I'm still a bit confused with The Beginner's Guide because I can see two explanations for it; Either you have to take it at face value, in which case the game is a bit creepy in spots and maybe passes way over my head, or you can see it as a literal work of fiction; a meta commentary over game development, in which case I feel that it's great and powerful at what it's doing. Since I really have no way to know, I'll average these thoughts out and summarize them by saying that TBG is a great thing.

Played as a very simple first person game, TBG frames itself as a collection of small games made by a person named Coda, presented to you by the creator of the game. They're ordered by creation date and you can see some level of evolution between these small games. While you're playing them, the narrator talks to you about various things regarding these games, giving you advice how to proceed, explaining the frame of mind of the original developer as he was making them, sometimes even 'fixing' certain aspect of the games as they were almost unplayable. The dialog is pretty good and I feel that even with the humor, there are some powerful messages in that dialogue that most designers and creators can apply to themselves.

After a while though, I feel a disconnect between the premise of the game and its actual content. Some parts of TBG make me think that all of it is part of the game's story, that there is no such person as Coda and that the narrator didn't ruin their lives by thinking too much about prison games. The tone of some spots is almost wacky while you need to drudge on impossibly long stairwells to get there, for instance. Other spots of the narration are a bit unbelievable, such as games that are 'unbeatable' because you get stuck at some point or you need to brute-force an invisible maze, a 6-digit password to proceed and then get stuck on a door with the opening mechanism on the other side, and yet there is plenty of content to be seen after that.

No matter if TBG is actually real or just tangentially real, it still lays down some truth about the hardship of being a creator, the way we see people around us, interactivity in game media and other topics, there is some powerful stuff in there, strewn around sequences where the narrator explains that boxes floating in mid-air represent the affirmation of our human control over game worlds, or something. 

That's where I disconnect a bit, to be frank. I'm a game creator as well, but I don't yet see the authorship  and the multi-layered complexity in my works that the narrator seemed to see in Coda's. I have to admit that I enjoy more systems-based games with a bunch of numbers in them. It's tough to see past face value and figure out stuff about myself when my design doc is basically "pong with RPG elements". Even in more narrative experiences, I don't think there's so much to be seen there.

But anyways, I digress. The Beginner's Guide is a cool thing, you should take a look at it if you feel compelled by anything I've written in this review. It's not a game with a ton of mechanics, nor goals and it doesn't last very long, but It's an interesting experience that will make you think about game development and other things, for sure.

AuthorJérémie Tessier