first day you have to shoot the dog.’ And there were people who were like, ‘Why’d you dare to shoot the dog? You’re insane.’ I love the kind of discussions among the players about what was the right way to beat the level.”