"I've always felt that 'game over' is a state of failure more for the game designer than from the player," Cage told me at Gamescom. "It's like creating an artificial loop saying, 'You didn't play the game the way I wanted you to play, so now you're punished and you're going to come back and play it again until you do what I want you to do.' In an action game, I can get that – why not? It's all about skills. But in a story-driven experience it doesn't make any sense."
Instead, Cage said he focused on giving consequences to failures without hindering the narrative. In one scene, two police officers hunt down Jodi, the protagonist, on a moving passenger train. Jodi is able to circumvent the officers and run away, leading to an intense standoff on the roof of the speeding train. "Failing" this scene means the cops capture Jodi before she has a chance to bolt, and in the standard video game design scheme, this would mean cut, fade to black and try again. In Beyond, players are given an alternate story path, this time where Jodi is locked in a train car with the officers standing guard, and she has to escape.
Players who "fail" the train scene won't see the rooftop battle, but those who "beat" it won't experience the escape narrative. In at least one of these scenarios, a path can lead to Jodi's death. This raises a question that humankind has asked itself for eons: What happens when we die?
"It's a game about death, so you can imagine that death plays a role in all of this," Cage said. "Actually, it's one of the big discoveries – one of the big mysteries in the game is to discover what's on the other side. And it's definitely not a black screen."
Whatever happens after death, it probably won't come at an expected time, since Beyond's story is told out of order. The game covers 15 years of Jodi Holmes' life with the spiritual entity, Aiden, attached to her, and this ghostly peculiarity leads to a life trapped in high-tech science labs and thrown into violent situations. Aiden can impact the physical world with invisible force powers, and he is protective of Jodi as she grows from a young girl to a young woman. He thinks Jodi is "his thing," Cage said.
Telling this complex story out of order can appear counterintuitive to Cage's goal to make the story accessible to as many people as possible. For example, the Beyond Touch controller app is an effort to endear more casual players to Beyond. He wants players to understand the narrative and bond with Jodi, and thinks the best way to do that is to place the events of her life in non-chronological order, from the age of 8 to 23.
Hundreds of people have play-tested Beyond, and Cage said that in the beginning they're lost. But then it clicks:
"Slowly, the pieces of the puzzle come together, but it's not something that I told you. It's something that happens in the player's mind. He just connects the dots by himself. He sees the pieces of the puzzle coming together and he recreates the story by himself. I believe it's more powerful in many ways just because you're not passive in the storytelling; you're actually active in recreating the story."
Remember, no matter how active Beyond players will be, they'll never be able to add a "game over" sequence.