Before Your Eyes: The Experience of a Lifetime
Every now and then an indie game comes along and makes me think “this is what video games are all about!” The recently released, innovative masterpiece Before Your Eyes from GoodbyeWorld Games is the latest game to inspire this feeling in me. Being steeped in the indie game world, I was surprised that I had missed any news about Before Your Eyes until after its release. I was instantly intrigued by the charming art style and gameplay premise — navigating the narrative with real time blinking.
Now if you’re thinking “oh my god I could never play that game, I blink so much” I assure you there’s no need to worry. The game can utilize your webcam to detect your real life blinks. (Note: If you plan on streaming the game with a separate camera capture in your overlay it would benefit you to use two different webcams, one for yourself and one for your blinks.) Before starting the game you do a calibration test and have the option to calibrate at any point if you feel an adjustment is needed. In my playthrough I felt my blinks were pretty accurately detected, and had minimal issues. If you’re still really concerned about blinking through the game, you can opt out of the functionality and click through using a mouse instead. However, I would really recommend playing with the blinking mechanic enabled if you can, at least for your first playthrough. It really is pivotal to getting the full experience of the game. Personally, I think GoodbyeWorld did a great job of giving you time to focus on what’s going on while creating the urgency of not missing anything. You will miss things, but in a way that’s the point.
The game begins on a boat where you are awakened by The Ferryman, a scruffy anthropomorphic mutt of a man who has just fished you out of a river of souls. He says he’s going to take you to see the Gatekeeper so that you may be judged for your actions in life for the chance to be let into her glorious city. Right off the bat I was enthralled by The Ferryman. His disheveled design, quirky mannerisms, and unique speech set the tone for the story. Stephen Friedrich provides an absolutely wonderful mocap and voice performance to truly bring The Ferryman to life. His opening scene captivated me from the start with the perfect combination of whimsy, charm, and atmosphere.
Soon enough The Ferryman sends you blinking back into your memories in order to gather details about your life so that he can impress the Gatekeeper with your story. You discover that you are Benjamin Brynn. You live in a little seaside town with your parents Richard, a professor of maritime archaeology, and Elle, a former composer turned accountant. As you blink through Ben’s memories you see that he’s quite musically inclined, much to Elle’s delight. He’s a bit of a gifted child and is soon able to play one of Elle’s own compositions on the piano by ear. Delighted by Ben’s musical ability, Elle encourages him to keep practicing so that he might have a chance to succeed where she ultimately fell short.
As you blink through Ben’s life it becomes apparent that Elle has lofty ambitions for him that are no doubt influenced by her inability to break out as a composer before starting a family. Her father was also a musician and had hopes that she would be a musical prodigy herself. She seems encouraging and well-meaning, but she’s definitely projecting her own expectations that her father once held over her onto her son. I could see her overbearing desire to push Ben to succeed tainting her relationship with her son, and even her husband. Richard is much more carefree and easygoing when it comes to Ben’s upbringing, and he seems to do his best just to make sure that Ben has a cheerful childhood.
Richard and Elle both love Ben, but they are sometimes at odds with their own personalities over how he should be raised and what’s best for their family. Richard optimistically brings home a stray cat for the family much to the mild irritation of Elle, who is allergic. At a party at the Brynn’s house celebrating Ben’s musical talent Elle makes backhanded comments about Richard’s profession. There’s a subtle tension that can be felt between the two of them the longer you linger in your memories. Blink and you’ll literally miss the nuance in their relationship.
Another important figure in Ben’s life is his neighbor Chloe. The two have history class together, and it isn’t long before they are passing notes and hanging out playing video games together. Chloe is quite spunky and spirited and I think the way she’s written is very genuine and endearing. The memories Ben has with her are really full of childlike delight, like the excitement of sneaking out past bedtime to camp out under the stars. Spending time with Chloe provides a playful distraction from Ben’s otherwise rigorous piano practice.
All of Ben’s relationships feel very raw and genuine, and I applaud the writers for creating such realistic and relatable characters. They’re grounded in aspirations and insecurities I think we can all relate to — fitting in, being successful, leaving a legacy, love, loss. Ben himself doesn’t directly speak with the other characters, and it’s easy to project your own feelings and interpretations onto his decisions, although he doesn’t feel like a completely blank canvas. This isn’t the type of game where you decide whether you’re going to play a benevolent or immoral character. You can feel the influence of Ben’s own thoughts and feelings just from the way other characters speak with and around him. Everyone will interact with the narrative differently, but I think everyone will be able to relate to it.
Before long, Ben becomes sick and steps away from practicing music only to rediscover his love of drawing. His dedication to this new art form leads him down a path to becoming quite a successful and renowned painter. Although, his success is not without setback. Navigating Ben’s career as a painter is only part of the story — the rest of which I think would be best left for you to experience for yourself.
GoodbyeWorld Games expertly brings together each element of the game’s design to create a truly immersive and emotional story. The eye tracking is much more than just a gimmick, and is utilized in unique ways aside from simply blinking to progress the narrative. At certain moments, your blinks can be used to select specific artistic decisions, like which shapes to lay onto your canvas when you paint. You even need to shut your eyes to focus (ironically) on certain dialogue. These moments, along with the game’s soundtrack, are definitely best experienced while wearing headphones. Tonal shifts in the piano music in the background seamlessly set the mood for each scene. All of this combined with incredible voice acting and enchanting visuals sets Before Your Eyes up as a true masterpiece.
There is plenty of surprise and delight to be had in Before Your Eyes, much of it that would benefit from you experiencing it first hand. But I will say that by the end of it I was absolutely inconsolable and blinking back tears, so make sure you have some tissues handy. I even think that compulsively crying might have contributed to what made the final moments feel so magical for me, so don’t be afraid to let the floodgates open.
Even if you try to “cheat” and stare down your computer screen you will miss moments you wanted to linger in. Much the way it is in reality. You can’t possibly process all the information around you perfectly. The edges are blurry and dark. It only lasts an instant. Being present every moment of our lives can be difficult. ‘I’m enjoying this game, but am I really savoring it? I’m awake, but am I really registering all the sensations around me? What will I look back on fondly? What will I remember?’ GoodbyeWorld really creates a poignant yet relatable commentary on this with Before Your Eyes, and it’s an experience I will certainly remember (and replay when I want to refresh my memory.)
None of us are immune to the passage of time, and I think it’s a universal fear to worry whether we’re living our lives fully. Will we be worth remembering? What happens to us when we draw our last breath? Despite the heavy themes of the game and the tears I shed, I find the experience to be comforting. Richard, in a particularly profound moment, definitely pinpoints this feeling plainly — “If the unspeakable darkness I’m carrying can be so well expressed, maybe it’s not so unspeakable.”
Before Your Eyes is available on Steam and the Epic Games store.
Skittzi is a variety streamer, cosplayer, and video game enthusiast. She loves indie games, RPGs, and many things in between. You can catch her live streaming more games like this on Twitch at twitch.tv/skittzipoo.