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Why Alter Ego is a better "life game" than Beyond

An old game that plays through the whole human life makes many things right.

When thinking about grand scale, in terms of time period portrayed, of Beyond, I suddenly remembered an old game that also captures a long stretch in a human being's life – in fact, the whole life. It's called Alter Ego, it was first released in 1986 and is now freely accessible through your browsers.

I thought that Beyond's problem is that it's just a set of loosely-connected scenes selected from a broad spectre so at least some will resonate within every user. The thing is, so is Alter Ego.

I thought that Beyond's problem is that its set of choices is too restricted. The thing is, Alter Ego doesn't give you many variants when you have to deal with a problem.

Now, as you may guessed, what will follow will be some kind of comparison, and an unfair one, as I haven't played Beyond, though I have a pretty good idea of what this game is like. I even have an audacity to call Alter Ego a superior game.

Why? The answer is short: because of its ability to not show too much and keep the level of detail just right. You've got a series of choices to make in this game, and in every situation it won't ask for the minutia, like did you wash your hands before dinner, if this choice isn't the focus of the whole scene. It won't also give you more details than needed about the scene, so that the picture of your character you are building in your head won't conflict with what the game tells you.

That's what is cool with text-based games (and Alter Ego is one) – without graphics, it's easier to imply things, or hide them in plain sight.

We never play as Jodie as a little baby. I suppose that's because a baby is hard to motion-capture. On the contrary, infant phase in Alter Ego, though having no supernatural elements, gives the whole game a strong start, because the limited scope of textual representation befits the limited scope of the baby's perception, and learning things in life really feels like discovery thanks to witty text descriptions. Here's another good thing about Alter Ego: you learn about consequences of your choices immediately. Even if something happens "many years later", you are told about it the very moment you make your choice.

Some people may argue that having delayed consequences can be a good way to surprise the player, but the problem with this approach is, you should somehow make it clear what choices lead to this outcome – by giving the result immediately, you won't risk that the player will forget that he did something and never remember. And in Beyond non-consequent narration only makes it hard to trace choice and consequenses. Not that there are many.

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