Beautiful and wrenching; not for cheap thrills
Greg, I would like to personally thank you for this. It's the only example I have seen of a Flash game managing to be profound without being remotely pretentious.
I never really "got" some of your previous efforts, such as The Majesty of Colors. This game spoke to me. No; it called to me and drew me close, and left me asking questions about life that I had never considered in quite the same light before.
The plot is simple and beautiful, and primarily advanced by the Mell character. A dedicated (if somewhat distant) researcher, Mell is treated with a combination of bemusement, disinterest and occasionally disdain... Until he discovers the horrifying truth that the rifts which have been opening up all over will eventually swallow and kill his world. The people around him are transformed by the news; helpless, motivated, disgusted, ashamed and--with the exception of Mell's mother--very frightened. Mell himself wraps up any fears and doubts in the familiar blanket of enquiry, seeing the time and manner of the world's end as just another question that will be answered in time.
Naaij the treasure-hunter and Fuzor the racer are equally dedicated, and (who knows?) perhaps equally detached; their storylines explore the reactions of exceptional individuals to an inescapable fate. Fuzor runs his final race, knowing that any records set will be final, unbeatable... and, ultimately, will die with the rest of his world. He is the essence of competition, seeking to win even when winning means nothing. Naaij , on the other hand, takes joy in the finding and not in the find. Her stance is philosophical: even if the treasure is worthless, the search itself was always what drove her, and that's got to mean something, right? She enjoys the journey itself more than reaching the destination, an outlook that may be familiar to readers of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
You created a world where the player literally couldn't tell up from down. The characters do not look remotely human, and even the laws of physics are all wrong. I call them "he" and "she," but these are visceral reactions with nothing to reinforce them but the absence of a genderless third-person pronoun. This frees us of our expectations--attempting the very opposite of simulation--and invites us to join in a dialogue of souls. We see past the strange, unfamiliar world and peer straight into their psyches: their motivations, their desires, their fears. Where we don't identify with them, we can at least see reflections of people we know and interact with every day. The medals and mini-games set little challenges of speed and dexterity, but they are more about sharing with the characters themselves than simply testing our own metal.
We are forced to come face-to-face with the question: how would we react if we knew this world was at its end? Would we cry, or would we fight? Would we simply wait and watch, like Mell? Would we continue striving to win our chosen race, to stand above all others who have come before us? Do we have a journey we would continue for the journey's sake, travelling at our own pace and not worrying if there will be time for us to reach the end?
The question of what matters to us when the chips are down is implied to be the only eternal question by the starting (and finishing) premise of the game, that babies dream of dead worlds. We have asked, and they have asked; and if ours dream of their world, theirs dream of another, an endless cycle of cosmic destruction and creation, and an endless variety of answers to the question of what really matters in our life.
I'm not sure I can answer that question just yet. But I am glad you made me ask it, and in return, I'd like to ask if you have an answer of your own. If the world were ending soon--today, tomorrow, sometime soon--what would matter to you and what would you do? Would you be writing ActionScript until the very end, not caring who, if anyone, would ever play the game?