Every year, the entire game industry is on the lookout for the most original games to commend. Innovation is what keeps our motor running nice and fresh and whether it’s done through narrative or game mechanisms, the Braids, Gone Homes and Titanfalls are out there and need to be plucked. In 2014, there was no game more ballsy than Elegy for a Dead World when it comes to trying a new angle.
What even is an Elegy for a Dead World? Admittedly, it’s low-balling, late launch and strange appearance weren’t as instantly catchy as Respawn’s robot fight. To know, you’d need to read a description, but perhaps that’s for the best. This is a game that will appeal to someone without an immediate need for impulse stimuli anyway. No offense, short attention span crowd; we loved Titanfall to tiny bits as well. We’re equal opportunity game fans, but we digress.
In short: Elegy for a Dead World is a game that teaches writing and various styles.
So, it’s like Mario Teaches Typing? It’s not exactly that, no. This game by the lovable weirdos at Dejobaan Games, makers of Drunken Robot Pornography, expects some writing expertise already. Instead, it aims to hone skills to fit certain forms of prose and poetry by offering three worlds. A character dives into one of these strange lands with a prompt at hand. Prompts vary between filling in blanks, getting story setups or doing the whole thing from scratch. One option even focuses on correct grammar, so there are definitely enough tools there to start crafting better stories. The ability to craft a better story, that’s really what this game is.
On the surface, the teaching aid would seem no different than any edutainment piece, but there’s an intriguing subtlety in how the illustrated visuals and sounds yield inspiration for writing works. At certain intervals, it’s possible to continue drafting, chapter after chapter. Sometimes the message is set in front of a sprawling landscape, other times there’s an ominous eeriness surrounding the environment. Dependent on the chosen prompt, stories can turn out completely different and at the end, it’s possible to read other publications from the community. This shows how other people thought the world unfolded, which urges a retry to make up another story. You can’t get upstaged by that random literary genius strutting their stuff on the Steam Workshop, now can you?
Really, it’s adding this second part, the one with community contributions, which elevates Elegy for a Dead World beyond a quick write-and-go item. Catching up with other players reveals how they saw the landscape, it lifts back the veil and uncovers the small details they managed to catch, which had gone unnoticed before. While the worlds stay the same, which is definitely a downside, there is a lot more content inside the three planets than at first sight. Continuous retries not only offer diversified styles, but also a refreshing look. As a double boon, this stimulates the creation process, as being able to pick up on details surely counts as an improvement to form. What was an empty plain before, now hides a tiny little village in the distance. That one author mentioned a flickering glow and lo; there it is. They say that reading and writing consistently is the practice that makes perfect and this compelling adventure manages to encapsulate that perfectly.
Elegy for a Dead World hereby undoubtedly stands as the most unconventional take on what constitutes a game in 2014, in a non-pretentious way. There have been a few of those other hilltops. Still, it’s undeniable that such an oddball won’t be for everyone. In fact, having the entire design revolve on writing skills is likely to put off a ton of onlookers, while only enticing a small fraction of people and luring even less to buy into the game. There are niche games and a few magnitudes above that, there’s this.
It’s not that the game is inaccessible to meager penmanship, as it has several accommodating prompts. Rather, those without a feel for composing finesse could easily look past that mentioned subtlety, write a quick blurb once and then be done with it, hungry for new content in the form of worlds. This would be an understandable attitude, midst this ethereal ambience. Again, the game requires its audience to take a step back, to take in this eccentric idea slowly, appreciating it like a fine wine or some lesser snobby metaphor. Its strength comes from coming back, unlocking your inner potential and getting inspired by that, time and again. Without excavating every shred of the game’s resources, it could end up a disappointment, even for those mildly inclined to do a bit of scribbling.
There’s definitely a specific frame of mind needed to enjoy the scope of this pitch, but again, that doesn’t need to be a bad thing. Elegy for a Dead World knows exactly who it wants to attract and that audience may just never have received a condensed gem like this. It can be their special, little place.
To give another idea of how Elegy for a Dead World invites players to unlock more angles on the game: Playing it while recording footage and going into the world in quiet solitude generate fully different results. That’s a great exercise to see how competent your writing skills are when put on the spot, in front of a camera, without any research tools to grab off-screen. Below are some recordings from the three worlds in the game.
Those who own Elegy for a Dead World can also grab this Steam Workshop item, which was written in isolation. See if those feel any different.
Damn, this game is fascinating.