This week sees the release of 1000 Amps, Brandon Brizzi’s lovely puzzle-platformer for Mac and PC. It’s complex, imaginative, and quietly challenging, and it’s made me curious about the designer’s previous work.
That’s brought me to Before The Law, a simple browser title Brizzi made a few years ago. Excitingly, it’s hard to think of two games with so little in common. While both 1000 Amps and Before The Law are black-and-white productions, the art-styles couldn’t be less similar. Subject matter, mechanics, overall ambience: Brizzi’s clearly a creator with range.
Before The Law is a very lightly interactive retelling of Franz Kafka’s short story – a work that fans of Orson Welles might remember as the starting point for the director’s film version of The Trial, back in 1962, where it was brilliantly married to Albinoni’s Adagio. Like much of Kafka’s work, Before The Law’s effortlessly simple and deeply maddening. I won’t spoil it for you, just as I won’t spoil the browser version, which takes all of about two minutes to play through.
When it comes to player agency, Before The Law is vanishingly slight. The entire game includes far less involvement than a single QTE sequence in Asura’s Wrath, for example. That doesn’t mean Brizzi hasn’t thought about what he’s made, though. Look at the character’s walking speed: a glacial plod that ties well with the story’s theme of oppression and disenfranchisement. Look at the faceless, almost featureless character designs that do so much to make this strange little tale horribly universal.
The one thing that Before The Law can’t handle with too much elegance, though, is the passage of time that makes Kafka’s original story so disturbing. On a page, with so much of the creative work of a narrative taking place in the reader’s mind, it’s far easier for minutes and hours to telescope outwards to become months and years and decades. Stuck inside a browser, Brizzi has to rely on spinning clocks and Roman numerals. This was, rather fittingly perhaps, an aesthetic battle he was never going to win.
None of that should take away from what Brizzi has done, however. Before The Law is quick to play but slow to fade from memory, and it carries exactly the same sting as Kafka’s original. With a back catalogue that’s already surprisingly varied, it’s going to be interesting to see what this designer does next.